The lights are blinding. He can barely see a thing through the glare that has lit them up, open and exposed. The white circle pins them in place, the thudding of the helicopter above their heads reverberating through his chest. People are bellowing at them, telling him to get down, to lower his weapon. Sirens are wailing. The rain continues to fall, a mist visible in the bright lights that are pointing mercilessly at them.
Clint stands his ground. He keeps his bow raised, muscles protesting as he stands straight up at full draw, pointing it at the people who are surrounding them, guns drawn. Water drips from his hair; it’s soaked through, plastered to his forehead. His clothes are all sodden, clinging clammy and wet to his skin. There’s blood mixed in with the water as well, orange-red rivulets running down his face and arms.
Behind him, Bucky’s harsh breathing is still audible. He’s on his knees, shoulder pressing heavily into the back of Clint’s legs. He’s holding his right arm tightly to his chest with his left, shaking in what Clint assumes is pain. He’s still bleeding.
“Stand down,” a modulated voice echoes through the night, amplified by speakers. More white lights dance across the ground, sweeping searchlights. “The Winter Soldier is under arrest. Stand down.”
“Go,” Bucky manages to say, voice thick with pain. “Barton-”
“Not a fucking chance,” Clint replies, and doesn’t budge an inch. “They’re not having you.”
“They are not having you,” he snarls, because despite having next to no fucking clue how he’s ended up here, he knows that much without a doubt. It’s all flashing through his mind, memories and questions alike. How did he end up here, surrounded by what looks like an entire fucking Spec Ops unit, all with guns pointing straight at him? How did he end up here with Bucky fucking Barnes slumped against his legs, bleeding out over the sidewalk? The last few months are a blur to him, time and days bleeding together, and all he can surmise from it is that somewhere along the line he got to the point where he’s willing to defend Bucky Barnes with his life-
One of the Spec Ops soldiers breaks away from the line. He steps slowly, boots audible as they advance heavily across the wet asphalt. His gun is raised.
Clint swallows. Blinks water out of his eyes.
“Barnes, I think we’re finally fucked.”
Four months earlier.
Clint nurses his beer between his hands, rolling the glass between his palms. The label is starting to peel off and it’s not even cold anymore but he doesn’t really care. Beer is beer after all, and his grimy surroundings are infinitely better when viewed through both alcohol and sunglasses.
He drains the bottle, gestures to the barkeep for another. He sets the empty bottle on the bar, nudging it over until it’s perfectly in line with the other empty ones. The barkeep just passes another one over without question or comment, and Clint grunts in thanks.
He can’t actually remember the last time he spoke to another person. He doesn’t have to even ask for a drink in this shithole anymore; he just turns up, sits at the bar and the guy immediately passes over another of the same beers that Clint has been drinking for the better part of a month.
Even the super-nice guy who had been staying in the room next to his in the motel had stopped with the pleasantries after he’d found Clint throwing up on the doorstep one morning a couple of weeks back. Clint can’t say he really blames him.
Behind him, there’s the sharp clack of balls knocking together on the pool table; he doesn’t quite suppress the automatic flinch, but he does resist the urge to turn around and check that the sound isn’t anything else more threatening. He can hear the murmur of conversation, glasses clinking together, the rush of a tap running somewhere and he hates it. He was always alert to sounds in his environment, but he’s only been this hyperaware and discomfited by it since New York.
“-and for you all of you Avengers fans out there, news about town is that the team that saved New York from an alien invasion a year ago are reassembling once again. Captain America was seen entering Stark Tower in the early hours of this morning-”
Through the jarring layers of sound, the voice of the news anchor cuts through with a sudden clarity, not louder but more obvious than the rest. Clint looks up at the TV that’s on the wall behind the bar without thinking about it. The overly-perky news anchor is gone, replaced by wobbly second-rate footage of Steve Rogers walking into Stark Tower, greeted at the door by Tony himself. Steve is looking tired, ignoring the reporters who are calling out to him and the flashes of the cameras, allowing Tony to steer him into the tower with a hand in the small of his back.
“Dude, you alright?”
Clint realises he’s been staring at the television for almost a full minute, beer bottle suspended in front of his face, about an inch from his mouth. He blinks and lowers the bottle, shaking his head and looking away from the TV. The news anchor is back, speculating about when the rest of the Avengers are going to show up in New York.
