Sorry for the delay in updates! This chapter was a bear to write, in no small part to Clint. I love the guy, but his POV is a bitch to write. This chapter and the next were written with the Fic-A-Day in mind, but after that the chapters will (hopefully) flow together as part of a larger fic rather than a string of stand alones.
And thank you so much to RaeBear for the rec and to those who reviewed! I’m a little behind in responding, but I will get to them!+++
Clint resisted the urge to smirk at Fury’s order. As far as he was concerned, this mission was a waste of time. He wasn’t there for his opinion, though, so he kept his mouth shut and sat back in his chair as Coulson stepped toward the video screen.
"There's been little movement, sir," Coulson said. "The subjects are still in the Hyperion, operating in a lockdown mode of sorts, leaving mostly for supplies. Faith Lehane has not left the premises at all, and as far as we can tell, there has been no further communication with Stark."
A glint appeared in Fury’s eye at this last part, one that didn’t escape Clint’s notice.
The Director already knew about Stark, he realized, probably knew more than they did. And he wasn’t going to tell them.
"The situation has changed,” Fury said crisply. “As you know, the slayers have ties to the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart. As if this in itself isn’t enough cause for alarm, we have recently received intel from our agent within their organization…” Tasha
, Clint thought.
He knew without a doubt that she was the plant in the law firm – while he watched teenage girls buy more sanitary products and diet soda than he ever cared to witness.
Christ, she was never going to let him live this down.
Clint slouched down into his chair as Fury continued talking.
“…that Wolfram & Hart is currently seeking ways to eliminate Faith Lehane's record, either through legal or mystical means. We cannot
let that happen, Agents, for many reasons,” the Director stated, giving both Clint and Coulson a level look. "As we speak, SHIELD is in the process of wiping Lehane's record clean. Those intimately involved with her case will be informed that Lehane has been working with us for some time now. They will be thanked for their service and told in no uncertain terms that Miss Lehane is no longer their concern."
And the conversation suddenly got a lot more interesting.
For what it was worth, Clint heartily agreed with Fury. He didn't give a damn if the vampire in charge was soft and cuddly. Wolfram & Hart was larger than any one person. It was a juggernaut, one that was on the top of SHIELD’s watch list for a reason.
In institutions like that, it wasn’t the man that changed the place; it was the place that changed the man, eating away at him, bit by bit, like a cancer.
So yeah, the less involved the slayers were with Wolfram & Hart, the better. If that meant SHIELD had to step in, then so be it – even if the cover story was a little weak, particularly when Lehane’s age was taken into consideration. They had no choice. Besides, when an agency like SHIELD stepped in, local law enforcement seldom had any questions, at least ones they would dare to voice out loud. And with Sunnydale and all its records gone in a puff of smoke, there was no one around to contest the validity of the story.
Still, he had to wonder what the consequences would be.
Apparently, Coulson was thinking along the same lines.
"And the Council?" the other agent asked.
"The Council has remained silent," Fury informed them. "This is dangerous territory, gentlemen. Undoubtedly, other agencies will see this as an opportunity to approach the slayers themselves. Without any word from the Council, I still do not want to overstep our bounds. That being said, I think it would be wise if made our presence known."
"Yes, sir," Coulson began. "I will—"
"Not you, Agent," Fury interrupted. "I need you for something else. Barton is on this one."
Clint frowned at this. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Coulson do the same; for good reason, too.
Initial contact was Coulson’s gig. The man was a master at it. He could approach anyone – from playboy billionaires to a homeless guy off the street – and come off as both authoritative and non-threatening, and it got him a hell of a lot of mileage.
That wasn’t Clint at all. He
didn’t talk birds down from trees. His job was to shoot them down.
Clint was about to point this out when Fury held his hand up.
"Trust me on this one. It's only temporary, and I need you in the Arctic, Agent Coulson,” he said. He looked directly at Coulson, a shadow of a smile on his face. “They found him.”
Even as Coulson's face lit up a kid on Christmas morning, Fury turned toward Clint.
