The first time Clint meets the Winter Soldier, he’s not even aware they’ve met. He’s been in the mercenary business just over a year, still pissed at the world, at his asshole of a coach, at the dreams of Olympic medals flushed away, even at this whole seedy underside of the world he’s joined. He has two dozen confirmed kills, three of which were thought to be impossible by his best rivals. He’s made a surprisingly successful name for himself in such a short time, and only his coach could possibly know the true identity of the codenamed Hawkeye.
That hit was fuckin’ personal.
He’s just gained new contract by a man called Fury--Clint just knows his name is Smith or Rogers or something mundane--to end the life of some politician. With the exception of his coach, Clint makes sure his targets deserve to die. Fury apparently knows this, and sends proof of the man’s involvement with neo-Nazi’s and a cult symbolized by a skull head and tentacles instead of a jaw. Creepy as fuck. The money is phenomenal, and there’s a hint that future jobs could be contingent on the success of this mission.
It takes nearly a month of surveillance. Pierce knows to vary his routine daily, has no less than three guards at all times, and both his home and work are veritable fortresses. The first vulnerable moment he has is when the man is in front of his daughter, walking her to a ballet recital, and Clint...Clint refuses to kill a man in front of his children, insane racist or not.
Still, Clint knows how to be patient, and Fury is apparently happy to give him as much time as he needs. At nearly six weeks in, there’s a brief window, when Pierce is walking from a hangar to a private plane. No children, the guards distracted by luggage, and the pilot is already on board. Nearly half a mile away Clint lets loose his first arrow, only to have it shot out of the air--seriously!--two feet from his target. The plane’s engine noise covers the sound of the gunshot, but he sees one of the guards put his hand up to his ear.
His window closing, Clint shoots three arrows in rapid succession. The first arrow is shot down, but the second is only clipped and wings Pierce in the shoulder, making the man turn at the force of the impact. Clint’s third arrow misses because of that, but the shot to neutralize that arrow is right on target.
A target that now includes Pierce’s forehead.
There’s a moment of stillness in the world as Pierce falls to the ground, but Clint isn’t sticking around to see everyone get their shit together. He’s off his perch and running hell for leather before they realize where his arrows were coming from. With luck, the guards will focus on the trajectory of the bullet that ended their employer rather than the arrow that...that put him right in that trajectory.
“Aw, arrows, no,” he mutters.
When he gets back to Fury that the job is done, he half expects to not be paid since technically Clint didn’t finish the job. Instead, he gets a ten-thousand dollar bonus--Ten-thousand, he hasn’t seen a client do that ever--for succeeding and a number to call once the heat’s died down.
A number that leads to no less than four jobs taking him around the world and earning him tons more than endorsements for succeeding at the Olympics ever would. After that, Fury goes ominously silent, and while Clint’s a little sad to lose such a lucrative client, it’s the nature of the business, and he simply moves on.
(It’s five months after that first job, while trying to duck a dozen hitmen after the bounty on his head, that he realizes Fury didn’t contact him because Hawkeye never misses his target. Fury contacted him because he was the only mercenary dumb enough to not know the risks of going after a man as powerful as Alexander Pierce.
He got the job because Fury considered Clint to be a rube.
The money’s good, though, so he keeps taking Fury’s calls and vows that if he ever meets the bastard, he’s going to poke his fucking eye out.)
The second time he meets the Winter Soldier, it’s during one of those four jobs from Fury. The target is an older man, a war criminal from World War Two named Werner Reinhardt. At first Clint isn’t sure should be targeted. Yes, the files Fury provided show a despicable, disturbing monster of a human, but the man is in his late eighties, how much of threat could he still be? He almost refuses the job.
Almost. On his initial surveillance he catches the man vivisecting an asian woman. A living woman. Gleefully.
Clint almost loses his lunch. Instead, he’d puts the monster out of his misery. Him and the poor soul on his table. This time when he shoots the arrow, he hears the corresponding gunshot. Except it isn’t a gunshot to stop his arrow, it’s a shot alongside it.
