A/N 1: Because I had so much fun with Oxycodone Days, I decided to continue it. It isn't essential that you read it first, but some of the characterizations and motifs will make more sense if you do. This story was heavily influenced by the "Hurt Locker," because I really liked Jeremy Renner in it

Into the Fire Chapter 6: Boom!

Sunday August 12th 7:19 pm, US Army Base Baghdad, Iraq

Clint leaned back in his chair and downed the rest of his bottle of water. He should probably make sure the other Avengers had rehydrated but frankly he couldn't care. He looked across the hanger SHIELD had taken over on base, where they sat huddled together looking shell shocked. 'Welcome to his fucking world,' he wanted to tell them but stayed away. The others were giving him a wide berth, even as his own men took turns lounging outside in the shade and milling around him in an almost protective fashion. He supposed he should be flattered.

He leaned back forward and bolted down the rest of his chow, wondering if he had time to head to his bunk for a nap before the SHIELD techs finished testing the bullets he brought back. Leave it to SHIELD to have a mobile ballistics lab. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes, they felt gritty and dry from exhaustion. How long had it been since he had slept, nearly 3 day? More than anything he wanted a cool, quiet, place he could rest, just for a little while, just long enough to sort out what had happened earlier.

Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't made of stone. Killing children was not an everyday occurrence for him, especially if they weren't shooting back, and it sort of had him a bit off balance. But not as off balance as finding that ceramic slug. Hill had confirmed his secondary rifle was safely tucked on the helicarrier, which meant there was only one other gun that could have fired it and that gun belonged to Gator. There had to be another explanation, there just had to. There was plenty of evidence that the leak could be his squad mate, but he kept shying away from the thought. There was plenty of evidence that it could be the general, the chief of logistics, or Stark himself. But where else did the bullet come from? He wanted to bang his head on the table to make the thoughts stop running around in his brain. They were too loud, everything was too bright, too hot, and too loud. He just wanted quiet, quiet and dark so he could stop for a minute. He didn't need long, just for an hour, 30 minutes, hell he would settle for 60 fucking seconds of peace.

He lit a cigarette and let it dangle between his lips in between drags. He wondered what he looked like to everyone else. Did his men understand what he did and why he did it, or did they think he went off the deep-end and started killing civilians. He wondered if half of them would care if he had? Those kids were hajis, ragheads, they weren't paid to care what happened to the enemy and after you were here long enough anyone that wasn't one of us was one of them and they were all enemies. It made going back to New York a little tough to adjust too. They were good men, all of them but they were soldiers, paid to do what they were told and not worry about anything else. He missed when he didn't worry about anything else. Now he couldn't stop worrying about everything else.

He tipped his chair back and inhaled, smoke hitting the back of his throat and immediately drying his mouth out and calming his nerves. He wondered what Fury thought of him, leaned back in his chair and sunglasses in place, looking as relaxed as if he was waiting for a movie to start. Fury didn't care about his wellbeing anymore than he had when he was captured by Loki. If he got in the way or couldn't perform his job he would be discarded or eliminated. Fury was the easiest to understand. He was all cost benefit and as long as Clint didn't cost them anything he was considered a benefit. He needed to concentrate on not costing them anything and not thinking about Ali's smile as he turned his face to the sun.

FUCK! He inhaled again. He needed something to do. He wished there was a range here. He would give his left nut for his bow, a range, and some fucking quiet. But instead he heard transports rolling past, planes over head, and the muffled whispers of his probably soon to be former teammates. What did the Avengers think of him now? He had a hard time counting himself among them, even before this. He wasn't super and he certainly was no hero. And what was he now? Well he supposed he was the same thing he had always been, a government weapon, an Army issue killer, a murder; just now they realized it too. Because really, would Stark have killed that little girl with her hair in pigtails and dimples on her face and JESUS FUCKING CHRIST HE NEEDED TO QUIT THINKING ABOUT THAT! It had nothing to do with the mission and he needed to finish his mission. And if he didn't quit thinking about it, he was going to lose it. "Sir, I think Hawkeye has lost his mind," "why?" "he's smiling, sir."

He snuffed his finished cigarette out with his fingers. They were so callused from his bow and gymnastics that he could touch the embers and not burn himself. Yeah, there was something he could do that Captain fucking America couldn't do better. But that wasn't fair, there were a lot of things he could do better. He could lie, he could cheat, he could kill, better than Steve. Hell, he could do it better than Stark too. Haha, he was better than Tony Stark. But Tony Stark would have been smart enough to find a way to defuse those bombs in 178 seconds and Clint Barton hadn't been. And he hadn't been willing to risk Stark trying and failing but Tony wouldn't have blinked at risking Clint, so maybe Tony was better than him anyway.

Pepper was crying, he could see her shoulders shaking as he leaned against Tony. Rhodes was rubbing her shoulder. He wished they would leave, go back to their pretty world, with their clear cut rules. Go back to worrying about getting Stark to meetings on time and Steve clothes from this century, and Bruce the type of Twizzlers he liked. He wished they would go away and let him slink back into the shadows where he belonged because he knew he couldn't be like them, he couldn't be clean and shining because there was too much blood and gun powder on his hands. It was ground into his nails and the creases of his skin. So deep nothing ever cleaned it off. The smell of gun oil, blood, and death clung to him no matter what he did. "Out, out, damn spot," if only it was just one spot but all the spots merged together till everything was red and black and he gave up trying to clean it. It was easier to just not care.

That was one of the funniest things about their whole team. They all feared Natasha, and with good reason, she was tough and could kill Stark or maybe even Rogers if pressed. But she wasn't the one that SHIELD gave a special arrow that could take down the Hulk, or a dart that could drop Rogers, or even a copy of the Ironman suite so Clint would know where to shoot to kill him. No, that was quiet, little Hawkeye that was trusted in policing their team to do their jobs or take them out if they didn't. He wondered if Tasha was charged with stopping him, if he went rogue. Black Widow's reputation was fearsome, but between the two of them his body count far out stripped hers by orders of magnitude. He had killed so many people in the name of Uncle Fucking Sam that he couldn't even remember them anymore. And soon he knew those kids would be mostly forgotten and that should make him feel guilty but it didn't. It just made him tired. That had been the thing with Loki that should have made him sick. Loki didn't take over his mind so much as give him missions and the desire to fulfill them. In a way, it was no different than what Coulson, Fury, Hill, and his Delta Force leaders did to him.

"Hawkeye," Fury called him and he stood to meet Natasha and the Director as they walked towards him. He shooed Beachhead away so they could talk in some relative privacy, or at least as much privacy as you could get in a giant hanger with a few crudely erected plastic walls.

"Sir?" he questioned. His throat was dry, he needed more water and less shouting.

"The ballistics report is in, the bullet was fired by rifle number 3," he said and Clint felt like he had been punched in the gut. It had been fired by Gator's gun. But maybe it hadn't been his friend that had fired it. Maybe someone stole the gun. "We also have satellite footage of what appears to be Sgt Singer exiting the van you tagged and entering a building in the Syrian Desert. He's carrying the same rifle," Fury explained and goddamn, didn't that just rain all over Clint's parade of denial.

"I see, sir," he answered to buy time. He needed time to process this, time and quiet. He just wanted some fucking quiet but he wouldn't get any not until the mission was over. "Don't send the MPs after him directly. Let me lead him away where we can ambush him. He's assault trained and if he decides to fight, it could get messy," he explained instead of curling into a ball like he wanted to.

"That won't be necessary," Fury pulled out an envelope and handed it to him. He noticed the seal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on it. He opened it and his stomach fell to his feet, not that it had made it much higher than his knees since he saw those kids. For fuck sake, he had more important things to worry about than that right now, like his new orders. He read them 3 times and looked at his boss.

"Sir, are these for real?"

"Sitwell picked them up himself and I authenticated them. I was told to give them to you personally when the leak and the operation were found," Fury watched him with his one eye. It was dark and unreadable and picked up too damn much. And he didn't want to think about this, he wanted quiet and to sleep. He just wanted to fucking sleep. "Is there a problem, Hawkeye?" he asked, voice almost mocking.

"Sir, no, sir," he answered out of habit and wanted to stuff the words back in his mouth. Yes, there was a huge fucking problem with this and the universe in general! This was wrong, this was all wrong. Why were they making him do this? He wanted to walk out, tell them to fuck off and do it themselves. Please stop this ride, I don't feel well and I want to get off. But he didn't. He was a soldier and soldiers followed orders and even though he didn't like these orders he would follow them. He wasn't the brains, he wasn't paid to think or contemplate the moral angles of a mission. He was paid to execute and he would earn his green this time around.

He handed them to Tasha and watched her read them and knew she had the same feeling he did upon seeing. There were only 3 lines: "No witness. No evidence. No survivors." He looked her in the eyes for a moment, just the briefest of meetings and found resolve in her blank stare. She didn't show him pity, no 'oh my god you poor guy you have to kill your friend,' because if she had, he might crack. If she gave him permission, he might just dissolve into a quivering puddle on the floor and have a nervous breakdown because he didn't want to do this. He didn't want Gator to be a traitor and he didn't want to kill the father of his Goddaughter. He didn't want to give the Avengers anymore reasons to think of him as a monster.