“Yup,” he says easily, flicking his thumb over the label of the bottle and avoiding eye contact. “Turn that shit off, will you?”
The guy reaches for the remote and flicks the channel over to a basketball game without comment. Either he has no idea who Clint actually is, or he’s the most tactful barkeep on the West Coast. Either way, Clint doesn’t give a shit. He’s just glad that the channel was changed so he didn’t have to see if his name was included on the speculative list of reassembling Avengers.
He takes a mouthful of his beer, thinking about what it means that Steve has gone to New York, to Tony. Especially after the mess that Steve was dragged through in DC, with SHIELD and the Winter soldier. Is it a one-off? Are the others aware, or involved?
God, he hopes that they don’t expect him to go back, because he’s not going to.
He finishes his beer and signals for another. He takes it without a word, hunching his shoulders and staring down at the bar in front of him. Across the room a chair screeches on the floorboards as it's pushed back and Clint flinches, this time hard enough so that his hand jerks and slops beer all over his wrist. He curses, setting the bottle down and flicking his hand to get the worst off. He wipes the rest on his jeans and takes a deep steadying breath; his temper often rises without warning these days, catching him unawares and leaving him furious over such simple things that he honestly despairs with himself.
Movement in front of him makes him jerk back again, elbow snapping up defensively as if he’s blocking a blow. It’s just the barkeep though, and all he does in dump a dishcloth and another beer in front of Clint, even though he’s not yet finished the last one. Clint would make a joke about the presumption, but he can’t be bothered.
“Jumpy,” the barkeep comments. “You a soldier or something?”
Clint considers telling him to fuck off, but then just picks up the dishcloth and wipes his hands properly, tossing it back onto the bar. “Do I look like a soldier?”
“You look like you’ve had a rough time,” the barkeep says, taking the dishcloth back. “Seen a few guys get back from a tour with that look. You know. Jumpy.”
Clint just shrugs, picks up the beer. “Maybe I’m just a jumpy kind of guy.”
The barkeep looks up at him from where he’s absently wiping down the bar with the dishcloth, and Clint recognises polite disbelief when he sees it. The guy doesn’t challenge Clint on it though, he just shrugs and says “maybe,” and moves down the bar to serve someone else.
Clint watches him go, and reaches for his beer again.
Ten yards. Ten yards really isn’t that far, is it? Clint takes another unsteady step across the parking lot, and then has to hastily step sideways to keep from overbalancing. He hops unsteadily on one foot, and vaguely thinks this would be easier if he didn’t have his hands shoved in his jacket pockets and wasn’t wearing sunglasses at three AM.
He can see the bright lights of the motel sign easily enough, even if the letters keep sliding out of focus. Eh, it doesn’t matter, he’s been more drunk than this before and managed to hit a nickel sized target from ninety yards. All he’s got to manage tonight – this morning – is getting back into his motel room, should be a piece of cake.
He steps forwards again, the world around him rolling lazily past even though he’s not turning his head or moving his eyes. He has to pause for a moment, staggering sideways and checking his hip against the tailgate of a pickup that’s parked in the lot. A truck blares past on the road behind him, lights sweeping over the parking lot momentarily before vanishing again, moving on through the night.
He breathes in and out deeply through his mouth, head swimming. He looks up, squinting as he tries to pick out his door amongst the nine he can see in front of him.
“Another night of five star accommodation,” he slurs, sweeping an arm out at the motel, listing backwards and feeling the tailgate handle of the pickup pressing into his spine. “Phil, if you’re watching me, you better not be doing the frown. Who am I fucking kidding, of course you're frowning. Remember the frown when you picked me up after that night in the storm drain. And that night I slept in a ditch. And under that bar in Portland, and the fire escape in New Jersey. Wow, why did you put up with me?”
Of course, there is no answer. Sometimes Clint can imagine what the reply would be, memories of Phil’s voice shaping new phrases and answers in his mind. This time there’s nothing but an aching silence, throbbing in time with the alcohol that’s pounding against the inside of his skull.
Grunting with effort, he pushes himself away from the pickup. He makes it three steps and then he trips up the kerb. He manages to wrench a hand out of his pocket just in time to prevent himself smashing face first into the sidewalk, but he lands heavily and painfully on his shoulder and still manages to scrape his face against the concrete.
He starts to laugh, thinking of the look that would be on Phil’s face if he could see him now. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder and chin, he pushes himself onto his back, still laughing. Above him, the sky slowly revolves, stars waltzing lazily across the inky expanse.