His arrow hits Reinhardt in the heart as a bullet hits him in the head. Clint quickly looks left and finds a fellow sniper, a man in leather with a black mask covering the lower half of his face, cold eyes, and a silver hand that looks less like armor and more like a robotic limb. There’s another gunshot, a third, and Clint quickly refocuses as he hears return fire from the facility.
The strange man is gunning the people down one by one. Well, Clint’s professional pride won’t let that just stand. He starts contributing as well, taking down six in two minutes to catch up with his silent partner. Eventually the other man jumps from his perch and heads for the facility, shooting some, punching others. A punch with the metal hand that apparently crushes skulls.
Clint figures he can just cover the man’s back, not like he’s being paid to retrieve anything from the facility.
The gunshots stop twenty minutes after the stranger enters the building. An hour later, he comes out, rifle strapped to his back and marching with purpose as smoke begins to pour out of the windows. Clint gives a fleeting thought to the woman--he’d shot her in the heart--and hopes cremation is a suitable honor for her.
He packs his gear and leaves his perch, intending to ignore the other man. When he lands on the ground that same frightening metal fist grabs the front of his vest and slams him into the trunk of the nearest tree. Clint thinks about fighting, but this...this man is a big fish in his world. Clint, oh, Clint has made a name for himself, but he can easily recognize when he’s outclassed in the mercenary hierarchy.
This man, with ice blue eyes burning into him and a metal fist inches from his throat, is not his equal. This man is his superior, and if this were the animal kingdom Clint would be rolling over to bare his throat because, fuck, he does not want to die. So he holds himself stiff and lets the stranger evaluate him, manhandle him, until finally a grunt of satisfaction escapes the mask.
“So,” Clint draws out, “we cool?”
Him and his stupid mouth.
All it gets him is the narrowing of those frigid eyes before a rough, almost disused voice says, “You. You were at Pierce’s airstrip.”
Oh. Oh fuck. Clint is so, so, so, so screwed.
He licks his lips, debating whether to lie or not, when the man continues with, “Hawkeye. Mercenary. Archery specialist.” He speaks as if he’s reading off a prompter. “You shot Pierce.”
“Not fatally?” He winces at the way his voice squeaks at the end of that comment. “I’m real sorry if that was your mark-”
“You’re the reason I killed him.”
It’s a good thing the metal hand of death is holding him against the tree, because his legs give out at the pronouncement. “Oh fuck. You’re the sniper.” The one that tried to protect Pierce. The one that probably would have killed Clint if he’d had him in his scope.
The one that killed his employer.
He’s about two seconds from hyperventilating when the hand releases him and Clint lets himself tumble to the ground, well aware that there’s a good chance he’s about to join the rest of the corpses in the area. Instead, the stranger starts walking away and Clint oh so carefully looks up. Yes, yes, it does look like he’ll survive the day. All he has to do is avoid this guy and get out of Eastern Europe and he can just forget this entire event.
He ends up sitting on the ground a whole twenty minutes before he pulls his shit together and takes the most circuitous route he can think of back not to the town he’d come from, but the next one over. It’s night by the time he arrives, and he doesn’t want to think about how he smells because, yes, he absolutely did piss himself while he’d been held up against that tree.
The next job from Fury, he’s demanding double payment. Pants are damned expensive, at least the ones that make his ass look great.
Also, for therapy. All the therapy he can find in every minibar from here to Timbuktu.
(For the next two weeks he takes a few trains across Europe before flying home, half doing the touristy thing, half leaving false trails as he tries to identify who the hell that hitman man was. The closest thing he can uncover is a legendary assassin called the Winter Soldier, ruthless and neigh-indestructible. It’s a story that’s been floating around for nearly fifty years, a man so deadly and frightening he’s essentially the mercenary world’s boogeyman.
Except he’s real, and he knows who Clint is.
Clint is afraid to sleep for months.)
The third time he meets the Winter Soldier, some asshole in a suit has just shot him, after Fury set up a meeting and fuck, of course it was a double cross. Fury’s been out of contact for year and he’s an idiot! It’s raining, because of course, and the tourniquet he’s made has stemmed the blood, but he’s still losing a lot of it and feeling lightheaded and he’s cornered in an alleyway.
