paulacas: (Eliot/Clint Pl)
[personal profile] paulacas
Title: Sometimes You Need A Scorecard
Author: YanzaDracan
Artist: Whiskeyinmind
Fandom: Avengers/Leverage/The Bourne Legacy/X-Men
Word Count: 6,093/20,243
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Clint Barton; Nate/Sophie; Tony/Pepper; Natasha Romanoff/Phil Coulson;
Rating: R
Warnings: language; a little sex, a little violence
Disclaimer: I don't own them. They belong only to themselves, and the people that created them. This is a figment of my imagination--fiction. No money made. Any mistakes are mine.
Summary: Sophie told Eliot he was no longer the same man that worked for Damien Moreau. The Leverage Team finds out he is still that man plus a little more, and that's okay because a Hawk and a Spider have his back.
A/N: Spoilers: Season 5 Leverage to The Gimme A K Street Job.

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Eliot missed Phil Coulson. The man was an organizational genius and would have had the search and rescue people marching in rank and step if he were here. He was forever grateful that Phil had made sure he would have access to Stark's AI.

JARVIS had been invaluable in helping him get survivors inside the confines of the fortified Stark Tower. The survivors were moved out to evacuation centers now that the Chitauri were dead, and Eliot was now using the lobby as a command post.

"Maria, when can I get some relief here?"

"Not for a while. We're limping toward dock now, but it's going to take time. We don't have anyone to send."

"Dammit. I need to be out with the SAR teams."

"Fury wants you right where you are-with Coulson down…you're the closet thing we've got."

"How is he?"

"Touch and go. He's still in surgery…a lot of muscle and ligament damage along with a punctured lung. He might be able to fly a desk, but I don't know about going out in the field-that's if he makes it through the next few days."

"Fuck. This whole deal has just screwed the pooch in so many ways it could be a sex show in Mexico."

"Wolf?"

Eliot froze. He didn't like what he was hearing in Maria's voice.

"Yeah."

"Fury told The Avengers Phil is dead."

"WHAT! Holy Fucking Hell. Why would he do that? Does Clint know?"

"No, but Natasha does. I think Fury and Coulson cooked up the idea after they shot Phil full of the good drugs."

"The son of a bitch is damn lucky he's in surgery. I hope some dumb ass doesn't blurt it out to Barton-we'll never get him dug out from under that mountain of guilt."

"I hate to dump on you, but I thought you should have a heads up."

"Thanks Maria. Where is Cyclops? I wanna know where to find him when I have time to kick his ass up between his shoulders."

"With the Council rubbing their noses in The Avengers' success."

"Great. Keep me in the loop?"

"I'll do what I can, but it's above my pay grade."

"Nothing's above your pay grade, and I have a new friend Phil introduced me to that can give me a hand."

"Good luck with that. Stark gets pissed when people take his stuff."

"I'll give him back-some day. Get some rest, Maria."

"Take your own advice, Wolf. Out."

"JARVIS?"

"Yes, Agent Spencer?"

"I'm not stepping over any boundaries here I don't about?"

"No Sir."

"Great. You'll tell me if I do?"

"Of course."

"Can you find Agent Coulson while we do all this other shit, too?"

"I assure you that I am accustomed to keeping up with Sir's machinations so it will pose no problem to look for Agent Coulson while we're working, Agent Spencer."

"Outstanding. Please call me Eliot."

"If I may be so bold, Agent…Eliot, you have several wounds that you should have attended."

"JARVIS, are you familiar with Operation Outcome?"

"Not currently, Sir."

"I am one of two people that survived the treatment. By the time the medics track me down there won't be enough open wound left to worry over, but we're going to keep that little tidbit of information between us unless it's absolutely necessary."

"I concur at this time, Sir."

"Thanks, Bubba."

Hours later, Eliot was still standing in the lobby of Stark Tower with the heads of police, fire and National Guard working to switch SHIELD units for LEOs and Guard. He'd finished relaying orders for the final teams to be pulled out when The Avengers tumbled through the door literally holding each other upright. The specialists on protection detail brought their weapons to bear on Hawkeye.

"Everyone. Stand. Down."

Clint and Natasha's heads snapped up at the sound of Eliot's command. Shock kept even Tony silent though they formed a protective circle around Hawkeye and Black Widow.

"Wolf?"

