Fury nodded, "I do."
"Very well," Phil gave him another short nod and then retreated out of the room, letting the door close softly behind him.
To his surprise, Clint ended up sleeping for several hours despite the rising sun. It wasn't until a bird landed a few branches above him and began chirping that he resigned himself to joining the world of the conscious.
He was supremely glad that no one was there to witness his pathetic stretching or hear his grunts as he tried to work out kinks and loosen muscles.
Glancing at his watch he was pleased to see it was after ten and tapped his comm., secretly hoping that Natasha was still asleep and his call would wake her.
That hope was dashed with her prompt answer, "Romanoff."
"You have a bed! Why are you awake?" he asked grumpily.
"Discipline," she answered.
"You're no fun at all," he grumbled, still stretching out his back.
"What'll you do until the meet?" Natasha turned it back to business and he followed suit.
"They left one guard in the building so it's safe to assume they'll get here early enough to get the advantage. Until then I need to stretch out and finish up some prep on the ground. I'll be back in position by 1400 to monitor their approach and observe how they position their men. You'll be in position at 1445?"
"Fine. Wait for me before you make your approach and then we'll go from there. And Romanoff?"
"Keep an eye out. Something's off about all this. Phil said the bodies in the forest were with Malcolm but there's been nothing that points to why they're corpses now."
Clint bit his cheek before finally settling on, "Just remember that it's my ass on the line here too, Romanoff."
The disconnecting click left a bad taste in Clint's mouth. He knew that Natasha was aware of what was at stake but her reputation with partners wasn't exactly awe-inspiring.
He ignored the niggling sense that something was very wrong with this mission as he climbed down the tree and stretched again.
Being out of the tree lifted his spirits a little and he took his time carefully picking his way across branches and debris back towards the deeper part of the woods.
He enjoyed the warmer weather and the sun on his back as he trekked back to where he'd hidden his bike. Clint was pleased to see it was in the same condition he'd left it in. As much as he would have liked to take refuge inside the house to take a moment he knew better than to risk it.
Even though it looked abandoned there was the potential for traps on the doors and windows or even further inside the house. Better not to chance anything; leaving his bike had been risky enough.
He covered his tracks as best he could, taking extra care around the house, and then decided to go back to the clearing to see if the bodies had been disturbed.
Clint wasn't exactly sure whether he was hoping that the site had been left alone or not, but regardless the area was as deserted as it had been when he'd first stumbled upon it.
He spent some time looking to see if anyone had been through and covered their tracks but he found no evidence of that. Animals had been through the area and those markings were authentic. He didn't bother going back over to the bodies, the only thing that would accomplish would be to tempt him losing the energy bar he'd eaten on his walk over. And that wouldn't do anyone any good so he left it alone.
It was getting close to noon and Clint decided that scouting out the opposite side of the building would be a good way to use the rest of his time so he headed out that way, keeping a keen eye out just in case.
Two hours in the woods went far more quickly than he would have thought and soon he was trekking back to his tree, searching out the small marks he'd left to get him back to his proper position.
Clint scaled the tree easily and grabbed the rifle and bits of gear that he'd kept up high on the branches, easily concealed with the height and shadows. He pulled on his quiver and checked his bow, feeling more at ease with its weight on his back again.
It wasn't his favorite position, but he'd scoped out enough trees to know this was his best option in the area. There were enough sturdy branches that he could lean his full weight against them and be confident that they'd hold. This allowed him to set up his gun and lean forward against the branches, supported on his stomach with a clear line of sight.
He adjusted his scope, scanning the area first overall and then dialing in to allow a little more clarity; no one was there yet.
Clint started to mentally prepare himself, slowing his breathing and falling into a state of hyper-vigilance while simultaneously trying to keep his muscles loose. He had enough practice that it didn't take long to sink into the zone.
The minutes ticked by slowly until around 1425 when a van pulled up. Six men got out, dressed in black vests and sunglasses with guns slung across shoulders and strapped on their hips. The Goon Squad is here.
Clint watched carefully, tracking their movements as carefully as he could, watching as two took up positions on the outside of the building and the other four entered the building. Despite his line of sight through the windows he couldn't track all of them.
