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06 December 2012 @ 07:14 pm
Holding the Light - Chapter Three  

Chapter Three

John woke early and went to run the treadmill and watch the news, trying to get himself reacquainted with the world again.

He was halfway through his run, already dripping with sweat and inwardly moaning at how out of shape he'd let himself get, when Agent Hill entered, wearing her workout gear of shorts and layered tanktops. She was very fit and made him want to switch to the weight machine in embarrassment at his own lack. "Agent Reese," she greeted with a bit of a smile. "Good morning. I'm glad to see you out and about." She got on the elliptical and started; she moved fluidly, he noticed, a bit like Natasha which meant she'd probably had dance or yoga training as well.

"Thanks." It was good to be out and about, working again, concentrating on doing something useful. Not that he'd done anything really useful yet, but getting himself back in fighting trim was necessary prep and it felt good to lose himself and forget all the darkness in exercise and fighting. It was not quite as good as the bottle, and the dreams were still bad, but there was less of a consequence the next day than drinking down cheap whiskey and gin.

"Agent Barton is arriving in a few hours," she told him. "He's the last member of Coulson's team. So you'll get to meet him. Unless you already know him? Clint Barton?"

His step slowed a moment, nearly dumping him off the treadmill before he recovered. He knew the name, from something, a past briefing perhaps. "No, we've never met, that I know of."

"I wondered. He was a freelancer, for a while," Hill explained. "Before he came to work for us."

"Freelancer" meant mercenary. John was more likely to have been briefed on him then. He often heard about those he either would or might oppose on some missions. "I might recognize him," John said. "Names tend to be easily changed. Did he specialize?"

"Sniper. He uses a bow." She glanced at him, saw the recognition, and said, "Ah, you know of him then."

The bow was a signature that only one person used as a habit on the international scene. The one they called "Hawkeye" - sniper, archer, infiltrator, assassin. John had thought it was fairly ridiculous as a weapon, but there was no question he got results with it. He answered Hill, "It's not common. I didn't know he was part of SHIELD now."

"Two years now. Phil recruited him." She frowned. "Not quite sure how, to be honest. But between them, Phil and Director Fury can be pretty persuasive."

"I noticed."

She chuckled. "I bet."

They fell quiet as breath got a little harder to keep hold of, and John finished up his run, panting but thinking. As he went to the shower, he wondered - himself, Barton, Natasha… what the hell was Fury collecting assassins for? To take them off the market and give them useful, non-evil work? Or something more nefarious? What kind of missions had Hawkeye and Black Widow undertaken for SHIELD in the past two years? He knew of nothing particularly terrible, but that just meant they'd been successful at keeping it quiet.

But Nat had said they were trying to do good. But then maybe she would, to tell him what she thought he wanted to hear.

He closed his eyes and let the water hit him in the face, trying to wash the doubt away. He told himself could be wary without wallowing in cynicism or paranoia, at least until these keepers proved just as corrupt as his others had been.

Finishing up his reading on SHIELD's rules of engagement, he felt a little better. Nothing in there was particularly objectionable, for an organization that was openly an intelligence and operations division, though he felt very uneasy with the refusal of the papers to identify the world leaders who were ultimately holding the leash of funding, beyond the United States. There were other nations involved, and the UN Security Council, but not exactly those members, and he spent twenty fruitless minutes attempting to find out exactly who sat on the "World Council".

But before his uneasiness could rise into outright anxiety, Natasha came to find him. "Come on. You need to meet someone."

He followed her, curious to meet Hawkeye.

He turned out to be about John's own age, not as tall, but solidly built, and a very intense gaze that John could very well believe catch sight of a mouse a block away, as the stories went. That gaze flicked between Natasha and him, frowning a bit curiously, but without recognition.

"Clint, this is John Reese, newest recruit," Natasha introduced. "John, Clint Barton."

"The one they call Hawkeye," John said and held out his hand.

Barton shook his hand but his frown deepened, "You know? That puts you in a pretty select group."

"Langley for seven years," John explained. "We never crossed paths, though, not that I remember."

"Langley. That means spook," Barton said, almost dismissively, but his gaze flipped back, not content with that analysis then to Natasha again. "Is this a backhanded way to tell me Coulson's reassigned as our handler? Because I don't really like that."

