I don't own it.

I'm working on a fic for Agents of Shield. That'll be the next thing I post. The Nature Of The Game, in which Phil Coulson, suffering nightmares about his Tahiti holiday and concerned about the latent effects of being stabbed with an Asgardian staff, calls up his old friend, SHIELD's resident expert in Asgardian brainwashing: Clint Barton, Avenger.

Now. It's the big one! Here we go...


The Bourne Legacy, Part 2


He makes the call for pick-up as soon as they land in Manila (here, Phillipines, 2012). It will take time for Command to scramble a retrieval team, he knows that. It's time Aaron Cross and the doc may not have. But he's going downhill fast. Marta won't have a chance of making it on her own. Even a slim chance is better than none.

It takes the last of his energy to get them through the gate of the chem factory. In the lab, the doc preps the gear while he locks himself in the bathroom and desperately tries to just breathe. The mental disconnects are coming more frequently now. They'd be a relief if he wasn't so aware of what they mean. A tiny blissful reprieve from the constant agony of the headaches. But they'll only grow worse, and he can't afford that.

He doesn't know if the retrieval team is coming or not. That's not the way it works. He'll find out when they get there — or when they don't. In the meantime, this is his best chance at staying functional enough to keep them alive for another day.

The doc gives him the dose, slow and steady. Thank you, he whispers as the needle goes in, as the plunger presses down. He can see the doubt in her eyes, the circling question of whether she's doing the right thing. He knows that she knows she might have just killed him. The chems were bad enough, even altered by Command as they were. If his system can't handle the viralised blues…

He shoves the thought away and goes to lie down. They've got a bit of time up their sleeves. He can afford half an hour to let the serum do its work.

The guards turn up sixteen minutes later. He takes them down quietly, non-lethally, welcoming the flood of adrenaline. But it's on the ebb by the time they push their way out of the factory through the crowd of pink scrubs. The shakes are setting in, he's nearly doubled over with stomach cramps, and only a hasty hand pressed to his mouth keeps the nausea at bay.

Marta slips an arm round him, helping as best she can. He guides them away from the tourist areas, into the maze of raucous back-blocks, acting more on ingrained instinct than conscious thought. They won't make it across the city to the primary rendezvous point, but he might be able to get them close enough to a secondary. When he knows beyond doubt that he can't walk another block, he slumps against a wall outside a restaurant, tilts his head up to the smog, and manages a hoarse mumble: Upstairs. See that sign? They rent out rooms. Negotiate, take the fourth offer, use cash, only first names.

The doc slips away into the crowd. Aaron curls his fingers into the rough brick at his back and tries to breathe through the pain.

The knives have moved on from stabbing the backs of his eyes: they're in his brain and down the length of his spinal column, radiating out from his nervous system, gouging into the marrow of his bones. Sweat pours off him. He's been in this sort of climate before. This much sweat isn't normal. The soles of his feet feel like he's been walking barefoot across shattered glass for the last mile: he knows exactly what that feels like, and the sensation is so close it's uncanny. The sounds of the restaurant make him want to scream, the lights make his eyes water, but he can't let his guard down yet. He grits his teeth, squints against the half-light of the darkened street, and lets his gaze slide from one shadow to the next to the next, flicking back, moving on, flicking back.

There.

For a moment he freezes. It's nothing out of the ordinary: a lock of red hair tumbling out of a knit hat. A slim hand moves, tucking it back out of sight. Bored green eyes skim over the crowd before dropping back to the menu.

He's been looking too long. He wrenches his eyes away, heart beating too fast, too loud. Too long, he was watching her for too long. She noticed, of course she did. But if he's watching her and she's watching him then it's almost certain other people are watching, too, and she may not even be here for him. She might be on her own mission. If he's blown her cover —

Help.

Aaron Cross doesn't know her. He can't risk another glance in her direction. In his peripheral vision he sees her lay the menu on the table and stand. Again, it's more reflex than conscious action: the ID tag is still under his jacket. Doctor Karl Brundage. He twitches it out into the open.

The doc appears at his side. She must have already been talking, because he only catches the second half of the sentence, — a room, come on.

And then there's an achingly familiar hand on his arm, and a voice like rain in the desert says, Karl? Hey, bro, are you going to introduce me to your friend?

He turns his head, meets green eyes, sees the well of worry behind the laughter, but before he can say anything she's got her free hand held out to Marta. I'm Natalie, I'm Karl's sister. He didn't say he was bringing a friend. It's good to meet you.

It's, uh, it's good to meet you too. Natalie. Marta's doing her best to bury the confusion. The display wouldn't be anywhere near convincing enough for a professional tail, but it's adequate for the crowd of locals.

Come on, Nat says, already slinging an arm around his back. She's supporting a lot more of his weight than anyone would know by looking at them. This way.

