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Life of Crime

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It's really hard to run through Boston when you're carrying a quiver on your back, a bow in one hand, and a huge bag of money in the other. Still, Clint's doing fine—he's had a ton of practice, after all. He's never going to win any Olympic medals (for, okay, lots of reasons), but he's fast enough for a guy on foot.

Doesn't matter, because this chick's gaining on him anyway. Fucking flying. It's gotta be cheating.

"Give it up," calls the woman, floating effortlessly behind him. "I'm taking you out the easy way or the hard way, and I think we'd both rather have the easy way."

"Don't put words in my mouth," says Clint. Tries to say. He has a stitch in his side and not all that much wind left, and she's still gaining. Clint's not even sure where he's running anymore. Natasha said the rendezvous was somewhere in Cambridge, and this is Harvard, so—he's close? Probably? Fuck, he needs to stop and ask for directions, get a map, get a fucking—

Flying lady gets sick of waiting and drops down to tackle Clint. He twists, curling instinctively around his bow and the money, falls hard on his side. His quiver creaks, ominously. For a second Clint's worried that his hearing aids are going to fall out, but they're fine, he's fine. Except for his ribs.

"Jesus," he groans. "You're gonna break something."

Flying lady rolls her eyes. Whatever, she landed on her feet, she doesn't understand Clint's pain. She has a red and blue costume, swept-back blonde hair, and she's spattered in red paint because Clint threw the dye pack hidden in the money bag at her head when it started to explode. Clint doesn't recognize her at all. He squints at the star symbol on her chest, trying to get a clue.

"Eyes up here, dude." Flying lady points at her face.

"I wasn't looking at your boobs." Clint rolls onto his back, propping himself up on his elbows. "I was looking at the costume. I mean, you look great, don't get me wrong, and it's not like I don't appreciate a good form-fitting outfit, but I—"

"Wow," says flying lady. "Let me just stop you there. As a representative of the Avengers, I'm putting you under citizen's arrest for bank robbery. And probably possession of a deadly weapon. Are you allowed to have a bow in Massachusetts?"

"Probably not," says Clint. "Massachusetts is pretty draconian. Can't even have a decent-sized pocket knife."

"Right." Flying lady nods. "Plus you're wearing a purple supervillain costume, so I'm thinking you're probably on someone's most-wanted list."

"Just came from a fancy dress party," says Clint. "You can't arrest someone for crimes against fashion."

"It's fucking spandex," says flying lady. "Who wears spandex in public if they're not a cape?"

"Trapeze artists," says Clint. "Joggers. Um."

"You can't even think of a third thing."

"I could be a jogger. Hey, yeah, I was jogging! Innocent victim!" Clint raises his voice to appeal to the crowd of curious students and tourists that's beginning to cluster around them on the sidewalk. "I was just jogging in my totally normal jogging outfit, and this vigilante tackles me for no reason!"

"You've got a bag of hundred dollar bills!" flying lady shouts back. "I saw you take them from a bank after threatening the guards with your little Robin Hood set! You threw paint at my head!"

"Slander!" shouts Clint. It's really easy to yell, once you get into the swing of it. "Also—also, I think you broke my leg. Abuse!"

"Your leg is fine," hisses flying lady, which is admittedly true. "Citizens, I'm Captain Marvel and a registered member of the Avengers. Please stay back. Can someone call the police?"

Four people start dialing on their phones. The other thirty are too busy using their phones to take pictures. Clint starts to push himself up off the sidewalk, but Captain Marvel pushes him back down with a boot on his shoulder, careful but firm.

"Abuse!" shouts Clint.

"Shut up," groans Captain Marvel. "You've got a bag of stolen cash, an illegal weapon, and your defense is that you're a jogger from a costume party. What are you trying to accomplish here?"

Clint can see someone approaching from the corner of his eye. Someone familiar. "Stalling," he says, and smiles.

Captain Marvel's smart, give her that—she turns almost immediately, but it's not quick enough to avoid Natasha's fist. Marvel takes a step or two back, both hands over her nose, and Natasha pulls Clint up from the ground. Clint still has his bow, Natasha snags the money, and it's off to running again. The crowd is too shocked to stop them, and anyway most of them are still taking photos.

"She's a flyer," says Clint. Natasha shrugs and ducks into the subway station. Five seconds later, Clint hears a thump and a yelp as Captain Marvel misjudges the clearance and smacks her head on the station ceiling.

Natasha calmly pulls her Charlie card out of her jeans' pocket.

It takes two hours and four transfers before Clint really feels like they might be safe. Sweatshirt pulled over his costume, collapsible bow under the shirt, bag of money tucked into Natasha's backpack, they look almost as normal as anyone else on the T. Clint's still watching out of the corner of his eye for a flash of blonde hair, but they're practically in the fucking suburbs. It's fine.

Whenever people start to stare at them, Natasha draws Clint over to kiss his cheek or his nose, giggling as she does it. Natasha enjoys PDA because it's an easy way to make people look away, deflect attention with a combination of real affection and assumed obliviousness. Clint enjoys PDA because he actually doesn't need a reason to make out with Natasha in public.

"Why did we do this in the middle of Boston?" asks Clint, after Natasha finishes biting his lip and settles back into her seat.

"Because someone went gambling with the Russian mob," says Natasha. "And someone needed money in a hurry. The real question is why someone decided to do this in his work clothes."

Clint tugs the hem of his sweatshirt down a little lower. Yeah, purple boots, blue leggings, UMass sweatshirt three sizes too big, what are you looking at? "You're the one that told me jeans and a tank-top were unprofessional."

"I meant for a meeting." Natasha raises an eyebrow. "Von Doom was not impressed."

"Whatever," says Clint. There's still no flying blonde lady, so he leans back into the bizarrely decorated and suspiciously clean seat as the train rattles along. One more day in a glamorous life of supervillainy.

