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.
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-eye 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 breeched 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 to 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 de-brief 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.
Awaken 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 and 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 suite 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.