Title: Great Was The Fall
Fandom: Leverage, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bourne Legacy
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Clint Barton; Phil Coulson/Natasha Romanoff; Pepper Potts/Tony Stark; Alec Hardison/Parker; Sophie Devereaux/Nathan Ford
Word Count: 20,867
Summary: Alternate Universe – Crossover. Director Nick Fury had things arranged just how he wanted them. Everyone was tucked up under the SHIELD umbrella, and they were all living happily ever after…or were they? Eliot protects. That’s his job. As his Leverage family begins to merge with his Avenger family, it’s not the villains causing problems. Will the pressure expose the cracks in Eliot’s relationship with Clint, and will it survive? In a game of chess with mortal pawns can Eliot complete his endgame, and how does the Winter Soldier factor in the game.
Author’s Notes: The Big Bang Job 2013; Season 5 Leverage, scrambles the order of the episodes setting The White Rabbit Job and The Low Low Price Job before The Rundown Job, The Long Goodbye. Fantastic art by Sian1539
Eliot fought to keep his breathing steady. He cursed Fury for keeping him on the run until he could hardly remember where he landed. The weight on his chest felt like home, and as his brain caught up with his senses, he relaxed. He was accustomed to people using him for a body pillow, but the past year there had been only Clint after Natasha paired off with Agent Coulson. Cracking open an eye he recognized Parker’s bright hair. Letting his muscles relax, he drifted back into the arms of Morpheus.
The next time he woke he was alone, but felt better than he had in weeks. Taking a minute to enjoy the sight and smells of home, he finally climbed out of his decadent bed and headed for the shower. He wanted to get his debrief with Fury over so he could start locking the memories in the vault of ‘things best forgotten’.
The one-eyed king looked out over his kingdom. Hands behind his back he was feeling smug about the state of affairs throughout his world. Picking the heavy crystal tumbler off the window sill, he sipped the aged Irish whiskey while watching part of his kingdom being rebuilt—all his pieces were in play and his control—absolute.
His living chess pieces had things well in the hand—the small annoyances were being handled by his pawns in the field—the corporate annoyances were being handled by the Leverage team with the huge annoyances taken care of by The Avengers and their handler … His wolf, Eliot Spencer. His Deputies, Phil Coulson and Maria Hill coordinated everything like a well rehearsed ballet leaving the one-eyed king to deal with the World Security Council and a few other giant pains in his ass that kept his world from being perfect.
Nate Ford looked up from his reading when he heard a girlish giggle. He knew Sophie was still at the theater so it had to be Hardison and Parker returning from a matinee of some geek movie he’d wanted to see. The young couple was slowly rebuilding their relationship after the disaster of Hardison hacking Eliot’s NSA files. The hacker had learned a painful lesson about trying to control Parker and her relationships.
The thief continued to turn to Eliot for advice. The grouchy hitter seemed to have boundless patience with the thief. Even he and Sophie avoided Parker when she was on the hunt for answers. Parker with questions didn’t stop asking until she understood all the angles. When she turned confused eyes on the retrieval specialist and implied Eliot was her final hope—he folded like a bad poker hand.
Parker also continued to school Hardison about who was in control of their relationship, and that her definition of normal included trips to New York City to crawl in bed with Eliot and his partner of many years, master assassin, Clint Barton. The assassin/Avenger was brash and a perfect foil to the taciturn enforcer, and a perfect partner in crime when Parker felt bored. A part of Nate shook his head at the thought that it was okay that someone he considered family was a master thief that considered two black ops operatives her brothers.
Sophie had expressed surprise at how much Parker had settled since Eliot had been outed as still working for SHIELD and subsequently The Avengers. It also made what he was planning easier. The death of his father had caused the mastermind to rethink how far he’d come and where it was he wanted to go.
Maggie hadn’t been far off the mark when she’d made the crack about him being, ‘Such a Jesuit’. While he’d admitted to himself and the world he was a thief—he wanted to return to being an honest man, and he wanted to do it with Sophie.
The number one obstacle in his path was the relationship between Hardison and Eliot. Eliot’s inherent nature as a protector wouldn’t allow him to let anything happen to the hacker, but that didn’t mean he would ever trust Hardison again—at least not in the way Nate needed.
His second obstacle was SHIELD. All things considered, Fury had made very few demands on the Leverage crew so far, but he was like the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads with Eliot their only line of defense. Nate hated the retrieval specialist sacrificing himself to keep them from the worst of the man’s machinations.
Watching Eliot play the ultimate game of chess with the Director caused Nate’s control issues to have issues sitting on the side lines, but he was doing his best not to upset Eliot’s game board. Right now he needed to get Hardison back in Eliot’s good graces … He was going to have to pick Parker’s brain for ideas. He shook his head at that thought.
Liquid crystal light caused ever changing dips and shadows across ebon skin as Hardison’s fingers flew across the keys. It had taken the younger man months to get back to where Parker no longer treated him like the enemy. Now that Eliot and JARVIS had begun sharing information SHIELD or anyone else had on the Leverage team, the hacker no longer felt like a pariah. Parker wasn’t inviting him on her trips to New York, but they were nearly back to the place they’d been when he’d let jealousy take over his logic.
The few times Eliot had come to Portland, one of The Avengers traveled with him. Stark would continue on to his Malibu house after dropping Eliot, Clint, and from one to all of the Initiative in Portland. When Eliot was away, JARVIS jealously protected his charges from Hardison’s webcrawlers, though Parker always knew where to find them.
Eliot would come to The Brew Pub for their planning sessions, but refused to go into the restaurant. Alec finally understood how much he’d hurt the man when he undermined him with the staff. He rubbed his ribs in painful memory of Parker reinforcing that understanding as she’d jabbed her point home … Repeatedly.
Hardison quickly pulled the last few pieces of information together about Charles Dodgson III. He wanted everything ready to go when the team got to the office. He wanted this briefing over fast. He wanted to spend time with Eliot—just the two of them. The hacker was sure JARVIS went everywhere with the man—Stark’s AI had placed Eliot just below Stark, Pepper Potts and War Machine on its list of priorities, and Hardison wanted to get back on solid ground before he was pulled away from Portland again.
Frustration became Hardison’s best friend while they set up the warehouse for Dodgson’s dreamscape. Every time he got a moment alone with Eliot he was on the phone. From the timbre of Eliot’s growls the hacker figured it was someone from SHIELD. When they weren’t working on the con, Eliot would disappear and reappear the next morning looking haggard. He finally got his chance when they were packing up the warehouse to go home.
“Hey man, got a minute?” He shuffled his feet nervously.
“Sure. What’s up?” Eliot kept packing.
“I just … I … Well … You see … And then … And I thought … So I couldn’t … And she …”
“Did you actually have something to say? If not I need to finish this.”
Hardison took a breath.
“I want to apologize for all the trouble I stirred up. I should’ve known nothing was going on between you and Parker.”
“No problem, man.” Eliot turned away.
Hardison rushed around to stand in front of Eliot.
“No, brother, you’re not feeling me … For the first time I was front row … Outside of a con, seat … I did … Someone I care about got hurt while I was throwing a tantrum. I really hate that you don’t trust me anymore. I know you’ve got JARVIS watching your back, but I wanted to tell you … You don’t have to worry about me.”
Eliot sighed. Even though he cared for the Leverage crew there were still times when he had to let go his hurt and anger for the good of the many. Besides he was going to need the hacker.
“You finally figured out you can’t be jealous with Parker. She doesn’t get those emotions. She doesn’t care about your delicate ego … She’s going to do what she wants when she wants.”
“She warned me we weren’t going to be normal. I just forgot and then it was like I couldn’t stop.”
The younger man rubbed a hand over his head nervously.
“I get it, but first it’s Sophie then Nate, now you … If anyone else had betrayed me this many times they’d be dead so you’re just going to have to live with the consequences.”
“I hear you, man, and it won’t happen again. We’re going to be solid again.”
Eliot gave him a hard stare before giving him a brief nod then returning to emptying the warehouse.
Something pulled Clint Barton out of his exhausted slumber. He kept his breathing steady, and his eyes closed. Focusing on his other senses he waited. Finally opening the shields around the telepathic bond he had with his lover, he realized what woke him.
Eliot was nearby.
Fury had sent him on an intel gathering mission with Coulson, preventing him from going to Portland. As was their practice, Clint had closed their bond to its minimum to keep from interfering with Eliot’s job—Eliot had done the same, but now the bond had reopened as his wolf slid in behind him.
“Mornin’, Darlin’.” Eliot pressed kisses to the nape of Clint’s neck.
“Hmmm. Home for awhile?”
“You do remember who we work for?” Eliot kept nibbling.
Clint started to squirm as Eliot continued his machinations.
“You were in Japan than Portland … Parker called and demanded I entertain her since she was hurt and you were gone …” He groaned as he continued his litany. “Oh yeah … Oh gods … Pressure points … Cheating … Then I’m trailing behind Nat and Coulson like some third wheel … Holy Fuck! Eliot!”
The sensations coming through their bond as Eliot breached his body had Clint lost in an overload of sensations. As they moved from being two to one then tumbled back into themselves, there was barely a quick wipe down before they fell into each others’ dreams.
The bed was empty when Clint woke, but the marks and aches of his body being well-used along with the open link to Eliot left him rested and eager to return the favor. A quick shower, and he made it to the kitchen in time for breakfast—even Tony is at the table since JARVIS told him Eliot was home, their regular schedule back in place.
Clint, Natasha and Phil had gathered in the living room working on reports for the last inspection tour Coulson made of SHIELD’s projects across the globe when Clint felt a flash of pain and anger across their bond. Eliot stormed through the room cursing Tony Stark and all the future Starks with apologies to Pepper. Tony scrambled behind him offering to make amends by calling someone named Armando.
“Tony why are you trying to set my lover up with someone named Armando?” Clint asked.
Tony turned so fast he nearly upended himself. For a man so graceful while wearing hundreds of pounds of armor he was surprisingly klutzy without it. Eliot said it was because the weight of the armor made the genius stop trying to move as fast as the thoughts in his head, but Clint had his doubts.
“Uh … There was a bit of any accident when Wolfman came in the lab …” Arms and hands moved and flailed as Tony talked showing he was embarrassed. “I may have been a bit startled while working, and there may have been a small laser blast that might have caused some singeing of skin and a small loss of hair …”
“WHAT!” Clint moved to follow Eliot.
“He’s fine Legolas—nothing a good haircut and a little burn cream won’t fix. If he’d just let me call my stylist!” Tony raised his voice as if Eliot could hear through the soundproofed walls.
“Eliot doesn’t let just anyone stand behind him with sharp pointy objects.” Natasha looked up from her Stark tablet.
“Oh. Then who …?” He pantomimed scissors.
“Nat usually … Sometimes me if she’s not in town.”
Clint grinned as Eliot stormed back in the room with his hair wet and Natasha’s ‘kit’ in hand.
Eliot pulled a chair from under the dining table and with a towel around his shoulders waited for the red-headed assassin.
“Be prepared to have your ass handed to you when she’s finished.” Eliot growled at Tony.
“I’ll … Uh … Be in the gym getting warmed up when you’re ready.” Tony dashed for the safety of the elevator as Natasha stalked across the floor.
“You really need to stop playing with your prey, Spencer.” Phil’s tone was flat, but his blue eyes twinkled.
“Just keeping him on his toes, Agent.” Eliot’s grin was all teeth.
For the next few weeks life was positively domestic at the Avengers’ Tower until Parker showed up with Hardison in tow. Nate had sent their youngest to New York to get Eliot for a retrieval in Washington. JARVIS, still peeved at the hacker would only allow them as far as Eliot’s office.
“What happened to your hair?” Parker blurted out.
“Oooo. Eliot vs Iron Man. Who won?”
Eliot just arched his eyebrow.
“Silly question.” She pulled Hardison into the office. “Quit being such a baby.”
“Hey, Eliot.” Hardison sank into the visitor’s chair. “You get the file I sent?”
“Yeah, I was going over some ideas to run by you. We can go upstairs … If you behave,” he eyed Parker, “and you don’t touch unless invited.” He glared at the hacker.
Parker gave him a sloppy salute with her ‘serious’ face while Hardison’s eyes widen.
“Seriously? You got it.”
Eliot grabbed his Stark pad and led the way to the elevator.
“JARVIS will remind you should you step out of line.” Eliot warned.
Head swaying like a bobble head, Hardison was ready to agree to anything if it kept the elevator going up.
Supper was a little subdued compared to the usual chaos, but it helped lighten the atmosphere that Alec spoke the same language as Bruce and Tony. With JARVIS monitoring, Eliot relaxed out of the mayhem of the central living room while he finished studying the files on their next job.
“Why he’s doing this?”
Eliot barely lifted his head from his reading. Clint left their bond open enough to know what he and Parker were doing, and with his Operation Outcome enhanced senses, heard them moving through the ceiling.
“The black king has found his black queen and is preparing to resurrect the white king.” Eliot answered.
“Oh.” Her tone sounded … Insecure.
She dropped into his lap.
“Dammit, Parker.” Eliot growled quietly.
“Is he throwing us away?”
“Absolutely not.” He settled the lithe blonde in his arms. “Parker, are we a good team?” His eyes slanted toward Hardison.
