I don't own it.

Here we go: 6 chapters of undercover Clint Barton, none of which actually contain the words Clint or Barton. He's undercover, come on, he wouldn't slip up like that. It'll make more sense if you've seen the following movies (spoilers for 'em, obviously): The Hurt Locker, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and Arrival. In that order.


The Hurt Locker


He's playing the cocky maverick this time. Sergeant First Class William James, the reckless adrenaline junkie living on borrowed time.

He goes all-out for the first five or six days, scaring the wits out of his bomb squad until they're about ready to murder him. Endangering lives, says Sanborn, one sergeant to another. Gonna get us killed one day, says Eldridge, young and terrified. James doesn't care. It's borrowed time, he tells them. Live it while you've got it, 'cause you're only ever a breath away from death.

But it's not just him. They're all living on borrowed time out here (here: Iraq, 2008), and he would be a fool not to realise it.

It's a relief to rein in the worst of the arrogance, to let the tension and the teamwork seep past James' careful barriers and ground him a little. He dials back on the recklessness. Listens to his unit. Eldridge is so close to edge he'll take anything James can give him, a pat on the shoulder, technical advice, a kind word, good job out there today, you're doing fine, you're doing just fine. By contrast, Sanborn watches him carefully, almost suspiciously, like he thinks James might go crazy and blow them up for kicks.

But after the night of drinking Sanborn finds him, says sorry for pulling a knife on you, it was just too much, you know? and James nods and says yeah, man, I know, sorry for riling you up like that.

And things settle, as they always do.

He does the jobs they're given, and he does the other jobs, too, the ones his unit know nothing about. When they ask questions he brushes them off, tells them he's been gambling, visiting a brothel, praying at the chapel, tracking Beckham's killers. And when Beckham's right there in the courtyard like he never left, trying to sell them cheap DVDs, James doesn't talk to him. Does his best not to see him. Like he hadn't closed the boy's lifeless eyes. Hadn't defused a bomb and dug it out of the boy's flayed chest cavity.

The kids always hit him hardest. Even SFC James isn't immune to that.

He doesn't look at Beckham, just hops in the truck and lights a cigarette with hands that shake for no reason. Sanborn and Eldridge don't look at him, not until they're well down the road on the way to the next objective, but James can feel them looking at each other in the rear view mirror, holding a silent conversation.

He knows his unit has secrets. Everybody has secrets.

Keep an eye on Sanborn, Command had told him, so he does.

He doesn't understand why until years later.