"At least I got the cash," he adds.

"Good thing," says Natasha. "We have to pick up dog food on the way back."

---

This is Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye: American male, heading into middle age. Short, sandy hair; unfortunate nose, broken at least twice; arms and shoulders corded with muscle. Hearing aids to correct for a severe impairment from an arrow-related accident a few years back. Clint would prefer not to discuss how you can get a hearing impairment from an arrow. He's got about as many scars as you would expect from a man in his particular line of work and with his particular attitude about workplace safety. His professional outfit is sleeveless, form-fitting, and incredibly purple.

The last time someone called Victor von Doom for a reference, von Doom scoffed. "Barton's sense of humor does not please Doom. Employ the man for his skills, not his conversation. Be aware that the only way to prevent Barton from conversing would be to remove his tongue."

Fortunately for everyone involved (Clint, Natasha, the Eternals, the homicidal/suicidal cult of Galactus, etc), the supervillain community tends to take von Doom's references with a grain of salt. Clint Barton doesn't take kindly to attempts at tongue-removal.

---

The safehouse is all the way at the northern end of the Red line, in a weird brick building that looks like it might be gentrified apartments but is actually just a gutted old manufacturing plant. Kate's dragged a couch into the middle of the open ground floor, and she's lying on it with Lucky and watching movies on her laptop. She doesn't bother to get up when Clint and Natasha walk in, although Clint notices Kate's hand jerk toward the handgun in her thigh-holster for a second. Lucky, of course, gets up and starts bouncing around like a wild thing. He can see they've got food.

"How'd it go?" Kate doesn't look up from her torrented copy of Blade: Trinity.

"Got the cash," says Clint. "Also got tackled by a cape. Down, Lucky."

"An Avenger," corrects Natasha. "They'll be looking for us. We should move."

"I just got this place the way I like it." Kate gestures around the floor, broken glass and busted conveyor belts and all. "Back to New York?"

"The Avenger had no idea who I was," says Clint. "We'll be more vulnerable on the move, we should stay."

"She'll report it and they'll look us up," says Natasha. "Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye, small-time thief and big-time muscle for hire. Man with very conspicuous purple costume and a bow. Natasha Romanov, alias Black Widow, ex-KGB agent and assassin. Tendency to save Barton's ass when he gets into trouble. We're recognizable."

"I'm not!" says Kate, tapping something out on her phone.

"Are too," says Clint, automatically. Then he remembers that he was trying to argue the opposite. Shit.

"Both of us are on hit lists." Natasha puts her hand on Clint's arm, and raises her eyebrows when he flinches away. "All three of us have multiple warrants out. The police probably want the dog for questioning. We should move."

"I don't like going somewhere just for the sake of going." Clint rubs his arm. He's had a lot of shitty experiences with running to nowhere. Like today, for instance. "Give me a reason to be somewhere else in particular."

Kate's phone buzzes, and she holds it up. "Bucky's in Maine. Says he has a job and could use the extra help."

"There." Natasha smiles. "We go to Maine."

"Fucking Maine," says Clint, but that's when Lucky takes advantage of his distraction and jumps high enough to lick him from chin to nose. Kate laughs at his sputtering, and Natasha's smile gets a little more genuine. Clint can't begrudge them that.

He does snag Kate's phone while they're packing up, though, and glances through her messages.

Kate: Yo, need to get out of Boston in a hurry. You got anything going on?

Bucky: I guees

Bucky: In Msine, could use some hwlp w securitty

Kate: Wow, typos much?

Bucky: Touch screnn wont recongize my left hand

Bucky: You try typong one handed

Kate: That's what swype is for

Bucky: What

Kate: Just drag over letters to type instead

Bucky: Okay this is actually pretty useful

Bucky: I didn't realize my phone could do this I'm not really a compost guy

Bucky: shut

Bucky: duck

Bucky: can you not type swears with this thing?

Kate: omg

Clint is basically crying with laughter when Natasha takes the phone away from him.

---

This is Natasha Romanova, alias the Black Widow: Russian female, much older than she looks. Red hair, generally worn long; rare and wicked smile; no discernable Russian accent when she speaks English or any other language. Her only scars are old, white and stretched from growth. Supersoldier experiments mean that she's healed away any injuries, even mortal injuries, ever since her youth. She is very loyal to a very small number of people. Approximately three people. And a dog.

Natasha's last performance review from the Red Room said that she was an excellent agent, with a proven track record of mayhem and quick thinking. It also mentioned that Natasha was demonstrating some worrying independence, and should be closely monitored in the future.

Technically speaking, Natasha's very last performance review said 'aaaaagh, no, she's turned on us! She's killing everyone!' But the proper paperwork for that review was never filed with HR.

---

Clint leaves to pay off the Russian mob, which goes—how it goes.

"Why this money red, bro?"

"There's, you know," Clint gestures, uselessly. "A dye pack? I got it out of the bag before they exploded it, but it caught some of the bills' edges. It's not a big deal."

Mishka eyes Clint. "This money stolen?"

"Obviously," says Clint. "You told me I had a day to come up with ten grand in ten hours, where else was I supposed to get it?"

"Be cool." Mishka starts sorting the money into red and not-red piles. "No one forced you to play Seka with us, bro."

"Yeah," grumbles Clint. "And no one explained the rules to me, either."

Mishka laughs and claps Clint on the back, Clint grins and bears it. He is never, ever going to get drunk in a mob bar again. And he's definitely never going to mix money and the mob again either.

When Clint gets back Natasha has procured a car. It's a shitty 90s Oldsmobile, and the rearview mirror has fallen off the windshield and keeps swinging from its lighting wires. The mirror nearly hits Clint in the face two or three times before Natasha cuts it off. The only good thing about this piece of junk is that even if the car was stolen (the dealer was a guy that Kate knows as a friend of a friend of a business partner, and he's shady as fuck), the rightful owner probably isn't much fussed about getting it back.