Clint jumped (fell) off a building to get away, but that’s only bought him a few precious minutes, and he knows any second now the shooter is going to appear like a silhouette of vengeance and end Clint Barton, Mercenary, once and for all.
He’d like to go down fighting, but the world’s starting to get a little blurry.
The silhouette doesn’t appear at the end of the alleyway. Instead, a shadow above him descends and he has only a minute to think Oh shit before a metal arm has picked him up, tossed him over a shoulder, and carried him back up the fire-escape. His abductor is dragging him across rooftops and buildings and moving far faster than Clint could run hauling his heavy ass.
He loses a bit of time, probably blacks out from the pain. When he comes to, he’s in a windowless room with his leg treated and the dull ache that means he’s been given some sort of painkiller. He’s lying on a couch and there’s a sealed bottle of water directly in front of him on a cheap IKEA coffee table.
Whoever it is obviously doesn’t want him to die, and they’ve already drugged him, so he figures what the hell and opens the bottle.
He ends up spitting the water all over himself when the Winter Soldier comes in, and sputters in terror before his brain finally settles on, “Aw, water, no.”
The grunt behind the mask sounds more amused than derogatory. The Soldier comes over to check his leg, nods once, and sets a plastic bag on the table. Clint hesitates, then peeks in. There’s cheap 7-11 hot dogs, potato chips, a brownie and a gatorade. The Soldier moves across the room to sit on the floor in the corner.
Clint has no idea what to make of that. Then again, he has no idea what to make of being rescued by an assassin that, by all rights, should have killed him three years ago. He debates for a minute, then, like the water, just goes for it. If he’s going to die, at least it’ll be on a full stomach.
With his mouth full of surprisingly juicy hot dog, he can’t help but say, “So, uh, thanks. For the rescue. And not letting me bleed out.” That gets him a shrug. The frozen gaze seems a little more human when Clint finally dares to look in the man’s eyes. “You want any?”
“Reminds me of home.” The voice is still rough from disuse, but like the eyes, there’s more humanity in the tone. “Hard to remember.”
“Yeah. I get that.” Don’t think of Barney. Don’t think of Barney. “Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but, um, why the…” He makes a looping grab with his arm, then mimes a fireman’s carry and scissors his fingers to indicate running away.
That, at least, earns him a puzzled look, and even with the mask on he can tell the man is frowning. “I have no idea what that was.”
“The, you know, rescue. I thought you were gonna kill me back in Austria.”
Aw, mouth, no.
There’s a heavy silence as Clint freezes and the Soldier stares at him. After five minutes, Clint figures he’s not going to get an answer so he cracks open the gatorade and downs it. Electrolytes, he needs them so badly right now. Unless he’s about to die, in which case, fuck this. He’d rather be drinking.
It not until he’s opening the small bag of plain chips that the Soldier says, “You made me kill Pierce.”
Clint goes still again. “Well, I didn’t make you…” The gaze has turned to ice once more. “I mean, you weren’t aiming for him, my arrow just...you know…”
Another frown he can’t see but knows is there. “You made me kill him.” He crosses his arms and looks down to the floor. “I couldn’t kill him.”
“Uh…” Clint isn’t quite sure how to take that.
“I wasn’t programmed to terminate him. It caused a...a...cognitive recalibration.” The stare turns vacant and the voice goes flat. “The Asset is not programmed to harm Pierce. The Asset is not allowed to harm Pierce. The Asset cannot by inaction allow harm to come to Pierce.”
Clint drops the chips, because he might not be the most well-read man in the world, but he can recognize Asimov’s laws of robotics.
