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“I have a surprise for you, Mikhail.”

Mikhail looks up from his desk, pen faltering in his hand. His boss is standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame. “Surprise?” he repeats, closing the report he’s been working on. “What kind of a surprise?”

“One you will like.” Lukas smiles at him. The effect is less than calming. “Walk with me, please.”

Mikhail closes the report and places it in his desk drawer, then locks it. He stands and stretches, popping the vertebrae in his back. He’s been sitting for far too long. Fucking KGB and their fucking reports.

He locks the office door, then follows Lukas down the hallway. There’s minimal lighting and the walls are damp, a testament to the location of the underwater HYDRA base. He can feel the wetness in every breath.

“Where did this surprise come from?” he asks, trying to probe Lukas for information. He’s never been able to read the man very well. He has no idea if the surprise is a reward or a firing squad.

But he doesn’t think he’s messed up recently. In fact, he’d gotten a commendation letter three days ago from Serov, three lines of command above him, for his “exemplary performance in recent weeks.” Really, all he’d done was convince a mid-level American CIA agent to give up a few important bits of information, but if they wanted to commend him he wasn’t going to complain.

“From Murmansk,” Lukas says, and Mikhail raises an eyebrow in question. “K-56 found it.”

K-56? Mikhail racks his mind, thinking of the submarines he knows about. “I am unfamiliar with that designation,” he finally admits, but Lukas just waves a hand.

“The sub is not important,” he says. “But you will like what it found.”

He leads Mikhail down several hallways, slowly descending the sloped floors to the bottom of the base. It’s even wetter down here. Condensation is sliding down the walls.

Lukas finally stops at a nondescript door and turns to face him. “I will tell you this straight, Mikhail. This is both a test and a reward. We want to see what you do with him.”

“Him?”

The door swings open. In true HYDRA fashion, the room contains nothing more than a chair, a single lightbulb, and a naked man. He is strapped to the chair, his nose bloody, his eyes slitted with suspicion and anger. His dark hair is shaved on the sides and spiked longer in the middle, giving him the appearance of being younger than he probably is. Bruises litter almost every inch of his open skin, most likely courtesy of Lukas’s men. They do like to make an impression.

“About fucking time,” he says in English. “Are you the party I was promised? Because it’s fucking boring in here. I could use some entertainment.”

“He is an American SHIELD agent,” Lukas says, and Mikhail feels his interest peak. “He’s been here for a day and a half.” He crosses his arms and smirks. “We want you to break him.”

The agent twitches, a movement so minute that Mikhail almost thinks he imagines it. Lukas closes the door.

Only years of training keeps Mikhail’s emotions hidden. “Break him?”

“Yes. Break him. When you are done, we want a loyal HYDRA agent.” Lukas tilts his head. “You have done well, Mikhail. Not just with the American CIA man. Your past two years of service have been above and beyond what we asked.”

“I’m glad to have been of service,” Mikhail says, his mind spinning. “What’s his name?”

“He said it was John Smith, but we suspect he is lying. That’s your first task.” Lukas hands him the key. “Take all the time and resources you need. I will expect progress reports.”

Translation: have fun, but remember you are being watched. Remember we expect results.

Mikhail takes the key. “Hail HYDRA,” he says.

“Hail HYDRA.” Lukas turns and walks past him, up the hall, and out of sight.

Mikhail leans against the wall, turning the key over in his hand. Break him.

Well. It’s more interesting than writing reports.

He opens the door again and steps in. The agent tracks his movements with sharp, wary eyes. “Who the hell are you?” he rasps.

“I could ask you the same thing,” he says in Russian. “What is your name?” He dismisses the John Smith moniker instantly as the lie it is.

The man tilts his head in a perfect image of confusion. “I don’t speak Russian,” he says in a bored voice. Like he’s made the excuse a thousand times before.

“I think you do,” Mikhail says, thinking of his earlier reaction. “You are perhaps not fluent, but I suspect you know more than you let on.”

He lets his fingers trail across the agent’s neck, into his hair, down his bare chest, down towards his unprotected cock. The agent tenses, but Mikhail doesn’t linger. He’s just touching. Cataloguing. Learning about his surprise. There’s many bruises, an intriguing tattoo, and his right index and middle fingers are taped together in a crude splint. Clearly, he was giving Lukas a hard time on the way over.

“If you tell me your name,” he says, “I will bring you water.”

No response. Just a shudder as the fingertips continue to graze.

“I’m sure you are thirsty.”

Nothing.

“Alright. We will try again tomorrow.”

He leaves without another word, locking the door behind him. Isolation is predictable, but effective. He doesn’t suspect this will take long. Especially if the agent has been here a day and a half already.

When he returns to his office, there is a new computer. It’s large, and bulky, and Mikhail scowls as he sees how much of his desk it takes up. But when he turns it on, a grainy video feed plays of the agent and his cell.

A note from Lukas sits next to the computer. Have fun.

*******************************

Twenty-four hours later, Mikhail returns to his office and turns on the computer. The agent hasn’t moved, of course, but he’s slumped over in the chair. Mikhail looks closely and determines that yes, his chest is rising. Sleeping, then. Probably trying to conserve energy.

Mikhail takes a glass of water with him this time. He steps into the damp room and stands just out of arms reach of the chair, face neutral, eyes on the half-conscious agent.

“Tell me your name,” he says again in Russian.

The agent twitches, one eye opening to give him a bleary glare.

“It’s just a a name,” Mikhail says soothingly. “It is not a state secret. It will do you no harm to tell me your name.”

Which is true, in their world of lies and truths. It’s not coordinates or locations or highly classified missions. But it will give Mikhail a foothold in the agent’s psyche, and the foothold will be the start of his demise.

He waits.

Finally, the agent shifts a bit, opening his other eye. “Fuck you,” he says thickly, but his gaze is locked on the water.

Mikhail laughs and still in Russian says, “A child’s response. Are you a child?”

No response. The blue-grey eyes don’t move.

“Are you a child?” Mikhail repeats.

For a long moment, he doesn’t think the agent is going answer. He just might be stubborn enough that he would rather pass out than give in. “Alright,” Mikhail eventually says. “We will try again tomorrow.” He turns towards the door.

There’s a noise of dissent to that. Small, and the agent immediately looks irritated with himself, but it’s enough to make Mikhail pause. “Did you want to say something, Agent?”

The agent licks his lips, or tries to, and then croaks, “I’m not a child.”

Triumph floods his heart, making his lips curve in a small smile. He switches to English. “So you do understand me.”

A shrug. Mikhail steps closer. “Are you fluent?”

He doesn’t particularly care—the agent will learn by the time Mikhail is done with him—but it will be nice to have a starting point.

“No.” The agent shifts in the chair, still eyeing the glass. “You gonna make me beg for it?”

“I want your name,” Mikhail says, switching back to Russian.

“No.” He coughs, his dry lungs trying to gasp in air. “I don’t want to.”

Mikhail steps close enough to touch his shoulder. Close enough to make him shudder. Softly, in English he murmurs, “What harm is it to tell me who you are?”

“More than you know,” the agent mutters. Mikhail files the statement away and continues caressing the dry skin under his hand.

“I will give you the water if you tell me your name,” he says. Basic transactions. Carrot and stick. “Or I will leave, and then we can try this again tomorrow.”

Mikhail is not very familiar with SHIELD agents, but he suspects that this one will be tough to break. SHIELD, as a rule, is just as tough of an organization as HYDRA. Their agents just as hard.

He looks forward to the challenge.

He leaves, then. No more words. He walks away and takes the water with him, returning to his office to finish paperwork and watch the grainy video. After several more hours, the agent seems to lean forward, then to the side of his chair. Unconscious, Mikhail is sure, but he goes to check anyway. He’s relieved to hear the shallow breaths when he approaches the chair. If the game goes on for too much longer, he’s definitely going to have to start an IV. No sense letting the man die.

Mikhail rouses the agent and repeats his query, but there is still no answer. Even when he takes a sip of the water himself, the man only clenches his teeth and looks away. Stubborn to a fault, this one, Mikhail thinks. But the stubborn ones are always the most fun.

“Tomorrow then,” he says regretfully, and he steps away towards the door. There’s no noise of dissent this time, just a tortured look on the agent’s face.

Mikhail’s hand is on the door when the agent rasps, “Wait.”

He turns, but doesn’t come closer. “Yes?”

The agent meets his gaze, anger and resignation written all over him. He works his jaw like the words are stuck. Mikhail waits patiently, giving him all the time he needs.

“Clint,” the agent finally spits out, hatred in his voice.

“Clint?” Mikhail keeps his expression neutral. “Clint what?”

“Barton.”

“Clint Barton,” he repeats, and the agent closes his eyes. “It is very nice to meet you, Clint Barton.”

He guides the water glass to the agent’s lips, forcing Clint to drink in small and measured sips. It takes them over ten minutes to finish the glass. When it’s empty, he sets it down by the chair and puts his fingers under Clint’s chin, turning his face up until he meets Mikhail’s gaze. “Well done.”

Clint’s jaw tightens, irritation crossing his face. Mikhail smiles then. Praise and punishment. Basic transactions. The building blocks of obedience. Effective, even if you know and understand what’s happening.

“I will be back with more,” he says.

Clint pulls his face away. Mikhail lets his hand trail over the agent’s shoulder, squeezing once. Then he leaves, that sense of triumph still singing through his veins. Yes. Clint Barton will be a fun one to break.

Chapter Text

Time travel is beautiful, Clint thinks, as he watches an agent drop into the Quantum Realm. He’s always been a Jules Verne fan, something Natasha loved to tease him about endlessly. But he never imagined it would look like this. It’s so…colorful. So futuristic.

He shakes off the sting of Natasha’s memory and turns to the agent manning the send controls. “Hey Jean.”

“Hawk,” he says. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah.” He puts his pack on, then secures the Time GPS to his hand. “I hate these stupid suits.”

“Standard procedure,” Jean says, pushing a radio across the table to him. “One minute to drop off.”

“Kay.” He climbs up onto the platform and stands in the middle.

“Give me your mission highlights,” says the scientist at the platform. He adjusts his glasses and looks down at his clipboard.

Clint sighs. “1995. New York. Take pictures. Come back.”

It’s an easy mission. SHIELD is trying to make minuscule changes in the past. Not enough to mess with the timeline (the logistics of which Clint still doesn’t really understand) but enough to make their lives easier today. Basically, it amounts to leaving notes and whispering ideas to people. Simple things that won’t push the world too far off course. Clint’s been twice now to 1970, both times to make a suggestion to a certain naval officer.

Now the top brass want to send him back to investigate something. He’s not entirely sure what, but he’s been given a camera, a date and time, and a set of coordinates. He has to photograph a meeting, then come back. They won’t tell him any more than that.

He can’t really blame them. The repercussions of time travel are still not well know, despite what warnings Banner and Stark were able to come up with. The more the agents mess around in time, the more likely it is something bad will happen. Like ripples in a pond, someone explained to him. Throw in a pebble, the ripples won’t matter so much. Throw in a boulder, and you’re bound to make some waves.

So they stay small. Keep information on a need-to-know basis. Whisper ideas. Solve mysteries. Act like a fucking time-traveling Scooby-Doo team.

Clint doesn’t mind, honestly. After the whole Thanos thing, after losing his family…he’s fine with small. He’s had enough big for a lifetime.

“Five seconds,” Jean calls, and Clint shakes the thoughts off. Time to focus.

“Wait,” someone says. The receiving station. Clint spins around. “Wait! Don’t send him! There’s someone coming back!”

“What?” Jean shouts, standing up. “No one is due back until 11:07!”

The ‘returning agent’ alarm sounds. Clint lunges for the side of platform. He’s not entirely sure how all this works, but he knows that sending someone out at the same time that someone is coming back is very bad not good do not attempt.

He doesn’t make it. Another alarm sounds, joining the cacophony of noises and shouting. The floor drops out from under him.

He falls.

Instinct takes over after a moment, where he draws his arms and legs in from their desperate flail. Luckily, his helmet triggered on the fall, so he’s at least breathing. He looks around, checking out the time tunnel, trying to see if he can find whoever was coming in.

He doesn’t. They find him first.

It’s two of them. The first one slips past him, so quickly it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment. The second one isn’t so lucky. Clint collides hard, the impact knocking him off course. He barely has time to shout before his helmet starts to blare with warnings about being on the wrong track, the wrong time.

He can’t do anything. The time suits have minimal navigational capabilities, just enough to pick time tunnels. He can’t reverse. Can’t do anything except keep going forward, and hope he gets spit out soon. Once he lands, he can hit his own return button and go back. They can figure it out then.

Except that would require luck. And Clint Barton is anything but lucky, which becomes exceedingly apparent as the time tunnel suddenly gives way, dropping him into midair.

Over the ocean.

Clint has enough time to mutter, “Aw, fuck,” before he hits the water hard enough to take his breath away. It’s fucking cold. He screams a bit, then screams more, because he’s underwater and nobody can hear how high pitched his voice is.

He breaks the surface with a gasp and coughs up seawater, the taste making him retch. It’s cold, it’s cold, it’s so fucking cold holy shit. He fumbles the GPS with numb hands, only half sure he’s putting in the correct numbers. Finally he hits the last coordinate, only to have it spark uselessly and die in his hands.

“Goddamnit.” If he survives this, he’s going to have to have a talk with SHIELD about making their shit more waterproof.

He ditches the pack with the camera equipment and lets it sink into the depths without a second thought. Then he slips the GPS into his chest pocket and reaches instead for the emergency return at his shoulder. Two pushes, a pause, then three more, a pause, then one. His own personal return code.

Nothing happens.

Somewhat panicking, Clint tries it again.

Nothing.

He tries again.

Nothing.

“Fuck.” Clint scans his options, but there isn’t anything nearby except grey ocean, grey skies, and dingy-looking icebergs. ”FUCK!”

He’s going to die. He’s going to die in 1995 or whenever the hell he is and his family isn’t going to know, and it’s not fucking fair, he just got them back—

“Come on!” he shouts, slamming the emergency button again. It still doesn’t work.

There’s nothing he can do. The realization makes him sick, but it’s true. He’s in the middle of the ocean, he’s freezing, and there’s not a goddamn thing he can do about it. Clint lets out a scream of frustration at the sky and slams his hand in the water, which doesn’t do much but soak his head and make him colder.

The cold is the biggest problem. He’s kicking and treading water, but the cold is going to kill him in a few minutes if he doesn’t get out of it. Except there’s nowhere to get out. Nowhere to go. There’s just him, and the ocean, and—

There’s a noise behind him, and Clint spins. From behind the chunk of ice, something emerges. Something big.

He stares. A submarine. It’s a fucking surfaced submarine.

Clint takes a second to register that, and then starts swimming towards it. He doesn’t care whose it is, or what’s on it. He needs to get out of this fucking ocean. He can deal with the rest later.

As he gets closer, the hatch opens and a few men emerge. They shout something unintelligible, pointing at him, and then throw a rope over the side. He clutches at it with frozen hands. They pull him aboard foot by agonizing foot.

At the top, they grab his suit and yank him up the rest of the way. Clint lays on the deck, coughing and shaking so hard that he can barely breath. The men grab him and carry him over to a hatch, then lower him down to other crew members.

He’s stripped out of his suit and bundled into blankets in a small room stacked with narrow bunks. A glass of something is shoved into his hand. Brandy, he realizes, sipping at it. Someone else has to steady him as he drinks. The drink warms him like the blankets don’t, but it still takes a long time before the shaking slows to manageable levels.

“Thanks,” he says, clutching the blankets around him. “You guys saved my life.”

The men around him stare, wide-eyed, and Clint looks back at them. Then he notices the uniforms. The instructions on the wall. The language they’re speaking.

“American?” one asks with a thick accent, disbelief in his voice.

“Oh shit,” Clint says more calmly than he really feels. “You’re Russian.”

Yeah. This isn’t New York at all.

Chapter Text

They say something else. Clint speaks some Russian, but not fluently, and not well enough to catch what they’re saying. He hears “American” and what might be the word for “plane.”

He was working on it with Natasha, long before Thanos and The Snap ruined his life. He kept working on it sporadically throughout the five years after, always with the intention to go back to her and practice.

His heart twists painfully and he closes his eyes against the memory of her broken body on the ground at Vormir.

That should've been me.

He shakes his head hard and returns his attention to the present. “Does anyone speak English?”

They stop chattering and look at him. He tries again in his best Russian. “Does anyone speak English?”

That really gets their attention. “You know Russian?” one asks.

“A little. Not well.” Not well enough to attempt a cover story, anyway.

“Wait for Captain Kruschov,” one of them declares with a heavy accent. Clint nods and wraps the blankets tighter.

He needs to figure out what year it is. That will tell him a lot. From there, he needs to examine his suit. Landing in the water probably didn’t do it any favors. If he can’t fix it, he’ll have to figure out some other way to signal SHIELD. Some message that can be passed through time. Time, date, and coordinates. Nothing life shaking. Shouldn’t diverge the timeline too much.

The crew suddenly parts, making way for a man in a sharp uniform. He stands in the doorway and eyes Clint with an air of authority. His beard is neatly trimmed and dark, framing a thin face with intense brown eyes. “I am Captain Kruschov,” he says. His English is well-spoken and polished, like he went to a fancy school as a kid. “How are you?”

“Better,” Clint says honestly. “Getting a little warmer.”

The captain sits on the bunk across from him and motions his men away. They reluctantly trickle out, casting back looks and whispers. Clint waves to them, then directs his attention to Kruschov. “Thanks for the rescue.”

He crosses his arms, all business and no smiles. “Who are you?”

“John Smith,” Clint says. He’s got the threads of a cover story together, since they already think he came here by plane. Now he needs to sound confident. “I was in a plane with my partner, doing some exercises. An engine blew, we lost control and got off course. When it looked like we were gonna shake apart, he hit my eject button and shot me out of the plane. I managed to activate my chute, but I landed in the ocean.” He looks Kruschov in the eye. “I was about to give up when you guys showed.”

The captain studies him, then says, “You are a very good liar, Mr. Smith.”

“I’m not lying,” Clint lies.

“You are. You know how I know? My men and I have been sitting on the surface for the last twelve hours.” He leans closer. “We heard no planes, saw no parachutes. My top men reported nothing until they heard yelling, and were able to see a man overboard.” Kruschov leans back, triumphant. “So I know you are lying to me. And now I am curious why.”

Well, shit. He’s never had a cover story fall apart on him so fast. Then again, his cover stories are usually SHIELD-issued and not made up from a hypothermic brain. “Uh…”

“Captain,” someone else says. Must be second-in-command, Clint thinks, judging from the uniform. He hands Kruschov something and murmurs a few words in Russian.

The captain turns back to him. “So,” he says, eyes narrowing. “You are SHIELD?”

Clint tries not to flinch. Tries really hard. But his expression must give it away, because Kruschov smiles coldly and stands up. “Yes. I think you are.” He thrusts the Time GPS at Clint, turned over to display the SHIELD logo on the back of it.

You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me, Clint thinks, staring at the telltale symbol. Really, guys?

And then of course it gets worse, because “Clint Barton” and “lucky” do not go together. The captain steps closer and rolls up his sleeve, revealing the HYDRA symbol tattooed on the inside of his wrist. “Hail HYDRA,” he says, dropping his arm.

Clint rolls his eyes. “Bet that makes your undercover work difficult,” he says, because being snarky is his life’s work. “Or do you just always wear long sleeves?”

The slap isn’t unexpected, but it still hurts. “We will be taking you back to port,” Kruschov says. “We are due there in five days. And once in port, you will become property of HYDRA.”

He turns to his second. “Get him some clothes and then restrain him. I don’t want any more surprises on this trip.”


************


The five days it takes them to get into port are uncomfortable and awkward. Clint spends most of the time trapped in the small room, handcuffed to the bunks. He can sit or stand, but that’s about it. Twice a day he gets a bathroom break, and around midday they send him something barely edible on a plate.

He shares his room with other sailors, but they’re forbidden to speak with him. The most interaction he gets is a few sideways glances and a few short words in Russian when he accidentally gets in someone’s way.

He hates it, this bout of forced inactivity. His fingers itch for his bow. He wants to shoot something. Mostly the captain. He comes in and interrogates Clint once a day, trying to get answers to questions he doesn’t know anything about. The sessions usually end in frustration for the captain and with Clint imagining how he would look with an arrow through the eye. Thank God he dropped the camera, or else the questioning would be even worse.

Between questionings, Clint passes the time planning, then scrapping those plans, then planning again. He’s still not entirely sure what year it is, although he’s got his suspicions he’s some time in the Cold War. Basically, his entire plan involves escaping somehow during the upcoming exchange. There’s not a damn thing he can do on the boat, and if HYDRA gets him there’s going to be even less that he can do.

So his working plan right now is to cause a commotion when they get into port, grab his suit, and then escape in the ensuing chaos. After that, he’ll have to wing it.

Which is fine. He’s good at winging it.

Nobody tells him when they arrive, but he manages to guess based on the sailors and their whispered conversations. Sure enough, the submarine eventually stops vibrating under his feet, and there’s a sense of calm that settles over the boat.

The captain comes down and unhooks Clint, cuffing his hands together in front of him. “Walk,” he orders.

“Gonna be hard to climb ladders with these on,” Clint says.

The remark earns him a cuff to the back of the head. “I said walk.”

“Yeah, I heard you.” He ducks through the open door. Handcuffs won’t hinder him too much, although he’ll have to get them off at some point. Not like he has his bow to shoot right now anyway.

The captain impatiently pushes him up ladders and finally out a hatch into open air. Clint shudders as the chill hits him. They haven’t given him anything other than a shirt, jacket, and pants, none of which are meant for blocking the freezing air around him. He doesn't even have shoes.

“Too cold for you?” the captain asks, smirking. “Typical American.”

“I’m really more of a beach guy,” he shoots back, looking around. Options, options, what are his options?

They’re docked at a long pier. There’s a long ramp leading off the sub, and at the end of the ramp is a group of men in suits standing beside a car. Probably waiting for him. Beyond that, there’s a few low buildings, and in the distance he can faintly see the outlines of a bigger town.

Well, shit. Too far to go on foot, especially without shoes. Maybe he can steal the car? Or get into the buildings here. He’s good at hiding. If he can get out of sight and choose a perch, he’s golden.

Kruschov shoves him hard between his shoulder blades. “Stop scheming, agent.”

“I’m not scheming,” Clint says, catching himself on the railing. “I’m plotting. It’s entirely different.”

“It will amount to nothing.”

“Yeah, well, I’m an optimist.” He watches one of the men say something to the other, then start walking up the ramp. This is probably his chance.

The man is tall, rail-thin, and has pale blond hair that looks almost white. His expression is friendly, but it instantly puts Clint on edge. He looks almost like Loki, with that calculating gaze, and Clint definitely does not have good memories of Loki.

“Captain,” he says, walking aboard. “It is good to see you again. Hail HYDRA.”

“Hail HYDRA,” Kruschov responds. He indicates Clint. “This is SHIELD Agent John Smith.”

“Hi,” Clint says, wiggling his fingers. “Don’t suppose you’re just here to deliver pizzas?” He runs his eyes over the man, looking for guns or any other kind of weapons.
God, he wants his bow. He’d fucking take them all down.

The man smiles tightly. “I hear you went for a swim, Agent Smith.”

“Sure did,” Clint drawls, spotting a hip holster. “Very brisk. Highly recommend.”

Lunge for the agent, take the gun, shoot the captain, hold the new guy hostage, get down the ramp, steal the car.

Well, as far as plans go, it’s not great. But it’s what he’s got. He’s done more with less.

Part one goes swimmingly. Clint doesn’t wait for a lull in the conversation, he just jumps forward. He manages to get his hands on the gun and rips it out of the holster, spinning and ducking, and shoots the captain in the face. The new guy fights a little bit, but Clint has five years of desperate street fighting under his belt, and he easily dodges the blows. “I’m a very good shot,” he says, aiming the gun at the man’s chest, “so you might want to avoid any sudden movements. Tell your guys down there to stop.”

“Yes,” the man muses, looking down at Kruschov’s body. He holds out a hand and waves to the other, halting their frantic run up the ramp. “You are a good shot. Did you mean to get him in the eye?”

“Get the handcuff key,” Clint orders. The man obeys, reaching into the captain’s pockets without a word of protest. “Put it on the ground and back the fuck up.”

“This is foolish,” the man says, slowly stepping backwards. “You are delaying the inevitable.”

“Nothing is inevitable.” Clint picks up the key, not taking his eyes off the man. “Come on. We’re going.”

He walks his prisoner down the ramp. “Tell them to back up. 200 yards.” He’s not taking any chances.

The man doesn’t. Instead, he turns around to face Clint. He still has that skin-crawling friendly expression. “I will give you one more chance, Agent Smith.”

“I’m the one with the gun, asshole. If anyone’s giving chances around here, it’s me.”

“You might think that. But having a gun does not necessarily mean you have power.”

Clint shoots the planks right at the man’s feet, then raises the gun back up. “Warning shot. Tell them to move, or the next one goes in your leg.”

“Put the gun down, Agent.”

“Fuck you.”

The man sighs. “Alright. You brought this on yourself.”

He moves. He moves fast. Clint barely has time to react before the man tackles him, forcing the gun straight up. They grapple for a second, the man getting a hand around Clint’s neck, but Clint quickly recovers and kicks him away. “You brought this on yourself,” he says, aiming and pulling the trigger.

But the trigger doesn’t pull.

He looks at the gun, confused. As he does so, his fingers open of their own accord and the gun slowly slides out of them, then clatters onto the ground. The handcuff key follows.

“Thank you,” the man says, picking them up.

Clint slowly drops to one knee, then tumbles forward face-first, barely able to catch himself. He’s not unconscious, but his muscles aren’t responding to his frantic commands. He stares at the ground underneath him and desperately tries to move something, anything.

The man kneels next to him, gently rolling him over. “I’m sure you are wondering what is happening,” he says calmly.

Clint blinks at him, the only movement that he can make. The panic is building now, and he’s barely able to take in air fast enough to compensate for it. Not good, not good, this is so very not good.

“Our labs recently created this.” He displays something in his palm. It’s a small case, no bigger than a lighter, with two small indentations in it. In one of them there’s a small flesh-colored square. Almost like a band-aid. “It’s an unusual compound. I will admit that I am not entirely familiar with its nuances. All I know is that when it makes contact with skin, it releases a chemical that inhibits your brain’s response to your muscle movement.”

He reaches out and runs his hand through Clint’s hair, then winds his fingers in it and yanks hard. Clint grunts as his head is pulled up uncomfortably high. “How does it feel, Agent? How does it feel to be so helpless? So completely at my mercy?”

Sucks ass, is what he wants to say, but he can’t make his mouth work properly. It takes all his concentration just to focus on breathing. The man lets his head drop, hard enough to crack on the planks beneath him, and stands up. He gives them orders in Russian and all Clint can do is internally rage as they pick him up, carry him down the ramp, and deposit him in the trunk of the car.

He lays there, in the uncomfortable position they dropped him in, and wonders why his life is just so goddamn shitty sometimes.

Chapter Text

By the time they reach their destination, most of his movement has returned to him. He prepares himself for the trunk to open, and lunges out as soon as it does. It’s immediately apparent, though, that while his gross motor commands are intact, his coordination isn’t. It’s almost laughably easy for the five agents to subdue him.

“That was also foolish,” the man says. Clint turns his head from his position on the ground, but all he can see is a pair of shined shoes. “What did you expect was going to happen, you stupid boy?”

“I think it was pretty clear,” Clint snaps, trying to pull his arms back from where another agent has them stretched out in front of him. “And you’re the stupid one if you thought I was coming out of there without a fight.”

“I expected nothing less. But you could have surprised me.” He nudges Clint with his foot. “Let him up, gentlemen.”

They do, albeit reluctantly, and still with a tight hold on him. One of them jams a gun in his back. Clint scowls, taking the time to glance around. They’re in some concrete bunker, almost like a garage. He can see the larger door they must have come in. There’s no other cars, no other people. Just a wide empty space with a door to outside, and another smaller door that must lead into wherever the hell they are. If he can get free and avoid being stuck with one of those patch things again—

“You have two choices,” the man says, drawing his attention back to the problem at hand. “And I am generous for giving you this much. Thank me for this.”

“You fucking serious?”

That earns him a punch to the stomach. He coughs and straightens back up. “I am,” the man says. “You and I will not have long together, but I will teach you to be respectful.”

“I’m not thanking you for shit.”

Another hit, then one to his face, making him bite his cheek. He spits the mouthful of blood onto the man’s shined shoes and grins at him with bloody teeth. “I can do this all day,” he says, channeling his inner Cap.

They hit him again, and again, and again. Clint takes each blow with gritted teeth, unable to move to avoid them. When they finally stop, he stays hunched over, half slumped down to his knees, unwilling to straighten up lest they hit him again.

The man grabs his chin and raises it until their eyes meet. “Stupid,” he sighs, shaking his head.

Yeah, I’m the fucking poster boy for it.

“Hold his wrists,” the man says. “Open his hands.” He grips Clint’s left index finger in his own, then looks at him. “One more chance, Agent.”

Clint looks at his hands, then back up at the man’s face. Then back at his fingers. The instinct to fight, to run, to hide, is so strong that he nearly buckles under the weight of it. He isn’t supposed to be here. Isn’t supposed to be dealing with this. He wants to grab a gun, put a bullet in everyone’s head, and then get the hell out of here.

He forces himself to breathe, then closes his eyes. Pick your battles, Clint, he hears Natasha say in a past life. Not everything has to be a fight.

“Thank you,” he says. It’s quiet, and he hates himself, but he says it.

The man smiles triumphantly. Then he breaks Clint’s finger anyway.

The pain is instant, making him choke and lean forward. “You fucking asshole,” he hisses, trying to pull his arms in closer to himself. “I said what you wanted!”

“Yes, you did. Next time, don’t make me wait.” The man lets go of his hands. “Your choices are this. I can apply my second patch to you, and we can carry you the rest of the way inside. This will likely make my men here very angry with you, and I might not be able to control their actions once we get inside. Or you can walk. This will require some cooperation from you, which I can see you are not very good at. However, I promise that if you go under your own power, we will reach our destination without any further injury to you.”

“I’ll walk,” he says without hesitation. He’s very tempted to say fuck it and make them carry him, but the idea of not being in control of himself while in enemy territory is vaguely horrifying. Walking in willingly will feel like putting his own head in the noose, but he might have a shot at escaping then.

“Then let’s go,” the man says, and he leads the way through the smaller door. “I suggest you behave yourself along the way.”

“I make no promises,” Clint says, carefully stepping after him.

It’s some sort of base, possibly underwater judging by the dampness on the walls. It reminds him of an old SHIELD base he was stationed at when he first joined up. Industrial hallways with poor lighting and creepy echoes.

Clint eyes the man’s gun, blatantly displayed on his hip. He could grab that. The man correctly guessed that he’s left-handed, but he shoots just as well with his right. A broken finger won’t stop him.

The gun in his back might, but he’s willing to take that chance. It’s starting to settle in now, the idea that if he doesn’t get his shit together and make an actual attempt to escape, he’s going to be stuck here. And while’s he’s not concerned about Laura and his kids missing him—he can always return to a few seconds after leaving the first time—he is concerned that he’s going to suddenly be five years older again, like after Thanos, and that isn’t fair to her. They promised to grow old together, not in years-long intervals between time traveling.

So he goes for it. He grabs the gun, pulls it free from the holster, turns and fires.

Except it doesn’t fire. It just clicks. There’s no bullets in the gun.

“Fuck,” Clint says, which is all he gets out before the four descend on him. He strikes back as best as he can, channeling every ounce of desperation he feels. But his muscles are still not entirely cooperative, and his reflexes are too slow. It takes all five of them, but they eventually put him on the ground. One of them sits on Clint’s back, making all the air rush out of him.

“I told you to behave yourself,” the man says, turning Clint’s face to the side with his shoe.

“And I told you I make no promises,” Clint snarls back. He bucks up, but whoever is sitting on him is heavy and doesn’t budge. “It was right there, did you really think I wasn’t going to go for it?”

“Of course I knew you would. Why do you think there weren’t any bullets?”

Goddamnit. “Well, fuck you too.”

They pull him back to his feet, and predictably, stick another one of those patches on him. He goes limp in their grasp as they drag him the rest of the way to wherever the hell they’re going.

It’s a cell of some kind, with a chair and a lightbulb hanging over it. Clint fights the urge to laugh at the stereotypical interrogation setup as they drop him on the floor inside. “Take his clothes,” the man says, and they quickly strip him. The vulnerability bothers him more than the blatant display of his body.

“Put him in the chair when you’re done,” the man says.

When you’re done? Clint turns his head as much as he can, trying not to show the sudden fear coursing through him.

“I did warn you,” he says to Clint, “that if you made them carry you, I would not be responsible for their actions.” He turns on his heels and walks towards the door. “Try not to break him too much,” he says over his shoulder.

The door closes. The four men left turn and smile at each other, then look down at Clint. “Let’s see how tough you are,” one of them says, cracking his knuckles.

“Fuck…off,” Clint forces out, and closes his eyes as a foot swings at his ribs.

Chapter Text

He is so thirsty. He hasn’t had anything to drink since that last day on the sub. He’s not even sure how long ago that was, honestly. He lost some time after they beat him into unconsciousness and strapped him into the chair.

He’s hungry too, but really it’s the thirst that’s getting to him. Most likely they didn’t put him here to die, so he has to assume someone is going to come check on him soon. The question is, are they going to give him water? Or are they going to make him give up information for it?

Probably the second one. Clint can’t tell them about the time travel, obviously, and they’d never believe it anyway. He does need to come up with a plausible story about why he was in the ocean, but he can probably make something up about SHIELD flying reconnaissance missions.

He’s making up a story when the door finally creaks open, revealing the blond asshole from the sub, and another man. The second one has dark hair, a neat suit, and an inquisitive gaze that fixes on him as soon as the door is wide enough.

“About fucking time,” Clint rasps through his dry throat. “Are you the party I was promised? Because it’s fucking boring in here. I could use some entertainment.”

The blond asshole says something in Russian. Clint listens closely, catching, “American SHIELD agent” and “day” and “break him.” He flinches at that last one, as much as he tries not to. The new guy tilts his head almost imperceptibly, and Clint hopes to whatever gods are out there that he didn’t notice. The less they think he understands, the more they’ll talk around him. Underestimation is one of his favorite tools.

The door closes again, and Clint shifts uncomfortably in the chair. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but there’s some sort of shift occurring. Some exchange of power. He’s being handed off.

Sure enough, a few minutes later the door opens again. Clint scowls at the new guy as he walks in and inspects him from head to toe. “Who the hell are you?”

The man answers him in Russian. Clint misses the first part, but recognizes the second question. “What is your name?”

“I don’t speak Russian,” Clint says, trying to sound uninterested in what’s going on. Trying not to betray his nerves.

There’s an answer that he doesn’t understand, and then the new agent starts touching him. Gentle fingertips trail across his shoulders, down his chest, over his stomach, and way too close to his dick for comfort. He tenses, but the touch doesn’t turn interested. It’s almost medical in nature. Like he’s cataloguing the bumps and bruises. Learning the subtle reactions of the muscles and skin under his touch.

He murmurs a few other things while touching Clint, but he doesn’t understand and doesn’t respond. Eventually, he draws his hand back, pats Clint on the shoulder, and leaves.

Clint falls asleep sometime after that, an uneasy rest that doesn’t do much for him other than leave him more tired when he finally wakes up. His mouth is even drier, and every breath is like razor blades in his throat. Even his eyelids feel gritty.

The door opens again. “Tell me your name,” the man says in Russian. Clint blinks one eye open and gives him a weary look. Then he sees the glass of water. There’s a drop of condensation on the side of it, running down towards his fingertips, and all Clint can think about is having that water on his tongue, in his mouth, running down his throat. He’s never wanted anything so badly in his entire life.

The agent says something else. He doesn’t move, just stands there and holds the water. “Fuck you,” Clint manages to croak through his dry throat. He doesn’t know what the guy wants, but it seems like an appropriate response.

The agent laughs. “Are you a child?”

The words drop him into a memory. Natasha, laughing at him from across a SHIELD cafeteria table as he steals her chocolate milk again. You’re such a child, she says, first in Russian and then in English. Give it back, Hawkeye.

You want it? Come and take it, Widow.

Easy banter, sincere laughter. A lifetime before Avengers, and Thanos, and Vormir. He suddenly misses it so much that it makes his heart ache.

“Are you a child?” the man asks again, and Clint takes a moment to pull himself out of the memory. They stare at each other, captive and captor, and wait to see who will blink first.

“Tomorrow,” the man says, turning to leave.

Clint watches the water go. A small noise escapes him, one that instantly makes him irritated with himself. But it makes the man turn around and ask him something.

Clint licks his lips, which doesn’t really do anything, and says, “I’m not a child.”

The man grins at him and in English says, “So you do understand me.” Clint shrugs. “Are you fluent?”

“No.” He stares at the water some more, then asks, “Are you gonna make me beg for it?”

“Your name,” the man says, switching back to Russian.

Clint tries to draw in a deep breath, which ends up just making him cough hard. “No, I don’t want to.” God, he does sound like a child. Sounds like Cooper when Laura tries to make him eat vegetables.

He pushes away thoughts of his family as the agent touches his shoulder and in English says, “What harm is it to tell me who you are?”

He thinks about the timeline, how fucked up it might be if they manage to turn him into something big enough to shift events. “More than you know.”

The agent keeps caressing his shoulder, a touch both threatening and yet comforting at the same time. “I will give you the water if you tell me your name. Or I will leave, and then we can try this again tomorrow.”