Still laughing. he closes his eyes, feels tears slide down from the corners of his eyes, across his temples and into his hair.
“What do I do, Phil?”
The only answer he receives is silence.
Clint wakes up the next afternoon feeling like he’s been hit by a truck, and wearily acknowledging that he has no-one to blame but himself. He drags himself into a sitting position on the edge of his bed, hissing in pain as his shoulder protests the movement. God, his stomach is churning and his head is pounding and his chin is stinging. He remembers falling in the parking lot the night before and groans softly, shaking his head and then wishing he hadn’t.
It takes another hour sleeping, three cups of coffee, four glasses of water, more advil than strictly advisable and a shower before he’s feeling vaguely human again. He perches on the edge of his bed again, towel draped over his head as he roughly towels it dry. The TV is on in the background, a comforting murmur of noise that is preferable to silence.
He’s reaching back over the bed to grab his shirt when his ears snatch the phrase ‘Winter Soldier’ from the television. He automatically turns around, but all he sees is the same footage that’s been circulated a thousand times over already, with a few wide shots of the areas of the city that are still wrecked. He listens for a moment, but quickly surmises that it’s nothing more than another ‘why the hell isn’t Captain America here fixing this mess, look at our roads and buildings which got wrecked, never mind that he saved us all from death at the hands of a highly evolved terrorist organisation, whose taxes are paying for the damage’ debate.
It’s so stupid, that some people actually think the physical destruction is the big issue here.
Clint watches the rest of the news report dispassionately, knowing he should care more than he does. He can’t. The news report cuts away from the recording of some senators speech about accountability, recapping on the actual events of DC and once again showing footage of Steve fighting the Winter soldier on the streets. The footage is from a cell-phone, shaky in places but clear enough for everyone to see every punch and kick, every flash of metal in the sun. Hell, by this point Clint has the fight memorised blow-by-blow, he’s watched it that many times. He’s even fucking dreaming about it, though he’s not complaining. If he dreams about that then he’s not dreaming about Loki and Phil.
He abruptly reaches out and turns the TV off. Maybe once upon a time, Clint would have been able to help. He would have been there with Steve and Natasha, and been able to actually do something. Maybe, if New York had never happened.
He stops himself there. New York had happened, Loki had happened, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s perfectly content with his motel-hopping, identity falsifying, Avenger-avoiding life at the moment, and he has no intention of changing it anytime soon.
Of course, the universe hates Clint Barton. He’s no sooner started thinking about the Avengers again – fucking Steve Rogers, unable to keep his damn face off the news for five god damn minutes– when his policy of avoidance abruptly becomes a hell of a lot harder.
It’s a week since the drunken falling in the parking lot incident and he’s in a shitty diner in the town that the motel is on the edge of, eating a burger that he’s pretty sure is solely responsible for every case of heart disease in the local area. It’s dark out already, and the waitress keeps giving him ‘please go home so I can clear up and go home too’ looks. Clint doesn't care; by his watch he’s got another thirty minutes before the place officially closes, so until then he’s going to stay exactly where he is, eating his burger and reading a newspaper that someone left behind on the counter.
There’s nothing in the paper that’s at all interesting, except the picture on page four. It shows Steve climbing into Tony’s Audi outside of a restaurant in New York that’s so upmarket that Clint probably wouldn’t be allowed to step through the door. Steve is dutifully ignoring the paparazzi, face turned away and towards Tony, who is already in the driver’s seat. Tony’s got his hand on the wheel, head and shoulders ducked as he leans over towards Steve, expression impatient. His mouth is open, clearly midway through saying something to Steve.
Clint is looking at the picture, distantly contemplative, when his phone buzzes in his pocket. It hasn’t been used for weeks, and he’s often wondered why he bothers carrying it anymore anyway. Coffee cup in one hand, he pulls it out, willing to bet that it’s just his service provider-
Time to stop running. Come back in.
It’s from Natasha.
He slowly puts his cup down. He stares at the screen, and he doesn’t feel anything. He’s not glad, not panicked, not anything. He carefully runs his thumb over the screen, trying to work out what to do. Should he go back? Should he message her and get her to come and pick him up, take him to New York to work with Tony and Steve, to be part of the team that he nearly killed less than a year ago?