She also didn't try to encourage him. Her eyes gave no sign of, "buck up, sport, you killed Squawks and got over it, sort of at any rate. This should be a piece of cake. Now pull the dick out of your ass and stop acting like a weepy woman and do your job." If he saw that he would implode. But she would have been right. He needed to concentrate on the job and not on anything else. He needed to turn off the side that balked at taking Gator's life and he needed to see his friend as a mark. Gator wasn't Gator anymore. He wasn't the guy that had been assigned as Clint's spotter all those years ago and that spent the first 3 months of their acquaintance driving him up a bloody wall because he was loud and boisterous, making Clint go out and socialize with people, making him care about his teammates. He wasn't the friend that smiled at him and gave him a reason to keep fighting his way out of an Iranian prison, when they had been captured. He wasn't the brother that had placed a little girl in his arms and said, "that's your goddaughter, Hawk, if anything happens to me, you take care of her." He could no longer be those things because now all he could be was a Target. In a way it made him cringe how easy it was for him to turn off his guilty feelings over this now that he had a job to do. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, he supposed.

"Will we be assaulting the building or bombing it from the air?" he asked, easily switching into Hawkeye mode. He took solace in the ice that crept into his veins as he allowed his full focus to be the mission and the Target, not Gator, the Target.

"Assaulting," Fury answered him, eye still watching him like a specimen.

"Do we have schematics and accurate satellite footage of the surrounding area yet?"

"We do," Fury began to walk away, "it's over here." He and Tasha followed behind the maze of plastic walls. It reminded him of a mini version of the complex in New Mexico, when he had first had Thor in his sites. He stopped them in front of a table that looked like a giant iPad. There satellite feeds rolling on one side and the other had blue prints of a building, complete with thermal imaging of where all the people were. "The closest homes seem to be a 12 miles away. From what we can tell, this is an old munitions factory built in the 1960s, one floor, four doors and several halls and offices. The exterior his brick and the frame is metal. The biggest room appears to be the center where the majority of the fabrication probably takes place. So far there are about 51 heat signatures." Fury explained as he pointed to pictures or sections of the blue print.

Clint studied them for a moment, along with the footage of the surrounding area. "We'll have to use choppers to come in from the south west, that's our best hope of avoiding detection. These rocks and ridges will give us some good cover going in, if we go at night, even still we'll have to hoof it at least 3 or 4 miles so they don't hear us," traced his finger along the path with the most cover, already fully engaged in soldier mode. "I'll need a team of 10-15 for that large of building and that many rooms," he started to calculated the path they should take through the building memorizing the halls with the least amount of doors and the crosses with the smallest blind spots. They would need to round everyone up and either shoot them or blow them up. Since his orders said no evidence, incineration was their best bet. "What type of ordinance did you bring me?" he looked at Fury who seemed more relaxed than he had earlier.

"You really think I would come empty handed," the man smiled at him. "We have your standard C4 along with thermite and magnesium incendiaries."

Clint was pleased, C4 would bring the building down and the thermite and magnesium would ensure nothing living made it out of there. "We'll need someone on the team that can set them," he pointed to 3 spots in the large fabrication room, "we'll need to round up everyone here and set the mag bombs, here, here, and here," he pointed. "Then thermite facing in the middle of these 4 halls, that they the blasts should meet and clear out any stragglers," he explained then pointed to 8 points along the four exterior walls and the 4 largest interior walls. They would all be load bearing. That was what few knew about dumb old Clint Barton, but he did have a degree in structural engineering. Phil had made him do it, nagging him and kicking him to finish it no matter how many times he told Squawks he was too stupid. But he had graduated, with a C average, but still. This right here was the reason he went for structural engineering, so he would know how to blow up a building and destroy everything inside of it. And more selfishly, he had liked learning about the archer's paradox but that wasn't really structural. "The C4 goes here. That should melt and or kill everything and bring the building down," he explained.

"I'll take care of it," Natasha offered, surprising him. She knew very well how to set explosives, he had taught her quite a bit that even Red Room hadn't known but normally she didn't go on assault missions. They were handled by the military side of SHIELD not by the spies.

"Are you sure you want to go?" he asked her, making sure this wasn't out of some misguided hope she could save the Target's life.

"I've been sitting on my ass doing nothing for almost five months. I'll do it," she explained and he accepted it.

"I'll need you to get the Target to come with us," he instructed her.

He could see the wheels in her brain spinning, trying to determine the best way to con a conman into following her. "How well does he know me?"

"Not well, probably not even by reputation. He doesn't even know your first name."

"I'll play up being worried about you. I'll say I'll feel safer if he goes with you to watch your back," she decided and he had no doubt she would do it. 'Come to my parlor said the spider to fly.' He thought as he watched her saunter off to catch a Gator. Target, he meant target. How much of a pussy bitch would he be if he asked her to kill the Target for him?

Sunday August 12th 7:46 pm, US Army Base Baghdad, Iraq

Tony watched Fury and Romanov talk to Barton about something and then the three of them disappear behind one of the "walls." He had a hard time considering them walls because they pretty much just looked like giant sheets of plastic separating off areas. He couldn't hear what they were saying but he could clearly see that they were pointing at things on a digital table. Normally he would be curious as to what was being discussed but he felt too worn down to worry about it. He was still reeling from earlier and so were the others. He hadn't been able to meet Clint's eyes since he had thrown a punch at him. Though, in Tony's defense, Barton has been staying as far away from them as humanly possible while all in the same hanger. Romanov had been with Fury. Roger's was ignoring him, tied up in his own breakdown at realizing that there was nothing honorable and patriotic about the types of war Barton fought. Rhodey was glaring at him, still angry that Tony had lied to him about Natasha and Clint, and Pepper, his sweet girl, was a wreck. She was curled up on a cot resting and he wished he could join her. He would have covered her up, if it weren't like 100 degrees in there.

He watched Natasha leave and come back with another soldier that moved in the same deceptively relaxed manner Hawkeye did. He was tall, maybe 6'1" with thick, dark hair, brown eyes, and scruff on his chin. He was sort of dressed like the others or at least was wearing camo pants but he lacked the heavy jacket and his scarf thing he had around his neck was brightly colored and looser than the other soldiers, whose were all green and brown and wound tightly around their necks. In a way, he even seemed to dress like Hawkeye, when Hawkeye disappeared for days at a time and came back covered in sand and stinking of sweat and when asked where he went his answer was always something like, 'to get milk.' Barton seemed to greet him enthusiastically, while the other army guys watched him warily. Tony almost got up to ask who he was, wondering if he was another SHIELD person but thought better of it, he didn't want to face Clint or Natasha right now. They stood huddled around the table, clearly planning something.

"Who is that guy?" Rhodey pulled him out of his hazy thoughts as he pointed at the unknown new element.

"No idea, Barton and Romanov seem to know him though I can't tell about Fury," he answered.

"I'm more concerned with what they are planning," Steve cut in, reminding him that the super soldier's ears were far more sensitive than his own.

"What can you hear?" Tony questioned.

"Not much. All I can tell is that they are know where the people from earlier are and they are planning an assault on the building."

"If they are going after them, then I want a piece," Tony felt himself perk up. Tony Stark may be an asset that needed to be protected but Ironman was no victim. Ironman could make those bastards pay.

"Agreed," Steve nodded and got up to talk with Fury, Tony and Rhodey followed, most definitely not having to scurry to keep up with the much taller man's strides. Everyone seemed to stop what they were doing, as they entered. "Fury," Roger's addressed him, ignoring the others for the moment. He was in Captain mode and went straight for the commanding officers.

"Did you need something, Rogers?" The director tilted his head, his expression pointless to look at.

"If you are going after the culprits, Tony and I will be coming with you," he stated and Fury's expression didn't change.

"I am too," Rhodes crossed his arms, unwilling to be left out. The unknown guy just raised his left eyebrow and looked at Clint.

"Are these the blueprints of the building they are hold up in?" Steve looked down at the schematics displayed on the table. "We should come in from the south, Ironman can go straight through these doors," he started, pointing at doors on the drawing.

"I thought we already had a plan," the stranger asked in a rolling southern accent, while smirking at them. He had dimples. He wasn't as good with accents as Clint was but if he had to guess, he would say southern Louisiana. Tony would almost say he were handsome, if there weren't such an air of danger around him. Sort like he felt when he saw Clint and didn't realize who he was.

"We do have a plan," Barton finally said, not looking at Steve.

"What is it?" Rogers asked and looked impatient. Tony could tell their leader was annoyed at having been left out of the strategy stage.

"The plan is, you stay here," Barton finally answered.

"We're coming with you," Steve crossed his arms and stared down Fury.

"Take them with you, Hawkeye, if nothing else, it will teach them to keep their nose out of SHIELD missions," Fury instructed but didn't leave.

"Fine, sir," he pointed a long hallway that ran perpendicular to the hall Steve wanted to enter through. "We're coming in from the west, we'll take this juncture then move left and right to clear out the shorter halls, then round up all the prisoners in the large chamber in the center." He explained quickly.

"We should go in through the south, a shorter hallway," Steve told him.

"No, the south has no cover for our approach and there are too many doors along the hall, too much of chance of someone coming in behind us," Clint corrected.

"The west is too long of a hall, we could get stuck in there." Cap argued.