Okay, the other good thing about this car is that the radio still works. Clint turns up Ke$ha as he gets out of the city, ignoring Kate's dirty look as he bops along, hands drumming on the steering wheel.

"You're way too old for this," says Kate.

"I'm too old for all of this," says Clint. "But does that stop me?"

He sings along to the next five songs. It doesn't take very long before Kate stops rolling her eyes and starts singing harmony.

Natasha has her eyes closed, leaned back in the front passenger's seat. She isn't asleep. Kate is in back, petting Lucky. Clint just keeps going down I-95, a careful seven miles over the speed limit. Too fast, you get stopped. Too slow, and cops wonder what's wrong.

"Who was the cape?" asks Kate.

"What cape?" Clint passes somebody in a Subaru who's decided that 40 is a good speed for an interstate. He hopes they feel appropriately ashamed for being passed by an Oldsmobile.

"The one who tackled you," says Kate. "Like two hours ago."

"Oh, yeah." Clint shrugs. "Captain Marvel, I guess? Flyer, hits hard."

Kate taps at her phone, and then makes an annoyed noise. "There are approximately a billion people called Captain Marvel, and all of them fly. Be more specific."

"Blonde hair, white lady, red and blue costume, legs up to here—"

"Thanks for not mentioning her chest," says Kate.

"I'm a gentleman," says Clint. "She did yell at me for looking at her boobs, but there's like, a symbol right in the middle and it's kind of eye-catching—"

"I've got the picture, thanks." Kate taps some more. "Looks like she's way out of your league. Alien superpowers, protects the world from destruction, doesn't normally hassle bank robbers in Boston."

"I'm just lucky, I guess."

Lucky's ears perk up. Clint winks at him in the rearview mirror, which is propped up on the dashboard.

Kate grins back. "Did you seriously get called out for ogling?"

"There was a star thing!" says Clint. "I was trying to figure out what it meant."

"You think she's cute," says Kate. "You've got a crush."

"Are you twelve?" Clint passes a semi truck, wind whistling through the gaps in the Oldsmobile's insulation. "Leave me alone. She's just some cape who tackled me."

"Is that a euphemism?" asks Kate.

Clint takes one hand off the steering wheel to flip her off. Natasha smirks at them in her not-sleep.

---

This is Kate Bishop, alias Hawkeye: American female, early 20s. Long, black hair; really impressive biceps; not as tall as she thinks she is. Scar on her arm that she claims is from a fencing practice gone wrong, involving a broken epee. Scar is from a fencing practice gone wrong, but actually involved an intense warm-up game of handball. Incredible aim, but she wears two arm guards because she has a bad habit of drawing up a little instead of straight back, and the bow string always slaps her inner arm on the release.

When Kate announced that she was running away to become an international criminal and learn archery from the best marksman in the world, her dad said "Wow, interesting. I'm busy, sweetheart, can you tell me about this later? Who are you going to learn from, those Koreans who won in the Olympics?"

"No, Daddy. Clint Barton." Kate raised her voice. "The international criminal."

"I don't think he's been in the Olympics, darling." Mr. Bishop signed a few papers. "Talk to me later and I'll see if I can pay for you to fly to Seoul. I own a penthouse in Seoul."

Kate walked out and never looked back. It took a week (and an APB) for her dad to notice.

---

Maine is as woodsy and bugsy and boringsy as Maine ever is. Bucky's job is in the middle of nowhere, at a secret AIM research installation that probably involves mutating cattle or something equally ridiculous. Clint isn't being paid to care.

Clint hopes he's actually getting paid. Bucky's cool, it'll probably be fine. On the other hand—

"You didn't ask about money?" he asks Kate.

"We were in a hurry!" Kate tosses a ball across the secret AIM parking lot for Lucky to ignore. That dog is the worst at chasing things.

"You could have asked during the five-hour drive," grumbles Clint. "Other things, too. Like, are room and board provided? Are we gonna forage for dinner? Tents give me hives."

"We're not sleeping in a tent," says Natasha. "Stop whining. I thought you'd like working for AIM."

Clint blinks, slowly. "Because... why? Because I love pseudo-fascists so much? Because I love those fucking yellow hazmat suits?"

"There's a pun," says Natasha. "You know, you fire arrows... They're called AIM..."

"Jesus," says Clint, over Kate's giggles. "I'd better be getting paid for this."

"Don't worry," calls Bucky, as he picks his way around black, unmarked vans to meet them. "The money is already in your Swiss bank account, blah blah blah."

Clint grins and offers his hand for a fistbump, and smirks when Kate copies him. Natasha goes for the full-on hug, because she and Bucky go way back. She even lets Bucky swing her around a bit before extricating herself.

"It's just security work," says Bucky. "We're not expecting the Avengers to show up and bust us, but we're not not expecting it."

"You have a masterful command of modern American English," says Kate, in as classy a voice as she can manage (which is very classy). Bucky pinches her cheek, and she squeaks in that weird 'I'm an adult and this is beneath me but also it's adorable when you act like my grandfather because you honestly are super old' way that she has.

Clint's really good at interpreting Kate's squeaks, okay.

Clint missed Bucky. He's Natasha's best friend (other best friend), and he makes everything... match. Clint and Kate match—two archers, both kind of snarky, both in a little over their heads since they're only human. And Bucky and Natasha match—two ex-KGB super-soldier assassins, both calm and sarcastic, both completely in control of their shit. The four of them balance each other out.

Also Clint is not-so-secretly obsessed with Bucky's big metal arm, which is pretty much the coolest thing he has ever seen. Even if apparently it makes texting difficult.

"You're staring again," mutters Kate. "Now Bucky will call you out for ogling." Clint rolls his eyes.