He turns his phone off. He turns it over in his hands and slides the back of the case off, before taking the battery out of the back. He twists the sim free and snaps it in half, and then scoops up all the pieces and shoves them into his pocket. With his other hand he pulls out his wallet and drops a twenty on the table before grabbing his backpack and leaving the diner, stepping out into the night.
He breathes out deeply, glancing left and right along the sidewalk. He spots what he’s looking for about eight or nine yards away, and walks over to the storm-drain without hesitating. He pulls the remains of the phone out of his pocket and drops it down the hole at his feet. He hears it clatter against the concrete, and then nothing.
He stares down at the drain for a moment, and then walks away.
Clint goes back to the motel. He doesn’t rush, even though he knows that Natasha might already be looking for him. Part of him thinks that she’ll interpret his lack of reply to her message as his decision to not come back in, and she’ll let it go. Another part of him thinks she’ll never let it go and will attempt to drag him back even if he’s kicking and screaming.
Time to take his Avenger-avoiding to the next level.
He kicks the door shut behind him; it doesn’t latch but he doesn’t bother to go back and close it properly, because all he’s going to do is grab all his stuff and hightail it out of there as soon as possible. He snatches up his jacket and shoves it roughly into his bag, then vaults over the bed and opens the cupboard, pulling his bow and its case out. He drops the case onto the bed and opens it one handed to check all his arrows are there-
A noise makes him look up, and he freezes in place, hands still on the case.
There’s a figure standing in his doorway, still as a statue.
Clint stares at the figure, and the figure stares back. Whoever it is, they’re wearing dark jeans and a hooded top, the hood pulled up and casting his face in shadow. Bright eyes glint in the light, and so does the stranger’s left hand.
The stranger’s left hand.
Clint barely thinks; he lunges forwards and grabs an arrow even as he hears advancing bootsteps. Adrenaline screaming through his system, he nocks the arrow and wheels around to shoot; the arrow flies true and hits the stranger in his shoulder, just above his collarbone. The stranger jerks back with the impact, but then he’s moving again, and Clint is grabbing another arrow but the stranger is almost as quick as he is. The second arrow also flies true, but it hits the other shoulder but with a metallic clink and then falls away, then the stranger is right there; there’s a flash of silver through the air and Clint instinctively turns away and then there’s a shock of dull pain-
Gasping, he kicks out violently and sends the stranger staggering backwards. He looks down to his right and he sees blood, fuck, that’s a lot of blood, his shirt is torn and there’s blood soaking through the purple material, running down his arm in thin scarlet rivers, dripping off his wrist. Oh fucking god no, not his shoulder, if that thing has gone anywhere near his fucking rotator tendons then he’s done for, and he won’t even be a guy with good aim anymore, he’ll just be a guy-
In absolute agony, he struggles to his knees again and tries to reach out for another arrow, and why does he never go into shock when he gets shot or stabbed, why does it always fucking hurt so fucking much? He manages to get another arrow nocked, but a hand grabs his bow and pushes it up and back, and a second, metal hand shoots out and grabs his throat. He chokes and lets go of his bow with one hand to try and prise the metal off-
“Stop,” a voice snarls, and Clint’s usually unreliable sense of self-preservation tells him he doesn’t have a choice because he can’t move and he can barely breathe; all he’s going to get by fighting is more injured. Spots dancing in front of his eyes, he deliberately goes limp and stops fighting, and abruptly finds himself nose to nose with the Winter Soldier.
The fingers on his throat are still tight enough to make drawing breath difficult, and the Winter Soldier’s other hand is still, keeping the bow out of range. He’s crouched down in-between Clint’s legs, and he’s wearing jeans and a goddamn hoodie, eyes bright and jaw covered in days’ worth of stubble. The arrow is still sticking out of his shoulder but he barely seems to notice. Clint can only desperately think that he should have shot him somewhere much more lethal.
It’s shocking to see him this close without the mask he’d been wearing during the fight in DC; it sends a shiver down Clint’s spine as he acknowledges that beneath the uniform the Winter Soldier is just a guy like the rest of them. A guy with dark hair and light eyes, who people could pass by on the street without a second glance.
There’s a long, tense, painful moment and then to Clint’s shock the Winter Soldier slowly relaxes his fingers and lets go of his neck.