"I gotta say, I agree with Hawk," the mystery man pointed to the short hallway Rogers wanted. "This is a shorter hall but there are too many points of entry and the doors face each other, too easy to trap us in a kill box. The longer hall offers us cover on 3 sides and a single point to defend. We stop at the juncture and hold it then we control the west half of the building," he explained. Steve glared at him. "With all due respect, Captain," he threw in, not sounding very respectful.

"We're going with my plan," Clint told them.

"Now wait," Rhodey stopped, wanting to throw in his two cents.

"Seriously?" the Southerner asked, scratching his head. "Guys, I know you're a superhero or something shit. I used have underroos with your face on 'em, and the Pogue is a Lt. Colonel, but this is what Hawkeye and I do. This is our bread and butter. We get in, we do shit, and we get back out." He explained.

"And how many bodies to you leave in your wake?" Tony asked, unable to help himself.

"How many do want?" he smiled and took out a cigarette, offering the pack to Barton, who took one and lit it. "So how is quitting going for you?" he asked, motioning at the cancer stick dangling from Hawkeye's mouth.

"Outstanding," Clint dead panned and the other man laughed. Clearly whoever he was, he was used to Hawkeyes rather sarcastic sense of humor.

"Who are you?" Rhodes asked.

"Oh, this is my friend slash spotter slash sometimes partner, Gator," Clint pointed at him and the man smiled again.

"And your rank and name?" Rhodey asked

"Gator," the man answered with a bit of steel in his voice and Tony suddenly noticed that like Barton, he wore no rank designation, no unit insignia, and no name tag.

"And how do you know Hawkeye? Are you part of SHIELD?" Tony asked

"No, I'm not SHIELD, I'm just plain, old Army," he answered with that same smirk on his face.

"And how do you Agent Barton?" Steve tried.

"We sing together in the same boys' choir," he blew smoke in their direction and turned back to Clint. "Brother, I want to give you hand but I didn't sign up to follow a guy that wears star spangled jammies into battle. If I'm going with you, we're using your plan, 'cause even though you're a long-gunner, I trust you."

"We're using my plan," Clint answered, not really paying much attention to the clear tension between the Avengers and this new guy.

"Agent Barton," Steve started and Clint snapped at him.

"Rogers, I don't know what part of 'we are using my plan' is so hard for you to understand so I'll make it simple. This is my op, my plan, and you follow my rules. This is being executed by SHIELD and DOD. Your call sign may have the word Captain in it but you are neither active duty military, a commissioned officer, nor assault trained. And even, in the event you were, my real life oak leaves trump your made-up captain's bars." Steve looked like a puppy that had just been kicked. "If you do not want to do as you are told then leave and take Stark and Rhodes with you, otherwise, shut the fuck up and listen." Tony felt like he woke up on opposite day. Clint did not snap at people and he certainly did not snap at Rogers.

"I understand," Steve answered with the decided lack of 'sir.'

They spent the next few minutes going over the plan of attack, which there seemed to be some gaps in, like where Natasha was going to and what she was going to be doing; before Tony couldn't take the curiosity anymore at watching Hawkeye and this Gator person walk through lines of site, timing, and which weapons to bring, all the while joking with each other. Hawkeye actually smiled, it was fucking weird.

"So how do you two know each other," Tony asked, curious about Barton outside of the Avengers, though so far he hadn't liked what he had seen.

"Oh the Hawk and I go way back. When I first met him I thought he was mute, 'cause he never opened his damn mouth and potentially crazy because he spent most of his time sitting on the roof watching people. But then after we spent some time together in that Iranian Hotel, we developed and understanding," the man was as charming ad Barton was surly.

"Ah I remember that. They had such customized services," Clint looked wistful.

"Yeah, no food, no water, no beds, and 24/7 torture. What a place." Gator smiled.

"How would you know, you were unconscious the first few weeks," Barton challenged.

"I'd been shot, thank you very much!"

"Because you didn't duck, when I told you to," Clint shot back and there was a look of mirth on his face. It was nice to see after the last few days Cipher Clint, but seemed so out of place after everything that had happened.

"You yelled 'duck' then jump up onto a fire escape in a crazy gymnast move. I didn't know if I was supposed to go up or down. And besides, it wasn't like I didn't know what was happening, you woke me up everything they dumped you back in the cell with me, after beating you to a bloody pulp. I had to listen to bleed all night." Gator playfully shoved his friend.

"I'm sorry I bled so loud and ruined your beauty sleep. If it happens again, I'll remember to leave your sorry ass there," Hawkeye offered.

"I'm still foggy on how exactly we made it out of there. I recall running across roof tops, and you using electrical lines as tight ropes, and convincing some old lady we were with the Red Cross so she wouldn't call the police, but other than that it's a blank." The two started chuckling at some part of the story that apparently hadn't been told.

"How can you two be so calm about something like that? Getting captured and tortured in Iran doesn't sound like a laughing matter?" Rhodey asked. Tony could tell Rhodey didn't like Gator anymore than he like Pierce/Barton. He couldn't say he blamed him. After all the time the Avengers had been together, Clint still wasn't nearly this friendly with them. Other than Romanov, who didn't count, he was far and away the closest to Steve but even Rogers couldn't get him to joke that much or make physical contact. The only other time he had seen Hawkeye this open, was when he had watched some old SHIELD tapes of him and Coulson together.

"Because if you don't laugh about," Gator answered.

"You just end up going crazy," Clint finished and they both started laughing in earnest, making them both sound slightly mad. It struck Tony at that moment that he didn't' think he had ever heard Clint laugh before.

"What else do we need to do?" Rhodes tried to pull the conversation back to the topic at hand.

"We just need to wait for the assault team to get here." Barton answered

"Now there is no need to put this off to wait for other troops," Beachhead cut them off, walking around the corner. "We'll go with you, sir."

"I can't ask you to do that," Barton said, looking confused.

"You aren't asking, we're offering," said the twitchy one with the EOD badge, Ellison, if Tony remembered.

"No, you can't," Hawkeye stuttered then seemed to figure out what he wanted to say, "you don't understand, this isn't your normal mission, this isn't what you guys are used to."

"Sir, for the last 4 months, you have had us running around a country we weren't supposed to be in, taking down people we weren't supposed to know about. We started this with you, let us finish it. You haven't told us shit about why we are doing any of this and we still followed you," Beachhead explained.

"I know but this is my mission," Clint tried to explain to his mutinous team. Tony wondered why Barton didn't seem to understand that they wanted to help him.

"It may have started out as yours but after all this time it's our mission too," Sneeden stood his ground and the other men behind him nodded. "Sir, you've had our back for almost 5 months, keeping us ahead of shit we didn't even know was out there. Now let us have yours."

Clint looked defeated, "I suppose a direct order is the only way to get rid of you guys?"

"Maybe not even then," the one with the dog joked.

"You have to understand, what we are going to do will be hard. I can't guarantee that any of you will come back alive. This mission won't be written up or reported and no one will get recognized for valor. But know that what we are going to do is righteous and just so leave with a clear conscience that you are saving lives of not only Americans but all our allies," he told them and many of them seemed to preen under the speech. "Do you still want to come?" he asked and was answered by a resounding chorus of "Oo-ah" including the dog. "Then gear up, we leave fifteen."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Fury asked Barton.

"It's either that or we wait the 24 hours it takes to get a trained SHIELD assault team here," he answered.

"You trust them to get the job done?" Fury pressed.

"I trust them, sir," was Hawkeye's simple reply and Fury accepted it.

Tony drifted off to say goodbye to Pepper. He met back up with them by the choppers to Beachhead arguing with Hawkeye about something?

"Sir, are we really taking them with us? I mean I guess those two are superheroes and everything but a lady and a flyboy?" He waved generally at Steve, Tony, Natasha, and Rhodes.

"Don't let the fact she doesn't have a penis fool you, Black Widow will hold her own and then some," he explained.

"If you say so, sir, but the Pogue?" he pointed Rhodes with his lip curled and Tony wondered again what that word meant. It was the second time tonight someone at called Rhodes that. All this military slang was confusing.

"I know, not my choice. Have someone keep an eye on him. It would be awful if the Pentagon lost one of their REMFs," he sneered and Rhodey looked mad as hell.

Tony turned to Steve and his friend, "ok, what the hell was that about? What are they saying about you?"

"Pogue, I know," Steve smiled, "it's a nasty term people use for soldiers that never go into combat. I have no idea what a 'REMF' is, though."

"Rear Echelon Mother Fucker," Natasha supplied. "Someone that doesn't even make it to the Forward Operations Base and therefore below a Fobbit," she explained and Tony felt bad for his friend. These low life Army pricks were looking down on him because he was smart enough and qualified enough to not have to actually fight. This whole place was back assward as far as he was concerned. The grunts were the stupid ones because they weren't bright enough to find a way to stay out of danger.

"If you guys are done with your little knitting circle, you think we could get going" Barton shouted at them and Tony fired his blasters just as Clint was explaining to Rhodes and Rogers how to work the carabiners so they could slide down the ropes from the helicopters.

Steve tried not to fume at being removed from the planning of this operation. Barton had never, ever attempted to pull rank on him before. It made him want to deck his fellow Avenger that he had the nerve to point out the he wasn't even technically a captain anymore. The truth hurt, sometime far more than it should. But regardless, what he had heard seemed well thought out, though he didn't like letting Rhodes go in without his War Machine armor. He hadn't brought it with him so there was no help for it.