She shook her head. "No. John's going to be field, like us."


John almost smiled and shook his head. "Delta Force."

"Ah." There was a wealth of understanding in that single syllable. "Not a desk jockey then."

"No," John answered, though it couldn't have been much of a question. Delta Force was the Army elite, detailed to extractions and assassinations and rescues. He told most people the Purple Heart was for Kuwait but it had actually been earned rescuing hostages from the Shining Path guerillas. He'd thrown himself over the ambassador's little boy, taken out two of the enemy, and carried the boy out before he'd even realized he'd been shot.

"You have a specialty?" Barton asked. "Besides military badass?"


"Really. So you're something of a marksman?" Barton asked, a competitive gleam in his eyes. John had seen that before in guys who thought they were good until John showed them they weren't quite as good as they thought. There was a reason the military had kept bumping him into more specialized squads; he basically never missed. But on the other hand, rumor had it, Hawkeye didn't either.

But John answered mildly, not wanting to get into a pissing contest, and not when he wasn't completely on the top of his game. "Something like that."

Natasha looked from one to the other, smiling a little and sensing the tension. "Play nice. We're on the same team."

"I guess. I just don't see what your special interest is," Barton asked her.

She glanced at John as if for permission and he nodded once. It made no difference really, now, if Barton knew. "You were sent after me, because the person before you failed to kill me. John was that person."

"So you missed," Barton said, a smug little smile on his lips.

She shook her head even when John was about to agree, simply to lay it to rest. "No," she said. "He hit his target. He pulled the shot."

"This is true?" Barton asked John.

John didn't answer right away, years of denial wanting him to deny it again, but then he nodded his head once, a little.

"Clint," Natasha said and stepped closer to put her hand on Barton's arm in a gesture suggestive of some kind of intimacy. Natasha didn't do that, not for real, but he'd bet any amount of money that it was real. John found his eyes tracking her hand, before he forced himself to look up to watch her talk to Barton, her expression soft. "I would never have gone with you, and I could never have chosen to leave, if John hadn't shown me that goodness for people like us is still possible. You led me out, and I'll owe you for that forever, but John showed me I could. He had no reason to spare me, but he did."

Barton considered that then turned his head back to John. "Why? Why'd you spare her?"

"She reminded me of someone." John shrugged, unable to explain it for himself very well, and unable to explain it at all without telling him about the experiments and those other kids. Natasha glanced at him with a curious frown.

"So you missed," Barton said, but this time it was with a teasing smile. "I don't miss."

"Right, you didn't miss, because you didn't complete the mission at all. Not sure that's better, Barton," Natasha retorted. "Certainly there was some… explaining. Nobody was happy about his choice to bring me in."

"Wait, you were supposed to kill her, and you brought her in, instead?" John asked, a little incredulous. He'd never have done that. Never have tried it. He'd barely been able to get away with wounding her. If he'd tried to bring her in as a defector, she'd have been interrogated and killed, and him with her.

"It seemed like such a waste. I just felt like she deserved a chance," Barton answered, seeming uncomfortable. "And I was right."

"I'm glad you did," John said. "Then she gave that chance to me. So I owe you."

Barton flashed a grin. "Good, then you won't mind too much when I kick your ass when we do a shoot off."

"You wish." Then, just because he hadn't felt camaraderie like this since his Ranger days, he smiled a little and added, needling Barton, "I'm sure you're very good with your medieval weapon…"

"Medieval? Have you seen it?" Barton was offended, but not seriously, arguing in rather overblown defense of his favorite weapon, "There's nothing primitive about it. It's fast, silent, deadly, and perfectly accurate over the same distance. I can blow shit up and shoot an escape line, if I want. Can your fancy sniper rifle do that?"

Natasha cleared her throat. "If you're both quite finished comparing weapon sizes… Agent Hill and Phil wanted you to check in, Clint. John and I'll be in the martial arts practice room. You should join us."

"Okay. Later. Nat. New guy." Barton headed off, while John and Natasha went the other way to head for practice.

"He recruited you for SHIELD?" John asked her.

