Author's Note- Special thanks to the folks over at The Beta Branch for going over the story with a fine tooth comb!
Disclaimer: The Avengers are not mine, but Marvel/Disney's.
As if it weren't bad enough that they had a city to rebuild, a flying carrier to refit, and a team of super-powered "cats" to herd, now a new problem was cropping up in regards to Hawkeye's little band of mercenary minions.
They were starting to become a rather large pain in Fury's ass.
Out of the squad of seven men that had accompanied Hawkeye when he assaulted the Helicarrier, three were dead and five had been captured and were currently occupying cells in the Brig until they could transfer them to SHIELD headquarters. The mobile command center was currently heading towards Virginia, limping along until the massive vessel could be put into one of the world's only drydocks large enough to house a carrier.
The mercenaries had been almost completely forgotten about until the Battle of New York had settled down and Fury had received a memo from the Chief Master-At-Arms asking what SHIELD's plans were for the prisoners. Chief Robertson had brought up a good point; resources were spread thin containing the damage as it was, and they just didn't have the manpower to babysit four combat-trained captives.
To follow that memo was the reminder from Intelligence that they hadn't been interrogated yet. The analysts were itching to find out what the men may or may not have known- Barton had pulled from resources currently in opposition to SHIELD, so the goons may have some information that would help in future operations.
Barton was useless for the time being; the man had collapsed from various wounds that had gone ignored from the battle with the Chitauri, including glass shards, a damaged knee, and an as of yet un-confirmed injury to his back after crashing through a window when his perch had been blown out of the sky. After their little impromptu shawarma party, courtesy of Stark, the archer had been been dragged to Medical by his partner where he proceeded to collapse. The agent hadn't woken up yet.
Loki most likely hadn't been kind to his mind-slaves, but whether that was out of ignorance of mortal limitations, forgetfulness, neglect or outright malice was unknown. Both Selvig and Barton had shown signs of sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and dehydration. It was a wonder that either of the two had been functioning at all, much less enough to enter combat and assist in closing an extraterrestrial portal.
The infiltrators had been in much better condition, showing none of the signs of neglect or exhaustion that Barton had, and were relatively healthy aside from the wounds and damage received in the assault. So far, not much was being said by any of the men. Nothing useful, anyway.
They still had to track down the base that the portal had been manufactured in before they all scattered. Based on Selvig's information, there were at least one HYDRA research team, several more "security personnel" and several supply and logistics minions. Unfortunately, his memories of the location itself were spotty at best- he remembered a bunker, or "tomb", with an anti-static chamber and plenty of components scattered around.
Nick Fury wanted that base.
Natasha Romanoff closed the door to Fury's office behind her as she stepped in. "You asked for me, sir?"
Fury looked up from his paperwork, taking in her tired appearance. The woman hadn't left the medical area for longer than an hour at a time, refusing to leave her partner's side until he woke up. Doctor Osterhouse had no complaints; at least she was staying where they could monitor her in the event a previously undiscovered injury cropped up. Aside from being exhausted after the battle, she hadn't had very many serious injuries. A bruised rib, light concussion, and a twisted ankle received after leaping off the Chitauri air vehicle were Medical's primary concerns.
"Yes," he greeted, "Thank you for coming, Agent Romanoff. I've got a little job for you."
She straightened up as she shook her head slightly. "With all due respect, Director, Agent Barton is still-"
"In Medical, and likely to be there for a while," he interrupted. "He's not going anywhere anytime soon. This is more important for now."
Her eyes narrowed as she took the forms from the Director's hand. They were reports from the Ops team after they had captured the strike team, listing what details they could about the detained operatives. She read the notes carefully while Fury continued.
"I want you to interrogate them. There were mixed forces in whatever hole Agent Barton found to hide the Tesseract that may be in our best interest to intercept. Selvig hasn't been very useful since his concentration was on building that damn portal, and Barton's off sailing the River Nod. He may not even be able to tell us anything- apparently the memories generated while under the influence were a bit… "
"Unreliable," she finished, closing the folder and tucking it under her arm. "I'll do what I can, sir."
"Quickly - we're losing time here."
The Black Widow exited quietly, leaving Fury to tackle the next crisis that decided to pop up. He was getting too old for this shit.
The Brig, Helicarrier Detention Level…
Alonzo Chavez was bored. They hadn't even left them a deck of cards when they tossed the group of operatives in the Brig.
He and his "teammates" had been stripped of any SHIELD gear and handed grey jumpsuits to wear. It seemed more and more like they weren't going to get much by way of shower and laundry services.