“The Asset failed its primary objective. The Asset must locate and terminate the threat to Pierce. The Asset is the threat to Pierce. The Asset must terminate itself. The Asset is not allowed to cause self-harm. Only Pierce may discipline the Asset. Pierce is deceased. The Asset must locate and terminate the threat to Pierce . The Asset is the threat to Pierce-”
“Yeah, man, I get it,” Clint interrupts, no longer hungry because Jesus Christ! what the hell did Pierce do to this man? His coach treated Clint like nothing more than a robot at the time, a thing to make money and yell at, but nothing, absolutely nothing like this mindfuck.
His voice snaps the Soldier out of it. “I couldn’t reconcile the issue,” he says, his focus once again honing in on Clint. “The Asset fell back to default, assume hostiles in the area, remain undetected until contacted by Pierce.”
“But,” Clint says slowly, “Pierce was dead.”
“He wanted me loyal to him alone. His personal weapon. Other recall orders were discarded.” This time, the crinkling around the eyes indicates a smirk beneath the mask. “The orders weren’t verifiable with Pierce’s codes.” He turns his head away a minute. “Then I started remembering.”
“Remembering,” Clint echoes.
“New York. Germany. Poland. Snow. Cold…” The metal hand clenches into a fist. “They took out whatever was in me and turned me into...this.” There’s disgust in his tone. “I didn’t know who I was. I couldn’t put it all together.”
Clint nods slowly. “So you went looking for answers.” That explains why he entered that building in Eastern Europe. “And you kept remembering.”
When the Soldier looks at him again, there’s no hostility, no confusion. “You gave me back my life. Gave me the chance to remember.” There’s no venom when he says, “I don’t leave my debts unpaid.”
Clint immediately raises his hands. “Hey, no argument from me. I was gonna be toast if that suit caught up.” He hesitates, then asks, “Do you remember everything now?”
“No.” He gets that far-away look again. “It still comes in bits and pieces. Some from before,” he raises his cybernetic arm, “some after. I’m still looking.” There’s a determined glint to his eye. “I’ll find it, though. And I’ll make them pay.”
Clint nods and says, “Cool,” which gets him a raised eyebrow and incredulous look. “Uh...okay?”
There’s a huff behind the mask before the Soldier stands again. “Safehouse is yours. I need to get moving.”
“Hey, listen,” he holds out his hand, “thanks, seriously.” Because he knows what giving up a safehouse means. “You ever need anything, just give me a call.”
That gets him a sly look. “Trying to put me further debt, Hawkeye?”
He waggles his fingers. “Offering to help out a friend, that’s all.”
“Friend.” The Soldier chews the word, as if he doesn’t know it, doesn’t understand it. “Don’t really have any friends.”
“You have one,” he keeps waggling his fingers until he feels foolish, and even then a minute longer until it’s obvious the Soldier isn’t going to shake it. He pulls it back reluctantly. “Or, you know, someone you can count on.”
That gets him a long look, and eventually a grave, “You shouldn’t trust me. I’m a killer.”
He doesn’t mean it like the way Clint is a killer. Clint easily reads that the man means monster. Clint’s met monsters. Clint’s shot monsters.
He doesn’t think the Winter Soldier is one.
“Whatever, man. The offer’s there.” He smirks and leans back against the arm of the couch. The Soldier stares at him a moment longer, before turning and walking out of the room. Most likely, out of his life.
It’s a shame, because there’s a part of Clint that really wants to go after those assholes who did that to the man. His coach stole his money and ruined his life, but at least Clint still knew who he was, could still make his own fucking decisions. Whatever Pierce did to the Soldier...no, there’s evil in the world, and then there’s evil, and he will gladly help take down the monsters behind the Winter Soldier. Some things should be scoured from the world.
He settles in to rest for the night, figuring he’ll have to get moving by sunrise if he has any hope of escaping to lay low from the suit after him.
(Of course, a month later he’s in a diner when the suit suddenly sits across from him and an imposing black man with an eye-patch hems him in by sitting next to him in the booth. He’s about two seconds from trying to escape when one-eye says, “Fucking hell, you bastard. I paid you enough you’d think you could listen when I have a job offer.”
“In all fairness. He didn’t run until I said the word ‘government,’” the suit says, stealing a fry off Clint’s plate.
“You’re usually smarter than that, Cheese.”