Clint clenches his jaw, fighting the battle between giving in and maintaining his ground. He needs to drink. Desperately. But he also has his pride, which is stupidly winning out over his body’s needs. He’s turning into Stark, honestly.

The man leaves. Clint watches the door close, watches the water glass disappears, and wonders if it was worth it. The thirst is all-consuming, screaming at him, begging for something to quench it.

He doesn’t remember passing out, but he comes to with a few slaps from the dark-haired man. “Name,” he says again in Russian, and Clint can only clench his teeth against the nausea that threatens to build in him. He needs the water. He needs it.

“Tomorrow then,” the man says, regret in his voice, and he steps away towards the door. Clint stiffens in his chair. He can’t let him go. He’s going to die. He has to drink.

“Wait,” he rasps out, barely able to speak beyond the dryness in his throat.

The man pauses, then turns. “Yes?”

It takes him a second to actually get the words out. He debates giving a fake name for a second, but he can’t think of any that sounds reasonable, and he’s not entirely sure he’s going to remember it anyway. “Clint.”

“Clint?” There’s no change in his expression. “Clint what?”

“Barton.”

“Clint Barton,” the man repeats, and Clint closes his eyes in defeat. “It is very nice to meet you, Clint Barton.”

He lifts the glass to Clint’s lips and helps him drink in small sips. As much as Clint wants to grab the glass and drink it all in one shot, he knows this is the safer way to go. Still, he resents the measured gulps. Resents the man’s gentle touch in his hair even more.

Eventually, the glass is gone, and Clint has to stop himself from asking for more. “Well done,” the agent says, and Clint scowls in irritation. He’s been on the other side of the interrogation table long enough that he knows what the man is trying to do. Praise good reactions, punish bad ones. Basic conditioning.

Fuck that. He’s not gonna give in to that bullshit.

“I will be back with more,” the agent says, squeezing his shoulder. He leaves Clint to his shame and growing sense of dread as the door closes. This man is dangerous, much like the first one, and he’s going to have to play very carefully if he wants to go home anytime soon.

Chapter Text

The man brings back one more glass of water and an IV pole. He hooks up a bag of saline and gently taps Clint’s right arm, then sticks him with a needle. “I do not suspect it will take many of these,” he says in English. “You seem like a resilient man.”

He gives Clint a swallow of the water, then stands back. “They certainly did a number on you, didn’t they? Lukas’s people.”

Lukas. “That the blond guy and his buddies?”

“Yes.”

He gives him another sip. “What’s your name?” Clint asks. He doesn’t really expect an answer, so he’s surprised when then man actually tells him.

“I am Mikhail.”

Mikhail. Clint turns the name over in his mind, then asks, “What’s the date?”

“It is June. June seventeenth, I believe.”

“What year?”

Mikhail raises an eyebrow. “Did they hit you that hard?”

“Humor me.”

“It’s 1965.” He tilts his head. “Why?”

1965. Shit. Thirty years and half a world away from New York, 1995. How the hell did he get this far off track?

“Why, Barton?” Mikhail repeats, his voice growing darker.

Clint thinks for a moment, then says, “I lost some time once. Wanted to make sure it wasn’t happening again.”

It’s not a lie, not entirely. He lost track of time—of himself, really—in the years after The Snap. Putting on the Ronin costume helped, but he wasn’t really Clint Barton again until he fell to his knees on the time machine, holding a worn baseball glove in one hand. Holding hope.

The memories lend his voice emotion, which must convince Mikhail enough to drop the subject.  “It sounds like you have an interesting past,” he says, adjusting the IV bag. “I look forward to learning about it.”

Clint tenses at that. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Mikhail doesn’t answer that one right away. Instead, he tapes the IV down in Clint’s arm, then carefully tilts his head and inspects his black eye. “It means,” he says, “that we are going to be spending a lot of time together.”

Not if I have anything to say about it, Clint thinks, and it must show on his face because Mikhail sighs and steps back. “Barton, I understand that you are a highly trained agent. I have a lot of respect for SHIELD and their people.”

“I’m sure you do,” Clint says, sarcasm dripping from every word.

“But this is going to be a long game, my friend. And you are going to want to set your pace accordingly.”

He pats Clint’s cheek and walks out, leaving the IV in his arm and the glass of water sitting on the floor, annoyingly out of reach.


***


True to Mikhail’s prediction, it only takes two IVs to pull Clint out of dangerous dehydration status and back to his normal self. He passes the time preparing lies he can tell when they start forcibly interrogating him. He’s not stupid enough to think that Mikhail is nursing him back to health out of the goodness of his own heart. It’s no good breaking someone who’s already half broken.

Except he doesn’t intend to break. He’s Clint Motherfucking Barton, Archer Extraordinaire, SHIELD Agent, Avenger. He’s not going to break under some measly torture.
Change comes with a wheelchair and a set of handcuffs attached to it. Clint eyes the chair, then looks up at Mikhail as he pushes it through the door. “I’m not sitting in that,” he says flatly.

Mikhail pulls the IV out of his arm, then winds up the tubing and drapes it over the IV. “You will sit in that,” he says. “You have no choice.”

Clint shakes his head. “No way.” He probably shouldn’t start drawing lines so soon, but he really doesn’t like where this is headed, and he really doesn’t want to be wheeled to his doom like an invalid. “I’ll walk. I can walk. I’m good at walking. Been doing it most of my life. I even run sometimes.”

Mikhail snorts. “Lukas described the history of your cooperation together. I do not trust you to walk anywhere, Barton.”

Okay, that’s fair. Regardless, Clint tenses up as he comes closer. He hates being tied down and helpless, hates it more than just about anything, and he’s so sick of sitting in this chair. “You can handcuff me,” he offers.

“You must think I am an idiot,” Mikhail says. He sets the wheelchair at an angle to Clint and reaches for his first restraint. “Look at me, Barton.”

He doesn’t. It’s petty, but he doesn’t care. Mikhail sighs and winds his fingers into Clint’s hair before pulling sharply backwards. “Look at me,” he hisses.

Clint flicks his eyes up to meet Mikhail’s brown ones. “You’re going to sit in the chair,” he says. “You will not fight me on this. If you do, I will make what comes next much worse.”

“Fuck you,” Clint growls.

Mikhail just rolls his eyes and quickly undoes the restraint on Clint’s left arm. Without wasting a second, Clint shoots his hand forward and goes for the throat. Mikhail dodges it neatly, sliding his free hand over Clint’s face to block his vision while his other hand goes for the wrist. Clint ducks his head to the side and changes direction, turning his throat grab into a defensive move. He has to keep his hand free, he has to get out of this goddamn chair.

Mikhail’s hand slides around his elbow, then torques. Clint lets out a grunt of pain and pulls back, but Mikhail’s grip is too strong and he pulls hard, yanking Clint’s arm forward and onto the left wheelchair arm. He secures it to the cuff and steps back, not even breathing hard.

Clint is now awkwardly stretched forward, his right hand and feet still bound to the chair, and his left arm forced out to the side. He pulls on the chair, but it doesn’t move. Well, that went poorly.

“I am going to move your left foot now,” Mikhail announces. “Are you going to kick me?”

Clint thinks for a moment. “Yes.”

He expects a hit, but Mikhail just chuckles a little. “I appreciate your honesty.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the same little case that Lukas had. “We will just use one of these, then. It will make the process easier.”

The sight of the patches makes him shudder, and he turns as much as he can, trying to look up at Mikhail. “Don’t.”

He does, sticking it on the back of Clint’s leg. Clint waits for his entire body to go numb, but it’s only the left leg that stops responding. “It will only disrupt muscles below the level of placement,” Mikhail says, sensing his confusion. “So your upper body will be fine. I would have started with this, but I wanted to give you a chance to behave properly for me.”

“I’m not a toddler,” Clint growls. “I’ll behave however I damn well want to.”

“You sound like a toddler,” Mikhail laughs, pulling his foot away and setting it on the wheelchair footplate. Clint has to scoot forward for it to reach. He wraps a strap around the ankle, loosely enough that Clint will be able to turn it as he’s shifted over. “Are you going to fight me on this side as well?”

“No.”

Mikhail undoes his arm, and as soon as he does, Clint yanks it away from his grasp. He doesn’t go for the throat this time. Instead, he grabs the little container with the patches and throws it with unerring accuracy into the slats of the large wall vent across the room. Then he sets his arm back on the chair and gives his patented ‘what the fuck you gonna do about it’ grin.

Mikhail looks at the wall, then turns and raises an eyebrow. “Impressive aim.”

“I’m cool like that,” Clint says.

“I thought you were not going to fight me?”

“I wasn’t fighting you, asshole. If I was fighting you, I would have aimed for your head.”

Mikhail considers this, then nods. “Fair enough.” He takes Clint’s wrist again and cuffs it to the chair. “Are you still planning on kicking me?”

“Probably.”

That earns him a smirk. “Stubborn. I like it.”

“I live to please.” Clint considers his position, the open way he’s stretched out, and then decides that he’s dealt with worse. “You wanna bother with the rest of this, or do you just want to give up now?"

The fist that smacks his face isn’t entirely unexpected, but it cracks his head back hard enough to make him lose track of time for a few seconds. In that moment, Mikhail forcibly picks him up, drops him heavily in the chair, and secures his other foot.

“Rude,” Clint breathes, spitting blood onto the floor from a split lip. “What did I do to deserve that one, huh?”

Mikhail rolls his eyes and pushes the IV pole out of the way. “Be quiet, Barton.”

Chapter Text

Clint spends the first few minutes of his adventure yanking on the handcuffs, both to test the strength of the chair arms and because every rattle gets an irritated puff from Mikhail. After the seventh or eighth try, he clamps a hand on Clint and says, “Stop.”

“Why? Does it annoy you?” He rattles them again. “I can totally see how this would be annoying. It even annoys me, a little bit. But I’ll get over it.” He does it again, and again.

Mikhail doesn’t say anything else. He just resumes pushing. Clint rattles them a few more times, then settles down and observes his surroundings. “So. Do you guys really hate decorations or something?”

No answer. That’s fine, he can talk enough for both of them. “I mean, not like you need to hang paintings or anything. It’s too dark to see them. But I totally bet you could get a painter down here to do a mural on the wall. That would probably work out. You guys have that stupid weird octopus symbol, right? That would look nice with the creepy damp walls. Definitely set up the atmosphere a little bit for sure.”

They roll down a few more hallways. Clint can tell by the floor grade that they’re starting to go up. He doesn’t know if that’s good or bad. Still, he keeps up his monologue about interior decorating and how nice this base would like if they added in just a few extra lights, only enough to illustrate where the walls actually are, and do they want some names because he can recommend some really decent companies—

He pauses after that, remembering suddenly that the decorators he knows won’t be around for another thirty years, but Mikhail doesn’t seem to notice. He’s stopped in front of a door that looks suspiciously like a bank vault. “Intense,” Clint comments, as his captor enters a code on the side of it. “Should I be honored you’re so worried about me escaping?”

The door swings open, and Mikhail pushes him in. The room is larger than his last cell, split in half by a line of black tape on the floor. One side has a bed—more of a cot, really— a sink, and a toilet. The other side has a another chair, much like the one he came from, plus multiple cabinets and shelves. The shelves are full of basic torture implementations—whips, chains, knives—and the cabinets are locked shut. Anchor points are set into the wall, floor, and ceiling at various points. There’s even a fucking water trough in the corner.

Clint’s voice fades out as he takes all this in, attention momentarily distracted from what he’s saying. There’s…a lot of things in here to hurt him. Like, a lot of things.

He doesn’t scare easy, but this…this isn’t good. This is very, very bad.

“Finally, you are silent,” Mikhail says, coming around to his front. “Does the room shock you?”

Clint pulls himself back to the moment. “This shit? No.” He looks around. “You think this is the first time I’ve been interrogated?”

“Hmm. Interrogation is dull.” He kneels in front of Clint and wraps a soft leather cuff around his wrist above the handcuff, then puts one around his other wrist. “Torture and screaming until you answer questions I do not particularly care about. No, Clint, I am not going to interrogate you.”

He looks Clint in the eye then. He’s still wearing that neutral expression, but Clint’s spent a lot of time with SHIELD, and he knows how to read behind the lines. What he sees makes him uneasy. “What are you gonna do, then?” Clint asks quietly, tensing under the gentle touch of his fingers.

“I am going to shatter you, Clint Barton,” Mikhail promises, just as quietly. He smiles then, cruel and cold and powerful. “I will shatter you and then I will remake you, in my own image.”

Clint swallows hard, clamping down the fear. “Was that supposed to sound romantic?”

“No.”

“Good, because you kind of missed that. By a few miles, actually.”

Mikhail shakes his head and touches the cuffs. “I am going to attach these together,” he says, “and then I am going to attach them to that.” He points upward at one of the ceiling anchor points, which has a heavy-duty carabiner clip hanging from it. “If you allow me to do this, then our first moments together will be not as painful for you. If you fight me…” a smirk crosses his smug face. “Well, I will leave it up to your imagination, shall I?”

Clint tries not to. He really does. But as soon as that first handcuff comes off his hand, he shoves hard against Mikhail’s chest, pushing himself backwards a few feet. Instantly, he drops his hand down to free his leg. If he can even just get one out…

He runs out of time. Mikhail is on him before he can even brush the buckle with his hand. Clint tries for the other man’s wrist to see if he can get leverage to break it, but Mikhail just neatly slips his hold and slaps Clint across the face. Then he catches the free wrist and cuffs it to the tethered one. “Someday,” he says, grabbing Clint’s chin and turning it back, “you will learn not to fight me.”

“Someday,” Clint gasps back, “I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Mikhail strings him up then, arms above his head until he’s standing on his tiptoes to maintain balance. Then he comes back into Clint’s field of vision, and opens one of the cabinets. Clint can’t really see what’s in it, but he definitely sees what Mikhail pulls out.

It’s a whip. And not the fun BDSM kind either, made with safety and sex in mind. No, this is a nasty, single-tail leather whip that is clearly made to do damage.

“I warned you,” Mikhail says, faux regretfulness in his voice. He uncoils the whip and holds it up for Clint to see, then steps behind him. “I made it very clear what would happen if you defied me.”

“Oh, like you didn’t think I was going to try anyway?” Snarky til the end, that’s what his fucking gravestone will say. Here lies Clint Barton, who couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut.

“I didn’t know. You could have cooperated with me. It was your choice.”

The first lash comes. Clint is as relaxed as he can possibly be—knowing that tensing will make it worse—but he still has to bite back a grunt of pain as it cuts into his back.

“Here is how this is going to go,” Mikhail says, hitting him again. “Today is about understanding boundaries. I will make it very clear what I expect of you, Agent Barton, and you will obey me.”

“In your fucking dreams, asshole” Clint snarls, which earns him three more hits.

“First,” Mikhail continues, “is that I demand respect at all times. You will refer to me with an appropriate title.”

“Does asshole count?”

The next hit splits the skin open. Blood slowly drips down his back. Clint hisses in a painful breath.

“Set your pace accordingly,” Mikhail reminds him. “Secondly, I also expect obedience. If I give you an order, it should be followed. Disobedience will be met with swift punishment.”

“Am I supposed to be remembering these? Any chance you could write them down?” He’s proud of how his voice doesn’t shake. Despite having to listen to Mikhail drone, he’s getting himself in a solid headspace. Clint Motherfucking Barton, Hawkeye, Snap Survivor, Former Ronin. He can survive anything.

Three more lashes, then four. Some are diagonal, some are horizontal. All of them hurt like a bitch. “Third. You will not lie to me, just as I will not lie to you.”

Clint has to take a few breaths before he has enough air for that one. “I don’t…believe you.”

“You will in time.” Two more hits. “Three simple things, Agent Barton. Easy enough for you to remember. Respect, obedience, honesty. Surely they ask the same things as SHIELD.”

“Well yeah,” Clint says, letting out a deep breath. “Usually without the theatrics, though.”

Ten hits, all in a row. He’s still not screaming, but he’s damn close.

“You are being punished for breaking these rules,” Mikhail tells him. “ I gave you my name, and you chose to debase me with other words. I warned you how to behave, and you fought me several times. I asked you for honesty, and you lied to me.”

He hits again. The whip catches on Clint’s leg and curls up, clipping dangerously close to his balls. He makes a choking noise and clenches his teeth hard. “You may scream,” Mikhail tells him, hitting his other side in the same manner. “No one will mind.”

He does after that. He can’t help it. The whip strikes again, and again, and again, never in the same place twice but close enough to sure as hell feel like it. No inch of him is spared—his back, his ass, even down his thighs.

At some point he loses his footing and tips forward, saved only by the cuffs around his wrists holding him up. His shoulders burn as they catch him, his right one nearly dislocating. “Please!” he yells, the word escaping without permission. “Mikhail, please!”

That one gets him a set of particularly vicious strikes, and he screams through all of them. The blood dripping down his back is more severe now. He’s starting to feel the effects.

“Respect,” Mikhail whispers in his ear, making him jump. He hadn’t realized he’d gotten that close. “You will address me with respect, or this will continue.” He steps around to Clint’s front, crosses his arms, and waits.

Clint heaves in some air, trying to speak through the inferno of agony on his back. “Please,” he whispers again, scrambling to find a title that won’t get him hit. “Please sir, you’re killing me.”

“Better,” Mikhail says, wiping away some of his tears. Much to Clint’s relief, he sets the whip down on the floor. “You are learning.”

He picks up something else then. Something long, and thin, the end sparkling with electricity. “But I suspect you are trying to avoid pain. You are not truly sorry for your actions. Not yet.”

He jabs the instrument into Clint’s side, and electricity arcs through him. The involuntary seizing is hell on his back, and he howls, twisting away to avoid touching it again. “Stop!”

“That sounded like an order,” Mikhail says, touching it to his other side. “You are not allowed to give orders, Agent Barton. Only I may do that. Your job is to obey.”

More touches. More electricity. Clint is just yelling now, not even in tandem with the taps. He yells and sobs and twists to get away but Mikhail is always there, always waiting. The room smells like fear and sweat and burned flesh. Clint fights back the urge to vomit.

Finally, he hangs limp in his bonds, eyes hooded, barely able to support himself. Mikhail sets the stick down and lifts one of his eyelids. “Do not pass out, Agent Barton,” he says, gently stroking Clint’s hair. “We are not finished quite yet.”

“Please,” Clint whispers, struggling to open his eyes. “Please, stop.”

“Not until you give me what I want.”

Clint takes a shuddering breath. “What…what do you want?”

“An apology,” Mikhail says. “I have shown you kindness, and you spat in my face for it.”

What kindness? screams the rational part of Clint’s brain, but he doesn’t care to argue. “‘M sorry,” he mumbles, raising his eyes to meet Mikhail’s. “Please. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t believe you,” Mikhail says. He sets down the electric prod and picks up something else. A knife.

Clint shakes his head, but Mikhail just sets the knife against his chest and makes a thin, long slice. Nothing that would normally bother him, but in this condition, with his nerves already so strung out, it feels like absolute hell.

Mikhail makes another, and another, all the while humming to himself. “I’m sorry!” Clint tries again, but the asshole just shakes his head.

“You do not sound very sincere to me.”

“God, what do you want?”

More cuts. Slices along his arms, his chest, his legs, even perilously close to his groin. At one point, he lays the knife right alongside Clint’s dick and looks at it with a calculating gaze. “No, please,” Clint tries again, attempting to step back with uncooperative feet. “Please, I’m sorry, please don’t do that, no, no, I’m sorry!”

Mikhail just sighs and turns the knife so the sharp blade is laid against the sensitive skin. “Last chance, Agent Barton.”

Clint sobs and tries not to move. He’s so dizzy, and so tired and cold, and he just wants to lay down, this isn’t fair, he already gave up his name and his pride and—

It comes to him in a flash, suddenly, and his head snaps up. “Простите!” he shouts. Russian. Mikhail wants him to speak in Russian. “Простите! I’m sorry!”

The knife disappears from his dick, and Clint shudders in relief. Then Mikhail is there, soothing his head again. “Shh,” he murmurs, reaching up to undo the restraints. He catches Clint as he collapses to the floor, shaking and shuddering and whimpering. “I knew you would get there. You have so much potential.”

Clint curls into his arms, hating himself for doing so but unwilling to stop himself. Mikhail gently pulls him up to his feet, and together they stumble over to the bed on the other side of the room. “Down,” Mikhail says, and Clint crawls on to the bed and lies on his stomach.

He’s free for a moment, untethered and unrestrained as Mikhail moves away to get something. Attack, part of him whispers. He’s not expecting it. Attack him!

But then he remembers the whip and the electricity and the touch of steel against his cock, and he shivers hard. No. Not now. He can’t take that again. Not right now.

Mikhail’s touch on his back rouses him enough for another chorus of apologizing, but there’s only soothing whispers and touches from the other man. “I am merely cleaning you up,” he murmurs.

He wipes off the whip marks and smears something on them that instantly dulls the pain to a manageable level. “I will be back with some antibiotics,” he says, dropping the bloody cloth on the floor and stepping back. “You can rest now, Clint.”

Clint nods, his eyes already closing. Mikhail gently takes his hands, still in the leather cuffs, and ties them to each side of the bed, then gently brushes through Clint’s hair again. “Rest,” he says once more, and then the hand is gone. The lights dim and the door bangs shut.

He thinks of his family, then, as he lays there and bleeds silently. Of Laura’s strong arms and stronger will, of Cooper snuggling his teddy bear despite being “too old for baby stuff,” of Lila dragging him downstairs to look at her bullseye target, of Nathaniel learning to say “Dada” before “Mama.”

Is she worried about him? Does it even matter, since he can come back to her so soon? Or is there now a smaller, alternate timeline where he never goes back at all? In some universe, are his kids growing up without a dad?

Tears burn his eyes and he turns his head into the mattress, unwilling to cry in view of the stupidly large camera in the corner. Somehow, he has to get back to them. He has to teach Nathaniel to draw a bow and be there for Lila’s first date and help Cooper improve his catching. He has to hold Laura in his arms one more time.

Did you even say I love you when you left?

He says it now, separated by half a world and fifty-four years, in the hopes that somehow she’ll hear it anyway. He says it again and again until exhaustion finally claims him and he drifts unwillingly into sleep, trying to dream of home.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t know how long he sleeps, but when he wakes it’s to a haze of pain and a snarl of agony in his back. “Jesus,” he mutters, shoving his face into the bed until the urge to scream passes.

“Good morning, Clint,” Mikhail says, and Clint flinches. He immediately twists his head and finds the other man sitting on a chair across from him, playing with two interlocking pieces of metal. “How are you feeling?”

“Hurts,” he grunts, turning his head back down into the mattress. The movement makes him feel sick. It’s harder to breath this way, but he really doesn’t want to look at Mikhail. He’s annoyed at himself for breaking even that little bit, and he’s more annoyed at the man who brought him to it.

“I suspect it will for a few days.”

Clint snorts at that, unable to stop himself. “A few days? You fucking flayed my back open. This is weeks of recovery, not days. Unless you want to kill me.”

“I do not want to kill you,” Mikhail says, shifting in his chair. He taps Clint’s arm, drawing his attention to the needle there. “And it will be days, not weeks. HYDRA has developed an excellent serum—somewhat similar to the one used on Captain America, I am sure you remember him—and it speeds healing considerably. I will not use it to its fullest extent, or else there was no point in teaching you a lesson, but I would like to get you out of immediate danger.”

Well, that’s probably what’s making him feel sick. Clint snorts again. “If you didn’t want me in immediate danger, you shouldn’t have put me there.”

“I did not put you there. You put yourself there. Any consequences you earn are always a direct result of your own behavior.”

Abusive Relationships 101. Pain is always your fault. “I don’t believe that. You can’t make me believe that.”

“Believe what you like for now,” Mikhail says. “Look at me, Clint.”

“No thanks.”

Mikhail sighs and slaps an open palm on his back, hard enough to split one of the barely healed marks open. Clint chokes with the pain and clenches his fists, desperately trying not to tense up and make it worse.

“Look at me.”

He does, blinking his tears back. Mikhail shows him his bloody palm, which he then wipes on Clint’s arm. “I gave you three things to remember. Recite them for me.”

“Um.” Clint thinks back to the beginning of the session, before the whip and the electricity and the knife made everything worse. He vaguely recalls being talked at, but he can’t find the specifics in his memory. “I don’t remember.”

Mikhail holds his hand above Clint’s back, and he tenses. “No don’t! I don’t remember!”

“That does not sound like my problem.” He slaps again.

Clint lets out a low whine and shifts in an attempt to get away from the pain. “I don’t remember,” he whispers, shoving his face back into the mattress. “I don’t remember, I don’t remember, I’m sorry.”

“I suppose I will have to reteach the lesson,” Mikhail says, standing. Clint hears the chair move backwards.

He frantically shoves through the memory, trying to get to the words. He knows something was said, he remembers responding, remembers being snippy about it. “Sir!” he shouts, finally dredging something up. “You wanted me to call you sir.”

Which fundamentally he has a problem with, but right now he’ll deal.

“I want you to be respectful,” Mikhail corrects. “But I will accept that. What else?”

“Don’t lie?” He’s not sure about that one, but apparently it’s right. Mikhail pulls his chair forward.

“One more.”

He knows it now. He knows it but he doesn’t want to say it.

Mikhail picks up on his hesitation. In his peripheral vision, Clint sees him step towards the black tape. Towards the other side of the room. Towards the whip. “Follow orders,” he grits out. “You want me to follow orders.” Mikhail waits, and he reluctantly adds, “Sir.”

Mikhail stops, then steps back and sits in the chair. Clint can’t help the sigh of relief.

“Obedience,” Mikhail says. “Respect, obedience, honesty. Say it.”

Clint repeats the words into the mattress, then turns his head to look at his captor. “So now what?”

Mikhail crosses his left ankle over his right knee, adapting an unconcerned posture. “Now? We talk. I want to know you."

“I’m sure you do,” Clint scoffs, tensing despite himself. No matter what Mikhail says, he’s going to be interrogated. Asking him the questions after the beating is just as effective as asking him the questions during it.

The quip earns him another slap, although this one is lighter. It still sends a ricochet of pain down his skin. “Je-sus,” he hisses, breathing through it.

“Do not presume what I want to know,” Mikhail says calmly.

“Don’t assume I’m gonna tell you shit,” Clint shoots back.

He will. He knows that much. Certain things he can’t give up—the Quantum Realm, his family, knowledge of the future—but he can make up SHIELD bases, Agents, and locations. He’s got enough “this is what you tell them in case of interrogation” shit in his head to last a while.

He’s prepping himself to deal with some pain first—Mikhail will never believe him if he gives in right away—when the other man asks, “What is your middle name?”

Okay, on a list of things he was expecting, that was not it. “Huh?”

“What is your middle name?” Mikhail repeats.

“Why the hell—” He’s interrupted by another slap, this one right to the middle of his back. “Ow, what the fuck? It’s Francis, alright?”

“Francis?” Mikhail laughs. “Clint Francis?”

“Clinton, technically,” Clint says. “Makes it sound better.”

“Clinton Francis Barton. Is that a family name?”

He shrugs as much as he can. “I don’t know.”

“You do not know, or you do not want to tell me?”

“I don’t know. They’re dead now anyway.”

“Your family?”

“Yeah.” He thinks about his parents, about Barney—not his other family. Well technically he doesn’t know if Barney’s dead, but he suspects so. His brother was vanished in The Snap, and after everyone was returned, Clint still didn’t hear a word. It’s not surprising, honestly. Barney was never destined for a long life.

He remembers the year then, and realizes that actually, his parents are probably still alive right now. His dad was born in…1960? 50-something? He has no clue. But at this point in time, they’re almost definitely alive. As little kids, which is a weird thought. Christ, this timeline shit is going to kill him. Or give him a massive headache.

Mikhail is looking at him expectantly, and he realizes he’s missed a question. He winces. “I wasn’t listening. What’d you say?”

“I said tell me about your family.” He doesn’t look angry, at least. “Brothers? Sisters?”

“Brother. He’s dead too.”

“What was his name?”

“Why do you care?” Clint asks, bracing for another hit.

Mikhail obliges, smacking a hand on his right shoulder. The pain overwhelms him for a second, and he has to fight back the yelp that threatens to emerge with it. “Do not question my motives, Clint. I said I want to know you. This is reason enough.”

“I just…” He fights the urge to yell in frustration. This isn’t right, this isn’t how it’s all supposed to go. “Just figured you’d ask about other stuff.”

An eyebrow raises. “Like other SHIELD Agents? Secret codes? I told you I am overly not fond of interrogations, Clint. Useless drivel. Any codes you know will have been changed or set on high alert. I know how SHIELD operates.” He runs his fingers over the trembling skin of Clint’s back, which hurts only a little less than the slaps do. “As for Agents…well, none of them are a problem as of now. And if they become a problem, we will see what you know.”

Well, that’s alarming. He hopes none of them become a problem until he can break out of here.

Mikhail wipes the blood on Clint’s arm again. “I am spending time here with you because I am interested in you, любимец. So answer my questions and do not irritate me.”

Clint puzzles through the language for a second, then asks, “Did you just call me a pet?”

Mikhail laughs. “This also interests me. Tell me how you learned Russian?”

Oh.

“Sit down,” Natasha announces, stepping into his tiny living quarters.

“I am sitting down,” he says, not bothering to get up from the bunk. He’s reading a magazine, something about archery, and smirking at all the poor saps who think they’re so damn good at it.

“No, you’re laying down. Sit at your desk, Clint. I’m going to teach you Russian.”

He drops the magazine. “What? Why?”

“Because we’ve got a mission to Moscow in two weeks, and I need you to be passable.” She flashes him a grin, and he feels his heart give a traitorous thump. “Or at least, you should know how to ask for the bathroom.”

Donde está el baño,” Clint says in a bored tone, making no move to get up. He grins back at her. “See? All set.”

“That’s Spanish, придурок.”

“I have no idea what you just said, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t nice.”

She points at the desk. “Sit down, and I’ll tell you.”

“Clint!”

Clint jerks back to the present moment. “A friend taught me,” he says, hoping to cover up the memory. Not a good time to be crying. “A good friend. She, uh…she was Russian. She taught me a little bit. Words and phrases and shit.”

He misses her so goddamn much. She would never have let herself get in this situation. And if she did, she would sure as hell be able to get out of it.

“She must have been a good friend,” Mikhail says. “Was she your wife? Girlfriend?”

No. He’s not going to talk about her. She is locked away in a box with Laura and the kids. He’s not going to give her up to this creep. He did that once, he’s never doing it again.

“My brother’s name was Barney,” he says instead. “Barney Barton. Yes, I’m aware it’s a dumb name. They learned the second time around. Well, sort of. I mean, I still have to deal with Francis, but at least my name doesn’t sound like it should be on a comic book.”

Mikhail, of course, doesn’t let the moment go by. “You do not want to talk about her?”

“I don’t really want to talk about any of this,” Clint snaps.

“I could make you tell me,” Mikhail says, leaning forward. “I could tie you back on the other side of the room and whip you until I know everything about her.” He looks at Clint. “Or you could just tell me, without pushing. You could make this easier.”

Yeah, he could. But he’s not going to. Clint gambles a little and says, “If you do that, I’ll probably die. Super-duper magic serum or not.”

There’s a long moment, where they both stare each other down, then Mikhail nods. “Yes. That is probably true.” He drums his fingers on the bed. “I will give you one more chance, Agent Barton.”

“Generous,” Clint says. “Ask a different question, and maybe I’ll answer it. I know a lot about archery, that’s a good place to start. Or guns. Weather patterns. Space. Opera. Shitty pulp fiction novels. Crappy television. I could tell you how to ask for the bathroom in seventeen different languages, including three that no one actually speaks.”

Mikhail gets up and walks out of Clint’s view to open a cabinet. “I was hoping to keep this civilized, Agent Barton,” he calls back. “I would have liked to have a simple conversation with you.”

“So ask me something,” Clint says. “Just not about her.”

Mikhail comes back to Clint’s side, holding something. "It is not up to you to dictate our conversations. No. We will try again some other time. Perhaps when you are feeling more cooperative.”

It’s a needle. It’s a huge fucking needle with some clear liquid, and Clint can’t do much more than protest as Mikhail sticks him right in the ass. “Really?” he asks, twisting as much as his bonds and his back will allow. “That’s just fucking undignified.”

“This is a sedative,” Mikhail says, setting it on the bed next to Clint’s arm. “You will sleep for some time. When you wake up, I would like you to think about what it means to talk to me. You will have plenty of time to do so.”

Clint pulls hard on his restraints just so he can have the feeling of fighting something. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

But Mikhail doesn’t reply, and he can feel the sedative settling over his mind. “No,” he mutters, pulling at them again. “No, no no, no, no.”

As his eyes start to close, Mikhail’s fingers drift over his head, gently tracing the skin. “Think about it,” he murmurs. “I will be ready when you are.”

No,” Clint says again, but it’s too late. He’s gone.

He wakes up alone in complete darkness.

Chapter Text

The darkness would be suffocating to most people, but he’s Clint Motherfucking Barton, Super Sniper. He’s made his life about hiding in dark places, and this is nothing different.

He explores the new area as best as he can, slowly crawling around with his hands outstretched until he finds a wall, which he then traces around the room. Fifteen steps per wall. He finds what he thinks is the door, but the handle just rattles uselessly when he pulls on it.

Well, he’s not sure what else he expected. The door to open? His team waiting to throw a surprise party? He suddenly pictures the Hulk in a party hat and snorts.

Clint explores the rest of the room in a pattern, hands out so he doesn’t bump into the wall. He finds nothing except a thin scratchy blanket, which he wraps around himself, and bucket bolted into a corner. Must be his bathroom, judging from the smell.

Then he settles down opposite of it and waits. He’s not gonna break from this. He once sat in a perch for six days, waiting for a target. If Mikhail thinks a little boredom is going to get him, he’s got another think coming. Clint slips into his usual meditative state, slowing his breathing and calming himself. He can handle this. He can handle anything.

Sometime later, a rattling by the door pulls him out of it. He jumps to his feet, but the door doesn’t actually open. Something is pushed into the room instead through a slat near the bottom.

Clint carefully steps over and runs his hands over the door, feeling the notches and lines set into it. Yes, there’s an indentation down at the bottom. No way to open it on this side, but it’s something at least.

He pats his hands around on the floor. There’s a water bottle, and something next to it. Something soft and spongy. Bread? He picks it up and sniffs it. Yeah. Bread. Two slices.

“Really?” he calls out. “Bread and water? That’s the kind of vibe we’re going for?”

No answer, just the echoing of his own question.

He contemplates not eating to make a point, but he’s hungry and he needs the calories. So he eats the bread and drinks half the water before taking the rest back to his corner.

So they’re planning on keeping him alive, at least. They’re feeding him. Not enough, but something.

I would like you to think about what it means to talk to me.

Too bad, asshole. He’s not going to win on this one. Clint Motherfucking Barton, Avenging Badass is not going to give in. Not on this. Mikhail doesn’t get to hear about Natasha. He isn't worthy to know her name.

 

***

 

Hours pass. Clint works out as much as he can without aggravating his back. He doesn’t want to burn too many calories, but if he just lays here he’s going to waste away a lot quicker.

He sings. He remembers way too much Taylor Swift—thanks, Lila—but after awhile he branches out to some classic rock. Queen, AC/DC, Scorpion, Meatloaf. He doesn’t really care if they’re period correct or not. Maybe in ten years one of the HYDRA agents monitoring him will hear a song and think of their psychic prisoner who sang it way before it was made.

Clint giggles about this for a bit, then wonders he can technically still call it classic rock since he’s in 1965. Wouldn’t that make it just…rock?

“Get out of your head,” he tells himself, just to hear something in the darkness.

 

***

 

He imagines the team coming to rescue him. All of them, alive and together again. Hulk would smash the doors, Thor would pull lightning down on those fucking HYDRA goons that beat him the first time. Cap would use Mjölnir and his shield and lead the charge in. Stark would be the one to burst down the door with a repulsor blast and a cheesy one-liner that would have Clint rolling his eyes for days.

Natasha would take Mikhail. He’d never see her coming. She’d snap his neck in the dark without a whisper, and he’d never know. It’s better than he deserves.

 

***

 

He reenacts battles in his head and in the cell, rolling and dodging and pulling his imaginary bow. He makes up some too, imagining himself pulling the string and putting an arrow into Loki’s eye before that fucking scepter could touch him. The image makes him smile through his cracked lips.

 

***

 

They don’t feed him on a schedule. Sometimes he gets deliveries within hours of each other, sometimes they make him wait until his stomach is almost twisting in on itself. The food varies, but it’s never enough to chase away the hunger that sits constant in his gut. The water is only enough to keep him alive, nothing more. They don’t even let him keep the bottle. He has to put it by the slat when he’s done, something that took several thirsty days to figure out.

Clint knows the weird timing is designed to mess with him, but that doesn’t stop it from working. His only good measure of time is his hair, which was shaved bare on the sides and is now slowly starting to get bristly. The whip marks are now too healed to be useful.

He meant to grow it all out once he got Laura and the kids back. The mohawk reminded him too much of being Ronin, every time he looked in the mirror, and he hated it. When he mentioned this to Laura, she’d looked vaguely disappointed.

“You don’t want me to?” he’d asked while brushing his teeth.

“It’s your hair,” she’d said, rolling over in bed to meet his gaze. “And I know you don’t like being reminded of that time.”

“So why the face?”

She blushed then, a beautiful light red that flushed her face down to her breasts and turned him on instantly. “It’s kind of hot,” she whispered, gesturing to the shaved part of it. “And with the tattoo? You look very badass.”