Eliot heard Clint's surprised whisper-he could feel the emotions tumbling through their bond, but he stayed focused on the members of his detail who failed to lower their weapons.

"Was I unclear?" He brought his hand to rest on the butt of his pistol.

The soft question caused the hands holding the three weapons still pointed at Clint to tremble.

"But…he…"

"Was I unclear?

"No…no…sir."

"You will lower your weapons or I will shoot you myself, and shooting you will generate reams of paperwork that will make me extremely cranky."

Weapons lowered.

"You will report back to base and pray to your gods you're never assigned to work with me again."

"Yes, Sir."

"Anyone else with a problem protecting this building and The Avengers can also report to base."

The implication was clear to the remaining men and women. Have a problem with The Hawk you had a problem with The Wolf. Only one other left.

"Colonel, is your command post operational?"

"It is."

"Get moved there ASAP so Mr. Stark can secure his building for repairs. There will be SHIELD agents with all your teams until all Chitauri remains and machinery is collected at which time all operations will be left in your capable hands."

Eliot shook hands with everyone. He heard Stark draw in a breath, but raised a hand to forestall his words.

"Thompson!"

"Sir!"

"Move your detail to an exterior perimeter. When everyone has cleared the lobby you're relieved to return to base."

"Yes sir."

JARVIS, lock it down after they're clear. Elevator?"

"Operational, Sir."

"Thanks. Let's go."

Clint and Natasha moved first, Steve close behind supporting Bruce. Thor and Tony stood undecided.

"JARVIS?"

"Everything is fine, Sir. If you go with Agent Spencer he will explain. His words are not for public purview hence his rush to get everyone some place private."

The ride to the residential floors was silent until the doors opened.

"Do you want to clean up first or talk first?"

"Clean up. We've got a truck load of carry out coming in a half hour or so, and I really need to get this suit to the cleaners." Tony quipped as he stepped out of the elevator. "There's…suites. Pick one they're all stocked."

He waved over his shoulder as he headed toward his workshop still muttering under his breath. Soon it was just the three SHIELD agents. Eliot waited for them to reach out. Clint moved until he was plastered against Eliot, Natasha supporting him from behind.

"Eliot, it…he…I…couldn't…"

His breathing hitched as he buried his face in Eliot's neck.

"I know darlin'. I couldn't reach you either, but we've got you back."

"Your crew…"

"You don't worry about Portland. That's for tomorrow or the next day. I for one would like to wash the Chitauri brains out of my hair. Agent Hill was kind enough to grab your 'go' bags and send them over with the relief team, so let's see what kind of religious experience we can find in a Stark Tower bathroom."

An hour later they were back in the living room, shawarma, with a variety of toppings and side dishes scattered across the bar. Eliot and Natasha watched Clint to make sure he actually ate. Clean and fed, Tony could no longer restrain himself.

"So Agent Spencer, are you replacing Agent…Phil?"

Eliot chuckled at Tony's condescending tone.

"I couldn't replace Phil in my dreams let alone in real life, but Director Fury asked me to stand in until it's seen how well he recovers."

"RECOVERS! HOW THE FUCK DO YOU RECOVER FROM BEING DEAD!"

Eliot's glare was so chilling that Stark took a step back and nearly fell over Steve. He turned to catch Clint as he felt the archer's mind start to shut down.

"Hawk!"

He snatched Clint by the nape of the neck and shook him.

"Phil's dead?"

At the broken tone, he pulled Clint against him still glaring at the others.

"No darlin'. JARVIS?"

"Agent Coulson was moved to Recovery thirty minutes ago. The doctors are cautiously optimistic about him recovering most of the range of motion in his shoulder, but concerned about diminished lung capacity, and are safeguarding against respiratory infections."

"Thank you, JARVIS."

"You're very welcome, Eliot."

Eliot relaxed into the couch, Clint plastered against his left side and Natasha tucked under his right arm, her head on his chest as they watched the others except for Bruce vent their outrage at Fury's lies. He kept his hand running through the short hair to give Clint an anchor in the storm of his emotions. Once he felt them relax, he enjoyed listening to how Fury was about to pay for his duplicity.

"Can we get in to see him?"

Clint's voice was still quiet as though afraid to hope.

"We can go by later, but Fury wants to keep us away from the Council so we'll give it a few days then scatter. Stark, do you mind a few house guests or should we find somewhere else."