“The best.” She fiddled with the buttons on his shirt.
“Are you ready to stop?”
“No.” She pouted.
“Nate and Sophie are, but we’re still a team, and a family. They’ll probably travel for a while than settle down and have little grifters and masterminds.”
“And we can teach them things.” Parker brightened.
“You can be crazy Aunt Parker.”
“I like it.” She smiled and hopped off his lap to wander over to where Hardison was playing video games.
“Everything okay, Fenrir?” Tony’s face flashed on his tablet.
“Growing pains.” Eliot answered.
“Some place where you and I can talk … Alone.”
Reading the question in Eliot’s eyes, Tony’s eyes turned serious.
“Get in the elevator. JARVIS will deliver you to me.”
*Clint, keep the kids occupied for a while?*
*Can I eavesdrop?*
Eliot could hear the smirk in his thoughts. Debating on letting Clint in on his bare bones plan—Eliot took a leap of faith.
*If you want. We can talk after.*
*You’re sounding awful James Bond there, Lover.*
*Bond’s a pussy. He has to have toys to get the job done.*
Still in the ceiling, Clint clamped his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. He lowered himself to the floor by the elevator, and grabbed a quick kiss as Eliot walked by.
After dropping for several minutes, the elevator stopped, and sensitive ears picked up the sounds of a heavy door opening. The elevator continued down. When Eliot stepped out of the elevator, Tony stood with his arms spread, a beer in each hand.
“Eliot Spencer, meet a small part of JARVIS.”
He handed Eliot a beer as the SHIELD liaison starred at the cavernous room.
“Likewise, Master Eliot.” The AI intoned.
“No long ears of Avengers, scientists, assistants or SHIELD can penetrate down here.” Tony assured him. “So step into my office, Akela, and tell me what’s on your devious mind.”
“First thing you have to promise is no one and I mean not Pepper and especially not Rhodey can know about this until I give the word.”
“You want me to make a promise of secrecy before telling what you’re pulling me into?”
Sharp brown eyes studied the mercenary carefully. He’d read SHIELD’s file on Eliot Spencer—hell, he’d read all the files he could find on Eliot Spencer, but not a damn one of them prepared him for the Eliot Spencer he saw every day.
“Fine. I promise. Not a word.”
Eliot gave Stark a long look—making Tony twitch though he tried to act unaffected. Finally satisfied with whatever he saw, Eliot started to talk.
“Here’s what I want to happen…”
Pulling out his phone, Eliot had started a text to Clint when his phone rang with a number he’d hoped to never see again.
“How’d you get this number Riley?”Eliot growled.
“A hitter like you comes back to DC and buzz, buzz, buzz.” The broker sang.
“What do you want?”
“Got a job for you. Right here in town. Got to be done this morning.”
“I don’t do that anymore.”
“So the rumors are true, dammit. It’s like Picasso throwing away his paintbrush. Later than.”
Eliot jammed the phone in his pocket.
“That’s that thing … That thing you don’t do anymore.” Parker looked wary.
“No … No I don’t.”
Eliot refused to look at the younger couple. The lie burned on his tongue. The only thing keeping the guilt at bay was that the lives he’d traded Fury were people that could hurt his Leverage family.
“So we just keep walking?” Hardison and Parker moved past him.
“Thing is … Just ‘cause I’m not doing it doesn’t mean it’s not gettin’ done.”
“So you’re saying someone somewhere …” Hardison asked.
The look on Eliot’s face answered his question.
Hardison leaned his head back against the Quinjet’s padded seat. Parker was in the co-pilot’s seat pestering Clint with questions while Eliot stretched out across the seats opposite him.
He was mentally and physically exhausted from running the length and breadth of Washington, DC, to stop Udall from releasing the Spanish influenza while Vance snapped at their heels like a frenetic Border collie, and Parker scared ten years off his life. Eliot demanded and bullied until all Hardison could do was whatever Eliot told him. As the paramedic treated his gunshot wounds, Eliot’s glare kept them in the shadows and away from Vance as the Colonel badgered Eliot to come back to work for him.
All the while finishing his debrief until he lost patience with both Vance and the EMT. As he walked away, Alec had barely gotten Eliot’s arm over his shoulder before Barton was there to take Eliot’s weight and herded them to the Quinjet. Parker and Clint’s voices were soothing sounds of safety against the white noise of the jet’s engines, and Hardison’s eyelids began to droop until he heard Barton talking to ground control. They weren’t going to New York—they were headed back to Portland.
Flailing until he finally got out of his safety harness, the hacker tried to be quiet, but he saw a sliver of blue-grey as Eliot checked on everyone before determining it was okay to go back to sleep. He grabbed the hand hold as he leaned his head in the cockpit.
“You’re flying us to Portland?” Hardison asked.
“We’ve got all your gear—no reason to fly commercial when I can get you there in half the time.”
“You don’t like us … Me … Why would you fly us home.”
“I have ulterior motives.” Barton looked past him to Eliot. “It keeps Eliot away from Fury for a couple days, and gives him a chance to heal.”
“A COUPLE DAYS! He was shot … Twice.” Hardison quickly lowered his voice hoping Eliot didn’t hear.
Clint and Parker’s frowns along with the low growl from Eliot as he sat up, was a testament to his failure.
“Must be nice to have selective memory.” Eliot jabbed at the hacker. “You remember the files that got me shot and nearly killed by the NSA … Escaped science experiment. Sliced, diced, spliced and duct taped together chromosomes trying to invent the next Captain America.”
Eliot ducked into the back in search of water before Hardison could formulate a response. He could feel the anger from the couple in the cockpit so he retreated to his seat and pulled out his StarkTECH pad, and began double checking that they’d left no traces in DC.
Leaving Agent Sitwell to handle the liaison’s office for a few days, Clint took full advantage of having Eliot’s undivided attention. While the two men relaxed in Eliot’s rooms over The Brew Pub. Clint intended to take full advantage of the fact that Eliot was going to have to lay back and let someone else do all the work.
His expression was smug as he lowered himself on Eliot’s hard twitching cock. Eliot moaned as the archer finally settled in his lap … Allowing his body to adjust. Bending down to grab a kiss before he started to move, Clint fought for control of his body when Eliot fully opened their mental link. Heatlustlovedesireperfect flashed through his brain as his body ignored his brain and moved to fulfill all the emotions Eliot was feeding him.
“Son of a bitch. Warn a fella next time.” Clint panted against Eliot’s chest.
Eliot was wearing a smug expression as he ran his hands over the sweat covered body … Soothing the aftershocks of their orgasms.
“Not the first time we’ve done that.” Eliot smirked.
“No, but with your … SHIT!”
Clint forced his body to move, checking that Eliot hadn’t pulled any stitches or caused the two gunshot wounds to bleed.
“Easy, Hawk. Genetically engineered healing factor … Remember?” He grabbed a handful of hair and pulled.
Sprawling back across the broad chest, Clint let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Not used to you being hurt. Enhanced or not, you’re not Iron Man so stop using your body as a shield.”
“Just the way things worked out. We got the bad guys, our favorite one-eyed bastard stole Udall from under Vance’s nose, and all’s right with the world.” Eliot continued to run his fingers through Clint’s short sandy scruff.
Clint continued to grumble as he drifted to sleep. Eliot shifted them to reach the wipes on the nightstand and cleaned them off enough to keep from being stuck together. Frowning at the archer’s exhaustion, Eliot silently cursed Fury running the two Avengers still contracted to SHIELD into the ground.
Awakened by his usual round of nightmares Eliot used Clint’s solid bulk on his chest to ground him as he ran through his agenda for the day.
Under the cover of a plant inspection, Tony and Pepper would soon be landing in Portland. Parker would keep Clint occupied, so he could slip away without the archer wanting to tag along, and while Pepper was busy being CEO, Tony was supposed slip out to his safe house, then later, he and Clint would, as representatives of SHIELD and The Avengers have dinner with the members of the Stark Industries’ Board before the power couple flew back to New York.
Years of watching Hardison made Eliot acutely aware of how easy it was for SHIELD to track and listen into conversations. Using his jacked precognition and with JARVIS scanning the city, he’d set up a safe house where people go in, but nothing comes out that’s not controlled by Eliot and the AI.
Everything settled in his mind, Eliot slid down into the mound of pillows and covers that was Clint, and set his internal clock to wake him in two hours.
For a man who’d survived being kidnapped by The Ten Rings, and had flown a nuke into another dimension, Tony Stark could feel fear clawing at his insides. The car Spencer had provided him was non-descript, but the engine purred and would handle whatever the driver demanded. Glancing out the corner of his eye, his passenger seemed calm, cool and collected. He envied that calm. He rubbed his sweaty hands on his jeans leg then pulled his hat down further. JARVIS had assured him that he had mapped the route with Spencer so all the traffic cams would see was typical traffic flow.
“Tony, relax. JARVIS and Eliot won’t let anything happen to us, we’re fine.” The conviction in Pepper’s voice settled the butterflies trying to escape his stomach.
“It’s Eliot I’m afraid of … He made me promise not to tell you … Then I ordered JARVIS not to tell him I told you … And we know bad things happen when you surprise people like him. We’re putting a lot at stake playing Agent Wolf’s game with Fury.” Tony mumbled.
“He’s putting the lives of his family on the line.” She reminded. “He ran everything through JARVIS so the only thing we don’t know is what he’s carrying in his head.”
“SHIELD has telepaths.”
“We have the Science Bros and Clint.”
“Fury has the weight of the WSC.”
“I’m sure Eliot has files that would make them roll over and whimper.”
“I’m being whiny about this, aren’t I?”
“Little bit.” Pepper gave him a bright smile.
“Turn here, Sir.” JARVIS’ voice came from Tony’s phone.
A door barely big enough for the car opened and closed quickly behind them. Eliot stood in the doorway of a structure built inside the warehouse.
“This is my kind of hideout.” Tony proclaimed.
Then he saw the bank of computers and the kitchen area. He assumed the stairs led to sleeping quarters. When he looked at Eliot, the agent’s glare was absolute zero at Pepper’s presence.
“I already had it built, JARVIS helped with the StarkTECH, and testing against thermal scans, satellites, and such. I could have sworn you promised NOT to tell Pepper. Should I expect Colonel Rhodes to come knocking with Fury behind him?” Eliot sneered as he gave them each a cup of coffee.
Tony was saved from answering by Pepper. God, he loved her.
“Tony was being twitchier than normal so I applied the proper pressure in the proper crack. He fell apart flawlessly.” Pepper gave Tony a fond smile. “He only does that for me.”
Tony was moving from monitor to monitor.
“JARVIS, you sneaky AI you.” Tony grinned as he turned to Pepper. “Our little boy is all grown up.”
Pepper rolled her eyes but her heart swelled at the light shining in those brown eyes. She loved this man dearly, and it was making the decision she was considering as painful to her as it would be for him. She didn’t need Eliot’s precognition to tell her Tony’s reaction, but she felt better knowing The Avengers would be there to support him. All they had to do was get through this insane plan of Eliot’s.
“JARVIS, pull up the ‘Ragnarok’ file, please … Thank you.” Eliot asked.
He threw the file out where they could all see it. Tony pointed to a screen.
“Contractually, Pepper and I came up with enough paper to choke a small country. R & D, consulting, tech, weapons and armor … With Hammer Tech down the toilet, IronTECH, StarkTECH, and Stark Industries are supplying damn near everything SHIELD uses in the field and in their labs … Hell, there’s not much on the ‘Flying Dutchman’ that isn’t connected to SI.”
“What we propose,” Pepper took up the explanation, “is a trade. The Avengers and two support teams of our choosing—for the things SI does for SHIELD for a period two years. In those two years we—we being you, Clint, Natasha and Phil, train our own support teams, SHIELD then comes to SI like any other customer. The Avengers become a standalone entity with a network of support for clean-up and repair liaising with whoever is in charge of whatever gets damaged.”
“Now, we’ll need a way to support all this. If we roll Leverage Associates into a partnership, we can use the alternative income streams Hardison is always coming up with to help finance the operation.”Eliot finished.
“Will your guys go for that?” Tony asked.
“Truthfully, every time Nate opens his mouth I expect him to say he and Sophie are retiring. If I read the signs right, he’s working on some kind a grand finale. Parker’s in she just doesn’t know it, and Hardison goes where she goes.”
“Sounds like we have a plan. When do we take it to the one-eyed king?”
“First we need to go over the contracts and suss out any traps or loopholes. I want to wait until we wrap up ‘Nate’s Finale’ before we beard Fury in his den ‘cause he’s going to be breathtakingly pissed. He fights mean and dirty. Nothing will be sacrosanct that’s why his hands have to be tied so he can’t resurrect our expunged records or anything else he hides in his vault.”
Eliot set out sandwiches and fresh coffee while they read and discussed various points in the contracts. Not only did they need to protect the two teams, but they also needed extra protection for the members who were the aftermath of experimentation.
“Tony, we need everything you can find in Howard or SHIELD’s files about the beginning … Who has legal rights to any to Eskine’s work and the results. Same with the Outcome files … Fuck.”
Eliot ran his hands through his hair.
“When did this get so fucking complicated?”