“I’ve always been a badass,” he whispered back, climbing back into bed and kissing her.

“Yeah, but now you look it.”

He’d laughed and pulled the sheets over them. They’d made love slowly, reveling in the miracle of having each other. Of being together, after five years of nothing but dreams and memories.

His heart twists in longing then, and he forces himself to think of something else.

 

***

 

It’s been fifteen “meals.” Clint doesn’t know what that means, or how long that indicates. It’s probably been at least a week? He’s started hallucinating, or maybe it’s just dreams. But they’re not ones he’s actively making up. He hears his kids the most, calling his name or laughing. But when he turns, there’s nothing but darkness.

He talks to himself to chase away the oppressive blackness. He’s sure they’re listening to him, but he can’t stop himself. The need to hear something is overwhelming. Poetry, every shitty safe house novel he’s ever read, all the movies he’s ever seen. It comes spilling out of him until his voice is raw.

 

***

 

Clint wakes up once with his hands aching. At first he thinks it’s his broken finger, still in its makeshift splint. Later, he realizes that his fingernails are rough and worn to nubs. He was scratching the floor in his sleep.

 

***

 

He screams sometimes. It doesn’t help.

 

***

 

When the slat opens for the twenty-fifth time, Clint is right there next to it. He shoves his hand through, intent on grabbing whoever is putting food in here and demanding some answers.

He doesn’t get the chance. A hand grasps around his wrist instead and sharply twists it. Clint hears the crack before he feels it, instantly drawing his hand back into his chest as the pain slams into him like a tidal wave. A scream bursts from him, a horrible keening sound that takes serious effort to stop. He curls up in front of the door, clutching his throbbing wrist.

They push something else through the slot a few hours later. Bandages and a splint. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he sets his own wrist and binds it as tight as he can. Sometime later, they push in water.

 

***

 

He doesn’t get food again for a long time.

 

***

 

Sometimes he sees lights in the corner of his eye. He knows that’s his brain trying make up for sensory deprivation, but it doesn’t stop him from flinching every time one appears.

 

***

 

The next time he opens his eyes—from sleep or unconsciousness, he can’t remember anymore—Natasha is sitting next to him.

She is dressed exactly how he saw her last. Her usual mission uniform, red hair streaked with blond and tied back in a braid. She’s smiling at him. “Hey, Clint.”

“Nat,” he croaks, or tries to.

“Shhh,” she murmurs, touching his hair. “Clint, it’s okay.”

He coughs through the dryness in his throat and tries to sit up. His wrist is throbbing. “Nat,” he says again, reaching out for her.

She isn’t real. He knows she isn’t. But his fingers touch hair, and soft skin, and the warmth of it is enough to make him sob in relief. “You’re here,” he says, his voice breaking. “You’re here.”

“I’m here,” she confirms, giving him a sad smile. “I miss you, Hawkeye.”

“I miss you too. Oh God, I miss you so much.” He can’t stop touching her face, not until her hand comes up and winds around his. “Why are you here, Nat?”

“You wanted me to be,” she tells him. Like it’s that simple. “You and me, Clint. Isn’t that how it always goes?”

It is. It so is. Laura is the love of his life, but Natasha is the oldest and best friend he’s ever had. It’s always the two of them together. Even when they fight each other, it’s still always them.

“I won’t do it,” he says. “I won’t give you to him. I gave you to Loki, I answered his questions even as I screamed the whole time. I’m not doing that again. I won’t.”

“You didn’t have a choice, love.”

“I can’t let him break me.”

She looks at him. He can see the purple sky of Vormir in her eyes. “You don’t have to break, Clint. You just need to bend a little.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“It’s not.” Natasha brushes a loose strand from her face. “It’s not, Clint. You have to give, or he’s going to ruin you.”

“I can’t do that.” He’s crying now, tears dripping down his face. “You’re family too. You’re just a step from them, and I won’t do that. I won’t give them up. I’ll die first.”

She wraps her arms around him and he curls into her. “So change the story,” she whispers. “Make me the last step. Put them away and keep them safe.”

He just cries into her shoulder while she holds him, a year of grief and longing slipping through him in one single moment. “I forgive you,” she whispers. “Я прощаю тебя. I forgive you.”

Clint doesn’t know if that’s for Vormir, or for Loki, or for what he has to do, but he doesn’t care. He pulls the words around him like armor and stays in her embrace. He’s tired again, but he doesn’t want to sleep. He doesn’t want her to leave.

He whispers stories instead, spinning the memories into the darkness, hoping to keep her just a few seconds longer.

Remember in Spain, when we had to sit through that thunderstorm together in that shitty little cave?

Remember Venice, when we lost our gondola and we had to steal the motorcycle to keep up?

Remember San Francisco, when I got stuck on the carnival ride and you had to take a helicopter to come get me?

Remember?

Remember?

Remember?

He blinks and she’s gone, leaving nothing but cold air where she was before.

 

***

 

When he sleeps—if he sleeps—he dreams of being Ronin. Of slashing throats and wielding a sword and the horrible emptiness inside him waiting to consume everything.

He sees their faces, stricken with fear and terror as his sword cuts through them. A sword, not an arrow, because he didn’t deserve to be Hawkeye. Why us? They scream at him. Why us?

Because you survived, he says, and then remembers that he did too.

Didn’t he?

 

***

 

He lays on the floor, tracing invisible patterns in the air with his good hand, counting the seconds out loud. He loses track after six thousand. He starts over again. Then again. Then again. Then again.

 

***

 

Maybe he did die. Maybe this is Hell.

 

***

 

He wouldn’t deserve anything less.

 

***

 

Laura, Cooper, Lila, Nathaniel. He says their names in his head like a balm against the blackness. Laura Cooper Lila Nathaniel Laura Cooper Lila Nathaniel Laura Cooper Lila Nathaniel Laura Cooper Lila Nathaniel Laura Laura Laura

“I love you,” he says out loud. “I love you.”

Then he puts them away, and changes the story.

 

***

 

Mikhail is standing over him.

The sight is alien, and Clint realizes that there’s a dim light illuminating his cell. He can barely stand to look at it. He has to shade his face to look up at Mikhail.

“M—,” he starts to say, but then he remembers the first lesson. “Sir?”

“Agent Barton,” comes the cold response, and it’s almost painful to finally hear something that’s not his own ragged voice. “Have you had time to think?”

“Yeah,” Clint whispers. His voice cracks. “Yes.”

“Good.” Mikhail doesn’t move, he just stands there and waits patiently. Clint curls up a little tighter, then clenches his fists.

“Tell me about her.” There’s a beat of silence, where Clint tries to decide what to do. “Talk to me, Agent Barton, or I will give you more time.”

He can’t bear to be alone anymore, he can’t do it. He grabs Mikhail’s hand with his good one and clutches it desperately. “Please. Please don’t go.”

Mikhail pauses for a lifetime, then slowly kneels down next to Clint’s trembling body. “Tell me about her,” he says softly, gently rubbing a thumb over Clint’s knuckles, “and I will stay.”

Clint opens his mouth, then closes it. He doesn’t want to, he doesn’t want to, it’s like spilling his secrets to Loki all over again while he raged and screamed inside.

But if he doesn’t…Jesus Christ, he’s gonna break. He’s going to shatter so hard he won’t be able to fix the broken pieces this time. He can’t do this again. Can’t lose himself in the darkness, not like after The Snap. The worst five years of his life, he was so lost and there was so much death and so much blood

“Shhh,” Mikhail says, pulling him into an embrace. Clint sinks into it, touching whatever skin he can find. “Just her name, Agent Barton. Tell me her name and I will take you out of here.”

Clint lets out a horrible, animal sobbing noise, and makes his choice. “Natasha.”

For the longest moment, there’s no reply. Oh God, he thinks I’m lying, he thinks I’m lying, he’s going to put me back in there, I’m sorry Nat I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you—

“Good boy.” There’s a cool press of lips to his heated forehead, and the relief that sweeps through him is bone-deep and exhausting . “You may rest now.”

He fists his hands in Mikhail’s shirt. “Don’t leave me,” he begs. “Please. Please stay.”

“I will stay,” the quiet reassurance comes. Clint sobs and burrows into him, pressing his ear against the steady thumping of Mikhail’s heartbeat.

Chapter Text

They have to blindfold him before they can take him out, which freaks Clint out almost as much as being left in the room. Someone else hands in a roll of gauze and Mikhail is the one who wraps it around his head. “Easy, любимец,” he says, his lips almost brushing Clint’s ear. “We merely want to keep your vision intact.”

Vision. Right. He’s a sniper. As desperately as he wants to see again, he needs to be smart about it. He’s been in darkness for a long time. Slow exposure is the way to go. “Okay,” he whispers, fighting every instinct to rip it off. Mikhail ties it off and he raises a few fingers to touch it, but leaves it in place.

“Stand up, Clint,” Mikhail orders. “I will help you out of here, but I need you to stand.”

He shakily puts one hand on the ground and one on the wall, then pushes himself up. Mikhail makes a pleased sound and takes his right wrist—the broken one. “Come. We will get you medicine.”

“Okay.”

They put him in the wheelchair again, but they don’t restrain him. No point. Literally nothing about him is ready for an escape right now.

Mikhail takes a moment to wrap the blanket over him, and Clint is disturbingly grateful for this. There’s a tiny, rational part of his brain that screams he has nothing to be grateful for, that Mikhail is the one who locked him in there, but he ignores it. He’ll take kindness where it comes, thank you very much.

The wheelchair starts moving and Clint jumps. “Easy,” Mikhail murmurs. “Easy, Clint. You are safe now.”

“Okay.” Safe. He’s not safe. He’s never been less safe in his life.

“Just relax.”

He clenches and unclenches his hands on the wheelchair arms before finally getting up the courage to ask, “How long?”

He’s not sure if he does or doesn’t want to know the answer, but Mikhail doesn’t give it to him anyway. “All will be discussed later.”

Clint takes that for the dismissal it is. He pulls his knees into his chest and buries his head into his knees. He’s sure he looks pathetic—he feels pathetic—but honestly, he doesn’t really care.

They wheel him back to the room, he thinks, because when they stop Mikhail helps him stand up and shuffle onto a bed. “The lights are as dim as I can make them,” he tells Clint. “But I recommend taking the blindfold off in layers.”

“Okay.” Clint pulls off some of it, feeling like a mummy.

He can see a little bit now. Shapes, mostly. Then he jumps again as Mikhail presses a bottle into his hands. “Drink.”

Clint twists it open and takes a swallow. “How long?” he asks again.

“How long do you think it was?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t know. Two weeks?”

“Five,” Mikhail corrects. He sounds almost…proud? “You are very strong, ptichka.”

Clint has no idea what Mikhail just called him, but he’s sure it’s something diminutive. “Oh.”

“I hope it was was long enough.” His voice is light and friendly, but there’s a cold weight behind his words. “Give me your left arm.”

He does, and winces as a needle is stuck into it. “What’s that?”

“Saline and nutrition. You are quite malnourished.”

Well, that’s true. He’s been able to count his ribs for days now. A SHIELD doctor once told him he needed two thousand calories a day, minimum. He’s probably been getting less than five hundred.

Mikhail tapes the IV down and sits on the bed next to him. His arm brushes against Clint’s and traces over the designs on it. The contact is both too much and not enough, but he doesn’t pull away from it. “Tell me about this.”

“It’s a ronin,” Clint says. “Japanese samurai without a master.”

“And what significance does a Japanese samurai have for an American SHIELD agent?”

“You want a what?”

“A ronin. It’s a—”

“I know what the fuck it is. Why the hell would you want that?”

Clint rolls his eyes and pushes the wad of money across the counter. “Because I do, Airi. Why does it matter?”

She shakes her head and pushes it back. “I don’t take your blood money, Barton. You know that.”

“Blood money is all I have,” he says, pushing it forward again. “Take it or starve.”

Airi scowls. “Come back tomorrow,” she says, snatching up the cash and tucking it into her pocket. “I’ll have a better design for you then.”

“I want—”

“I heard you, Barton. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have a design that doesn’t look like a toddler drew it.”

Clint scowls back, but he knows when he’s beaten. The next day he comes back to the shop and she lays out a design that admittedly looks way more impressive than the one he gave her. A skeletal samurai sitting atop a tree with a serpent wrapped around the base.

“What’s this part?” he asks, pointing at the bottom.

“A reminder.” She taps the tree trunk. “If you’re going to be suicidal and announce who you are, then I’m going to give you reminders to keep yourself alive. Because it’s what they would have wanted.”

He sees them then. The four faces in the the tree. Too indistinct to truly resemble people, but he knows immediately what they are, and tears flood his eyes. He wipes them away quickly and Airi pretends not to see. “What’s the serpent for?”

“Choices,” she says. “Good and bad ones.”

He looks at the entire design, then nods. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

“It was a reminder,” Clint says. “And a statement.”

“What kind of statement?”

Come and find me. I’m not hiding.

“That I didn’t have to answer to anyone,” Clint finally says.

Mikhail hums. “What caused this?”

A megalomaniac asshole decided that half of all life needed wiping out, so he literally dusted my entire family, along with billions of other life forms, and that drove me a little insane for about five years. “I lost someone important to me.”

“This someone important…would that be your Natasha?”

He’s glad the blindfold is still on, and that he doesn’t have to hide the pain. “Yes.”

“Were you married?”

“Yes.”

“For how long?”

“A long time. She was my best friend.”

“Tell me,” Mikhail orders.

He does. Not all of it. Not even most of it. He’s always been a good liar, and he learned from the very best. So he spins a new story, sprinkling enough truths to make it consistent. “I was working for SHIELD. Natasha wasn’t. She took down a high-level asset of ours and I was sent to kill her.” Clint remembers sighting her down the edge of his bow, aiming an arrow at the center of her red dress. “I made a different call. I brought her in. We got close.”

“And you married her?”

“Eventually.” They had actually gotten “married” once for an assignment. A fun explanation for Clint the next time he went home.

“Did you have children?”

Not with her. “No. She can’t. She got hurt once. They had to remove her…” He gestures vaguely and Mikhail seems to get it.

“How did you lose her?”

“She sacrificed herself on a mission. To save me.” He pulls the blindfold the rest of the way off, preferring the sting of the light to remembering the smear of blood under her head at Vormir. “I tried to stop her. She wouldn’t let me.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” Mikhail says softly. He rubs his thumb over Clint’s knuckle again. “You could have told me this five weeks ago,” Mikhail says, getting up from the bed. “And saved yourself some trouble.”

Clint snorts quietly. “I’m stubborn like that.”

“Yes, you are. I look forward to working with you some more.”

Some more? His head snaps up, fear suddenly flooding him. “Don’t put me back there.”

“No, Clint.” Mikhail pats his head like he’s a dog. “That lesson is over, unless we need to revisit it.”

Lessons. Like he’s a schoolboy. Respect, obedience, honesty. Answer questions when I ask.

Well, he can’t deny that they’re sticking, at least a little.

Mikhail crosses the black tape and opens a drawer on the other side of the room. Clint watches carefully, every muscle tense. But all the other man does is pull out a cuff, similar to the ones Clint had on his wrists before, and a short length of chain. “I do not think I need to tie you down completely,” Mikhail says, coming back over. “But I would be remiss if I let you run entirely free.”

Clint doesn’t argue, just shifts slightly and sticks out his right leg. Mikhail fastens the restraint around his ankle with a secure-looking padlock, which he could totally pick if he felt up to it. “You should sleep,” he says. “I will return later.”

He doesn’t want to sleep. He’s been in the dark for far too long. But he nods and curls onto his side, mindful of the IV and his throbbing wrist, still in its shitty splint.

“I’ll leave the light on,” Mikhail says. Clint feels that absurd gratefulness again and grits his teeth. He is a fucking assassin. He is not afraid of the dark.

He repeats that to himself until he believes it.

Chapter Text

Clint puts himself back together little bits at a time over the next several days. Not the same, but close enough. He still flinches at unexpected noises, still half-expects the light to be off every time his eyes reopen. Mikhail is patient with him, telling him the time whenever he asks. His wrist gets reset properly and in a fit of kindness, Mikhail even super serums it for him. The results leave Clint feeling sick and out of sorts for a few days, but in the end his wrist is healed. Some part of him realizes that there are probably some nasty side effects to doing that, but he honestly doesn’t care. A broken wrist isn’t going to help him get out here.

They talk during this off time. Not about SHIELD, or Natasha. Just about life. Little anecdotes that don’t mean anything. Stupid stories from growing up. It surprises him, almost, the things they have in common. Two alcoholic fathers, two weak mothers. Formative years spent stealing and climbing and running away. Mikhail even has a brother, although his is alive and kicking somewhere on a boat in the USSR Navy. He wasn’t in a circus, but he spent time moving around with his military father, so nowhere ever really felt like home to him either. “I have never felt at ease in any place,” Mikhail says, and Clint can sympathize with that. Until Laura—no don’t think about her put her away she can’t be here—he hadn’t either.

Easy conversation. No secrets or lies required. Clint takes the respite with all willingness, uses the time to plan, but he can’t help feeling like the other shoe is about to drop. Mikhail is constantly appraising him, waiting for something. He doesn’t know what and he doesn’t like it.

The moment comes with the heart-stopping arrival of a train slamming into a station. Five days after leaving the dark room, something has Mikhail on edge. He hides it well during their chat, but Clint grew up in an abusive home and he knows the signs. Something is happening on the outside.

On the sixth day, the door opens much later than usual. Clint drops to a knee from where he’s doing push-ups—they’re still mostly starving him, but he hates sitting around doing nothing—and catches the thunderous expression on Mikhail’s face. Instantly, he’s catapulted back twenty-five years to that time he woke his dad up on accident, and self-perseveration tells him to freeze.

“Agent Barton,” Mikhail says. “We need to talk.”

He’s holding a file in his hand. Two files, actually, and he slams them on a table on the other side of the room.

“I didn’t do anything,” Clint says, still frozen on the floor. Agent Barton is not good, Mikhail only calls him that when he’s in trouble.

“This is not about you,” Mikhail says. “Get up.”

He slowly pushes up to his feet. He’s still naked, he hasn’t had clothes since that first day, but he suddenly feels the vulnerability of it. “I didn’t do anything,” he says again. Like the words are a shield.

“I am going to ask you some questions,” Mikhail says, “and you will answer them honestly. If you do not, there will be consequences. Do you understand me, Agent Barton?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. I would like to keep this civilized. I do not want to hurt you.”

Oh, Clint doesn’t like the emphasis there. Mikhail picks up the files and crosses to his side of the room, then hands them to Clint. “Open.”

He opens them. They’re personnel files, each with a picture attached. One man, one woman. SHIELD agents.

Shit. Agents making trouble.

He opens the woman’s first. She looks a little like Maria Hill. All sharp edges and no nonsense gaze.

There’s a short sentence in English underneath the picture. Agent Macton. Last known location: Saransk. Priority Level 12. Capture and interrogate. The name sounds familiar, but he doesn’t recognize her.

The man’s file is the same. He’s bald and big, and Clint actually does recognize the picture. He’s seen it on the Wall of Fallen at SHIELD headquarters at the top of the 1969 column. He pointed it out to Natasha once—Come on, Nat. What are the odds here?—and when she didn’t get it, he made her watch all the movies later. Even the bad ones. Agent Bond. Last known location: Saransk. Priority Level 12. Capture and interrogate.

Everything else written there is in Russian, and he can’t read it. He looks up at Mikhail. “What about them?”

Mikhail takes the files. “Do you know them?”

“No.” Clint looks him in the eye. “It’s a big organization, sir. I don’t know everybody.”

There’s a long moment, and then he says, “These two agents stole something from HYDRA. Something very important to us.”

“And you think I had something to do with it because…”

“I do not think you had anything to do with it,” Mikhail says. “But I think you might know something that you are not letting on.” He steps closer, using his half-foot taller height to his advantage. “Tell me. What do you know about Operation Star?”

Well, shit. This he does actually know, and suddenly he realizes why the names are vaguely familiar to him. He remembers learning about this in SHIELD orientation. Macton and Bond went into Moscow, and without any backup, decent weapons, or proper intel, managed to intercept a van carrying an young Austrian nuclear physicist. They took her and shipped her back to New York, where she agreed to work exclusively for SHIELD. She was a big reason why the organization stayed ahead of HYDRA for several decades. The agents had gotten a commendation for bravery, and in an organization that threw itself in front of bullets on a daily basis, that was a huge fucking deal. Clint’s pretty sure the award is still hanging somewhere in Fury’s office.

Clint even met the physicist once, although he hadn’t realized it at the time. She’d bought him a coffee sometime after Lila’s birth, when he still had dad brain and hadn’t remembered his wallet. He’d liked her a lot for that.

Shit. Shit. He can’t tell Mikhail any of this. He doesn’t know the location of any safe houses, and he’s got no idea where Macton and Bond might be now. But he knows where they’re going to end up eventually, and that’s just as dangerous.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Clint says, stepping back a little, schooling his expression into neutral. He'd kill for Natasha's poker face right now. She never gives anything away. “You’ve had me here for over a month, sir. Any information I might have had isn’t going to be relevant anymore.”

Mikhail is reading his face carefully. Clint keeps his posture open and waits.

The other shoe drops.

“You disappoint me, Agent Barton,” Mikhail says, and Clint feels a cold sense of dread snaking through him. “I thought we agreed not to lie to each other.”

“I’m not lying, sir.”

“You are. We both know it.”

All of Clint’s alarms are going off. He dreads that room, that dark room, but this is a line in the sand that he can’t cross. This was a monumental turning point for SHIELD. He can’t fuck up the future like this. “I’m not,” he says again, but he knows it’s useless. He prepares himself for…something, he’s not sure what. Another whipping? Five more weeks of sensory deprivation?

He gets a grip on himself. He handled it once. He can handle it the second time.

His eyes flicker towards the light anyway.

Mikhail smirks a little at the movement. “I’m sorry, Agent Barton. I told you, I don’t want to hurt you.”

“So don’t,” Clint says, hands half up in a defensive position.

I’m not going to.” At that, Mikhail takes his files and leaves. The door slams shut behind him with an odd sense of gravity.

Well, that’s what he was waiting for.

Time to move.

Instantly, Clint hurries to his bed. He slides his hand under the thin mattress and finds the nearly invisible hole he’d picked at during those first two days, then extracts the needle he’d hidden there. Between the various IV treatment, a stray needle had ended up on the floor on the third day. Clint had immediately covered it with his foot, then later that evening, had transferred it into the mattress under the guise of sleeping on his stomach.

He shoves it into the padlock around his ankle and picks it within ten seconds—getting sloppy, he hears Natasha chide him—and quickly hurls the lock at the camera in the corner. It shatters instantly in a perfect hit.

Then he drags the bed over to the other side of the room. Stupid of them not to bolt it down, really. SHIELD would never have overlooked that. Once it’s in place, he jumps up on it and stretches up for the ceiling vent above him. It’s small. It’ll be a tight fit. But he’s lost enough weight that it’ll probably work.

“Don’t be a pessimist,” he mutters. “It’ll definitely work.”

And it does, surprisingly. He has to jump, but his grasping fingers make contact and he manages to yank the vent open. Then he gets off the bed, grabs the water trough from the other side of the room, and carries it over. Five days of semi-adequate nutrition isn’t really enough to combat weeks of starvation, but he’s running on so much adrenaline right now that he feels like he could lift just about anything.

He climbs on the bed, then climbs on the trough, and hoists himself into the ceiling. It’s a tight fit, but he’s lost just enough weight that he can make the crawl. For a moment he debates trying to close the thing behind him, but then he decides he doesn’t care. The bed is telltale enough, not to mention the trough, and it’s not like he can put those back. They’ll figure it out. No point in wasting time with the vent.

Forward, then. He’s got no idea where he’s going, but anywhere is better than here.

Chapter Text

Clint know the exact moment they realize he’s out, because he hears the yells echoing all the way through the vents to where he is. He allows himself a grim smile as he army crawls forward. His elbows hurt like hell, but this is definitely worth it. He almost wishes he could see Mikhail’s face. What a fucking dick.

Stay focused, Hawkeye, he thinks. You’re going to run out of vent at some point. You need a plan.

He comes to a juncture shortly after that and after a mental coin toss, goes left. And for once his luck continues to hold, because he finds himself suddenly over what looks like a supply closet. With clothes.

“Fuck yeah,” he mutters, trying to see if anyone else is in there. It looks empty. So he takes a chance and shoves on the vent, swinging it down. Then he wriggles forward and sticks his head in. Yep. Empty.

He hits the ground in a shower of dust, then immediately sets about raiding the closet. It’s a basic green HYDRA uniform. Same thing Mikhail wears most days when he’s not in a suit, although this one doesn’t have any decorations or medals on it. Even better, honestly. The last thing he needs is to be noticed. A peon’s uniform is perfect.

Clint closes the vent and pulls the uniform cap low over his face. He almost wishes he didn’t have a mohawk, because if anyone makes him take off the hat, he’s screwed. No time to find something to shave it off, though. He’ll have to risk it.

There’s also nothing he can really do about the vent dust on the floor, but he kicks it around a bit until it’s mostly blended in. Then he opens the door and steps out. The hallway is empty and long. There’s no indication which way is which.

Coin toss. He goes right this time, feeling fairly confident when the ground starts to rise underneath his feet. Even more confident when a group of guys in the same uniform as him rush past, shouting in Russian at each other. Clint picks up his pace and slips into the group seamlessly. No one even looks at him.

They lead him all the way up and into a large open space. A hangar bay. With jeeps and planes and motorcycles and trucks. Clint has to bite his cheek to keep from smiling. He’s gonna get out. He’s gonna do it.

Don’t celebrate just yet, soldier, he hears Cap say. Still got a long way to go.

Invisible Cap is right. Clint still has to steal one of the cars and then get out of here. Without being spotted, preferably. Also, he’d really like a gun.

He follows his group around the edges, closer to the door. It’s a decent day outside. Cloudy and chilly, but not horrible. There’s no snow, at least. Wonder what month it is. He’d left his time in February, but there’s no way to say that it was the same month here when he landed. But if he had to guess, he’d say it was probably getting into summer—given Natasha’s descriptions of Russian in winter, anyway.

Someone shouts orders at his little group. They shout back and disperse into smaller groups, each going towards a different part of the hangar. Must be some kind of maintenance crew? Clint attaches himself to a small group and hopes no one asks him any questions.

They don’t. A clipboard is shoved into his hands, followed by vague pointing instructions towards a specific motorcycle. Clint takes it and steps over, pretending to look busy. The bike is nice. Definitely vintage—no, Clint, you’re in 1965, this is standard—but he used to ride something similar when he was younger, he can figure it out. He’s set to go, as long as he can get keys, or if he can hotwire—

There’s a commotion behind him. Clint turns to look with the rest of them, hoping against hope that it’s not what he thinks it is.

It is, of course. Mikhail and a group of soldiers are shouting orders and spreading out. Looking for him. They either saw the room he came out of, or they took a very accurate guess. Either way, he’s out of time.

He glances at the bike again, sends a silent thank you to whoever was dumb enough to leave the keys in the fucking ignition—seriously, HYDRA needs to get their shit together—and jumps in. In the shouting and chaos, the engine starting goes unnoticed.

His twist on the accelerator and subsequent race towards the door does not. He blasts through onto the open ground and orients quickly, accelerating towards the gates at the far end of the compound. They’re already starting to close, but Clint just revs the bike harder and prays to anyone who’s listening that he makes it. He’s either gonna get through them or wreck the bike. Hopefully the first one, because the second one would definitely ruin his day.

It’s narrow, so narrow that he instinctively closes his eyes, but then he’s out and laughing wildly as the bike careens into the woods. “Fuck yeah!” he screams, turning to avoid a tree, letting out a war whoop for good measure. He’s not clear. Not by a long shot. He can already hear the cars coming after him. But he’s out, and that’s half the battle.

He keeps driving east, based on the half-brained idea that they went west to get to the HYDRA base. Or at least he thinks they went west. He’s not really sure. But it’s morning, and east puts the sun in their eyes, so that’s what he’s going for.

Clint chances a look back, then sort of wishes he hadn’t. Seven cars in pursuit. Not good. At least it’s 1965 and not 2020, so it’s not like they can send out drones after him to distract him. Planes, maybe? His history isn’t great for this era, and especially not great for Soviet HYDRA technology.

No point in worrying. He needs to focus. There’s a distant smear on the horizon visible every time he crests a rise, and he’s pretty sure that’s a town. He angles towards it and twists the throttle harder.

They finally catch up to him about two minutes later. Clint ducks a hailstorm of bullets and wrenches the bike to the left, narrowly missing a tree before almost slamming sideways into another car.

“Don’t shoot him you idiots, we need him alive!”

That voice he knows. He glances over and sees Mikhail at the driver’s seat in the car next to him. There’s a gun pointed at him, but it’s not a regular gun, it’s a—

He ducks just in time to see the dart fly over his head and embed itself in a tree. “Jesus Christ!” he shouts, swerving hard to his right, wincing as something whips him in the forehead. Blood drips down towards his eye, but he doesn’t dare move to wipe it away.

Up a hill, down a hill, dodge a tree, duck a branch. Clint feels like he’s in a particularly shitty version of MarioKart. The hills are starting to get more rugged and the motorcycle is grinding through its gears. It’s tough, but it’s not made for this.

He glances back at Mikhail, then forward again. There’s something up ahead and he’s got a stupid idea forming—a monumentally stupid idea. Monumental to the point of being suicidal. But he’s running out of options, and monumentally stupid is about all he’s got left.

First rule of escaping, he hears his first SHIELD instructor tell him, is that you have to be willing to do what the other guy isn’t.

Hopefully, they’re not willing to do this.

“Agent Barton!”

The trees fall away and reveal the top of a cliff. Clint grits his teeth and pushes the bike harder, praying to anyone who will listen that this works.

“There is nowhere for you to go!” Mikhail yells. Clint lets out a little hysterical laugh. No, there’s really not. But he’s always been one to forge his own path.

He drives the motorcycle straight forward off the edge of the cliff.

For a moment he’s suspending in midair, flying over the terrifyingly large gap from one cliff to the next. The wind catches his hair and and the thrill of adrenaline makes everything painfully intense. He can see everything up here. The colors of the rock face, the glint of sunlight on the river below, the way the wind is blowing the trees on the bluff across from him.

Beautiful, he thinks, and then he’s pushing upwards. He grips the handlebars, puts his feet on the seat, and launches himself forward with all the strength he possesses.

For a heart stopping moment, he thinks he’s not going to make it. He has a sudden image of himself falling down into the ravine below, breaking his body on the sharp rocks.

But then he slams into the cliff edge with enough force to wind him completely. Below him, the bike hits the rocks and tumbles down with a fantastic screech of metal. His hands desperately scrabble at the rocks, hoping to find something to hold onto. Just as he’s about to slip backwards, his fingers catch on a rock and he pulls hard, channeling every ounce of desperation into a single motion.

He crawls up the last ten or fifteen feet, onto the clifftop, then collapses onto his back, breathing heavily. He lays there for a whole minute.

“I’m alive,” he tells the sky, or maybe himself. “I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive.”

Keep moving, Legolas, Tony scolds him. Party’s not over yet.

Clint slowly rolls over and pushes himself to one knee. He takes another couple shuddering breaths, still half-convinced he’s dead, and then he looks across the gap.

They’re all standing there. All seven cars and their occupants. Dart guns and real guns aimed at him, but nobody is firing. They’re just staring, slack jawed and wide-eyed. Mikhail is standing in the middle of them, gun held loosely in his hand, an expression of utter disbelief on his face.

Clint stands up and grins at him, triumph settling into his chest with a roar. He almost doesn’t care what happens next. He’s always going to remember this moment, standing bloody and bruised and fucking alive, looking across an impossible gap at the man who had tried so hard to break him.

There are so many things he could say. So many Stark-worthy one-liners. He can feel them forming in his chest, but in the end he doesn’t say a word. He just winks, and then offers a dramatic bow worthy of a Shakespearean stage.

Mikhail’s face gives an ugly twist and he raises his gun, but Clint is already running into the woods on his side of the bluffs.

The bullet doesn’t even come close to him.

Chapter Text

It takes Clint the rest of the day to walk to town. He doesn’t really want to go there—HYDRA is stupid, but they’ve got to know that’s where he’s going—but his options are very limited. He’s alive, but he has no food, no water, and no idea of where he is other than “somewhere in Russia’s asshole.” That town is his best option for survival beyond the next couple days.

He’s got to be way the hell in north, because the sun is up for a long time. It’s not dark enough to hide until he reaches the outskirts. He melts into the shadows and refuses to acknowledge how those same shadows also turn his stomach. Clint Motherfucking Barton is not afraid of the dark.

A little stone wall surrounds the town. He hops it easily and creeps along the outside by a small farmhouse. Food first, to quiet his steadily growling stomach. And water. Then he needs to figure out where he is and how to get a message to SHIELD.

His feet crunch against the cold grass as he gets closer. There’s somebody outside—a kid, it looks like. Teenager, maybe? Clint can barely make out his outline in the darkness. He starts to turn the opposite direction—probably best to avoid all people—when he hears it.

Swish.

Thunk.

He knows those sounds.

Someone yells from inside the farmhouse. A name, probably, because the kid turns and yells something back, sounding exasperated. There’s another swish thunk.

Clint jumps back over the wall and stays low, moving back towards the farmhouse. There’s another yell. Then the door opens, spilling light across the yard. Clint ducks as a woman comes storming out.

She marches over to the teenager and grabs him. Clint almost has to laugh. He can hear the conversation in his head, even without understanding the language. The exasperated tone of a mother doesn’t change across time or culture, apparently. The two exchange heated words and gestures before the teenager finally throws his hands up and storms towards the house, stopping to place something in a chest by the stairs before going inside.

He waits five minutes before venturing close, then another two while listening for any sign the teenager might be coming back. But all that happens is the lights downstairs turn off, and there’s an echoing sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs.

Clint darts over to the chest and opens it, unable to stop the grin from spreading across his face. “Hello, sweetheart,” he mutters, reaching in and pulling out a beautiful bow. “Aren’t you just a lovely thing?”

It really is a nice bow. A vintage recurve in absolutely fantastic condition—which makes sense, when he remembers he’s still in 1965. Clint digs in the chest a little more and comes up with a quiver full of arrows, then a pair of gloves.

Well, it’s definitely not his SHIELD-issued collapsible . But it’s something, and he’ll take what he can get. He gears up and does a couple test pulls. The bow is really nice. He almost feels bad stealing it. Poor kid is gonna have a sad day.

Clint slings the quiver over his back and steals away from the farmhouse. The shadows don’t turn his stomach anymore. What’s to be afraid of, when he’s got his best weapon in hand and a mission to complete?

The town is cute, honestly. Small one and two story houses dot the gravel roads twisting through it. The main wide road is poorly paved, and he can see the faded letters of old storefronts that are closed for the night. A dry fountain in the middle hosts a statue of an angry looking man.

Clint sticks to the little houses, vaulting fences and crossing yards as quickly as he can. Once, a half-awake angry goat threatens to give him away, but Clint freezes in place long enough that the animal goes back to sleep instead of raising an alarm.

Food. He needs to get food. Food, drink, and contact SHIELD. And steal a coat or something, because his stolen HYDRA uniform isn’t cutting it. He’s cold. He’ll have to break into one of these houses. On the plus side, no alarms to worry about. Not like 1965 has ADT everywhere. It’s laughably easy to jimmy the lock on one of the back windows, then quietly slip inside.

The interior is alright, if a little rustic. There’s a table with a truly ugly tablecloth on it. Opposite that is a counter with a stove, a sink, and a few kitchen implements. Laundry is strung across a makeshift line that splits the whole room in half. Clint gently pushes aside a skirt and spots a loaf of bread on the other side, which he promptly tears into.

He ducks some hanging pots and peeks around the doorway into what must be the main room. Staircase to the left, front door straight ahead. Fireplace. Rocking chair. There’s a coat laid over the top of that, which he promptly picks up. It’s too big, but it looks plenty warm. He pulls off the quiver and puts it on, then freezes as a creak from upstairs echoes through the dark like a gunshot.

There’s nowhere to hide, so Clint just leaves, sliding the window shut quietly once he’s slipped through. Might have just been the house, might’ve been HYDRA. No point in taking chances now.

The night is still cold but the coat helps a lot. Some part of him feels bad about taking things from these people who obviously have so little, but right now he can’t afford to be sentimental. Survival comes first.

Two houses later, he hears it. The distinctive crunch of boots on gravel. That’s definitely HYDRA. He crouches down by a well and watches the patrol walk by. They’re sloppy, honestly. Not checking their corners, not on alert. Dart guns held loosely in limp hands. One of them is even smoking a cigarette. Giving away their position with unmoderated voices and loud feet.

Clint could kill them all. He really could. He’s already reaching for the arrows when he hears Banner’s voice in his head, murmuring caution. Element of surprise, Barton. Don’t give that up.

Which frankly is some rich advice coming from a guy who turns into a giant green rage monster. But he’s right. Clint drops his arm and lets them walk past. They don’t know he’s here. He would be stupid to give that up.

Besides, he still needs to find some communication. A radio, or a phone. Something. This town is small and kind of rustic, but they’ve got to have something.

He finds it about twenty minutes later. In the back of what must be the local store or pharmacy—he can see shelves through the window—there’s a very dusty and gross looking payphone set into the wall. Score.

Clint creeps up to it. He hasn’t used one of these in a long time, not since a mission went sideways about ten years ago and he got stuck in Spain with two bullet wounds, no pants, and no way home. It had been a weird day.