A yell broke him out of his reverie, and the commando observed one of his compatriots being dragged from his cell by a pair of burly master-at-arms and escorted down the passageway. Two more of the others began yelling curses at the retreating figures. Idiots.
Shaking his head, he waited for his turn.
Four hours later, they came for him. Unlike the other flunkies, he knew better than to resist. Oyuki was still recovering from his sore ribs courtesy of the flying tackle by Iron Man and the guy had still tried to fight the guards. Chavez himself was still nursing the lump on his head courtesy of the smiling agent in a cheap suit with a big ass gun.
"Stand up and face the wall," the guard barked. Following the orders exactly, he was soon escorted out of the cell as the others had been, rolling his eyes at their jeers. If he didn't know any better, he'd say his escorts were relieved that finally one of them was smartening up about this process.
They continued down the passageway, passing a large, square chamber covered with glass. Their strange and overconfident employer sat morosely within, the lower half of his face covered by a mask of some kind and shackles chaining his wrists together. Apparently, the man had bitten off more than he could chew with his crazy "let's take out SHIELD and take over the world" ploy.
Chavez was used to dealing with the aftermath of madmen's failures to do the same exact thing- it never ceased to amaze him at the sheer amount of them out there. Contract work for groups like HYDRA and A.I.M had jaded him- the only thing that tended to change for him were the locations and silly James Bond-esque contraptions that tended to show up in the labs or secret lairs of the current Villain of The Week.
At least the pay was decent.
Their journey ended at a small interrogation room at the end of the Detention Level passageway. A table sat in the center, flanked by two chairs, one of which was occupied by none other than the infamous Black Widow. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"Sit, please," she beckoned, an open folder laying on the table in front of her. She was reading a tablet, her legs crossed and a hand gently tracing the rim of a coffee cup that sat next to a manila folder. The woman continued to read as he sat down. His guards quickly closed the restraint locks over his wrists and ankles.
She was dressed in a thin, stylish violet shirt with black slacks, dress boots, and a light jacket. Setting the tablet down, she leaned back slightly in her chair and crossed one leg over the other. "So, Mr. Chavez, you seem to have quite the record, here."
He sat still, keeping his eyes on the woman in front of him.
"Sergeant Alonzo Chavez. You served five years in the Marines until you received a dishonorable discharge for assaulting an officer, one year in the brig, then two more years bouncing around the southwest. Says here you've been doing quite a bit of work for some rather shady people."
"It pays the bills," he replied.
The Widow finally turned to him, picking up the folder and closing the lid. She stared at him intently, piercing him with grey eyes. They stared at each other for several minutes, sizing each other up.
"You were captured during an attempt to assault and destroy this helicarrier, Mr. Chavez. My suggestion to you is that you answer each question as completely and honestly as you can- it may help you get out of this with minimal repercussions."
Shifting in her chair, she leaned forward slightly. It was time for the opening volley. As he expected, her opening volley was rather straightforward. "We would like to have any information you have on the location of your base as well as any details on personnel and equipment located within.
"I'd like to speak to my commander, please."
The agent blinked, clearly not expecting his response. "Commander. Are you referring to Loki?"
"The man in green?" The former soldier snorted. "He wishes. No, ma'am- I'd like to speak with my real CO before I answer any operational questions."
"Feel free to provide the names of your commanders," she responded coolly. "I can forward any questions to them if you like."
Chavez shrugged, remaining silent. There was no way he was giving anything away before the Boss gave him the ok- he was a professional.
"There are a few things I'd like to get your input on. First, would you like to explain how such an upstanding individual as yourself gets hired on to attack SHIELD? You do realize that was probably a suicide mission, correct?"
He shrugged again, smiling lightly as he looked her in the eyes. "Lady, I'm just a hireling. Rent-a-minion, at your service. I just do what I'm told."
Smiling, she leaned back again. "It takes balls to sneak aboard a military vessel, stage a jailbreak and expect to get out alive. Care to enlighten me on how you planned to pull it off? You guys must be very good, or very foolish. I'm wondering which one you are."
He cocked his head to the side, chuckling lightly. "Not gonna say a word 'til I speak with my CO."
"There's something else that's bothering you, Chavez. I don't think it's the fact that you're under guard. You haven't fought any transfers and have completely obeyed any instruction given to you so far, so you're not as rebellious as your friends, or you've got more sense than they do."
The former soldier remained quiet, his eyes dodging around him slightly, giving away a sense of nervousness. She was good- the agent had read him like a book in an instant. Based on what the stories about her said, she was going to find out what she wanted anyway whether he knew it or not- why not make things easier?