He heard the command for ropes to drop and he couldn't help enjoying the controlled slide down the rope. He was still surprised they managed to get a big, old dog down safely. He had to admit that he was vaguely amused at what a wide berth Tony was giving the seemingly friendly dog. Ironman had survived going into space and a nuclear blast but he was afraid of a dog.

They were set down 4 miles from their target and would have to jog the rest of the way there. It felt nice to stretch his legs and be among soldiers again, even if they looked at him as an oddity. When they were perhaps ¾ of a mile from the target, Barton held up his fist to stop them and they all dropped. Clint looked through binoculars then passed them to Steve. "Two guards on the roof and four below," Barton explained. He wondered if the information was a piece offering of sorts.

"Tony and I could take care of them," he offered, ready to be of use to the mission. Frankly he had felt sidelined and completely marginalized the entire duration of this mission.

"No, we need to be subtle," he said and motioned for Natasha to join them, handing her the binoculars.

She smiled at him, shaking out of the heavy back pack she was carrying and handing it to him. "How many do I get?" she asked.

"I'll get the two on the roof then we'll see," he answered and signaled them to stay put as they both disappeared into the darkness. Even his enhanced senses couldn't pick up where they had gone until he heard on the coms, "on my mark," and a perhaps 90 seconds later, "mark." The silencer and his position among rocks effectively made it impossible to be able to pin point him by sound. The only reason he could find Barton was the light of muzzle flash at the end of his rifle.

Steve watched through the scopes and saw the two guards on the tower drop like dead weight from Barton's shots, "Target one down, Target two down" he informed her as she sprang out and snapped the neck of one of the guards on the ground. The second went down to a throwing knife to the neck, while the third attempted to fire at her but was instantly stopped by a high caliber, ceramic rifle round to the brain stem. She easy dispatched the fourth with another broken neck.

They caught up with her and she took her pack back from Steve, after seemly appearing out of nowhere.

"Vi nye zhnayetye uto dyelat?" Clint asked her, in Russian. It seemed cagey that he was speaking to her in a language no one else understood. Not that they didn't do that all the time, they actually did and it was rather rude but they didn't do it during battles. They were both hiding something and he hoped it didn't come back to bite them in the ass.

"Da," she answered then, took off around the corner, waving, "Ya skoro vernus'"

"Do skoroy vstrechi," he called after her, then turned back to the rest of them. "Let's do this," he opened the door and they went in.

There was no resistance at first; the halls were quiet, until they got to the second juncture. Then all hell broke loose and 3 men went down almost immediately. He started to call out commands before he realized: one, no one could hear him, and two these men were looking to Barton for leadership not him. He concentrated on protected their flank and keeping an eye on Rhodes. The Colonel was acquitting himself well, but many of his shots were flying high. Tony was of even less help, as his sole blast he used collapsed part of a wall and nearly crushed their own men. Ironman was most useful as a shield and battering ram. Barton and Gator seemed to be in their element, calling out targets and quickly slinking around corners and shooting people with frightening efficiency. The halls were narrow, which made using his shield difficult, he did manage to knock down two men to their left, which earned him a smile from Gator. The two men were quickly cuffed with something called a "zip tie," that he hadn't seen before.

As they turned down the next hall, a high pitched scream that could have woken the dead was heard and a mass of black and white went flying at Barton. He side stepped, whipping his leg out to knock his assailant on the floor. Steve found it odd that Gator didn't fire at the person, until Clint grabbed it and pulled it onto its knees. It turned out to be a heavily pregnant woman that thrashed, and he guessed, cursed, as Barton removed the veil over her face. She was beautiful, with shiny dark hair, and sparkling brown eyes. She shouted something Steve couldn't understand but a strange look crossed Gator's face. Maybe Clint hadn't understood her either because he didn't react at all.

Hawkeye dragged the woman, kicking and screaming over to Rhodey and signaled the young kid with the dog. "Sanders, tie her up. Rhodes, since you can't shoot for shit, make yourself useful and keep an eye on her." He moved back towards the front and Sanders bend down to use one of those long, plastic sticks to tie her hands behind her back. As he did this, Steve thought he heard something. As he lifted his head to look around, he was beaten to the punch by Max, the K-9 dog. The black dog went from calmly standing beside his handler to a mass of fury and snapping jaws that sprang through the air, connected with a thud against another person. Max's jaws closed around the man's throat, with a wet crunch. Steve hadn't even seen Sanders give a command for the dog to attack.

A split second later, there was the sound of gun fire, and Max yelped, jumping back off his kill. "MAX, Hier!" Sander's screamed, and ran towards the dog, ignoring the fact there was a gunman. He needn't have worried though, Beachhead made short work of the shooter, even as Steve watched the black dog, dig his claws in, trying to gain purchase to stand on the blood covered ground. Sanders was beside his dog, looking heartbroken, even as Barton yelled for the medic. The medic, an older man by the name of Metcalfe, who skidded to a halt beside the ailing dog. The medic started looking over the dog, and shook his head, at the despondent kid, pulling out a syringe. He injected the badly injured dog and the kid curled over him, pulling almost limp dog onto his lap, as Max hooked his paw over the kid's arm. "Why did he do it, sir?" the tear faced kid looked up at Clint? "I didn't give him a command to attack; he just went over after that guy."

"Of course he did, Sanders, he was your partner. That's what partners do, they watch your back when you can't," Barton knelt down and put his hand on the back of the kid's neck.

"Why exactly are we wasting time worrying about a stupid dog?" Tony flipped up his visor and asked. A legitimate question he supposed but then again, considering the completely murderous looks the grunts were giving him, maybe it wasn't.

Hawkeye popped up and grabbed Tony by shoulder and pulled him close. "That is not a stupid dog, that is Corporal Max and he was a soldier in the United States Army. He gave his life to protect his unit and his country. Show some fucking respect!" he snarled then knelt back down. "Sanders, you stay here with Ellison. You two hold this juncture. We'll be counting on you to guard our backs. Can you do that for me, soldier?"

"Sir, yes, sir," he said, looking more collected.

"I knew you could," Barton smiled at him and they headed off again. Steve was worried about where Natasha was and why she hadn't rejoined them. But he hadn't heard anything from her through his earwig so he tried not to panic. No matter how many times she proved her competence, he couldn't get past his knee jerk reaction that a woman should not be in battle.

They continued down one final hallway and Clint had the majority of his men break to the left while he had them go to the right with Beachhead and Gator. He wasn't sure why they split since the majority of the people were to the left. He had questioned, when he saw the layout for the plan but Barton had refused to answer. He wondered if this was how the other Avengers felt about his plans.

As they got further in, they met 7 gunmen, two of which seemed to be kids, not more than 14 or 15. He went to simply grab them, but Hawkeye and Gator shot them as if they were full grown soldiers. Steve couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe they were ignoring the fact that those children didn't realize what they were doing. He could have tired talking to them, taking them prisoner but no, they had shot and not even bothered questioning. As he was pondering, Beachhead was hit in the leg, going down hard. He grabbed the large man and dragged him under cover. The head NCO of the group pushed with his good leg to speed them up and left a blood trail behind him. Rogers was at a loss as to what to do next, the medic had gone with the other group.

Beachhead pulled out a paper wrapped package and handed it to Steve it read, "Compression bandage." He opened it and looked at the thing, it was a big pad with four strip and some closures on it. He wasn't sure what to do with it but could tell Beachhead expected him to do something. He placed padded part on the open wound and wrapped the four dangly pieces around the man's leg, and hooked the closures.

"Tighter sir," the man grunted and Steve tightened it, making Beachhead turn white for a minute. "Too tight," he gasped and Steve loosened it. Just then Barton came back.

"Seriously Beach, you getting lazy on me?" Clint asked, squatting down to check on his Sergeant.

"You know me sir, I just want my spa day," the man looked tense with pain.

"You got this juncture, Sergeant. No one gets through, you understand?" Hawkeye barked at him.

"Sir, yes, sir." Beachhead answered, looking as alert as he could. Steve liked this guy. He was tough and regular army. None of the Cloak and Dagger stuff Clint tended to do.

"Are you sure, because I can leave Rogers with you?"

"I can take, sir. Just give me my gun and leave it me," he said, pushing himself further up the wall and angling himself to watch the crossroad. Clint nodded at them and took off down the hall again, taking them into a large room and stopping them abruptly, checking his watch. There were tables around and pieces of missiles on every surface, but not much different than what they had already seen. Steve wondered why they had stopped in the wide opened room but Clint purposely halted them and turned around to examine the pieces of disassembled weaponry laid out on a table. The woman continued to glare at him with undisguised hatred. If looks could kill, Barton would be dead on the floor.

"Why are we stopping here?" Tony finally voiced the question. Barton continued to study the table. Steve wondered if he was waiting for Natasha to catch up from wherever he had sent her. It bothered him that Clint hadn't let him see their orders or the entirety of the plan. Hawkeye was usually a good soldier and followed his orders, even though technically Barton did out rank him. It just seemed off to him, like there was something Clint was hiding from the rest of them and that he didn't like.

"What are you doing?" Gator approached him.