He pats down his new coat and finds a few coins in the pocket. There’s a dial tone when he picks it up, which is promising. He won’t have to hotwire it to call out. Then he pushes the coins into the slot and punches in a number.

He’s not expecting to dial SHIELD directly. He’s not an idiot. But every agent, on every mission has a contingency plan. Every mission comes with a phone number to dial just in case something goes wrong, and a code to accompany it. The code is a last ditch, time-crossing “please fucking rescue me” bat signal. Whoever answers the phone will record his number and his name, then put that in a folder and tuck it somewhere in the SHIELD archives to gather dust. When he doesn’t return at his appointed time in fifty years, someone will go and look, find the year, date, and coordinates, and send a team to retrieve him.

Or hopefully that’s how it will go. Clint is supposed to be in 1995, but hopefully someone at SHIELD will realize that something went off track, literally, and they’ll look in the other archives. It’s a crap plan, but it’s the best he’s got. He dials and prays that someone is paying attention.

The phone rings long enough to make his stomach sink. He doesn’t like this, he’s too exposed out here. Literally all any HYDRA agent has to do is walk around the corner and he’s fucked.

Finally, a bored voice answers. “Yes?”

Relief floods him, so much so that it takes him a minute to actually speak. “Go secure.”

“Transmission is secure.”

Clint glances around. “Barton. 74256387. Coordinates unknown. Somewhere in northern Russia. HYDRA base near Murmansk. I’m in a small town about seven miles east of the base. Request immediate extraction.”

“Understood.” The line goes dead.

Clint hangs up. The back of his neck prickles, and he ducks just in time to see one of those fucking darts embed itself in the wall where he was standing two seconds ago. He whirls, already drawing, and lets loose while running. The arrow finds its mark and the guy falls, but there are three others. Clint ducks another dart and fires again. Two down.

The other two are yelling now, fumbling for their real guns. He doesn’t give them the chance. He pulls two arrows from the quiver and fires, hitting each in the forehead with a single shot. Dead. Four down.

Then he runs. Part of him wants to collect the arrows, he only has seventeen now, but he needs to move. Too much attention will be on that spot, and even in the shadows he suddenly feels exposed as hell. He needs to get off the ground.

So he climbs a house. Slings the bow over his shoulder, grips the drainpipe, and scales it. At the top, he rolls onto the roof and crawls to the peak, tucking his back into the raised dormer. He nocks another arrow, waiting. Looking for Mikhail.

Except Mikhail doesn’t show. It’s just another patrol, checking on their friends. They spread out when they see the carnage, hands on guns and eyes looking around wildly. But they don’t look up.

Nobody ever looks up.

Finally they disperse, dragging the bodies of their friends. Clint watches them go, then crawls over the roof to watch them run through the streets on the other side. He counts twenty-seven total, not including the four he shot.

“Lots of guys for one lousy SHIELD agent,” he mutters. They must really want that information. He wonders how far Macton and Bond have gotten, if they have the physicist yet or not. They must be causing a hell of a lot of trouble for Mikhail to get this desperate to recapture him.

Or hell, maybe it’s personal. Clint understands revenge better than most.

It’s starting to get light again. He’s definitely way too far north. He needs to hide somewhere that’s not a roof. Nobody ever looks up, but he doesn’t want to be stuck up here come daylight. That’s pushing it too long.

He edges over to the end of the dormer, then peers into the window. A bed, unoccupied. A dresser. A door. No people. He eases the window open and slides in, landing with a creak that makes him wince. But no HYDRA agents come storming up the stairs, and after a moment he steps away from the window and slides down on the floor beside it.

Christ, he’s tired. He’s so tired. His eyes are closing and it’s not good, this isn’t a good place to sleep, he’s literally in someone else’s house and he needs to fucking stay awake, needs to slap himself or stand up or—

дерьмо́,” someone says.

Or get a massive, body-wide adrenaline surge. That’ll work too.

Chapter Text

Clint jackknifes up, drawing his bow. Only years of training stop him from instantly releasing as he sees his target—a brown haired, middle-aged woman with a terrified expression. She puts her hands up, cringing away. Behind her, a little girl ducks out of sight, burying her face in the swishing skirt. He spots the little homemade doll in her tightly clenched hands. She can’t be more than seven or eight.

There’s a long silence between them. Clint doesn’t relax, but he doesn’t fire either. His eyes search the woman for an expression, for some sign that she’s going to give his position away.

She doesn’t. Instead, she slowly lowers her hands, then murmurs something in Russian to the little girl and gently touches her head. Then she looks back at Clint. “American?”

He nods. No point in hiding that.

“SHIELD?”

He nods again. No point in hiding that either, especially if she knows to ask.

“They are looking for you,” she says, indicating the agents outside.

“I know.” He doesn’t move.

“They offered a reward.”

Figures. Wonder how much it’s for. “You gonna turn me in?”

More silence. More stillness. His heart is beating so fast that it’s an effort to control his breathing. He really doesn’t want to kill her. She has no part in this, and she’s got a kid…

“I have food,” she says, gesturing down the stairs. “You are hungry?”

The little girl peeks out from behind her. Clint slowly lowers his bow. “Yes.”

“Come.” She waves him forward. He keeps the arrow nocked, but steps forward and down the stairs at her instructions.

This house is very similar to the one that he stepped into before. Same layout, same dingy appliances. If anything, they look worse in the slowly growing daylight. He sits in a chair, still on edge, and she pulls something wrapped in cloth from an icebox. “Blini,” she says, setting some small pancake-looking things in front of him. “Eat.”

He takes a bite. They’re cold, but pretty good. “Thank you,” he says, his mouth full.

The floor creaks behind him and Clint whirls, jumping to his feet and pulling back on the arrow. It’s a boy, probably fourteen or fifteen, standing there with a gun in his hand. It’s not pointed at anything, but it’s there.

The woman runs forward and stands between them, mimicking their positions from upstairs. They argue. The boy doesn’t take his eyes off Clint, and Clint keeps the arrow aimed at his heart. Come on, kid. Stand down.

Finally, the woman takes the gun. The boy scowls at her, then storms back up the stairs. She turns back to Clint and tucks the gun into the waistband of her skirt. “My boy,” she says. “He is young and impressionable.”

“I’m sorry,” Clint says, easing up on the bow. He shifts uncomfortably, then adds, “I shouldn’t be here. I should go.”

“No.” She puts a hand on his shoulder. “It is daylight. They will see. You wait.” She fills a glass of water and sets it in front of him. “Drink. Eat.”

“I’m putting you in danger,” he says. “If they find me here…”

“They will not.” She sets more blini in front of him, then murmurs something to her daughter. The girl scampers from the room.

There’s a long silence while he eats. The blini is fantastic, light and easy on his stomach. He isn’t able to eat as much as he’d like, but it’s enough to finally satisfy the gaping pit in him. When the blini is gone, she takes the empty plate from him and puts it in the sink. “You are tired?”

“Yeah,” he admits, trying to stifle a yawn. He can’t remember the last time he slept, and with a finally full stomach, it’s getting harder to stay awake.

The little girl reappears with a small bowl and a cloth, which she sets in front of him. At his questioning look, she touches above her eyebrow. Clint mimics her movements and hisses in pain as he touches the cut from the tree branch. “Oh.”

She cleans the cut for him, softly apologizing in Russian when he winces in pain. Eventually, the dried blood is off his face and the water is rust colored. “Thanks,” Clint says, and she smiles shyly at him, still clutching her doll in one hand.

“Upstairs,” the woman says. “Come.”

She leads him upstairs to the room he came into. “You can rest here.”

He looks at the bed, which looks incredibly inviting, and then back at her. She seems to understand his unspoken concern, because her face softens and she puts a hand on his arm. “You are safe here,” she says. “I promise this.”

He believes her. He shouldn’t, but he does. Or maybe he’s just too tired to argue. Either way, he kicks off his HYDRA boots and unslings his quiver, then sets both that and the bow next to the bed. Then he tentatively lays down, a little unsettled by the way her piercing blue eyes watch his every movement.

“Rest well,” is all she says, and then she backs out of the room, closing the door behind her. Clint hears it click shut and lock. He spares it a brief moment of concern before sleep pulls him under.

 

***

 

The sensation of being watched pulls Clint from his sleep. His subconscious brain is prickling with unease, and he awakens with a violent start, grabbing the bow beside him and rolling off the bed, arrow already nocked and drawn.

The little girl stares back at him. She’s holding the hand of another kid—not the oldest boy, this one’s a little younger—and they both have wide, terrified eyes. Clint immediately relaxes the bowstring and lets out a breath. “Hey kids,” he says, putting the bow on the bed. “Sorry.”

The girl turns and runs out of the room. The boy stays, his head tilted in curiosity. He’s the spitting image of his mother, with the blue eyes and brown hair. “A-mer-ican,” he says, tripping over the word. “You…Am-er-ican?”

“Sure am,” Clint says. He tries for a smile. “Good old USA.”

1965. Smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. Hell, smack dab in the middle of the fucking space race. Clint’s sure he’s probably the first American this kid has ever seen, Russian school propaganda notwithstanding. Almost can’t blame them for staring at him. He’d want to see the novelty too. “I’m Clint,” he says, gesturing to himself. “Clint Barton.”

“Jakob,” the boy says shyly.

Clint extends a hand to him across the bed. “Nice to meet you, Jakob.”

The door creaks open and the woman steps in. She snaps something in Russian to the boy, who immediately flushes with embarrassment and hurries out the door. “I am sorry,” she says. “They were not supposed to disturb you.”

“It’s fine,” Clint says, standing up. He pops his back and picks up his bow. “How long was I out?”

“Three hours.” She hands him a bundle. “Clothes.”

He takes them, suddenly aware of the sheer amount of mud and dirt on him. He feels bad for getting it on the bed. “Thank you.”

She closes the door, leaving him to change. He quickly strips, trying to minimize the amount of dirt on the floor. The clothes aren’t a perfect fit, but they’re well-made and warm. He slings the coat on, then the quiver, then spots the tiny attached bathroom and hurries in.

Coming back into the room, he notes a few details he’d missed earlier. This must be the woman’s room. There’s a few makeup items on the dresser top, and a mirror. There’s also a picture of a man with a black ribbon across it. He’s smiling, dressed smartly in a HYDRA uniform.

The door opens again. Clint looks up at the woman, then gestures wordlessly to the picture.

“My husband,” she says. “He was working at the base.”

“He died?”

Pain writes itself all over her, an expression so severe that for a second Clint feels incredibly guilty for asking. But then it’s gone, and she straightens up. “They said it was a training accident.”

He nods. He’s heard that story before.

“We met in America, you know,” she says, crossing her arms. “At the University of Chicago.”

“Really?” Well, that explains the English. He’d been wondering.

“My father and his father were involved in research and development there. We were there until the end of the war.”

Research and development. The Manhattan project, probably, if she’s referring to World War Two. “I’m sorry he’s gone.”

He realizes he’s probably wearing the man’s clothes, which is probably why she’s looking at him like that. “You look a little like him,” she says. “He would have liked you, I think. He was not happy with HYDRA in the end.” Sadness fills her face. “I think that is why they killed him.”

“Probably.” He picks up his bow.

“You are leaving?”

“Yeah.” He gestures to the window. “The longer I stay, the more danger I put you in. You’ve got kids.”

She nods. “There’s a barn half a kilometer to the north. It’s abandoned. You might be safe there.”

Well, might be safe is better than nothing. “Okay,” Clint says, stepping over towards the window. “I can’t thank you enough for all this. For letting me stay here. I wish I could repay you.”

“Get away from them,” she says. “Survive. That will be enough.”

Clint eases open the window and checks the area. No patrols. It’s too bright outside, but he can see the barn in the distance. “Thank you,” he says again, one leg out the window. “I won’t forget you.”

He pulls himself back up to the corner of the dormer. She must close the window behind him, because there’s a click as soon as his other leg gets out of the frame. Clint settles into a perch and nocks an arrow.

There’s some cover, but mostly there’s a fair amount of open land to run across. He’ll have to cross it at some point if he wants to hide in the barn. No question about it. And he’s got no idea what time it is, but based on the sun it’s probably early morning. He could stay up here and wait the whole day—wouldn’t be the first time—or he could chance it. Which choice is smarter?

“What do you guys think?” he murmurs, asking his invisible team.

I’d move, Falcon says. The barn has better cover. In the dark you were fine. In the day you’re a sitting duck.

“You would know, bird-man,” Clint says, checking for patrols. Still nothing. The silence is almost starting to bother him more than if there were constant patrols. Either they left, which he finds very unlikely, or they’re stupid, which is more likely, or they know exactly where he is and they’re waiting for him to expose himself.

He only has to survive long enough for SHIELD to get to him. That’s all. He’s surprised they haven’t come already, but maybe they’re having trouble pinpointing his exact location. Then again, it’s not like they would have dropped in from a helicarrier. It’s likely a two man extraction team, and they’re probably hiding just as much as he is.

There’s also the possibility they never got his message, and he’s going to be stuck in 1965 forever.

Stop worrying and move, Hawkeye, Wanda whispers to him. They’ll be here.

Right. He needs to get out of his head.

He grips his bow and slides down the roof, then jumps and rolls to the ground. Looks around again. Still nothing.

Okay. Run.

He’s fast. He’s always been fast, and he’s only gotten faster since hanging out with the Avengers. A mere human doesn’t keep up with superheroes without working on it. He’d cut his mile time down considerably. Steve had him beat at long distance, but Clint could almost get him on the sprints.

A dart whizzes over his head, pocking the ground in front of him, and Clint swears loudly, turning up the speed as much as he can, desperately wishing Pietro was still alive to help him. He practically crashes through the barn door, then scrambles up into the loft and positions himself by a window.

Yep. They saw him. Seven guys, all heavily armed with those fucking dart guns plus some real ones, all coming his way. He has seventeen arrows left. Not enough. He needs to get a gun. He needs one of their rifles. The real ones.

They fan out, approaching the barn from several sides. Clint quickly fires two arrows, hitting both agents approaching on his side. They collapse instantly. Clint jumps out the window and lands in the hay bales below, tucking and rolling back up to his feet. He sprints forward, snags a rifle, and slings it over his shoulder, drawing another arrow at the same time.

Duck, Nat says, and he does, turning to his left. He fires, takes another one down. Five left. Fourteen arrows.

Sixteen, actually. He retrieves the two from the bodies closest to him, then takes off running across the open ground again. Back towards the houses. He’s got to find better cover, got to get out of sight and get—

He rounds a corner and literally runs into a HYDRA agent, bouncing backwards hard enough to lose his footing. He lands ungracefully on his ass with a grunt of pain and scrambles to his feet as fast as he can.

“Don’t move!” the agent shouts, aiming his gun right at Clint’s chest.

“Screw you,” Clint says, diving to the side as he draws an arrow. 15 left.

He ducks between two houses and hops a crumbling decorative fence. Three agents follow him. He takes them out with extreme prejudice. Twelve now.

There’s too many. There’s always more. Every corner he rounds, every street he crosses, they’re there. Clint does what he can, but it’s not enough. He should have stayed on that fucking roof, and where the fuck is SHIELD? Clint runs and shoots and doubles back and shoots some more and eventually ends up climbing another drainpipe on a slightly fancier house overlooking the town square, where he tucks himself against the brick chimney and tries to catch his breath.

Give me a sit rep, Cap orders.

Right. Sit-rep. He has four arrows left, then he’s down to the rifle. It’s an AKM. Standard issue for this time. Similar to an AK-47. 30 rounds in the magazine, one in the chamber. Fires forty rounds per minute on semi-auto. Effective range of 383 yards.

So basically, he has thirty-five shots, and then he’s done for. He’s got nowhere to go. He’s marginally safe up here, but he can’t stay here forever. He’s hungry again. He’s tired. He definitely could use a bathroom. There’s still no sign of SHIELD. HYDRA knows he’s here, and they’re on red alert. They want him alive, which is nice, but Mikhail is probably planning some gruesome torture, and that’s definitely not nice.

“Okay, Cap,” he mutters. “You want an official sit rep? I’m fucked.”

Chapter Text

He falls asleep.

He doesn’t mean to, but he does. He’s stuck on the roof until some of the heat is off, and without his conscious permission, his brain decides that he’s safe enough. He goes into what Natasha called “power saving mode.” It’s that mission-ready sleep, where his brain is mostly offline but his senses are still on alert. It’s not the most restful, but it helps a little. Sadly, this isn’t even the worst place he’s ever slept.

Regardless, he’s alert enough to sense a change in the air. A jeep rolling up. A voice echoing across the ground.

Clint roars back to full alertness and draws his bow, staring down at the gathering below him. He knows that voice. Fucking Mikhail, climbing out of the jeep and yelling fiercely. Clint sights him, but Mikhail keeps standing by the fountain, never quite getting in view, or at least not enough for a head shot. Fucker.

Mikhail shouts orders, and a large group of agents disperse, running to various houses and pounding on doors. They start gathering townspeople, shoving them into the center of the square by the fountain. There’s a crowd of thirty people by the time the agents are all back. Clint searches the faces, feeling a little better when he doesn’t see the woman or her kids. Well, the youngest kids anyway. The older boy, the one who’d threatened him, is standing next to Mikhail with a slightly terrified expression on his face, one hand holding tightly to a fistful of bills.

Clint puts the puzzle pieces together. They’d found him pretty quick once he left the house, which means they had to have some idea of where he was. That plus the money… “Little fucker turned me in,” he says to Nat.

Are you really surprised?

“Not really.” He relaxes the arrow, but keeps it nocked. He doesn’t like this whole ‘gather the townspeople’ crap. Everything about this spells trouble.

Mikhail looks around, then snaps something at an agent, who hands him a megaphone. An honest-to-god megaphone. Gotta love the 1960s. Clint hasn’t seen one of those since his circus days.

“Agent Barton,” the asshole says, finally stepping into view, and Clint draws his arrow back again. “I know you can hear me.”

“Oh yeah?" he mutters. "Hear this, dick.” He lets it fly.

Mikhail ducks. The arrow hits an agent standing directly behind him.

Clint blinks in surprise, because that’s not right. The only person who can duck his arrows is Steve, thanks to his insane reflexes. Not even Stark could do that with all his tech. Loki caught one once, but he was a Norse god, so there’s a little leeway there.

Maybe he missed?

No way. He never misses.

He doesn’t have time to puzzle it out. Mikhail points in his direction and shouts orders, and several HYDRA agents run his way. Clint trades the bow for the gun, trying to save his arrows, and takes down three of them before the gun jams. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he sighs, quickly examining it. After about ten seconds, he determines it’s not fixable and chucks it aside. “Well, alright then. Back to basics.”

He only has to take out Mikhail. If he can cut the head off the snake, the rest of them will be scrambling and he can get the hell out of here. He sights Mikhail, desperately wishing for his explosive arrows, and fires. The asshole ducks it again.

“Oh, just fucking die,” Clint growls. They know where he is now, dart guns aimed at him. He jumps up and runs across the roof, away from the town square, and leaps the distance to the next roof. From there he runs out of houses and then it’s back to the ground and the fucking foot chase starts all over again. Except this time he has only two arrows, and no gun. This day is going downhill very quickly.

He ends up on the second floor of someone’s house, crouched underneath a window and trying to gasp for air as quietly as possible. He does not have the energy to keep doing this.

Don’t give up yet, Wanda says. You can’t give up yet.

“I’m not trying to,” he says. But the situation is dire, even if he can’t admit it out loud. Something is going to give here, and he’s got a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to end up being him. He’s down to one arrow—his other one found a home in an agent’s eye socket while he was running. No plan. No team. No rescue. He’s been up shit creek before, but this time is taking the gold medal.

There’s a knock on door. Clint jumps up at the sound, staying out of view of the open window, and nocks his last arrow. If he’s gonna go down, he’s gonna go down fighting.

“Agent Barton,” Mikhail says. “We know you are in there.”

He closes his eyes and thuds the back of his head against the wall. Fuck.

“I have someone who would like to see you.” There’s a sharp sound—a slap—followed by the cry of a kid.

Clint chances a peek out the window, and sees the little girl who cleaned his forehead. The woman’s daughter. She’s sobbing in terror and her arms are wrapped around her little doll. A HYDRA agent has his gun pressed to the back of her head. Four others have their guns aimed at the house, although not directly at him. They probably don’t know he’s upstairs. In the middle of them is Mikhail, standing with his arms crossed and a smug expression on his face.

His stomach sinks.

“Open the door, Agent,” Mikhail says. “Or he will kill her.”

Anger ripples through him, and he steps into view of the window, arrow pulled back. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he says, and Mikhail’s eyes flicker up to his position. The guns readjust. “She’s a kid.”

“She aided and abetted a fugitive,” Mikhail says. “She is an enemy of HYDRA.” He raises an eyebrow. “But if you come down, I will be lenient with her.”

Clint contemplates aiming for him again. No way he can duck this close. But then again, there’s no way he should have been able to duck the other arrows, and if he misses again

“Alright,” Clint says. “I’ll come down.”

“Wise choice, Agent Barton.” Mikhail smiles up at him. “Throw your weapons down first, if you please.”

“Okay.” He turns quickly and looses the arrow. It tears right through the wrist of the man holding the gun, severing tendons and muscle as it passes through. The gun falls to the ground as the man shrieks in pain, and the little girl does exactly what he was hoping she would do. She runs. Someone pursues her but she’s quick, and Mikhail snaps an order for the man to come back.

“Here you go,” Clint says, tossing the now useless bow out the window. “Down in a sec.”

The agent is swearing loudly at him, down on his knees and clutching the wound in his hand. Clint wonders if he’ll bleed out, and then decides that he doesn’t particularly care. They can all go fuck themselves. He drapes the coat over a chair as he steps through the kitchen. Hopefully whoever owns this house can get it back to the right family. No point in giving it up to HYDRA. It’s a nice coat.

He takes his last breath as a free man and pushes open the door, locking eyes with Mikhail. “Sorry, sir,” Clint drawls, leaning against the door frame in a display of nonchalance. “You’ll have to come back next week. Mom says I can’t come out and play right now.”

Mikhail rolls his eyes and makes an exasperated noise. “I have to say, I honestly did not think you would make it this far. I am almost impressed.” He's holding the bow, examining it closely.

“Seems like a miscalculation on your part,” Clint says, burying his hands in his pockets. “So you gonna shoot me or what?”

“I would like to,” Mikhail says furiously. “You have embarrassed me. I do not forgive that easily.” He hands the bow to a subordinate and walks towards Clint.

Clint takes a deep breath of the cold air, letting it burn his lungs. He commits the sensation to memory. “But you’re not going to.”

“Believe me,” Mikhail growls in his ear as he roughly handcuffs him, “by the time we have finished with you, you will wish for such an ending.”

“I’m sure,” Clint says. He waits for the fear, but there’s just emptiness in its place. Like Vormir, when he’d made the decision to die.

Mikhail pushes Clint down the path and to several HYDRA goons, who take his upper arms with way more force than necessary. They march him aggressively into the center of town, back to the small crowd. HYDRA agents surround the circle, guns held tightly. Nobody will look directly at him but he can practically taste the terror emanating from them in waves. Clint waits, every muscle vibrating with tension. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen and he doesn’t like it.

Mikhail walks away from them, disappearing between two houses. Clint looks over at the agent he shot and flashes a grin at him. “How’s the arm?”

The agent clearly doesn’t understand the words, but he picks up on the tone, because he snarls something very rude that Clint doesn’t need to translate. He laughs to himself, ignoring the slap to the back of the head one of the agents gives him.

When Mikhail comes back, he’s pushing the woman and her middle boy. Jakob, Clint remembers. The girl must be hiding. He can’t understand most of the rapid Russian coming from the woman, but he can take a guess at what she’s saying, and fear starts to trickle into his gut. “Look,” he says, trying to step forward. “Hey. Mikhail.”

The man doesn’t look at him. Doesn’t even seem to hear him. He’s berating the woman, gesturing wildly towards her, and then towards Clint. Making a speech to the townspeople. Making an example. She starts crying, pulling Jakob towards her chest. The oldest one, the boy with the dark eyes, runs forward and puts an arm around her shoulder, glaring at Mikhail. Jakob cowers in her arms and casts a terrified gaze at Clint.

“Hey!” Clint shouts again, earning himself an elbow in the gut. He ignores it. “Leave them out of this, man. They didn’t do anything!”

At this, Mikhail turns. He crosses the distance between them with lightning speed and slaps Clint hard across the face, splitting his lip and reopening the gash in his forehead. “Do not try and lie to me,” he snarls, cold anger rippling through his voice. “You are forgetting your lessons. And you are not in any place to dictate what happens here. I have tried again and again to teach you that your actions have consequences, Agent Barton.” He grips Clint’s throat and leans close to his ear, almost hissing the last words. “Now be quiet and endure your retribution.”

Mikhail turns back around and draws his gun, aiming it at the woman as he walks closer. A HYDRA agent rips Jakob from her. “Let this be a lesson to you all,” he says to the townspeople, but his words are English and Clint knows with a sickening feeling that the lesson is meant for him.

He wrenches himself forward, breaking the hold on his arms. “Don’t!”

The woman meets his eyes. There’s a terrible depth to that gaze, a heartbeat where they both know what’s going to happen and neither can do a goddamn thing about it.

He tries anyway. He’s running forward with no plan except to knock Mikhail down, to throw his aim off long enough for the woman and her kids to get away. But he is too slow, too far away, and Mikhail fires—

The woman screams, long and loud, but there is no wound on her, and for half a second Clint hopes against hope that Mikhail missed, or that it was a warning shot.

Then next to her, Jakob falls, a single bullet hole in his head.

Chapter Text

Clint feels like he should scream. He wants to. He can feel the sound clawing its way up his throat but something catches it and he just chokes instead, falling to his knees at the body of the boy.

He’s too young. He’s too young. Clint gasps for air but nothing comes in. All he can do is stare at those accusing blue eyes, wide open and frozen with his last expression. “N-no,” he finally manages. “No!”

A soft hand touches his head and he flinches hard, but it’s just Mikhail sitting next to him. “You see, Agent Barton?” he asks, sliding down to grip Clint’s neck. “This is what happens when you involve other people in your schemes.” The fingers tighten, making him grunt in pain. “Look at your consequences.”

He is looking. He can’t take his eyes off the puddle of blood slowly spreading towards him. “This is all your fault,” Mikhail says. “This could have been avoided. You did this.”

“You shot him,” Clint says. The words are hollow. “You shot him. He’s a kid.”

“No. You shot him. This is your fault. Remember this.”

He says other things too, but Clint isn’t listening anymore. There’s a buzzing in his ears drowning everything else out. The woman reaches out and draws Jakob into her arms, sobbing as she rocks the lifeless body. The oldest boy is crying too, clutching at the limp fingers and saying his name over and over. Clint feels sick.

Mikhail gives orders and someone pulls Clint to his feet, forcing him to stumble along as they escort him to a jeep. They push him inside and Mikhail climbs in after him. Neither one speaks as the car grumbles into life and pulls away from the town. Clint stares straight ahead, trying to think of anything other than what just happened. He can’t shake the image of those blue eyes. Jesus Christ, he was a kid. A kid.

He shouldn’t have shot the agent. That was stupid. He should have expected retaliation. Mikhail’s right. This is his fault. He should never have taken her help.

Mikhail’s thumb swipes over the tears on his cheek. “I hope you have learned what I was trying to teach you,” he says softly.

Clint jerks away. “Don’t touch me.”

He pulls back. “You are angry. I understand this. It was a hard lesson.”

“Fuck you, and fuck your lessons.” Clint presses himself against the side of the jeep, as far from Mikhail as he can get. “I’m going to fucking kill you for that. You’re on borrowed time now, you hear me? You’re a dead man walking.”

He doesn’t care that he missed two shots earlier. Next time, he won’t. Next time, the asshole won’t see him coming.

“I see,” Mikhail says, and he doesn’t even have the grace to look concerned.

Clint looks out the window. He needs to get himself under control. Whatever they’re going to do to him is not going to be pleasant, and he needs to get a grip before it happens. Or else it’s going to be worse.

“You are a very accurate marksman,” Mikhail comments some time later. “Particularly with the bow and arrow.”

“I’m an expert marksman with everything,” Clint snaps back. “I’m a fucking sniper.”

Mikhail absorbs this information, which Clint regrets giving a moment after he says it. Get a goddamn grip on yourself, Barton. “A sniper? Is that what you did for SHIELD?”

Clint clenches his jaw shut and looks away.

“I suspected as much. Lukas told me how you shot the men on the submarine, and then later when you threw the patches…” He sits back in his seat. “Well, I suppose that explains the ceiling vents as well.” He sounds amused again, with that note of pride in his voice. “You will make an excellent asset.”

That gets his attention. “You’re out of your fucking mind if you think I’m gonna work for you.”

“Hmm,” is all Mikhail will say. “That is of no concern currently. There are questions that you have the answers to. We must get those out of the way first.”

Oh yeah. He’d almost forgotten the whole reason behind his escape. “I still don’t know anything,” Clint says. He doesn’t believe Mikhail believes him, but it’s always worth a try.

The other man raises an eyebrow. “Then why did you run?”

“Probably the threats of grievous bodily harm? Or I felt like stretching my legs. Take your pick.”

“You should have stayed,” Mikhail sighs. “I might have been able to convince them of your innocence.”

Clint looks at him. “Them? Who’s them?”

“You remember Lukas?”

Oh yeah. He remembers Lukas. Rotten motherfucker.

“He is my superior. He is in charge of this investigation. And now he thinks you have this information, and he is ready to extract it by any means necessary.” Mikhail leans over and puts a hand on Clint’s knee. “You want my advice, ptichka?

“I don’t, actually.” He tries to pull away, returning his attention to the trees outside.

The hand tightens. “Give them whatever information they desire, and give it to them quickly. Lukas is far more ruthless and creative than I, and he always gets what he wants. I admire your tenacity, but this is one battle you cannot ever hope to win, and I do not wish to see you destroyed for want of trying.”

“I’m not just going to roll over and surrender,” Clint says.

Mikhail’s voice is sorrowful. “I tell you this from my own experience, Agent Barton. Lukas’s methods are not ones you will wish to experience for long.”

From my own experience? Clint snaps his head back to Mikhail, but the other man has already taken his hand back and is looking out his own window.

Well, that’s not a great sign. Where the hell is SHIELD? They should have gotten his message by now.

They left you in 1965, some part of his mind hisses. They’re never coming back for you.

No. He can’t think like that. The second he gives up hope, he’s dead.

The van pulls back through the gates, then up to where he’d escaped from before. Mikhail opens the door and pulls Clint out. There’s a small crowd waiting for them, headed up by Lukas and his group of agents from the submarine.

“Mikhail,” Lukas greets him. “I see you were successful.”

“He is very resourceful,” Mikhail says, patting Clint’s shoulder. “But we prevailed in the end. Your suggestion was very helpful.”

“Yes, congratulations, you’re all wonderful,” Clint says, moving away from Mikhail. “Can we get on with it?”

He doesn’t particularly want to be tortured, but he’s cold and tired and he doesn’t really want to stand around waiting to be tortured either. Mikhail sighs. “You will have your hands full, I suspect,” he says, pushing Clint towards Lukas. The lackeys take him and push him onto his knees, forcing his head down.

He and Lukas exchange some information, then Lukas presses something into Mikhail’s hands and walks off. Mikhail kneels next to Clint and gently works his sleeve up. “That another sedative?” Clint asks, twisting to look at the needle. It’s green, which is somewhat alarming, and Clint really fucking hopes they’re not experimenting with some kind of Hulk juice.

“No.” He injects it into Clint’s arm, then nods to the boys. “Take him downstairs. Level seven.”

“Ooh, level seven. Sounds fun.”

They push and shove him inside, past all the cars in the hangar, and back down the way he’d originally escaped. It’s painful on its own, watching his progress be undone. Twenty-four hours of freedom and he’s back to where he started.

SHIELD might come. He did make contact. They might come.

Clint stumbles as the floor starts to slope down, then stumbles again. He can’t catch himself with his hands behind his back and none of the guys do either, so his stumble turns into a spectacular face plant that very nearly ruins his nose forever. He manages to roll just enough to take the brunt of it on his left shoulder and winces in pain.

They haul him back up to his feet. He’s still unsteady, and his vision isn’t quite straight. He’s oddly wired, like he just drank an entire pot of coffee. His skin is hot and his heart is thundering in his ears. Definitely not a sedative. Truth serum, probably.

Okay. That’s fine. Contrary to popular belief, truth serums don’t make it impossible to lie. They just make people suggestible. Loopy. Prone to spilling secrets. He’s had SHIELD training, and Avengers training, and Natasha training, which was the most dangerous out of all of them. She’d loaded him up with three different serums one time and questioned him for six hours in his own fucking apartment. He’d been a mess by the end of it. Fucking Natasha. He misses her.

They push him into a room and pull off his handcuffs, aiming no less than seven guns at his chest. He’s not suicidal, so he obeys their instructions to strip and kneel. They re-cuff his hands in front of him to a length of chain on the floor, then hook his feet to another bolt in the ground behind him. The result leaves him stuck on his knees; he can’t stand up with with the chain around his hands so short. He might be able to lay on his side, but he’ll try that when they’re not around. Once he’s secure, most of the guns back out. Only two stay to guard him.

Lukas comes back in then, carrying a bulky box in his arms. He sets it across the room from Clint and turns it to face him. It’s a clock. A huge clock, with the letters about half a foot tall. The display reads 00:00.

Okay, not a clock. It’s not midnight. A timer?

He hits a button and the clock flips to 00:00:01. Then 00:00:02. 3. 4. 5.

“It’s going the wrong way,” Clint tells him. “Bombs are supposed to count down.”

“This is not a bomb,” Lukas says, pulling something from his belt. A collapsible cane type thing. He snaps it open and taps Clint’s arm with it. “It is just to help you keep track. Mikhail informs me that you like knowing how long it’s been.”

“How long what has been?”

“You will see.” Lukas drags the cane over his shoulders. “Tell me what you know about Operation Star.”

“Sounds like a Peter Pan movie.”

The cane strikes him and he hisses in a breath, trying to stay relaxed. He can do this. He survived a whip, he can do this. Canes are nothing.

“Where are the Agents going?”

“Neverland.”

Another hit. “Give me the locations of SHIELD safe houses in Germany.”

“Second star to the right and straight on til morning.”

The trick with truth serums is to roll with them. Fighting is pointless. Give details instead. Endless, pointless, trivial details that don’t mean a damn thing. Bury them in so much shit that they’ll need weeks and a forklift to get out anything useful. And by then it’ll be too late.

So he starts talking. He’s always been good at this part. By the end of Natasha training he had spent an hour and a half straight talking about how Tolkien invented his own languages. She’d eventually untied him, given him water, and forbade him from mentioning the books ever again. Clint gave her a set for Christmas that year.

“Did you ever read Lord of the Rings?” he asks Lukas, and the conversation—well, monologue, really—goes from there. What can he say, he’s a fan of the tried and true methods. When Lukas asks about Operation Star, Clint tells him about the grammatical structure of the Elvish languages. When he asks about where the agents are going, Clint describes the world building qualities of Tolkien—“he always mentions the distant mountains, it just makes the whole thing seem grander than it really is, you know?” When Lukas gets in his face and shouts increasingly infuriated questions, Clint just smiles and talks about the differences between the Valar and the Maiar.

When his brain slips back into semi-alert mode he panics for a second at that last bit, because The Silmarillion wasn’t released until the 70s, but Lukas doesn’t seem to notice. He just keeps hitting Clint and asking the same questions over and over.

By the time he stops, the clock reads 00:45:52 and Clint is more welts than skin. “Oh, you’re done already?” he asks, twisting over his shoulder as he watches Lukas stalk out the door. “Come back, I’ve got way more.”

He doesn’t. The door slams, leaving just Clint and the two guards in the room. They’ll probably never leave him unguarded again, based on his last escape. He eyes the two of them and grins manically. “Hey there.”

“No talk,” one of them says, finger twitching towards a trigger.

“No shoot,” Clint says, nodding towards it. “You shoot the merchandise, your boss is gonna be pissed. I know, I’ve done it. This one time…”

His voice is dry and cracking by the time he finishes that tale, and Lukas still hasn’t returned. The clock says 1:13:31, which would be symmetrical if it wasn’t for that extra one. It annoys him a little bit.

The door creaks open and he turns enough to see Mikhail step in. He’s holding a bottle of water and something else. “Oh hi,” Clint says, wiggling his hands in a facsimile of a wave. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Hello, Agent Barton,” Mikhail says, kneeling next to him.

“Ooooh, I’m in trouble. Or still in trouble, I guess.”

“I see you have taken the harder path,” he says dryly. He opens the bottle and holds it up to Clint’s mouth. “I expected nothing less. Drink.”

“I don’t take candy from strangers,” Clint says, pulling away.

“Drink it willingly, or I will make you drink it.”

“Kinky.” But he doesn’t doubt it, and he doesn’t feel like drowning either, so he opens his mouth. Mikhail pours the water in one sip at a time.

“Well done,” he says, pulling the empty bottle back. “See how easy this can be? Just tell Lukas what he wants to know, and I will take you out of here.”

“So you can go back to whipping me?” Clint asks. “No, thanks. I’m comfy here.”

Mikhail sighs. “So be it.”

He takes the bottle and leaves. Clint wonders vaguely what that was about, then decides it doesn’t really matter. He’s not going to be able to focus clearly on a thought until the truth serum wears off.

So he goes back to Tolkien. He’s not sure how much the guards understand, but by the time the clock reads 2:04:40, they’re looking very, very irritated. Clint grins at them. “Bored yet? I haven’t even started on The Hobbit. That’s a whole ‘nother couple hours, you know.”