They sit there, faces only two feet apart, neither moving. The moment stretches out, pulling tense like a drawn bowstring. Clint breathes shallowly, trying to ignore the pain in his shoulder, trying to work out how to get out of this alive. He can feel blood still trickling sluggishly down his arm, running down to his elbow and dripping onto the carpet.
The Winter Soldier is the first to move. He shifts backwards, away from Clint, glancing at his shoulder for a moment before reaching up with his metal hand and grasping the shaft of the arrow that’s embedded in his shoulder. He breathes out through his nose and then pulls the arrow out of his shoulder in one smooth slide. He throws it aside, and it clatters against the wall. Blood slowly seeps through the grey t-shirt that he’s wearing.
“You know Captain America,” the Winter Soldier breaks the silence, voice rough and low. “You’re the one they’re calling the Missing Avenger.”
Chest shuddering as he draws in another painful breath, Clint tries to think. ‘I’m not an Avenger,’ is what he wants to say, but he can’t draw a deep enough breath.
There’s noise outside; light footsteps and voices and then a scream, piercing through the air like a blade. The Winter Soldier whips around and Clint looks up, and they see a young woman standing a little way back from the doorway, staring into the room and looking horrified, before turning and fleeing, calling out for someone in a frantic voice.
“Blya,” the Winter Soldier curses harshly, and then looks back at Clint, eyes boring into him. “I need you to come with me.”
Clint’s head swims, he opens his mouth. Feels his stomach roil. “Fuck you,” he manages to say, hoping that it fully conveys his violent objections to being jumped and stabbed by a wanted fugitive.
The Winter Soldier recoils slightly, just enough for Clint to notice. Something flickers over his face, something broken and bent out of shape, and in his eyes is the barest hint of desperation. Wait, this is the guy that caused such carnage in DC, that put Steve and Nat through seven degrees of hell? The most infamous assassin this side of the Second World War, looking like he’s about to break down at Clint’s feet?
Breathing heavily, Clint looks at him, perplexed frown dipping his brows, lips parted in question. “Who are you?”
It’s the wrong thing to say. The Soldier’s face shutters, and he draws back, standing up and looking down at Clint, expression not betraying a single thought. For one wild moment Clint thinks he's going to be left there, but then the soldier bends down and grabs him under his arms, hauling Clint up. Gasping in pain and trying to find his feet, Clint stumbles, gripping hold of his left arm with his right hand just under where the wound is, trying not to think about it-
“Don’t touch it,” the soldier says curtly, and he shoves Clint back against the wall, propping him against it. Then he’s turning away and grabbing Clint’s bag, swinging it onto his shoulder. He bends down and grabs Clint’s bow; he examines it for a second and then pushes it against Clint’s chest so that he’s got no choice but to grab it in one fumbling, blood-stained hand. The Soldier then scoops up the arrows that litter the carpet, packing them back into the case quickly and efficiently before snapping it shut and standing up.
“Move,” he commands, and when Clint doesn’t move he reaches out and grabs his shirt again, shoving him across the room towards the door. Clint tries to dig his heels in but finds himself unceremoniously hauled out of the room and into the dark parking lot, and the Winter Soldier drags him over to a the closest car, a black sedan, propping him up against the passenger door as he makes short work of the locks.
“Get in,” the Soldier says, and Clint’s bow is pulled from his hands, and then he’s shoved into the passenger seat of the car, every jolt of his arm absolute agony up and down, right from his neck down to his fingertips. Hands grab his ankles and swing his legs into the car, pushing them over so he doesn’t slide straight back out of the door into the dirt. His vision is going blurry around the edges and exhaustion and shock and pain and blood-loss are all bearing down on him like freight trains.
He hears the driver’s door open and slam, the thump of bags being thrown in the back. The engine rumbles to life beneath him, and his head lolls back against the seat and somewhere vaguely in the back of his mind he’s thinking I’ve just been kidnapped by the damn Winter Soldier.
Fuck it. Being kidnapped doesn’t really matter if you’re going to die of blood-loss anyway.
A cold hand touches his face and a warm one is on his neck, checking for a pulse. He tries to reach up and shove it away, but unconsciousness is right there, dragging him under into nothingness.
Clint feels the rumbling of the car beneath him, his body moving and swaying fractionally with the motion. He feels light headed, drunk and dazed. His arm is on fire. His hand is numb. He thinks he opens his eyes once to see the interior of a car, a hooded figure with the steering wheel gripped tightly in metal hands. The figure looks at him and his eyes are bright, too bright, bright ice-blue like he’s looking in a mirror with Loki standing at his shoulder.
