Hedge Your Bets

Hedge Your Bets

Collie Barton is comfortable with what she does and with being an archer in a sniper’s world. Then she gets Nikolai Romanoff as a target.


Avengers 919 Avengers Movieverse
Fanfic

Like an old comfortable coat that is tattered and torn, Colleen Barton’s favorite bow fit neatly in her hand. Collie settled into position, sliding her callused hands along the bow and nocked an arrow. An unusual accessory for a SHIELD agent, but one she would never go without. She kept the wood too well to call it tattered, but it was worn with wearing like she was worn.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Her head was clear, professional eye sighting along the arrow.

Staked out on a high roof, leg wedged in the architectural overhang on a narrow, cramped European style alleyway. The mark due to pass through under Collie’s perch was one of the best agents Russia’s Red Room had ever fielded, but nobody had informed Nikolai Romanoff that he had become a liability, too dangerous for his own people to control. They had sold him out in exchange for something way above Collie’s pay grade to know. She’d bet her regular paycheck that Phil knew.

Her leg itched, making her want to stretch it. Collie was used to lying in wait. She stayed still, breathing soft enough to make every light breeze gusting scattered leaves, discarded bits of paper, and detritus seem almost loud. Almost. She was listening for footsteps.

“Barton. What’s your position?” Phil’s calm, no-nonsense alto sounded quietly through Collie’s earpiece. The woman had an uncanny knack for checking in precisely eight minutes after she’d settled in.

“In the perch,” Collie replied even more quietly.

“Nikolai’s been spotted. You have perhaps twenty minutes.” Phil was good like that. She kept her agents informed on the ground.

Collie murmured acknowledgment. Twenty minutes, probably less, waiting for a cold-blooded heartless killer. One she would be wise to not underestimate. All it would take is one tip-off and Romanoff would be on her in a minute with lethal combat skills that put SHIELD’s to shame. The man was a weapon.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Still her breathing to as shallow as her lungs would allow. Not a twitch, not a whisper.

She heard footsteps.

Hand on the bow. Steady now.

A confident stride. Boots. Soft footfalls of the professional, just loud enough to not draw the wrong kind of attention.

Sight straight along the arrow. Not a muscle moving.

Near that corner shop and rounding into the alleyway to his rendezvous.

Clear-headed. Ready to let fly.

Red hair just wisping over his forehead under his cap. Blowing out steam in the chilly afternoon air. Warm brown eyes gliding upward, ready for an ambush.

An ambush—

Damn.

That one slow moment when time froze, the target locked, and all she had to do was release the d— arrow. Warm brown eyes gliding upward, confident stride of an oh so Russian agent; red hair brushing the forehead of that cold-blooded killer she kept telling herself he was.

The arrow stayed nocked. He passed under Collie’s perch and into the doorway of an inn for his rendezvous with a client.

Tension ran out of her body with one single, soundless, wordless exclamation. She leaned her head back and let the clock of reality start ticking again. Uncertainty. A flicker in those eyes like quicksilver. What choice had they ever given him?

“Barton?” Phil’s voice came again. “Report.”

She’d bet her regular paycheck Philippa Coulson had known Collie would falter. Collie slid the earpiece out of her ear, turned it off, glanced out over the tangle of overhanging buildings and rooftops. Ten minutes, maybe less.

She was officially certifiable if she thought she could really pull a Phil, but she was officially going to try.

Collie shimmied up the side of the building and off onto the roof, into street clothes, pack her bow away carefully and pack the backup weapons in her clothes for hand-to-hand combat should things go badly. They would go badly. She could feel it.

She yanked the scrunci out of her short brown hair, combed it out with her fingers, and took to another street for her descent. Eight minutes, maybe less.

Probably less.

The inn had a small eating establishment on its eastern end, which is where she found him. Collie didn’t do a whole lot of fancy undercovers like Nikolai. She didn’t try to be flirtatious or seductive. She simply sidled up to the bar comfortably far enough to be nonthreatening, comfortably close enough to draw Nikolai’s attention.