"Kate and Clint on exterior security," says Bucky. "Me and Natasha on interior. AIM gave me a bunch of minions too, but they're completely useless. Can't even fire straight. I think it's the dumb bucket helmets—no peripheral vision."

"Like I said." Clint glances at Kate, who nods. "Those yellow hazmat uniforms suck."

"How many casualties are acceptable?" asks Natasha. "Can we weed out the worst of the minions?"

Bucky shrugs. "On the one hand, this is AIM and they won't give a shit as long as we leave the scientists alone. On the other hand, it'd be a waste of time. All of the minions are the worst."

Bucky Barnes: supervillain contractor and master of making the best out of a shitty situation. Clint loves working with him.

"What's the dress code?" asks Clint. "Costume or jeans? Because I've been getting some conflicting instructions from Miss Widow over here—ow!" Clint rubs his shoulder where Natasha smacked him.

"Look at me and tell me what the dress code is," says Bucky. He's wearing black pants, black gloves, and a black long-sleeved shirt with one arm cut off to display his (really really cool) prosthetic. It's the same thing he always wears.

"Yeah, that doesn't help at all," says Clint.

"That's because I have a sensible work outfit that doesn't have purple highlights or a fucking tabard." Bucky smiles. "Put on your spandex, kids."

"Don't make fun of my fashion sense." Clint starts pulling their suitcases out of the trunk, now that he's pretty sure they won't be living in a tent.

"You don't have a fashion sense," says Bucky. Kate and Natasha snicker.

Okay, so Clint only mostly loves working with Bucky.

---

This is James Buchanan 'Bucky' Barnes, alias the Winter Soldier: male, former American citizen, former Soviet citizen, currently stateless. Either in his late 30s or his mid 80s, depending on how you're counting. One big metal arm, brown hair that he cuts short when he remembers and then lets grow for months at a time, surprisingly deep laugh lines. Do not ask about the big metal arm, or the circumstances of his statelessness, or what he did between 1945 and 2006.

Bucky Barnes has been named most valuable employee by fifty-seven supervillains or supervillain organizations, including the Circus of Crime, Doctor Octopus, and the Hellfire Club. The President of the United States rescinded his posthumous Medal of Honor in 2007 for somewhat obvious reasons.

If asked, Captain America has this to say about Barnes: "He was the best friend I ever had. He's courageous, dedicated, and extraordinarily intelligent. We'll probably have to shoot him."

---

The good thing about working for Bucky is that his operations are air-tight and perfect. Nothing goes wrong completely unexpectedly, and problems are dealt with quickly and quietly.

The bad thing about working for Bucky is that his operations are air-tight and perfect.

After two weeks of crisp and beautiful weather, nothing's happened. Once Clint thought he saw a cape, but it was actually a rabbit. It's been that kind of job.

Bucky's pretty happy about that. Clint is, well, not so much.

Tonight, Clint and Natasha are just coming off-shift and Kate's taking Lucky for a walk before she goes on. Clint's lying on Natasha's bed in his work clothes, winding down in the best way he knows—whining.

"…And god, it's not like I'm asking for trouble—"

"You are," mutters Natasha.

"…I'm just asking for something." Clint presses his hands against his face. "Anything. This is the most boring job ever."

"Get out of my bed." Natasha shoves at him.

Clint moves his hands and glares at her. "Why?"

"I'm going to take a nap."

"A nap?" Clint groans. "This is what boring jobs in Maine drive us to! Naps!"

Natasha smiles at him, and Clint catches his breath for a second because this smile means 'don't push me.'

"You want excitement?" she says.

"What's on offer?" asks Clint, because he always always pushes.

Natasha yanks him up from the bed, and Clint fights her as hard as he can. He knows she can take it. Natasha catches the elbow he swings at her face, sidesteps the wild punch to her stomach. She twists him and turns him by that captured elbow, until Clint has his back pressed to Natasha's chest. She's holding his right wrist in one hand and the back of his neck in the other.

"I don't come with a menu," says Natasha. "Do you trust me?"

"Not really." Clint tries to turn enough to catch Natasha's eye. All he sees is the edge of her smile before she pushes him into the wall. Clint's chin hits plaster and he yelps, more startled by it than hurt. Natasha stills.

"Give me a color," she says.

"Beige," says Clint, staring at the very bland wall. Natasha twists his arm in her grip, and he relaxes into the pain, makes her hold him up. "Green, green. You gonna fuck me today?"

"Too much effort," says Natasha. "But I'll make you bleed."

"Awesome," says Clint, and falls hard when Natasha takes a step back and kicks out the back of his knees.

Clint knows—Clint knows this is messed up, okay? His childhood was pretty awful and now he flinches from sudden movements and hates it when people touch him unexpectedly. But Clint also dresses up in spandex and uses a bow and arrow to rob people, among other things. The fact that he likes surprise rough sex is not the thing people should be questioning.

Or, whatever, maybe it is. People have some weird priorities.

Natasha grabs him by his hair and pulls him around until his face is pressed against her crotch. Clint mouths at her, and gets shaken for his troubles.

"I want to notch your lip," says Natasha. "And if you eat me out, it'll get infected."

It takes Clint a minute to think past all the blood rushing to his crotch. "Dental dam?"

"I'll take care of myself." Natasha produces a knife. "Color?"

"Green." Clint straightens his back, braces his knees and toes against the tile of the floor. "Don't make me get stitches."

Natasha nods, and runs the flat of the blade across Clint's mouth. Clint feels like his lips are buzzing, and his hands are shaking behind his back and Natasha's eyes are so dark and so huge—

She cuts his lip once, twice, tiny shallow cuts that still spill blood down Clint's chin. Clint can immediately feel his world going fuzzy and cool, and he sways forward. Natasha catches him, sitting down to prop him up. He can hear her unzipping her uniform. She gasps once, probably when she starts fingering herself. Clint moans and manages to press one hand against his dick.

"Fuck," he says, and talking hurts in the best way ever. "Wow."