“Super soldier, giant green rage monster, genetically modified assassins … We should probably be glad Thor is a sovereign of an alien realm.”
“He’s right, Tony. If we get very lucky your father may have already locked out everyone but you, meaning General Ross and anyone else trying to duplicate the super soldier research is violating a whole lot of patent, intellectual property and a dozen other things.” Pepper suggested.
“Already searching, Sir.”
“Let’s hope it’s not paper copy.” Tony mumbled in his coffee cup.
Looking at his phone, Tony frowned.
“Come along, Pep. We better get back to the hotel. We have cocktail hour with the windbags on the Board before dinner.”
Pepper kissed Eliot on the cheek while slipping a thumb drive into his hand.
“We’ll see you and Clint at dinner.”
“Yeah. Fun times.” Eliot growled.
He hated representing SHIELD at these dinners.
Tony rolled his eyes as he held the car door for Pepper.
“You can terrorize the chef and his minions.”
Eliot gave him a shark’s smile as he opened the garage door.
The trip back to the hotel was very quiet.
Clint woke slow and easy. His sleep hadn’t been deep enough that he woke disoriented, but it was restful. He supposed he should climb out of the comfort of Eliot’s bed before Parker came bouncing in and leering at his naked self on the way to the shower.
After an afternoon of running Portland’s rooftops, they ended back at The Brew Pub. The blonde kept pestering him to try the chili after assuring him it was Eliot’s recipe. Clint agreed. A bowl of Eliot’s chili would be just right to tide him over until dinner.
“Maybe just a little … We have to have dinner with Tony, Pepper and the hotshots from SI. How’d you manage to get the recipe? Eliot never gives away his recipes.” Clint sipped his beer. “He keeps them all in his head.”
“Eliot didn’t really give it to Hardison … More like he watched the kitchen videos while Eliot was cooking.” Parker grabbed a handful of pretzels from the bowl on the bar.
Clint looked at the blonde in disbelief.
“What? Is that wrong?”
“In more ways than I can count in a lot of different languages.”
Parker’s look of confusion tugged at Clint’s heart, but he waited until the waitress sat their food down before answering.
“Eliot was just starting to trust the kid. If he finds out Hardison stole his recipes, Eliot will never trust him again.”
“Very bad.” Clint answered as he put a spoonful of chili in his mouth…
And prompting spit it back in the bowl.
“What the fuck is this!?”
“Eliot’s chili. Did you hit your head today?”
“This is no more Eliot’s chili than I’m Nick Fury.” He took a gulp of beer to wash the taste out of his mouth.
“Oh. You’re right. Not Eliot’s. I’ll have to tell Hardison the cook got it wrong.” Parker agreed.
“Promise me something?” Clint put his hand over Parker’s.
“Never call this Eliot’s chili, and never tell him what Hardison did—you won’t like his reaction. Is there something on here Hardison didn’t steal?” He pointed at the menu.
“Yeah, but I think I’ll just have a hamburger.” Parker pouted.
Clint stayed and cajoled Parker until she was once again her quirky self. She was smiling when Clint went upstairs to shower and change into a suit for dinner with Stark Industries’ stuffed shirts. Seeing Eliot come out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, he cursed having to spend the evening making inane conversation instead of dragging Eliot to bed. Maybe they could slip out after dessert.
After Clint left, Parker went on a hunt for Hardison’s recipe files. She wanted everyone to be friends again. Maybe she needed to beat the hacker up some more to get him to understand he was being an idiot. She was beginning to worry that Hardison was going catch her before she found the files when she saw it. A file called ‘Mr. Punchy’.
Parker carefully did all the things Hardison had taught her about erasing files. She apparently was going to have to hang him off a building to get him to understand why you didn’t poke a wolf with a stick.
Absolutely ready to punch someone, Eliot laid his head against the back of the couch. He cursed Phil for not being available to be the competent agent face of SHIELD at Stark’s dinner. The muscles in his neck were starting to relax when the apartment door opened with a bang.
“Honey, I’m home, and I come bearing gifts.” Clint sing-songed tumbling over the back of the couch into Eliot’s lap.
He’d stopped at the bar before coming upstairs and grabbed a couple beers. Eliot gave him a grateful smile.
“Have fun with Parker, today?”
“We need her running the endurance training at SHIELD.” Clint grumbled against his chest.
“I guess with that, the dinner and everything you’re too tired to …”
Jumping to his feet, Clint pulled on his hands.
“Oh hell no.”
He tugged a laughing Eliot back to their bed.
Tony and Pepper arrived at the plane shortly before Clint and Eliot. Giving them his customary smirk as a greeting, he also gave them a wink before climbing the stairs into the plane. Once in the air JARVIS assured them the plane was secure Tony directed everyone’s attention to their StarkPADS, and explained what was in the files JARVIS had found.
“Anything that even hints at Eskine’s formula belongs to me. Not Stark Industries or any subsidiaries—just me as the sole heir to dear old dad’s estate. Eskine’s will left all his research to Howard so technically Steve and Bruce are already ours … Hell, Fury could be pumped full of ‘super soldier juice’ so he’d belong to me, too.”
Tony paused as though replaying his words.
“Ah … Never mind. That’s not a happy place even for me.”
The other three laughed.
“That’s a relief. This seems to get more twisted at every turn.” Eliot scrubbed his hands over his face.
“You want to quit?” Tony asked.
“No. I want away from SHIELD … From Fury. He’s killing me one op at a time.”
The other three people in the plane looked at Eliot in shock.
“What are you doing, Eliot?” Clint asked softly.
“Eliot?” Pepper laid her hand on her arm.
“I’m protecting my crew … My family. That’s my job.”
Eliot stood abruptly and shut himself in the plane’s bathroom.
“Son of a bitch.” Clint tossed his pad on the table. “He wasn’t ready to come back to this life. Fucking Loki forced Phil to call him back.”
He turned to look out the window.
Tony and Pepper exchanged a look not knowing how to help either of their friends. They were all startled by Eliot’s soft words.
“Not your fault, Hawk. I was going to have to come back anyway. We had a job where the CIA got their hands on one of my files. It was this or run, and I wasn’t leaving you and Nat.”
Tony groped for Pepper’s hand as they watched the moment between the long-time lovers. Pepper squeezed back. She would always love Tony, but watching Clint and Eliot she was afraid she didn’t love Tony with this type of intensity. Tony loved her as much as he was capable, but his machines sang such a siren’s song that she knew she’d never have all of him. She could see the cracks forming under the stress of her being CEO and Tony’s determination to throw himself into the fray at every opportunity. Stark Industries she could deal with, but she had no point of reference for dealing with Iron Man taking on aliens and megalomaniacs. Rather than becoming a whimpering pile of nerves, she was going to have to give him to people who could deal with what Tony was becoming.
Eliot hadn’t said anything about the file she’d pressed into his hand. Pepper knew telling Eliot she was giving him Tony had been the epitome of … Well she wasn’t sure what it was the epitome of, but she’d watch Eliot take care of … Everyone. With the support of Clint, Phil and Natasha, the ‘tower of misfit toys’ was becoming a sanctuary from the craziness that was their lives. They would take care of Tony when she couldn’t.
It had been a week and Pepper was beginning to think she’d dodged the bullet by giving Eliot that thumb drive instead of being an adult and discussing her plan with him. Things had been their normal insanity at the tower with Phil and Eliot and JARVIS working to keep Tony and Bruce on a semi-normal schedule. So when Eliot stepped out of the shadows in the corner of her office, it was a snickering Natasha that caught her StarkPAD and briefcase before they hit the floor. Placing them on the desk while Pepper sputtered, she gave Eliot a peck on the cheek before closing the office door as she left.
Walking over to the sitting area, she poured them both a cup of coffee so she’d have time to pull herself together.
“I don’t remember seeing your name on my calendar.” Her voice sounded pinched and prim.
The thumb drive landed in her coffee.
“You try to give me Tony like he’s a stray puppy and you want to act pissy?” Eliot arched an eyebrow.
“You know how to deal with all the insanity that goes with him being Iron Man … I don’t … I can’t … Not and run a multi-national corporation.” She insisted.
“You’ve been doing it for five years. In fact you may be the one thing keeping him Tony Stark and not Iron Man.”
“What?! Wait. You can … Have you seen …”
“I’ve seen a lot, and most of it not fit for human consumption, but I’ve watched the two of you together. He loves you with everything he’s capable of giving.”
“He gives a lot.” She whispered more to herself than Eliot.
“He ‘hides’ in his workshop when you’re on a trip to avoid his empty bed. He worries about you being kidnapped or worse. He sleeps occasionally when Natasha’s traveling with you.”
“He doesn’t sleep?”
“He does, but only if we gang up on him. He won’t sleep in the penthouse though.”
“I usually find him and Clint on one of those huge ass couches in the living room ‘cause I’m working with Phil and JARVIS has kicked Tony out of his workshop.”
Pepper watched Eliot stalk over to the bank of windows. She could see the lines of exhaustion on his face and wondered how many of those lines were caused by her case of cold feet.
“Look I know that as a kid you didn’t sit around dreaming about being CEO of Stark Industries and lover to the biggest adrenaline junkie on the planet, but this is what you chose. You’re a hell of a woman, Virginia Potts, and any man would be proud to have such a warrior at his side. You’ve spent the last five years convincing Tony that you love him no matter the craziness. Now when things have fallen into a routine with brief interruptions by aliens, idiots, and assorted megalomaniac assholes, you want out.”
Hard blue-grey eyes locked on hers.
“Next Monday at this same time, I’ll be here. You will tell me that you truly want to give up Tony. Clint and I will take him, but know that if the day comes when you regret your decision you’ll be shit out of luck because we will not give him back.”
Without waiting for her answer, he left the office and a gap-mouthed Pepper behind. She continued to stare until the spell was broken by Natasha opening the door.
She pulled up her schedule. There was a lot to think about before next Monday.
“Eliot, Mister Ford has left a message for you to call him.” JARVIS informed him as he settled behind his desk.
Checking the time, he wondered if Nate was up early or late.
“Put a call through, please.”
“We have a job.”
“I’ll be there.”
Eliot leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. *Dammit!* It was too soon. He didn’t have everything in place to cut ties with SHIELD. *Damn Nate his impatient ass.* Possibilities ran through his brain, and none of them were good. He was starting to consider a few painful stunts that would slow Nate down, but he really was not into pain plus Clint would kick his ass for his stupidity with Natasha following behind.
He was saved from his desperate thoughts by his phone. His shoulders tensed when he saw the SHIELD Director’s number, but this could actually be the answer to his dilemma.
“You have a mission. Be on the boat in two hours for briefing.” Fury barked in his ear.
Retrieving his weapons from the safe, he was considering asking Clint to fly him to the Helicarrier when the archer stuck his head in the door to announce lunch.
“I need to go to meet with Fury. Want to fly me to the carrier?”
“Sure. Coulson wanted to fly out after lunch anyway.”
Clint sat at the conference table working on designs for new arrowheads he wanted to try when anger as hot as a phosphorous rolled down his link with Eliot before it disappeared. He saw several of the more ‘sensitive’ specialists working the command deck flinch, but gave no other sign they’d felt anything. He continued to study his StarkPAD while he prodded his link with Eliot like a sore tooth, but the man wasn’t giving him a hint.
When the door opened everyone was suddenly very busy while Hill, Coulson and Eliot filed from Fury’s office. He caught Eliot’s eye, but a minute shake of the dark head had him closing his files.
“I’ll prep the jet.”
He looked to Eliot—even though Hill and Coulson held higher rank. The wave of warmth flowing through the link had him moving toward the flight deck.
“I need a moment with AD Hill before we leave.”
Phil’s expression was bland, but Eliot saw the question in his eyes.
Eliot followed Clint ignoring the twinge of conscious, but Phil had to be kept out of the loop. It didn’t matter that the agents considered Coulson family—he was SHIELD to the bone, and would not hesitate to go to Fury with anything he learned.
Settling in the co-pilot’s seat after grabbing a quick kiss from Clint, Eliot leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Sparing a quick glance from his pre-flight, Clint worried over the signs of stress he was seeing in his wolf. He mentally urged Coulson to hurry his ass up so he could get Eliot to the privacy of their rooms.
“Don’t fuss, Tawodi.” Eliot murmured.
Clint snapped his mouth shut when he heard Phil’s feet hit the ramp. If Eliot was resorting to speaking Cherokee then the pressure was building. Coulson spoke a lot of languages—Cherokee was not one of them, but SHIELD had translators who did. One word told Hawkeye there would be very little communication not pertaining to SHIELD business while they were where it could be monitored by someone other than JARVIS.
It was a silent trip back to the city.
Eliot stayed with Clint until the Quinjet was secured asking JARVIS for Tony and Pepper to meet them in Tony’s workshop.
“What’s got your tail in a twist, Asena?” Tony teased.
“You’re going with Pepper on her inspection tour.”
“Take your Iron Man photo op suit.”
The smirk fell off the billionaire’s face.
“What’s Fury doing, Spencer?”
“Pushing … Testing … He’s trying to get a peek at Nate’s long game to get ‘his’ crew away from SHIELD.”
“Ford’s running a long con?” Clint asked.
