It’s a mark of just how long that Clint has been palling around in the world of superheroes that it doesn’t even register as strange that he finds himself fighting dinosaurs at ten AM on a Sunday morning. Ever since the hastily cobbled-together team of Avengers defeated Loki and Baron Von Strucker in New York, it's almost become morning routine; get up, put ears in, shower, eat leftover takeout from the night before, read the paper, fight dinosaurs.
Except for how no-one reads the papers these days, Clint is the only one of the team who has to turn his hearing on and it’s not always dinosaurs. Sometimes it’s aliens. Other times it’s just balls-out crazy humans bent on world domination.
“Velociraptors are beelining for the zoo, Cap,” he says over the comms, calmly picking off another pterodactyl from his perch at the top of a tree. It shrieks as the arrow hits it, plummeting towards the Pond and hitting the surface with a huge splash. “The public will have our asses if that baby snow leopard ends up as a snack.”
“Oh hell,” Cap curses. “Anyone free to go over to the zoo? I’m kinda wrapped up here!”
“Sorry, playing tennis with a pretty pissed off allosaur,” Iron Man’s voice says. Through the comm uplink to his hearing aid, Clint hears the blast of repulsors and an unholy roar, just before a crash hopefully signals the end of the beast. “Falcon, you anywhere over there?”
“I am there,” Pietro says, sounding breathless. “Come on boys, time to play chase.”
“Pietro, do not get eaten!” Clint yells as he picks off another pterodactyl. “Steve will make me fill in paperwork if you get eaten!”
“They will never catch me,” Pietro says cheerfully. “They are as slow as you, old man.”
“I changed my mind, they can have you,” Clint says. “Go into the long grass!”
“Oh man, if only Bruce were here,” Tony says, and Clint barely catches the whine of repulsors just before he appears in a flash of gleaming red and gold, knocking the last of the pterodactyls out of the sky. It descends in an oddly graceful spiral, hitting the ground with a sickening thwump. “The Hulk would love triceratops wrestling.”
“I should have maybe left him one,” Wanda says with a smile in her voice that Clint hears with fondness. Ever since he accidentally adopted the Maximoff twins while escaping from the hell that was the Loki-Von Strucker teamup and corresponding fuckery, she’s been like the little sister he never had. And Pietro is like the little brother that he’d happily push out of the back of a moving vehicle. (He’s kidding. He loves Pietro, and even though he’s a shit, he’s not Barney, so that’s something.)
“Do not leave any dinosaurs,” Steve says in Captain voice, and Clint rolls his eyes.
“We were joking, Cap.”
“Joke when the threat is gone,” Steve says, grunting with effort, the sound of the shield hitting something audible even over the comms.
Man, he really needs to lighten up, Clint thinks, and spares a second to miss Nat because she agrees that Steve is way too serious and always indulges Clint with gossiping about the flaws - and sometimes the virtues - of the rest of the team. But no, she’s on the West Coast in charge of half the team, fighting rogue AIM splinter cells, and is probably being far too serious herself.
“The Lake is clear,” Wanda says, all business.
“Nothing left north of the lake,” Sam says. “Just the raptors to take care of.”
“Your long lost relatives, Falcon,” Tony says. “You want to try cawing at them?”
“You wanna try shutting up?” Sam replies good-naturedly. “Thor, how’s the meadow looking?”
“Clear,” Thor adds. “The raptors are the last. Pietro, lead them down towards the Lake.”
“Gladly,” Pietro says. “Be ready!”
Clint is a little disappointed that he doesn’t actually get to see what happens when someone smashes Mjolnir into the face of a sprinting velociraptor, but both Thor and Pietro assure him that it is highly satisfying. Overall, they’ve done a good job. Miraculously no deaths - they have Wanda and Pietro and their civilian clearing skills to thank for that - and only a few injuries. The visitors’ centre is probably a lost cause and the old terrace is probably going to need a hell of a restoration job, but still. No deaths, and the baby snow leopard is okay. Clint is sure to emphasise this to the press who turn up as the clean up job gets underway. He thinks he does a pretty succinct job and he’s like ninety percent sure they didn’t get a picture of him almost falling out of the tree he’d used as a perch, so that’s a plus. He manages about three minutes of public-relations work before Steve turns up to tactfully retrieve him, telling him to ‘stop tormenting the press, Hawkeye, they’ve got photos of you covered in blood and ranting about the baby snow-leopard, can you please just chill.’