"Come on, man, it's easier for you to stab me in the back if I'm facing away from you," Hawkeye answered in a measured voice. Steve was trying to figure out the joke, when Gator smiled and backed up half a step.

"When did you figure out?" he said and kept his eyes trained on Clint's hands. Steve was utterly confused and he could tell by the look on Rhodes's face that he was too.

"I started to get suspicious after Herrara died and you knew I had brought back a missile and happened to be injured in the exact spot I thought I hit the shooter. I was pretty sure you were thinking of killing me with my own gun that night," Clint explained and Gator moved back even further. "Then there was the misleading info about the South African ships that didn't appear on the port manifests. That had me chasing my tail for a few weeks. The Four Season had been hit but you weren't the only one that knew about that, so I still wasn't sure," he paused and finally turned around. "I wasn't sure till yesterday and I dug one of your slugs out of the wall above my head," he added then finished with, "plus that woman said, 'I thought you were going to kill him'."

"Yeah, she forgot you speak Arabic too. Guess I can't talk you into looking the other way or better yet coming with me and providing security?" Gator asked, not even denying the accusations.

"Nope," Clint blinked at him.

"Aren't you even going to ask me why?" The taller man asked but Clint remained silent, which seem to make Gator angry. "After everything they have done to us, everything they have taken away, everything they have made us do, how can't not understand? We signed up to be soldiers and they turned us into murders. When was the last time you blinked at taking a life, when was the last time you asked yourself if what you were doing was right? I watched you yesterday, you didn't falter, didn't hesitate, when you shot those kids. Once you made the decision that they were in the way of the mission, they were nothing but collateral damage to you," he taunted, sounding slightly unstable. "You did it. You didn't question, you don't, you never did and I tried not to, I tried to tow that party line and maybe that was the problem, at one time I believed in mom, apple pie, and the American flag but you never did. It was never anything but job to you, a place to sleep, a meal to eat and you were fine and I wanted to be like that. Believe me, but then Iran happened. They threw us away like nothing, they didn't care that we were abandoned, forgotten, tortured, left for dead. I never would have seen my little girl's smile if you hadn't dragged my sorry ass out of there.

"But it didn't matter, so I get home and then two months later I'm back in the shit because I still belong to them and I can't turn it off," he pointed one gloved hand towards his head.. "They took away our humanity, made us killers, and never told us how to go back, how to trust someone with something as simple as your birthday, how sleep without your back to a fucking wall and a gun under your pillow, how to be normal again not just act normal. They never told us how not to be alert, how to walk into a room and not check the corners, how not to get nervous walking into an open air plaza, how not to be what we are; what they made us. And all we are now are weapons, they point us in a direction and send us to kill for them and don't even let us have names anymore. For fuck's sake, I've known you for nearly 12 years and I don't even know if Barton is your real name.

"I go home and I visit Evie and Lisa and I don't fit in. I can't fit in and I can't pretend anymore. That's when I met Hazine. She was so beautiful and she gave me a way out. She's a genius you see and she had this idea to build weapons and I had the clearance to get Stark's designs so we did this and we'll make millions and retire and I'll have a chance to actually raise my child, be around, let them know what I do for a living. Here, I won't have to lie to my family." He held his hand out to his friend. "You and Black Widow could help. You wouldn't have to kill for a government that doesn't give a rat's ass about you. Fuck brother, you could do whatever you wanted, you and that redheaded filly could get out of the game or, shit, be the ones running it if that's what you want," he seemed to almost plead but not for his life, more for Barton to understand him.

"You are betraying everything you ever stood for, everything we ever fought for, shed blood for." Clint finally answered.

"We don't stand for anything, Hawkeye, don't you get it? We aren't people. We're code names and numbers. When was the last time SHIELD or the Unit referred to you a man rather than an operator, resource, agent, or asset? We're the boogey men they use to scare dictators. We're just shadows that don't exist. Do you honestly think, if you walked out tomorrow that SHIELD wouldn't still use the idea of Hawkeye as a threat? When we die serving our country, we don't even get flags because JSOC won't admit we ever worked for the Army." He seemed defeated and Steve wondered if this was also how Clint felt. Barton never talked to him much about his experience in the Army, his unit, or what he did when he wasn't with the Avengers. But then again, Barton never talked much about anything. He had noticed about the wording, though. Fury, Hill, all of the SHIELD teams never talked about Clint or Natasha, only about Agent Romanov, Hawkeye, or "their assets on the ground." They completely dehumanized their non Superhero agents and treated them as nothing more than disposable weapons. At least Hill seemed to; he didn't remember Coulson talking like that.

"Don't pretend like it's just our bosses you are turning on. When we're down in shit we aren't fighting for our country anymore. We're fighting for guy beside us. You are betraying your brothers." Clint accused, voice still controlled, giving away nothing of what he felt, if he felt anything.

"And I am sorry for that but come on, brother, you saved my life. I would have died and rotted away in Iran, if hadn't been too stubborn to let me. You wouldn't give up, no matter what they did to you and you got us out. What life I have, I owe it all to you. Now let me give you one worth living, one where you can be a person instead of a code name." Barton again just stared at him, eyes unreadable from Steve's angle not that it mattered; he wouldn't have been able to read them even if he were standing directly in front of him. "Well then," Gator drew his pistol and attempted to fire at Hawkeye but he was too fast. Almost faster than Steve could follow, the gun was in 2 pieces, with one of them flying across the room. After that, the real fight started. The two were almost instantly entangled with each other, with the sole intention of killing the other. He looked over at Tony and could see the same tenses he felt. He wanted to help but there was no way he could interfere and not risk hitting Barton. He hoped Natasha got there soon.

Monday August 13th 2:06 am, Desert, Syria

Tony watched the two teammates fight with a sense of dread. This was nothing like watching Clint and Natasha spar. There was nothing beautiful or graceful about this. These two men were trained killers and both were hell bent on trying to take the other one down. Gator was taller and stronger built than Clint but Barton was clearly faster and the more skilled fighter. He watched Gator swipe at Clint's head with his foot and Hawkeye spring backwards onto his hands, immediately whipping his feet out in a vicious pinwheel that Gator only just avoided. Barton then flipped back upright a few feet away, landing in a low crouch. Tony had seen him take that position many times before. He knew his fellow Avenger could go from zero to 'oh look there's a dead body on the floor' in the blink of an eye.

This was all so fucked up. He thought Barton and Gator were friends. Clint acted like they were friends, he joked and teased his unit fellow like they were friends, to the point where Tony was actually jealous. He even introduced him as his sometimes partner but here he was fighting with him. If Gator was the leak, why not just arrest him? And if Hawkeye knew he was the leak, why not tell everyone else, why keep them in the dark?

His musings were shortened as Clint wasn't fast enough to avoid an elbow to the face, that clearly broke his nose and probably narrow missed driving a splinter of it into his brain. He recovered quickly though, just as Natasha came running into the room and said, "shit." He could see from the look on her face, she had heard everything that had been said. Barton gave as good as he got though, and the next move was a wheel kick that connected squarely with Gator's jaw, sending several of his teeth flying across the room and blood to spray out of his mouth. The woman Rhodey was guarding screeched like a harpy but Tony couldn't understand her.

"Shit boy, you still kick like mule. You damn near snapped my neck with that one, like you did that one guy in Qatar. You remember that?" Gator said, his speech marred by an obviously broken jaw. He sighed, "I do want you to know, brother, I had nothing to do with what happened in the plaza yesterday. I tried to talk her out of it but she wanted to send a message. I never would have made you kill children." He was smart, smarter than he looked, and kept Clint between him and the others so no one could get a clear shot at him. "It don't have to be this way, Hawk. You and me, we go way back, back to training and missions that we can't tell another living soul about. I know what it feels like to be eaten alive by the things we've done but bound by security to never be able to talk about it; to never be able to get that monkey off your back. Even if you won't join me, you can let me go. Let me get out, even if you can't. You can do that for me," Gator spoke, sounding more like he was hurt, betrayed by the idea Clint would fight him, than begging. Tony realized this man must have honestly seen Barton as his friend. Tony was starting to wonder if Hawkeye was as much of a sociopath as they all assumed Natasha to be.

"I can't do that for you," Barton answered him, "but I will do you the mercy of letting your daughter think you died as a hero. She won't ever know that her father was a traitor."

"So this is how it's going to be, huh?" Gator sighed again as he drew his knife and lunged at Clint. Natasha looked tense but made no move to interfere. Tony wondered if it was some stupid matter of honor thing or if she too was at a lost how to help without accidently hurting Barton. He couldn't figure out what this dude was thinking, even if he managed to kill Barton, he still had the rest of them to go through. But as good as this guy was, maybe he only saw Romanov as a threat, assuming him and Steve and Rhodey weren't dangerous.

Clint dodged the lunge and threw a strike of his own, which Gator countered by grabbing his helmet to block the punch heading straight for his throat. Tony suspected that the speed and force of that punch would have crushed Gator's windpipe. One of the few long, involved conversation he had ever had with the assassin had been about Iron Palm technique, or the ability to punch things really, really hard. Hard enough to crush bones and go through walls.