“No, but we are. Nate’s working on his and Sophie’s retirement, which makes for a good diversion. You’ll have quite the posse for your world tour of Stark Industries facilities. Clint, Natasha and I are security for the king and queen of multi-national corporations. Phil is going as SHIELD’s eyes and ears looking for signs of mutiny. While you’re holding court with all the ass kissing sycophants, the one-eyed king wants Parker, Hardison and I looking for something to give him leverage with his bucket list of people he wants dancing to SHIELD’s fiddler.”
“What kind of bucket list?” Pepper looked pale under her freckles.
“Sources for any and everything he needs to make SHIELD self-sustaining. What good is a king without a kingdom?” He muttered.
“Won’t the Council blow his kingdom out of the sky?” Tony asked.
Clint and Eliot both shook their heads.
“I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing, but you can’t get more than two or three of them to agree on any one thing at any one time. Plus Fury’s inherited two or three generations of blackmail material from Daddy dearest.” Clint added.
“Talk about playing the long game.” Tony snarked.
“It’s one thing to be the puppet master of the known world. Throw in the appearance of Asgardians and assorted aliens and it’s three dimensional chess.” Eliot rubbed his hands over his face.
“What about Natasha and Phil?” Pepper asked.
Pain flashed across the handsome faces.
“We love them, but we don’t want to make them choose. We’ll keep Phil out of the loop, completely I hope, because he’s definitely AGENT Coulson, and only tell Natasha the bare bones. She’s too good at what she does not to pick up the smallest of clues, but we’ll make it clear we don’t want to compromise her.”
“Does she know what’s happening on this trip?” Pepper asked.
“Phil will read her in.” Eliot answered. “Now I have to call Nate and tell him he has to put his plans on hold until we get back, and that I’m kidnapping Hardison and Parker.”
“Who’s night to cook?” Clint asked.
“Dr. Banner and Captain Rogers are preparing dinner.” JARVIS informed them.
“Good. I feel the need for a shower. I’m sorry if this screwed up your plans for the week, but there are so many ways this could go bad and only a few good ones. I want to be prepared.”
Eliot let Clint push him toward the door only to run into the broad back when Eliot stopped.
“Tony, if you’ve got some time after supper we need to talk about Hardison.”
“You got it Wolfman. Just be happy Fury didn’t turn it into an Avenger goodwill tour.”
The assassins groaned.
“Tony!” Pepper admonished.
“3 … 2 … 1 …” Clint counted.
“Eliot, Director Fury is calling.”
“After giving it some thought … This would make an excellent opportunity to show off the Initiative. Better cover. AD Coulson will have the revised itinerary in the morning.”
“Don’t disappointment me, Agent Spencer.”
“I’ll do my best Director.”
With a glare the two men continued out of the workshop. Tony turned to a frowning Pepper.
“It’s not my fault.” He pleaded. “Besides, it’ll be good for team building and all that sort of stuff …” His voice trailed off.
“Let’s go see what on the menu.” Pepper shook her head as she headed up the stairs.
She knew that voice. It was Tony’s epiphany voice. She turned back to where he was standing on the bottom step looking confused.
“Spencer’s briefing … He was telling us … Oh … People we don’t want in Fury’s pocket … Should JARVIS … Are they tracking …”
Pepper waited until Tony’s rapid fire brain made all the connections.
“It’s already handled?”… “Very discreetly.”
“That’s good then …”
“Think about Eliot’s hacker instead. I know SHIELD’s got hackers constantly going at JARVIS … Maybe fresh eyes could look at where you think we’re vulnerable. We may need all of the protection we can muster when Eliot wins.” Pepper prompted.
“You’re sure he’ll win?”
“Eliot’s precognition vs. Fury … My money’s on Eliot.”
“For now … You … Thinking about what Eliot’s thinking in way of limitations for Hardison.”
Pepper gave her hips an extra swish as she started up the steps making Tony smile.
Relaxed and full of Bruce and Steve’s excellent dinner, Pepper relaxed in one of the overstuffed chairs scattered throughout the room, feet and briefcase on the oversized ottoman, glass of wine on the end table. Across the room Tony and Eliot sat with their heads together, the rest of the Avengers were in the media corner enjoying an evening with no publicity obligations, bad guys or briefings. Music from JARVIS’ speakers made a pleasant white noise for combing through departmental progress reports, requisitions, briefings on upcoming meetings … Natasha was an organizational wonder.
That stray thought broke her concentration and had her looking around the room. Phil was discussing mission files with Steve. Natasha leaned against Bruce, who continued to read, while Clint painted her toenails and debated medieval weaponry with Thor. Tony had moved inside Eliot’s personal space, the two dark heads so close it was hard to tell them apart. Knowing Tony’s reticence for touching, Pepper was surprised to see the genius practically breathing the same air as the retrieval specialist.
Her earlier conversation with Eliot reared its head along with a surge of jealousy. Using gentle touches, Eliot had coaxed Tony into his personal space. Pepper was sure Eliot was aware of everything happening in the room while giving the older man his complete attention. Anxiety followed the stab of jealousy. At the rate Eliot was gentling Tony to his touch, there would be no need for her to give Tony away … He would soon be seeking out the two SHIELD agents on his own.
Guilt pricked her conscious. She had been happy for Tony’s developing friendship with the other Avengers until the anxiety attacks she experienced over the possibility of Tony dying on a daily basis became unacceptable, and decided Eliot and Clint would make the best caretakers. Her mental gymnastics were interrupted by Tony calling her name.
When she got in arm’s reach, she was pulled down in his lap. Wrapping an arm around her waist, Tony showed Pepper the parameters they arranged with JARVIS for allowing Hardison to work with the AI. The bland expression on Eliot’s face told Pepper absolutely nothing.
Eliot watched Tony herd Pepper over to the long sofa in front of the television and pulled the strawberry blonde down into the man-eating couch and wrapped around her as tight as he could. Though people didn’t equate the name Tony Stark with someone who was especially observant … You didn’t survive kidnapping attempts and corporate sharks without being situationally aware.
Tony had given him several raised eyebrows at the extra touching. Keeping his voice low, Tony had bumped their foreheads together and lowered his voice to a whisper.
“You got something you want to tell me, Wolfie?”
“I’m trying to make sure everyone’s protected.” Eliot looked down at his StarkPAD.
“Is Pepper having a freak out?”
“This world is very different from the corporate world. In my world bleeding red cannot be fixed with an infusion of money.”
“I have JARVIS and my suit.”
“You have a warrior heart that makes you do heroically stupid things like flying nukes through inter-dimensional portals, and putting other people’s safety above your own.”
“She’s giving up on me.”
“Not yet. I gave her some food for thought the other day. She’s still working her way through it.”
Eliot interrupted him before the thoughts whirling through his scary brain could come out his mouth.
“I have some thoughts I want to share before you freak out over Pepper’s freak out.”
Tony started to look a little wild, but a gentle hand on the back of his neck settled him. He waited for the genius to nod.
“I know you’re still doing the solo gig, and we will talk about that later, but you’re also part of a group of very smart and deadly people who trust you, and who need you to trust them. We each have a specific skill set that makes us a well rounded team. If you learn to trust us like we trust you …”
Eliot’s words trailed off as Tony pulled back in shock. He trusted them didn’t he? His mind replayed the few missions they’d had since the Chitauri, and they’d all worked together fine until one of Steve’s orders went against what he wanted to do. Tony had promptly ignored the good Captain and done what he thought was right. The problem had been that he didn’t have all the information. His decisions to ignore Steve’s orders had caused Eliot to break cover both times to fill the space where Tony should have been. One time protecting Natasha’s blind side and another time protecting Tony from his own single-mindedness.
“Oh … Uh … Okay … I … Wow … Is there a gift for this type of thing?” He rubbed his hand through his hair making it wilder than usual.
“Just think about it. We ready to show this to Pepper so she’s in the loop if JARVIS needs someone and we’re not available?”
“Okay. I’m going to pay for this little epiphany the next time we spar aren’t I?”
Eliot looked downright ecstatic at the thought.
Nate was staring at the plans he’d been so carefully compiling for the past year. He knew if he asked, his team would be more than happy to point out the flaws in his plan, but he wasn’t ready for the reveal. He knew he was pushing … The timing was too tight, and there were still too many details to work out. He didn’t know why he’d called Eliot. Actually, he did know why. He missed the enforcer. He missed his plain talk … His eye rolls, and he missed having the bridge Eliot provided between him and Sophie with Parker and Hardison. He knew Parker missed Eliot, too. He’d see her ghosting around corners timid with them without the buffer Eliot provided.
Though their relationship was progressing, the thief had become wary, and spent a good portion of their downtime in New York. He was glad things were better between them … The urge to close the book on this part of his life, and start anew with Sophie was a sign of his healing. Nate knew he wouldn’t feel settled until he could leave the youngest of his Leverage family in a good place.
Parker never gave them details of her time at Avengers Tower. She talked about Eliot cooking, sparring with Black Widow, and running the rooftops with a little breaking and entering across New York City with Hawkeye. Stark had taken the little green robot Hardison built, installed an AI and built it up to handle Parker’s rigging. The bot anchored itself where Parker needed, then coiled her ropes into its rebuilt body and took itself back to the van. Parker had threatened Hardison with losing his man bits if he so much as thought about taking the bot apart to reverse engineer Stark’s handiwork.
Nate was startled out of his ruminations by the chirp of his phone.
As the mastermind listened to the timetable for The Avengers travels with Stark so he could inspect Stark Industries around the world, he could feel the knots in his stomach unravel. Now he had time for his swan song to be perfect. His attention jerked back to the gravel voice when he heard Hardison and Parker’s names.
“I need Hardison and Parker on this one. The trip’s a cover for some of Fury’s black bag work.”
“When do you need them?”
“As soon as they can get to New York.”
“You’re sure about Hardison”
Nate smiled when he heard Eliot’s rusty chuckle.
“I’m sure. Besides this will get them broken in for what comes after.”
The older man froze.
“What comes after what?” He hedged.
“The final act of the play before you and Sophie drop the curtain and sail off into the sunset.”
“It’s fine, Nate. I’ll take good care of the kids.”
“I never had any doubts though I do worry about Hardison fitting in with the New York family.”
“It’s been worked out.”
“I always knew you should have had my job.” Nate said softly.
“I learned from the best, Man.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“Just get the kids on their way.”
The call ended before Nate could gather his wits enough to make a response.
Eliot put Clint and Parker in charge of the team’s gear … Steve helped get it to the airport and loaded on Stark Industries’ jet. Thor was going to be helping Jane get moved into the Tower, and Bruce didn’t think the Other Guy would care for the crowds so he was going to help Thor. AD Coulson was handling the logistics of getting the Stark Industries Gulfstream clearance to land at SHIELD airstrips in the countries along their route. Natasha handled all the scheduling for Pepper, Tony and The Avengers.
Clint hadn’t been happy about Eliot, Hardison and Parker playing the hired help. Moving their luggage and equipment from the plane to the hotel, but the three members of the Leverage team needed to stay out of The Avengers spotlight if they were to do their job.
Eliot listened to Clint’s mental bitching halfway across the Atlantic. Patience wearing thin with the two bored youngsters and Clint, the enforcer began sending thoughts of relaxation and sleep to Clint. Just as the probability of throwing Parker and Hardison out the cargo hatch became 100%, JARVIS pinged his comm. Pulling out his StarkPAD, there was a file from Tony that had bumped information from SHIELD’s files against those Stark considered ‘friends’ to Stark Industries.
Eliot’s expression turned from thunderous to thoughtful. Thankfully, the majority of the lists were people that needed scrutiny, even if it was SHIELD, the remainder gave them the vast array of resources they would need when they separated from the agency. They would have to get the same treatment as the others to keep the Director’s suspicions at bay. The ‘bad’ guys list would keep Hardison busy. Eliot kept the ‘good’ guys.
“Hardison, file coming at you … Start the geek thing and get building schematics to Parker ASAP. JARVIS will give assistance as needed.”
“JARVIS!? Stark is letting me play with JARVIS?”
Hardison stood about to dance through the plane in geek heaven. Eliot gave the hacker a bump knocking him back in his seat.
“Stark has set parameters which are on your StarkPAD. JARVIS will remind you if you start to color outside the lines.” Eliot admonished.
“Still …” Dark eyes danced as his fingers flew over the touch screen.
With Parker and Hardison settled, Eliot turned back to his own logistics nightmare. While The Avengers and the Stark team would be working from a London base, the Leverage crew would be working four sites in Ireland, England and Scotland. He could use Natasha and Clint for London, but it would be just the three of them for the rest. They had ten days.
“Where we going first?” Hardison asked.
“Man, all our jobs should be this easy.” Hardison smirked from behind his computer. “OW! Why’d you go and do that?”
His jaw snapped shut when he spun to see the Black Widow standing behind him. She growled something in Russian before moving away.
“JARVIS, old buddy, what’d she say?”
“I’m sorry. Sir does not allow me to translate THOSE words.” The AI’s tone was dry.
The hacker was set up in their suite while Eliot and Parker made their way out of their last target in Germany. The Leverage team had cleared Fury’s list.
“What she meant was …” Clint supplied as he started stripping off his uniform, “It’s always easy when you’re the one on the computer while someone else is doing the heavy lifting.” He added his own slap the hacker’s skull.