"No. I mean you can stay. I'm sure JARVIS has already scheduled repairs, but we can fly to Malibu until Fury wants us back."

"Sounds like a plan. I need to make a stop in Portland."

He was interrupted by a chirp from his phone.

"Thor, the Council wants to execute Loki so if you want to save your brother you better get on the horn with the All-Father."

"I will. Thank you, Wolfson."

Eliot nudged the drowsing Clint to wake him then made their goodnights and headed to their room. He turned back from locking the door and was shoved against the door and two sets of hands began stripping off his clothes.

"What?..."

"You were on the street."

"In the battle with the Chitauri."

"Without us."

"I had Phil's team."

They found all the healing cuts, laser burns and bruises.

"I'm good compared to you two. Out running the Hulk, battling each other…a concussion, bruises, jet crashes, catching rides on flying scooters, and jumping off buildings."

That got a snort from Natasha and a smirk from Clint.

"Just another day at the office."

"Since we've all been awake for the better part of four days-bed sounds like a the perfect place."

"It's been a month."

"Sleep now. Play when we've pulled our asses out of the fire."

Eliot could have kicked himself as Clint's face fell and Natasha glared.

"Truth. JARVIS, how's Phil?"

"Vitals are stable, his chest has drained well. The doctors are pleased with his progress."

"Thank you."

They all groaned as the luxurious mattress enfolded their exhausted bodies. Anything other than sleep was definitely going to have to wait. Sleep was warm and tangled and safe until Clint's dreams of Loki rolled down his mental link to Eliot.

He didn't jump or tense though his heartbeat picked up until he realized the images in his mind weren't his. The dreams had not yet brought the archer awake, but he was beginning to twist in Eliot's arms. Love and safety and home were feelings Eliot fed back through the bond, Clint's breathing calmed, his body settled back into deep sleep. Slipping from between his assassins, he stepped into the bathroom. After relieving himself he stood in the shower until the images from Clint's dreams leeched into his memory where they could be locked away. Though it had been four days as opposed to four years-this mind fuck was going to be harder than Aaron Cross.

Guarding their sleep until a decent hour to start coffee and breakfast, Eliot lost himself in the array of food he found in Stark's kitchen. Talking with JARVIS while he worked, helped ease some of the anxiety of what the next few days would bring, and the smells wafting from the kitchen soon drew everyone from their beds. The easy camaraderie over breakfast was soon broken by a call from Fury requesting their presence at SHIELD's land headquarters in two hours.

They made it through the de-briefings--barely. Eliot had to keep mentally snatching Clint back from his inner abyss. The argument between Thor and Fury over Loki's fate was near shaking the walls. Psych tried to separate Eliot from Clint, but since Eliot was standing in Coulson's stead, the only ones that could override him was Assistant Director Hill or Director Fury. Clint had jumped through all the hoops successfully and with the mental bond between Eliot and Clint installed by SHIELD's own psychics they had no reason not to release the archer.

While the other Avengers kept Fury tied in knots, the trio decided to slip in and see Phil. Clint had been holding himself together fairly well until they passed through several wards of wounded.

"Clint, these wounded are from Manhattan. This is Loki's work. They are all Loki's work. You were just a tool-like Dr. Selvig was a tool-Agent Peterson was a tool-everyone he touched was simply a means to an end."

Natasha didn't stop talking until they'd passed through all the wards, and were standing outside the doors that would take them to the isolation ward.

Agent Phil Coulson looked-diminished buried under miles of wire and tubing, but his color was looking better. The doctors had removed the ventilator, and had finished removing the chest tube, leaving the drugged agent to sleep. It broke Eliot's heart broke to watch two of SHIELD's deadliest assassins stand by Coulson's bed holding hands like frightened children. They joined their clasped hands with Phil's, and watched the hitched breathing as he slept. Eliot settled to wait.

He'd closed his eyes for just a minute when Clint's excitement at the fluttering of eyelashes brought Eliot awake.

"Hey."

Natasha bent over and kissed Phil's forehead while Clint offered him a sip of water.

"If you ever give Fury the okay to tell us you're dead again, we will not be responsible for how we punish you."

She gave the injured man a sweet smile.

Phil Coulson, SHIELD's mild mannered bad ass shivered at THAT smile from the Black Widow.

"I promise. It was not my most thought out plan, and the drugs they gave me were very good." He looked between her and Clint. "You're both alright? …Clint?