He opens his mouth to start when cold fingers suddenly touch the back of his neck. “I don’t recall you being this talkative,” a silky voice says in his ear. Clint flinches hard and twists away from the touch, nearly falling over. And there behind him, wearing that stupid helmet and a smug expression, is a face he’d hoped to never see again.

Loki.

Chapter Text

He’s not real. Clint knows he’s not real. There’s a slightly blurry quality about him, like trying to watch a TV with a lousy frame rate. But he’s still here, and he’s touching Clint, and his mind is frozen with a fear edged in a brilliant blue.

“You can’t be here,” he tells Loki. “You can’t be here.”

“Maybe I am,” Loki says with a grin. “Maybe I’m not. How can you tell?”

“You’re dead. Thor said you died. Thanos killed you.”

“Hmm,” is all Loki says. He stands in front of Clint and materializes his scepter. “I like this. You, on your knees in front of me. Where you belong.”

“Fuck off, you egotistical asshole.”

Loki smiles and reaches towards him. “I will enjoy having you as my servant again.”

Clint leans away from the scepter, but with the chains, he can’t avoid it. It touches to his chest and the familiar wash of blue settles into him, tinging everything in his vision. “No!”

He pitches forward and hits his head on the ground. Blunt force trauma. Nat slammed him into a railing that first time but he doesn’t have a Nat and he doesn’t have a railing and he needs to get Loki out out out of his mind he can’t do this again—

There are hands on him, pulling him back and pulling his head back and he’s screaming, thrashing in their grip, struggling to get away. One of the guards slaps him hard and he gasps in a breath, then stares up at their faces.

No blue. No Loki. It’s not real, Hawkeye.

“Stop,” one of the guards orders, and after a moment he nods. They let go of him and step back, resuming their position by the door. Clint pulls himself back upright and tries to calm down.

Hallucinogenics. Probably in the green shit they shot into him. Or maybe in the water, he doesn’t fucking know. He presses his head into his hands. Okay. He’s okay. He can handle this.

The clock ticks by. He’s still wired from the truth serum, and it feels like ants are crawling all over him. At one point he’s pretty sure ants are crawling on him, but then he blinks and they’re gone. Loki shows up again, smirking as he leans against the wall of the cell, but then he’s gone and Thanos takes his place. Chitauri flicker in and out of the corners of his vision. Even Ultron makes an appearance, waxing philosophical in a way that makes Clint want to cover his ears more than his eyes.

At some point, the hallucinations start to taper off, losing their crystal clear quality in favor of a disintegrating, melting, Indiana-Jones-style sort of motion. Clint is laying on the floor, watching the visions spin in and out of focus. He taps his finger in time to the seconds on the clock. 12:03.03. 12:03.04. 12:03.05.

At some point his eyes drift shut, but then he’s rudely awakened by a kick to the ribs. “What the fuck was that for?”

“No sleep,” says the guard.

“What?”

“No sleep.”

“Fuck you,” Clint says, closing his eyes again. There’s another kick, then a jolt of electricity that makes him shout. The guard steps back with a vicious smile and pulls the stick away from his arm.

“No sleep. Kneel.” They force him back onto his knees and resume their position by the door.

Okay. Sleep deprivation. Classic torture technique. Nothing new. He’s got this. He’s swaying a little, but he can hold himself up. He can do it.

He keeps telling himself that as he watches the clock tick upwards.

Lukas comes back in at 12:45.31. “Hello, Agent Barton. How was your evening?”

“Great,” Clint says hoarsely. “Spiders climbed the walls. Very thrilling.” He looks up at the blond man. “You back for some more Middle-Earth?”

“Have you figured out the game by now?” Lukas asks. He’s still holding the cane in one hand, rolling it in between his fingers.

“Oh, this is a game? I prefer Monopoly, to be honest.”

“You tell me what I want,” Lukas says, striking the cane across Clint’s back, “and I will let you sleep. You don’t, and you will remain in this position. We’ll see who outlasts the other.”

Clint snorts. “You think I’ve never stayed awake before? I once sat in a perch for forty-five hours, waiting for a guy that never even showed up. It was like a longer version of prom night.”

Lukas shakes his head. “You are very stubborn, aren’t you?”

“It’s a talent. Acquired from many years of being a total pain in the ass.”

“You will give in, eventually.”

Clint meets his steel gaze. “Of course I will,” he says. “But you don’t know when. And what you need is time sensitive, isn’t it? Your physicist is gonna get far, far away, and you won’t be able to catch her.” He grins. “So all I gotta do is wait out the clock. And I’m a sniper, asshole. Waiting is my fucking day job.”

Lukas raises an eyebrow. “Who said anything about a physicist?”

“What?”

“You said, ‘your physicist is going to get far, far away.’” He kneels next to Clint and puts a finger under his chin. “We never told you what was missing, Agent Barton.”

Clint thinks back to the other cell, to the files Mikhail threw at him. These two agents stole something from HYDRA. Something very important to us.

Something. Not someone. Dread starts to coil through him, and he closes his eyes. Barton, you fucking idiot.

“Mikhail said it,” he lies, trying to salvage the moment. “When he brought me the files.”

“No, he didn’t,” Lukas says. “Because he doesn’t know either. No one on this base except myself knows. And you, apparently.” He smiles triumphantly. “And I do have to wonder just how you got that information.”

“I’m secretly psychic,” Clint says, his mind racing for some way he can convince Lukas that he doesn’t know anything. Nothing comes up. He’s screwed. “I can read minds. It’s very helpful.”

“Hmm.” Lukas stands up. “What am I thinking now?”

“That you really regret taking me prisoner, and now that you know how cool I am, you’re going to let me walk out of here.”

Lukas laughs. “Entertaining. I will enjoy our time together.”

“I’m sure you will,” Clint says wearily, preparing himself.

It lasts a long time. He tries not to scream at first, thinking he’s going to be manly about it, but then he gives up and screams anyway. Lukas doesn’t stop until he’s almost as winded as Clint is, breathing heavily as the cane drips blood oto the floor.

“Just tell me,” Lukas growls, wrenching Clint’s head back. “Just give up.”

Clint grins at him with blood-tinged teeth. He’d bitten through his own lip at some point. “Why don’t you?”

Lukas snarls and pulls something out of his pocket. Another syringe with green liquid inside it, more this time. “You thought what you saw before was bad?” he hisses, stabbing it into Clint’s arm while Clint tries not to picture himself morphing into the Hulk. “You will regret defying me.”He shoves him down, stalking over to the guards. “Keep him awake,” he orders them. “If he falls asleep, hurt him.” He looks back over his shoulder. “Enjoy your nightmares, Agent Barton. I’ll be back.”

“I’ll be back,” Clint mocks in his best Terminator impression, which is lost as the door slams shut.

His vision flickers and he shakes his head, then winces as a sharp pain lances through him. It’s quickly followed by another, then another, to the point where he’s doubled over in pain, gripping his head in his hands.

When he sits up, the room is gone. He’s back in his perch at SHIELD, long before it all went to shit, looking down at Selvig and Fury as they talk about the tesseract.

“Agent Barton, report.”

He gets up and rappels down the long rope, trying to read the expression on Fury’s face. “I gave you this detail so you could keep a close eye on things,” Fury says.

“Well, I see better from a distance.” Clint walks next to him, staring around. This can’t be real.

“Have you seen anything that might set this thing off?”

Around them, scientists hurry between stations, looking at the pulsing tesseract with trepidation. “No one’s come or gone,” Clint says, the words coming naturally. Like he’s really back here. “And Selvig’s clean. No contacts, no IMs. If there’s any tampering, sir, it wasn’t this end.”

Fury looks at him sharply. “At this end?”

“Yeah. The Cube is a doorway to the other end of space, right? Doors open from both sides.”

In front of him, the tesseract rumbles, then activates. Clint stares at the portal, a sinking feeling in his stomach. He doesn’t want to do this again. He doesn’t want to remember this.

He doesn’t really hear Fury order Loki to drop the spear, but his body reacts automatically to the danger, shoving the director aside. Loki fights, throwing knives and spears and bolts of tesseract fire until he and Clint come face to face. “You have heart,” he says to Clint, gripping his gun hand, and that fucking scepter touches his chest.

The blue washes over everything, and the scene skips. Suddenly he’s on the Quinjet, firing arrows into the helicarrier, desperately trying to stop himself and somehow still not in control. Then he’s on the catwalk, fighting Natasha.

She’s better than him. She’s always been better than him and he can only pray that this time is enough, that she’ll beat him here as well. He tries to pull his punches, tries to miss with his arrows, tries to step right into her fists.

But this fight is different. She’s different. It’s not the one he remembers. She doesn’t take any of the openings he gives her, doesn’t read his telegraphed punches. She takes every single hit he dishes, and he takes none of hers.

They end up on their backs, Clint’s arm around Natasha’s throat. “Nat, please,” he begs, trying to shift so he’s not pulling so hard. “Nat, come on. You can get out of this. I know you can. Hit me on the head.”

She doesn’t respond. He forces his ankle loose, tries to leverage it so she can get her foot underneath and flip them. Something she’s done a million times before. But she doesn’t. Instead, she takes a soft gasping breath, and then goes limp in his arms.

“Natasha!”

He lets go and flips her over. “Nat. No, no, no, no. Come on, Nat. Breathe. Breathe for me. Come on.”

Her lifeless eyes stare up at him, cold and accusing. Then she vanishes from underneath him and he’s suddenly kneeling on the roof in New York, shooting arrows at the Chitauri. “Stark, you got a lot of strays sniffing your tail,” he says into the comms as he shoots.

“Hawkeye!” Nat shouts and he turns, seeing Loki follow her up and down the streets. “A little help?”

He turns and fires, but Loki catches the arrow and smirks at him, tossing it onto Nat’s ride before it ignites. Then he jumps, and he lands on the ground next to Cap and Thor, easily dispatching them with blows from his scepter. Tony swoops in for a shot and Loki fires at him too. The armor blasts from his body and he falls to the ground unprotected.

“No,” Clint moans, reaching for another arrow. “No, that isn’t what happened!”

Loki turns and smiles at him. “Isn’t it, Barton?” Then suddenly he’s there, his fingers in Clint’s hair and a nasty smile stretching his mouth. “Are you sure the other world isn’t just a dream?”

The vision dissolves into smoke and Clint is back in his cell, hunched over with his forehead pressed against the floor. “That’s not what happened,” he says again, his voice cracking. “It’s not. It’s not what happened. We won. That’s not what happened.”

There’s still blood dripping down his back. He can smell it in the air, can practically taste it on his tongue. He’s cold. So cold. Blood loss, he thinks, and wonders if they’re going to do anything about it.

“Ah, ptichka,” someone says softly.

Mikhail.

Clint can barely lift his head up, but he tries anyway. “That’s not how it happened,” he croaks. “We won.”

“I know,” Mikhail says soothingly. “I am sorry.”

He helps Clint sit up the rest of the way, ignoring the blood that soaks into his nice suit. Then he holds up another bottle of water. “Here.”

Clint turns his head. “No, please, sir. I don’t want to see any more.”

“Shhh, Agent Barton. The water is safe.” He turns Clint’s chin until they’re looking at each other. “Everything you take from me is safe. I am safe. We have made a promise not to lie to each other. I need you to trust me.”

Clint does not trust him, but he opens his mouth anyway. He’s so thirsty.

Mikhail helps him drink. When the bottle is empty he sets Clint to balance on his own, then slowly steps away. “I must leave,” he says. “Unless you have changed your mind about sharing.”

He swallows, then shakes his head. He can’t. He has to hold on.

Mikhail’s mouth presses into a thin line. “Until next time, then.”

The clock ticks to twenty hours. He’s so tired. He shouldn’t be this tired. He’s stayed awake for longer times with SHIELD. Twenty hours should be a walk in the park.

But those times you were fresh, Nat whispers into his ear. You haven’t properly slept in days, Clint, and they’re not feeding you enough. You’re not going to be able to hold on.

“Don’t,” he whispers back. “Don’t do that to me. Please.”

He needs her support. He needs his team. He’s not going to make it through without them.

The pain shoots through his head again and the room dissolves. He’s standing with his team, laughing about lifting Thor’s hammer, and then suddenly Ultron is there. But not the first Ultron, the one that had been mangled and bleeding oil. It’s the one from Sokovia, the one that had set the robots on them. He monologues about the futility of humankind even as he literally tears Clint’s team apart.

“And you,” he says, facing Clint. “The last Avenger standing.”

“This isn’t how it happened,” Clint says, drawing his last arrow. “I remember this.”

“Are you sure?” Ultron asks, waving a hand. His robots step forward, pulser hands aimed at Clint. “Are you really, really sure?”

“Yes,” Clint says, and he lets the arrow fly. The room explodes and he covers his face. Then he’s in Sokovia, in the building with Wanda, and she’s looking at him with a terrified gaze. “Hey, hey,” he says, reaching towards her. “You okay?”

“This is all our fault,” she says desperately.

“Look at me.” She does, brown eyes meeting his. “It’s your fault, it’s everyone’s fault, who cares? Are you up for this? Look, I just need to know, because the city—”

He doesn’t get to finish. An Ultron-bot bursts through the ceiling and lands on top of her, crushing her skull instantly. “No!” Clint screams, charging at the bot. “NO!”

“She served her purpose,” Ultron-bot says, easily fending him off. “Your sentiment makes you weak, Agent Barton. Hawkeye.” He smirks. “What is your purpose, I wonder?”

“What?”

Ultron grabs him and takes him high, way up above the city. “Don’t struggle,” he says, watching Clint kick in his grasp. “I wouldn’t want to drop you.”

“What the fuck do you want,” Clint snarls, stilling in his grasp. Ultron is right, he wouldn’t want to fall from this height. He’d never survive that.

“I want you to see,” Ultron hisses. “Look below you, Hawkeye. Look at your team. A god. A monster. A genius, although I loathe calling him that. A super soldier. An assassin far more skilled than you could ever hope to be.” He grips Clint’s throat and raises him up until they’re face to face. “What is your purpose on this team? You are nothing to them. A mere human. You take one hit, you’re out. You are destined to fail. You are useless.”

Clint claws at the iron hand. “Fuck…off,” he chokes, driving his foot into Ultron’s ribs. The robot sighs, then drops him.

He plummets towards the city, arms pinwheeling. “Stark! Thor! Anyone, help!”

“Don’t bother,” Tony says. “Let him fall. We don’t need him.”

What?

He screams as the ground rushes towards him. The impact leaves a small crater, and he feels every single bone shatter before the world dissolves and he’s back in his cell, still screaming.

We don’t need him. We don’t need him.

The words play in his head again and again. Clint covers his ears but it doesn’t help. “You do need me,” he says. “I’m part of the team. I’m one of you.”

Laura’s hands rub over his shoulder. “They don’t need you,” she murmurs, and he shudders, because she’s not even supposed to be here. She needs to be gone. She’s not safe here.

The hallucinations continue. He winds up on his side again, breathing heavily, staring at the clock as the seconds tick by.

Do you understand the game now?

He isn’t sure. Is knowing how long it’s been worse than not knowing? He can’t do shit about it either way.

At twenty-four hours, the hallucinations start to taper off again. Clint rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. There are stalactites up there. Or is it the other one? He can never remember. It doesn’t matter anyway, because he blinks and they vanish, only to be replaced with columns of bats. It’s better that way, honestly. He likes bats.

His eyes slip closed. He’s so tired. He just needs a few minutes.

A jolt of electricity brings him screaming back to consciousness. “No sleep,” says the guard, smiling sadistically at him.

“You’re a dick,” Clint says, and gets tasered again for his trouble.

“Kneel.”

He pushes up to his knees. “I’m going to kill you,” he says to the guard. “Slowly and dramatically. With your own fucking weapons.”

The taser stick hits him again and he doubles over, wincing. “Kneel,” the guard orders. “No talk.”

Clint grinds his teeth shut against his instinctual response and gets to his knees one more time. He can do this. He can. He’s Clint Motherfucking Barton. He just needs to hold out long enough for a SHIELD rescue. He can do it. He’s not useless. He’s not.

Chapter Text

Forty-seven hours. It’s been forty-seven hours. Clint stares at the clock, letting the redness burn his retinas. Forty-seven hours. Longer technically since he’s slept, but that’s how long it’s been since this started. He knows there’s been more doses of the green stuff, and more visits from Lukas. His entire back feels like it’s been flayed open from that fucking cane. It probably has. Mikhail brought him another bottle of water once. Twice? He’s not sure. He’s losing too much time between the hallucinations and the beatings. The floor underneath him is a solid crust of dried blood.

“Tell you what,” Lukas drawls, leaning against the wall. Clint jerks at the sound of his voice. “If you can recite your English alphabet backwards without a mistake, I will let you sleep.”

“Fuck you,” Clint says. He can’t stop trembling. The chains are rattling. His whole body fucking hurts and he’s still coming down an earlier dosage of that green crap, which means he’s flinching at every single motion and sound.

“A whole hour,” he offers. “No interruptions. I will even let you lay down.”

Clint considers for half a second, then shakes his head. “I’m not…playing your…fucking games.”

“No?” Lukas crosses his arms, then drops one to the cane dangling from his hip. “Would you prefer this instead? You do make such lovely sounds. I would not mind.”

The threat takes too long to break through his sluggish brain. “No,” Clint says again. “I don’t…”

“Then say it for me. If you get it right, you sleep. If you get it wrong, I will hit you.”

His my-request-is-now-an-order voice is in full force. Clint flinches, although he’s not entirely sure why. He licks his dry lips and trembles harder. “Z. Y. X. W.”

He knows this. He knows this. He used to say it all the time as a kid. Barney had always told him that he’d better know if it he got pulled over, because the officer would make him say it. It took him until he was fifteen to realize Barney was a fucking liar. He doesn’t miss Barney. Brothers shouldn’t do what he did.

What did he do? Something. He did something. Clint always does something. Barney always does—did?—things too. Never with him. Always leaving him behind. He’s not a kid. Why doesn’t Barney ever take him anywhere? He can rob banks with the best of them.

“Agent Barton,” Lukas says, and Clint jerks back to the moment.

“V,” he says, then stops. He has to say it forward in his head. It takes him a second to realize he’s humming the fucking tune of it out loud. “U. T. S. R.” He snorts a little at that, picking up his heavy head to look at Mikhail.

No. Lukas. Mikhail isn’t here. He left Clint to this man. Shouldn’t be surprised. People always leave him. Laura. Tony. Natasha. We don’t need him.

Who does he know named Laura? No one.

“It’s like USSR,” he explains the joke, then cries out as the cane whips across his outstretched arms.

“Incorrect,” Lukas says. “Start from the beginning, Agent. Or the end, I suppose.”

“Circles don’t have beginnings,” Clint informs him. “And that was supposed to be funny.”

He means the USSR thing, not the circle, but he gets hit either way. “Start again.”

“Z. Y. X.” Well, that part he knows. He tries to picture the alphabet dancing along in front of him, but then he gets distracted. “W?”

“Keep going.”

“U. T. S.” Like UPS, but not. Was there a UPS in 1965? “How do you get packages?” he asks, suddenly curious. “Who delivers them?”

“Incorrect,” Lukas says. Three more hits in rapid succession. He shouts in pain. “Start again.”

“Z. Y. X. W. V.” He stops, then remembers the packages. “U! T. S.” Something else was funny. Something Russian. “R?” No, that’s pirates. Pirates say R. Russian starts with R.

Lukas smiles like a shark, all teeth and no warmth. “Yes.”

Win for Russian pirates. What’s next. “Q. T.”

“Incorrect.”

“Is not,” Clint says. “It’s a gas station.”

He gets hit anyway. “Start again.”

Clint grits his teeth. He can do this. He knows this. He’s not a genius, he’s no Tony Stark, but he can say his fucking alphabet. “Z. Y. X. W.” He falls into a micro sleep for a second, then jerks himself back awake. “V! U. T. S. R.”

The shark smile. Clint shudders in fear. Or cold. Are they really different these days? “Q.” Not T. “P.” Not a gas station. Don’t fuck it up, Barton.”O.”

He debates what comes next for a long time, then finally settles on N, for Natasha. It must be right, because Lukas doesn’t hit him. Then M. Another micro sleep hits him. This one Lukas slaps him out of. “Stay awake, Agent Barton. If you sleep, you forfeit the game.”

“L.”

“Yes.”

“K.” He’s crying, he realizes, and he’s not sure why. “J.” J like Jarvis. God, he misses his team. Misses Jarvis. Well, technically it’s Friday now, since Jarvis became Vision. And Vision is dead. Isn’t he dead?

No, he came back. Right?

No. He died in Wakanda. Clint wasn’t there. House arrest. Shooting arrows with—

No. He doesn’t have a house. He shoots by himself.

Think, Clint. “I…”

He has to go forward to go backwards, a thought that makes him laugh hysterically for a second before he can get himself under control. It’s like the stones. They had to go back to go forward, go backwards to bring the others into the future—no stop you can’t give them that don’t say anything

“There’s no such thing as time travel,” he says aloud.

“Incorrect.” Five hits to his arms. Blood drips down his skin. “Start again. This is your last chance, Agent.”

Fucking hell. Stop getting distracted, Barton. “Z. No. Wait.” He looks at Lukas. “Which direction am I going?”

“Backwards.” Lukas is smiling. Clint doesn’t know what the joke is.

“Z.” He closes his eyes, then opens them again, lest Lukas think he’s falling asleep. “Y. X. W. V. U. T. S.” What comes after S? Something. Something starts with S. What else starts with S? No. Stay focused. “R. Q. P. O. N. M.” He’s taking a long time in between letters, but Lukas doesn’t seem to mind. He’s slowly drawing the cane over the welts he’s made, smiling every time Clint winces from the sting. “L. K…J. I?”

No response. Must be right. What comes after I?

J. No. He’s going backwards. “H. G. F.” Sounds like a CIA acronym. Stop thinking about other letters. “E. D.”

He laughs again, remembering what Tony said to Loki in the tower. Performance issues. Fucking glowstick of Destiny. He should have just killed Loki the second he jumped from that fucking portal.

No, Loki hisses in his ear. You liked what I did to you. Admit it. You liked being my vanguard.

Clint shakes his head hard. “Get out of my head,” he hisses, then jerks up, afraid Lukas will make him start again. But he didn’t hear, or he did and he doesn’t care. “C. B. A.”

He made it. He got them all. He’s pretty sure they’re right. Clint smiles up at Lukas, proud of himself. Unbreakable. That’s him. Like that one Netflix show about the bunker girls. Bruce made him watch that. Clint secretly liked it. He needs a theme song like that. “I did it,” he tells Lukas.

“Yes, you did,” Lukas says. “And I keep my promises.”

He loosens the chain around Clint’s neck, the one keeping him high up on his knees. They’d added that around thirty hours, when he’d fallen over and refused to get up again. Clint gratefully sinks to the ground, bending over until his forehead touches his hands. Then he collapses onto his side and stares at that fucking clock. “An hour?” he asks. It’s not going to put a dent in his exhaustion, but it’s better than anything else he’s been offered lately.

“An hour,” Lukas confirms. Clint’s eyes immediately slip closed, and he’s unconscious within seconds, God it feels so good—

A boot kicks him in the side. “Wake up, Agent Barton.”

“No…” he moans, rolling with the force of the kick. “No more, please.”

“It’s been an hour,” Lukas says. “Time to get up.”

He covers his face. He’s crying again. Why is he crying?

“Mikhail,” he moans, and Lukas kicks him again. “Make him stop. Please.”

“Mikhail is not here,” Lukas says. “I am here. Get up. Do not make me ask a third time.”

The cane whips against the soles of his bare feet and Clint shrieks, pushing up to his knees so quickly that the room spins. “I’m up,” he gasps, holding his hands out to Lukas. “I’m up.”

The clock says forty-seven. Clint stares at the numbers, then at his tormenter. “That was an hour?”

“It was,” Lukas says. “As I promised.”

But it was forty-seven when he let him down. Clint knows that. Doesn’t he? “But I—”

The cane strikes him again. “Are you accusing me of lying?”

“No!” He cowers as much as the chain will let him. “No! I’m sorry!”

Another strike. “I do not take such offenses lightly, Agent Barton.”

“I’m not! You’re not! It was an hour!” He curls over as the cane strikes again and again. He apologizes in English, then in Russian, then in Spanish, then in something that he’s not even sure is intelligible.

“Shhh…” Lukas says, leaning down and touching his hair. It’s limp and greasy, matted with dirt and blood. “It is alright, Agent. I believe you.”

“It was an hour,” Clint says, trembling under the gentle fingers. “It was. It was an hour. 60 minutes. 3600 seconds. Z. X. Y. 47. No, that’s wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

The words are just spilling out of him and that’s dangerous, too dangerous, he can’t control his mouth and he’s going to say something wrong. He needs to sleep, Jesus Christ, last time he was awake this long was after Loki crawled into his head and he couldn’t sleep because it was too blue everything was blue and green and those stupid green eyes just watched him while he knelt down and made him scream inside himself when those cold fingers touched him he hates being touched he’s too vulnerable enemies everywhere in front behind to the side where the fuck is his team where’s Natasha why haven’t they come for him by now

“They won’t come,” he tells Lukas. Awareness seeps back into him slowly, replacing the cold of the panic, and he realizes that he’s still on his knees. His forehead is pressed against Lukas’s thigh while gentle fingers stroke Clint’s hair. “They won’t. Not for me.” We don’t need him.

“Who won’t come?” Lukas asks gently.

“I don’t know what you want.” Clint tilts up and looks at his face. “Please just tell me what you want.”

“Who won’t come for you?”

“My team. They don’t know when I am.”

When you are?”

Bad territory. Stop talking. “Where.” Time travel isn’t real. “It’s 1965. They’re dead. She’s dead.”

Lukas tilts Clint’s head back, snapping his fingers in front of him to make him focus. “Where are the agents? Where did they take the physicist?”

“What?”

“We just want to know where our property is, Agent Barton. That’s all.” His voice is so calm. So reasonable.

“I don’t know,” Clint says. “I’m here, I’m not there, I’m here with you, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

A disappointed sigh. “Agent.”

Clint curls into him. “Please don’t.”

“Sit up, Agent.”

He does. He pulls away from the contact and blinks up at Lukas with bleary eyes. “Why?”

Lukas takes something from his pocket and kneels down, undoing the chains around his wrists. The handcuffs stay on. Then he unchains Clint’s feet and tosses the ankle shackles to the side.

“We will try again later,” he says, as Clint is staring uncomprehendingly at his suddenly semi-unbound hands. This is not good. Change isn’t good. Where’s Mikhail, he needs Mikhail, Mikhail brings him water and doesn’t hurt him and Mikhail is safe.

Lukas opens the door and steps out, but he doesn’t close it behind him. Clint blinks at the open door, then starts crawling towards it. Open door. Freedom. Out.

As soon as his shaking hands touch the threshold though, a boot comes out of nowhere and kicks him back into the room. Clint lands on his back and wheezes, trying to roll away.

“Where you going?” someone asks in a thick accent.

It’s another man, one with no left hand. It’s familiar and its not and Clint stares at the stump for a long time until his fevered mind makes the connection. “You!” He pushes up to his knees and grins at the guy, an effect that is probably ruined by his bloodshot eyes and shaking body. “How’s your arm? Threaten any kids lately?”

A hand slams into his head. “Fucking smartass,” another guy says. He pushes Clint over with his boot and presses it against Clint’s ribs. “We’ll see how smart you are when we’re done here.”

“Hope you weren’t left-handed,” Clint says to the one armed guy, pushing his hands against the boot. Icy rage is flooding into him, combating the exhaustion for a second. “Or I hope you were, actually. Serves you right.”

“You’re gonna regret doing that to him,” the man hisses, leaning in close. He keeps his boot on Clint’s chest and turns to the door, calling in several other HYDRA thugs. Then he looks down. “Get your fucking hands off my boot.”

“Make me,” Clint snarls, pushing harder. He regrets that a little bit a moment later, when the guy rips his foot free and kicks him in the head. Things go fuzzy for a bit after that, but he winds up on his back with his arms held overhead and his feet pinned down, surrounded by by seven HYDRA uniforms.

“Come on,” he says, pulling on his arms. “Hit me and get it over with, I’ve got shit to do.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” says the man. He reaches for his belt buckle, and Clint’s mouth suddenly goes dry. “I’m sure we can keep you occupied for a few hours.”

Chapter Text

Clint’s not stupid. He knows what’s about to happen. They’d talked about it at SHIELD as part of his RTI training. Sat him down in a room with a projector and talked about bodies and physiological responses and how to compartmentalize. He’d nodded his way through the training and filed it under “things unlikely to happen to me.” And in fifteen years of working for them, it never had.

Still, knowing doesn’t make it better. Training or not, he is not in a good mental place to deal with this right now. He can’t let this happen.

“You got quiet,” someone says. One of his usual guards. Clint recognizes his beady eyes. “Finally learn to shut up?”

“Fuck you guys,” Clint pants, pulling at his arms. “Get your fucking hands off me.”

“Spread his legs,” the guard instructs, and he kneels down between them. He slides a hand up Clint’s thigh. “You’re going to like this,” he murmurs. “We’re going to make you like it.”

Pain spikes his head, leftover from his previous dosage, and he groans. He can’t go into a memory. Not now. He needs to stay present.

He loses the battle. He’s sitting on the windowsill in a hotel room, looking down onto the crowded street below. France, maybe? He looks around, notes the decorations, sees the formal suit and tie he’s wearing. Yep. France. Their second mission together, exactly seven months after he’d brought her in.

“Hey,” Nat says, leaning next to him. She’s wearing a blue dress and she looks fucking gorgeous. His breath catches a little at the sight of her. “What are you looking at?”

“Just checking out the party down there,” Clint says, trying very hard not to stare at her chest. She notices anyway, and grins at him.

“Happy New Year,” she murmurs into his ear, pressing close to him. “Can you unzip me?”

“Huh? Oh. Sure.” He reaches over and unzips the dress. She steps out and lets it pool on the floor underneath her.

Clint immediately snaps his head back around to stare out the window. “You’re naked,” he says to the glass, determinedly not looking at her reflection. “Why are you naked?”

“That’s what happens when you unzip a lady’s dress, Clint,” she says softly. He can hear the laughter in her voice. “I assumed you knew things like that.”

“Underwear exists.”

“Underwear ruins the lines, sweetheart.”

“Oh.” He clenches his hands on his thigh as she dances fingertips over his neck. “Natasha, what are you doing?”

“Trying to seduce you. Is it working?”

“No,” he lies.

She grips his hair and tilts his head back until it’s almost painful. “Shame,” she breathes, gently kissing his lips. “Guess I’ll have to try harder then.”

They never make it to the bed. She pulls him away from the window by his tie, then gently strips him out of his clothes. He fucks her against the wall while her fingernails leave scratches in his back. She sighs his name as she comes, and he follows not long after.

“That was nice,” she says, leaning forward to bite his ear. “Shame that won’t happen again.”

“What?” he asks, but her hands are already on his neck and twisting sharply.

There’s a crack and a pain in his head and he opens his eyes to find himself staring at the clock in the cell. The guard is pulling back for another slap and Clint just lets his head roll with it. “That’s not what happened,” he says. They’d fucked each other in France, yes, but it had been after a deadly mission, the kind of sex where you’re just so elated to be alive that you need another person to ground you in reality. They’d been all teeth and tongues and desperation, not cold seduction and neck snapping.

“This is happening,” the guard says, misunderstanding him. He moves his wrist and Clint realizes with a jolt that there are already two fingers inside him. The pain of it hits a second later, and he has to clench his jaw to keep from groaning. “And there’s nothing you can do about it, so just stop fighting.”

The words trigger something in Clint, the exhaustion burning away in a surge of rage and adrenaline. He pulls all four limbs hard into himself, slipping out of the grasps of the agents holding him down. Then he kicks the guard in the face with both feet before flipping over and shoving himself upwards. Pain blares through him like an alarm but he ignores it, bolting for the still-open door. The agents shout and scramble after him.

He runs, feeling the ground sloping up under his feet. He’s got no plan and no time to make one. This probably isn’t even going to work, but he sure as fuck isn’t gonna lay there and let them touch him.

There’s another agent coming down the hallway. He’s got his nose buried in some papers, but at the shouting and commotion, he looks up. Clint sprints directly at him, a vague idea forming in his fevered mind.

“What the—” he starts, and Clint slams into him, ripping the revolver from his holster. He barely manages to keep his feet as he spins and fires off all six shots at the approaching guards behind him.

He drops five of them with headshots. His last one goes a little low, hitting the one-armed guy in the throat rather than the head. But six bodies drop to the floor, and he takes half a second to grin at his marksmanship. Even in the throes of severe sleep deprivation and on some seriously weird drugs, he’s still fucking awesome.

Clint hands the smoking gun back to the confused agent. “Thanks,” he says, swaying dangerously. As badly as he wants to, he’s not going to make it any further than this.

“I…” the agent starts, then he drops his files and grabs Clint as he collapses.

Another set of hands lands on him. The last guard standing. Clint doesn’t recognize him. He snaps something to File Guy, who turns and runs the other direction. The guard shoves Clint over onto his back. “Those were my friends,” he snarls, his voice rough with rage and sorrow. “You fucking American bastard. Those were my friends!”

“Should’ve kept their hands to themselves,” Clint snarls back, kicking out.

The man’s face twists and he kicks back, hitting Clint in the ribs. Something cracks under his foot and Clint chokes with the pain, curling up to protect his midsection.

He loses some time, he thinks, because by the time he can breathe again, Lukas is standing over him with an irritated look on his face. “Agent Barton.”

“Dickface,” Clint manages.

“Trying to run again?”

“You…left the door…open…”

“Hm.” Lukas looks up at the bodies, which are slowly being cleared away by other agents. “Natov.”

Last Guard Standing steps forward. “Sir?”

“Bring me a blowtorch.”

Natov gets a nasty grin on his face and starts jogging up the hallway. Clint shudders a little bit on the floor. A blowtorch does not mean good things for him.

“Tell me what I want to know,” Lukas says, “and I won’t let them touch you. You can sleep.”

“I don’t know anything.”

“Stop lying to me, Agent.”

Clint’s vision blurs. “Not lying.”

Time skips again, or maybe he microsleeps, because suddenly Natov is back with some friends, and he’s holding a small blowtorch. “Here, sir,” he says, handing it to Lukas.

Lukas fires it a few times, then puts his hand on Clint’s ankle. Natov holds Clint’s handcuffed arms above his head with an iron grip. Two others settle at his right leg, shoving it down onto the floor. “Agent,” comes a warning voice, and Clint hears the unspoken threat behind it.

The panic is like a monster in his chest and he can barely breathe through the weight of it. He’s hyperventilating, his cracked rib screaming in pain. “No,” he whispers, eyes fixed on Lukas and the blowtorch. “Oh God, Lukas, please don’t. Please.”

“You are making me do this,” Lukas says softly. “If you tell me, you can make it stop. You are in control here.”

A hysterical laugh slips past his lips. He’s not in control. He’s never been in less control of anything.

Just tell them something, part of his mind rages. Anything.

But he can’t. There is a woman in his mind, and three kids, and he can’t remember why but he has to keep them safe. He can’t give in.

“So be it,” Lukas sighs. He turns on the blowtorch and aims it at the bottom of Clint’s right foot.

A scream rips from him, so loud and harsh he can almost feel his vocal chords shredding underneath it. It goes on and on and on until he has to breathe, but the pain is too much and his vision is covered with dark spots holy Jesus fucking Christ someone make him stop make him stop please

The fire turns off but the pain continues, a horrific throbbing that radiates from his foot all the way up his leg. He collapses back onto the ground, having arched his back up from the pain, and locks eyes with Lukas over his heaving chest. “Please don’t, please, please, no more,” he sobs, trying to pull his arms down, or his legs in, anything to get away from Lukas and his blowtorch.

“Is there anything you would like to say to me?”

Clint sobs again, his fingers desperately scrabbling at the air. Then there’s a rush of flames, and an impossible heat to his left foot, and another piercing scream is clawing its way up his throat. It goes on forever, burning away the exhaustion and rational thought until there is nothing but a scalding red path of agony in his mind.

Finally, Lukas pulls away. “Take him back. Watch him this time. If he gets out again, I will hold you responsible.”

He stands up and gives Clint a dispassionate look. “You can stop this at any time, Agent Barton. You know how.”

Finally released from the hands holding him down, Clint curls into himself. There’s a strange whining sound in the air, and it takes him a long second to realize it’s coming from him.

“Get up,” Natov snaps. “Up!” He kicks Clint again.

“Please,” Clint whispers brokenly.

He kneels and winds his fingers in Clint’s hair, dragging him upwards. “You killed my friends.”

Clint grabs at his wrist. Somewhere in his frantic mind he thinks maybe he should apologize, or beg for mercy, but the look in the guard’s eye says he’s not going to listen to either one. So he just latches onto the wrist and tries to remember how his lungs are supposed to work. “Let’s go,” the guard says in disgust, shoving him down again. “Now.”

Somehow, Clint manages to push up to his hands and knees. It’s a slow and horrible crawl back to his cell. He has to drag his feet behind, even barely trying to curl them under makes him retch with pain. When he finally crosses the threshold, Natov kicks him in the hip and he collapses onto his back.

“No,” he says weakly, but that’s all he can get out. Natov secures his arms overhead, then shoves his fingers in Clint’s mouth.

“Suck.”

He bites instead, which earns him a slap to the face that makes his ears ring. “I said suck,” the guard orders again. “Or we’re not using anything at all, and I can promise that’s gonna be more painful for you than me.”