“Did you lie JARVIS?” Hardison asked rubbing his head.
He hoped the assassins were done. The slaps stung.
“I did not. Agent Romanoff’s phraseology was much more colorful than Agent Barton’s.”
The silence on the comms was getting a little unnerving.
“Uh … Guys … How we doing?” He asked quietly.
There was no answer, but the next thing he saw were Clint and Natasha back in their battle gear running for the door.
“Guys?” Hardison’s voice raised a notch.
“Shut up, Hardison.” Clint ordered. “They’re working … Plan’s changed.”
Fingers flew as the hacker raced through the cameras in the building. He finally found a room with several men and two women. They all looked like the type of people that would hang with Eliot. He started facial recognition while he worked to turn on the audio.
“We go in as staff… We take Stark and Rogers, get them to the chateau.”
“What about the suit?”
“Knock out gas in the room takes care of The Avengers and keeps Stark from activating the suit.” A blonde in form fitting black snapped.
“What about the others … They won’t all be in the same suite.” A man acting as leader of rough looking men asked.
“You’re worried about Potts, her accountant, secretary, and some meat head she hired for security?”
Hardison had a name. Gretchen Marx, daughter of the owner, was planning something in the corporate headquarters of MarCom, their last target.
“That’s not some meathead. That’s Eliot Spencer.”
Now another. William Dumas, French mercenary.
“You telling me you’re afraid of one man?” Marx sneered.
“When it’s Eliot Spencer you bet your ass I am, Chérie.” Dumas snarled.
“Fine. I’ll double your fee. Does that unknot your shorts?”
“This knock-out gas idea better work or we won’t live to spend it.”
“I have alerted Sir and Agent Coulson.” JARVIS’ voice startled Hardison.
Before Hardison could answer the others tumbled in the room.
“Report.” Coulson snapped.
“Allow me while you continue monitoring.” JARVIS told Hardison.
The suite’s TV came to life.
“While Eliot and Miss Parker were reconnoitering the floors of the building searching for additional intel, they happened upon this group in the research labs of the MarCom building. They are planning to kidnap Sir and Captain Rogers, but one of the mercenaries recognized Eliot.”
“Why us?” Steve asked.
“Super soldier serum.” Hardison and Tony said together.
“Marx is going behind Daddy’s back to try and get in good with the Russians and something called The Red Room. Dumas is balking at going up against Eliot.” Hardison added.
Coulson grabbed his phone and called Fury.
“Where are Agents Barton and Romanoff?” He asked.
“They ran outta here fifteen minutes ago. Best guess … JARVIS contacted them.” Hardison didn’t look up from his computer.
The others exchanged a look. If the hacker didn’t know about Clint and Eliot’s telepathic link, they weren’t going to tell him.
“Get packed. I’ve got the address of a SHIELD safe house.” Coulson finished his call to Fury and dialed another.
“I think not.” Tony sneered. “JARVIS lock down this floor. No one in or out that you can’t ID with facial recognition or isn’t vetted by Agent.”
“Certainly, Sir.” The AI answered.
“Stark …” Phil stated.
“I’m not leaving five-star luxury for a SHIELD safe house. Put your little minions on the stairs and elevators … Whatever. We’re only here two more days.”
“Tony’s right, Phil. We still run a multi-national company. We can’t run to SHIELD every time someone has a temper tantrum.” Pepper reminded.
“Very well.” Phil glared as he changed his orders.
Nick Fury leaned back in his chair. Life couldn’t be better. The reports and information Spencer was sending him were already reaping benefits, and the call from Coulson about a kidnapping plot against Stark put MarCom right where he wanted them, and would give SHIELD a gold star with Stark Industries’ board of directors. With all his pieces on the board and poised to put in play, he needed to flex his muscles … Send a reminder to his subjects of who was in charge. He picked up the phone.
“Nate … Nick Fury … I have a situation. With everyone out of the office I need you and Ms. Devereaux to accompany Dr. Banner and Thor on a mission to garner as much information as possible.”
‘Information on what … Exactly?’
“Thor will be acting as your security and Dr. Banner will be your expert since he has the knowledge to ascertain the information’s authenticity. Apprise me of when you’ll be at the New York SHIELD offices, and I’ll set things in motion.”
Taking a sip of the expensive single malt, Fury took the time to savor the taste of the aged liquor. His enemies would soon be crushed under his Vibram soled boots and he would traverse his kingdom in his flying fortress. Being the king was getting better every day.
Leaning back in his chair, he began to plan how to best place his two teams. Coulson would bring him Black Widow, but he would probably have to put down the Wolf and his Hawk. He could not have wild cards that would incite insurrection … Romanoff would be perfect for the job. Coulson’s safety would properly motivate her. In his arrogance, the one-eyed king did not see the teal colored eyes nor hear the whir of the camera that watched and waited.
Eliot preceded Parker through the duct work. They had the files they needed, but JARVIS had alerted him to activity in another part of the building that warranted their attention. Since they were making their exit from the roof, he wanted to find out what was happening. Two floors from the top of the building sharp ears caught voices coming from the vent opening. He signaled Parker for silence so they could listen while JARVIS kept them apprised of the situation at the hotel.
Satisfied they had all the information they needed, they continued their climb to the roof.
When they dropped off the zip-line, Clint and Natasha were waiting.
“What’s the plan?” Clint asked.
“Natasha and Parker will get the hard copies and computer files to the hotel while you and I go visit an old friend.”Eliot gave them a grim smile.
“I …” Parker started before she caught Eliot’s eye.
“The Director needs those files ASAP, so Tony and Hardison need to prepare them for secure transmission.”
Taking in Parker’s mutinous expression, Eliot dropped his voice and stepped between the two women.
“We need to stay on the count to get everyone safe. Dumas is a reasonable man … And if not it’ll be a good workout for me and Clint.”
“Okay, but you have to let JARVIS film it so I watch it later.” Parker brightened.
“There’s still something wrong with you.” Eliot said fondly as he kissed her forehead. “Go with Nat.”
“Last one to hotel is getting old!” She crowed as she ran and jumped onto the building next to MarCom.
Natasha glared at the laughing men before taking off after Parker.
“Hardison, you find where Dumas is staying?” Eliot asked.
“Sending the address now.” The hacker answered.
An hour later, a hotel room door opened with six men voicing their complaints to the seventh. They stopped inside the door when the light revealed someone in their suite.
“Hello, Boys.” The Wolf and his Hawk smiled.
“Well?!” Tony demanded when Eliot and Clint entered the suite.
“Dumas was extremely reasonable once I pointed out that he could continue his job for Gretchen Marx and die or take the money she’d already paid him and go home.”
“Seriously?” Hardison asked. “What kind of mercenary does that?”
“On that lives to take another job.” Clint answered.
“You might want to insist Marx’s daughter be at your meeting tomorrow.” Phil suggested.
A hard glint entered brown eyes.
“Pepper! Do we need MarCom or can we burn it down?” The genius went to track down his CEO.
Clint started to pull his partner to their room when Phil’s voice brought them up short.
“We should debrief so I can get the paperwork to SHIELD.”
Clint felt Eliot stiffen before he answered.
“Certainly, Assistant Director Coulson. Whatever makes everyone else’s life easier. Sleep is highly overrated after all.”
Everyone froze at the growl in the retrieval specialist’s voice. A pink tint flushed Coulson’s cheeks as Clint glared at his former handler.
“Hardison, make sure Parker eats and gets some rest.” Clint gave the younger man a stern look.
“You got it, man.” He answered quietly.
“I …” Phil looked at the Clint and Alec.
“Coulson! We doing this?” Eliot snapped from where he moved to the dining area of the suite.
Stiffening his spine, Phil turned away from the younger men feeling out of the loop. The easy friendship he had with Eliot, Clint and Tony had become strained. He knew, because of their skill set, the Director would often task Eliot and Clint with jobs off the books. Even with his new status as Assistant Director of Special Projects and Operations, there were still things that AD Hill would barely hint at because she was always on guard for Fury making an appearance.
Phil himself didn’t like the changes he was seeing in Nick, and speculated on whether the cause was personal or political. He looked at the exhaustion written on Eliot’s face and body as he waited and wondered if being out of the loop might be a good thing.
Walking into the conference room At MarCom the next morning, Tony, Pepper and Eliot were met with the sight of Nate, Sophie, Thor and Bruce. Eliot sent a quick thought to Clint, Hardison was soon hacked into their ear buds while shutting out the SHIELD agents in the surveillance van.
“What the fuck, Nate?” Eliot asked under the cover of Tony and Pepper settling at the table.
The mastermind shrugged.
The question got him a brief nod.
“Sitwell, your babysitter?”
“Things happened last night so this is Stark’s show. Stay frosty, act shocked and outraged.” Eliot warned.
That got him a brief nod from Nate and Sophie.
Before any more could be said Peter Marx sailed into the room with daughter Gretchen behind him smiling like the perfect corporate hostess.
“Ms. Potts … Tony, my old friend, how are you?” The man seemed genuinely happy to see them.
“I’m good … Aren’t I good?”
He looked at Pepper who rolled her eyes.
“I hope you don’t mind, but there are some people who are very interested in investing, but they wanted to meet our number one client before putting forward any of their assets.” He turned toward Nate and Sophie.
“That’s not something you’re going to have to worry about, Peter.” Tony’s voice turned cold.
“What … What do you mean?” The man looked confused.
“MarCom is being taken over by Stark Industries, and for a very reasonable price I might add. We are giving him a good price?” He looked at Pepper who nodded.
“Why? … What are you talking about?”
Eliot shut the conference room door.
“Information has come to my attention of a plot for the kidnapping of one Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, that’s me, and one Steve Rogers, or Capsicle, as we affectionately call him. Now, the perpetrator of this little plot is someone here in this room.”
They all watched as Peter Marx looked at Nate, Sophie, Thor and Bruce.
“Mr. Marx, we were given to understand that yours was a reputable company.” Sophie stood, adding to the confusion.
She turned to Nate, Thor, and Bruce.
“We will not have our investors’ reputation sullied by this sort of scandal.” She grabbed her bag and started for the door.
“Wait!” Marx shouted causing Thor to step between him and Sophie. “What if they’re the ones that planned the kidnapping?”
“I’m afraid they’re not involved. Just your daughter and her Barbie doll body guard.” Tony stated flatly.
Eliot shuffled them out the door.
“Happy’s downstairs. He’ll take you to your hotel then bring you back to us.”
Marx looked at his daughter with shock.
“You did what!?”
‘Yeah, seems she was going to sell us the Russians.” Tony plopped in a chair and threw his feet on the table. “In return for me not turning all my lovely evidence over to Interpol, I’m taking your company and you and your little dim bulb offspring will toddle off into the sunset with enough money to be comfortable if you invest wisely.”
“You can’t do that!” Gretchen Marx screeched.
Brown eyes narrowed.
“Hey Fenrir, what’s the name of the guy you know at Interpol?” Tony pulled out his phone.
“Sterling … James Sterling. He loves publicity.” Eliot answered.
“This should give his career a boost … Daughter of rich industrialist taking the ‘perp walk’ on conspiracy to commit kidnapping of two of the world’s beloved icons …”
“WAIT!” Marx cried out. “Wait.” He looked at his daughter. “Did you do this thing?” he asked sadly.
“Yes, Papa, but …” Her tone was petulant.
“Where are your papers?” He looked at Tony.
“The Russians would have given me enough money that we wouldn’t need to anyone else.” She argued.
“Enough! You have done enough.” Marx’s voice was cold.
“Ms. Potts, I believe this is your bailiwick.” Tony’s feet hit the floor. “The takeover team will be here …”
“In two days, but we can start immediately if you’d like.” Pepper answered.
“No, two days will give me time …”
The room fell silent as the robust man who walked in the room, brokenly signed away his life’s work. As Eliot herded everyone from the room, Tony stopped at the door.
“Get your house in order, Peter and maybe something … Else could be arranged.”
Once they were at the hotel, Nate and Sophie ambushed Eliot. Coulson had left the suite to take Sitwell’s call.
“What’s going on?”
Eliot and Clint looked at Natasha. She had been their lover and partner for years, but her heart was now with Assistant Director Coulson. They would not ask her to betray that by involving herself with their plan … There was also the matter of word getting back to Fury if she told Coulson.
“I will do this, but I will protect what is mine.” She stated simply.
With acknowledgement of her position, Eliot started his explanation.
“Fury’s putting the pieces in place for his endgame.”
“Which is … ?” Sophie asked.
“Getting in a position where the World Security Council dances to his tune.”
“What’s his plan?”
“He’s using me, Parker and Hardison to gather blackmail material on the Council … The usual stuff. Then something will happen to take us out of play until he has control then we’ll be ‘rescued’ and brought back into the fold unless we’re seen as too much of a liability. He’ll use Phil to keep the Black Widow in line.”
It took a few minutes to get Thor to settle when he heard of Fury’s duplicity.
“Asgard will not align itself with one such as he.”
“No worries, Fabio, Wolfman has a plan.” Tony injected.
Eliot frowned at the grinning genius when all eyes turned back to him.