He decided to take a chance and ask what had been on his mind since waking up in the Brig. "Ma'am, is he alright? Hawkeye, I mean."
She fixed him with a stare. Chavez shifted around to face her, his curiosity and worry getting the better of him. He sighed in resignation. "He's my CO. Something… something's wrong with him. He and the doctor, both."
Her face reminded him of a porcelain doll in its stillness. Another nod had him sitting back in his chair. "You're worried about the man that led you on a failed assault."
"He's a good CO. If he's not here with us, it means he was undercover or killed. It would be a shame if he were killed."
"He's still alive. You mentioned that something's was wrong with him. Care to elaborate?" Natasha smiled inwardly; he had just given her the angle she needed. This one would be easier to crack than the others. Not that she minded- this one may even be salvageable, if one were to go off of his apparent loyalty.
"His eyes. Both him and the physics guy that was building, well, whatever it was. Their eyes were, I dunno- weird. I've never seen anyone with eyes that bright… like they glowed or something. He… he was like a damn machine," he admitted. "He didn't eat or sleep- it's like nothing else mattered but that damn cube thing and the green man."
"Whatever, lady. Ma'am. He dressed in green armor with a funky helmet, and he was more of a client. Outside of his archaic dialogue, he didn't really seem that different than any of the other wierdos that I've worked for."
"Why the concern for Hawkeye, then? You don't seem to have much concern for the others, or for your employer."
"Like I said- he's a good CO. It was just odd- the Boss would be working on one project after the other. Planning, setup, blueprint retrieval- the works. The creepy thing was," he shuddered, "If the client told him to do something, he did it, but with more than just the old 'I say jump, you say how high' bullshit. No, ma'am- this was different."
"Go on," she encouraged.
"I got onsite I think the same day as the science crew- I was one of the escorts. The plan was that I was supposed to go back with the rest, but he asked me to stay on to help him out. I agreed. He looked pretty worn out by the second day, and I figured he was just tired from working on those arrows of his as well as bringing in the equipment. He said something to Loki, and the guy just said 'You can forget about sleep, forget about eating- we do not rest until we are done' or some shit like that."
Natasha continued to note the information as the young man shook his head, his words speeding up as he recounted the last few days. "The funny thing was, that's just what happened. We all rotated shifts and ate, took breaks, the like… but the Boss didn't. I've got some medic training, so I said to him, 'Boss-man, you gotta take it easy- take a break,' and he just looked at me with those freaky-blue eyes, like he was looking right through me and then he'd go do whatever it is he thought he needed to do. There's a time when you follow orders to a tee, but this was ridiculous. Nobody follows orders like that- it goes beyond common sense!"
Her next thought was interrupted by a light beep from her tablet. She read the message quickly, picking up the device to obscure it from the others. Hawkeye's awake- get down to Medical ASAP."I need to step out for a few. Keep him here."
The guard nodded as she left the room.
"Will you get off me, asshole?" A familiar snarl greeted her as she entered the Medical ward, announcing that her partner had in fact woken up. "Get that thing away from me before I shove it up your-"
"Stand down, Hawkeye," Natasha commanded with a smile. "They're only doing their jobs."
"Easy for you to say, Nat. You haven't been stuck like a pincushion for the last fifteen minutes- get away from me, you fucking vampire!" Clint tugged at the restraints again. The young intern holding a syringe and butterfly needle jumped back as he jerked his hands back and forth, testing the cuffs. A sharp glare sent the medic scurrying away to the safety of the hallway. "Goddamn restraints… "
"Oh thank heavens," Natasha heard from behind her. She turned to find Dr. Osterhouse approaching, clipboard in hand and making a sigh of relief as he approached. "Thank you for coming, Agent Romanoff- he's been a bit cranky since he woke up."
"Cranky? I'll give you cranky-"
"Clint. Shut up," she ordered as she approached the bed to stand next to her partner, watching in satisfaction as he pursed his lips in frustration and fell back tiredly against the bed. Turning back to Clint's doctor, she put her best bullshit smile on her face. "Thank you for looking after him, Doctor. He's always a bit difficult when he's been out for so long."
Shaking his head, the doctor chuckled lightly and pulled a penlight out of his coat pocket. "Oh, don't you worry, my dear. I'm a bit used to his shenanigans. Now, young man, please calm down while I check your pupils."
The aging doctor proceeded to give the agent a thorough check-up now that he had awoken, constantly advising him of each check and test before proceeding. Clint visibly relaxed as the minor checks were conducted. Doctor Osterhouse had been his physician for years, and had long ago learned to key to handling jumpy patients.