Several minutes later two of the men came out and the guard from last night was with them. They stood by the entrance and the guard talked to one man while another took out a phone and made a call.
Clint's best guess was the guard was giving his report, minimal though it must have been, and they'd done a quick sweep of the building before deciding it was clear. The call was most likely an all-clear signal to Malcolm.
Sure enough, ten minutes later another car pulled up and Thomas Malcolm stepped out of the back. Clint tracked him with his scope until he entered the building. The guard from last night got into the van and drove it to the other side of the building, out of sight from the way Natasha would come.
The other two guards took up positions on the outside as well. Clint ticked them off in his head; four outside, one for each corner of the building, two inside, positions unknown, one in the van and one in the car, both waiting in case a quick getaway is needed. And Malcolm inside.
It wasn't great but it could have been worse. The two men inside would probably stay with Malcolm on the ground or at least within view in case they were needed. He couldn't get eyes on the guard in the van or the two men on the far sides of the building so it was possible they had entered the building.
At least he could see most of the main floor, including where Malcolm stood in the middle, flanked by the two guards as predicted. Things would turn to shit quickly if they moved much; as it was they were at the edge of the window he was looking through. He could lose his line of sight and the shot he had lined up in the blink of an eye.
When the two guards he could see on the outside each began moving from their position to walk the length of the building towards the back, where they too would be unseen from Natasha's approach, Clint turned his scope back to the windows, trying to get a glimpse of anyone waiting in the catwalks above.
He got a gleam of something but he couldn't be sure of anything with the way the sun was reflecting off the glass. It was quickly approaching go-time so he clicked his comm. on.
"I'm in position; eight men on site in total. Two men inside with Malcom, I have a clear view of all of them. Of the other six I only have eyes on one in the car in the front of the building. There's a van around back so at best there's another one waiting in there."
"So there's four men, possibly five, unaccounted for, and all of them are might be hidden inside."
"Yeah pretty much."
"You're so useful. I'm making my approach."
Clint watched silently as her car pulled up. At the noise two of the guards moved forward from their positions and guided Natasha to park her car and exit the vehicle.
One took the keys from her and checked the car over while the other moved to check her for weapons. He could imagine her rolling her eyes as she was patted down and her bag was inspected. When the guard produced no weapons Clint gave a small smile. At the very least she had her boot knife and garroting wire on her. Her guns were too conspicuous; despite her prowess at unarmed combat he was glad he'd left some guns in the building just in case.
Natasha took her cues from the guards as they escorted her inside, one leading her and one positioned behind her.
"So with those two accounted for there are now still three wandering around. Check up on the catwalks if you can when you first get in there, that's the biggest threat," Clint said, tracking Natasha as she disappeared from his view.
A moment later she was back as she joined Malcolm and his guards on the main floor. He watched Natasha carefully and bit down on his lip when she moved her bangs out of her eyes with one finger. One man up above.
"Where?" he asked, already adjusting his scope to try to get a better view.
"Mr. Malcolm, it's a pleasure," Natasha spoke and extended her hand in greeting.
"Indeed, it is," Malcolm moved forward and shook her hand. As Natasha stepped back and dropped her hand she quickly touched her index finger to her thumb and then let her hand fall open and down to her side.
"Nine. Your nine o'clock," Clint muttered as he shifted to get a better view. "Or it's 'f' and you're telling me to fuck off." It took a moment to find the man among the shadows but Clint saw him. "Got him. Looks like he's there as backup for your ridiculously paranoid seller. Guns are holstered, he's just observing. Keep any signals to your right side if you can; easier for me to see and you can block his line of sight with your body."
"Shall we get down to it?" Malcolm offered.
"Yes, that seems prudent," Natasha agreed. "I understand you think you can supply what my employers are looking for." She phrased it like question, trying to goad him early.
He bristled, "I know I can supply what they're looking for Ms. Rousseau."
She smirked, "I'd think carefully if I were you, Mr. Malcolm. Jones and Bolstein doesn't take kindly to posturing amateurs. You know who they work for and trust me when I say those men don't give second chances."