“Which we’ll talk about later. If the probabilities play out, Fury will want Phil to fly back with Jasper. Pepper, are you staying to oversee the takeover of MarCom?”
“Is that the safest place?” Tony asked quickly.
His face got hard.
“You’re in enough danger as it is. We see this and we’re prepared. I need you to be safe.” He squeezed her hand. “Are we leaving Agent and Sitwell here?” He asked Eliot.
“It would keep them out of the fallout.”
“JARVIS, inform the Agents that I request they stay with Pepper due to the possibility of retaliation from The Red Room.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
“Natasha?” Eliot asked.
“Since Pepper will have Coulson and Sitwell, I will stay with you.”
It took only moments for a reply from the Agents.
“They are amendable to your request.” The AI informed them.
With Pepper’s nod of agreement, the billionaire relaxed.
“I love you best.” He whispered.
Her heart clenched at his words, her plan to give him up retreating to the back of her mind.
Their conversation stopped when AD Coulson returned to the suite.
Room service had cleared the remains of their evening meal leaving the two teams to get to serious planning. Tony sent Pepper to their room so she could truthfully say she didn’t know anything. A final look to the Black Widow giving her one last chance to walk away was met with a stubborn frown.
Not wanting to alert Fury by using any of the aliases Hardison had established for the Leverage crew, Eliot pulled out one that he’d established before SHIELD.
“First thing we’ll need are clean ID’s.” Nate looked around the table.
“We can’t use anything I’ve already made … SHIELD probably has them all flagged.” Hardison’s tone was mournful.
“Not a problem.” Eliot didn’t look up from his StarkPAD.
He looked up when Clint returned from their bedroom with a backpack, and started handing out envelopes.
Here’s what we’re going to do…”
Eliot gave them the bare bones of his plan, so when AD Coulson returned to the suite after checking security on their floor, the two teams were in the process of sorting out sleeping arrangements.
Phil pulled the younger man off to the side.
“Jasper and I are going to stay here with Pepper. The Russians will not be happy at having their plans thwarted.” He tapped the screen on his StarkPAD. “I know you can get the team through this last appearance in Rome and back to the States without any international incidents.”
“Parker gave me a tazer she conned Tony into upgrading.” He grinned at the older man.
“Excellent strategy.” Phil’s shoulders relaxed to a more natural line. “Take care of Natasha for me.”
“You know I will.” Eliot’s tone was soothing. “Now you better get to bed before she comes looking.”
Phil chuckled. “Good night, Eliot … Good luck.”
Landing in Rome, Tony sent his plane back to Germany. Their equipment had been settled into normal luggage so there were no raised eyebrows as Eliot checked them into the hotel.
The Leverage team had scattered at the airport. By the time Eliot got to Portland, the final details would be in place for their last job with Nate and Sophie. He pulled Clint tight against his chest causing the archer to grumble. He sent soothing emotions through their bond, settling Clint into a deeper sleep.
Forcing his mind quiet so he could sleep, Eliot knew the curtain was going up on the final act of Fury’s power play. The heroes would ride off into the sunset or he would be dead.
“Hill!” Fury shouted.
“Where’s Spencer and the team?”
“On their way to Rome, Sir.”
“What do we hear from Coulson?”
“Helping Ms. Potts with the takeover of MarCom.”
“Did Agent Romanoff stay with them?”
“No, Sir. She traveled on with the others.”
“The Leverage team?”
“Last known location is Rome.”
“Let me know when they leave Rome.”
Hill watched Fury move to look out bridge’s windows wondering why he was keeping such close tabs on the two teams. Other than assigning missions he had allowed Leverage and The Avengers to be fairly autonomous. Agents Romanoff and Barton had been excellent support to Spencer and Coulson so to be putting eyes on them made her suspicious.
“Hill! What’s our present position?”
“Halfway between Hawaii and Japan, Sir. We’re keeping eyes on the North Koreans.”
She saw the clenching of the jaw, the rubbing his temple by the eye patch. For not the first time, Hill wondered if she could convince the Director to go to Medical. A glare from when he caught her watching him answered her question. Sighing quietly, she moved back to her work station.
The Avengers appearance in Rome was a horrendous success. The crowds were huge, but everyone went away happy while six exhausted people finally got to return to their hotel. After everyone had bedded down for the night, Eliot started to slip out of Clint’s hold when the gray-green eyes blinked owlishly.
“Back to sleep, Hawk. You’ll see me shortly on the boat.”
“’k.” He took the pillow Eliot slipped into his arms.
Moving to the bathroom to dress, he’d just clicked off the light when a sleepy growl came from the bed.
“This grand plan of yours better not have the hero of the piece dying in the last act.”
“That’s never my intention. Sometimes the plan comes together a lot different than what it looked like on paper.”
Eliot bent down for a slow sleepy kiss.
“Yeah … Well … Intentions and Hell … And all that jazz.” Clint grumbled.
“Love you.” Eliot straightened.
“What do you think happened to Nick? He didn’t use to act like this.”
“Wish I knew, Hawk … Wish I knew. The last couple years … Maybe we should tranq his ass and give him to Bruce or someone who can figure it out.”
“So you don’t think he’s just gotten power hungry?”
Eliot turned toward the door without answering.
“The probability is running 50-50 between medical and natural progression of a person with near absolute power. No matter which way the scales tip the damage is done.”
“What if we keep it in house, and don’t involve the Council?”
“The damage is still done. I won’t take that chance with everyone’s lives. I want us away from SHIELD.” Eliot’s face turned stubborn.
He felt the calloused hand pull his shirt tail out of his pants to get to bare skin.
“We have a lot of history with Fury … Marcus … I got a second chance after Loki … Maybe something happened during the explosions I caused.”
“Please. This has been a good place for a lot of years.”
“This place almost killed us … Me … In case you’ve forgotten Budapest … Moreau … Belgrade.” Eliot growled.
“We didn’t get the intel in time …” Clint tried to comfort his lover.
“I sent it so there would be plenty of time.” Eliot snarled. “Nick left me hanging with no back-up, no exit strategy, and the collateral damage …” He cut the words off as his breath hitched.
“If you don’t want out from under SHIELD … Fine, but don’t expect me or the others to stay. When Fury looks at me now all he sees is his pet Wolf. I won’t be that person anymore.”
Clint sat up in the bed shocked silent. He’d speculated all those times Eliot was gone on single missions that Fury was holding the team as leverage so he’d be SHIELD’s good soldier. Eliot’s tired voice broke him out of his thoughts.
“If we’re going to keep this on the down low, I’ve got plans to change. Find me a bird that will get us to Portland as far under the radar as possible.”
Eliot never looked back as he walked out the door. Not only was the inside of their room silent, but so was the inside of Clint’s head. Eliot had closed his end of their link.
Clint finally found a Gulf Stream G550 that could make the flight to Portland without refueling. The only problem was where they had to go to get the plane. It was still dark when Eliot returned, but everyone was awake and peppering Clint with questions. The archer gave a sigh of relief when Eliot unblocked their bond.
“I already made arrangements to get to Spain. My guy said he knew of a plane there … I figure it’s the same one Clint found so get dressed and grab your gear. He wants to shove off before daylight.” Eliot turned toward their bedroom.
“Can you trust this guy?” Tony asked.
“Yeah. We’ve taken care of each other in the past.” Eliot’s voice was guarded.
Clint and Natasha exchanged a look. Eliot had gone underground for six months after he left Moreau. The Director had walked around pissed for days while Clint and Natasha had quietly worried if he’d come back and what his mental condition would be after the cluster fuck in Belgrade. He’d been too calm … Too controlled, but they’d been so glad to have him home that the three months it took for them to start seeing glimpses of the man who held their hearts seemed to fly by.
In an hour they were crowded in a van headed for Civitavecchio. While The Avengers were sorting themselves and their gear, Clint spun around when he felt Eliot’s affection for the shaggy haired brunette he was hugging. In the pre-dawn darkness it was hard to make out features other than the hair.
“Let’s not dilly-dally. I want to be gone before the harbormaster sobers up.”
The rough voice carried a hint of Brooklyn, which made both Steve and Natasha stop and stare. Clint tossed Eliot his bags and they all followed the rough dressed man onto the sailing yacht.
“Everyone this is James … James everyone.” Eliot introduced lazily.
“Stash your gear. Those of you that know your way around a boat can help everyone else stay out of the way.” James ordered.
The near silent engine purred in the quiet of the marina. Then there was no more time for questions as they sailed for Barcelona.
Clint, Eliot and Bruce stayed on deck while Natasha found a perch and studied their ‘captain’. There was not enough light in the sky for her to make out his features, but something scratched at the back of her memory … She knew this man … Knew how he moved … Knew …*chert voz’mi!*
“Yastreb!” She called out to Clint.
The archer moved to where the red-head perched near the rail. As he settled beside her he noticed a slight shiver. Since the temperature was mild sharp eyes looked for the trigger. The only thing out of the ordinary was the man piloting the boat.
“Ryzhiy?” His tone was soothing as he turned his hand palm up to encourage the assassin.
“I think … Steve …Clint …”She burrowed into her partner’s side as though to hide.
Clint concern must have bled through their bond because when he looked up Eliot had appeared.
“It’s okay, Ryzhiy, you’re not imaging things. You really are seeing James Barnes.”
Eliot returned to the back of the boat where he spoke low to James. Clint watched him move toward them as Natasha brought her body under control. He crouched in front of them, but didn’t make any move to touch them.
“Chernaya Vdova?” He cocked his head like an inquisitive spaniel.
“Zima … Yasha … James?” She reached out and ran tentative fingers down the handsome cheek.
Blue eyes met green—“Mladshaya syestra.” He whispered as she wrapped him in a hug.
Clint watched closely that the Winter Soldier did not hurt Natasha. Out of his peripheral vision he noticed Eliot had taken James’ place at the wheel. Anger built in his chest at this whole situation between Fury and Eliot. His logical mind knew Eliot did the things he did to protect the people he loves, but Clint was feeling emotionally battered. Fear of moving into the unknown with The Avengers against his years with SHIELD, so many changes coming at him faster than he could process all rolled down his link with Eliot.
The only indication Eliot was affected by his lover’s thoughts was the tightening of his grip on the yacht’s wheel. Pulling his cap down to shadow his face, Eliot called the others to come on deck.
Tony appeared first laden down with food and drinks, one of which he handed to Eliot. Clint put himself between James and Natasha, motioning Steve to continue toward them.
“What’s wrong with Natasha?” Tony frowned at Clint.
“Nothing. Just a reunion with an old acquaintance.”
“How old?” Bruce asked
Before Clint could answer their attention turned at Steve’s exclamation.
Captain America’s ass hit the deck as his knees gave out.
While the trio huddled together on the deck, the rest of the team turned on Eliot.
“How did you find the Winter Soldier and why didn’t you tell SHIELD?” Clint’s anger spilled into his words.
“Not everything is about SHIELD and The Director’s agenda.” Eliot snapped.
Clint shivered as Eliot again blocked their bond.
Tony stepped toward Eliot.
“Back off, Hawkass.” Tony barked.
“What is the tale of this Winter Soldier, Wolfson?” Thor asked.
Eliot’s eyes roamed the group but avoided Clint’s still sparking with anger before dropping to check their heading. Just as Bruce opened his mouth to prod the retrievalist, Eliot’s words started almost too low to hear.
“After the FUBAR called Operation Outcome, I had a minute to catch my breath before they shipped me to Europe to go undercover with an organization run by Damien Moreau.”
“Nasty piece of work that one.” Tony added.
Eliot’s gaze locked on his hands.
“The abilities I got from Operation Outcome and my skill set moved me through the ranks fast until I sat at Moreau’s right hand.”
He looked up at Tony’s gasp. Blue/grey eyes bore into brown.
“Every one of Moreau’s men had blood on their hands … Innocent blood … The worse thing I ever did in my entire life I did for Damien Moreau at the behest of Nick Fury.”
When Tony’s gaze never faltered it was Eliot that looked away toward Thor and Bruce.
“I had no back-up and no extraction. James and I literally fell over each other and decided it was in our mutual interest to join forces. Fury liked the benefits I reaped SHIELD from that operation so he left me out in the cold to sink or swim by my own devices so long as the intel kept flowing. James and I backed each other up as needed … He traveled with me as we sought out people that could help sort out his Swiss cheese memories. His brain is as good as it’s going to get unless hanging around Steve and Nat triggers more memories, and he wants to go home without becoming a pawn to some government agency.”
While Eliot talked, Clint thought back to the years after Aaron Cross … Being partnered with Natasha, never getting a straight answer about Eliot until he came home after Moreau. Their home life was as settled as it would get for SHIELD agents with Eliot being sent out solo more and more until he teamed up with his Leverage crew.
“Were you … ?”
Clint’s question was interrupted when he felt a metal hand wrap around the back of his neck.
“You really don’t want to finish that question, Barton.” Barnes growled low. “Shield brothers works just fine.” He winked at Thor.
The Asgardian nodded his understanding.
“We have heard much of your exploits from your Captain.” Thor offered.
Barnes laughed as he wrapped an arm around Steve’s shoulders.
“Hope you only told them the ones where I saved your ass instead of vise versa.”
“They already knew about the ones where I saved yours.” Steve teased quietly.