Clint stares at the ceiling as tears blur his eyes. Can’t run. Can’t fight. Can’t resist. Can’t even stand up now. He’s fucking useless.

We don’t need him.

He opens his mouth. Lets Natov probe around on his tongue, obediently gets them wet. Tries not to shout as those same fingers press into his ass, burning and stretching. Tries to fall into better memories as the fingers are replaced by something bigger, something worse.

Tries not to think at all as the sounds draw other interested parties, and then he’s right back where he started—only this time, there’s no running away.

Chapter Text

“Hawkeye,” Loki whispers in his ear. Clint flinches, even though he tries not to. “How are you feeling, Hawkeye?”

“Shitty,” he slurs. “Coulson. Coulson, you gotta pull me out. I can’t shoot like this.”

He’s shivering hard. He passed out twice during their…during that, and they threw ice water on him both times to shock him awake. The room stinks of sweat and sex. Or maybe it’s him. He can’t tell. He can still feel them, though. Feel their fingers on his skin and in his mouth and in his—

No. Put it away. It happened to someone else, not him.

“Coulson,” he moans, slamming his head into his hands. “Come on, man.”

He’s back on his knees. This time he’s grateful for the chain around his neck, because at least it means he can’t accidentally fall onto his feet. God, his feet. He’s been through some nasty shit as a SHIELD agent, but this is definitely in the top five. Maybe the top three. The pain is so constant and overwhelming that he can barely breathe. It wars with the exhaustion, leaving him with moments of horrible lucidity in between the hallucinations where all he can think about is how much it fucking hurts.

There is a clock in front of him too, and the numbers say sixty, but he can’t remember why that’s important. Things keep flickering in front of it anyway. He sees Steve and Tony talking before they start fighting each other. Banner smiles at him, then turns and punches an alien monster that swallows him whole. He sees himself, fighting at the airport, slammed into the ground by the Black Panther, who then claws his defenseless body to shreds.

T’Challa ducked his arrows too, he suddenly remembers. Maybe Clint’s not as good as he thinks he is. Or maybe T’Challa has super powers. The guy wears a cat suit. It wouldn’t be surprising.

A cool hand touches his forehead and he nearly falls over. “Coulson,” he says again, rolling his head to the side. “About time.”

“Who is Coulson?”

Clint blinks. Mikhail is standing in front of him, holding a bowl in one hand. There’s an instant rush of relief in seeing him instead of Lukas. “Hey,” he whispers. “Where you been?”

“I was called away briefly.” Mikhail loosens the chain around his neck, allowing Clint to relax a little more. “Lukas informed me of what happened, but I would like to hear it from you.”

He shudders. “They…they…”

“They what?”

Another shudder. He leans forward, pressing his head against Mikhail’s thigh. Mikhail is safe. “They…” He can’t make himself say it, but he makes a wild gesture and the other man seems to get the idea. There’s a low, disgusted sound. Clint tilts his head up, but Mikhail isn’t looking at him. He’s staring at the door, his features twisted in irritation. He says something very unkind in Russian, then kneels next to Clint. “It will not happen again,” he promises.

“Okay,” Clint says, because he believes him. Mikhail wouldn’t lie.

“I brought you some food,” Mikhail says. “Do you think you can eat?”

Clint shrugs.

Mikhail sits on the floor, then rearranges Clint so he’s sitting on his ass, back to Mikhail’s chest. The open wounds flare in pain as soon as he makes contact, but it’s nothing compared to his feet, and it’s better than being on his knees. His eyes are burning dully and his head is pounding. God, he’s tired. More than tired. He feels empty. Like one of Tony’s suits.

“You are very strong,” Mikhail says, offering a spoonful of whatever is in the bowl. Clint looks at it for a second, then leans forward and takes it. The remnants of his dignity want to argue about feeding himself, but he’s really too tired to give a shit. “But I still think you are being needlessly stubborn.”

“Hmmm.” Another bite. “Part of the job.”

“Is it?” Mikhail sounds faintly amused. “Full marks for you, then.”

They eat in silence for a while, then Clint says, “I think he has superpowers.”

“Who?”

“T’Challa. I think he has super powers.” He looks at the spoon. “Or he's a cat. What is this stuff?”

Mikhail rubs his back soothingly. “It’s food, Agent. Just eat it.”

He should probably question it, but he doesn’t. If it’s poison, all the better for him. They’ve already made him see his worst nightmares. Death would probably be a step up from the horror show in his head.

Vaguely, he thinks there’s a reason he should stay alive. But he can’t remember and so he doesn’t dwell on it. Thoughts are hard. Slippery. Like fish. Silver fish in a creek. “I went fishing once,” he says. “Me and Steve. Thought it would be fun.”

“Was it?”

“No.” He presses his hands to his eyes. “Fish are wet.”

The door to the cell slams open and Clint twitches, leaning into Mikhail despite the flare of pain. Mikhail won’t let them touch again. He promised.

There’s a shuffling of bodies through the door. Two of them are handcuffed. The other one is Lukas. He’s got his fucking cane in one hand and a gun in the other. No one else comes in, but Clint sees Natov out in the hallway. He shudders and looks away.

“Oh my God,” someone says, and he refocuses on the handcuffed people. They both look vaguely familiar, but he doesn’t know why. “Barton? Is that you?” A woman. Blond hair.

He blinks a couple times. “Who’re you?”

“Jesus.” That’s a man’s voice. “What the hell are you bastards doing to him?”

There’s more sounds of struggling, then Lukas says, “On your knees, Agent Barton.”

Mikhail moves and so Clint is forced to move too, shuffling to avoid any pressure on the bottom of his feet. He gets back on his aching knees and looks up at Lukas. “I don’t want to play any more games.”

“We are not playing, Agent. Not right now.” He gestures at the other two. “Recognize them?”

He doesn’t. He thinks he should, but he doesn’t, so he just shakes his head quickly and tries not to throw up at the motion.

“They are more SHIELD agents,” Lukas says. “They were looking for you.”

Clint raises his head a little. They’re gagged now, the two agents, but they’re staring at him with intense concern. A little bloom of warmth starts in his chest. They got my message. They came.

“Tell me what I want to know,” Lukas says, cocking his gun and pressing it to the woman’s head, “or I will kill them.”

Clint blinks. “What? Wait, no. Don’t.” The panic is back, settling into him like an old friend. Torture, he can take. He’ll gamble with his own life. But he doesn’t want to be responsible for another death. Tears well up in his eyes again. “Please, Lukas.”

“I am tired of waiting, Agent. Tell me now.”

The woman shakes her head at him. Either don’t tell him or don’t let him kill me. Clint’s not sure. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Something. He has to say something. He can’t let this happen again.

“Last chance. Where are they taking the physicist?”

The woman looks confused, like she was expecting a different question. Clint tries to gather his disconnected thoughts. It’s so hard to think through the fog in his mind. New York is on the tip of his tongue, but he can’t say that. He knows he can’t. “I…”

“Too long, Agent.” The gun fires and Clint flinches as blood sprays over him. The woman topples to the floor.

He screams. Not even really a scream, just a wordless howl of frustration and anger that bursts from him in a tidal wave. The man is yelling too, unintelligible words spilling from behind his gag. He tries to get up, but the guards quickly rush in and hold him in place. Lukas gives him a disdainful look and turns to Clint. “I’m sorry you made me do that,” he says softly. “I did not want to.”

The howl gives way to a sob , then another, and then Clint’s doubled over with the force of his own despair, desperately trying to keep himself together. There are too many cracks, too many splinters in his shell. He has to make it stop. He has to say it. He can’t do this anymore.

Lie to them, Natasha hisses in his head. Fucking lie.

Can he lie? Will they believe him?

They might, at this point. They might not. It’s a chance he has to take.

But not New York. He can’t. Somewhere else. Rock and hard place. What’s going to cause the least amount of damage to the timestream? Where else was SHIELD in 1965? He remembers learning about it. He knew at one point. SHIELD History 101. Standard introduction class. SHIELD had three major bases in the US at this time. New York, which he can’t give up. The Mojave Desert, which he can’t give up either. Too many weapons there. And…

The gun clicks. He jerks his head up. “Wait!”

Lukas stops. The gun is an inch from the man’s head. “Yes?”

Clint swallows. Feels the tears drip down his face. The words are stuck in his throat, they won’t come out. He stutters helplessly, his chest heaving hard.

“Just say it,” Mikhail whispers next to him. A comforting hand is on his shoulder, rubbing small circles. “It’s alright, Agent Barton. You can tell us.”

The other agent shakes his head frantically. Clint looks at him, then up at Lukas. He has to.

“Omaha,” he whispers.

Lukas raises an eyebrow. “A little louder, Agent.”

“Omaha,” he repeats, avoiding the other agent’s gaze. “There’s a base in Omaha.”

Lukas smiles. It’s broad and triumphant and Clint closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see it. “Omaha,” he repeats. “And that is where they will take her?”

“It’s a research facility,” he says. “Nuclear physics and weapons design. Good food. No fish.”

Mikhail murmurs something to Lukas, who nods. “Give us the coordinates,” he says to Clint.

“I don’t know them,” Clint says, pressing his hands into his eyes. “I don’t.”

“Hmm.” Lukas turns to the other agent. “Do you?”

A head shake.

“Shame.” The gun fires.

Clint doesn’t scream this time. It sits in his chest, waiting to be released, but all that comes out is a little choked noise. “I told you,” he says, staring at the bodies in front of him. “I...I fucking told you.”

“Yes, you did. Next time, don’t make me wait.” Lukas pats him on the head. “Where in Omaha is this base?”

“I don’t know the coordinates,” he says again. He looks up at Lukas. “I swear. I don’t. You gotta believe me.”

He cringes, waiting for retribution, but Mikhail just touches his shoulder again. “Could you identify it on a map?” he asks gently.

Clints nods furiously. “Yeah. Yeah. I think so. Yes.”

“Get him a map,” Lukas orders. He pulls a radio from his pocket and starts giving orders in rapid Russian. When he’s done, he kneels down next to Clint and puts a finger under his chin. “Look at me, Agent Barton.”

He forces his eyes up. “What?”

“Mikhail says he has been teaching you lessons. Is that so?”

“Yeah.” His gaze flickers over to Mikhail.

“Then consider this another one.” Lukas’s fingers tighten around his jaw, digging in without mercy. “Everyone has a breaking point. And now I know yours. If you try to withhold information from me ever again, I will fill a room with innocents, and I will slowly kill them one by one until you tell me what I want to know. It will last for hours, and every single death will be your fault.” He leans in closer. “Do you doubt me on this?”

“No,” Clint whispers, shaking his head as much as he can. He doesn’t. He can see the truth in Lukas’s eyes.

“Good.” He shoves Clint away onto the floor. “Get him a map, Mikhail. We have work to do.” He walks out the door, raising the radio to his mouth.

Mikhail stands. “I will be back, Clint.”

Clint flinches. “Don’t leave me with them. Please?”

He’s not afraid of dead bodies. But their eyes are still open and staring, and the pooling blood has reached his skin, and he can’t stand to be here with them any more. He has to get out.

“Just for a moment,” Mikhail says. “I promise.”

He walks out the door, and Clint is left with his ghosts.

Chapter Text

Clint wakes up to a hand sliding over his neck. “Clint,” someone murmurs. “Wake up.”

“No,” he moans.

“Just a little longer. Then you may sleep.” He forces his eyes open, meeting Mikhail’s gaze. “Good,” the man praises. “Here is a map. Locate your base for us.”

He does. He points to it with a shaking finger, leaving a smudge of blood on the paper. Lukas returns and asks about defenses and surveillance and early warning systems. Clint answers with a hollow voice. He’s not even sure the words are coming out in the right order, but Lukas seems satisfied. Clint cringes away when the cold hand reaches for him, but it’s just to pat his head and murmurs something vaguely demeaning in Russian.

Then Mikhail is there, and Clint doesn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed as the man literally scoops him off the ground and carries him bridal-style out the door. He’s too grateful to be leaving the bodies behind. SHIELD. They came for him. Against all odds, they came for him, and this is what they got for it.

No one else will, now. Why would they? It’s too dangerous. He’s too useless. No further tactical advantage in retrieving him and risking a higher body count. He’s lucky anyone came at all.

“Shhh,” Mikhail murmurs, and Clint realizes he’s muttering all this out loud. “I am here. I will not leave you again.”

Some tiny, tiny part of him is screaming in absolute rage. Because this is the man who whipped his back bloody, stuck him in isolation for five weeks, killed a child to prove a point, and left him to Lukas’s mercy for days. Mikhail does not deserve his trust.

But Clint can’t help how he relaxes into the other man’s arms, how he undoubtedly feels just a little bit safer with Mikhail holding onto him.

“You can sleep,” Mikhail tells him. “I have you now.”

He shouldn’t. He should stay alert, because no matter what his brain thinks, he’s definitely still in danger. But as soon as the command processes through his sluggish mind, he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. He doesn’t so much as sleep as he just…shuts off. Everything goes dark and he sinks into the depths, embracing unconsciousness.

He doesn’t dream. Thank God for for small miracles.

When Clint claws his way back to alertness, he’s greeted by a dark room, lit only with the dull glow of monitoring machines. He lays there and takes stock of his battered body, trying to catalogue his status without letting any potential watchers know he’s awake.

He’s laying on his stomach on a vaguely uncomfortable mattress. There are cuffs around his sore wrists, attached to either side of the bed. He’s got enough room to curl his arms towards himself, but not much. Nothing around his ankles. He’s naked, still, but there’s a blanket over his ass and legs. His back is open to the air.

Clint can feel the cane wounds and the burns on his feet, but the whole sensation is muted. Like the signals are muffled. Painkillers, probably. He can feel the IV in his arm. That’s nice of them.

The memories slowly leak back to him, and he grinds his teeth against the misery threatening to erupt. It’s okay. You’re okay. They’re dead, but you’re still alive, and that’s what matters.

He’d said the same thing after The Snap, too. He didn’t believe it then either.

Focus, Clint, Natasha whispers in his ear, and he takes a deep breath and pulls himself together. He can do this. He broke a little, but that’s alright. He can fix it.

“You’re awake,” Mikhail says, and Clint jumps at the sound. “How are you feeling?”

A gentle hand lands on his arm and he twitches again before turning to look. “Like shit,” he says hoarsely. “Where am I?”

“Lights,” Mikhail warns, and Clint screws his eyes shut against the flood of brightness. It takes a few minutes to adjust. “We are in the medical section,” Mikhail says, offering him a cup and a straw. Clint sips at it slowly, relishing the feeling of cold water in his mouth. “Your new room for the moment.”

Clint tugs a little at the restraint on his left wrist, then says, “How long was I out?”

“Twenty hours.” Mikhail reaches over and undoes the cuff, then the other one. “We’ve been giving you fluids and antibiotics. A blood transfusion as well.”

“We?” He tries to picture Lukas in a pair of scrubs, sticking an IV in his arm.

“Yes.”

Clint shifts his weight as much as he can and props himself up a little higher on his elbows. The motion makes him hiss in pain, but he doesn’t want to talk to Mikhail with his face shoved into the mattress. “How bad is it?”

“You will be fine,” Mikhail says. “You’re already starting to heal.”

Heal. That’s a joke. His body might heal. His mind’s going to take a lot longer to put back together. “My feet,” he says, twisting a little to look behind him, but the movement tugs on the skin at his back and he winces.

“You will not be walking for some time.” Mikhail punctuates this statement by offering him the water again. Clint ignores him in favor of slowly shifting onto his side, then even more slowly into a sitting position. Despite his careful motions, he feels a few of the barely-healed welts split open.

Once up, he takes the offered water and scrubs a hand over his face, which is oddly smooth. He distinctly remembered having patchy stubble, which means someone shaved him while he was unconscious. The thought is frightening, that someone was able to get that personal with him and he wasn’t awake for it.

Now that he’s facing the rest of the room, he can take stock of what’s in it. It looks like any other SHIELD hospital room he’s been in, although there’s something decidedly 1960s about the green tile floor. The walls are that same blank smoothness as the rest of the base. There’s a door with a small window set in it. Across from him is another door, cracked enough that Clint can get a glimpse of the sink inside. A bathroom, probably.

“You will have to forgive the lack of ceiling vents,” Mikhail says dryly, and Clint snorts a little at that. “We underestimated your skills. It will not happen again.”

“Mmm.” Clint runs his tongue over his teeth. The water helps, but his mouth tastes like ass. He could really use a toothbrush. And a shower. “So what happens now?”

“Now you heal,” Mikhail says. “And then we resume your training.”

He tries to keep his face expressionless, but something probably slips through. “Oh.”

“Do not worry. If you are good, it does not have to be difficult.”

“Good,” Clint scoffs, but Mikhail raises an eyebrow and he cuts off the rest of his sentence. No sense getting himself in trouble right now. He needs to play nice, take the time to fix the cracks in his armor. He changes track. “Where’s your friend?”

“Lukas? He is overseeing the extraction of our asset. He will not be back for some time.”

A tension releases from him that he didn’t even realize was there. “Oh.”

“I am sorry,” Mikhail says, “about what happened.”

Clint gives him a bitter smile. “Which part, exactly? The torture, or the hallucinations?”

“The rape,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone, and something twists in Clint’s gut. “That was unacceptable. The men involved have been punished accordingly.”

Clint closes his eyes against the phantom fingers suddenly brushing over him. “Give me a gun,” he says, “and I’ll punish them. I’ll make it last.” The anger is boiling through him, hot and steady and it builds, higher and higher—

“Take a deep breath, Clint.” Mikhail’s voice brings him crashing back down, and he obeys the other man without thinking. He’s fine. He made it out, he’s not damaged from it. He survived. Time to pull out his inner Natasha and compartmentalize. He’s still on a mission, and until he’s safe back home, he does not have the luxury of falling apart over something like that. Get it together, Hawkeye.

“I’m fine,” he says tightly, when he’s got a grip on himself.

Mikhail makes a disbelieving noise, but doesn’t comment further. Instead, he stands up and pushes his chair away. “Would you like a bath?”

“I—what?” Clint stares at him, a little nonplussed by the change in direction. “A bath?”

“Yes.”

“Like a bath bath? Or a sponge bath?”

Mikhail nods at the bathroom. “There’s a tub in there.”

A bath sounds fucking glorious. Clint practically salivates at the idea of being clean again, of washing the literal blood from his hands. “God, yes,” he says, then he remembers. “But I can’t stand. And probably shouldn’t get those wet.”

Mikhail picks up a sealed packet from the little table next to the bed. “I have a solution.”

The solution is something kind of like plastic wrap. Clint isn’t sure exactly what it is, but when he asks, Mikhail starts giving him some science-y explanation about polymers and sealant, and eventually Clint just tells him to put the damn things on. “Sir,” he adds, at the look the statement gets him.

“Respect,” Mikhail reminds him, but he wraps Clint’s feet anyway, then pulls the IV from his arm. “Comfortable?”

“I guess,” Clint says. Then he lets out an undignified yelp as Mikhail leans down and picks him up from the bed, blanket and all. “Whoa, what the fuck!”

“You are not going to walk anywhere,” Mikhail says, carrying him into the bathroom. He did this in the cell, Clint remembers, but he’d been too out of it at the time to really give a damn.

Now humiliation flushes his face and he squirms uncomfortably. “Put me down,” he says, and Mikhail obliges, setting him gently into the grimy-looking tub before pulling the blanket away. He turns on the water and lets it run for a moment, then lets the tub fill. From a little cabinet next to the sink, he pulls out a washcloth and a bottle of soap.

Clint holds out his hand for them, but Mikhail just sits on the edge of the tub, wets the cloth, and pours soap on it. When he reaches forward, Clint pulls away. “I can wash my own damn self.”

“I know you can,” Mikhail says. “But I take care of things that are mine.”

“I’m not yours,” Clint says.

“You are mine,” Mikhail tells him, reaching for his arm again. “You were given to me.”

His tone leaves no room for argument, but Clint goes for it anyway. “That’s bullshit.” He dodges Mikhail’s grasp, making the water in the tub slosh onto the floor. “You can’t give a person away, what kind of slavery crap is—”

Mikhail grabs him, twisting his wrist in a bruising grasp that makes Clint hiss in pain. “You have to belong to me, Agent Barton,” he says, and Clint can’t help the jolt of fear at the sound of hearing his own fucking name. “Because your alternative is belonging to Lukas. Do you really want to be at his mercy again?”

He’s shaking his head before he even knows it. Can still feel the hallucinations and terror and pain in the back of his mind. “No. Fuck, no.”

“Then relax,” Mikhail says. “And let me take care of you.”

Good cop/bad cop. The oldest game in the book. Lukas steps in with the torture, Mikhail picks up the broken pieces and comforts him. But it’s a classic for a reason, and even knowing what they’re doing doesn’t necessarily stop it from being effective. Like the conditioning. Clint is just a rat in their maze, and they can make him move wherever they want. And he can’t even stand on his own two feet to fight them right now.

Fucking useless, someone whispers, and he swats the voice away.

“Fine,” he eventually says, relaxing his arm. “But I wash the dangly bits.”

Mikhail laughs. “Alright.”

He’s gentle about it, at least, easing the cloth over the gashes and cleaning off the dried blood. Clint can’t deny that it feels fucking amazing, and he definitely has to bite his lip to keep quiet when Mikhail starts in on his hair. Weeks of grime and blood and mud come out, to the point where they have to drain and refill the tub several times.

“This is an unusual hair style,” Mikhail says, dragging his fingernails along Clint’s scalp, working out the last of the gunk. The hair on the sides is growing in further, meaning that he probably looks a little ridiculous with his hair all different lengths. He’ll have to shave the sides down again, or shave the top to match. “When did you do this?”

“Midlife crisis,” Clint mumbles, letting his head tilt with the pressure. “Needed a change.” Needed to be a whole new person for awhile.

“It’s very distinctive for a spy.”

“Wasn’t working for SHIELD at the time.”

Mikhail starts on his back. “Why not?”

Clint shrugs. “Taking a break.” A phrase which here means, SHIELD was fucked up and so was I.

“Hmm.” The noise tells him that Mikhail isn’t happy with the answer, but they’re tiptoeing the edges of Clint’s comfort zone in terms of information giving. Now that he’s not strung out on drugs and he’s somewhat less sleep deprived, he can remember exactly what he has to keep secret, and why.

He changes the subject. “When you say training…what exactly does that mean?”

“What do you think it means?” Mikhail presses the cloth into his hands. Touching himself, even just to get clean, makes him feel a little sick. He does the job quickly and hands it back to Mikhail, who gently runs it down his leg.

“Nothing good,” Clint says. “Based on prior experience with you.”

“It does not have to be painful. All you have to do is what I ask.”

“And what happens when you ask for something I won’t do?” He turns, meets Mikhail’s cold gaze. “What happens then?”

“Then we will see whose will is stronger,” he says, finish the other leg, and Clint swallows. “Are you ready to be done?”

“Yeah,” Clint says. He’s still tired, and the painkillers are wearing off. He’s not sure if he’s allowed to ask for more. “Yes.”

Mikhail pulls the drain and lets the water slide away, then takes a rough towel and pats Clint dry. There’s blood on the towel when he pulls it away, but not as much as there could be, and Clint has to take a second to squash the gratefulness inside him. Just because Mikhail isn’t abusing him right now doesn’t mean he won’t later.

He lets Mikhail pick him up from the tub, biting his lip against the flush of shame. He’s put back on the bed, and Mikhail covers him up with the blanket. “You need to rest more,” he says. “You had a rough week.”

Clint lets out a humorless laugh. “And whose fault was that?”

“Yours,” Mikhail says, putting in a new IV. “As much as I wish it weren’t so.” He doesn’t give Clint a chance to answer. “Make yourself comfortable, please.”

He rearranges himself back onto his front, trying not to jostle his feet too badly. Mikhail puts the cuffs back on him, then quickly peels off the wet outer bandages on his feet. “Sleep,” he tells Clint. “I will return in a few hours.”

The words start a slow thread of panic in him. Bad things happen when Mikhail leaves him. “Wait, where are you going?”

“I have paperwork to attend to,” he says, stepping to close the bathroom door. “You are not the only responsibility I have.” He moves around the bed and kneels beside Clint, apparently seeing something in his expression. “Ptichka,” he says softly. “What is the matter?”

Fuck off, I’m fine, is what he wants to say, but when he opens his mouth what comes out is, “Please don’t go.”

He fucking hates himself for saying it, but the panic is growing. When Mikhail leaves, Lukas comes in. Clint can’t handle that. Not now. It’ll shatter him.

There’s a flare of something in Mikhail’s eyes, but he quickly controls it. “The door will be locked,” he says, showing Clint the key. “And I have the only key. You are safe in here. No one will come in.” His voice lowers. “You are safe, Clint. This is a promise I make to you.”

No. He’s really not. But if Clint has learned anything in the past weeks, it’s that safety is relative. “Okay,” he whispers, trying to keep himself calm.

“Good,” Mikhail murmurs. “I need you to trust me, Clint.”

“I do,” he says, and he does. Just a little.

Mikhail puts an easy hand on his head, stroking his hair. The motion is soothing, peaceful, and Clint eventually slides into half-awake/half-not trance. He’s alert enough to hear a knock at the door, and Mikhail murmurs something in Russian to him before getting up to answer.

Soldat,” he says. “Is it time?”

Da,” comes the husky reply. Clint has enough energy to wonder time for what and why does that voice sound familiar before he gives in and falls asleep entirely.

Chapter Text

They won’t give him any of their fancy super serum—some bullshit about lessons being properly learned—so it takes another round of IV antibiotics, one more humiliating bath, and a fair amount of sleep later before Mikhail declares him healed enough to leave the medical section. He comes into the room with pants, a shirt, and a wheelchair, complete with an alarming amount of restraints. “I am moving you,” he tells Clint, releasing the cuffs on his wrists. “Into the chair, please.”

Clint looks at the chair, then looks at him. “Is the bondage really necessary? I can’t walk, remember?”

“You climbed up a ceiling vent,” Mikhail reminds him. “And drove a motorcycle off a cliff. I suspect burned feet will not be a hindrance if you think you can escape.”

He’s right, of course, and Clint decides losing the inevitable scuffle isn’t worth the potential consequences. So he swallows his protests and dresses, lets Mikhail help him into the chair, then strap him down far more than he feels is really necessary.

Mikhail pauses at Clint’s wrists, which are lacerated and bruised. “I will leave these free,” he says, “but you are not to move them from the armrests. If you do, I will not hesitate to paralyze you. Do you understand?”

“Yeah,” Clint says. When Mikhail doesn’t move, he sighs and corrects himself. “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Mikhail says. Then he produces a blindfold and wraps it around Clint’s eyes. “Shhh,” he says as Clint tenses. “I am still here. You can still hear me.”

“I know.” He focuses on trying to breathe, hating how easily the other man can see his panic. Blindfolds have always freaked him out a little, but since spending five weeks in a dark room…well, it’s worse now. Calm the fuck down, he orders himself, channeling his inner Coulson. Stop giving him ammunition.

“We are moving now,” Mikhail tells him, and the chair glides forward.

Clint forces his white-knuckle grip to relax, and he tries to distract himself by counting the seconds instead. He tries to memorize the turns they take, but it’s a pointless endeavor. Not like he really wants to go back to that room, even if there is a shower there.

After three-hundred seconds, Mikhail speaks. “You are very quiet today.”

Clint shrugs. “What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing in particular.” There’s a pause, and then, “Do you want to know where we are going?”

“Are you going to give me a straight answer?”

“Yes.”

Well, that’s a shocker. “Where are we going, sir?”

“Germany,” Mikhail says, and the chair rolls to a stop. “Wait here, please.”

Like he can do anything else. There’s a whisper of air on his back, and then Mikhail is walking away. Clint rolls the information around his mind, trying not to lose his shit. Germany? Motherfucking fuck, he can’t go to Germany. Russia sucks, but it’s his one tenuous connection to SHIELD. If they move, he’ll have to start all over again. It’s not like HYDRA will leave a forwarding address for him.

He’s not necessarily an optimistic person by nature, but he’s always been a firm believer in the “there’s always a way out” mantra. He’s gotten himself out of nasty scrapes before, been beaten and bruised and fucked up and still managed to get himself back home alive.

But this is different. It’s been different since Lukas managed to take him down on the pier, and it’s only gotten steadily worse. And Clint wonders now, as he waits for Mikhail to come back, if this might be the one time where there really isn’t a way out.

You can’t think like that, Tony says. There’s always a way out. Every time.

“I don’t think there is this time,” he whispers back to him, and his heart twists a little. Laura. The kids. They’re never gonna know…

“Who are you talking to?” asks a voice, and Clint jumps about six feet, his head turning as he tries to pinpoint the speaker. “Or are you just going crazy?”

Natov. He would recognize that fucking voice anywhere. “Fuck off,” he says, and Natov laughs.

“We’ve got a long flight together,” he says, leaning closer to Clint’s left ear. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“Mikhail’s gonna kill you if you touch me again,” he says, feeling like a little kid hiding behind his big brother. “Back the fuck up.”

“Mikhail isn’t around all the time,” Natov says. There’s a sadistic glee to his voice, and Clint can only imagine the expression behind it. Fingers trail along behind his ear and down his neck. Clint jumps again, earning another chuckle. “Twitchy, aren’t you? You could take off the blindfold, you know. He’s not looking right now.”

Clint twists as much as he can in the restraints and throws a punch. It’s right handed, and he can’t get the force behind it that he wants, but it lands perfectly on target. Natov makes a choking noise and Clint hears stumbling footsteps backwards. “I told you to back up,” he says, shaking out his fist and putting it back on the armrest. “Next time, do it.”

“Agent Barton,” Mikhail says, coming back over. “Lieutentant Natov. What is happening here?”

“Nothing, sir,” Natov wheezes. “I was just making sure the prisoner followed his instructions.”

Mikhail switches to Russian. He doesn’t raise his voice, but Clint would recognize the superior-telling-off-a-subordinate tone anywhere. He stifles a snicker as Natov apologizes and slinks away.

Then it’s his turn, apparently. “You had one instruction,” Mikhail reminds him, and Clint stiffens, his amusement slowly vanishing. “What was it?”

“I…” he starts, then shakes his head. What’s the point? “Not to move my hands, sir.”

“And what did you do?”

Clint smirks. “I punched him in the dick.”

“You disobeyed,” Mikhail corrects. “Say it.”

“I disobeyed.” Respect. Honesty. Obedience. Actions have consequences. Fuck.

“Very good, Agent Barton. Do you know what will happen next?”

“You’re going to paralyze me.” He clenches his fingers reflexively. “Sir, he—”

“I understand what he did to you, Agent. It is not your place to enact retribution.” Mikhail’s fingers press under his chin and Clint lets his head tilt up. “If he bothers you again, you are to let me know immediately. Da?”

Da,” Clint mutters, pulling his chin back. Mikhail lets him go. Then there’s a touch to the back of his neck, and he feels the stickiness of a patch.

He’s wheeled up a ramp after that, and forcibly transferred into a different seat. We’ve got a long flight together, Natov had said. He’s probably aboard an airplane, then.

Mikhail unties the blindfold and Clint blinks the blurriness out of his eyes. “Thank you,” he says, hoping to earn himself some points back.

“You’re welcome.” Mikhail steps away and Clint looks around as much as he can. Yep, he’s on a plane. It’s surprisingly Quinjet-like, as much as a 1960s HYDRA plane can mimic a 2020s SHIELD Quinjet. All he can really see is the dashboard, but it looks advanced beyond what he knows most planes this era have. Clint studies the flips and switches, since the view out the cockpit window is shuttered closed.

His tentative plan is the same as before. This little snag aside, his only hope of rescue is to either signal his own SHIELD again, or get away and get to this timeline’s SHIELD. In case of the latter, he’s going to take whatever information he can to them about HYDRA’s capabilities.

Mikhail comes back and straps him into the seat, then takes the one next to him. He calls something over his shoulder and Clint hears the footsteps of others and the clank of restraints and belts. “We leaving?” he asks, and Mikhail nods. “How long will it take?”

“At least seven hours,” Mikhail says. “Perhaps longer. We will need to make a stop along the way.”

Clint doesn’t ask about the stop, even though everything in him is absolutely dying to. “This will wear off before then, right?”

“The paralytic will wear off shortly, yes. Then we will see how well you behave yourself.”

“Not gonna do anything,” Clint says, and Mikhail just gives him A Look. As if to prove his point, Natov walks by—still limping a little, to Clint’s amusement—and takes the pilot seat. He raises the window covers to reveal a blank wall in front of them.

“Ready,” he says in Russian, and Mikhail answers in the affirmative.

“We’re going to fly into the wall,” Clint points out, but Mikhail just smiles at him. Natov slips on a headset and goes through what Clint recognizes as pre-flight checks. When he’s done, he grabs the joystick, and the plane lifts up.

Straight up, which means the jet has turbines somewhere. Very quiet ones, because he can’t hear a damn thing. “Nice ride,” he says to Mikhail.

“It was a SHIELD design originally,” he says. “We merely improved it.”

Meaning Stark design, most likely. He doubts there were any improvements to really be made. Clint looks back out the window and watches the plane rise. Out the window, he sees the blue edges of a lake.  “Underwater tarmac?”

“Security, leftover from the war,” Mikhail says. He looks relaxed, almost sprawled in his chair. “No one is going to destroy airplanes they cannot see.”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

It takes around an hour for the paralytic to wear off enough for basic movement. Clint adjusts his position in the chair with uncoordinated limbs, then turns to examine the rest of the plane. There’s a wider section behind them, the aisle lined with five seats on either side. Each seat is facing a screen. Three are occupied. Beyond that is a more open section, where Clint can see various stacks of equipment and weapons. Guns, he’s pretty sure, but it’s hard to tell from this vantage point.

“Tell me something,” Mikhail says, looking up from a stack of papers, and Clint pulls his attention back. “Did you know the agents who came for you?”

Honestly, he barely remembers their faces, lost as he was in a maze of pain and terror and sleep deprivation. He might have known them in passing. But in truth, since Natasha, he’s avoided getting close to anyone at work. It’s better that way. “Personally? No.”

Mikhail nods. “I just thought you would like to know I had them buried appropriately,” he says. 

“Thank you,” Clint says, and Mikhail nods again before returning to whatever he’s reading. Clint isn’t sure why he would do that, but he’s glad of it. Better a burial then just being tossed aside somewhere. He stares out the window for a few minutes, trying to keep his mind off the hazy memories of watching his coworkers die.

“Can I ask you something, sir?”

“Certainly.” Mikhail sets his report aside.

“When you were bringing me back from the town, you told me to give Lukas whatever he wanted.”

“Yes, I did.” His face is contemplative. “I wish you had.”

“You said you knew that from your own experience.”

“What is your question, Clint?”

“Did he hurt you like that, too?”

Mikhail is silent so long that Clint gives up, pretty sure he’s not going to get an answer. He’s toying with the straps of his harness when Mikhail says softly, “Not in the same way, no.”

Intrigued, Clint starts to ask another question, but Mikhail cuts him off. “It is not an experience I am willing to discuss with you right now.”

“Right now,” Clint says. “So, some other time?”

That gets him a half-smile and a head shake, which doesn’t necessarily mean no. Still, Clint doesn’t push it. Mikhail seems to have forgiven him for punching Natov, but he’s probably still on thin ice. No sense in pissing the man off more just to get some answers.

He sleeps a little bit, but after another long stretch of time, he’s distracted by the growing pressure in his body. He ignores it for as long as he can, but eventually he has to acknowledge it. “Sir.”

“Yes?”

Clint hates this. He hasn’t had to ask permission to go piss since grade school. But he can’t walk, and he suspects that there’ll be some raised eyebrows if he starts to crawl around the floor of the plane. “There a bathroom in this joint?”

“There is,” Mikhail says calmly, setting his files on the floor. “Do you need it?”

“Yes.” Clint shifts in his seat a little. “Please.”

Mikhail helps him into the chair, then into the bathroom. He leaves Clint alone to actually do his business, but then conducts a way-too-thorough pat-down as soon as they’re out of the bathroom.

“What am I gonna do, kill you with the shitty hand soap? There’s nothing even in there to make a weapon out of.” Which isn’t entirely true, but Mikhail just snorts quietly and takes Clint back to his seat.

Natov turns around as soon as they come back. “Signal received,” he says to Mikhail.

“Sooner than expected.”

“Do you want me to wait?”

“No. Prepare to land.” Mikhail turns to Clint. “Back into your seat, please.” He obeys, reaching for the straps before Mikhail can put them on.

“I’m a big boy,” he says. “I can buckle myself.”

“I’m aware,” Mikhail says, doing it anyway. “Take us down, Lieutenant.”

They’re landing in some woods, as far as Clint can tell. He can see trees and a faint hint of snow. Maybe they’re on a mountain? He strains, but his position offers him a limited view.

The back of the plane opens, letting in a blast of cold air. Mikhail puts a hand on his shoulder. “Stay,” he says.

“Can’t walk,” Clint reminds him, but then he’s distracted by the sound of a heavy pair of boots walking up the gangway.

Soldat,” Mikhail says. “How was your trip?”

“Mission success,” comes the raspy reply, and Clint turns, because he knows that voice. He knows it very well.

He sees the muddy clothes first, then the bone-tired exhaustion underneath the carefully held body language. Then he sees the arm, new and silver and shiny, so different from the vibranium one he knows. Finally he looks up, and there, looking right back at him with a cold, blank expression, is Bucky Barnes.

No. Not Bucky.

The Winter Soldier. 

Chapter Text

Clint just barely manages to stop himself from saying Bucky’s name, which would bring up a whole host of problems he’s not ready to deal with. And it’s not Bucky, he reminds himself. Not his Bucky. Even if he will be at some point in the future, right now he’s still the Winter Soldier. Still very much a HYDRA-slash-Red Room property.