Sometimes he thinks he’s still, sometimes he thinks he’s dead, and then he’s back in the car and the world is tearing away from him as the engine roars and eats up the miles. He’s pushed and pulled by strong hands, his own body limp and uncooperative, unattached to his mind.
Phil is there, sad and pale in his dreams, but Clint is sucked away from him down into the blackness again. Natasha takes his place, furious and deadly. A figure with eyes that aren’t too bright hovers in front of him, and he remembers things pushed into his mouth, his jaw held shut until he swallows. Water against his dry lips.
The chaos in his fevered mind slowly gives way to sleep. The screaming in his head fades back into nothingness, and the world settles back into weariness and silence.
Clint slowly tries to open his eyes, head pounding and whole body aching. He feels shaky and weak, but no longer sick and feverish. The light makes pain spike in the back of his skull so he shuts his eyelids again, swallowing hard and letting his other senses do the work. He’s once again lying on his back on a bed; the mattress is lumpy and the blanket scratchy, and he feels like he hasn’t eaten or had a drink in weeks. His shoulder aches and throbs in time with his heartbeat, but he can wriggle all of his fingers so he supposes that’s something. His shirt is gone; he can tell by the way he feels the rough blankets against his shoulder blades. There’s a constriction around his shoulder and chest that doesn’t quite feel right. Clumsily, he reaches up with his left hand to carefully touch his fingertips to his shoulder, and with one touch realises that the constriction he feels is a bandage, wrapped neatly and tightly around his upper arm, shoulder and chest.
Oh yeah. Being stabbed by the Winter Soldier, that would explain it.
Though he doesn’t quite have an explanation for why he’s bandaged up and lying on a bed, rather than bleeding out in the bottom of a ditch somewhere. Has someone found him? Did the Soldier leave him behind somewhere, did he somehow get away? He tries to sift through his recent memories of what has happened since he was attacked and kidnapped, but he finds he can’t even work out how long ago it was, never mind discerning which memories are real and which are products of his fevered state of semi-unconsciousness.
“Welcome back,” a rough voice says tiredly, and Clint goes very, very still. Well, that answers his earlier questions then.
He swallows thickly, wishing violently that he could hope that Phil Coulson was on the way to fish his sorry ass out of this mess and wondering how the hell this is his life. “Not a dream, then,” he says hoarsely.
“No,” the voice says quietly, unapologetically. The Soldier sounds exhausted, rough around the edges, and it takes Clint’s mind a couple of moments to realise that that doesn’t sit quite right.
Clint slowly opens his eyes again, blinking hard. He shifts and frowns; he can’t move his feet properly and there’s something uncomfortable and cold pressing against the skin of his ankles. He looks down and belatedly realises his feet are cuffed together.
Clint hears rustling, shuffling and a click, then the sharp smell of cigarette smoke. He looks over again and sees the soldier is sitting on his ass against the door, knees brought up to his chest and cigarette held between his non-metal fingers. His eyes are on Clint, his face tired and otherwise expressionless. He’s still wearing the same hooded jacket with the hood pulled up, despite how warm it is.
Clint looks away, swallowing thickly. Shit. Fucking shit, how does he even get into these messes? He’s been kidnapped by the Winter Soldier and cuffed to a bed in a goddamn motel room, and the worst part of it is that he doesn’t have a clue why. He’s not an Avenger anymore, he didn’t go near DC, he had nothing to do with it. What could the Winter Soldier possibly want with him?
He breathes out deeply and tries to rally his thoughts, collecting what he knows and what he doesn’t know and forming as complete a picture as he can. He knows he’s being held by the Winter Soldier. He knows the Winter Soldier blew up half of DC on behalf of Hydra. He knows the winter Soldier did his damnest to kill Captain America, but didn’t manage it. Everything else he’s heard since is just rumour and speculation, so he’s not going to count it. He also knows that the Soldier has, for some reason, managed to track his non-existent trail across the country. Oh yeah, and he’s also insanely quick and strong and has shown willingness to stab people.
With that in mind, things are looking pretty dire right about now. The only conclusions he can draw is that he still doesn’t have a fucking clue why he’s here, and that he’s quite probably in some serious trouble.