"Yes Sir. Tasha hit me in the head-really hard."

"Cognitive recalibration. It worked with Dr. Selvig, too."

"Eliot?"

"I'm here."

He walked to the opposite side of the bed.

"I'm sorry we pulled you back into this."

He patted the other man's arm.

"It's fine, man. You gave me almost five years, and I'm tired of spending most of my nights alone."

"Thank you."

"I'm here as long as you need me."

Eliot stepped back and let Hawkeye and Black Widow fuss over their handler. He was surprised to find the words that he'd only meant to ease Phil's mind were actually true. As long as Clint and Natasha chose this life he would be here. They had accepted that he'd had to walk away-now he was accepting that he needed to return, not just for them, but for himself, too.

They stayed until Phil drifted back to sleep then returned to Fury's office.

"Agents Barton and Romanoff. You will remain with The Avengers, and as such will vacate your quarters here and on the helicarrier. Stark has assured me that accommodations have already been provided for you. Any problems will go through your acting liaison, Agent Spencer, until such time as it's determined whether Agent Coulson will return to field duty."

They were still furious with the Director so with a mere nod of acknowledgement they left to pack what little they had in their quarters. Most of their personal effects were in a loft in a converted warehouse the trio owned on the river, and as they encountered some hostility on the helicarrier, Tasha took point while Eliot guarded their backs.

Last stop was the armory to collect their battle suits, Clint's bows, arrows and Black Widow's stingers.

They were back at the Tower by three where Eliot and Clint met Pepper Potts for the first time, and Tony directed everyone to the tower's secure weapons storage. As they made their way back to the main living area, Tony started to explain the changes he wanted to make since he had to remodel anyway.

"What does Legolas need for a practice range, and what is it with Spencer and my kitchen?"

"It's how he unwinds."

"He any good?"

"What'd you think of breakfast?"

"That was Spencer?"

Clint smirked at the billionaire's reaction.

"I may have to dump Pepper and marry Spencer."

"Man's already spoken for."

"Oh you mean that puppy pile you had going on my sofa?"

Tony stopped to look at Clint.

"You're serious? How long?"

"Since Delta Force."

"Black Widow?"

"She came to us about a year after she followed me home from my mission to 'terminate with extreme prejudice'."

"How come I've never met Agent Eliot Spencer? What's he Agent's prodigal son?"

"He's been on a long term mission. Coulson called him home when I was compromised."

Ignoring how Clint's tone had dropped to a near whisper, Tony pushed on.

"Then tell me your wish list for your playground while your boyfriend plies me with gourmet meals."

"You are going to tell Agent Spencer about the office you set up for him?"

"Nope, JARVIS can do that. I think I'll chain him in the kitchen instead. Here, look at what I've got…"

Tony pulled up schematics on his tablet and handed it to the archer who immediately began questioning Tony about limitations and space.

That's how Eliot found them all a couple hours later-going over blueprints, making suggestions, and generally getting to know each other.

"JARVIS. Bring 'em to the table."

"Of course."

The screens went dark, causing an instant uproar.

"Dinner is served." The AI informed them.

Clint and Natasha sprinted for the dining room.

"What's the rush?"

Steve was confused to see Tony urging Pepper along.

"Apparently Agent Spencer is also quite the chef so I want to get there before you and Thor."

"Tony!" Pepper scolded.

"What? You want me to tell the truth."

Tony needn't have worried. Eliot cooked plenty, the table practically bowing under the weight of full bowls and platters. It didn't take long for the meal to be demolished, even Thor pushing back from the table rubbing his stomach.

"Truly a meal fit for the gods."

Eliot left the table to retrieve dessert, and while everyone was distracted, had gone back into the kitchen and not returned. Clint and Natasha exchanged a look after noticing a half eaten meal and their vanishing lover. They slipped away from the table.

"JARVIS?"

"Agent Romanoff?"

"Eliot?"

"Doing paperwork in the office Sir did not tell him about two floors down."

"Wonder how much paperwork an alien invasion generates?"

Clint grinned as Natasha swatted his arm.

"It is mostly electronic in nature, but in actual paper would probably deforest half the state of Maine."

Both agents stopped in their tracks, mouths agape.

"A computer with a sense of humor-who'd of thought?"

"Stark obviously."

"Thanks JARVIS. We haven't had nearly enough to laugh about lately."