"From what we have learned, this group does not respond well to government interference, particularly the military, so I would suggest that you don't come on too strong. Just... give them a nudge,” he instructed.
Clint quirked his eyebrow. "A 'nudge'?"
Fury's face remained impassive. "A nudge. No more, no less. Fury, out."
Then the screen went blank.
Clint frowned. A nudge. It was easy for Fury to say. He wasn't the one who had to figure out how to give a 'nudge' without getting punched in face. Or worse.
Still, it sure as hell beat babysitting. +++
Clint and Coulson had been watching the Hyperion since they had arrived, and they knew the habits of its occupants pretty well. For instance, every night at 2am, the head slayer herself would leave the hotel and walk a mile and three quarters until she reached a small pocket park sandwiched in between an industrial complex and an abandoned housing development.
What she did there or why she went, they weren’t sure. They had never gotten too close, wanting to ensure they weren’t detected. All they knew what that she would stay there for a good hour before returning to the hotel.
It seemed like the perfect opening. Clint wasn’t about to leave it up to chance, though.
By 1:30am, he was stationed across the street on the roof of a two story apartment building, hidden behind the shadows of an old brick chimney. It put him about 250 feet away with nothing obstructing his view except for a high chain link fence that enclosed the playground. It also gave him many outlets for escape.
Then he sat back and waited.
45 minutes later, Buffy Summers came into view. She moved silently, passing through the gate, heading straight the swings. There she sat on the only working one. She didn’t swing back and forth, though. She just sat there with this faraway look in her eyes, one that deepened with every minute that ticked by.
He had to give her credit. She didn't look like much; more like a kid than anything else. He had read her file, though. He knew what she was capable of.
Almost as if she could hear his thoughts, she looked up just then, seemingly staring right at him even though it was next to impossible to actually see him in the shadows there.
The best part was the expression on her face – it was pure and utter annoyance.
Clint had to grin. Why not? He didn't take it as a failure on his part. He knew he was stealthy; prided himself on it. Instead he took it as a measure of her own skill, and his respect for her immediately went up a notch.
It went up even higher when her gaze suddenly cut to her left toward an intersection approximately two buildings down.
Clint looked over as well, but he didn’t see anything. He couldn’t hear anything, either, but his instincts told him the slayer was right.
Something was coming.
They came into view a minute later; four guys, white, in their early 20s. Aside from the surprised chuckle one of them gave when they spotted the slayer, they made no sound, unnaturally quiet in the movements as they stalked toward her.
Clint turned his gaze back to the slayer. She looked nervous, but he knew it was just an act. Sure, she put on a good show of fidgeting in the swing, like she couldn’t decide if she should run or make herself as invisible as possible, but she was really just shifting so that she could keep both him and the others in her line of sight.
Staying in the swing was a smart move, too. The guys automatically went to stand in front of her. This put them in between her and Clint. If he was with these guys, then he would have to go through them to get to her.
Silently, Clint pulled out his bow, waiting to see how it all played out.
Before the group reached the slayer, the leader of pack called out to her, the night air carrying pieces of it up to Clint.
"Hey baby... lucky night..."
The slayer cocked her head to the side, an amused look on her face as they finally reached her. Clint half-heard, half-lip read her response.
"You know, for vampires, your instincts suck
Then, before her words could probably fully register, the slayer sprang into action, hoisting herself up on the chains of the swing so she could kick out both of her legs. The vampire who had the misfortune of standing within striking distance went flying across the playground toward Clint, hitting the chain link fence with a crash.
In the same fluid motion, the slayer let go of the swing, landing on her feet like a cat, a stake suddenly in her hand.
The others were on her in an instant, their faces transforming into something very ugly and very inhuman as they surrounded her. Or at least, that's what they tried
Clint was never one to stand on ceremony. He already had an arrow in the air, aimed directly at the vampire to the slayer’s left. Before it could find its mark, he loosed another bolt, this one targeting the vampire by the fence.
Hell, he would've let loose a third arrow, even had it nocked on his bow, but the remaining two vampires were already getting into it with the slayer, dodging and darting all around her, making it impossible for him to get a clean shot.