“You know the pretty ones always throw me off my game.” He’s smirking as he says it, the smug leg-shooting asshole.
There’s a single eye-roll, and then the man in leather is turning to him to say, “Nick Fury. Ready to work for the good guys, Hawkeye?”
To this day he’s embarrassed over how he nearly choked to death on nothing but air.)
It’s another two years before he meets the Winter Soldier again. Clint slides into the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division--“SHIELD,” he always says, “because it’s a fucking mouthful.”--lifestyle rather well. He learns Fury contacted him because an old Nazi group called Hydra had infiltrated the upper echelons of the organization. Pierce was apparently the head honcho. There’s multiple head honchos, but Clint took out five of the biggest ones before it went underground.
Of course, Fury’s still suspicious that there’s more within the organization. Clint takes the warning to heart, and though it’s never directly asked, he doesn’t mind being the eyes and ears among the lower levels of the organization to try and hunt out these moles.
He still remembers the cadence, or rather the lack thereof, in the Winter Soldier’s voice as he explained the Asset’s guidelines. He wants these bastards taken down.
He moves through the ranks easily enough, but when he reaches Level 4, entire groups of SHIELD agents start showing up dead. A surveillance mission in South America results in all lives lost. A guarded shipment of irradiated metals arrives safely save for the corpses. One of their undercover ops in France goes completely dark, with no clue save the sniper bullets in the Agents’ skulls.
Clint recognizes those bullets. He recognizes those hits. Fury doesn’t know, but Clint thinks Coulson suspects him of knowing something. When Fury sends him to Poland for a quick recon mission, Clint makes appointments with some of his old contacts. The first three confirm that it’s not just SHIELD losing people. The CIA, FBI, even Interpol has lost just as many people, along with random foreign dignitaries and figures. No one high-ranking enough to warrant direct action, but enough to put entire agencies on high alert.
The following week he’s in Shanghai and meets up with some of his underworld sources, and learns it’s not just the good guys losing men. Two mob families have been slaughtered with crushed skulls and headshots. Ten Rings has lost three of his terrorist cells the same way. There’s even a drug-lord that’s been on SHIELD’s wanted list for six months--too protected, too visible--that’s been recently executed.
The Winter Soldier’s been busy.
He’s in Canada the following month, in a bar unwinding after a job well done--child trafficking, in Canada, what the everloving fuck--when a casually dressed man slides into the seat across from him. His dark hair is in a buzzcut framing a very handsome, almost young face. The hand holding a beer is wearing a glove, but it’s the eyes, those same blue eyes that alert Clint to just who this man is.
He knows there’s SHIELD agents in the area, but he doubts any of them are close enough to help him if he gets in trouble. Not that they’d be much help against the Soldier. Tilting his bottle in greeting, he leans back in his chair. “Hey, man.”
“Hawkeye.” There’s an edge to his voice, but he looks just as relaxed as Clint does. “You’ve been asking about me.”
Clint doesn’t flinch at the accusation. “Just keeping tabs. Your targets have become more...random.”
The Soldier does a quick scan of the room, tilting his beer bottle to his mouth but not actually taking a drink. “They’re all involved.”
It takes Clint a minute to make those connections. “They...all of them? The skull-snake-Hydra shit?” That earns him a nod, which has Clint shaking his head. “Hell, have you found anything else out?”
“Yes and no.”
Clint tries to give the man a look, but the Soldier just meets it head-on, not giving an inch, and Clint remembers that hey, this is an international assassin who could end him with a punch. It’s probably best not to get into a pissing contest. He looks down finally. “You know, you’re making a name for yourself.”
“I don’t have a name.”
Clint fights the urge to reach across and squeeze the man’s shoulder in reassurance, partially because he knows it’d end badly, and partially because he’s so not the touchy-feely type. The way the Soldier said that, though, dead and hopeless, just cuts through him. “I mean, well, you’re not so much as legend as, um, an active unknown hitman.”
That earns him a shrug. “I’ll deal with it.”