She's got a car waiting for them, the angel. Nata — Natalie keeps up a quiet flow of conversation with Marta all the way to the hangar where the quinjet waits. Aaron leans against Nat, blinks gritty eyes, tries to follow the movement of traffic outside the window. He doesn't think they're being tailed.

Onboard, he takes up position beside the rear window, watching the entrance to the hangar. Everything's quiet. For now. Nat presses a pistol into his hand; he takes it, checks the magazine, flicks the safety off, all before any semblance of coherent thought hits his brain. He grips the water bottle she hands him with his spare hand. Drains it. Marta drops into a passenger seat, huddling in on herself while Nat slips into the pilot's seat.

He blinks and they're in the air.

Natalie eases the pistol from his hand. Stows it away. Takes his weight again as they shuffle across to the private alcove, where a medical bed awaits. He strips his shirt off before he collapses onto the bed. The air conditioning on his bare chest feels like heaven.

There's something he's forgotten. He scrubs his hands over his face, through his hair, trying to stave off the pain and the exhaustion for long enough to think. Think. He's got his backup, his retrieval team. They're safe. They're on their way home. What has he forgotten?

Handover.

The virus. If he doesn't make it…

Handover.

Aaron drops his hands. Seeks out Marta on the far side of the cabin. Doc, he says, rough and quiet.

She comes over, soft-footed, worried. What is it, Aaron?

Natalie's like me. She'll look after you. If anything happens. Don't worry about me, don't wait for me, you got that? Listen. There's forty thousand cash in the lining of my jacket. You take it, you go with Nat, you get out. Stay low, keep moving. No airports. Head for DC. You understand?

Her eyes dart to Nat and back to Aaron. She nods.

Do you understand? he demands, louder that time. Desperate. This is important. She has to know, she has to survive. He hasn't dragged them both this far to fail now. Breathing laboured, dripping sweat, he takes her by the shoulders. His grip is tighter than the man behind Aaron Cross would ever grab a woman. Tell me what you're gonna do!

She repeats the instructions back to him, faltering once or twice. Fighting hysteria again.

He lets her go. Okay, he says. Okay. Concentrates on breathing, fights the undertow of pain. Thank you.

She laughs, high-pitched and hysterical. No, thank you. I wouldn't — those people would have — they would have shot me with my own gun, they were going to make it look like —

He feels terrible about it. He feels terrible about everything. But he tunes her out. Lets his eyes defocus. He hears Natalie move the doc away, get her settled in a bunk on the far side. And then Nat's back, fitting a drip to his arm, wiping away the sweat, drawing blood for a lab analysis. He doesn't move until she's finished, but because he's still Aaron Cross, he doesn't close his eyes, either.

She'll understand.

How are you feeling? she asks when she's finished.

He shakes his head, eyes dull, and then flinches as the movement drives the knives deeper into the backs of his eyeballs. Flinches again as the first flinch creates even more knives.

Cool hands splay against his temples, holding him still, rubbing gently against the pressure points. Nat draws him forward until his forehead rests in the crook of her shoulder. He goes with it, slumping into the embrace, cherishing the simple act of kindness. He kept the physical contact with Marta to a minimum, too aware of the false intimacy of their situation. But this… this, he can allow. This is Natalie. She's like Aaron.

She's like him.

A lump rises in his throat when she cards a hand through his sweat-slick hair. She's warm. Human-warm. He missed this. How long has it been since he's felt the gentle touch of skin on skin? Too long. It's been too long.

He's lived in the mask of the lonely killer too long.

He buries his nose in the softness of her shoulder. Feels the shakes overtake him, threatening to pull him to pieces. He's tired. So tired. Everything hurts. He could sleep for a thousand years. He must have made a muffled noise of distress, because she hushes him. Smoothes a hand over his hair again. Wipes the dampness from his cheeks.

Is he crying? He thinks he's crying. He doesn't care. She put the privacy screen up to shield him from the doc. Command will be watching through the cameras, probably. It's nothing they haven't seen before.

Nat tightens her grip on him, tucks him closer into her shoulder. He curls his fingers in her shirt, hyperaware of the weave of the fabric, the faint smell of sweat under her deodorant, the tang of vomit under his. She's strong. She's so strong, cradling him like this, holding him while he breaks.

He's done it for her before. They've held each other like this a dozen times, on a dozen missions, times when one or both of them reaches the end of their strength.

After a while he realises he's muttering against her skin, where the cameras can't see his lips move. Natalie. Natalie. Natalie. A reminder for himself. A promise. An offering of thanks. Natalie. Natalie.

He doesn't know when sleep takes him. She lays him stomach-down on the bed, mindful of the wires. One of his hands dangles over the edge, calloused and bruised. He mumbles something incoherent, cheek pressed to the pillow, sweat shining on fever-flushed skin.

She curls into the seat beside him and tangles her fingers with his, and he quiets.