"You always look like you're having a religious experience," says Natasha. Her trace of an accent only shows up when she's drinking or fucking or out of her mind with stress. It's curling around her syllables now. "You look like one of those saints with the spears sticking out of their sides. Martyrs."

Clint chuckles and rubs his dick. Coming in the costume is the worst idea, literally the worst, but there is no way he is getting the spandex off in time—yeah, there he goes. There'll be time to worry about the laundry later. He has a spare costume. It has less purple, which sucks, but—

"God," murmurs Natasha, and grabs him by the hair again. She pulls Clint into her, holds him tight as she comes. Clint puts up with it for a little while, then backs off as soon as Natasha lets go. Now that he's got off, his face feels sore and tacky and his skin is crawling with adrenaline. He wants to go to the range, but he knows he has to stay and do the boring first aid stuff. Also change. Natasha is petting at his hair, and Clint's getting to the point where he really does not need people touching him. And his pants are clinging, shit, coming in the costume was a terrible idea.

"I am lucky," says Natasha, seriously. "To have you."

"What?" Clint narrows his eyes at her, pulls his thoughts out of the mundane pit they always drift into after an orgasm. "No, wait, I'm the lucky one. So fucking lucky, like—who would put up with me? You just cut my mouth and now I'm thinking about laundry and—Jesus, can I kiss you?"

"Infection." But Natasha kisses his cheek, and Clint beams at her. "I'll help you wash your face."

For whatever reason it doesn't bug Clint when Natasha uses a washcloth on his chin and helps him peel out of the fucking spandex. Maybe because she's so practical about it, her hands where Clint can see them and every movement with a purpose.

The Neosporin hurts on Clint's face, but man, totally worth it.

"I could strangle you next time," says Natasha, thoughtfully. "Just a little. I'd be careful."

"Sounds great," says Clint, and then they have their nap after all.

In the morning the cuts are just red marks on Clint's bottom lip, beginning to scab over. Kate looks at them askance and doesn't ask any questions, because the last time she did Clint gave her answers.

Bucky gives Clint a smirk and claps him on the back with his big metal hand. Clint tries not to wince.

"Nice costume," says Bucky. "What happened to the purple?"

Clint's spare costume is basically black cargo pants and a t-shirt with a purple (!) logo on it. It feels like a cop-out, but his spandex is going to need some serious work. There's a lot of blood and semen involved.

"Fluids," says Clint. "Fluids happened."

"Sure, that's tough." Bucky checks something in a notebook. "You and Kate are on watch today. Don't shoot anyone for fun, but remember that no one's allowed to enter or leave the compound."

"Right." Clint checks his quiver, replaces a couple arrows. "I'll aim for the shoulders instead of their heads."

"You got it." Bucky wanders off to do head of security things. Fuck with security cameras, whatever. Clint puts on his sunglasses, because it's a beautiful boring sunny fall day.

"It's a good look," says Kate. "More special forces, less circus reject."

Kate's costume is 100% purple spandex, and she should not be throwing stones. Even her sunglasses are purple.

"I was never rejected from the circus," says Clint. "Don't listen to what they tell you, I quit before I got fired."

"Uh-huh." Kate doesn't look convinced. Clint shrugs, and goes to find a tree to climb.

---

An hour into his watch, Clint is still pretty sure that Maine is incredibly boring.

The trees are filled with golden leaves, still clinging to the branches, and birds chirp, and there are no enemies in sight. None. Shit.

"I spy, with my little eye." Kate hums over the comms. "Something... beginning... with T."

Clint runs his eyes over the woods for approximately the thousandth time. Is that an escaping AIM scientist? No, it's a rock. Easy mistake to make. "Trees. You said trees last time."

"It's not trees," says Kate. "Think more abstract."

"Come on," says Clint. "Don't make this too complicated."

"We already did trees, leaves, and rocks, Clint!" Kate huffs. "It's a forest. If we're not going to get complicated, we need to pick a new game."

"Or be quiet." Bucky breaks in, because they're kind of broadcasting on an open comm. "The comms are for emergencies."

Clint and Kate ignore him, like they have for the past two weeks.

"Thugs," says Clint.

"No bodies in sight," says Kate. "And abstract, remember."

"Uh." It's actually really hard to think of 'T' words when it could be anything. Clint shifts a little on the tree, getting as comfortable as he can (not very comfortable). "Time?"

"Ooh, nice try." Kate chuckles. "No."

"Trembling," suggests Clint. "Like, muscles trembling in anticipation."

"No."

"Thoughts."

"No."

"Things."

"Good try. No."

"Tra—"

"Quiet on the comms!" snaps Bucky.

Clint shuts up for all of five minutes, but there is literally nothing happening. Clint can only sit in watchful silence for—okay, he can actually sit in watchful silence for a really long fucking time, if he has to. He just prefers not to.

"Traps," he says.

"Not even close," says Kate. "Here's a hint: it's more like a feeling."

Clint licks his lips, feels them sting, thinks hard. "Tranquility."

"That's it!"

"Seriously? Right, okay. You want complicated, I'll give you complicated. I spy, with my little eye—" Clint catches some movement, and it's definitely not a rabbit this time. "A whole crew of Avengers, shit. Bucky, are you still on the line?"

"Here," says Bucky, while Kate goes "what the hell?"

"I'm seeing my new best friend Captain Marvel, your best friend Captain America, uh—" Clint doesn't recognize the others, so he does his best. "Some dude in a yellow and green costume, and a chick with a white handprint on her face."

"I'm prepping the base for action," says Bucky. "Stall them as long as you can."

"I can be there in five," says Kate, but Bucky grunts.

"Hold position," he says. "I don't want anyone else sneaking up on us."

"Copy," says Clint, and fires an exploding arrow at the Avengers, just to see what happens.

