Link to art: Fantastic!Sian1359 on AO3
Word Count: 20,736
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Clint Barton; Nate/Sophie; Tony/Pepper; Natasha Romanoff/Phil Coulson; Parker/Hardison
Warnings: language; a little sex, a little violence
Disclaimer: I don't own them. They belong only to themselves, and the people that created them. This is a figment of my imagination--fiction. No money made. Any mistakes are mine.
Summary: 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?
A/N: Spoilers: Season 5 Leverage: The Rundown Job, The Long Goodbye. Part 2 of The One-Eyed King series.
"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-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 QT 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.
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 out 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 Other Guy, 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 band aides 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 Widow. 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 travelling. 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 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-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 imbedded 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.
"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."
"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."
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 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 ~