"My pleasure, Agent Barton."

"Clint. Since we're all co-habiting you should call me Clint."

"As you wish, Sir."

He grinned at Natasha's eye roll.

"What? We're just one big dysfunctional family."

"Speaking of which…"

"Think he's freaking over Portland?" Clint asked as they stepped off the elevator.

"They have become…important."

"Yeah. Nat…?"

"Clint…"

"You're leaving us. You talked about the red in your ledger. You never talk about that shit unless you've made a decision you think will hurt us."

"Eliot will be with us, and Phil needs us to get back to himself."

"You mean you. Like…what? You're the carrot and the stick?"

Clint slapped his hand over his mouth.

"Dammt, I love Phil, too. I didn't mean to sound like a jealous boyfriend."

"We have grown past that I think."

"What about Eliot?"

"Eliot sometimes knows me better than I know myself. That is not always a comforting thought."

Natasha frowned when Clint threw back his head and laughed.

"Oh Nat. That's how I feel around you and Coulson all the time. Good to know I'm not alone."

"Never that."

She gave him a small smile as they stopped in front of the door to Eliot's office.

"Normal is never going to apply to us in any way shape or form, and I have used you for too long."

The door opened to reveal a scowling Eliot.

"Tasha? What's this about using someone?"

"I will be staying with Phil while you go to the west coast."

They followed him into the office.

"You're right. He shouldn't be left alone. It could set back his recovery. Call when they're going release him. We'll get him moved in here during his recovery…bring some of his clothes and things from his apartment…have JARVIS order in foods he likes…to put him at ease…be comfortable."

"I am not nurturing, but I don't wish him to think we left him because he is wounded."

Natasha seemed confused by her need to stay and oversee their handler's recovery.

"He doesn't need you to entertain him he needs you to support him. He knows who we are-you'll only scare him if you go mother hen on him."

Seeing her body language relax, Eliot turned back to his desk.

"Go play with the other kids so I can dig out from under this pile of work before I smother."

At midnight Clint and Natasha pulled Eliot to their room. It was their last night and they didn't want to spend it without the three of them together. Tomorrow they would part ways, the three of them going into places where even they could not predict the outcome.

h

For all the footage he'd combed through, Hardison had found only a few images of Eliot during the battle, and in the first hours after clean-up started from the lobby of Stark Tower. After that he vanished. They were sitting around eating and watching the footage again when Parker jumped and ran. They followed the thief around the corner to find her hanging from Eliot's neck.

"Bandages-where are the bandages. I saw you get hit."

"I'm fine, Parker. My tac vest took the damage."

He squeezed her hard. This might be the last time he got to have this.

He looked over her shoulder at the Nate, Sophie and Hardison. Setting the blonde on her feet, Eliot drew in a deep breath to begin his explanation when a limping shuffle coming toward the office had him spinning and shoving Parker behind him at the same time.

"Toby?"

"Eliot, I need your help."

Nate and Eliot listened to Toby's story. Just as Nate opened his mouth to give him the brush off, Eliot pulled him to the side.

"Toby taught me how to use a knife…How I could create with it instead of destroy. He's one of the guys that kept me from fallin' all the way down, and now I'm askin' the other guy to understand why I'm gonna help him."

Nate went off to tell the others while Eliot went back to Toby. When he was sure his old friend was out of earshot, he pulled out his new Stark phone.

"JARVIS, I'm gonna be about a week. Can you let the pilot know…send him back to Tony."

"I have conferred with Sir. He wishes the jet to remain until you are ready to rejoin them."

"Thanks, JARVIS."

He walked back through the kitchen to see how things were running since he'd been gone. What he saw caused a tightness to form in his chest. A look at the menu confirmed what he'd seen in the kitchen.

"Hey man, you checkin' out the changes I made while you were gone? See I been doin'...."

Hurt and angry that the hacker never listened to what he said, he tossed the menu at Hardison and headed to the office to see what plan Nate had put together.

h

The next four days were exhausting. There were a few bright spots like teaching Parker about food, watching his less than stellar students actually absorb what he was trying to teach them, taking out the thugs that worked for Jean-Luc, and walking away after pinning Rampone.

After the irritated bike messenger left the pub, Eliot steeled himself for what came next.

"We need to talk."

Nate gave him a nod. They were sitting at the counter, Eliot standing under the blank TV screens.