Barton used it as a distraction to jump out of the way. He shook his hand for a moment and Tony wondered how much it must have hurt to hit that helmet but before he could ponder, Gator spoke, "I'm sorry, brother, I didn't want it to end this way." He then tossed his helmet at Barton and lunged again. Clint ducked into a crouch and Natasha drew her gun but didn't fire. Tony realized why as he saw that Barton had ducked under the lunge, allowing it to hit his body armor and had popped up, striking with slice of his own knife directly under Gator's belt, where there was no armor.

Tony hadn't even seen Clint draw his knife but his thoughts were diverted as he watched Gator's guts literally spill onto the floor at his feet. It looked like overly shiny, blood covered sausages. It couldn't be real, it just couldn't be real. The Avengers didn't deal with this type of fight. They were glitz and glamour, not entrails being held in by a shaky hand.

He watched Clint walk behind his friend, kicking him in the back of the leg to knock him to his knees. Gator had blood bubbling from his mouth and the woman with Rhodey was screaming her head off. Barton put his bloody hand on Gator's forehead, and ran his fingers into the man's thick hair. He left a red smear. "I'm sorry it had to end this way too, brother," he whispered and Tony was sure he was going to cuff him, and call in the medics.

He relaxed even, when he saw Gator meet Barton's eyes and gasp, "I'm glad it was you they sent, seems fitting." It was over and they could all relax, he was sure of it until he saw Clint tip Gator's head back and slide his combat knife across his neck, slitting his throat from ear to ear. With his head tilted back like that, Tony was pretty sure he saw the other man's spine, Barton had cut him so deep.

Tony watched with sick fascination as Barton held the man up for a few seconds, as blood literally gushed out of the gaping wound in his neck. He saw the man's eyes, wide with startlement, grow cloudy and glazed with blood loss, and eventually watched his pupils widen as death took him. It seemed as if it took no time or maybe hours, Tony couldn't tell. He had only seen this once before, with Dr. Yinsen, a person die directly in front of him. The thought made him immediately look away just as Clint dropped the body onto the ground, wiping blood off his knife against his pant leg and off his face with the back of his hand. Hawkeye's eyes looked as dead as the man he had just killed.

As the body hit the floor, the world finally came back into focus and Tony noticed that Rhodes was crouched beside the pregnant women, who seemed to be hyperventilating on the floor. Steve looked lost and Natasha looked sad, maybe, for the briefest hint of a moment, when he met her eyes, before she became all business again. She walked over to Clint, took his face as if to kiss him but instead studying his nose, before grabbing it and savagely yanking the bones back into place. This caused Barton to stagger back a step, then start bleeding profusely from his nose.

"Everything's ready and the choppers are on their way" she informed him, as he held a cloth against his face. It never ceased to amaze him how they could fuck like rabbits and cuddle like puppies behind close door but on missions they acted like they couldn't care less about the other one. Clint and Natasha as different from Hawkeye and Black Widow as Bruce was from the Other Guy. If, god forbid, it was Pepper that was hurt and had just been in a fight, he would be beside himself with worry but Natasha just stared him down as he tucked the bloody rag back in his pocket. He gave the order to his men to bag up Gator, round up all prisoners, and meet him by the door. He wasn't sure how they were going to wrangle that many people back into Iraq, much less a heavily pregnant woman.

Just as he was about to ask, said pregnant woman grabbed Rhodey's gun off his hip and grabbed him around the neck, pointing it at his head. Natasha and Clint smoothly drew their pistols and he held up his hand blaster, even as he realized there was no way he could fire and not hit his friend. His suit wasn't designed for close quarters combat. He would have to fix that in the next Mark, maybe some modified tazers or ability to fire tear gas.

Barton shouted something at her in Arabic and she snarled a reply at him.

"Jarvis, run translation for Arabic to English," he asked his AI, wanting to know what was being said.

"Of course sir, Agent Barton said 'drop it,' and the woman answered, 'He's dead, you killed him, you murdering bastard."

"Let him go!" Tony shouted as he saw her tighten her grip on the gun she had against Rhodey's head. He couldn't lose Rhodey, he was his best friend, the person who had put up with him the longest, the one person he counted on more than anyone to always be there, even more than Pepper in some ways. He wondered why his friend didn't try to fight back then realized that there was no way Rhodes was going to hit a pregnant woman. She ignored him, so he shouted louder. "I said let him go!"

"She doesn't speak English, Ironman," Natasha snarked at him, eyes still trained on the woman.

Barton started to speak to her again and Jarvis translated the guttural language into his refined British speech patterns, "I'm tired of playing this game with you, Hazine. You have till the count of 3 to drop that gun or I'm going to send you to go meet Allah, assuming he accepts women that aren't virgins in. One,"

"You killed my brother, you killed my husband! He was your friend. He wouldn't kill you, when I asked because you were his brother. He didn't want to hurt you," she shouted as tears ran down her face.

"Two," Barton continued to count, never taking his eyes off her. Tony saw her flinch and couldn't tell if she was going to shoot or drop the gun. It didn't matter though because Clint said, "three," and pulled his trigger. She dropped like a marionette with the strings cut, her brains painting the wall behind her. Tony couldn't make his legs move and it appeared neither could Rhodes but Barton and Romanov could. Both were descending on the dead woman with Barton kicking her gun away and Black Widow toeing her with her boot.

Clint then picked up the gun and handed it back Rhodes, "Next time secure, your fucking side arm, Colonel," he said and signaled to two men by the door, who came in and started to load Gator's body into a bag.

His legs finally decided to work and he grabbed Rhodey in a crushing hug. He knew his friend and knew that the Lt. Colonel may be a soldier but he was no more used to this type or warfare than Tony was. Where friends were enemies and there was no such thing as a non combatant. This was as different from War Machine's work and Rhode's work on Capitol Hill as it was from Tony's work at Stark industries. This grim, dark world of intel and counter intel that Clint and Natasha lived in was not something he ever wanted to see again. In fact after what he had just seen, he wasn't sure he ever wanted to see Clint or Natasha again. Tony couldn't wrap his mind around how Barton had killed someone he had identified as a friend and worse, had shot a woman and not just a woman a heavily pregnant woman. He hadn't hesitated anymore than he had in the plaza with the kids. And Natasha hadn't tried to stop him at all, she just looked blasé about the whole thing as if it was par for course and it made him sick. He knew Hawkeye the least of the group and now he realized he did not want to know anything else about him.

So lost in thought, he almost missed Clint's command to move out. They met back up in the hallway with Beachhead, who looked woozy but was surrounded by 4 dead enemies. Captain America helped him up and they limped back towards the door they came in. At the entrance Tony saw Sander's with Max, wrapped in a white sheet they had found somewhere. The kid's eyes were red rimmed from crying. As they moved by, he struggled to lift the dead weight onto his shoulders. Tony paused to try and help but Sanders stopped him. "It's ok, sir, he's my partner, I've got him." He said sounding steadier than he looked.

Barton looked back at him and said, "of course you do, everybody comes home." As soon as they were clear of the building Barton had everyone count off to make sure they were all there or at least their bodies were. He almost missed Natasha moving back towards the door and fixing it with a heavy duty, metal zip tie. She was locking the prisoners inside. He guessed that explained how they were going to handle moving them around. A SHIELD team was probably on the way for them.

Hawkeye moved them out a good ½ of a mile before he stopped them behind a rocky outcropping. He crouched down and his men immediately followed suit. Tony stayed standing mostly just to be contrary. Clint pulled a small object from pocket #127 that turned out to be a remote. He guessed it was a transceiver to help the helicopters find them. He didn't know why they bothered; he could send up a flare or just go get the choppers himself.

What seemed odd though, was that Natasha stilled his hand before he pushed the button. They looked at each other, and had one of their annoying conversations with no words, and she took the remote from his hands, holding it in her own. She then yelled "fire in the hole," and pressed the button. Everyone but Tony ducked and covered their head but he stood, protected by his suit, and watched the building explode like a firebomb had hit it. He realized with a sick sense of dread, why Natasha had locked all the doors. They hadn't been making sure they stay in one place so SHIELD could pick them up, they had purposely trapped everyone in there before they detonated it.

His mind felt like a hard drive that was churning but nothing was happening, in fact he was sure if you looked in his eyes you would see a spinning, green ribbon. None of this, none of what had happened matched his image of what should have happened. The only thing he could fixate on was wondering, if Natasha taking the remote from Clint was her own bloodlust or an act of kindness. He followed in a numb silence as the choppers arrived and he sat down in one, even though he could easily fly himself. Steve sat opposite him, looking like he felt. There would be no parades or press conferences after this. No victorious swagger to show their triumph over evil. Like Hawkeye had said before they got there, it would never be talked about or written about. It would be like it never happened, except Tony couldn't forget, would never forget what he had seen the last few days. Barton had told his men to understand that their conscience should be clear because what they had done was just but Tony couldn't see it this way. All of this had been done because of him, to protect him and to protect the horrors his mind had created. The first thing he was going to do when they got back was find a nice corner and puke his guts out.

He scanned the area and noticed the same time Rhodey did, that a figure was staggering out of the building. "There's survivor, turn around," the Lt. Colonel yelled into his mic to the pilot.

"Belay that," Barton quickly countermanded him and swung his rifle up, firing at the figure. Tony knew with complete certainty that the figure would be dead by the time he looked back. This was nothing for Hawkeye, he'd seen him make harder shots with his eyes closed. He sank back and closed his eyes, wishing this whole thing was a dream.