"Any chance of getting these off," Barton asked roughly, pulling lightly with a tug. "I promise to be good, Doc."
"I don't know. Just ten minutes ago, you were threatening my intern with bodily harm," the doctor chided, patting the younger man on the arm before turning around to reach for the syringe. "Really, if he stays in the Operations ward, it'll be a miracle. I'm getting rather tired of having to re-acquire personnel after you've traumatized them."
The agent snorted. "Couple of new guys can't be that bad. Maybe you need to hire ones with more intestinal fortitude."
"Seven this year alone, Agent Barton. Seven."
"Sorry," he mumbled. "I'm not that bad, am I?"
Natasha's laugh startled him. He sighed in resignation. Doctor Osterhouse merely smiled and finished his exam, quietly taking his leave while writing on the clipboard.
"Clint," she spoke, getting his attention again. "We need to get what information we can now that the overall battle is over. Fury wants your base before anyone has a chance to clear it out. I've been interrogating your little crew, but so far they haven't given me anything to work with that we haven't already found out."
"Weird. You can usually get them to talk within five minutes. I'm sorry, Nat- for some reason I can't remember where we were. It was a bunker of some sort."
She nodded lightly. Pulling up a chair, she sat herself down and held the tablet in front of her, the pictures of the captured strike team showing prominently on the screen. "These are the men that came with you. Can you tell me anything about them?"
His brow furrowed in concentration as he stared at the men on the screen. Blue eyes scanned back and forth as he tried to pull up what information he could. "Strike team, I think. Borrowed some from Latveria, maybe Hydra. Definitely Hydra on the last three- I think I remember meeting up with most of them at the field base in Idaho. We picked up the Quinjet there."
"Do you think they'd be able to point us at the base's location?"
"No. There were five others- they came with me, I believe, as well as that one. The rest we picked up after hitting the SHIELD base." He pointed as best he could at the picture of Chavez. "Those five I brought from the hideout."
A memory flared at that point, of Selvig and Loki and a dark, dismal room. Yellow light filled the corridors with the exception of the central chamber, which was much brighter due to the Tesseract and the portal device.
"Stick in the mud- he's got no soul! No wonder you chose this- this tomb to work in!" Doctor Selvig smiled cheerily at Loki as he manipulated another sensor, having just finished telling Loki about his opinion of the Tesseract's greatness while Barton had handed his laptop off to Chavez.
The assassin's tired, pale face glared at Selvig in annoyance. The physicist had never liked him much, thinking him nothing but a soulless bully and automaton that knew nothing more than how to dangle from Fury's puppet strings. He couldn't help but respond.
"Well the Radisson doesn't have three levels of lead-lined flooring between SHIELD, and this cube," he spat, watching as Selvig turned back to his work, smiling oddly in acknowledgement and shrugging as if to say, "Point taken!"
"Clint. Clint." He looked up at Natasha, who was snapping her fingers and trying to get his attention. "You zoned out. Do I need to get the doctor?"
Shaking his head, he narrowed his eyes in concentration. "Remembered something, I think. Selvig and Loki were talking about the cube. He mentioned the place was kind of like a tomb. It had three levels of lead-lined flooring, so it may have been a radiation bunker or something. It was old- maybe World-War era. There were tunnels, and a central chamber."
"Good. Anything more?" She typed up the details in a message, preparing to send it to Fury.
"Yeah. One of the four here," he pointed to the pictures again, "I think should be able to tell you which one, or at least rule out the rest. I can't remember much else to be honest, but that one should have that intel."
He was pointing to Chavez. Natasha smiled. "I think you may have a fan, Hawkeye."
"Excuse me?" He cocked his head at her in confusion, his eyes widening.
"These three are dead. The four other helpers you brought in are in the Brig, and what they've given has been useless. This one, however," she tapped the screen, enlarging the file on Chavez, "This one has been refusing to give anything up until he 'speaks with his CO.'"
"He's a good soldier, that much I do know," Hawkeye shrugged. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me. Though this isn't exactly a name-rank-serial number situation. I'm pretty sure I picked him up for a reason."
"Do you think he'll talk if you call from Medical? I'm not sure they're going to release you so soon."
He shrugged. "Not likely. I'm probably gonna get tossed into The Raft for this, you know that. They won't let me out of here anytime soon, and if the kid's refusing to talk to you of all people, he's not going to just accept a phone call and assume that it's me talking without a gun pointed at my head or something."
"You know Fury won't lock you up, Clint. You were brainwashed," his partner argued with a frown.