By the time he and Steve return to the tower, everyone else is already back. They find them all already de-suited, crowded into Tony’s lab, gathered around something that’s causing quite a stir. Even Pietro is looking, and standing still to boot, so it must be interesting.
Interesting aside, he’s got a point to make first. “And screw you guys for leaving us to walk,” he says loudly as they walk in. Steve must be feeling a similar sentiment because he doesn’t even give him a Look. Either that or he’s too busy brooding about something.
“It’s like a five minute walk,” Tony says without turning around. He’s out of his suit but still wearing a gauntlet, cup of coffee held in metal fingers. “You sat on your ass in that tree for the whole fight anyway, the exercise will do you good.”
“What have you got?” Steve asks in his we-still-have-business-to-attend-to voice, reaching up to pull his helmet off, leaving his hair ruffled. He’s frowning, and Clint is a little disappointed that beating up a T-Rex hasn’t even cheered the man up.
“We figured out where the dinosaurs came from,” Sam says. “Not AIM.”
“Then who made them?”
“No-one, Tony says. “They’re real bona-fide dinosaurs. Thanks to our new friend the Time Stone.”
Everyone starts talking at once. The layers of sound play hell with Clint’s hearing aids, so all he really picks up is Steve cursing. Edging forwards, he sees that the thing everyone is crowding around is a small gem hovering above a circular metal stand, glowing yellow. As he watches it, everything around him seems to move slower, sounds becoming low and distorted. He blinks hard, shaking the effect off.
“So, the Time Stone?” Steve asks slowly, voice rising above everyone else's and bringing a gentle halt to the muttered conversations. “How worried should we be?”
“It can manipulate time as we perceive it,” Thor says. “Move things between times, create portals between moments in time. It can slow down and speed up realities, even stop them altogether. Many have run afoul of playing with time.”
“Yes, the way we perceive time is not how the rest of the universe does,” Wanda says curiously, eyes fixed on the gem. “It can take advantage of that.”
“So this thing obviously picked up our prehistoric friends and brought them in for a playdate,” Tony says. “What we don’t know is why, or if anyone else has been involved.”
“That’s a hell of a thing,” Steve says, sounding somewhere between awed and impressed. He, like Wanda, has his gaze fixed on the slowly revolving stone. “Reckon if I asked nice it’d drop me back off in forty-four so I can stop Bucky getting on that train?”
There’s a collective wince from around the room. Sam rubs at his forehead, probably dejectedly wondering if it’s about time for another effort at getting Steve to go to therapy. It’s a pretty well known fact among the team that Steve has not coped well with the death of Bucky Barnes, still isn’t coping well with the death of Bucky Barnes, even though he’s technically been dead seventy-something years. There was almost a pool going on how long it would take him to crack under the grief and survivor's guilt, but Sam put a stop to it before anyone could raise Natasha’s hundred.
Steve doesn’t even notice the rest of the room hitting a nine point five on the uncomfortable scale, just carries on staring at the gem. Wanda and Pietro both look to Clint for guidance, and he just shrugs expansively, giving them his best approximation of ‘don’t ask me, I don’t know.’
“Get in line,” Tony says lightly after a beat of silence. “If anyone’s time jumping it’s me. I’m going to go back to when I was twenty-three and warn myself that ‘yes that is her sister, don’t do it.’”
“You’d have done it anyway,” Sam remarks with a snort.
Tony makes a show of looking around. “Oh I’m sorry, for a moment you sounded like Rhodey. I thought your job was looking after Captain-Reckless-Calls over there?”
“He put me on Stark-duty before he left,” Sam says. “Though I don’t think paying me in beer is gonna cover it.”
That at least, breaks some of the tension. Thor laughs and Wanda looks up away from the stone, stepping back. Steve is still gazing at it absently though. Pietro grins, nudging Wanda with his elbow. “Pfft, the past. I am going to go to the future,” he announces. “Maybe there things will be quick enough to keep up with me.”
“Then you’ll lose your unique selling point and all that will be left is an average-speed pain in the ass,” Clint says.