“Okay.” Clint sits there another minute. “So, um, be careful?” At the disbelieving look, he throws his hands up. “I don’t know. It seemed appropriate.”
That gets him an eye roll. The Soldier also pins him with a glare. “Stop asking around.”
“Yeah, I can do that.” He doesn’t really want to, but he knows better than to disagree with a bigger fish. “You sure you don’t want me watching your back?”
“I’m sure I’ll kill any SHIELD agent trying to follow me.”
“Ouch, okay. Message received.”
The Soldier nods at him, then gets up and walks out, completely unconcerned with the fact that Clint knows what he looks like. Then Clint has a panic attack because, holy shit, he knows what the Winter Soldier looks like and there’s no way that won’t end without a bullet in his brain.
His panicking turns into flailing which causes both his beer and the bottle the Soldier left behind tumbling through the air. One woman’s blouse gets soaked, another gets pelted in the stomach with the glass bottle. Both very large, very angry looking boyfriends get up and glare at Clint.
“Aw, beer, no.”
(Coulson, when he finally shows up to bail Clint’s ass out of jail, looks not at all impressed with his situation. “I knew I should’ve bought a leash.”
Clint, because he can’t help himself, shoots back, “I never knew you were that kinky, sir.”
Completely deadpan, Coulson replies, “You should see what I can do with a ballgag and whip.”
Clint is so shocked that he ends up walking directly into a doorframe. He looks like a raccoon for the rest of the week.
Coulson is such a little shit.)
The last time he sees the Soldier a year later, when Fury and Coulson call him into a private meeting. Maria Hill is there, as is Melinda May. Both are the two scariest women he knows, and he almost turns and marches out when he sees them because they will chew him out, tear him into little pieces, and then, then they’ll get mean.
Fury’s glare silently says, ‘Sit your ass down,’ and Clint, because he’s not an idiot, does so. As far away from the women as he can. Meaning he ends up next to Coulson. Who gives him a look that says he knows exactly what Clint is doing and, undoubtedly, will throw him to the wolves if given a chance.
Fuck his life.
It only gets worse when Fury starts with, “The Winter Soldier,” and Clint has a moment of panic because, fuck, they know! Only, when he tunes back in, no, they don’t. Instead, they’ve had him on their radar a while, and he’s just taken out a Baron in Sokovia. High profile. Very visible. The last week the man has been on the run from five different agencies. “I want him dealt with,” Fury finishes.
Hill picks up with, “All intel points to him digging in at Budapest. Barton, you’re on point. May will be your backup. Coulson will be your handler. Any questions?”
Shit. Clint almost, almost, raises his hand and asks to be excused. But then they’d ask why, and he’d have to explain he’s met the Soldier a few times and, well, nothing good can come from going down that road. So he keeps his mouth shut and hopes he can figure out a way to not shoot the Soldier and maybe help him get away.
Coulson and May come up with a plan while they’re en route, and Clint pays attention while trying to work out his own mission parameters. Except Budapest is going to be a shitshow with the number of agencies after the Soldier. And he’d bet his last arrow that it won’t just be the good guys going after him. Hell, Hydra might be trying to get their hands on him again.
If that happens, killing him might be the best mercy, really.
Once in Budapest, Barton finds a good nest and starts his lookout. SHIELD and other agencies believe the Soldier’s still here. He catches a glimpse--just a glimpse--and the man looks hollow, tired. Clint’s a level five agent and there are days he feels so run into the ground he’s surprised he’s still alive. The Soldier looks ten times worse than that.
His hair is long again, unkempt and wild. His leather uniform has darker patches, blood, and his flesh arm is at an odd angle. Most worrisome, though, is that the Soldier’s gaze rolls right over Clint and doesn’t notice him, doesn’t even see him. Even exhausted Clint has enough situational awareness to know where each and every potential threat is.
The Soldier is either too tired to, or doesn’t care anymore.
He turns away from his scope to stare at the roof. That’s it. Digging in, letting the other agencies come after him, not trying to disappear… The Soldier wants it to end.
He wants to die.
And Clint, Clint is willing to pull the trigger and end his suffering.