So it’s not his friend. It’s not. But it looks like him, and Clint has to turn back around before his expression gives him away. Mikhail and the Soldier have a brief conversation, then the Soldier goes to the front of the plane. He spares a single glance for Clint, probably cataloguing his various injuries, then takes the pilot’s seat from Natov. The plane rises back into the air.

“Friend of yours?” Clint asks later, when he’s got better control over himself.

“Merely an asset,” Mikhail says, sitting down and returning to his report. “Do not concern yourself.”

“Who said I was concerned?” Clint tears his eyes from Bucky—not Bucky, the Soldier— and fiddles with his harness.

It occurs to him that he could probably take it off, seeing as the plane is steady in the air. But as soon as his hands go to the buckles, Mikhail makes a disapproving sound and Clint slowly lowers his hand back down to his lap. “Good,” Mikhail says. “Here. I brought something for you.”

He hands Clint a little workbook, like his kids used to bring home from school. Clint flips through the pages, his eyes flicking over the words. “You fucking serious?”

“Very much so.” He smiles at Clint. “Don’t worry. I will help you.”

Clint flips through it again. It’s a kids workbook, some kind of little reader with basic Russian words and their English translations. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“What’s the point?”

“Versatility. You need to be able to speak multiple languages. We will start with Russian.”

Clint scowls. “Multiple languages?”

“Yes.” Mikhail hands him a pen. “First ten pages, please.”

He examines the book. “I thought we determined I’m not a child? Because this is sending a mixed message, here.”

“First ten pages.”

Clint considers throwing the book at him, but decides it’s not worth the punishment. So he opens the book and starts teaching himself, wishing on occasion that he possessed Natasha’s head for languages. He’s never been sure if that was a Red Room thing or a Natasha thing, but she was always uncannily good at them. Clint, on the other hand, is not the best. He pretty much mangles every word he tries, which is amusing only because Mikhail winces at every attempt.

After ten pages, he closes the book and taps his fingers on the cover. “Done already?” Mikhail asks, glancing over at him.

“Yeah.”

Mikhail quizzes him, correcting his pronunciation. When he’s satisfied, Clint gets a smile and a “Well done, Clint.” He tries to hand the book back, but Mikhail tells him to keep it. “The lessons will continue.”

“Great. Looking forward to it.” He fidgets in his seat. “Are we there yet, or what?”

“If you are bored, you are welcome to continue your studies.”

“Pass.” Clint drops the book on the floor and spins the pen around his fingers like a drumstick. He is bored, but he’s got his limits, and he’s not going to try and spend the next however many hours cramming Russian into his brain.

What he should be doing is coming up with an escape plan, but there’s not really a lot he can do on that front until they get to wherever they’re going. If he tries to run from the plane, he’s going to make it about seven feet before he gets taken down, and then Mikhail will punish him. Or Lukas will. Clint doesn’t want to spend another sixty hours awake.

He shudders at the thought of Lukas, and pushes it away. He hasn’t allowed himself to think about the agents, or Omaha, or anything else that happened to him in that cell. It’s too raw, and he needs to keep himself together. Compartmentalize. Fix the cracks. He can fall apart at home.

Assuming he ever gets that far.

Clint forces his attention back to the present. The Soldier is still flying the plane, but he’s occasionally glancing backwards at him with vague interest. Clint meets his gaze every time. He’s not stupid enough to think the Soldier is going to help him escape, but there might be something there he can work with. He’ll take anything at this point.

The plane ride drags on. After awhile he does pick up the book again, but only to draw in the blank pages in the back. He’s no Steve Rogers, but he’s no slouch at sketching either. He traces out the SHIELD logo, then a terrible little sketch of Natasha, then the ship from Star Trek.

“You have a talent,” Mikhail says, looking over.

Clint shifts the book away. “I’m not that good.”

“You are. I look forward to seeing what other talents you have.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what I said.” Mikhail smiles a little. “You have a very suspicious nature, Clint.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a spy. Kinda comes with the job.” He draws the Avengers logo. “You keep talking about training me and seeing my talents, and then you won’t tell me how or what for. That would make anyone suspicious.”

Mikhail sighs. “I thought we established that you need to trust me?”

“I do.” Jesus, he still isn’t sure if he’s lying or not. He does, on some level, trust Mikhail. But also...he really fucking doesn’t.

Out of the corner of his eye, Clint sees the Soldier stiffen ever so slightly. It’s gone a second later, and he wonders if he imagined it. “Then do not concern yourself with the future,” Mikhail says, pulling his attention back. “All you have to do is listen and obey my instructions, and you will be fine.”

Yeah, and just how long is that going to work out? Clint thinks, shaking his head. They’d discussed it briefly before, but it’s been nagging at him since then. He’ll obey Mikhail for the smaller things—being polite, not touching the harness, following his orders—if only because he’s tired of getting smashed on the rocks for his little rebellions. But at some point, they’ll run into something he’s not willing to bend on.

Then we’ll see whose will is stronger, Mikhail had said, and Clint clenches his fists.

It’s the helplessness of it that’s killing him. Because as strong as Clint’s will is, Mikhail is holding all the cards here. And Clint has been on the other side of the desk before. He’s watched the most stalwart prisoners be broken down over time by sheer persistence. Hell, he’s broken people himself. I would never is easy to say when you’re safe, surrounded by friends and family and people who think like you.

I would never compromise my morals. I would never betray my friends.

Never is a long time when you’re all alone.

“Clint,” Mikhail says.

“Yeah.” He shakes his mind out of the dark spiral. “Sorry. Zoned out. Did you say something?”

“I said, we will be landing shortly.” He puts all his papers back in his briefcase, then leans over and takes the book from Clint. “Do you need the restroom again?”

Clint shakes his head. “No. I’m hungry, though.”

“You can eat when we arrive.” He puts the book in the case, then pulls out a little cloth bag. “But first, we must have a discussion.”

“Oh, joy. I love our discussions.”

Mikhail rolls his eyes. “I would like to take you off this plane without any theatrics, Clint. However, you proved to me on the way here that you cannot keep your hands to yourself.”

“I promise I won’t punch anyone in the dick,” Clint says, loud enough for Natov to hear, who flinches.

“Agent Barton,” Mikhail says sternly, and Clint immediately stops talking. This is turning into a problem, he thinks, because at some point he’s probably going to go home again, and the last thing he needs is to turn into a puddle of fear whenever someone calls his fucking name.

Mikhail pulls something out of the bag. A syringe. A syringe and a little bottle. Clint instantly understands, and his blood turns cold. “Whoa. Hey. Let’s talk about this.”

“This will render you unconscious for the remainder of our journey,” Mikhail says. “But it has unpleasant side effects, and I would prefer not to use it.”

“So don’t.”

“The other option is how we came aboard, although this time I will be restraining your hands as well.”

“You have the patch things too,” Clint says, and then mentally kicks himself for opening his fucking mouth.

Mikhail smiles a little. “Yes, I have those as well.”

“So are you asking me which way I want to be tied up? Because the honest answer is none of them.”

“I am asking you one last time if you can behave yourself, or if I need to take increased measures to ensure you will do so.”

Clint glances over at Natov. “I’ll behave,” he says. “As long as that asshole stays away from me.”

“He will not bother you. You have my word.”

His stomach drops a little, and he can tell the descent is starting. The Soldier flips some switches and calls something back to Mikhail, who answers with a quiet authority.

As soon as the plane is down and the engines off, Mikhail has Clint back into the wheelchair. He does take the time to wrap some gauze around Clint’s wrists, which at least helps cushion the raw skin a little bit from the cuffs. The blindfold still turns his stomach, but he has better control over himself this time around. Mikhail buckles the last of the restraints and pushes him down the ramp.

They must be outside, because as soon as they leave the protection of the plane, a chilly wind steals his breath. “Jesus,” Clint hisses, shivering almost immediately. “That’s fucking cold.”

“Apologies. We will be inside shortly.”

“I’m gonna get fucking frostbite.”

“You will not get frostbite. Stop complaining.”

He doesn’t, because he’s Clint Barton, and Bitching About Shit is his middle name. Mikhail just calmly rolls him forward, although from the clipped responses, he’s probably wishing he had drugged Clint right about now.

They finally get inside and away from the wind, and Clint just keeps talking, telling some mindless story about an old mission he’d been on with Natasha, and how they’d ended up on the side of a mountain in Italy with a very large dinosaur fossil head, one working parachute, and a helicopter full of very angry Japanese sailors after them.

“—and she only had on this insanely tight dress and a pair of heels, right, so I had to tear up my parachute to give her something to cover up with—”

Under the guise of scratching his face, he manages to dislodge the blindfold a little bit. Not enough to see everything, but enough to check out a little strip of the the floor as it rolls past him. It’s not really helpful.

“—so she said ‘that’s not going to work, Clint,’ and I said, ‘Sure it will, they do this stuff in movies all the time, what can go wrong?’—”

He really should shut up and pay attention to where he’s going, but once again, there doesn’t really seem to be a point. If he’s going to figure out a way out of here, staring at a little bit of floor rolling past isn’t going to help. Memorizing and reversing the turns is only going to get him back to wherever the plane landed, which is unlikely to be helpful. He might as well sit back and talk, because at least talking is helping to keep the fear at bay.

“—so she stuffed a bunch of C4 and a detonator in the dinosaur head, and I made the slingshot, and then the next time the helicopter made a pass at us we launched it—”

“We are here,” Mikhail announces, and the chair rolls to a stop. The blindfold comes off and Clint blinks owlishly, taking in his new surroundings. He’s in yet another cell—quelle surprise, anyone?—with a cot, a toilet, a sink, and an obnoxiously large video camera in the corner.

There’s a blanket and a change of clothes on the cot, so he’s at least coming up in the world. “Nice digs."

“Make yourself comfortable,” Mikhail says. “I will return shortly.” He pats Clint on the shoulder and steps away.

“Are you gonna untie me or what?” Clint says, twisting in the chair.

“No. He will.” Mikhail leaves the room.

“Who will?” He twists the other way. “Hey!”

“Me,” says the Winter Soldier, stepping up from the shadows beside the door.

Clint jumps at the sudden appearance, then smiles a little. It’s not Bucky, he knows it’s not, but it’s still a familiar face. A little piece of home. “You got stuck on babysitting duty, huh?”

“You talk too much,” the Soldier says quietly, unstrapping one wrist from the wheelchair.

“It’s a special talent.”

“You show your fear this way.”

“No shame in being scared,” Clint says. “Fear makes you smart.”

“Fear gets you punished,” the Soldier corrects, freeing the other wrist. “You will see.”

Clint bites his lip. “Yeah, I’m sure I will.”

Together, they release the rest of the straps. Then the Solider picks Clint up like he weighs nothing, and deposits him on the little cot. Clint reaches for the blanket, wrapping it around his shoulders. It’s fucking cold in this room.

The Soldier takes the chair and starts to wheel it out of the room, then pauses at the threshold. “Did it work?”

Clint turns. “Huh? Did what work?”

“Your story. The fossil.”

“Oh. Yeah, actually. Not well, but enough for us to take out the chopper. Then we had to wait for SHIELD to extract us.” He grins, remembering the ire of the museum they’d returned the remainder of the fossil to. “Dinosaur guy was pissed, though. We got a lecture on preserving the sanctity of our planet’s history. It was impressive.”

The Soldier nods. “This is a good memory for you?”

It is a good memory, dinosaur lecture aside. A successful mission, some heart-pounding adrenaline, plus he'd gotten to jump out of a helicopter with a questionable parachute. It was the first time he’d won a bet against Natasha too. “Yeah,” Clint says.

“Good.” The Solider pushes the chair over the threshold. “Hold onto those.”

“My memories?”

Another nod. “They will help.”

“Help with what?”

A pained look crosses his face. “Surviving,” he says, and the door closes before Clint can ask him what the hell that’s supposed to mean.

“Good talk,” Clint says to the empty room. He pulls the blanket tighter over his shoulders, lays down on his cot, and tries not to worry about it all too much.

He does anyway.

Chapter Text

Clint is on his thirteenth round of hackey sack the next time the door opens. Modified, because he still can’t really stand, so he’s sitting on the bed, mostly using his hands and his arms. He pauses in the middle of bouncing the wadded up ball of socks on his elbow. “Hey.”

“Clint,” Mikhail greets him, holding a plate in one hand and a water bottle in the other. There’s a book tucked under his arm. “What is this?”

“Kid’s game.” He drops the socks on the bed. “What do you got?”

“Food.” Mikhail closes the door with his free hand. “Off the bed, please.”

“What?”

“Get off the bed.”

Clint sighs. “Can’t stand,” he says for what feels like the millionth time. “What am I supposed to do, sit on the floor?”

Mikhail doesn’t say anything, but the answering raise of his eyebrow tells Clint all he needs to know. His face flushes red. “Fuck that.”

“Clint.”

“I’m not sitting on the floor.”

“Why not?”

He sputters for a moment. “Wh—because I’m not going to! Why don’t you sit on the floor?”

Mikhail stands there for a moment longer, then nods. “Alright. It is your choice.”

Well, that’s fucking ominous.

Quick as a flash, Mikhail tosses the book at him. It’s the little reader from the plane. “Next five pages. I will return later.”

He leaves, then, and Clint hesitates before reaching for the book. He thumbs through the next five pages, a creeping feeling of unease in the back of his mind the whole time. When the door opens again later, he looks up to see Mikhail, still holding the plate and the water. “Off the bed, please.”

“No.” He tenses, waiting to be beaten into submission, but Mikhail merely nods again and leaves. The cycle repeats itself three times before Clint figures out the game. Stay on the bed, no food. Sit on the floor, food. Simple. Effective. Mikhail doesn’t have to hit him. He just has to wait.

Anger boils inside him, sudden and overwhelming, and Clint hurls the book at the door with all the force he can muster. It hits with a less-than-satisfying clang and falls limply to the floor. The spine faces upward, the pages underneath curled and bent. “Fuck you,” he says to it, leaning back against the wall as the rage drains from him just as quickly as it came, leaving a sick emptiness in its place. He draws his knees up into his chest, wincing as his feet make contact with the bed. “You hear me? Fuck you.”

He buries his face in his knees and tries to get control of himself. They’re watching you, his brain reminds him. They’re seeing all of this. Seeing you fall apart like the useless idiot you are.

“Stop it,” he hisses at himself, banging his forehead into his knees.

Goddamnit. He misses Laura. He’s been trying so hard to push her out of his mind, partly to keep himself focused, and partly to keep her and the kids safe. If they don’t know about his family, then there’s no potential leverage for HYDRA to track down, no lies for them to unravel. Clint knows he’s walking a tightrope every second he’s here, and that any wrong word out of his mouth could cast suspicion on who he is. If HYDRA ever gets wind of the time travel thing, he’s absolutely fucked, and so is his family. The whole world, really. So it’s better if he keeps the story the way he told Mikhail, pretending Natasha was his wife instead. No loose ends that way.

But he misses Laura anyway, no matter how much he tries not to. He can’t help it. She was always better at banishing his demons than he was.

The door creaks open again and Clint immediately unfolds himself. Mikhail steps through the door, holding the plate and the bottle of water. He stoops and picks up the book from the floor, a smile playing over his face. “Did it offend you somehow?”

Clint takes a deep breath, then slowly moves. Mikhail watches without expression as Clint slips down to the floor, sitting next to the bed.

“Very good,” Mikhail says. “I knew you would get there eventually.” He eyes Clint’s posture. “Hands to your side. Shoulders straight. Chin down.” Clint shifts to accommodate, already feeling his ankles starting to protest at the position. “Excellent.”

He takes Clint’s vacated spot on the bed and balances the plate on his knees. There’s cheese, and crackers, and little cuts of meat on it. It looks like a goddamn charcuterie board, way too domestic for this little cell. “Tell me what words you have learned.”

“Ptichka means bird,” Clint says, and Mikhail smiles.

“Very good.” He picks a cracker off the plate and holds it out. Clint reaches for it, but Mikhail pulls it back. “No.”

“Well, how am I suppo—” He cuts off, feeling the hot flush of humiliation sweep up his face. “Man, fuck you.”

Mikhail slaps him for that, a heavy hit that snaps his head to the side and splits his lip. “You will respect me,” he reminds Clint.

“Fuck you, sir,” Clint growls, fighting the urge to rub his cheek.

A slap the other way. He lets his head roll with this one, which lessens the blow somewhat.

Mikhail stands. “On your knees. Hands behind your head. Elbows out.” Clint bites his lip against the flood of dread and shifts onto his knees. Mikhail adjusts his position with terse commands until he’s satisfied. “Yes.” He pats Clint on the head like a dog. “We will try this again later,” he says. “Stay there. I will know if you move.”

“I—” Clint starts, but Mikhail is already leaving, plate in hand, the door slamming shut behind him. “Fuck!”

You gotta learn to pick your battles, boy.

“Shut up, Dad,” Clint snarls, adjusting his knees again. “Nobody fucking asked you!”

“But he’s right,” someone says, and he looks up to see Natasha leaning on the bed, giving him a lazy smile. “You’re too damn stubborn.”

He looks her up and down. “Did…did he drug me again?”

She shrugs. “I just think you miss me.”

Well, he does. Can’t deny that one.

Nat turns onto her stomach, kicking her feet up in the air like a girl at a slumber party. “So what’s the big deal this time?”

Clint scowls. “You know.”

Another shrug. “Is it really that bad? It’s just food.”

“It’s just another piece of my soul,” Clint snaps, and Nat laughs.

“You’re being stupid,” she chides him. “It’s not your soul. It’s just you, being too stubborn and proud to do something simple that will keep you alive.”

“Easy for you to say. You’re not even really here.”

“I know.” She brushes a strand of hair from her face. “But I’m still right.”

Yeah. She is. They’re both right. Clint needs to pick his battles. Mikhail already hand-fed him in the cell, even if he was too out of it to understand at the time. Just because he’s coherent now doesn’t mean anything. None of it means anything. He needs to stay on Mikhail’s good side, build up his good will, then figure out a way to get the fuck out of here. He can stand a little humiliation in the long run.

Natasha smiles at him. “There you go.” She gets off the bed and kneels next to him, then presses a kiss on his cheek. “Miss you too, stupid.”

“Nat,” he breathes, and she disappears between one blink and the next.

Mikhail doesn’t return until Clint’s arms and legs are shaking with the strain of keeping himself upright in the position he was set in. “Very good,” he says, eyes dragging approvingly over Clint’s trembling form. “Are you ready to try again?”

Clint fights down the urge to spit at him. “Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He sits down and pulls the plate over. “So what have you learned?”

“Ptichka means bird,” he says again.

“Yes.” Mikhail picks up a slice of meat and offers it to him. This time, Clint clenches his fist against the flush of shame that boils up in him, and leans forward to take it in his teeth.

They work their way through the rest of the plate like that, one humiliating bite per correct word. When the food is gone, Mikhail smiles at him and sets it aside. “Put your arms down, ptichka.”

He drops his arms immediately, then winces as the blood starts flowing back into his hands. “Thank you, sir.”

“Was that as hard as you imagined?”

It hadn’t been, honestly, which was terrible in its own way. But Clint just shakes his head and shifts his weight onto his right knee, trying to ease the ache starting in the left. “No, sir.”

Mikhail gently brushes Clint’s hair back. “Good. You may sit now.”

Clint shifts onto his ass, grateful to be off his knees. He fixes his gaze on the floor and tries not to look at the empty plate. First baths, now feeding. He half expects Mikhail to pull out a toothbrush and clean his teeth for him.

Instead, Mikhail continues petting his hair. Clint doesn’t relax into the touch, but he doesn’t stop it either. He lets Mikhail pull gently until Clint’s head is touching his thigh, then lets that wandering hand stroke through his sweaty hair and down over the nape of his neck. He’d never admit it out loud, but it feels damn good.

And it goes undisturbed, until there’s a knock at the door. Clint shifts to move away, some small part of him still too prideful to want to be caught like this. Mikhail just tightens his grip. “Come in.”

The door swings open, revealing the Soldier.

And Lukas.

Clint’s heart stutters a couple times and almost unconsciously he finds his hand curling around Mikhail’s ankle, trying to ground himself in the other man’s presence. “Mikhail,” Lukas greets, offering nod. “And Agent Barton. How are you feeling?”

“He is well,” Mikhail says. “How was your trip?”

“It was very fruitful,” Lukas says, stepping into the cell. “Although not in the way I had hoped.”

“Still can’t find your physicist, huh?” Clint asks, wincing as the grip on his hair tightens.

Lukas shakes his head. “No, but we found other, more…interesting things.” He sounds overly pleased with himself and smiles coldly at Clint. “Thank you again for the information, Agent Barton. You have done HYDRA a great service.”

Clint tries to keep his expression neutral. Other, more interesting things? Well, that’s horrifying to think about. He swallows and hopes that it’s nothing too future-altering. He was trying to avert a disaster, not create a bigger one.

“Mikhail,” Lukas says, and he follows it up with some Russian that Clint doesn’t even bother trying to understand. They exchange words for a minute, then Mikhail nods.

“I must go,” he says to Clint, leaning down and prying the fingers from his ankles. “The Soldier will take you to the showers. You are to clean yourself. When you return, you will continue your studies.” He pulls something from his pocket and hands it to the Soldier. It looks like a toothpaste tube. “You will put this on his feet after.” He pauses, then hands him something else. “And put this on before you take him out.”

The Soldier takes the tube and the other object with a quiet, “Yes, sir.” He holds it loosely in one hand, and Clint sees the glint of light on a silk cloth.

“Really?” he asks Mikhail. “A blindfold? Again?” He takes a deep breath to calm the rabbiting rhythm of his heart. It’s just a blindfold. He can deal.

“Consider it a tool to help you behave,” Mikhail says. “You are far too clever for your own good. I do not need you getting any ideas.”

Lukas smirks. “If he does, I would not mind correcting him.”

The words send a chill up Clint’s spine, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone else in the room. The smirk grows wider. Clint curses himself and tries to school his expression into something bland and neutral.

“Behave yourself,” Mikhail says to Clint. He stands up and gives him one last head pat, then leaves with Lukas.

The door slams shut behind them. Clint lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and collapses back against the bed. There’s a sick sense of dread in his stomach. Other, more interesting things…

“Sit up,” the Solider says, stepping over to him. He reaches out with the blindfold. “Do not resist me.”

Clint wants to, but he’s pretty sure that fight would only end one way. So he just holds still and tries not flinch as the blindfold is expertly tied around his head, cutting off all light. Keep it together. You’re fine. You’ve taken worse.

“Can you stand yet?” the Soldier asks, keeping a hand on his shoulder.

“No.” Clint tilts his face up. “You should get the cha—” He cuts off with a yelp as the Soldier steps over and scoops him up easily, carrying him bridal-style out the door. Clint flails in an undignified motion before before settling, not wanting to be dropped. “Okay. Yeah. Sure. This works too.”

“Keep still,” is all the Soldier says.

It’s unnerving, being carried while blind. Gives him almost a seasick feeling. “Do you know what they found at the base?” Clint asks, trying to take his mind off it. He racks his brain, trying to think of anything and everything, but he comes up empty. The Omaha base wasn’t big or important, not like the other two. He can’t imagine what would have been stored there to make Lukas so pleased with himself.

“Yes,” the Soldier says, adjusting his grip.

“Will you tell me?”

“Do not concern yourself with it. You have other things to worry about.” The Soldier shifts again, freeing one arm, and Clint hears a door open. Then the blindfold is unceremoniously pulled off, revealing a large shower room. It looks like a high school locker room. Spigots are placed at even intervals, and only the chest-height tile walls separating them into sections give any illusion of privacy.

The Soldier deposits Clint on a little bench inside one of the stalls. “Clothes off.”

Clint strips off his shirt, then shifts side to side to work his pants down. The Soldier collects them both, then kneels to look at Clint’s bandaged feet. “Does this hurt?”

“Like a bitch,” Clint says. He’s mostly been able to ignore it—he’s always had a good headspace for pain—but the Soldier’s gentle touch to the bandages makes him hiss in a breath. “Ow.”

“I will remove these,” he says. “They should be changed daily.”

“They have been. Mikhail’s been—” he cuts off with another hiss of pain. “…taking care of it.”

Once the bandages are off, the Soldier presses a bar of soap into Clint’s hand, turns on the shower, and steps out of the stall. It’s not exactly privacy, but it’s the closest thing he’s had in awhile, and Clint takes a moment to revel in the simple act of washing his own goddamn hair. His arms hurt when he raises them, a lingering reminder of his last punishment. Fucking Mikhail.

The water isn’t warm enough to want to linger. Clint scrubs himself with efficiency, ignoring the whispers of memory as he cleans between his legs. He focuses on his task and rinses the soap out of his hair, which most definitely needs a trim. “Done,” he says, leaning over to turn off the spray.

The Soldier offers him a rough towel. Clint dries off, then pulls his clothes back on. The blindfold is replaced, and then he picks Clint up again and carries him back to his little cell.

“Put this on,” he says, handing Clint the little tube.

“What’s in it?”

“You ask too many questions.” The Soldier crosses his arms and leans against the wall. Clint sighs, but opens the cap and gently applies a thin layer across the burns. It hurts to touch them, but soon the pain slows to a dull throb. Must be some kind of painkiller/antibiotic mixture.

He puts the cap back on and looks over at the Soldier. “My name is Clint,” he says. “Figured you should know that, since you’ve seen me naked.”

No response. Not even a twitch. The Soldier just looks at him.

“What’s your name?”

He’s not sure what he’s expecting. His Bucky, the real Bucky, isn’t exactly forthcoming about his time as a HYDRA weapon. Anytime Clint had asked, his face had gone distant and he’d muttered something in Russian before telling Clint, “You don’t want to know.”

Still, he feels like he should try to be friendly. Loyal soldier or not, this guy is the only one who’s been nice to him without an ulterior motive. “What should I call you?” he asks again, leaning forward.

“I do not have a name.”

“Well, I have to call you something,” Clint says, trying for a smile. “How about I give you one?” He locks eyes. “Something like…Bucky?”

The result is instantaneous. The Solider visibly jerks, a hand going to his head. He growls something in what sounds like German, then pushes himself off the wall and stalks over to Clint.

Somewhat alarmed, Clint leans back, but he can’t avoid the metal arm that shoves him down onto the bed with immense force. “You talk too much,” the Solider says, leaning over him, fury written in every line of his body.

There’s no trace of his friend in those icy brown eyes. “Okay,” Clint gasps, trying to pull in a lungful of air. “Okay. Never mind. No names. It’s fine.”

The Soldier stays there for a moment longer, then straightens up and resumes his place by the wall. “You should study,” he says, gesturing to the book on the bed. All traces of the anger are gone, replaced with a cool indifference. “Before he returns.”

Clint gives a jerky nod and picks up the book, massaging his chest. He’ll have a bruise there tomorrow.

He turns pages, not really reading the words, brain still reeling. He’s positive the Soldier recognized the name, even if it hurt him. Which means that there might still be something of Bucky left in there, buried beneath the mind wipes and HYDRA programming. If Clint can somehow recall that back to the surface, he might stand a chance at escaping. Between Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier, anyone who comes after them is going to be toast.

The trick of it will be to hold onto himself at the same time. To break the Winter Soldier facade before Mikhail breaks Clint first. It’s only a matter of time for both things. And right now, Clint isn’t sure who’s going to hit the finish line first. He hasn’t got the first idea on how to get through to Bucky, and Mikhail is already miles ahead in his plan.

Details later, Clint thinks, turning a page. For now, a name and a half-remembered memory will have to be enough.

Chapter Text

Two days later, Clint manages to stand on his own two feet long enough to walk to the toilet instead of crawl. It hurts like hell and he’s wobblier than a baby deer, but he does it. “I’m the greatest,” he says to Nat, who is watching him from a sprawled out position on the floor. “Look at me, taking steps like a grown-ass adult.”

“Congrats,” she says drily. “Might wanna keep it to yourself for a few more days. Get as much strength as you can. What’s coming is going to be rough.”

“That’s encouraging.” Clint limps over to the sink and picks up his toothbrush. It’s a cheap piece of crap, but it does the job just fine. He almost cried with joy when Mikhail brought it in for him the other day. Apparently, even evil organizations have basic hygiene standards, as he now also has a rough cloth and a small bar of soap. Clint can’t tell if he’s moving up in the world, or if taking him to the showers every day would be too much of a hassle. Either way, he’s grateful.

Nat rolls her eyes. He can’t actually see her, but he can feel the gesture. “You don’t bring me here to be encouraging. You do it because I don’t sugarcoat it. Mikhail is only being nice to you until you heal up. Then the real shitshow starts.”

She’s right, of course. It’s like their very first days together, when he’d been dehydrated and coerced into giving up his name. Mikhail had nursed him back to health, then systematically tore him down. “No point breaking someone who’s already broken,” he mutters, setting the toothbrush down. Nat is right. He should hide this as long as possible. Earn himself some extra time.

His grand plan to do that lasts about three hours. Clint is practicing slow steps from one side of the room to the other when the door suddenly opens. He freezes mid-step.

The Soldier enters, taking in the scene with an impassive gaze. “You are walking.”

“Don’t tell Mikhail,” Clint says sharply.

The Soldier stares at him for a moment, then gestures to the camera in the corner. “I do not have to.”

Well, fuck. In all the excitement about walking, he’d forgotten about the camera. “That thing actually works?”

“Yes.”

“Fuck.” He hobbles back to the bed and sits. “I’m a fucking idiot.”

The Soldier shrugs. There’s a faint amusement on his face, like he agrees with Clint’s assessment, but he stays quiet about it.

Clint adjusts the gauze wrappings on his feet. “Does he want me for something?”

“No.”

“So why are you here?”

There’s an awkward silence. Then the Soldier sighs, looking more human than Clint has ever seen. “I have a question,” he says, sounding a little unsure. Like he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to have questions. He probably isn’t.

“Shoot.”

This gets him a quizzical look. “Shoot what?”

Clint waves a hand. “The question. What do you want?”

The Soldier bites his lip for half a second, then says, “What is a…Bucky?”

Clint’s eyes widen, and he has to take a second to control himself. “It’s you,” he says, when he has a grip on his voice. “You’re Bucky.”

A head shake. “No.”

“Yeah, you are.” He leans forward. “James Buchanan Barnes. You go by Bucky.”

He winces and rubs his forehead. “No.”

Clint pushes it. “You’re from Brooklyn. Your best friend is Steve—”

The door opens again, and the Solider immediately drops his hand. This time Mikhail steps in. He takes in the room with a curious look before nodding to himself and closing the door. “I see you have been walking,” he says to Clint.

Clint thinks about denying it, but there’s not really a point if Mikhail saw him on the camera. You goddamn idiot. “Just a little.”

“This is good. You are healing quickly.” He turns to the Soldier. “Leave us.”

The Soldier nods and exits quickly, closing the door. Clint swallows a little and looks up at Mikhail. “He was just checking on me,” he says quickly. “Making sure I was alive.”

“He is not your friend,” Mikhail says. “And he will not help you.”

“I wasn’t asking him for help.” Clint tries not to betray his anxiety. The Soldier might not be his friend, but he’s the closest thing Clint has right now. He needs that connection to home, however tenuous it might be. “And I know he’s not.”

Mikhail gives him a searching look, then nods sharply. “Alright.”

Clint relaxes a little, then tenses right up again when he sees what Mikhail is carrying under his arm. It looks like a long strip of leather, about as wide as his forearm. There’s a split down the middle, leaving two tongues that merge together about six inches above the handle. The leather is stiff and thick. It looks like a belt, but worse, and Clint has to take a deep breath to get himself under control. “What the hell is that?”

“Off the bed,” is all Mikhail says, and Clint scowls a little before sliding off the bed and moving to kneel in front of him. “Good. Remove your shirt, please.”

Clint pulls it over his head, grimacing as his various wounds are aggravated. “Where did this come from?” Mikhail asks, touching the leather strip to the faint bruise on Clint’s chest. It hadn’t been as bad as he’d been expecting, but it was definitely a bruise.

“I don’t know,” Clint says, carefully controlling his expression. “Must’ve bumped it on something? I’ve kind of stopped keeping track of those things.”

Mikhail studies him for a long moment, but accepts the excuse. Clint breathes a sigh of relief and tosses his shirt to the side, then looks at the leather strip. “So, are we about to get kinky? Because you’re a good-looking guy and all, but I’m just not that into you.”

Mikhail snorts with vague amusement. “If you follow my instructions, this will not have to touch you at all.”

Clint takes a deep breath and forces his shoulders to relax. “So what’s the game, sir?”

“There is no game,” Mikhail says. “We are merely…starting over.”

“Starting over?”

“Yes.” He taps the leather on his hand. “We were getting to know each other, before all of this ugly business started. I would like to return to that.”

Clint thinks back to the first cell, to the couple of days they had spent talking before his escape. “You mean when you flayed my back open and threatened to cut off my dick?” He forces a bitter laugh. “Yes. Great times. Let’s definitely do that again. Can I pencil you in for next week?”

The leather thing strikes his upper back and Clint lets out a wounded yelp without really meaning to. It stings like an absolute bitch, and the pain is amplified by the barely healed cane marks. He makes himself breath through it, trying to get a handle on the sudden worry in his gut.

“This is not the time for smart remarks,” Mikhail says calmly. “I will ask you questions, and you will answer. If I feel you are lying to me, I will strike you. For the first lie, I will strike once. After that, I will double them. If you move from this position, I will strike you once more.” Mikhail walks around him in a slow circle. “Do you understand?”

“Yeah.” This time the leather strikes his side, and he yelps again, curling away from it. “Yes, sir,” he corrects himself, trying to settle into a good headspace. This is just an interrogation. He can do this.

Another hit to his other side. Clint manages to cut off his scream, looking up at Mikhail. “I—”

“Were your instructions unclear?”

If you move from this position, I will strike you once more.

“No, sir,” he says with resignation. “They were clear.”

“Good. Do not forget them again.” Mikhail stands in front of him. “What is your middle name?”

Clint looks up. “We already—” Mikhail raises the leather, and he barely stops himself from flinching. “Francis!”

“Your parent’s names?”

“Harold and Edith.”

Mikhail nods. “Tell me about your childhood. Where did you grow up?”

“Iowa.”

“And what did your father do?”

Beat us, mostly. “He was a butcher.”

“And your mother?”

Clint closes his eyes. “She didn’t do anything. She was just a mother.”

He always tries to remember her in a good light. There were some good moments between them. He remembers with particular fondness an afternoon spent in the kitchen, helping her make desserts for a book club meeting. She’d been happy, for once. Smiling. Not scared. Not hurting.

“You miss her,” Mikhail says.

Clint shakes his head. “No.”

The leather strikes his chest, and he has to take a moment to encourage his lungs to keep breathing. “I don’t,” he finally says again, meeting Mikhail’s eyes. “She died when I was a kid. I barely remember her.” His arm raises, and Clint winces. “I miss what she could have been,” he says quickly, hoping that’s enough.

Mikhail lowers his arm. “What she could have been?”

“She was a scared woman,” Clint says. “It wasn’t her fault.”

“What wasn’t?”

They’re treading close to uncomfortably personal territory, but he knows that’s Mikhail’s goal. He knows he can’t avoid it, either. Better to talk about his shitty childhood than talk about SHIELD. “The drinking.”

“Your father liked to drink?”

Clint laughs bitterly. “Yeah. You could say that.”

“And what was he like, when he was drinking?”

“He was an asshole.” Clint shivers a little. “And he hit us.”

“Us,” Mikhail says. “Your brother, yes?”

“Yes.”

Get outta here, squirt. Dad’s pissed off again. Better not let him see you.

“So your mother couldn’t protect you,” Mikhail says thoughtfully, walking around him. “And you resent her for this?”

“What?” Clint turns his head. “No, I don’t. I just said it wasn’t her fault.”

“You said you miss what she could have been. What could she have been?”

“I don’t know.”

Two hits for that. Clint grits his teeth. “She wasn’t really a mom,” he says. “She was too scared all the time. And she didn’t do anything about it.”

“You wish she would have stopped him?”

“She wouldn’t have been able to. No one could. Not when he got mad.”

“But you wanted her to anyways.”

“I guess. I don’t know.” He winces in preparation, but no hit comes for that one. “Doesn’t matter anyway.”

“Why not?”

He lets another bitter laugh out. “Because you can’t depend on other people to keep you safe.”

Mikhail gently touches his head. “Can’t you?”

“You—” Clint immediately cuts the sound off, but not before Mikhail hears it.

“I what, ptichka?”

You aren’t keeping me safe, is what he wants to say. But he just shakes his head. “Nothing, sir.”

Four hits. Clint doesn’t move, but it’s a close call. The last one lands on his left forearm. He can see a welt forming barely seconds after the leather pulls away. “Tell me,” Mikhail orders. It’s as calm as every other word, but there’s an iron backbone in the command.

“You let Lukas hurt me,” Clint says. Less accusatory than his other sentence.

“I told you to give Lukas what he wanted,” Mikhail says. “I told you he was ruthless and creative, and that defying him would only see you broken for the trouble.” He slides the leather strip under Clint’s chin, gently pulling his head up. “Was I wrong?”

There’s a cold chill down his spine. “No, sir,” Clint whispers, not meeting his eyes.

“You were warned of the risks. What happened to you after that was your fault,” Mikhail says. “Do you agree with this?”

He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. But it sounds so reasonable, like something Coulson would say. Like something Natasha would say. The lesson Mikhail has been trying to teach him is the same one they’ve been telling him his whole life. Actions have consequences. How is this scenario any different?