“Maybe I will stay then,” Pietro says. “I would not want you to miss my ass.”
Clint sends him a withering look but Pietro just lifts an eyebrow wickedly and then he’s gone; there’s a blur of blue and Clint feels him tear past, knocking him off balance, arms windmilling wildly. He hears Tony yell at Pietro and Steve lunges forwards to catch him, but he’s too late. He’s falling back and time really does seem to slow down in the moment before he feels a bump, and then the whole world goes yellow and gold.
“Clint! Clint! Can you hear me?!”
Clint feels himself slowly edge back out of the horrid underwater-swimmy edge of unconsciousness, trying to get his arms and legs working. He instinctively reaches for his ears, clumsy fingers bumping at his hearing aids.
“They're still there,” Steve says, voice deep and reassuring. “Both ears are there, Clint.”
“Someone catch Pietro,” he slurs. “I’mma kill him.”
“I’ll do it,” Tony says. “He knows the rule. No running in the lab!”
“Only I get to murder Pietro,” Clint mutters. “Dibs.”
“Are you okay?” Steve’s voice repeats urgently, tipping Clint’s chin up and trying to peer into his eyes, a thumb lifting his eyelid.
“Get off, I’m fine,” Clint says, batting Steve’s hand away sluggishly. “What happened?”
“He knocked you into-”
“Everybody get back!”
Steve’s explanation is cut off by Tony’s shout. He’s grabbed unceremoniously and hauled up off the floor, dragged a few paces away. He manages to turn, bracing himself against Steve’s chest, just in time to see the Time Stone throb, pulsing as a rippling golden arc is pushed forwards from its center. It slowly twists into a oval, and then expands, and in the middle is somewhere that isn’t the tower, somewhere that isn’t now.
“Oh, shit,” Tony says, and Clint agrees because on the other side of the portal, a second Clint Barton is looking at him in horror, pointing and yelling something indecipherable.
“That’s me!” Clint says in equal amounts of panic. “Why am I there?!”
From the world within the portal, there’s a bright flash which lights up the darkness, orange and malevolent. His counterpart ducks, looking around wildly, hand reaching for an arrow. Clint tries to reach forwards but Thor grabs his wrist and yanks his hand back; he makes a noise of protest just as the portal quivers and then collapses, shrinking in on itself until nothing is left but the serenely revolving time stone, smugly enjoying the chaos it has wrought.
“Do not touch it again,” Thor says, keeping hold of Clint’s hand like he’s a misbehaving toddler and completely ignoring the fact that it was Pietro’s fault that he touched it in the first place.
“Why am I there? What is that? Is that the future?” Clint asks. He blinks hard. There are spots dancing in front of his eyes and his tongue suddenly feels too thick inside his mouth. “Why am I seeing spots?” he slurs. “Aw, fainting-”
He doesn’t quite manage the ‘no.’ The last thing he’s aware of is Steve grabbing him from the other side before he can hit the floor or pitch forwards into the time stone again, and then once more the world fades to swimmy, muggy blackness.
The patch of space where the portal disappeared stood black and empty. Heart pounding in his chest, Clint turned to look around him, hoping to see a flash of yellow and gold, anything. There was nothing; no team, no anything. All he could see were trees and undergrowth, the darkness beyond. The tower was long gone; he didn’t appear to be anywhere he recognized at all.
Part of him wanted to shout for help, to see if there was anyone nearby, but he overrode the instinct, forcing himself quiet. Another deafening boom shook the ground beneath his feet, and he heard the rattle of gunfire somewhere to his left.
He tightened his fingers around the riser of his bow and made his feet move, ducking under branches, ignoring the scratches to his bare arm and hoping to all hell he was running towards safety and not-
He yelped as his foot suddenly vanished into the ground, sinking through a layer of leaves and mulch like there was nothing beneath it. Heart leaping up into his mouth, he realized that there actually was nothing beneath it and threw out his spare hand a fraction of a second too late to stop himself hitting the ground, earning himself a face full of dirt for his trouble.
Dazed, confused and in considerable amounts of pain, he made himself struggle upright, but then the click of a gun made him freeze in place. Blinking hard, heart hammering in his chest, he clutched his bow tightly in his fist.