"Won't lock me up? Nat have you even looked around this place? There's no way they'll simply slap me on the wrist for something this big," he laughed bitterly. "Not to mention I wouldn't make it very far- not with how many I kill-"
"I told you, don't do this to yourself," she interrupted, taking his hand and squeezing gently. They had been expecting a meltdown after the dust had settled, and it looked like it was finally time for it to happen. He tightened his grip on hers, tears threatening to fall from his eyes. Natasha cursed inwardly; Loki would pay, but not today. Not while her partner needed her.
Four agents walked down the passageway, heading once again for the interrogation room.
"I still can't believe he actually turned me loose," Barton murmured to his partner as she walked next to him. Well, he had been released into Natasha's custody and required a minimum of two escorts from Special Ops, but still- didn't Fury see that he was a security risk?
The Ops escorts snickered quietly as they accompanied Strike Team Delta. They knew they weren't needed, but if it made the higher-ups happy, they would happily trail their buddies on something mundane like an interrogation.
"He's in here," she motioned, opening the door. The escorts remained in the hallway as Barton and Romanoff entered the room. One of the guards left to locate another chair.
Chavez held in the sigh of relief when he watched Agents Barton and Romanoff enter the room. His commander appeared to be tired, but more rested than he had been the last few days before they left the base. As the agent fixed him with a steely gaze, he noticed something else.
His eyes were blue again- the correct blue. No bright, glowing marbly-blue.
"Sir," he reported. The other man nodded in greeting, sitting in another chair after one of the guards returned from a supply room.
"So, Chavez," Romanoff started, "We'd like you to share with us everything you know about the base."
He looked over to Hawkeye, who gave him a nod. "Alright, ma'am. What would you like to know?"
"And there you have it, Sir," Natasha finished. "We should be able to catch up to any remnants if the strike teams leave within the hour."
"You sure this guy's on the up and up?"
She nodded. "Yes sir. The prisoner is former military, and from his record only got out due to some fallout from a mission that went bad. He knew Hawkeye from an op in Afghanistan- the one where Agent Barton was sent to locate a missing Marine Recon unit and wound up taking over the platoon. Apparently their leader turned on them and Hawkeye had to lead them out of the mountains. Chavez seems to be just a guy that keeps getting stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You seem to be impressed, Agent Romanoff."
"This operative," she advised as she tapped the file, "was the only one of the lot to show any loyalty, and once Hawkeye gave him a single nod, gave us what we needed to know. He's not loyal to his old employers- he gave us too much for that. What I can see is that he's loyal to Hawkeye. If we give him a leader he can respect, and an upstanding group to work for, I think he could turn his life around and become a good agent."
He scoffed, taking the tablet and poring over the file himself. "You mean to tell my you wanna recruit this kid?"
"Yes sir," Romanoff replied, standing firm.
"With his record?"
"Yes sir. To be frank, we're no angels ourselves. You know my history, and you recruited Clint from Death Row in a federal penitentiary."
"Touché," he admitted. "I'll look it over and talk to him myself. We'll see if the kid's SHIELD material."
"Thank you, Director."
"Good work, Agent," Fury praised. "I knew you'd take care of it. We'll send Captain Rogers and Dr. Banner to join the strike teams to make sure there are no problems. I don't want Agent Barton leaving our custody just yet- he still needs to talk to Psych, and I don't want the Council jumping the gun."
"Will Dr. Banner be willing to go? We did promise him that he was free to leave once the Tesseract was found," she argued. "I'd rather he not get… upset… if we ask him for any more favors."
"That's why we'll be posing a formal request to him asking for his scientific expertise. Stark's out of commission for a little bit, per his CEO, and we don't have anyone else that even comes close to understanding Tesseract technology that hasn't been traumatized, killed, or had their brain turned into a flying monkey. Selvig is still under observation in Medical as well, and he's a civilian with little to no combat ability."
He had a point. She nodded in agreement. "Thor is still here. We may be able to have him join Captain Rogers?"
"Good point. Go ahead and ask him," Fury agreed. "His brother is in custody, so a short trip shouldn't be too much of a risk."
"What about me, sir?"
Fury fixed her with a solemn stare, his eye meeting hers. "Frankly, I'd rather have you here. Coulson's not here now to talk sense into Hawkeye, and he's gonna need you more than the raid will. I don't want to lose any more agents, especially an asset like Agent Barton. More than anyone else now, he trusts you. The man may be a pain in the ass, but he's our pain in the ass, and he's gonna have a pretty rough road ahead to get over this brainwashing crap."
"Why sir, I didn't know you cared."
"Just don't spread it around," he retorted, pointing at her with a pen. "I got a rep to uphold, ya know."
"Understood," she replied with a smile.