It didn't take long, to land back at the base. Pepper and Fury were waiting for them along with medical teams that quickly grabbed the wounded, like greedy ghouls. As the dead were removed from the choppers, Clint and his men stood and saluted them, including the stupid dog. He would have joked about it but he wasn't in a humours mood. He embraced Pepper, wanted to curl up and cry but as usual Fury wouldn't allow time for grieving.

"Stark, make sure your jet's ready to leave in 1 hour," he commanded then strolled over to Hawkeye and Black Widow. Steve looked around and played with his shield, clearly at a loss as to what to do. He seemed to set his jaw and followed the medics to help the wounded. Tony found him there later, telling stories about WWII and helping the men relax. Rogers was a natural leader, a natural charismatic, something Barton had lacked completely.

Pepper agreed to arrange the jet for him and he sank down next to Rhodey. "Are you ok?" Tony asked wondering the same about himself.

"I'm fine, I'm just mad that lady got the drop on me," his friend explained.

"We all let our guard down around her. Who would suspect an 8 month pregnant women to be the mastermind of the plot," he smiled and his face felt stiff. He needed a drink.

"Your friend Hawkeye did, he should have told us. He sent us in there blind," he clenched his fist and even Tony could figure out the root of his anger. It was the same as Tony's and he suspected Steve's. If any of them had known that this was an execution rather than an investigation, they never would have gone. Though in Barton's defense, he had been clear he didn't want them there.

"He lied to us, to all of us, but then again that's what spies do. They lie and they hide information. The only thing I can trust about them, is that they'll never tell me the whole truth," Tony tried to work it out for both of them. But really he had felt that way about Natasha but never really about Hawkeye. Barton had always been tight lipped and emotionally vacant but he didn't read like a shifty spy, not like Fury and Romanov. Intel and counter intel, their little joke made more sense. She was the cloak and he was the dagger.

"How can you trust them any of them, if they do this to you. He killed," he paused, "he killed a woman, unarmed children and she blew up prisoners. They don't deserve the title of hero not like you or Steve." This wasn't far from what he had been thinking for months. But Clint wouldn't have had to kill those people and Natasha wouldn't have had to blow them up if Tony hadn't come up with those designs in the first place. "How can you trust him, if he killed his friend in cold blood?"

Tony thought about it for a minute, "I don't know if I can again. After New York and Fury threw us all together, I didn't know anything about him or that much about Natasha either. We just sort of fell into this rhythm of working together and I knew if I needed them they would be there. I never thought about what they did when they weren't with us and they never talked about. I knew conceptually she was a spy and he was sniper. Intel and counter intel, they joked all the time and I never really thought much about what being friends with an assassin meant because they kept all this shit away from us. I never knew, I never realized," he stopped and saw Fury and their wayward killers heading in their direction. "But now that I do, I don't know what I'm going to do."

He leaned his head back and so did Rhodes and he listened to Barton convince Fury to let him take Gator's body back home. The idea of having a dead body in the cargo hold of his jet near his things really, really grossed him out. He continued to track Clint's progress as he stopped to talk to his men. A few minutes of one on one time before they never saw him again, Tony guessed. He wondered why he bothered. He wasn't Pierce, he wasn't their captain. Tony didn't know who the fuck he was anymore. He heard him stop and talk to Sneeden, who was cooling his heels before they sewed him up.

"I wanted to come say good-bye, Sergeant," Clint said.

"I understand, sir,"

"You'll be fine, you know. I have one of those too," Tony had turned and could see him point at his right thigh, where he had been shot in Afghanistan. When Tony had heard the story it had sounded like a grand adventure but when he had watched the tapes, it was like a horrid nightmare. Sort of like this. "They are sending you to Ramstein for R&R, it's a fun place, make sure to check out the bars west of the hospital, good German beer," he could hear and see the fake smile on Barton's face. He wondered how the fuck Clint knew about the beer, Barton didn't drink.

"I will, sir," the man sat up on his elbow and saluted, "it was a pleasure serving with you, Captain." Hawkeye saluted him back. "And I'm sorry about what happened to your friend."

Clint moved to walk away and stopped, "I'm not really a captain," he said, looking at his hands.

"I knew it, you were too useful to be an officer," the prone man gloated.

"I'm actually a major," Barton corrected then finished with, "but I started out as a private. I didn't become an officer till I had 5 years as an enlisted, if it makes you feel better."

"Well I still say you are the first officer I've served with that was worth his salt, Major Pierce," the man still smiled at him and Clint started to walk away but stopped.

"Barton," he said quietly, looking down at his shoes. "My name, my real name is Barton."

"Barton," Beachhead repeated and mangled it as much as his Alabama drawl mangled most words in the English language. "How about I just call you Hawkeye?"

"Sure, everyone else does," Barton agreed but Tony recognized the mumbling, quiet tone he associated with Clint when he wasn't in agent mode. It was the first sign he had seen of the Clint he knew since they had gotten here. And a part of wanted to go over there and scream at the man but another part of him wanted to hug him because without meaning to, Beachhead had just done to him exactly what Gator had been talking about. He took away his name, disregarded him as person, and reduced him to a code name, a weapon.

Fuck this heavy shit, he patted Rhodey on thigh, "Let's go get drunk," he stood up, holding his hand out to his friend, who took it with a small grin. Rhodey would be ok, he wasn't so sure about the rest of them.

Monday August 13th 10:19 am, En Route, Stark's Jet

Natasha looked across the plane at her partner and finally allowed her heart to break for him. Until now, when they were in the thick of the mission, then mission clean up, she had ignored that niggling feeling of empathy she had for him. It was a voice in her head, just one of the many and like the others, she could ignore it. But now, safely tucked in Stark's private jet with just their friends and co workers she couldn't drown out that compassionate side of herself anymore.

In a way, it was odd, since it hadn't existed before she met Clint. Before him she had no concept of empathy or sympathy. If she caused pain it was of little consequence to her and if she saw someone suffering, it was just another bit of information to be used against them. And even still to some extent other's misery was just background noise. Random people didn't make her feel bad about the injustice of life. But Clint wasn't random, not to her, and his sadness did affect her. She watched him, as they leveled out and wanted to cry. He still sat in his filthy combat gear, his rifle beside him and his head resting against the window, his body was still rigid and unable to relax fully. Below his eyes was already turning dark with bruises from his broken nose and she knew how damn much that hurt. She knew what he was going through; his body no longer able to bring itself into homeostasis against the massive amounts of stress hormones, was crashing. Shell shock, Battle Fatigue, Combat Stress Reaction, it didn't matter what you called it, what mattered was helping him.

She wondered when was the last time he had slept and wondered how she could make him. She mentally shook herself. It didn't matter, she would figure something out and right now. She unlocked her seatbelt, ignoring that the "fasten seatbelt" sign was still lit and signaled a scrawny flight attendant, asking for some water and a towel. She then rooted through Clint's gear to fish out his sleeping pills. She opted for the gold foiled Halcion because they were only flying to the helicarrer rather than back to the states and she wanted him out quick. Plus she didn't want to risk interfering with anything they might give him to treat his nose when they got back to SHIELD. She looked over at him and noted that he seemed to not care that she was rummaging through his things, but then again he never did. Their relationship was just like that. What was hers was her and what was his was hers. Even at Stark's tower, her rooms belonged to her and he never entered without permission and his quarters were theirs and she came and went as she pleased. That level of lassitude about his personal space always seemed oddly Communist to her but then again, his entire life, he had never lived by himself.

Finally she grabbed a flannel and a salad bowel filled with water and glared Tony and Pepper out of the largest couch at the back of the plane. She approached him, and his eyes listlessly followed her movements the entire time. That thousand yard stare too common a look for him lately and she was again glad this fucked up mission was over. She slowly reached out and took his rifle, leaning it against the wall beside him. She didn't miss the almost imperceptible stiffening as she took his weapon away from him, nor did she miss the trust it must have taken for him let her move it. He was still amped up, yet clearly exhausted, sadly again a state that she had seen too many times. She needed to get him cleaned up and to sleep.

"Come on," she touched the inside of his forearm just under his glove, two of her fingers resting on his watch and two of them trailing across the skin. Under his watch would be his pulse point and where she knew his other tattoo was; a small white cherry blossom. "Let's get you cleaned up." He stared at her in confusion and she tightened her grip and tugged on his arm. Too many years of seeing him like this after missions, so out of it that he couldn't even figure out how to untie his shoe, and she knew her best bet was just to tell him what to do rather than give him a choice.

He stood, following her to the long couch. It grated on her nerves that Tony, Steve, Pepper, and Rhodes all looked away from them. Only Fury met her eyes but even she couldn't tell what he was thinking. Once back there, she began to divest him of his body armor, pocketing the orders from the Joint Chief's. She figured she might need them to convince Steve that Clint hadn't liked what they had done any more than the rest of them. She did leave his other weapons in place, though, knowing it would stress him out too much to take them. She also made him take off his uniform jacket and keffiyeh, both of which were moist and heavy with sweat, leaving him in his pants, boots, belt, t-shirt, and gloves. She debated making him changed his sweaty shirt too but decided she didn't want to take the time to find one, if he even had a clean one.