“Stay where you are,” a shaking voice said, a thick Texan drawl. “Put down the weapon.”
Clint cursed to himself, staring at the muddy water he was kneeling in and trying to think. He slowly put his bow down and raised his hands.
“You German? Where’s your uniform?” the voice asked.
“I’m from Iowa, pal,” Clint replied, slowly looking up. His stomach dropped as he found himself nose to nose with a bayonet which was attached to a rifle and held in very shaky hands. Behind the bayonet and rifle was a mud covered soldier, and behind him were two more, both clutching rifles and looking pale.
“You don't look like one of us,” the second soldier said. His helmet was unbuckled, straps swinging loose under his chin and his eyes were bright in the gloom of the hole they were in.
Clint’s eyes tracked over the soldiers and weapons, stomach winding into a knot as the details started to add up-
“He's a kraut, shoot him!” the third soldier hissed. “Look at him!”
“I am not,” Clint said. “For fuck’s sake, get that rifle out of my face!”
“Frank, shoot him!”
“Shuddup Dunbar, no-one is shooting anyone!” the second soldier, the one with the bright eyes, shouted. He reached out and shoved the gun down and then looked to Clint. He looked at him warily. “Start talkin’ pal.”
All Clint could do was stare at him. The muddied olive of his uniform, the eagle and sergeant’s bars on his shoulder. No camouflage, no radio, nothing that was making him feel any better about the growing suspicion in his gut.
Fucking Time Stone.
Unfortunately, the guy with the sergeant’s bars seemed to take offense to his continued silence. He plunged his hand into his jacket and drew a handgun, and pointed it right between Clint’s eyes.
“You appear running at us from German lines,” he said, all Brooklyn vowels. “You sure as hell don’t look like one of us.”
“What happened to not shooting anyone, Jimmy?” the first guy said.
“I’m a specialist,” Clint said, thinking quickly. “Part of...the SSR. I got dropped in outside of my zone, I’m lost as all hell.”
“You and the rest of us,” Jimmy says. “SSR?”
Outside the hole, there was another shout and the rattle of gunfire. In the distance, Clint could hear someone screaming. Jimmy swore, looking up automatically. “We can’t sit here,” he said. “We gotta press on, get into the town.”
“If the town’s even still there,” the guy that had been addressed as Frank muttered.
The sergeant ignored him, turned to Clint. “You got a gun?”
“I’m a specialist, I don't need one,” Clint said, nodding towards his bow. Jimmy stared at it for a moment.
“A fuckin’ bow. You’re kidding me. The Army sends us a specialist and he’s all geared up like fuckin’ Robin Hood?”
“It makes no noise and I’m good at four hundred feet,” Clint says. “And I’m a hand to hand expert as well. You want my help or not?”
The soldiers turned to look at each other. One shook his head, one shrugged and Jimmy dragged a muddy, blood stained hand over his face.
“Alright,” he said, and uncocked the gun. “We’re gonna go on me. You - Iowa, you got good eyes?”
“Alright. You with me, stick to my ass and shoot any Krauts that are gonna shoot you first. No funny stuff or I will shoot you myself, you gottit?”
Clint gives him a thumbs up. “You got it, Jimmy.”
The man with the bright eyes scowled. “That’s Sergeant Barnes to you, wiseass. Now let’s go.”
“So,” Clint says slowly, looking between Thor and Wanda who are standing on either side of his bed in medical. They’ve just finished a conversation he wasn’t privy to, half spoken in rapid Sokovian, half spoken in technicalities he doesn’t even try to follow. They have deigned to give him the Cliff’s Notes version of what they think though, but he’s still a little lost. “You think...a version of me, or a copy of me or whatever, is somewhere lost in time?”
“To put it in simple terms, yes,” Thor says gravely, folding his massive arms across his chest. “Though we cannot determine when without a little more work. My mother is well versed in lots of types of...well, you would call it magic. I can ask for her help if you wish.”
“I can do it,” Wanda says, insistent.
“My mother could-”
“No offense, Thor, but I’ve been on the wrong end of Asgardian brain fuckery before,” Clint says, mostly because it‘s true and also because Wanda might be tiny, but she’s got some serious power packed into that tiny frame and she’s starting to frown at Thor’s insinuation that she can’t handle it. “No disrespect to your Mom, I’m sure she’s lovely. I’ll take my chances with Sabrina over here.”