Captain Marvel goes straight up, Captain America ducks behind his shield, yellow-green man gets knocked down, and handprint lady jumps over the explosion and then right at Clint's tree, which—fuck.

Clint is four hundred meters away in a really tall tree, she shouldn't be able to spot him or climb the tree so fast or get that close, with her face pretty much in Clint's own face.

"Jesus," says Clint, and tries to back away from her without falling off the branch.

"Drop your weapon," says handprint lady, with careful slow enunciation. Clint narrows his eyes, because he knows where you get that kind of accent.

"How about no." He says it just as slow, and he'd sign if he had a free hand.

Handprint lady's eyes flicker over Clint—bow, quiver, hidden guns one and two, hearing aids. Her eyebrows raise.

"Drop the bow," she signs, one-handed. Clint lets go of the string instead.

The arrow misses because the lady dodges, but then the net deploys and catches her legs. She twists and catches the branch with one hand, and Clint jumps to another branch. Captains Marvel and America are nowhere to be seen, but there's yellow-green man, closing in. Clint draws, fires a boomerang arrow at his head. Yellow-green man ducks. His face is grim, and he draws back a fist that's glittering with golden energy. Clint braces himself.

Then yellow-green man gets hit in the back of the head and falls over. Boomerang arrows are the best. Clint fist-pumps and then squawks when he feels a hand close around his ankle.

"How the fuck did you get over here?"

Handprint lady grins at him and yanks him off the branch.

Clint falls, snags a branch, slips, falls some more, finally manages to grab hold of the tree long enough to lose the momentum. He's still twenty feet up.

Handprint lady signs 'drop the bow' at him again. For a second, Clint considers it. He can't fire one-handed. But, hell, he's not being paid to give up. And he is getting paid! He used e-banking to double-check.

Clint swings himself back on top of the branch, one hand going to his quiver. Nock, draw, release, repeat. Handprint lady dodges the first arrow, which almost runs her into the bola arrow, and then when she dodges that, Clint finally gets her with a normal arrow in the shoulder. Her hand loosens on the branch, and she drops.

Somehow she manages to angle it so she lands on top of Clint.

"Jesus!"

The branch breaks.

Clint hits the ground in a roll, and he's pretty sure he's gotten away with bruises, even if the roll ends with him flat on his stomach. Pretty sure. Handprint lady gets caught by yellow-green man, who burns the netting off her feet with his mystical hand things.

"Ready to surrender?" asks yellow-green man.

"Give me a sec, I'm still checking if I've got all my bits." Clint says it face-down, notices that yellow-green man doesn't bother to repeat it for handprint lady's benefit. Asshole. Everything Clint says is important. He rolls over and sits up.

Then he groans, because apparently he somehow snapped his bow string while crashing to the ground. The heroes look smug, because they're heroes and they don't give a shit if they're injured. Yellow-green man probably has a lump on the back of his head and handprint lady is bleeding from her shoulder.

Yellow-green man's hands are glowing again. Also he's grimacing in a possibly threatening/possibly constipated way.

"Don't act so tough," says Clint. "Handprint deaf chick took me down all on her own."

"Echo," says handprint deaf chick, and breaks off the shaft of the arrow stuck in her shoulder without even wincing. "This is Iron Fist. You are Hawkeye. Surrender, so we can get to more important things."

Clint sighs. He feels like he should do something, but he really doesn't want to get chemical burns or cancer or whatever from Iron Fist. "Fine. What do we do now? You gonna tie me up?"

Echo and Iron Fist look at each other. "Usually we just knock thugs out," says Iron Fist. His hands start to dim.

"Shit, really?" Clint shoves his currently-useless bow out of his lap and starts signing while he talks. It makes for better emphasis. "One, I am a contractor, not a fucking thug. Two, people usually recover pretty quickly from being knocked out unless you're causing brain damage."

"Brain damage?" signs Echo.

"Yeah." Clint shrugs. "If someone's out for more than five minutes, you've probably got some permanent shit going down. I'll sue."

Iron Fist rubs at the back of his head. "I don't have any rope or anything."

"Brain damage," signs Echo again. The two closed fists at the end of the sign are pretty evocative. "Fuck."

She's probably knocked a bunch of people unconscious without thinking about it—she's got that look. Clint rolls his eyes at the pair of them. "I've got zip-ties in my quiver."

They shrug and go for it. Then they start running for the compound, because heroes aren't going to be bogged down with a thug for long.

Clint gives them a five-minute head start before he uses an arrow head to cut himself out. They didn't even take his quiver or his bow. Clint's surprised that they took his guns. Amateurs. And Echo was distracted enough by Clint's hearing aids that she didn't notice that he's also wearing a comm.

He clicks it. "Hey Bucky, I couldn't slow down the capes."

"Yeah, I noticed already." Bucky chuckles, sounds strained. "Cap's here, and Captain Marvel."

"Two called Echo and Iron Fist headed your way." says Clint. "Where do you want me?"

"Get back to base," says Bucky. "I think it's catching on fire."

"Sounds like a great reason not to be on base." But Clint starts running anyway.

Sure, he doesn't have his guns and his bow won't be much use (the most fun part of re-stringing a compound bow is sticking it in a bow press and spending ten to forty minutes making sure everything's fitting together right). But Clint has... some knives. And some arrows that he can throw at people, probably? Shit, this is going to suck.

---

Clint can't raise Natasha on the comms, and Kate is swearing about something—Clint thinks she ran into Echo and Iron Fist. She can't talk long enough or coherent enough to give a location, so Clint heads to the base for lack of a better option.

The base only looks a little on fire. Clint gets in on the ground floor and just sees smoke, climbs to the second floor and sees a little more smoke and a lot of scientists and yellow-suited goons running around holding two-headed pigs and shit. AIM has some wacky ideas. Then Clint opens the door to the main laboratory, and yeah, here's all the fire.