Clint marveled at her; her voice was calm and light and her posture was utterly confident. Despite being outnumbered and seemingly weaponless she was in complete control.
Malcolm flushed but fought for control, his voice tight, "Well I can assure you that I am as good as my word. Do you have similar assurances? I'd like a guarantee before I risk moving this much equipment. It would be most unfortunate if I went to all this trouble to move your merchandise only to find out this was a ruse or a sting."
"Excuse me?" Natasha's voice was colder than ice, her light French accent thickening as if unconsciously revealed in her anger. A moment later, as she huffed a quick breath and glared at Malcolm, her voice was light again and carefully neutral. "I must have misheard you, sir. You couldn't possibly have just insinuated that Jones and Bolstein are under investigation of any kind, let alone cooperating with any authorities in an attempt to capture you and dismantle Homefront."
Her voice reflected amusement although her body language clearly indicated her irritation, "Clearly you are not what we are looking for. Good day."
She turned on her heel, easily brushing past a stationary guard; her gait was slow and easy. Natasha wasn't retreating, she was strolling out.
She'd hardly gone three steps before Malcolm called out, "One moment."
Natasha turned back, one hand coming up and turning palm up as she gestured out to her side in a movement that clearly said you had better impress me right now or I'm leaving.
Malcolm was clearly cowed and his voice was sickly sweet, "I believe we got off on the wrong foot. I, of course, did not mean to imply anything of the sort. Homefront is more than willing to move whatever Jones and Bolstein requests but an order of this magnitude will take time."
"If we're going to negotiate I'd appreciate some privacy. I came alone and unarmed, as you can see, and of the two of us my position would usually demand more security than I supplied on this trip. I will not have these details being overheard by your twenty dollars an hour armed monkeys," she smiled and cocked her head slightly to one side, looking up to her left where the guard was hiding above.
"I'd heard you were good, Ms. Rousseau. It's nice to see you live up to your reputation," Malcolm waved a hand and the guard moved down from the catwalk.
That's when everything went to hell.
He's not sure what triggered it, but suddenly Natasha is yelling, an inarticulate scream of rage. There's a beat of silence as Clint prays he's just snapped and imagined it but then gunfire erupts in his ear and the sounds echo in the distance.
"Fuck fuck fuck," he curses as he quickly gets his rifle slung across his back, falling alongside his quiver. The rest of his gear is left behind and he ties the rope off with the fastest knot he knows.
His hands and calves burn despite his gloves and pants but he ignores that in favor of getting down the tree faster. As soon as his feet hit the ground he's sprinting.
"Natasha!" he's yelling repeatedly into the comm. but the sounds are indistinguishable and she's not answering him.
His mind is racing, trying to figure out what happened, what gave her away, and what to do. There are three men completely unaccounted for; with the gunfire at least it's likely they're heading towards the fight.
But Natasha was his priority since he hadn't heard from her; time was short and he had to get to her first and worry about everything else second.
He pulled his Heckler and Koch from its holster on his thigh, opting for the quickest close-range weapon he had and hardly slowed as he approached the building. A quick glance at the car showed the guard had left his spot. A blur in the corner of his vision was his only warning and he threw himself to the side as bullets whizzed past him.
From the angle of the shots the guard had to be behind the car. He had to move quickly; he didn't have time for a standoff. Easing himself onto his stomach he made sure to keep his body blocked with the building and peeked out long enough to see where the guard was crouched. His first shot tore through the guard's unprotected leg and once the man fell clutching his leg it was one more shot for the kill. In a flash Clint was up again.
Silence hung thick and heavy where before gunfire had pierced the air and his heart beat rapidly as he moved through the entrance and down the hallways toward the center of the building. Every corner was quickly checked before he moved forward but he was being maddeningly careless in his haste.
Every sense was screaming at him but he pushed forward until he came to the main room. His hand and gun lowered in shock as he surveyed the scene. The rest of the guards must have converged once the shooting started because Natasha stood and he could see five bodies. The last two were still alive and squirming and moaning in pain; they'd been relieved of their weapons.
Malcolm stood with his hands held in front of him and Natasha's gun trained on his head.
"What the fuck Romanoff?"