He grins at her, but Wanda bites her lip. “Are you sure?” she asks, suddenly uncertain. “I did promise to never use my powers-”
“Against us, yeah I know,” Clint says. “Rest assured if anyone thinks you are using your powers for evil, Steve will bash you over the head with his shield.”
“What, you were perfectly happy to threaten to bash her when you thought she was a bad guy-”
“No-one is bashing anyone,” Steve says forcefully. “Wanda, we trust you. Do it.”
“Don’t worry about scrambling his brain, there’s not a lot going on in there anyway,” Tony calls loudly as Wanda steps in front of Clint, hands held up. Clint holds up a hand too, though his gesture is slightly ruder than Wanda’s.
“Stark, your input as always is invaluable,” Thor says. “In fact, maybe you should go and share with your robots. They would love to hear it, I’m sure.”
“Am I getting sassed by a demi-god? Is that’s what’s happening?”
“Tony, shut up or get out,” Steve says, clearly at the end of his tether. Tony mimes zipping his lips together. Clint would laugh but Steve is looking stressed and annoyed, and that’s a look that doesn’t bode well for anyone.
“I will do it if he sits still,” Wanda says, her hands hovering just above Clint’s temples. “You are worse than Pietro.”
“I am most certainly not,” Clint replies. “Speaking of, has anyone found the little bastard yet?”
Wanda smacks him sharply on the side of the head. “What?” he asks defensively. “I’ve heard you call him worse.”
“You don’t know what I call him, you do not speak Sokovian,” Wanda says. “Now sit still.”
“I know enough,” Clint grumbles, but does deign to do as he’s told. He breathes out slowly and watches red tendrils of light slowly creep in and obscure his vision. He closes his eyes, lets Wanda do her thing. Slowly, the red tint to the world fades, and he blinks his eyes open.
“There is a copy of you in France. Normandy. And it is nineteen forty-four.”
Clint blinks, bewildered. “What the hell am I doing there?” he asks, and then the penny drops as everyone in the room turns as one to look at Steve.
“Oh, shit,” Steve says, and lifts a hand to press the heel of his palm against his forehead. “Oh, shit.”
Wanda looks from Clint to Steve. “What?”
“I-” Steve says, and looks to Sam for help. Sam just shakes his head.
“Don’t look at me, this is your mess, I’ve had enough of being dragged into your mess.”
“Hey, back to the point!” Clint said loudly. “Why am I in Normandy in nineteen forty four?!”
“I said - I said about going back to get Bucky,” Steve says. “Just before Pietro knocked you over, I thought about - I wasn’t serious though, I was joking.”
“Man, we need to work on your sense of humor,” Sam mutters.
“You were wishing to be back there?” Thor asks Steve.
“No!” Steve says, and he sounds oddly defensive. “I don’t know! I just said it, I didn’t - I mean.” He tails off and the room goes quiet. Steve looks up and around, mouth open as if he’s about to protest some more.
“It seems the Time Stone felt your desire to return to that time,” Thor says. “Your wish to save your friend?”
“And it instead sent Clint,” Wanda says. “Or a copy of Clint, because he was the one who touched it.”
“Wait - so if I’d touched it, I would have gone back?” Steve asks suddenly. “I would-”
“No,” Wanda says. “Only a copy of Clint has gone back. He isn’t aware of what his copy is doing, where he is or who he’s with.”
“Oh,” Steve says, and the way his face falls is heartbreaking. “Oh, alright then,” he says, and then shoves his hands in his pockets and walks out, head bowed.
Sam sighs, looks to Tony. “You wanna get this one?”
“Might take the two of us,” Tony says. “A Bucky Barnes mood is worse than a Dodgers moved to LA mood.”
“We need to work on your jokes too,” Sam advises him. “Bucky is not a thing the man can handle a joke about.”
“Why do you think I waited until he left the room? I am the epitome of tact.”
“Let me do the talking, okay? You hold his hand and make sympathetic noises.”
“That I can do. Lead the way, bird-boy.”
Clint watches them go. He feels bad for Steve, but not so bad that he’s going to forget about his own predicament. “What’s going to happen to me?” he asks, turning back to Thor, feeling more than a little disconcerted. “If there’s a version of me back there. If I get blown up by Nazis, will I die?”