She sat him down, the two facing each other both with one leg on the couch and the other on the ground. She balanced the bowel between them and wet the cloth, starting with the sweat and grime on his cheeks and forehead. She then moved to clean the caked blood off his nose, upper lip, and chin. He was placid under her touch, too tired and too worn to cause any trouble. She wondered how close he was to a nervous breakdown and decided she didn't want to know. He was tough, tougher than most but even he could only take so much.

She slid the cloth to the back of his neck and he leaned forward, moving closer into her space. She let him and even leaned further over to meet him half way, her forehead resting against his, her hand holding the rag on his neck. She watched a drop of bloody water roll to the tip of his nose and drip into the bowel, leaving a momentary pink design in the quickly darkening water. She felt his eyelashes flutter against her own as he blinked, their noses nearly touching. Being this close to him this openly was refreshing and devastating. She could not and did not stop the tears welling in her eyes from slipping down her cheeks. She knew he wouldn't cry, sometimes she thought maybe he couldn't but someone needed to. Someone should shed tears over the deaths of those children, Hazine, and Gator. One of them should weep that he had become what they had both been afraid of, he had become a murderer.

"I'm sorry," she whispered to him, as she put her hand on his face and watched her tears drip into the water bowel. More salt to add to the blood and sweat she was cleaning off of him. "I'm so sorry. I wish I had gotten there sooner," she paused as he closed his eyes. It was better this way, looking into them was hard. "I wish I could have killed him for you," she finished and felt him relax a little more against her. She couldn't give him absolution for killing his friend but she could give him understanding.

She let him drop his head against her shoulder, his forehead a heavy weight against her as she took his left hand and started to wipe away the blood. It was Gator's blood and it didn't surprise her when she looked over and saw his eyes were still closed. There wasn't really all that much blood. Clint had stood behind Gator when he slit his throat so he had stayed mostly clean but she swore she could smell it all over him. The metallic scent of gore that defined their life clung to him like a ghost that didn't want to leave. She took his glove off, the leather brown and stiff from sweat and Gator's guts. The Velcro closure on the back sticky with blood and snot from Clint's broken nose.

As she reached for his right hand, the hand he had tucked in his lap, her finger tips came away red. She stared at her fingers for a moment, then looked at the short, harsh knap of the carpeting and noticed small drops of blood. She pulled on his fingers, holding his hand above the wrist and found his hand slick with fresh blood. She hadn't been crazy when she thought she smelled it.

"Clint," she whispered as she flipped his hand palm up to try and find the injury. She found the underside of his glove dark with blood. She unhooked the Velcro on the back and worked the glove up his hand. He tensed and winced as she pulled. Making her up her mind, she freed a knife and simply sliced the material away instead. He would be mad at her later for it, those were his favorite light colored gloves, but right now she was more concerned with what she saw as she pulled the leather away.

She gasped and he hissed, when she touched the wound, the only sound he had made since they had left the base with Gator packed into the cargo hold of the plane. He had a gash on the back of his hand just below his ring finger knuckle and other on his palm a bit further down. Both looked to be caused by the 4th metacarpal bone having snapped and pushed through his skin. He had given himself a compound boxer's fracture, no doubt from when he had punched Gator's helmet. She suspected the fifth bone was probably broken too but there was nothing she could do about it.

"Shit," she breathed when she saw it and jumped up to grab Tony's expensive bottle of gin and some ice, because seriously, why would you drink gin if vodka was available. She poured it over the wound, till she could clearly see the ends of the bones sticking out. She looked at him and found his eyes trusting. "Steve," she called, not taking her eyes from her partner's, "will you please bring me the first aid kit?" She held his hand as it sluggishly dripped blood into the bowel that now reeked of alcohol.

He stiffened when Rogers came near but did nothing else. She shooed the super soldier away, when he offered to help. She hadn't missed his discomfort with having them too near. When he was like this, her and Squawks were the only ones he was comfortable with. "I'm going to wrap it to keep it clean then we'll ice it," she spoke to him as she placed gauze pads over the holes and wrapped bandages around it, not too tight because it would swell but tight enough to try and stop the bones from moving further.

It must have hurt but he made no sound, no movements, no protest at all as she dressed his wound. He only watched her with a sort of dull fascination one would watch the parts of a school play that didn't involve your own kid. His slight movements were sluggish and uncoordinated. He was crashing from exhaustion and mental fatigue. She wondered if they should have stayed longer and let him get some rest or if it was better to flee to someplace he felt safer? It didn't matter now, they were en route and nothing could be done except get him to sleep.

She pressed ice gently only the back of his hand, he didn't react to it at all. She was glad for that, if nothing else. "I don't have anything for pain, but I have these," she dug out the Halcion she had taken from his gear. "You need to get some sleep, you'll be more comfortable that way," she tried and she saw his fear at the idea, though he said nothing. She thought of all the things she could say to convince him he was being an idiot. He was on a plane, he had the Avengers guarding him, he was useless as he was, ect. But she settled for, "I'm right here," whispered in Russian, "I won't let anyone get to you, I'll keep you safe," she leaned her forehead against his, and put her free hand on the back of his neck. "I've got your six, sweetheart, you can trust me," she told him, as she ran her thumb against his hair line. "Will you take them, please?" she switched back to English. He looked at her for a moment, she could see the weariness warring with wariness but he closed his eyes and slowly nodded yes.

She quickly freed 2 of the small blue pills and popped them into his mouth. She placed the bowel on the floor and signaled the flight attendants for a blanket, though didn't let them get too close. Once she had him lying down, she ran her short nails through his hair. "It's ok, Clint, it's going to be ok, just get some sleep," she quietly repeated to him in Russian until his breath had evened out and the tenseness of his frame relaxed into drug induced sleep. She handed Rogers the bowel of now brownish red water and Tony curled his lip at it even as Steve looked away. It was the perfect analogy to their lives, grime, gun powder, sweat, and blood mixed together; coating everything so you never felt clean again. Tony and Steve didn't understand it. It wasn't their type of world or their type of fight. They turned their noses up at the types of life she and Clint led yet professed to be their friends. Maybe her trust in them had been misplaced.

As she watched him sleep, she rested her head beside him and allowed her mind to drift to one of her favorite diversions, what would she do, if she could do anything. When she had been very young, and Red Room had been all she knew, she dreamed of being able to eat, sleep, or play whenever she wanted. As she grew older and saw more of the world she dreamed of being away from the spy game and the tight leashes her handlers held her by. Her goal had been to find a place, a safe place. With that goal in mind, she started adding things to the list of what she wanted, when she was no longer a government killer. Her place should have a ballet studio and a large bath tub for long soaks. Those had been the first whims she thought of. Then she decided she wanted a city loft with big windows and sunshine, after she saw Hungary for the first time.

But the biggest change had come a few years ago, when she had been sitting in the back of a car and day dreaming about it. Without realizing it, she had added Clint into her list of things she wanted with her in her safe place. That had scared her to her core and she didn't talk to him for 3 weeks afterwards. It had taken her that long to come to terms with the fact that she considered him part of her future and to be ok with that fact. Afterwards, she had started adding things to her wish list that he would like and her city loft had turned into a woodland retreat. First for him was a library. One of the things she had noticed about him at the beginning was that he liked to haunt libraries and bookstores. He never bought anything or checked out anything, he just read what he could, when he could. She asked him once, why he always placed them back in their spots before leaving and he had explained, "because books are heavy, and I don't have any place to keep them." So she wanted a place for him to be able to keep books on whatever he wanted to read about.

Next had been a kitchen. That one had come later but it was perhaps what she wanted for him most. He loved to cook and especially loved to bake, in fact most of the books he liked to look at were cook books. It had taken him years to admit that his mother and his grandmother had been bakers. She wanted to give him a beautiful kitchen where he could create anything he wanted. Stark had beaten her to the punch with that one, though Clint never referred to it as his kitchen. Everyone else did but Clint always said, "Stark's kitchen."

There were other things, like land and horses that she thought they would both enjoy. She definitely wanted him to have a dog because he could never quite hide the wistful look in his eyes when he saw people at the park with their dogs. But most of all, she wanted to give them both a home.

They were each broken people and each had their quirks because of it. She was, though NO ONE but Hawkeye knew, scared of fire. Clint liked fires, not as in a he liked to set them way, though he did like blowing things up, but in a he liked to relax in front of them and watch them way. She couldn't stand it and as soon as she had told him, he never did it again. One of his quirks was that the word home bothered him.

Unlike her, he had had a home and a family once. They hadn't been ideal but at one point in his life he had had a place that was his and that he could always return to. But after his parents died he had lost it, all of it and since then hadn't had a home in any sense of the word. His childhood had been spent in orphanages or foster homes then traveling from town to town in the circus. After that was prison and the Army, where he bounced from base to base, mission to mission. The idea of home was so sacred to him that he was petrified of having one because he might lose it again. It had taken her some time to puzzle out his fear but after months of noticing he almost never used the word home always said, base or stateside, or something else she had figured it out. Once she had, she had never used the word around him again. But none of that changed the fact that she wanted to give both of them one, someplace where Clint and Natasha felt like they belonged, where they felt like they were people not weapons.

She wondered briefly before reapplying the ice to hand, how much Clint actually agreed with what Gator had said?


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