"He was sent to clean up your mistake," she said. "He made a different call, too." Her gaze was distant with memory. "Not only didn't he kill me, but he told me we don't have to be those people. I believed him, even though it seemed impossible to come back across that line."

He nodded silently, hoping it was true.

She continued, changing the subject, "You need more practice at the range before you have a chance against him."

"He's that good?"

"Better. But so are you." She smiled at him, teasing, "I hear Phil intends to sell tickets to the match, so you better make it worth his while."

John wasn't bothered by the idea of a competition, since he'd faced his share. He wasn't even bothered by the possibility of losing since there was always someone better out there and his ego wasn't a delicate flower, but he was intrigued by Barton being so good. John had always thought his own talent had been boosted by the treatments, since he was definitely an outlier for 'normal' humans, which suggested Barton's probably was, too. Some kind of mutant gift, perhaps, or even some kind of external enhancement like his own.

John had never quite seen the point in the drawing a line between the two groups as so many did - nor why an external enhancement was somehow better than a genetic mutation. Born with it or given it, what difference is there really? It's just another way to say different and lord knows I've seen enough evil everywhere in the world based in hate and even jealousy over those who are different or better.

Natasha glanced at him. "Thought that'd get a rise out of you."

He shrugged. "I've played that game before. It doesn't bother me if he's better any more than it bothers me that you beat me in hand-to-hand." But then he couldn't resist, and added, "But you know I'm still gonna kick his ass, right?"

She flashed a bright smile at him and he was suddenly stunned by realizing how truly beautiful she was. Which he knew - anyone who looked knew she was attractive - but when she smiled, genuinely, and her eyes lit up, he wanted to stare. Instead he turned away, bothered by the reaction.

He didn't need that, and not with someone who might be involved with Barton already. They certainly seemed on a level of intimacy that he didn't see her display toward anyone else.

But the realization made him drag his feet while he was getting undressed to spar, hoping that Barton made it back before Natasha decided that the two of them should spar on their own. It didn't work, and when she nudged him for being slow, he threw in the towel and moved to the middle of the floor.

It was as if he'd suddenly woken up and the world had new colors in it, though. Her hair was long with a bit of curl to it and when she was in her work catsuit, her figure was lithe and perfect. And when she was fighting her eyes glowed with delight, even if her expression was intent and focused.

Luckily she was fierce enough that his sudden emotional crack was soon forgotten under the pressure of having to defend himself. This time he got a good elbow in her side, surprising her, and when she went for his knees this time, he was able to evade.

He still got winded too quickly though, and soon she slammed him to the mat, kneeling across him and her hand on his chest. He tapped out hastily, before she had any inkling of the sudden jolt she was giving him seeing and feeling her there, and she slid off. "Better."

"Congrats," came the sardonic voice of Barton from the doorway. "Not too many hold out that long against her."

"I'm retraining him," she explained. "He's been out of the game for a year or so."

"When I get back in shape, I'll do better." John climbed to his feet feeling clumsy and too big as Natasha flipped to her feet.

"That's out of shape?" Barton asked, lifting his brows. "I wouldn't have guessed."

"I used to be fitter." He stretched out his spine, hearing it pop, and grimaced. "Younger, too."

"I'm going to teach you yoga. For fluidity," she told John and nodded thoughtfully more to herself, looking at him. "You still try to brute strength your way through, when flexibility would serve you better. I sense your native style is one with more movement, you need to free it."

Feeling put-upon suddenly, John glanced at Barton in appeal, and Clint shrugged back at him. "We're all just clay in her hands. But I'm a better fighter now, than I was, so I'd do what she suggests."

"Join us," she beckoned Barton forward. "Ballet would help you both, too."

"Forget it," both Barton and John said in unison, and she laughed.

"Yoga then, for the manly men," she mocked. "Our first position…. Do what I do."

Doing what she did proved to be easier said than done, but John was game to try. Yoga turned out to be pretty interesting with the other two there, sharing quips and stories, as Natasha took them through a pretty punishing routine that she did with ease.

But at the end, it was worth the muscle burn. He was feeling a camaraderie with both of them, and that was a comfortable place he hadn't been in for a long, long time.

Chapter Four