Wanda looks at Thor, uncertain. “I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?”
“We are working on finding some more definite answers,” Thor says. “But at this moment, we do not know anything for certain.”
“It didn’t feel like this timeline when I checked,” Wanda ventures. “So if I’m right, that means you and your copy are separate, Anything he does won’t affect this timeline here.”
“But you don’t know that?” Clint asks. “I could - I don’t know, pull some shit back there and-”
“We don’t know,” Thor says. “I am going to speak with my mother; she or some of the other ladies of Asgard may know more about these matters. They may even know how to retrieve your counterpart before he can do anything that would have an impact on the present.”
“And bring him here?” Wanda asks. “I think one Clint is enough.”
“I shall find out,” Thor says. “Would you like to accompany me?”
“To Asgard?” Wanda asks, surprised. “But - what about - I cannot leave Pietro.”
“Of course you can,” Thor says. “Steve will look after him. Clint here will promise not to hurt him. And I believe he may be in hiding for quite some time.”
“Go,” Clint says with a sigh. “Go and find me some answers, learn some shit. But no staying out past eleven and no funny business with any big muscly Asgardians.”
“You are cute,” Wanda remarks, and kisses his forehead. “Stay safe.”
“I mean it!” he shouts as they turn to leave. “Thor! Keep her away from Fandral!”
He doesn’t get an answer, and he climbs out of the bed grumbling about what does he have to do to get some respect around here, why didn’t he get invited to Asgard, he’s the one who’s all screwed up by time. As he gets out of the bed, a machine next to him makes a soft beeping noise. He prods at the screen quizzically, and then when it doesn’t immediately cease beeping, he gives up and uplugs it.
“Well, this sucks,” he says to no-one in particular, feeling oddly abandoned. “I’m going back to bed.”
Clint was too late; the other soldiers were scrambling out of the foxhole, guns raised and ready. Not wanting to be left behind, Clint grabbed his bow and scrambled after them, reaching behind to pull an arrow from his quiver.
Oh my god, he thought. I’m following Bucky Barnes. I’m running after Bucky Barnes through Nazi occupied territory. The Time Stone has screwed me over and I am seventy years out of time and I am running after Bucky fucking Barnes.
“Keep up Iowa!” he heard Bucky - Jimmy, Sergeant Barnes, whoever the hell he was - yell over his shoulder. They broke through the edge of the woods and onto a road; the town came into view below them, dark and still. Bucky changed track and headed off the road towards a small, half-demolished outbuilding of some sort. The others followed and they all slid into the side of the building, all hitting their shoulders on the crumbling brickwork. Panting, Bucky looks to the others, crouched in the mud.
“Okay,” he panted, wiping a muddy hand on his pant leg. “Dunbar, you and Frank-”
Clint’s eyes were drawn up over Bucky’s shoulder as something moved. A hundred and ninety feet out. Behind a low, patchy hedge. The light wasn’t good but in a split second he spotted the minute differences in the uniform, the different shape of the helmet.
He stood up, drew, ignored the shout of alarm from one of the soldiers and released. The enemy soldier fell, and from nearby came the flash of gunfire. Bucky immediately whipped up and returned fire. Clint focused on the flashes; three more arrows and it stopped, winked out of existence in a heartbeat.
He dropped back down behind the building. “Got them.”
All three soldiers stared at him.
“No you didn’t,” Frank said, uncertain and shaky.
“That was like two hundred feet,” Bucky says. “In the dark. With a goddamn bow and arrow.”
“Told you I was a specialist,” Clint says. His heart was pounding, adrenaline thick in his veins. The panic was still there though, the surreal sensation of knowing he was out of time, that he wasn’t supposed to be there-
“Can we keep him?” Dunbar said. “I take it back. If he can wipe out Krauts without us having to go anywhere near them-”
“Shuddup Dunbar, lemme think,” Bucky said. His hand was trembling slightly and he flexed his fingers unconsciously. “Iowa, you see anything else out there?”
Clint stood up, eyes raking the surroundings. “No,” he said. “Can’t be sure, though.”