Call him crazy, but he thought that accidentally shooting the slayer would set the wrong tone. He would just have to wait for another shot.
It never came – his two arrows passed cleanly through the chain links and found their marks, his targets exploding into clouds of dust in a rapid one-two succession. Probably caught off guard by the sudden of demise of their buddies, the remaining vampires whipped around, snarling in anger when they caught sight of Clint.
The slayer didn't miss a beat; she immediately took advantage of this and staked the one on her right.
When she turned toward the remaining vampire, there was a distinct gleam in her eye. Then she attacked.
The vampire was a decent fighter, but he didn’t stand a chance. Clint knew it, the slayer definitely knew it, and hell, the vampire probably did, too.
There simply was no denying it; in hand to hand combat, the slayer was a force. Someone would have to be blind not to see the power behind her blows, the graceful efficiency with which she moved, all packaged in a whirl of blonde hair and legs.
Clint could admit it. From a professional standpoint, he was impressed. His personal opinion of her wasn't too shabby, either.
It took her less than a minute to stake the vampire. Before the dust could settle – literally – she was glaring up at him.
"You're not going to make me come up there and get you, are you?"
Clint stepped out of the shadows, purposefully stowing his bow away to show he meant no harm. "Wouldn't dream of it."
He quickly climbed down the building’s fire escape, acutely aware that she was studying him as he did so, particularly when he jumped the last ten feet.
Her gaze sharpened even more as he began to walk toward her, her eyes flickering between him and the piles of dust he had made. When he stopped just shy of the playground, her expression became downright surly.
Hey, he was no fool. He might have helped her, but that didn’t mean a punch in the face was entirely ruled out yet – and now he knew it would hurt
So he simply leaned against the gate post and waited.
When she finally spoke, he could hear the accusation in her voice.
"You're only human.”
Clint couldn't resist. "That's what they keep telling me," he replied. Then he winked. "I just ignore them, though."
She didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, she asked the most obvious question. “Who are you?”
“Hawkeye,” he replied.
“Hawkeye?” she repeated dryly. When Clint just smirked in response, she scowled. “Okay, Hawkeye
, why are you watching me?”
“You obliterate an entire town, people tend to notice,” he said with a shrug.
She immediately stiffened at this. “Who are you and what do you want?” she asked again. This time there was an edge to her voice.
Clint straightened up. "I work for an organization that has similar interests as you. As for what we want... well, let’s just say that we don’t want anything you don’t want to give," he said, unwilling to say more than that at that moment.
"And what if that’s nothing?" she shot back.
He just shrugged again.
That took her by surprise. "Seriously?" she exclaimed. "That’s your sales pitch? Aren’t you going to make some grand promises? Or even better, some very graphic but probably very unimaginative threats?"
Clint gave her a rueful smile. "Not my style," he replied. "But if it’s a sales pitch you want, I’m sure you’ll get it. I can pretty much guarantee that we won’t be the only ones knocking on your door."
With that, he began to walk away. He had already said enough for the first meet and greet, and he didn’t want to push much harder than that, especially out in the open like that.
"Wait, that’s it? You’re just leaving?" she blurted out.
Clint turned back to face her, his eyebrow raised in feigned ignorance. "You want me to stay?"
The slayer’s eyes narrowed at this. "That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” she said.
“Don’t worry, Summers, you’ll see me again,” he promised. Then he turned and began walking away again.
Thankfully, she didn’t follow – though when he reached the other side of the street, she called out to him.
"You know, making with the cryptic doesn’t exactly endear you to me," she said, a distinctly grumpy tone to her voice.
Clint turned around again, though he continued to walk backwards as he spoke. "Maybe, but I’m still light years ahead of Stark, right?"
The look on her face was priceless, and he couldn’t help but grin as he melted into the shadows. When he heard a loud curse a second later, immediately followed by what sounded like something about kicking both his and Iron Man’s tin can ass into a brand new shape, his grin grew wider.
Maybe this assignment wasn’t so bad after all. +++
A/N: So... did I lose you?