Seriously, those eyes would be the death of her. They should be cold like a Russian killer called Atrax after one of the deadliest spiders in the world. Instead, they were warm, interested, and all too human. She hadn’t been informed of any of the details of the meeting. She knew she wouldn’t know what to say as a safeword, but she looked up as if she did when Nikolai deliberately caught her eye.

“Love is for children,” he commented dryly over his vodka. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Collie tilted her head to one side, then slid over a slip of paper from her dress. She could do this, pretend a hawk was looking out for a spider.

Nikolai palmed the paper discreetly, glanced at it. No visible reaction, but suddenly there was a cold knife under her ribs and breathing wouldn’t be easy if she didn’t want to draw blood. Dead to rights. She should have stuck an arrow in him while she had the chance.

“You want to go somewhere?” she asked, as if this were casual conversation and she picked up men regularly in any place that had a bar. “You seem like the kind of guy I’d like to know.”

Then that smooth Russian smile came out at last. “Maybe later.”

Four minutes, likely less. “After you figure out my price, huh?” Collie muttered, a tad too cynically. She really didn’t do seductive all that well and it wasn’t like she hadn’t just laid all her cards on the counter when she slid over the evidence that someone had sold him out.

And that was the primary question, wasn’t it? Why in heaven or earth would Collie put her life on the line to warn him someone wanted his head? He had enough enemies. He could have expected a double-cross without her.

She suddenly realized Nikolai had lifted her hand in his, as if he would kiss it—feeling her fingertips and cocking that eyebrow. Hawkeye. Only one agent in the business odd enough to have those callouses from an instrument of war as out-of-date as a comfortable old coat.

“Who sent you?” he asked. Collie could hear the tone she’d come to know of certainty one or both of them would end up dead.

She couldn’t very well answer nobody, so she glanced at the clock and knew in her bones Phil was staking out an entry. “You want to deal?”

Trust wasn’t on the table. Both of them knew it, but only Collie knew it needed to be.

“Immunity, protection, and a black hole pulled in behind you.” She ran down the list quickly. “My reinforcements are behind me.” Literally. She could feel Phil’s laserlike gaze burning a hole in her back.

He narrowed eyes at her, pressed the knife, answered harshly, “For what?”

Collie let out the breath she’d been holding, suddenly realizing she had him enough to quit trying. It was an honest gleam of amusement in her eyes and a twinkle of a smile that she answered from cold, hard experience. “A steady paycheck.”

Incredulous. Impossible. Because she was trying not to laugh as she had when Phil had offered it to her. How could she laugh in a moment like this?

“You’re offering me a job?” Incredulous, amused despite himself. He turned his attention squarely in the direction of that gaze at Collie’s back. “Why?”

“It’d be quite the coup.”

“More to kill me.”

Collie shook her head. She hadn’t shot the arrow when she should have. That coup was good and gone.

“I need a down payment,” Nikolai said abruptly, returning his stare to Collie.

“Keep the knife then,” she said. “Keep it on me if you want. And you’re willing to follow me up to where I left my bow.” She held up her earpiece, fitted it in while Nikolai watched. Nikolai didn’t need a knife. He could snap her neck with his bare hands. “Phil. You mind helping the cat drag in a spider?”

Phil’s snort of amusement told Collie all she needed to know.


When Collie finally got out of debriefing, she met the sour faces of her senior officers.

“You are officially written up,” Agent Hill informed her with a frown on his face.

Phil just gave her the look—the one that said never do that again. “Nikolai passed initial interviews. He will be joining our organization officially.”

Collie nodded, trying to figure out whether she should be chastened or pleased.

Phil turned to Hill and held out her hand. “Now I believe you owe me fifty dollars.”

Hill growled but pulled the bill out of his wallet. “And she calls herself a professional.”

Collie stared at the exchange, then shook her head, no longer feeling either. She would have bet her paycheck Phil knew she would end up letting Atrax live. Apparently, it would’ve been a pretty safe bet.


Avengers 919 Avengers Movieverse

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