But he remembers that brief talk, how the Soldier is a victim, not a monster, and he can’t help but think there’s another way, a better way.
His hand twitches, stops, and then he’s reaching up to activate his headset. “Coulson?”
He swallows. “Do you trust me?”
Silence is his answer for the longest time. “What are you thinking, Hawkeye?”
“Sir, do you?”
There’s a sigh, and another long silence. “You’re giving me grey hairs.” Before Clint can say anything else, he continues with, “Yes, I trust you.”
“Going off comms for a bit.”
“If I say ‘over my dead body,’ you’re going to anyways, aren’t you.” It’s not a question. “You get yourself killed, Agent, I’ll find some way to get to you and make Hell look pleasant. Understood?”
“Yes sir.” And then he’s removing the earpiece to tuck into his vest, disassembling his rifle, and climbing down to the street. It takes most of the rest of the day before he finds the Soldier’s bolt hole. It is, oddly enough, above an erotic bookstore, but he has to admit, it’s the last place he’d have looked.
He debates scaling the wall, then decides that’s a surefire way to get his head blown off and goes into the shop. The woman running it looks ninety years old and gives him a flirtatious wink. He only throws up in his mouth a little. Snooping around he finds a private staircase and, when she’s not looking, walks up it, making just enough noise so that the Soldier knows someone is coming. There’s a small hallway revealing a bathroom and two closed doors.
There’s a sliver of a knife beneath the door on the left. Clint waves and it vanishes. When he gets to the door he knocks once, then twice. Silence is the only answer. “Hey, it’s just me. I was in the area and thought we could talk?”
The air of silence takes on a disbelieving quality. “Okay, so maybe I was flown in to find you but I ditched my handler. I don’t really want to shoot you.” More silence. Clint leans against the wall and crosses his arms. “So, I’m trying to figure out why Budapest. I mean, it’s got nice big buildings and plenty of sightlines, but it’s also not the best place to go to ground. I mean, Mongolia. No one goes to Mongolia. Not even Mongolians. That’d be a good place to hide out. Or maybe Denmark? I’ve never heard of a target in Denmark. Plus, the weather’s nice this time of year-”
The door snaps open long enough for a metal hand to reach out, snag him by his vest and yank him into the room before slamming him into the wall. The Soldier scowls at him, and yes, that’s definitely a knife pressed against his stomach. He grins weakly at the Soldier but keeps his mouth shut because he’s not stupid. He waits, and waits, and waits a little longer before the blade is withdrawn and he’s shaken almost like a kitten and dropped to the floor.
Clint rubs the back of his head. “So, hey. Long time no see.”
“You’re a lousy sniper.”
“Yeah, no. You didn’t even notice my nest earlier.”
“I noticed. Didn’t care.”
Clint looks him over. The exhaustion is even more evident, and up close he can see the man’s left ankle appears swollen. His cheeks are sunken in and he looks thinner, a man who’s missed too many meals. His blue gaze is empty again, and this time it’s almost worse, because Clint remembers that not too long ago this man seemed almost human.
That’s all gone now.
The Soldier isn’t looking at him. He’s moved over to a covered window to peek out at the world beyond. “There’s no backup,” Clint reports. “Thought we could chat.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Sure. Doesn’t mean I’ll let a friend face this alone.”
That earns him some eye contact and a furrowed brow. “We’re not friends.”
“We drank beer together.”
“I didn’t actually drink.”
“Me either, but close enough, right?” There’s a confused chuff at that. “Look, I just...I thought you were discovering yourself.”
“I did.” There’s a bitterness to his words. “Discovered I was the Fist of Hydra. Discovered Pierce was only the latest handler. Discovered how many I’ve killed. Discovered-”
The Soldier blinks slowly. “No.” A brief far-away look. “I get flashes. Blond hair. Movie theater alleys. Flying cars.”
Clint scoots a little closer. “So, you know, maybe suicide by sniper isn’t the best thing.”
“It doesn’t matter.” The voice is empty. “I’ve got so much red in my ledger. It’s better I be put down.”