“Are you coming back to the States with us?” Bruce asked.
“You betcha. Spencer might have a hell of a fight on his hands to get Fury to cut you guys lose. You can call me … Plan M.” He looked at Eliot and laughed, receiving a tentative answering one from his friend.
Then there was no more time. They had reached Barcelona.
A night in a mid-range hotel to shower and sleep with Tony going through serious tech withdrawal as they only had burner phones. JARVIS was filtering information quietly to Pepper, but everyone else was on an electronic blackout.
Clint and Eliot worked seamlessly to finish pre-flight so they could bring this whole mess to its climax. Eliot had not re-opened their bond, nor had he shared Clint’s bed. Hawk was beginning to worry that he’d gone too far … Caused too much hurt for their partnership to continue. They’d made it an amazing twenty years together. Now he was letting his own fears and insecurities push his Wolf out of his life.
Bird in the air, auto-pilot engaged, Eliot stood.
Dead grey eyes looked at him.
“When this is over you can have Xavier dissolve the link.”
Before Clint overcame his shock, Eliot had left the cockpit. He looked back the aisle to see Bruce admonishing Eliot. He shook his head and pushed away whatever Bruce had offered. When he pushed his way past, Clint saw the food Bruce still held in his hand. If Eliot wasn’t eating … Fuck. How had this gotten away from them? Did Eliot really hate Fury that much?
He was pulled out of his thoughts by an angry Winter Soldier.
“What did you do, Barton?”
“It’s none of your business, Barnes.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’m Spencer’s first recruit for your ground support teams so Eliot not eating and sleeping is my business. He can’t be compromised and pull off what he’s got planned. The timing’s too tight.”
They stared each other down one sniper to another.
“Fury got to you.” Barnes sneered. “Kept you separated from Spencer, and weakened your commitment.”
“Yasha.” Natasha scolded. “You should see to Eliot.”
“No need. Stark’s taking care of him, but I’ll see if he needs a hand.”
“No, he’s right. For all that we have this telepathic bond … Been together since the Army … We’ve been separated more than we’ve been together. I don’t even know what really happened with Moreau. I never asked.”
“Not that fucking classified if Stark’s found it, and what do I think to ask? Whether he and Barnes were fucking. I know better. That’s never a consideration with Eliot.” Clint looked up at his partner, eyes blue with the strength of his emotions. “He shut off our link and offered to have Xavier take it out.”
Natasha pulled him against her.
“Oh Yastreb, how can things get so tangled trying to do something good?”
“I think something’s wrong with Nick. He never used to be like this … This brutal and Machiavellian.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Hawk. The only difference now is that Nick thinks he knows best how to run the world’s security. He wants to be the absolute ruler over that security. It’s why he wants to pull the teeth of the Council.”
“They did try to nuke New York City.” Clint argued.
“Those few have been handled.”
Natasha gave him a thoughtful look. Coming to a decision, she grabbed the archer’s cheeks between her hands.
“Do you know where Damien Moreau came from?”
Clint shook his head.
“Damien started out as a straw horse for SHIELD as a way into the world of arms dealers and big money. Then he began believing his own back story and SHIELD lost control.”
Clint’s eyes got round.
“Is that when they sent Eliot undercover.”
“Yes. Do you know where Moreau is now?”
“Prison in San Lorenzo. The Leverage crew put him away.”
“Damien Moreau is dead.” The assassin stated flatly.
“The Director got nervous that Moreau would spill his secrets so he sent Eliot to silence him.”
“All those times he disappeared …”
“Yes. Fury did this. Not the Council, not anyone other than Fury.”
“Yes, it has been.”
“What about Phil?” Clint asked quietly worried.
“He and AD Hill will be seeing that the Director is in the best of health. Eliot has not kept us too far out of his loop.”
“Good.” He gave her a soft kiss. “I’ve really been dense about this whole thing.”
Natasha gave an unladylike snort.
“For someone with your eyes you sometimes have trouble seeing.”
“Good thing I have a suspicious family to help me with that failing.”
She cuffed the back of his head.
“You better get him back before Tony and Pepper keep him.”
The master assassins looked down the aisle where Tony sat between Eliot and everyone else working furiously in a sketch book they’d bought him to keep him away from his electronics. As a testament to his exhaustion, Eliot never twitched when Bruce sat down and Tony thrust the sketches under his nose.
“I see your point.” He scowled at his team mates.
Eliot spelled Clint in the pilot’s seat so everyone would be rested when they touched down in Portland. Still using their aliases, he left them in his surveillance proof safe house while he went to The Brew Pub.
“JARVIS, can we monitor Wolfie?”Tony reveled in having his electronics back.
“For the most part, Sir. I cannot monitor what occurs in the Highpoint Tower building. My interfacing with their Steranko system would put their plan in jeopardy.”
“Do you know what they’re bringing out?”
“I do not. Eliot has asked that I partition a part of my memory with a path that only he, Master Hardison and Miss Parker can access.”
“You agreed to that?” Tony sounded surprised.
“I did. The information is highly volatile, and would be extremely distressing to Sir on a personal level.”
“So you’re protecting me by not telling me what the files contain?”
“That is correct, Sir. Though Eliot and I have an agreement that he will discuss any information that could be pertinent to your interests.”
“He agreed to that?”
“You drive a hard bargain, J.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
The rest of The Avengers sprawled throughout the living room to watch the Leverage team work.
Three days later a shout from Clint brought them all to the living room.
“We’re coming up to the climax. Sterling just went in the building.”
They had laughed at the stand-in’s horrendous matinee performance of MacBeth, and Tony had cajoled JARVIS into the camera where they were keeping Nate and the parking garage.
Clint had gone silent when Sterling ranted at Nate about getting his three youngest killed. The man refused to even say Eliot’s name, and had choked up when he mentioned Parker and Hardison.
“This should be prime time TV.” Tony commented.
“It’s kind of scary how they can manipulate people.” Bruce commented.
“That’s what spies and thieves do.” Natasha answered. “We’re better at reading people and their body language than most PhD’s.”
She relaxed her body and slunk across the room to straddle Bruce’s lap.
“You think I’m pretty?” Her voice was breathless, her body language shy, her green eyes guileless. “Nobody ever tells me I’m pretty.”
Bruce was a study on where not to put his hands so the Black Widow didn’t rip them off when she stopped playing. As the room burst into laughter, Natasha stood and gave him a wink as she settled back between James and Clint.
“Thank you for the demonstration, Natasha.” Bruce blushed furiously as did Steve at the display.
“I for one am glad they became good guys.” Tony said. “I’ll be glad when I get back to my own bed. Hey Legolas …”
Tony’s question was interrupted by a glare from James and Natasha, but Clint knew he wanted to ask if he and Eliot were going their separate ways. Tired of being controlled by things that happened more than twenty years ago, Clint hardened his resolve.
“Just a rough patch … Nothing most couples don’t go through when they’re in a committed relationship.” Clint’s changeable eyes flashed a warning at the genius.
“Glad to hear it. Pepper and I are more than willing to help console the cowboy’s broken heart.” Tony verbally jabbed at Clint.
“How noble of you and your lady, Anthony.” Thor slapped him on the back tumbling Tony from the couch.
“Yeah … Noble.” Tony groaned as he pulled himself up.
The next day found The Avengers and the two youngest members of Leverage International headed for the airport.
Nick Fury, Jr. was living up to his name. He was livid that The Avengers had somehow gone off the reservation without setting off a single alarm or alert. Heads would roll. How could he operate his kingdom without his knights.
“Where’s AD Coulson?”
“In route from Germany with Ms. Potts and Agent Sitwell, Sir.”
“I want him here as soon as that plane hits the tarmac. Any luck finding The Avengers?”
“What about Colonel Rhodes? Has he had contact with Stark?”
“No, Sir. As a matter of fact, the War Machine armor was just sent out to check an unidentified bogey.”
“Keep me posted and find my team.”
Fury continued to grumble as AD Hill returned to her post. She sent prayers that Coulson would get here before something happened that couldn’t be fixed.
They had just flown over the Colorado—Utah border when Eliot made the announcement for everyone to put on their winter gear and strap in they were about to be fired upon.
“Who fires at a civilian airplane?” Parker asked as started pulling on the gear she’d used on their job in Alaska.
“War Machine.” Eliot answered.
“Rhodey! Why would Rhodey fire on us?” Tony squawked.
“Following orders, showing off, his suit not being able to pick up our radio frequency in the storm … Take your pick.” Eliot said.
The snow storm over the Rockies was a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it hid their NOE flying from the ground, but a curse because the mountains combined with the storm was scrambling their radio. Eliot’s precognition had kicked him in the head at the border. He started looking for a better place to crash other than Glenwood Canyon. They just entered Black Mesa when the plane shuddered.
“JARVIS! Can you get through to the suit?”
“Something has been done to the frequency of the armor, Sir. I cannot access the suit’s processor.”
Clint and Eliot wrestled with the controls as they tried to steer in the direction Eliot’s intuition pulled him. There was no way they were making the Gunnison airport. One more hit and the avionics would be toast.
They let the jet drop into denser cloud cover hoping to lose War Machine in the storm. The jet shuddered one last time as it started to fall. The last thing anyone on the plane heard was the electronic voice of Colonel James Rhodes. “Bogey is going down in the Anthracite Range. Repeat. Bogey is going … OH MY GOD! It’s a civilian aircraft! I repeat … Bogey is a civilian aircraft!”
Steve and Bucky were the first to regain consciousness. Looking around, the cockpit and the fuselage seemed fairly intact. Thor was beginning to stir as was Natasha. Parker, Bruce, Hardison and Tony were still unconscious. Steve paused.
“I’ll go.” Bucky slipped by him.
“I was always better at this part.” He gave Steve a wink.
He found Eliot and Clint hands clasped hanging limply in their harnesses, faces bleeding from broken glass. Clint began to regain consciousness as he unbuckled their harnesses.
While he moved Clint to the back, James saw Thor gathering their packs out of the storage compartments.
“Get Clint in the rest of his gear. We’re going to be hoofing it out of here.”
Steve nodded as he helped Natasha sit up. By the time Thor handed him Clint’s gear, the archer was fully conscious.
“Bucky’s bringing him back now.” Steve soothed.
Thanks to the Hulk, Bruce woke up in good shape and started assessing the others’ injuries. Thor hovered close by to help. Tony had a dislocated ankle, most everyone was bruised from their seat belts … Natasha had a nasty head wound and dislocated shoulder, Parker a nasty gash on her arm, and Hardison a broken wrist and concussion that had him trying hard not to throw up.
He was putting butterfly bandages on the worst of the cuts on Clint’s face when Eliot started to rouse.
“Go.” Clint urged Bruce.
“Like I was in a plane crash in a snow storm … I’m functional.”
He started to sit up, but paused and closed his eyes. Bruce helped him the rest of the way. Looking down he noticed blood on the floor.
“Eliot, lift your shirt.”
“About that.” Eliot groaned. “Something came through the back of the seat. After you patch that I need you wrap my ribs—tight, and keep it between us.”
“How much mountain experience you got, Doc?”
Bruce shook his head.
“The others, how much do you think they got?”
“Me, Clint, Parker, James, maybe Thor. We need Thor and Steve for Tony and Hardison … Clint and James will take care of Natasha. I take care of everyone so patch me up so we can get the hell off this mountain. They can’t search for us until the storm dies down.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to stay with the plane? It at least offers shelter from the wind.”
“We’re on a slope where I have no idea of the stability of the snow pack. Intuition says go before the plane slides down the mountain. So we take our chances in the storm or with an avalanche.”
“I see your reasoning.”
Eliot thought he and Bruce had gone unnoticed as everyone was busy layering their winter clothes and assessing their supplies. Looking up he saw Clint and Parker frowning in their direction. A shake of his head negated the questions he could see wanting to be asked. Parker turned to Clint and whispered something in his ear. It caused his frown to deepen, but he sullenly nodded his agreement.
The whining curses coming from Tony caught everyone’s attention. His suitcase armor was too damaged to use, so he grudgingly stowed it in his pack.
“Listen up!” Eliot’s growl cut through the chatter.
“We need to get ready to move. It’s still early enough that with luck we can make it to the valley and a chance for someone to give us a ride into Gunnison, or if not find some place to shelter for the night. We’re at the midway point of the storm so it should blow over by evening.”
Everyone but Tony and Hardison moved to obey.
“Rhodey would have told them where we went down. Why should we leave the shelter of the plane?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, man, I don’t feel so hot.” Hardison rubbed his head.
Before he could answer, the metal groaned, the plane shuddered and slid before it slammed to a stop.
“Gotcha.” Tony’s eyes were wide.
“Parker, help Hardison, get his pack on then we’re strapping him to Thor … Steve you get Tony.”
“Strap who to what?! I can walk … Why would you want to …” Hardison complained.
“Hardison! You’re concussed. You’re dizzy and nauseous. You want me to deal with the rash of shit I’d get from Parker if you fell off the mountain? Now quit whining and let Parker dress you.”
The hacker snatched his clothes from Parker.
“Can dress my own damn self. Carry me around like a sack of flour. Ain’t right …”
“HARDISON!” Eliot and Parker snarled in unison.