Apparently the fire breaks between floors work pretty well, but there's enough fire that the base won't be long for this world. The fire department always has a lot of trouble finding secret societies' criminal installations.

Bucky is surrounded by flames and groaning machines. He's got his metal hand around Captain America's throat, holding him up off the ground. Captain America isn't even struggling, just holding Bucky's wrist while they talk. Captain America talks, to be more accurate. Bucky shouts.

"Why would you take money from AIM?" asks Captain America. "Don't you know they're just another relic of HYDRA?"

"Stop asking questions you know the answers to!" roars Bucky.

"You're tearing down everything we fought for." Captain America's voice starts out soft, turns strained as Bucky's hand tightens around his throat. "Bucky, this isn't right."

"You think a guilt-trip will solve all of this?" Bucky bares his teeth. "Get a grip, Steve. I'm not the man you knew, not anymore."

Captain America coughs and chokes as Bucky carries on with throttling him. Bucky's fingers screech in metallic protest as Captain America finally tries to pry them open. They both look so sad as they fight to the death.

It's weird, sometimes, when Clint realizes that he isn't the only one with some heavy shit going on. Yeah, he's an ex-carnie and an ex-con, currently the best marksman in the world, with about thirty warrants out on him for everything from grand theft auto to shooting that one senator in the leg. But Bucky was Captain America's sidekick, and then a brainwashed KGB assassin, and now he's a security consultant for supervillains. That's real drama.

If they made a movie about everyone's respective lives, Bucky and Natasha would get blockbuster thrillers with lots of sex and explosions. Clint would probably get some indie movie with a lot of angst and some weird dream sequences. Maybe a few seconds of full frontal nudity. It actually sounds kind of nice.

Captain Marvel tackles Clint from behind, and he starts paying attention to his job again.

He lashes out and catches Marvel in the cheek with the edge of his bow, but she keeps pushing forward with that cheating flying shit, and—

"Jesus Christ, that's a wall!" Clint screams, and Captain Marvel slows down not at all. They slam against the wall, Clint at an awkward angle that means his face is fine but one of his legs goes snap. And then the wall falls on them. And then they fall through a floor.

The structural integrity of this building is failing. Or maybe it was shit before it was on fire, who knows.

Captain Marvel coughs and rolls off of Clint. They're in some office, and the lights are still on. Miracles.

"You're that guy!" hisses Marvel. "The bank robbing guy in Boston."

"Oh, hey," says Clint, as if he hadn't noticed it was her. "Nice to see you again."

"What are you doing in Maine?" Marvel pushes herself to her feet. "Why did you change your costume? Are you an AIM minion?"

"No!" Clint feels his face heat up as he remembers why he had to change. "The costume thing is just a coincidence. If I was real AIM they would make me wear yellow, and it doesn't go with my complexion. I'm a security contractor."

Marvel looks at him for a second, like she's trying to decide if he's for real. Then she shrugs and starts looking around the room instead. "Where are we?"

"Ground floor," says Clint. Hey, his bow is still relatively fine! Awesome. "Wow, my leg really hurts."

"Shut up. I've got to get out of here, help Cap."

Clint tries to get up and realizes his mistake. Aw, bones. "You broke my leg."

"You're seriously trying that again?" Captain Marvel's eyes glow. The lights flicker. Clint can hear the fire crackling outside the door.

"It's actually broken this time," says Clint. "And now you're going to leave me to die in a burning research lab."

Marvel's eyes flicker back to normal, and she stares at him. "I won't. Get a grip."

"I can't trust you," says Clint, because the best way to get a hero to help you out is to tell them you don't think they will. "You tried to kill me and I don't even know your name."

"Christ, look—" Marvel makes an angry noise, and then an even angrier gesture. "You're a villain. You rob banks and shoot people and take money from AIM! You tried to explode me!"

"I wanted to see what you guys would do," says Clint. "No one actually got exploded. Echo and I bonded."

Marvel raises an eyebrow and apparently decides to ignore him.

"Would it help if I introduced myself?" Clint needs to say something, or he's going to start thinking about how much his leg hurts. "Hi, I'm Clint Barton, I have a dog named Lucky, I used to have two functioning legs until someone pushed me through a wall—"

"What are you doing, don't tell me about your dog." Marvel's back to glaring around the room. It looks like she's trying to figure the best way out. "I don't care about your dog."

"My poor dog who will pine away if I die," says Clint. "No one to care for him." Except Natasha and Kate and Bucky and probably his brother Barney in a pinch. Spoiled old dog. Clint hopes that he's fine over in the barracks.

"You're not going to die," says Marvel, and then looks mad at herself for reassuring him. "I think I can punch through the ceiling."

"This building has three floors," points out Clint.

"I can punch through a lot of ceilings." Marvel grabs Clint's arm.

"Whoa, hey!" Clint shakes her off. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to carry you to safety," says Marvel. "Against my better judgment."

"I don't let mysterious superheroes carry me anywhere," says Clint. "Introduce yourself."

"Go die in a fire," says Marvel. "Literally. I'm not telling you my real name."

"You don't wear a mask, how secret can it be? I could google that shit." Clint's aware that he's kind of babbling, but he's starting to lose it a little and babble is helping him keep it together. He actually does not want a stranger touching him, and his leg hurts a lot, and he's clutching his bow with one white-knuckled hand. He's not asking for much.

Marvel looks him up and down, then sighs. "I'm Carol," she says. "I'm going to pick you up now."

"Hi, Carol." Clint relaxes as Carol swings him up in a fireman's carry. It's super awkward, but Carol probably needs a hand free to shoot energy beams at the ceiling. Or for other things. It's pretty hot that she's so strong, though. "Keep your hands off my butt, okay?"

"I'll try." Carol starts rising off the ground "Your ass looks good in the new costume, though. Let's hope this works."

"Yeah, cool, I'm going to pass out," says Clint. He'd better not drop his bow.