He looks up around the room, cataloguing his surroundings. His heart leaps as he spots his bow against the wall, propped up in the corner, but the relief is short lived. He’s injured, tired and weak. There is one door out of the room, which the soldier is sitting in front of, and one window which is narrow and high. That combined with the fact his feet are cuffed together puts his chances of escape at around zero. He can almost hear Phil’s voice in his head. Plan A, escape. Plan B if plan A is not an option; pacify, gain information, play along, then escape. Plan C if A and B are not options, sit tight and let us come and get you.
“You need any painkillers?”
The quiet voice catches Clint off guard. He looks over again, relaying the words in his head to check he just heard that right, feeling wrong-footed. “What?” he manages to say, and he pushes himself up into a sitting position, hating how vulnerable he feels lying on his back. “Do I want any - why are you-? What?”
The soldier looks away, cigarette smoke curling out of his mouth and around his face, around the hood of his jacket. The blinds are drawn across the window in the room, creating strips of mellow light which fall across the soldiers face, alternating with soft stripes of shadows. He flicks the ash off the end of the cigarette, reaches up with his metal fingers and pushes his unkempt hair back out of his face under his hood. His movements are all slow and deliberate, almost lazy. He reminds Clint of a big cat, lethargic movements hiding a quick side, a deadly side.
“I didn’t plan to hurt you,” he says, and his voice is New York American, a hint of some suburb creeping in around the edges. “You were just quicker than I thought you’d be, and I thought you’d be shooting to kill.”
There’s a thousand things Clint could say in response to that. Something about only killing on sight when his boss gives him the order. Maybe something about Avengers not condoning killing, but then he’s not an Avenger anymore so it’s not worth saying anyway. He just shrugs instead, and then hedges his bets and swings his legs off the edge of the bed so he’s sat facing the soldier. The carpet is coarse and rough under his bare feet and the cuffs around his ankles clink, the metal of the bands pressing unforgivingly into his skin.
The soldier watches him, eyes tracking Clint’s movements, but he doesn’t object or even respond. Clint shifts, running his hands down his thighs and feeling like he’s trapped in a cage with a wild animal. Yeah, the guy seems calm enough now, but Clint doesn’t think it’d take a lot for him to snap.
“I thought you were shooting to kill,” Clint finally says, a counter to the soldier’s previous comment. “Stabbing to kill, whatever.”
The soldier doesn’t reply straight away. He takes a deep drag on his cigarette, chest rising, holds his breath for a moment and then exhales heavily, eyes still on Clint. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he finally says. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Yeah, no, not believing that,” Clint says. “You are aware of what you did in DC, right?”
The soldier shuts his eyes for a long moment. He lifts the cigarette to his mouth again but then appears to change his mind, lowering his hand. He rubs at his brow with his metal fingertips, and then nods, eyes still covered by his hand.
“It,” he says, and his voice cracks, his chin trembles. He stops, nostrils flaring as he breathes in and out heavily, trying to compose himself. “It was my mission,” he finally says with a heavy exhale, and then lowers his hand. His eyes are too bright, and Clint doesn’t understand what‘s going on here, not one bit.
He keeps quiet, and watches as the soldier seems to get it together, slowly moving. He extinguishes the cigarette by crushing the end between two metal fingers, tossing it into the trashcan before leaning forwards and reaching for a duffel bag that’s on the floor next to the bathroom door. Clint tenses but all the solder pulls out is a newspaper, battered and torn. The soldier carefully folds it in half, and then stands up, holding it out to Clint.
Against his better judgement, Clint takes it, reaching out with his uninjured arm and wordlessly taking the paper. He sets it on his knee and looks down at the picture that’s splashed across the page. It’s the Avengers in New York during the battle; Cap is in the middle at the front, flanked by Iron Man and Thor. Natasha and the Hulk are visible on the edge of the picture, and right behind Cap is Clint, easily visible between Steve and Tony’s shoulders.
Someone has taken a marker pen to the page and circled both Steve and Clint.
“What is this? Targets?” Clint forces himself to say, voice shaky. His heart is fluttering like a frightened bird as he looks down on the picture, trying not to think about New York, trying not to let his mind wander back there. He shakes his head and pulls himself together as best he can.
“Not targets,” the soldier says, stepping back and sinking to the floor again, sitting in exactly the same spot he had occupied before. “I need to know everything there is about Captain America.”