“It was my fault,” he says, the words leaden on his tongue.

“Good,” Mikhail says approvingly. “You are learning.” He kneels in front of Clint, gently placing a hand on the side of his face. “And I will always keep you safe, ptichka, when your actions allow me to. Do you believe this?”

Clint meets those brown eyes. “Yes, sir,” he says softly, and Mikhail smiles.

“Let us continue, then,” he says, standing back up. “So. Your father hit you. What did he use?”

Clint regathers his thoughts. “Uh…everything? I don’t remember exactly. He liked his belt.” He eyes the leather strip. “But really he used whatever he could grab. Or his hands.”

“This happened frequently?”

“Only on days ending with a Y.” He looks up, a little worried that the sarcasm—albeit a weak attempt—will irritate Mikhail, but the other man just chuckles. Clint forces his own little smile. “We learned to hide when we could.”

“What was the worst thing he did?”

That one is harder to answer. Clint thinks for a long time. “The cigar, probably,” he finally says, shuddering a little.

“What happened?”

Clint curls his fingers into fists. “I was five,” he says. “He wanted me to get him a beer.” He closes his eyes. “I spilled it. Interrupted his poker game. His friends held me down, and he put out his cigar on my back.”

“Why is that one the worst?”

“You stupid fucking kid,” his father snarls, shoving Clint to the side. “Can’t do one fucking thing right, I swear to God.” He grips Clint’s shirt, his favorite shirt, so hard that he tears it at the collar.

“I’m sorry,” Clint cries, twisting away. “Please, Dad. I’m sorry!”

“You’re gonna be sorry.” Dad lifts him up, dropping him face-down onto the table. “Curtis, hold him down. Get his fucking shirt out of the way.”

Clint doesn’t understand, he doesn’t know what’s happening, but he is so, so scared. “Barney!” he screams. “BARNEY!”

“Your brother’s not gonna do shit.” There’s a ripping sound, and the feel of cool air on his back. “Shut the fuck up and take your punishment like a man.”

“Harold,” says a softer voice. “Harold, please. He’s just a child!”

“Get the fuck out,” Dad says. “You know better than to come in here, Edith. Get OUT!”

Clint looks up in time to see a flash of blonde hair disappearing behind the closing door. “Mama!” he shouts, but it doesn’t open again. “MAMA!”

“Quit your goddamn yelling,” his father orders.

“MAMA!” Clint shouts again. “Mama, HELP ME!”

The door stays closed. The men laugh. The burning cigar touches his skin.

Clint screams.

“Clint,” Mikhail prods, and Clint blinks himself back to the present. He’s surprised to find his cheeks wet.

“Sorry,” he says, pulling his eyes back up to Mikhail. “I…uh…sorry.”

“Why is that one the worst, Clint?”

“Because no one helped,” he says. “He put out his lit cigar on my back. I screamed, and I screamed, and they just fucking laughed. And she didn’t do anything.”

“They?”

“His poker friends. More assholes. They held me down and listened to me scream and they didn’t do a goddamn thing either. No one ever did anything to stop him.”

“That is a harsh lesson to learn so young,” Mikhail murmurs, and his hand gently touches the barely visible scar. “Is this it?”

“Yeah.” Clint shivers a little under the gentle touch.

Mikhail draws his hand back. “Thank you for telling me this. I know that was difficult.” He comes around in front of Clint. “I am sorry you had to go through that.”

Clint shrugs. “It could have been worse.”

That earns him a light slap, barely more than a stinging brush. “Do not discount your experiences, Clint. What you endured was painful. You have every right to be hurt.”

That actually does sound reasonable. His mandatory SHIELD psych exams told him the same thing. Still, it sounds strange coming from Mikhail. “Sorry, sir”

Soft fingers rub over his scar. “What happened to your father? Is he still alive?”

Clint shakes his head. “Car crash. Got him and Mom both. He was drunk.”

Mikhail makes a sympathetic noise. “How old were you?”

“Eight.”

“And then?”

“Foster homes for a few years. The orphanage.”

“And after that?”

“The circus, I guess.”

“The circus?” Mikhail asks.

“The circus,” Clint confirms. He can’t help the little smile that plays over his lips. As shitty as things had ended, he’d spent some good years there. “Trust me, I know how it sounds.”

“How did you end up with a circus?”

“Barney. Look.”

His brother looks down the street. “It’s just a circus, squirt.”

“I’ve never been to a circus.” Clint tugs on his arm. “Can we go?”

“We don’t have any money.”

A third voice interrupts them. “Well, don’t let that stop you.” It’s a man with a bow in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. He flashes them a drunken smile. “If you’re willing to work a little, I can get you in.”

Clint jumps up eagerly, but Barney pulls him down. “Define work,” he says suspiciously.

“Roustabouts,” the man says. “Helping us set shit up. The tents. The acts. Can always use an extra pair of hands. You work, you see the circus for free. That do you?”

“We get paid?” Barney asks.

“You get a free entry and a meal,” the man says, taking a swig of his whiskey. “If you stick around for awhile, you might get some pennies.”

Clint looks up at his brother. “I’m hungry,” he whispers, and Barney nods.

“Food first,” he says. “Then we’ll set up whatever you want.”

“Great.” The man takes a stumbling step forward. “I’m Buck Chisholm,” he says, tucking the whiskey under his arm and offering a hand. “But they call me Trick Shot.”

“I’m Barney. This is Clint.”

“Nice to meet you boys.” He shakes their hands, then gestures them forward. “Follow me.”

“A chance encounter with one of the acts. We needed food. He was willing to let us work for it.”

Mikhail looks thoughtful. “I see.” He taps the leather on his hand. “What happened to your brother?”

“He’s dead,” Clint says shortly.

“I know. Tell me more.”

“There’s not more to tell. He got into some bad shit, he paid for it, and now he’s dead.” He tries to keep his voice even, but he’s pretty sure the anger slips through. He’s not really sure if Barney is actually dead, but he sure as hell isn’t going to try and figure out otherwise.

“Tell me,” Mikhail commands. “What happened between you?”

Clint shakes his head, trying to think of an answer that will appease Mikhail without giving too much away. “I don’t know.”

Eight hits. Guess he wasn’t kidding about the doubling. He flinches at the last two despite himself, which earns him two more. The last one catches on a previous mark. He doesn’t bother trying to hold back the agonized shout.

“There will be no secrets between us,” Mikhail says when he’s done. The leather touches a new welt, and Clint hisses in pain. A trickle of blood runs down his chest. “You can deny this, but it is the truth. I want to know everything, no matter how hard it is to remember.”

Clint forces in a few deep breaths. “He’s dead,” he grits out. “Why does it matter how or why he died?”

“Because it still affects you, ptichka. And what affects you, affects me.” The leather gently taps against his shoulder. “Please do not make me strike you again.”

Clint pulls away from the leather. “I don’t want to talk about him.”

“I know.” The words are soft. Understanding. Mikhail kneels in front of him. “I know, Clint. It is hard to handle painful memories. But until you do so, they will remain sharp enough to cut yourself on.”

Another SHIELD psych tactic. Agent Barton, repressing memories and anger is not a healthy way to live. You have to learn to deal with these emotions.

He blinks away tears and looks at Mikhail’s shoes. “He left me.”

“Why?”

A half-hearted shrug. “He wanted to join the Army. He told me to come with him. I said I wanted him to stay. But he went anyway. Then he joined the FBI, and he got wrapped up in some double agent scheme, and he died.”

Clint leaves off the rest of the story—he can’t exactly think of a good way to explain the whole faked death/healing chamber/Baron Zemo fiasco, anyway—but Mikhail seems to accept what he’s given. He lays a hand on Clint’s shoulder. “You feel abandoned by him.”

“He was the only family I had,” Clint says, feeling an unexpected lump of emotion well in his throat. As angry as he is for Barney trying to kill him, he still loves his brother. Still misses him a little bit. “Everyone fucking leaves me.”

A tear slips from his eye and he quickly wipes it away, then freezes in horror with his hand by his face. “I’m sorry,” he says, dropping it back to his side. “I didn’t mean to move. I’m sorry.”

“That is alright,” Mikhail says. There’s something in his voice that Clint can’t quite pick up on, but he can’t make himself look up to see what it is. “We can be done for the moment, I think.” He sets the leather strip on the bed and sits next to it. “Come here, Clint.”

Clint slowly crawls over and sits in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he says again, although he’s not really sure what for.

“Do not trouble yourself,” Mikhail says. “I appreciate what you have shared with me today, Clint. I know it was not an easy task.” He leans forward and swipes his thumb over Clint’s cheek, wiping away another tear track. “I will not leave you,” he says more softly, almost like he doesn’t mean for it to be heard. “I take care of what is mine.”

Clint should probably protest that. He doesn’t belong to anyone. But he just finds himself nodding slowly, his head pressed against Mikhail’s knee. Mikhail, for all his other faults, has at least proven that much.

Chapter Text

It was my fault.

Mikhail has to fight to keep the smile from his face. It would be unseemly for a top HYDRA agent to walk through the base while grinning like a madman.

It was my fault.

Weeks of work. Endless hours of planning and convincing and playing the good man. Days spent wondering what exactly it would take to shatter Clint Barton. Mikhail is impressed, in a way. Most would have broken under the whip the first time. Clint did not even show signs of cracking until after nearly sixty hours of sleep deprivation and the murder of his colleagues.

It was my fault.

Clint has capitulated before. Bent to his commands. Obeyed his orders, spoken or not. But this is the first true breaking. For the first time, Mikhail can see beneath the hard shell of the SHIELD agent to the softer, more vulnerable soul underneath.

It is only the first, of course. People have an astonishing ability to heal themselves. Clint will have to be broken again, several times, before he will be anything Mikhail can work with. But not there are cracks in the armor, and Mikhail has always been good at manipulating those.

He thinks about what he learned just now. The boy is touch-starved. Praise-starved. He hangs on the idea of being wanted, as much as he protests and recoils at the words. Mikhail remembers how Clint’s hand curled around his ankle when Lukas came to visit, how the touch of skin calmed the skittish agent. He is Mikhail’s already, even if he doesn’t know it.

Mikhail finally steps into his office. It is not as large as the one in Russia, but truthfully he prefers this one. The technology here is much more advanced, and the monitor that displays Clint’s cell does not take up nearly so much room.

“Hello, Lukas,” he says, acknowledging the man standing in shadow on the other side of the room. “What brings you to my office?”

“You are irritated with me.” Lukas steps forward. “I am here to make this right between us.”

Mikhail considers this. He is irritated with Lukas, but not as much as he was several hours ago. Clint’s breaking has lightened his mood considerably.

Still, one should never throw away an opportunity like this. Especially not with Lukas. So he crosses his arms and says, “The agent was my project, Lukas.”

“I know.” He steps forward again. “I am truly sorry, Mikhail. I did not want it to go this way.” He tilts his head. “But he trusts you, now, does he not?”

“He fears you,” Mikhail corrects. “That is not quite the same.”

“I know what I have been seeing. He trusts you. Even if he does not want to admit it.”

It was my fault.

“He has broken a little,” Mikhail admits. “He told me what you did to him was his own fault.”

“Did he believe it?”

“Yes.”

Lukas smiles at this. It is thin, and sharp, and the sight of it sends a chill down Mikhail’s spine. “So you are making progress,” he says. “Despite my interruption.”

Mikhail shrugs. “He will put himself back together. They always do. He will have to be broken again.”

The thin smile is still there. “Many times, I suspect,” he says. “He reminds me of you. How many times did I have to break you before you accepted the reality of things?”

Many times, Mikhail thinks, but he does not say this. Instead, he changes the subject. “I would like your permission to take Clint to the shooting range.”

This gives Lukas pause. “Why?”

“Because I would like to see the extent of his abilities. I suspect he has some formidable talents that he is hiding from us.”

Lukas nods. “And if he shoots you?”

“I did not shoot you,” Mikhail says, opening one of the drawers on his desk.

“Because Boris was there, and he would have killed you slowly for it.”

Mikhail pulls out a requisition form. He will have to have special permission for a bow and arrow. Lukas can sign it for him. “That is true.”

“You will need guards, then. You may use the Soldier, if you’d like. He will keep your charge in line.”

Mikhail considers for a second, sorely tempted if only for the image it would lend—even broken and beaten, his agent is not a man to be tangled with—but decides against it. He does not like the way Clint and the Soldier have been interacting. He cannot put his finger on it, but there is a…familiarity of the way they speak to each other. A strange sort of knowing. It is better if they are kept apart. “I do not think that would be a wise use of the Soldier’s time,” he says carefully, not wanting to offend Lukas’s peace offer. “I will make do with other guards. I think five will be enough.” He catches Lukas’s eye. “Not Natov.”

Mikhail keeps his body language relaxed, but allows the cold fury to color his voice. Lukas nods once, his palms open in an apologetic gesture. “Not Natov,” he agrees. “We will need to keep them apart. Their interaction is an unneeded risk.”

“They should have been kept apart in the first place.” He takes a deep breath. “I am not irritated that you interfered, Lukas. I am irritated at how you chose to do it. Or rather, how you let others do it for you.”

“It was too far,” Lukas agrees, surprising Mikhail. “I should have stopped it.” He gives Mikhail a significant look. “I should have stopped all of them.”

Mikhail scrawls his signature on the form, then hands it to Lukas along with a pen. “Sign.”

Lukas reads the form and raises his eyebrows. “A bow and arrow?”

“He took down a number of my men with that alone. And I suspect if the gun had not jammed, he would have brought down a number more. His talent for aiming is quite extraordinary.” He remembers Clint throwing the box of paralyzers into the vent, following it up with a wide grin. “He has so much potential, Lukas. I can feel it. He will break, in time. I have already found multiple triggers to work with.”

Lukas signs the paper and gives him a thoughtful look. “You will need a target,” he says.

“What?”

“For the arrows. You will need a target.” He hands the paper to Mikhail and stores the pen in his own pocket. “I have changed my mind. You should take Natov.”

Mikhail blinks at this, then nods slightly. “I understand.”

Lukas moves towards the door. “Let me know how else I may assist you,” he says. “And submit the request. You will have your bow by the end of the day.”

“Thank you, Lukas.”

The other man dips his head, then steps out the door. He pauses there, with one foot in the hallway. “Mikhail.”

“Yes?” Mikhail sits in his chair and looks up, meeting the other man’s eyes.

“I meant to tell you this before. Boris is stationed here as well."

Mikhail goes very still. "Is he?"

"He has been for several months. At this point I am afraid he has...outlived his usefulness as one of us.” His gaze is solemn. “I was going to have the Soldier take care of it, but I think you might be better suited to the task.”

Mikhail absorbs this information, slowly turning it over in his mind. Finally, he taps a single finger on the polished wood of his  desk. “Does he still drink scotch?”

“Every night.” Lukas smiles again. “He could use a companion.”

“Thank you.” Mikhail leans back in his chair, quietly turning options over in his mind. “I will consider it.”

Lukas leaves, then, and the door closes behind him. Mikhail sits still for a long time before reaching down and slowly pulling open the lowest drawer on his left. From his pocket he pulls out a leather glove, then slides it on his left hand. He extracts a small black cloth bag from the depths of the blackness within. It is small enough to fit in his fist, but he just barely holds the edges of it, not wanting to contact any more of it than he has to.

Then he settles into his chair, taps his gloved finger rhythmically on the table, and thinks.

 

Later, Mikhail finds himself in the mess hall, staring down a series of semi-empty tables. Soldiers sit grouped together in twos and threes, like small flocks of birds together for safety. There is a subtle air of tension that is always around HYDRA common spaces. Everyone is friendly here, but nobody is a friend.

He easily spots Boris, despite not having seen him for nearly five years. The man is in a corner with his back to a wall, seated with a bottle of scotch and a a tumbler in front of him. He still has the distinctive handlebar mustache that Mikhail remembers so well, and the same ruddy complexion. His hair is grayer, and a little longer, but this face is etched deeply into Mikhail’s memory. He will never forget what Boris looks like.

He smiles as Mikhail makes his way towards him and gives a slightly wobbly toast with the glass. “Ah, young Mikhail! It is good to see you! It has been far too long.”

“Boris,” Mikhail says, seating himself across the table. “How are you?”

“Wonderful.” He takes another drink. “Absolutely wonderful.”

“How is your wife?”

“Bah.” He waves a hand. “Old and fat.”

Mikhail allows a small smile on his face. “And your mistress?”

“Young and beautiful!” He toasts again and drinks. “Come, Mikhail. Share with me.”

“Not tonight, Boris. I am working.”

Boris waves his hand again. “Yes. I’ve heard you have taken on a ptichka of your own.” He laughs. “Tell me, does he try to fly as much as you did? You were so determined to leave us!”

“He has tried several times to fly,” Mikhail admits. “But we have corrected him.”

“We?”

“Lukas and I.”

“Ah, Lukas.” Boris toasts for a third time. “Another old friend I don’t see enough of these days.” He drains the glass, then pours another. “So have you come to me for help? I have many good ideas to make little birds fall in line.” He winks at Mikhail. “I am sure you remember. You screamed very loudly for me.”

“I remember very clearly,” Mikhail says, and he has to force his voice to stay loose and relaxed, even as his muscles tense. “Your methods are…particular.”

Boris sets the glass on the table. “You were one of my favorites, you know.”

“I am aware.” Mikhail slides his left hand out of sight and allows it to clench in a tight fist, which helps to keep the anger off his face. Even drunk, Boris is a formidable opponent. And it would not do for an officer to start a fight in the middle of the mess hall.

Still, he has to fight the urge to punch Boris’s fat mouth as he continues to talk. Mikhail lets the words wash over him, knowing that if he truly listens, he will have to spend the next several nights digging himself out of old nightmares. He has felt those large hands on his body enough for a lifetime. He does not need to feel them in his dreams as well.

The one-sided conversation continues. Mikhail makes the appropriate noises and smiles in all the correct places. Then finally, in the middle of describing his favorite session with Mikhail, Boris lets out a deep, hacking cough. “Excuse me,” he says, thumping his chest with one great fist. “Must have gone down the wrong pipe.” He coughs again, the sound wet and rasping.

“No,” Mikhail says shortly. “It has not.”

Boris coughs again, casting him a quizzical look. “What?”

“You are coughing,” Mikhail says. “And your chest feels tight. There is a burning sensation in your throat. You thought it was the alcohol at first, but now you are not certain. Your vision is starting to become blurry. Your mouth is dry.”

With every word, Mikhail watches Boris’s face pale. When he stops talking, Boris stares at him, his mouth agape. “What…?” he starts again, but then he stops to cough. It is worse this time. A deeper, hacking sound. It sounds gruesome. It sounds painful.

Mikhail smiles.

When Boris stops, he straightens and points a finger at Mikhail. “You poisoned me?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

Mikhail leans forward. “It is a deadly compound from our science team. They are ever so creative, you know. It is an unusually deadly combination of poisons that eats through skin, muscle, and bone at the slightest contact with any of them.” He picks up the bottle and carefully examines the liquid inside. “They told me a single pinch would be enough. I wanted to be sure, so I added the whole bag. I am surprised it took this long. I suspect the liquid diluted it some. It is good I added more.”

Another coughing fit. Then, “Why?” The word is full of hurt, and betrayal, and terror.

“Why?” Mikhail laughs bitterly. “Do you remember the day you broke my leg?”

The larger man nods, his eyes wide with fear.

“You broke it, and then you chained me to the wall. And then you called in your friends.” Mikhail holds up his open hand, showing five fingers. “Five times, they took me. One each. Then you unchained me, and you made me crawl to them and beg for more. And you laughed.”

Boris wheezes, his throat tightening. “But—”

“No.” Mikhail stands, pushing his chair back with such force that it falls over. The sound rings loudly in the mostly quiet hall, drawing more attention to their small corner. “No, Boris. You do not get to make excuses. Not this time. I told you that day that I would kill you. That you would not see it coming. That one day you would be enjoying your life, and then I would descend like thunder and snatch the breath from your lungs.” He puts his palms on the table and leans down, his face mere inches from the other man’s. “Tell me, Boris. Who is laughing now?”

Mikhail pushes back from the table and walks out of the mess hall, leaving Boris to choke and cough and die behind him. The man does not deserve an audience to his demise. He can die alone.

In his office, there is a bow and a quiver of arrows laying on his desk, and a note from Lukas. Tomorrow. 0700.

He runs his fingers over the bowstring, imagining Clint pulling it back and firing. A smiles flits over his face. Yes. This will be perfect. He will describe it as a reward for Clint’s recent good behavior, and use it to widen those cracks a little. To cement his position in Clint’s psyche.

Boris had gotten it all wrong with him. There must be both punishment and reward when trying to break someone. Boris had been like a hammer, striking and striking until he got results. Lukas had been more insidious, slipping past Mikhail’s defenses with his own type of cruelty and cunning. If Boris was the lumbering bear, then Lukas was the fox. Of the two, Lukas had been far more successful.

But Mikhail is neither of those. He is the spider waiting in a web for his prey to come to him. Lukas and Boris both sought control. He is looking to own. Mikhail will tangle Clint Barton up with rewards and punishments and praise and denial until the only thing that he can see is Mikhail standing above him, and he will be grateful for the sight.

It has already begun, Mikhail thinks, sitting in his chair. Step one was to alter Clint’s perception of the truth. Now he will build the bond between them. And he knows just how to start.

Mikhail picks up the phone on his desk and dials a number, then waits patiently. “Send Natov to my office,” he says, when a voice on the other end makes a query. “I have an important job for him.” He sets the phone back in the cradle, then reaches down into his right desk drawer. He pulls out his own bottle of scotch and a tumbler, then pours some and takes a small sip.

He thinks about his own breaking, then, as he swirls the scotch around the glass. His days under Lukas’s thumb, desperately trying to cling to a worldview that did not matter. His time with Boris, painful and frightening and horrific. Then he thinks about Boris, choking and dying all alone, and he smiles widely, feeling his mood lift immensely.

Yes. He knows exactly where to start.

Chapter Text

Clint is doing laps around his room when Mikhail opens the door to his cell and offers him a wide smile. “Good morning, little bird. You are looking well.”

“Morning,” Clint says, pausing in his walking. Mikhail is holding a bowl of something, and the leather strap is nowhere in sight. He relaxes a little. “What’s that?”

“Porridge,” Mikhail says. “Here.” He extends it out in front of him, like a peace offering. Clint thinks briefly about making some quip about being allowed to feed himself, but decides against it. He takes the bowl and sits on the bed.

“It’s good,” he lies after a few mouthfuls.

Mikhail waves a dismissive hand. “No, it is not.”

Clint chuckles. “No. It’s not.” He finishes the bowl anyway, scraping the last bits out of the bottom before setting it aside. He needs every calorie he can get. “So, what wild tortures are we up to today?”

This gets him a long-suffering sigh. “I do not torture you, Clint. We have discussed this.”

“Right. Sorry.” He shifts uncomfortably, unsure if he’s irritated Mikhail. “Really. I am.”

“However, to answer your question, I am here to take you somewhere. I am sure you would like to get out of this room.”

“I’d love to get out of this room.” He looks past Mikhail, through the slightly open door into the hallway. “Where’s the chair?”

“We will walk.” Mikhail gestures him up. “It isn’t far.”

Clint looks down at his bare feet, then reaches out and pulls his socks on before slowly standing. The burns have mostly healed, but he might as well protect them for as long as he can. “Where are we going?”

“You will see.” Mikhail opens the door wider. “Come.”

Clint hesitantly steps towards the door, then pauses. “You’re not gonna…” He touches his wrists, not really wanting to put the idea in Mikhail’s head.

“Are you planning on going somewhere?” Mikhail asks. His tone is light, but his face is very serious.

I make no promises, he starts to say, then stops, remembering what happened the last time he said that. He touches his long-healed split lip, then shakes his head. “No. I’m not.”

“Then we can go,” Mikhail says, and he gestures Clint out the door.

Clint follows him down the hallway, stumbling a little on his still-unsteady legs. There’s something…different about Mikhail, he decides. A slight spring to his step. He’s not happy, but there’s something lighter in his features. He looks more at ease with the world.

Mikhail notices him staring and offers a slight smile. “If you have another question, you may ask it.”

“I was just wondering where you get your hair done,” Clint says. “It’s very military. Very uptight.”

Mikhail actually laughs at this. “You appear to be in a good mood today.”

“Well, no one’s come to hit me with anything, so it’s been a decent morning.” He pauses. “You’re not taking me somewhere to hit me, are you?”

Another laugh. “No.”

“Good.” He looks around at the drab hallway. “I see you design all the bases the same way.”

“It certainly makes things easier.”

“How do you know where you’re going?” Clint is genuinely curious about this. He doesn’t see any markings or signs. Not that he’s expecting to see EVIL LAB THIS WAY or something, but still. Mikhail makes turns with insane ease. “Don’t you get lost?”

“I lived here for many years before I was assigned to Russia. I know this base quite well.” They turn down another hallway, this one a little wider. “Not much has changed in that time.”

Clint absorbs this information. “When were you here?”

“Nearly ten years ago.” He stops before a set of double doors, then holds up a hand to pause Clint. “Before we go in, I would make my expectations clear.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint says, stepping back. It takes him a moment to realize he’s standing to attention, like he would for Fury or Coulson. Feet together, posture stiff. It’s almost alarming, how he’s now unconsciously putting Mikhail in that same category.

It’s just survival, his mind whispers. You’re just giving him what he wants.

It doesn’t slip Mikhail’s notice either. No comment is made, but there’s a proud note in his voice. “You will obey every order without question or hesitation.”

There’s an expectant pause, and Clint belatedly answers, “Yes, sir.”

“You will not shoot at anything you have not been given clearance to aim at.”

“Yes, sir.”

Wait. Shoot?

“No matter who else is in there, you will conduct yourself in the manner I have taught you.”

“Yes, sir.” He answers automatically, still fixated on the shooting.

“If you fail to obey any of my commands, there will be extremely painful consequences for you. Consider this your one and only warning.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mikhail gives him one last look, then pushes open one of the doors, revealing an exceedingly enormous shooting range. Clint steps through after him. His eyes go immediately to the targets at the far end of the room, noting their distance. Then Mikhail gently touches his shoulder and directs his attention to the table a few paces away. There’s an impressive array of weapons laid out on it. Guns, rifles, axes, knives.

A bow. Twelve arrows. Clint doesn’t bother to conceal his grin.

“You’re actually going to let me shoot?” He glances at the other occupants of the room. Seven heavily armed, antsy-looking guards. Natov is not among them. And in the far corner, Lukas. Clint fights down the wave of fear at his appearance and fixes on Mikhail. “You’re not fucking with me?”

“I would like to see your skills,” Mikhail says simply. “If we are going to train you, I will need to know what you are capable of.” He raises an eyebrow. “Do you have an objection?”

Clint shakes his head, deciding this is not the moment to argue about training. “No, sir.”

“Do I need to remind you of my expectations?”

“Obey your orders, don’t shoot at anything without permission, behave myself.” Clint taps a foot eagerly. “May I, sir?”

“You may.” Mikhail waves him towards the table. “Start with the closest target. You may start with your choice of weapon. You will be demonstrating all of them at some point.”

Clint nods and steps forward, reaching immediately for the bow. Then he pauses, reconsidering. Should probably save the best for last.

He gets the knives instead. Picks them up and weighs them in his hand. Looks over at Lukas, who is watching with an impassive expression. As soon as his head turns that way, all seven guards flinch towards their weapons. Clint bites back a grin and turns back to the target.

He throws one at a time. The first one lands dead center of the top ring, the handle vibrating slightly. He nods in satisfaction, then throws the second. Another hit, directly below the first.

The next three all land exactly where he wants them, although the final one looks slightly off. It wasn’t really weighted properly. Clint scowls a little and moves onto the handgun. He inspects it, then carefully loads the clip and pulls it back. It makes a very satisfying sound in his hand. A little small for him, but he can deal.

This time when he looks at Lukas, all the guards pull their weapons, fingers ready on half a dozen triggers. The seventh guard looks a little more at ease, although still ready for action. A veteran, likely. Clint would recognize that battle-ready look anywhere. There’s a beat of understanding between them, two warriors acknowledging the other’s skills and experience.

“Agent Barton,” Mikhail says sternly, and Clint flinches, turning his head opposite to look at Mikhail.

“I didn’t do anything,” he says, feeling like a child under that piercing gaze.

“Not for lack of desire,” Lukas says from his corner. He moves then, coming to stand next to Clint. “I do not mind, little bird. Go ahead and shoot me. I will die knowing your last hours will make our previous interrogation look like a relaxing afternoon.”

Clint shudders and looks over at Mikhail instead. “Same target, sir?”

“Next one.”

This one is at the same distance. Clint fires rapidly, emptying the clip, and bores a hole in the center of the target. It’s child’s play, practically, and he feels a slight swell of irritation. He’s better than this. Why is he showing off for these assholes?

Because you don’t have any other choices? Natasha’s voice is warm and silky in his ear, and he closes his eyes before firing the last three shots. He doesn’t have to look to know they landed.

“Interesting,” Mikhail says, coming to stand on his other side. He hands Clint another clip and points. “Hit the numbers this time. Nothing else.”

Clint loads the clip and studies the target, then fires just as rapidly as the first time. Small holes appear in the distant numbers. There’s a murmur of interest behind him, and he glances back to see the veteran guard lean forward, eyes fixed on the target.

“Good.” Mikhail takes the handgun. “Next weapon.”

He hits every shot easily. After a few rounds, they start giving him targets that aren’t even on the paper. Hit the window. Hit the gunpowder mark on the far wall. Hit the half-inch gap between the bricks. Hit this. Hit that. He doesn’t miss a single mark. Even Lukas is looking somewhat impressed.

Finally, Mikhail holds up a hand. “The bow,” he says, and Clint sets down the rifle and picks up the bow. It’s a recurve. Nothing special. Not as nice as his one at home—stop thinking about home, dammit—or even like the one from his escape. But it’ll do. He nocks an arrow and glances over at Mikhail, waiting for his instructions.

Mikhail looks over his shoulder. “Bring him out,” he says to the veteran guard, and Clint tilts his head in confusion. The guard nods and leaves. The others grip their weapons more tightly.

“You have been behaving well these past weeks,” Mikhail says to Clint. “I have a reward for you.”

The door opens at the far end of the range—with some difficulty, as there’s a bullet lodged in the doorknob—and two distant figures walk in. Clint’s grip tightens on the bow until his fingers ache.

Natov.

His hands are bound behind his back and he’s gagged with a rough cloth. Even at over one-hundred yards, Clint can see the terrified expression on his face. The veteran guard pushes him hard, making him stumble and fall to one knee.

“What the fuck is this,” Clint says to Mikhail. It’s a rhetorical question, more than anything. He knows exactly what this is.

“This is your reward, Clint,” Mikhail says. “You may kill him.”

Clint looks at the man. He’s sweating, the sheen visible even at this distance. The veteran guard is a short distance away from him, gun trained on a leg. No lethal shot if he tries to run, not that there’s really anywhere for him to go.

Fuck. He does want to kill Natov. Did want to. But not like this. He shakes his head slowly and relaxes his grip on the bow with some effort. “No.”

“No?” Mikhail sounds surprised. “What do you mean?”

“I mean no.” He sets the bow on the table. “I’m not an executioner.”

“You are what we tell you to be,” Lukas says. “Kill him. Now.”

“No.” He steps away from the table. “I won’t do it.”

“Clint.” Mikhail takes his arm, stopping him from going further. “This is a reward for you. A chance for your revenge.”

Clint yanks his arm away, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut. He’s fast using up his goodwill, and he knows what’s coming down the track. “I’m not your fucking puppet. You want him dead, you kill him.”

Mikhail grabs his arm again, tighter this time. He’s taller than Clint, but at this moment Clint doesn’t feel like the smaller man. He knows this road, this revenge cycle. He’s not going back down it willingly. “Agent Barton,” Mikhail says quietly. “Are you refusing a direct order?”

“Guess I am,” Clint says just as quietly, prepping himself for pain. A small part of him idly wonders if it’ll be the belt again, or something worse this time.

Mikhail sighs and steps back, letting his hand ghost over the weapons on the table. “This is your choice?”

“Yeah, sure. My choice.” Clint crosses his arms, trying to hold onto his bravado. “I’m not killing him. Not like this.”

Mikhail nods. “Alright. If that is what you wish.”

Clint blinks, surprised by the sudden acquiescence. “I—yes. Yeah.”

“Just remember,” Mikhail says, picking up the first handgun and checking the chamber. “Actions have consequences.”

“I know—”

Clint doesn’t get to finish his sentence. His words cut off in a choked scream as Mikhail levels the gun and shoots him in the thigh. He falls to the ground, hand pressed to the wound out of sheer instinct.

Guess it’s something worse.

“This was your fault,” Mikhail says, standing over him. “You were warned.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Clint snarls, breathing heavily. “Fuck you and everything you goddamn stand for.”

In response, Mikhail shoots his other leg.

 

****

 

Clint wakes up some time later in his cell, a familiar sting in his forearm and a familiar presence at his bedside.

“You shot me,” he croaks, then coughs a little.

Mikhail sets a straw by his lips. “You were warned of the consequences, Agent Barton. Everything that happened after that is your own fault.”

That doesn’t sound right, but Clint is too tired to argue. He’s still in trouble, judging from the Agent Barton, and he doesn’t want to be shot again anyway. He drinks from the straw, then lifts his head enough to assess the current state of affairs.

IV in the arm. Cuffs holding his wrists to the bed. On his back, naked, covered in a sheet. Bandages around his thighs. A weird, yet familiar itching in his forearm. “Giving me the fancy stuff?”

“It speeds recovery. You will be walking by this time tomorrow.”

“Great.” He drops his head back down. “Looking forward to it.”

Sure enough, Mikhail’s prediction is true. Less than twelve hours after being shot, Clint’s wounds are raw but closed, and he’s putting weight on his legs. At twenty-four hours, Mikhail walks him back down to the range, handcuffed this time, and stands him in the same place. Natov is there again, still gagged and bound. “This is your target. Kill him.”

“No,” Clint says, and Mikhail shoots him in the legs again.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

“No.”

Gut shot. Three days of recovery.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

“No.”

Arm shot. Two days of recovery.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

“No.”

Knee this time. He feels his kneecap shatter and passes out almost immediately.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

“I don’t want to.”

Groin shot. He spends six days in sheer agony, half-delirious and hallucinating.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

“Please…”

“Kill him, Agent Barton.”

“Please don’t make me…”

Chest shot.

Seven days. A surgery to remove the bullet. A collapsed lung.

They don’t give him anesthesia.

Clint still has trouble taking a deep breath when Mikhail hauls him to the range again.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

“I…”

The bullet to his other knee is almost expected, but then the gun fires again.

Left hand. His dominant hand. It practically shatters. Clint screams. The bright red of his own blood lands in his mouth. It’s metallic. Copper. Like a penny.

How can I shoot without my hand?

Six days for both of them to heal. The relief of being able to move his fingers is almost palpable.

 

****

 

“This is your target. Kill him.”

Clint swallows. Takes the gun. Cocks the hammer. Fires without looking. He doesn’t need to look. He never misses.

“Good,” Mikhail says approvingly as the distant body falls. He pulls the gun from Clint’s loose grip, then fires it.

The bullet tears through Clint’s calf, a sharp pain he’s all too familiar with by now. He drops to the floor, feeling the blood well up around his fingers. “But I…” he whispers, feeling so utterly betrayed.

“You did,” Mikhail agrees. “Next time, don’t make me wait.”

The familiar words break him a little more. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, reaching out with shaking, bloody fingers. “I’m sorry, sir. Please.”

Mikhail looks down at his scrabbling hand, then shakes his head and leaves. Clint shivers on the floor until he’s retrieved by the usual medical team. They stick him with an IV, chain him to his bed, and leave him to his own devices.

For the first time in a long time, he thinks about Laura. His beautiful Laura. He’s been so good at keeping her memory away, but his defenses have been shattered and he has no way to keep her out this time. Her cool hands touch his forehead, ghost over his cheek, brush his hair back. “Stay strong,” she murmurs to him. “Come back to me.”

“I’m trying,” he whispers back.

Then do what they want, someone else says, and Clint doesn’t know if its a teammate, or Mikhail, or Lukas, or his own mind.

Laura’s hands fade from his memory.

He curls onto his side, shoves his face into the mattress, and sobs.

 

****

 

The calf wound takes a day to heal. When Mikhail pulls the IV and orders him to stand, he does without a single protest. He’s led back to the range, and Mikhail puts another gun into his hand.

There’s no targets. Nothing to hit. Clint looks at him, then looks at the gun. His knees ache with remembered pain, and he knows that this time, there will be no resistance from him.

He waits. That’s all he can do.

The door opens. Not the far one. The close one. The one he came through. Someone else comes in, bound hand and foot. It’s a woman this time. Young. Red hair. She looks like Nat, but softer around the edges. She’s crying. Pleading with him.

“This is your target,” Mikhail says. “Kill her.”

Clint grips the gun in his left hand. The scars on his palm are still tender. “What did she do?”

“It does not matter. She is an enemy of HYDRA. Kill her.”

The woman’s eyes are wide. Terrified. A startling shade of green. Nat put in green contacts once. Was that Paris? Or Istanbul? He can’t remember. What color are Laura’s eyes?

“Agent,” Mikhail says warningly. “Do not make me hurt you again.”

Respect. Honesty. Obedience. Answer questions when they ask. Don’t make them wait.

He’s so tired of learning lessons.

The gun fires.

She falls.

“Good,” Mikhail says approvingly.

Clint closes his eyes, hands the gun back, and feels himself crack just a little more.