When Clint wakes up (hopefully less than five minutes later), they're outside, he still has his bow, and three out of his four limbs are still intact. Also Carol is slapping his face.

"We didn't negotiate this," Clint mumbles.

"Good, you're awake." Carol holds up three fingers in front of his face. "How many fingers? What year is it? What kind of dog is Lucky?"

"You remembered his name." Clint beams at her, wide enough that his half-healed split lip starts to burn. "That's so sweet."

"You're fine," says Carol, and straightens up. "I'm putting you under citizen’s arrest for a whole lot of shit."

"Rad." Clint rubs the back of his neck, feeling for the pocket in the back of his costume where he keeps his emergency supplies. "Can you list the charges for me?"

"I really don't have time," says Carol. "Look, I'm just going to drop you at the nearest police station, then come back to see if I can help anymore. Sound good? I actually don't care at all about your opinion."

"Give me a hand up," says Clint. He reaches out, and when Carol takes his hand he stabs her with a tranquilizer dart. Carol pulls back, frowning. The tranquilizer dart is bent.

"Did you seriously think that would work?" asks Carol.

"What, are you impervious to needles?" Clint tosses the dart away. "How do you get your annual flu shot? Blood transfusions? Piercings?"

"I don't get sick and my dreams of a belly-button ring were dashed when I got powered." Carol crosses her arms. "Are we done with this?"

"Yeah, I give up, I surrender." Clint surreptitiously rummages in his quiver. "You're still going to need to help me up, though, because my leg really is broken."

Carol hangs back, looking suspicious. Good for her. Clint throws the freeze-arrow at her head.

Carol freezes (literally, haha), outlined by creeping ice, and then slowly keels over. Clint manages to catch her on the way down and set her gently on the ground.

"Thanks for the assist," he says, blowing on his hands to warm them back up. Victory! Now he just has to get out of here on a broken leg and somehow find Natasha and everyone. Fuck.

Clint pushes himself to his feet, ignores the shooting pains from his leg, and starts hobbling in maybe the right direction.

Luckily he runs into Bucky after five minutes, because Clint passes out again in six.

---

Once Clint wakes up, there's a bunch of running. Bucky gives Clint a piggyback ride, at least until Natasha and Kate show up with that fucking Oldsmobile. It would be fun, except that every time Bucky moves it jolts Clint's leg and makes him feel like he's dying. Same thing with the Oldsmobile, actually.

Kate splints Clint's leg in the backseat, while Natasha whips them across back roads, heading for New York. Clint tries really hard not to throw up on anyone, and mostly succeeds. Bucky calls contact after contact, trying to find out if the AIM researchers got caught or escaped. Lucky whines and tries to scramble up from the floor onto Clint's chest. They stop in a small town, ditch the Oldsmobile, steal an almost equally-old black Jeep Cherokee. Bucky divides up the last of the cash he got from AIM, and they drop him in Buffalo. Lucky steals the front seat. They drive some more, and Natasha gets out at a gas station in Salamanca. Kate starts driving, and Lucky is hanging out the front window, and Clint falls asleep.

When he wakes up, they're home in NYC, parked outside his apartment building. There's no elevator, so Kate helps him up the stairs very slowly and very very carefully.

This is the thing about supervillaining that weirds Clint out: there's hardly ever a chase. The heroes show up, bust whatever scheme the head villains were planning, and Clint and all the other little villains run for it. No one wonders where they've gone. It's like they stopped being important, stopped being a threat as soon as they walked out of the story. In the thriller/indie movie of Clint's life, he's one of the minor characters. They take precautions, obviously, because you can't get complacent. They switch cars and split up and watch their backs, but hell, no one's coming after Clint. That's why Clint can keep an apartment in Bed-Stuy.

Admittedly his apartment building is owned by the Russian mob, but that's sort of beside the point. Clint's not unfindable, even if the bro in a tracksuit that rented him the apartment didn't blink at the false name on the rental application and didn't bother with a background check.

Clint wonders if it's different for someone like Bucky. Captain America obviously cares what Bucky's doing when he's not in the story. Clint can't decide if he wants that kind of attention or not. Maybe not from a cape. He's already got all the attention he needs from Kate, because she's calling their favorite extremely discreet doctor right now. That doctor loves Clint. Probably because Clint's medical fees are putting her triplets through college.

Lucky licks Clint's face.

"Good boy." Clint rubs Lucky's ears and thinks about puking again. "Fetch painkillers. Go."

Lucky pants.

"Painkillers. Morphine, codeine, fucking Tylenol, go!"

Lucky bumps against Clint's good leg. Clint pats him some more. So much for that plan.

Kate tosses the Tylenol into Clint's lap. She's so perfect.

Clint still thinks so even a couple days later when Kate won't let him use a pencil to itch under his cast.

---

Clint does google Captain Marvel, when his cast is fresh and propped up on his old busted coffee table. Like Kate said, there are like six capes with that same name, because no one said you had to be original to fight crime. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to pick out Carol on ratemycape.com.

This is Carol Danvers, alias Captain Marvel: American female, almost middle-aged or whatever 32 is nowadays. Extremely good posture, narrow eyes, hairstyle that looks a little like a long fauxhawk and a little like a mullet and somehow works on her anyway. Flight, super-strength, energy powers—pretty basic cape stuff. Air Force veteran. Made questionable fashion choices in the 80s, just like everyone else.

She's actually really hot. Even in tabloid photos, there's a set to her mouth that Clint likes. Ratemycape gives her the little chili pepper thing.

Clint's leg itches under its cast. His hand inches over toward a convenient-looking fork.

"Don't even think about it," says Kate, not looking up from her magazine. Clint sighs.

He leaves Carol a review online, tapped out very slowly because Clint never got the hang of typing. "Broke my leg, but saved my life," it says. "Guess it balances out in the end. 9/10, would be foiled again."