Clint swallows, looks up. The wave of panic is fading, shoved mercilessly into submission somewhere deep in his chest. “You want,” he begins to repeat, confused and blindsided. “No, I’m not helping you to hunt down-”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” the soldier interrupts. “Trust me-”
“Trust you? I’ve seen the footage bro, what you did,” Clint says. “And now you’re saying you won’t hurt him?”
Too quick to properly process, the soldier surges to his feet and steps forwards again. Clint flinches, but the soldier simply drops onto one knee at Clint’s feet, reaches out with the metal hand, grabs the chain of the cuffs and snaps it with one efficient tug. He stands up again and moves backwards, eyes on Clint’s. He walks backwards and then slowly sits down again.
Clint shifts his feet, now completely thrown. He looks down at the broken cuffs and then up at the soldier again, unable to fully comprehend the action, clearly saturated with intention and subtext. It’s about trust, he thinks. This guy wants me to trust him, he’s trying to show that I can.
“Why do you want to know about Cap?” he asks again, helplessly. “You tried to kill him.”
“My mission was to kill the Captain,” the soldier says, and something flickers in his eyes again, the something that’s bent and broken. “I tried. But something happened- I’d been told to kill him, he was my mission, but something else was telling me I shouldn’t and I need to know,” he breaks off, shaking his head. “I need to know why.”
Silence follows his words. Clint doesn’t know what to say, what to do. He wants to check the box that says ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ because with this whole situation is starting to reek of crazy, and he wants nothing to do with it.
Christ, a few days ago his only worry was keeping out of Natasha’s immediate range and getting through the days, and now he’s here, tangled up in this whole mess of a situation that he wants to be as far away as possible from. This is Steve’s mess by the sounds of things, not his.
“Why didn’t you go direct and find Cap?” Clint breaks the silence, still sounding somewhat helpless. “Why do you need me?”
The soldier moves again, turning his face towards the window, strips of shadow sliding across his face as he moves, highlighting his cheekbones and the lightness of his eyes. He looks exhausted, Clint thinks. Oddly vulnerable.
“I don’t want to hurt him,” the soldier says again, and what is this, the third time he’s repeated that he’s not going to hurt anyone? “I need to know more before I see him again.”
“Then why me?” Clint says, looking at the newspaper again, the black circle scrawled messily around his face. Fuck, it seems like a lifetime ago that he stood there, shoulder to shoulder with heroes. Almost like it happened to someone else.
“I figured one of the Avengers would know most about him,” the soldier says, and lifts an eyebrow at Clint. “You were the one I could get to without anyone noticing. You’re already missing.”
Clint thinks about his phone clattering down the dark maw of the storm drain and clenches his eyes shut, leaning forwards on his elbow and resting his forehead against his knuckles. Way to go Barton, he thinks dully. Fucking genius play. This is why you’re not going back to the Avengers, you moron.
“Do I have a choice?”
The question hangs there in the tense space between them, and Clint looks up at the soldier. He’s already watching Clint, and he looks sadly across at him like he wishes the answer could be different.
“No,” he says quietly, and then breathes out heavily, looking away like he can’t maintain eye-contact for that long. “We need to move. Do you need any painkillers?”
By this point, Clint is too exhausted to even find the question disconcerting. “There’s Advil in my bag, if you’ve still got it.”
The soldier nods and then gets to his feet. “It’s in the car.”
“I suppose I should be getting in the car then, if that’s where the drugs are,” Clint says dully, too weary, too tired of everything to resist. He presses his knuckles into the mattress behind him and pushes forwards, unsteady on his feet. A wave of dizziness passes over him, and he sways slightly before he gets his bearings and balance again. He lifts his eyes and sees the soldier has moved; he’s now standing by the door with the duffel bag in one hand and Clint’s bow in the other. His eyes carefully track Clint’s movements, and Clint knows he should be more bothered by that-
The soldier shifts the bag up onto his shoulder and steps forwards towards Clint, hand extended. Clint automatically jerks back and so does the soldier, like he’s startled by Clint’s sudden movement. He looks lost for a moment, and then his face shadows.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
Clint waits for the proffered hand to lower, waits for the soldier to step back. “Yeah, you can keep saying it but it doesn’t mean I’m going to believe you.”
The soldier stares at him for a moment and then turns on his heel, roughly opening the door and striding out. Clint waits for a moment and then, shirtless and barefoot, follows.