“Come, little brother …” Thor boomed, “We shall have a glorious tale to tell upon our triumphant return to the Avengers’ keep.”
“Why doesn’t Thor just fly out and get help?” Steve asked quietly as he and Bruce got him dressed around his splinted ankle.
“Under the radar … Keeping The Director distracted from Coulson and Pepper until we get back to New York. We’ll be fine, Cap.” Tony looked at Bruce. “How you holding up, Big Guy?”
“Surprisingly well. The Other Guy is enjoying our adventure.”His tone was dry, but his eyes danced with laughter.
A half hour later they were roped together, Eliot on point then Steve, with Tony, Bruce, James, Natasha, Parker, Thor and Hardison, then Clint. Using the maps snagged from the cockpit and intuition, they headed for one of the canyons. Hardison continued to whine until a rumbling sound caused them to look back and watch the plane slide out of sight.
“Coulson, about time you got here. Report.” Nick snapped.
Phil laid a file on the Director’s desk.
“MarCom is now firmly in the Stark Industries fold. Marx and his daughter have been given new identities, and we’re using intel from the daughter to begin surveillance on the Russians who are fronting for the Red Room.”
“What about The Avengers?”
“I have not communicated with them since they left Germany for Rome.”
“What about Potts?”
“She is equally worried, Sir.”
He watched Fury carefully noting his ashen skin tone and the rubbing of his forehead.
“Are you unwell, Director?” He asked quietly.
“I’m fine.” Fury snapped. “Get with Hill she’ll bring you up to speed on this end.”
Phil closed the door behind him.
Assistant Director Maria Hill looked up as she stood outside The Avengers’ Tower. Going through that door could very well be a point of no return. Her entire career had been one of service first with the military then with SHIELD. She did not want to be disloyal to the Director, but she also did not like the road her agency or her friend was traveling. Straightening her spine, she opened the door and walked through.
“Welcome, Assistant Director Hill. If you step into the elevator I will take you to Assistant Director Coulson and Ms. Potts.”
“Thank you, JARVIS.”
Natasha Romanoff prided herself on being the best at all she turned a hand to doing, but thinking back on the past week she’d had several of her preconceived notions majorly adjusted. She shifted her position to move off a bruise only to have the arms holding her tighten.
“Rest, Mladshaya syestra.” She huffed out a breath.
She was resting in the arms of the most amazing part of the journey—this nightmarish thirty-six hours in the snow and wind had left its mark.
She had been ignoring the pain in her head and shoulder for several hours simply putting one foot in front of the other focusing on James’ back to keep oriented. She had grayed out momentary, and the disorientation saw her step out into open air. Adrenaline cleared her head enough to think this was not the way the Black Widow should die when her descent jerked to a stop.
Natasha looked up into the bright insane smile of Eliot’s thief. Parker held her until James turned and pulled her up with his cybernetic arm being careful of her dislocated shoulder.
“You’re very strong.” The assassin said.
The smile brightened.
“I hang off buildings by my fingertips. Let’s go!”
Parker had smacked her on the ass and shoved her to follow James.
Through the grumbling and the whining, Eliot refused to stop out in the open and had pushed them until James settled her on his back and Bruce somehow channeled energy from the Other Guy to stay on his feet. They were all badly lagging by the time they stumbled into the ER at Gunnison Valley Hospital.
After everyone had been treated, Tony’s ankle stabilized in a walking boot, her arm in sling to take the pressure off her shoulder, and Hardison’s wrist put in a cast. Eliot and Bruce had a glaring contest, which Bruce lost, while one of the nurses recommended the quaint mom and pop motel where they spent the night.
Everyone but Clint and Eliot was in the restaurant finishing breakfast when a mid-size RV pulled into the parking lot. They ignored it until Parker had jumped up and ran out the door to jump into Eliot’s arms causing him to flinch when her heel met with the wound on his back.
“Eliot?” Clint and Parker asked.
“Just a bruise … It’s okay.” He set her down gently.
Once everyone was loaded in the RV, Bruce had pulled him into the privacy of the bedroom.
“You need to be careful. These ribs have barely started to knit.” He scolded.
After re-wrapping the ribs, Bruce turned to repack his kit. A broad hand on his arm stopped him.
“Thanks, Doc.” Eliot said quietly.
Natasha had watched them as she’d stepped out of the bathroom, and realized how little she understood this man who she thought she knew so well.
Now they were rolling eastward, Bruce taking a turn at driving while everyone else sprawled through the RV sleeping or in Tony’s case drawing and talking to JARVIS. They’d talked to Phil and Pepper when they’d stopped at something called Sapp Brothers in Kansas for dinner.
Pepper cried and Phil’s eyes were suspiciously shiny when he’d seen her. Search and rescue had found the plane. They said Colonel Rhodes had been beside himself when they couldn’t find the passengers and was bringing the suit to the Tower for diagnostics.
Natasha didn’t like that she wasn’t privy to all the details of what was happening, but could understand Eliot’s reasoning. She also observed that things were still rocky between her Volk and Yastreb. She would wait until this was finished then smack their heads together if they did not fix things.
They did not tell Phil they were bringing the Winter Soldier home, but Eliot was always bringing home strays and wounded creatures. Phil would adjust.
Happy with her plans she settled against James’ chest for a nap.
It was after dark when JARVIS opened the doors of the Tower’s loading dock and Eliot backed the RV inside. Tony and Natasha were the first ones to the elevator, anxious to be reunited with their lovers. They were still being hugged and scolded when the rest of the team and Happy with their luggage made it to the ‘family floor’.
Natasha heard Phil gasp and loosen his hold when ‘Bucky’ Barnes stepped out of the elevator behind Steve. The Assistant Director’s quick glance took in the flash of metal between his glove and coat sleeve.
“Yasha … Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes?” He gasped. “Where did you find him?” He looked at Natasha for answers.
“I did not find him. Eliot has apparently known him for some time.”
He tried to stop being the Assistant Director and just be Phil … Eliot’s friend, but it was Assistant Director Coulson who asked the question.
Eliot’s expression turned hard.
“SHIELD abandoned me after Moreau. I found my own resources.” His tone softened when he looked at James. “I found a friend.”
Seeing the distance between Clint and Eliot, Phil started to ask when a pinch to the ribs stopped him. A minute shake of red hair told him not to ask.
“I took the liberty of putting Miss Parker and Master Hardison’s belongings in rooms on your floor, Eliot.” JARVIS informed them.
“Thanks, JARVIS. Parker, show him. Be back in an hour for whatever take-out we’re ordering.”
“Great!” She shoved Hardison back in the elevator.
“Woman …” The door closed on the hacker’s complaints.
Tony and Eliot exchanged a look.
“After dinner we talk.”
When Nick Fury walked in his office balancing his coffee and several files from AD Hill, he was surprised to see the person who was looking out his windows.
“I’m quite cross with you Agent.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time, Sir.”
“Why don’t you explain to me where you and your team of miscreants have been?”
The office door opened allowing The Avengers and SHIELD’s two Assistant Directors to step into the office.
“What’s the meaning of this? This meeting is classified.”
“Since it pertains to us we felt we should all be here.” Steve answered.
“Along with the papers Agent Wolfman has for your signature, oh one-eyed king of lying liars.” Tony added.
Fury’s good eye narrowed at the billionaire before grabbing the folder Eliot held out. They settled around the conference table while the Director read the contracts. Every once in a while he rubbed his forehead.
“You really expect me to sign this?”
“There is nothing that would make me sign these papers.”
“Thought that might be your answer.” Eliot handed him another folder.
“Where did you get this?” Fury demanded.
“Shouldn’t have left me flapping in the wind for so many years. It gave me time to talk to a lot of people with very long memories.”
A lot of things happened at once. Fury pulled his weapon and shot three rounds into Eliot. Clint threw something that embedded in the Director’s neck while Hill and Coulson tackled him to the ground. Bruce and Clint ran to where Eliot lay on the floor while the rest of the Avengers stood from where they’d crouched behind the heavy wooden table.
“Tell me he’s wearing a vest.” Clint looked at Bruce.
Hill was calling for Medical as Bruce noticed blood running on the floor, and at the corner of Eliot’s mouth. Coulson ejected the clip from Fury’s gun. The Director had a habit of mixing armor piercing rounds with his regular shells.
“One was armor piercing, Dr. Banner.”
“It caught him high in the right chest. No exit. Another hit one of the ribs broken in the plane crash … It may have punctured a lung.”
While Bruce was checking Eliot physically, Clint was trying to get response through their bond, but the link was silent.
They helped lift Eliot carefully onto the gurney, Bruce following close behind.
“The Director is to be sedated and restrained until we can assess his mental and physical condition with a twenty-four hour guard.” Coulson ordered.
Eliot was taken straight to surgery.
An hour later Fury was in the operating theater next door to Eliot’s. Brain scans showed a blood vessel that had been leaking slowly putting pressure on the Director’s brain. The age of the injury indicated it had happened during Loki’s attack on the Helicarrier.
The news brought Clint’s guilt over the incident back to the surface. Eliot had been protecting them … Him by dealing with a brain damaged Fury. Barton slipped out of the waiting room and returned to the Director’s office and gathered the contracts. The information Eliot had gathered on Fury’s black ops missions he shoved in the nearest shredder. He was still getting nothing through the bond.
When he got back he handed Phil the folder with the contracts.
“Can whichever one of you is Acting Director sign these things before Fury’s back in the mix … You know … In case he’s still a giant dick?” Clint asks.
“I’ll just hold on to these until he wakes up. Then make a decision.”
Phil tried to soothe the agitated archer.
“It’s the least you can do after all Eliot’s been through.”
“It’ll be better if Nick does it … Realizes you’re not part of SHIELD any more by his choice.”
“After what he did you think he deserves easy.” Clint glared at his former handler.
“Agent Barton …” Hill was stopped by Phil’s hand on her arm.
“Trust me, Clint.”
“If this goes bad those are two words you will never say to me ever again.” Clint growled.
He glared at both Assistant Directors before heading toward the doctor wearing Eliot’s blood.
“How is he Doc?” Tony asked.
“Baring complications, Agent Spencer should be up and around in a few days. The bullet nicked the top of the lung, but passed through muscle so the shoulder should be fine with therapy. There was a recently healed break in one of the ribs that re-broke when the bullet impacted and punctured his right lung. I’d want that completely healed before he attempts anything strenuous. The nurse will get you when he’s settled.”
“Thank you, Doctor. Now let’s have a chat about moving Wolfman to my Tower.” Tony’s voice trailed off as he continued down the hall with the doctor.
He came back almost dancing.
“Everything goes okay we can take him to the Tower late tomorrow.”
By supper the next day, an exhausted Eliot was pinned down by Parker. He hadn’t talked to anyone … Not even telepathically. Clint nerves were fraying around the edges so he called the doctor. The doctor said there was no reason for Eliot not to speak. When he finally did, Clint was not ready for the question he asked.
“Where’s the contracts, Clint?”
“Phil has them.”
Eliot started to turn away.
“He asked me to trust him. He knows what we’re attempting.” Clint pleaded.
“Clint, I love Phil like a brother, but he doesn’t know everything that goes on at SHIELD.”
“I suppose you do?” Clint crossed his arms over his chest defensively.
“Is this how you want to end this?” Eliot asked tiredly.
“End … NO!”
“I can liaison with the Avengers, I can run cons with Leverage International, but I cannot and will not be Fury’s pet wolf any longer.”
“And you won’t be.” Phil commented from the door.
“Are the contracts signed?” Eliot’s tone was hopeful.
“No, but Eliot Nick wasn’t himself since the invasion. The brain bleed …”
“Was he having a brain bleed when he sent me under with Moreau, or any of the other ops he only carries in his head?”
“The last few … Maybe.”
“I take it the bastard didn’t die on the table.”
“No, but …”
“Just get out of here … Both of you.”
With his enhanced healing, Eliot was back in the gym within a week, working to get his lung and shoulder back in condition. Now that he was no longer pulling missions for Fury, he and Clint had been spending time really getting to know each other once more. The subject of SHIELD between them was like the mission in Budapest. They all remember it very differently. Three days after the shooting, Eliot re-opened his end of their bond. It didn’t magically fix their relationship, but it helped keep them on track, and the make-up sex was mind blowing.
A quick shower and change of clothes and Eliot was in the kitchen deciding on dinner when Tony blew through on his way to the coffee pot.
“Sir, Director Fury is in the lobby.”
“Do not let him up.” Tony growled.
“I’ll go.”Eliot laid down the meat he’d taken from the refrigerator.
“Not without me.” Tony pushed past Eliot into the elevator.
Eliot rolled his eyes.
If Fury was surprised to see Stark he kept it to himself.
“Agent Spencer. I wanted to personally drop this off, and apologize for my actions while I was compromised.”
Eliot looked in the folder.
“Thank you, Director.”
“Spencer … Stark.”
They watched until Fury’s SUV drove off before going back upstairs. Eliot headed for the bar and poured two fingers of Gentleman Jack … Downed it … Then poured another for himself and one for Tony.
Tony looked up from the pages in the folder.
“I’ll be damned.”
He bumped his glass against Eliot’s.
“The king is dead. Long live the king.”
~ Fini ~