“Bullshit.” The Soldier seems surprised. Clint is too, really. He’s about to tell off the Winter Soldier. God only knows if it’ll get him killed. “Dying’s the easy way out. The coward’s way out.” The Soldier bristles. “You’ve got red in your ledger? Then you should balance it. Shit, I was working for the good guys half the time and I still have a long way to go.”
“I’ve got half a century of death, Hawkeye.”
“So take that Fist Hydra made you be and punch them in the nuts. That’s a damned good start to balancing your books.”
“And you still have red? Fine. Join SHIELD.”
“Join SHIELD,” is the flat echo.
“Glad we’re on the same page.” He curls his legs up and bounces to his feet. “They’ll help you balance your book. And hey, they’ll probably help you discover who you were, too.” He holds out his hand, wiggling his fingers like he did all those years ago. When the Soldier simply stares at it, Clint adds softly, “You’re not a monster. Don’t let them win by dying thinking you’re the creature they made you. Beat them. Beat them by living.”
That earns him a long, evaluating look by those intense blue eyes. Clint just stands there, waiting, waiting, waiting. The sun sets and he’s still waiting.
And then the Soldier is reaching up to clasp his hand. Tentatively, like he’s not sure he can, or he should. When Clint tugs, though, the man gets to his feet and when Clint raises an inquiring eyebrow, he gets a firm nod in return.
Fury’s going to have kittens.
Which is when the smoke bomb flies through the window and both of them have to dive out of the room.
(They break Budapest and kill way too many people to keep count. Coulson looks disapproving for all of two minutes before Clint steps aside to reveal the Winter Soldier, and then he looks dumbfounded. “Clint...do you know who that is?”
“The Winter Soldier,” he reports. Then, since Coulson’s chin is still on the ground. “Isn’t it?”
May takes one look at the situation and simply says, “I’ll get the jet.”)
The first time Clint meets the man who used to be the Winter Soldier is six months later.
He’s in the commissary at SHIELD’s main base when the Soldier, hair tied back in a bun and smirk on his face, sits across from him and steals the slice of apple pie from his tray. Clint, knowing the value of pie, points a fork at the man and gives him the stinkeye.
The man’s smirk just grows as he takes a large bite, smugly chewing and moaning at the taste.
Clint snorts. “Asshole.”
“You bet your ass.” The man holds out his flesh hand and waggles his fingers. Clint can’t help but grin and take the offered hand. “Never caught your name.”
“James Barnes.” There’s a wealth of pride in his words, a certainty and feeling that almost makes him glow. “But most people? Call me Bucky.”
“Bucky.” Clint lets the name roll around on his tongue. “Good to meet you. Now get your own damn pie.”
Bucky’s laugh is brief but honest, and he shakes his head as he drops Clint’s hand. “Not a chance.”
Clint points at him. “You realize, this means war.”
The smile he gets in return is wide and warm. “As you whippersnappers say today, bring it.”
Clint snorts and kicks at Bucky’s ankles. Bucky kicks back. Before long the pie’s long forgotten and both of them are wrestling on the floor, mashing food in each other’s face and ignoring the frightened stares of the Agents around them.
It’s the best beginning to a friendship Clint could ever ask for.
(Later, much, much later, he finally goes to Coulson because he remembers the man’s look. “How’d you know who he was?”
The blink he gets back is slow and almost disbelieving, before Coulson’s smirk twitches into a full blown smile that has Clint taking a wary step back. “Sit down, Clint. And I’ll tell you all about Captain America.”
He’s trapped in Coulson’s office for the next six hours learning that his boss is an absolute fanboy. As in, he has a dedicated website, podcast, and eighty-four slide powerpoint deck explaining the life and times of Steve Rogers and longtime friend, James Buchanan Barnes.
He escapes through a vent only because Coulson finally goes to take a piss. He drops from the ceiling into Bucky’s room, who takes one look at him and laughs so hard he falls off the bed.
Too traumatized, Clint just mutters, “Fuck you,” which makes the man laugh even harder.)