“Alright. You two, hold here, cover us. Me and Iowa are going to go in. You wait. You hear gunfire, you come into support. You don’t hear nothin’, you count to hundred then you come in.”
“So we come after you either way?”
“Shut up, Dunbar, I never claimed to be a genius,” Bucky says, peering around the corner. “I’m just making the best of what I’ve got.”
“You’re gonna get us killed one of these days, Sarge,” Dunbar said.
“I’m going first, ain’t I?” Bucky asked, fixing Dunbar with a grin that Clint suspected was fake. It fooled the other two though so he wasn’t going to say anything. “If anyone bites it, it’s me and the new guy.”
A distant pop of gunfire cut the fleeting amusement dead. Bucky checked his handgun - a Browning M1911 for god’s sake, they hadn’t been standard issue since the seventies, Clint could cry - and then looked to Clint. “You with me, Iowa?”
“Step ahead,” Clint said, and renocked the arrow. “Keep up, Sergeant.”
He climbed to his feet and pushed away from the wall, sprinting along the road towards the town. He used the buildings as cover, sharp eyes looking out for any movement. Bucky raced after him, quiet until they reached the town and ducked into the first building, working together to check they were safe.
“You do not get to tell me what to do,” Bucky told him matter-of-factly, nodding at Clint who ducked through another doorway, bow raised.
“Specialist. Yes I do,” Clint said. “Clear.”
Bucky edged past him, handgun raised. “Clear,” he confirmed. “What rank are you anyway?”
“Levelled out to specialist somewhere about first Lieutenant,” Clint told him. It wasn’t strictly true, but if he thought about his ranking within SHIELD it was about equivalent, and if talking in military terms made Bucky feel more comfortable then he’d do it.
“Shit, just what I need,” Bucky said. “Another asshole telling me what to do.”
They trod silently back out of the building and were about to head into the next when they heard voices from further down the street. Clint couldn't make out what was being said, but Bucky's face broke into a relieved grin.
“Holy cow, thank christ for that! Come on, Iowa!”
Before Clint could object, Bucky took off down the street, jogging towards the noise. His booted feet splashed in the mud but he carried on unconcerned. “Barnes!” Clint hissed, and then took off after him with a groan.
The voices became clearer and then around the corner he saw lights and the figures of more American soldiers. The fight was clearly over, the town secured and Clint could only gape, utterly lost and feeling like he was in a dream. His feet moved without his permission or awareness, the cold of the night biting at his skin reminding him that he was there, that is was real-
“Hey, Sergeant Barnes, better late than never!”
There was a burst of laughter in response to the shout, and Bucky slowed to a walk. “Why, you miss me?” he called back, mouth curved in a roguish grin.
“Like a hole in the head!” someone else yelled back, to much hilarity. The men were rowdy and raucous; for some the relief at getting through the day unscathed turned into boisterous conversation and jostling. A few guys all stood smoking cigarettes waved at Bucky as he walked past.
“What did you do with Dunbar?”
“Thought you were toast, Sarge!”
“Hey Sarge, who's the new guy?”
Bucky ignored the shouts and carried on walking. “Hey, Lewis!” he shouted at a man lounging against a post. “You seen Captain Hall?”
“Yeah, he's in the new CP with Major Wintergreen. The building with the door, end of street.”
Bucky grinned over his shoulder at Clint. “Good news, if anyone it’s Major Wintergreen who’ll know where you're supposed to be.”
‘Not so sure about that,’ Clint privately thought, but he allowed Bucky to shove him in the direction of the run-down hotel that was temporarily being knocked into shape as a Command Post. A few men were crowded around desk laid out with a map, and all around people were ducking in and out of the room, carrying boxes and bags.
Bucky snapped to attention and the Major nodded, waving his hand. “At ease. Good to see you in one piece, son.”
“Sorry, Sir. We got cut off in the woods, a few stragglers that we took care of,” Bucky explained. “Dunbar and Jones are on the way, and we found this guy. Says he a specialist.”
Both faces turned to Clint, who shuffled uncomfortably under the scrutiny. The room suddenly seemed a lot smaller and his pulse was skipping uncomfortably. Man, he wanted to go home. What was taking so long? How the hell was he even going to get home?
