It was his own fault, really. He'd been scolded over and over by Rogers and everyone else he'd come in contact with over the past month on how he needed to take better care of himself. Not sleeping, heavy drinking… hell, he'd even kept drinking after Fury had left the bar after convincing him to go out on this mission.
Now, he wasn't an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he'd be damned if he turned into one of Hill's monkeys, but Fury was different. Decades of trading favors and pulling one another from the brink until you'd lose track of who owed who the most meant that you didn't just say no to Nick Fury, especially when he'd always kept accurate tallies.
So now that he'd once again found himself lying facedown in the stink of his own blood, long after his adversaries had retreated, with his comm link severed and no way of calling for an extraction, he couldn't bring himself to be surprised.
On the contrary, the only thing that surprised him was the quiet sound of footsteps in the marsh. Judging by the position of the sun, which was now over the east, though not for much longer, he'd figured about six hours since he'd stepped off his bike. Fuck, his bike. They'd taken that too…
He listened intently, realizing that the sounds of the footsteps were rapidly approaching him. It was only one person, from what he could tell, though whether or not he could take that person in his weakened condition depended entirely on the condition of that person as well.
He turned his head to inspect his surroundings, figured that he wouldn't make it to more cover in time.
"Get up," a cool voice spoke.
He turned his head back, his eyes narrowing and his body tensing as he recognized the familiar spread of red hair in the wind.
"Relax, I'm here as an ally," she said evenly, crouching down slowly, flashing her S.H.I.E.L.D. badge.
"Yeah, right. That's what they all say before they try to kill me," he joked half-heartedly.
"Not this time," She said. "I'll show you my orders if you need to see them before you cooperate."
He raised an eyebrow. "This mission has already been completed. And I was under orders to do it alone."
"I'm not here to complete the mission. I'm here on strict orders to collect you. Now, if you'll please come along. My orders came from higher than yours."
"My orders came from Nick Fury."
She smiled a cool, tight lipped smile. "My orders came from Captain America," she said, unfolding a legal sized piece of paper in front of him.
He rolled his eyes.
"You're hurt," she observed. "Can you stand on your own?"
"I'm not sure," he told her truthfully, attempting to prop himself up on his elbows.
She tapped the Bluetooth at her ear. "This is Agent Romanoff. I've reached the destination and will need a medic for the target." She reached out a hand to help pull him up. "Shit, there's no response. My line's dead."
He nodded. "Mine too."
She frowned. "No matter. There's a S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse less than two miles south of here. We'll have to walk though. My vehicle was attacked on the other side of this field."
He groaned as he let her pull him up, then wobbled once he was upright.
She placed two firm hands on his shoulders to steady him, noticing for the first time the wound at his side. "How deep is that?" she asked.
He grunted an answer.
"Take off your shirt," She said in her no-nonsense manner. "You'll need to put pressure on that." She reached out impatiently to do it for him as he struggled out of the garment. "Need to get you to a doctor," she muttered. "Can you walk?"
He attempted to take a step forward, the world spinning around his vision as a jolt of pain shot up his right side. "Dizzy…" he murmured, raising his metal hand to his head.
"Easy," she said, more gently this time. She moved beside him and wrapped a strong arm around his torso, carefully avoiding his injury. "Put your weight on my shoulders."
"This is gonna be a long walk," he warned, reminding himself to put one foot in front of the other.
"That's alright," she answered, slowing down her steps to match his.