"From Parker's reaction, I'm going to assume that you saw the battle in Manhattan, and I'm going to assume you saw me on some of the news footage."

"Is the government taking you back?" Parker asked.

"The short answer is 'yes'. The long answer is more complicated."

"You been spyin' all this time?" Hardison asked sending a wide-eyed look to Nate.

Eliot shook his head. They didn't need to know that some of the jobs they'd pulled fulfilled parts of Nick Fury's personal wish list. Those were happy coincidences as far as he was concerned.

"When Dubenich called me for that first job I was on leave-had been since I left Moreau. I'm never going to be entirely free from my agency, but I'm pretty autonomous. Due to some things that went on before the Chitauri invasion I was recalled, and for the foreseeable future will be stationed in New York."

"What do you mean won't be free?" Sophie asked.

"Can't say."

"What agency?" Hardison pulled out a keyboard.

Eliot ran his hands through his hair.

"SHIELD."

"You work for SHIELD?" Hardison's voice was a squeak.

"You didn't think this was something we needed to know?"

Nate sipped his drink while he studied the retrieval specialist.

"No. I didn't go around asking anyone else about their past. Sophie conned us-you conned us, Sterling conned us-me working for SHIELD wasn't even a blip on the radar in comparison."

"What's a SHIELD?" Parker asked.

"Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division." Eliot offered

"Division of what?"

"The government." Hardison's tone was curt.

"Like a spy?"

"Not the government and sometimes."

"Can you teach me spy stuff?"

"No, Parker, I won't teach you spy stuff. The stuff you know is sneaky enough."

"Cool."

"Is that what Moreau meant when he said it'd be just like Belgrade?"

Eliot paled at the hacker's statement.

"No. Moreau never knew I worked for SHIELD."

His attention wandered as sensitive hearing picked up familiar voices and footsteps in the bar. The rugged face never changed, but his brain gave a sigh of relief. He wasn't alone.

"You know I can't talk about before…it's all classified."

"Nothing is 'classified' from me." Hardison wiggled his fingers for quotations. "After we got back from San Lorenzo I had some time…"

"Hardison." Nate's voice held a note of warning.

"So I let my fingers do the walking…"

"That's been almost two years ago, Hardison. Why are you showing us these now?"

Sophie grabbed Nate's arm bringing his attention back to her as he felt her hand tremble. Following her line of sight he pulled his attention to Eliot. The last time he'd seen that expression was in a warehouse with Moreau's enforcers, who all ended up dead.

"Isn't this how all spy movies end? The big reveal."

Hardison pointed the remote at the screens. Before he could press the button several things happened simultaneously.

Parker darted around Hardison and grabbed the remote.

Clint Barton walked in and slid his arms around Eliot's waist, resting his chin on his shoulder.

The rest of The Avengers fanned out behind the couple.

Everyone waited to see who made the first move.

Never patient with people, the Leverage crew was not surprised when it was Parker who spoke first.

"NO! You don't get to do this. Why would you do this?"

"For us…I did it for us. Every time I see you you're with Eliot. I refuse to lose to an assassin."

"LOSE! LOSE WHAT?!"

The blonde was so distraught the tears went unnoticed and no one dared breathe.

"You."

"Me? He was teaching me to be a better me. So I fit in with regular people. So you didn't have to be embarrassed because I don't know stuff. I asked all of you and you didn't have time for me. Only Eliot took time."

Her words trailed off. She threw the remote at Hardison, walked over and tucked herself under Eliot's arm. Clint opened his arms long enough to include the thief.

"Parker?"

Hardison took a step forward before his mind registered what his eyes were seeing. He back pedaled until he bumped into the counter.

"Eliot, you wanna introduce your friends?" Nate asked.

Tony took that as his cue.

"Tony Stark, billionaire, philanthropist, former playboy, genius. JARVIS?"

The screens flickered to life.

"Threat neutralized, Sir. I have been with Agent…Eliot the entire trip. Agent Romanoff and Coulson would like a word."

"On screen." He turned back to his audience. "Did I mention I'm also Iron Man? This lovely couple is Black Widow and Agent Agent." He waved at the screens.

"Eliot?"

"Natasha. Phil."

"Clint?"

"We got this Nat. You take care of Phil."

The red-headed assassin gave a narrow-eyed glare before nodding her agreement. Agent Coulson started to remind them that he could take care of himself about the time the screens went dark.