“A specialist? Doesn't look like a specialist to me,” the Major said, slowly getting to his feet. Clint’s panic rose a notch, a small inside voice just wanting to break down and say ‘I’m not a specialist, I’m lying like Natasha taught me, I’m from the future, I’m meant to be in 2016, someone get me home, someone call the Avengers and get help.’
He didn’t. He squashed down the panic and did his very best to act like the Avenger he was supposed to be.
With that in mind, he straightened up and saluted. “Specialist Clint Barton,” he said clearly. “I’m part of a unit commissioned by the SSR. They sent me in for combat experience? Hell of a missdrop though, I’m supposed to be a mile out of Rouen.”
There was a long pause in which Clint was able to imagine himself being arrested, court-martialed, tortured and executed, and then the Major sighed explosively, making him jump.
“Damn SSR. Turning up at every damn corner, claiming priority on resources, trying to poach the best men we've got. And now you!” he said, irritably gesturing at Clint. “Dropping you out here like some sort of Robin Hood, when we’d be better off with a serious amount of ammunition and the rest of Baker company, wherever the hell they are!”
Next to him, Bucky rocked back on his heels, hands clasped behind his back and head tipped back. His lips were pressed together tightly and it looked very much like he wanted to laugh. Oddly, his amusement made Clint feel better. Almost like he had a friend at his side.
“Which unit?” the Major asked Clint abruptly, who racked his brains to try and remember what he knew of the historic SSR. Inwardly, he sent out a fervent thanks to the ghost of Phil Coulson for all the useless World War Two SSR trivia he’d unwittingly filled Clint’s brain with while enthusing about Captain America. He could remember two words that night get him out of trouble here: one was a SSR initiative to train - and biologically enhance - agents with very specialised skills and drop them into strategically vulnerable spots. The other was a project to enhance handheld weapons with enriched uranium. He didn’t have any nuclear arrows in his quiver, so his only option was to pretend that his better than average eyesight was a result of SSR fuckery.
However, remembering which one was which was proving slightly problematic.
“I asked you which unit,” the Major repeated slowly. Bucky looked at Clint, brow furrowed.
“Major Evans. Under General Phillips. Uh, the November Initiative?”
“Of course,” the Major said, and Clint almost collapsed in relief. “Alright, I'm requisitioning you,” the Major said abruptly. “He dropped you here, we’re keeping you. Whatever rank Evans’ had you as, you consider yourself a private here. Barnes, you take him and tell Lieutenant Turner he’s gained a specialist for the company. Whichever platoon he sticks him in, I don’t care.”
“Get your papers and your ID in order and we’ll get you listed,” the Major said to Clint. “And see what you can do about getting yourself a proper uniform. Not having you wandering around in that black getup, you’re likely to get yourself shot.”
“Yes Sir,” Clint echoed, and then the Major dismissed them with a wave of his hand. He followed Bucky out of the room back into the street, watching as soldiers walked past, the whole place a hive of activity.
“So, private,” Bucky grinned at him, jostling him with his elbow. “Now I get to tell you what to do.”
Mind still reeling, Clint swallowed his uncertainty and forced a grin back. “Yeah. I guess you do.”
Somewhere in a Hydra lab far, far away, the Asset is causing issues.
He has been dreaming. Dreaming of someone he cautiously, carefully feels like he knows.
The technicians are panicking. They have been ever since he woke up with questions about the man with the blond hair and bright eyes. The smell of metal and blood. Ink blue skies lit with fire. Cold mud, the crack of gunfire. A lopsided helmet, unbuckled. A shaky grin, shouted words.
The Asset hears them talking, observes them frantically gesturing at monitors on the outside of his cage. He idly listens, sitting still and staring at the bars in front of him, a few feet from his face. They are electrified, he knows from experience. They don’t really hurt him if he touches them, but the current is strong enough to bite at his left arm and then the technicians have to reset it, and he hates them touching his arm. It is his. A small rebellious thought, because he’s often told that the arm belongs to Hydra.
“He shouldn’t be dreaming of someone he knows, he has no episodic memories!”
“Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he’s mistaken.”
“We should call in.”
“He’s scheduled for a mission in three hours, we call in with just a feeling that something is wrong and we’ll be strung up. Let’s just wipe him again.”
The cage clicks open, the machinery next to him whirs to life, and the Asset feels his stomach drop.