"Thanks, JARVIS."

The relief in Eliot's tone was palatable.

"It was my pleasure, Eliot."

"TONY STARK!"

Hardison started forward, but without being seen to move, Eliot yanked Tony behind him. Hardison stopped and looked up at the blond wall in front of him.

"Steve Rogers."

A toothpaste smile and large hand appeared.

Hardison took two steps back.

"Why do you provoke Wolfson?" Thor asked confused.

"Because people with high IQs have no common sense and think the rest of us are too stupid to see when they're being asses."

The sandy brown head turned toward Stark and another man.

"Stark and Banner being the exceptions, sometimes."

"Thanks, Legolas."

"Clint…"

"Is this true?"

Thor turned back to glare at the strangers.

"What…no…wait…The Avengers? You're working with THE AVENGERS?! Why didn't you say…?"

Parker's glare, Nate and Sophie's disappointed looks along with the predatory looks from the men standing with Eliot seemed to throw a switch in the hacker's brain.

"I think that's what Eliot was trying to tell us when you interrupted him. Eliot, continue with what you were saying."

Nate held his whiskey glass up in a salute.

"Nothing. I'm going to New York. Call Quinn or Shelley if you need a hitter."

His face was a mask when he stepped out of Clint's embrace, hugged Parker, pressed his lips to her forehead, and stepped away. Grabbing his duffel Eliot didn't look back.

The Leverage crew watched as Stark put an arm over the enforcer's shoulder.

"Agent would be so proud. Anyway…you think my kitchen in New York is impressive wait 'til you see the one in the Malibu house. JARVIS has been very protective of the kitchen since you two bonded…"

The sounds of Tony's ramblings faded away until only the man that had been literally wrapped around Eliot remained. The late afternoon sun made the eyes in the handsome face a kaleidoscope of grey, green and blue.

"He was going to keep you, but you hurt him. You don't get to do that again."

Hardison started forward to make his case when something embedded itself in the post by his head. The hacker looked at the post and the broadhead arrow tip stuck in the wood. When he looked back toward the door, it was empty.

"That went well."

Sophie grabbed her ruana and bag.

"I'm going to the theater."

"I'll go with you."

Nate downed the last of his drink.

"Good job, Hardison."

"Is that supposed to be a crack? 'Cause if it is…harsh, man…harsh."

He turned to pull the arrowhead out of the post and nearly ran into Parker. She was studying the lethal part of the arrow like it held the secrets of life.

"Do you know who that was?"

"Yeah. I know the names of all The Avengers…Clint Barton…Hawkeye."

"Him and red-head are the ones I've seen with Eliot."

"You tellin' me Hawkeye and Black Widow are Eliot's lovers?" His voice went up a notch.

"Him and Clint I think. I didn't always see the woman." Her dark blue eyes were cold when she looked up. "No, I didn't peek in the window."

"But you…Eliot…"

"Was my friend…family."

Parker walked up the steps cradling the broadhead in her hand.

h

Natasha walked into the gym to see Tony spread eagle on the floor his lungs pumping like a bellows. She stepped over him and looked down. Brown eyes fluttered open.

"Tell Pepper I loved her."

A dark eyebrow arched.

"Wolf Man's trying to kill us all."

"He's grieving."

"By beating us to death?"

"Improving your endurance."

Stark rolled to his feet.

"Where is Agent this morning?"

"Physical therapy. He will soon join you in your endeavors."

"It's not too soon?"

"Eliot has worked wonders."

Tony had to agree. From the time they landed in Malibu, Eliot had taken over the kitchen and their physical conditioning. There were no more missed meals, and staying up all night working did not get him and Bruce out of their conditioning. Even Agent was healing faster than the doctors had predicted.

They were still the most mentally and physically scarred crew on the east coast, but Clint and Coulson were working through their nightmares of Loki, the agents on the helicarrier had stopped giving Barton, Selvig, and the others who'd been possessed by the Tessaract trouble when they had meetings on the boat. Nothing was ever said, but Tony had asked JARVIS, for the AI always kept an eye on all the Avengers. His computer simply said that Agent Spencer had been involved in the retraining of certain agents, and that many of the people now on the helicarrier had not been on board during the attack led by Agent Barton.

"Widow, does he ever talk about them?"

"Not to me."

h

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