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Great Unknown.

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Murdock was the kind of backwater mining planet that made Clint glad he had updated his vaccines  six months ago. 

 

Because this place? An actual dump. Garbage fire, trash heap - all the bad things, cobbled together on one tiny planet on the edge of a solar system on the edge of the galaxy.

 

Clint would, frankly, rather be anywhere than Murdock. He’d even rather be back on Raphael, with the government Wanted posters dodging his every step and attempt to even take a piss in peace. At least Raphael had clean surfaces.

 

Murdock?

 

Clint was pretty sure the entire damn place was coated - maybe even on purpose - with about seven layers of grime.

 

Natasha noticed Clint’s absolute lack of appreciation for their surroundings and gave him a smug smirk.

 

Natasha could survive anywhere. And liked to tease Clint about how ‘delicate’ he was to want things like clean bathrooms . And potable water.

 

Still, Clint’s job was to follow Nat - so when she said we’re going to Murdock to deliver the cargo , Clint went with Nat to Murdock to deliver the cargo.

 

Of course, she’d neglected to mention that the buyer for said cargo - a neat little pile of counterfeit ancient Terran artifacts that Natasha’s go-to booty call, Steve Rogers, had made - was none other than Brock Rumlow.

 

So. Clint was on a filthy planet, following Nat into a filthy - like, revolting - tavern to meet with a human who was perhaps an even more disgusting piece of scum than even Murdock could churn out.

 

Sure enough, never one to disappoint, as soon as Nat and Clint sat down at the table with Rumlow and his second, Jack Rollins, Rumlow rose to the occasion and reminded Clint just why he hated the asshat so very much.

 

“Well, well, well. I see you’re taking your pet out for a walk today,” Rumlow said, sneer directed at first Nat and then Clint. “And you, still so desperate that you’re waiting on her hand and foot?” That was directed entirely at Clint.

 

Clint, because he had grown and because he wasn’t going to fuck this up - fucking this up meant the chance of being stuck on this hellhole even longer - Clint kept his mouth shut and just glared.

 

“If you’re done stroking your own pathetic ego,” Natasha sighed, “let’s get on with this deal. I’m going to need to shower for at least an hour after putting up with this.”

 

The great thing was that ‘this’ could mean Murdock or being in Rumlow’s presence. And Rumlow was too much of a self-absorbed idiot to know or care which.

 

“Sure, sure,” Rumlow waved a hand negligently. “Thing is, though, Jackie saw some news vids from the Core worlds about counterfeits going around.”

 

Natasha arched one delicate eyebrow.

 

“Oh? How fascinating.”

 

Rumlow leaned forward.

 

“Yeah. So how the fuck are we supposed to know that these Terran arrowheads you’re trying to offload on us aren’t fakes?”

 

“The arrowheads that you asked me to procure ?” Natasha pointed out.

 

“I asked for authentic ones.”

 

“Funnily enough, that’s exactly what you’re getting.”

 

Rumlow looked from Nat to Clint, studying their faces. He was at least smart enough to realize Nat and Clint hated him, and probably thought they would screw him over if they could - they could, and they had and they would again and again until Rumlow did the universe a favor and crawled off to die.

 

But Nat and Clint had, independently and together, perfected the ability to lie. With their faces, their words, even their heart rates. 

 

The only thing Rumlow saw reflected back at him was their impatience. And maybe Clint’s realization that he had put his hand on something very, very sticky on the table top.

 

Gently, Clint tried to lift his hand and grimaced when the sticky substance clung and came away with his hand.

 

An hour wasn’t going to be long enough for a shower.

 

Fuck.

 

Clint might have to bust out the chemical contaminant wash they saved for getting doused with hazardous things. Murdock, Clint was positive, counted as a hazardous thing.

 

“Still,” Rumlow drawled the one word, “I’ve got to look after my own interests. My buyers will be more cautious, I won’t be able to move the product as easily… I’ll buy the cache for 15k.”

 

“We agreed on 25,” Natasha pointed out, voice easy and deadly as all fuck. Rollins, who had never been quite as dull as Rumlow, straightened up in his seat and angled himself towards Clint.

 

Which was adorable - because anyone who thought Clint was the bigger threat than Nat was an idiot, and anyone who thought they could actually take on Nat or Clint was… well, there wasn’t a word to accurately describe that kind of dumbassery.

 

“That was before-”

 

“Your inability to predict the market isn’t my problem,” Natasha interrupted, voice sharp.

 

Rumlow raised his eyes at her irritation. Or rather, Natasha’s facade. She had known, going into this meeting - had talked to Clint about it on their descent to Murdock’s spaceport - that the news vids about Terran counterfeits were out there. She’d also known Rumlow would try to stiff them, and she and Clint had decided to settle for 18k instead of the agreed 25k. Clint thought Rumlow would open with 12k, though Nat had smirked and said he would start off at 15. And once again, as always, she was right.

 

“Then you can hang onto them,” Rumlow said and started to stand.

 

This was the part Clint hated.

 

He groaned and stood himself, hands held out in surrender.

 

“Wait, wait. Let’s negotiate.”

 

Rumlow smirked as he sat back down. Rollins, of course, hadn’t moved during the exchange.

 

And now Rumlow focused his attention on Clint.

 

He wasn’t sure why, but people - humans and exos alive - just couldn’t get it through their thick skulls that Nat was the one in charge of their partnership, that she was the brains and the brawn and just kept Clint around for comic relief and the very occasionally needed heavy-lifting.

 

“I could - for old time’s sake - go as high as 18,” Rumlow said.

 

And fuck, the guy was dumb. Negotiating himself up?

 

“24,” Clint said, repeated the counteroffer that Nat had instructed him to.

 

“I’m not made of creds,” Rumlow sneered.

 

“You will be when you offload these. What kind of profit do you stand to make? 50? 75k? While Natasha and I scrape by with just 24k after spending-”

 

Nat made a noise in her throat, cutting Clint off from saying how much they had spent on the arrowheads, exactly as they had practiced.

 

Considering that the ‘payment’ Steve had wanted was some high-quality Mezcal and six uninterrupted hours with Nat, it wasn’t like they were going to lose out here. Especially since Steve had split the Mezcal with Clint while he made the arrowheads, and Clint had looked through Steve’s collection of old Terran artbooks, and Nat had slept on the couch, curled up against Clint, like a cat.

 

“Twenty,” Rumlow growled. “And that’s robbery.”

 

Speaking of robbery…

 

“Twenty-one-five. That covers our debts and gets us by for the next few months,” Clint argued. He almost felt dirty doing this.

 

Well, dirtier.

 

Fuck, was he ever going to feel clean again after leaving this place?

 

“Twenty-one. Take it or take your cargo back.”

 

Clint exchanged a long look with Nat, pretending to consider, working damn hard to hide his glee, because fuck, Rumlow was dumb. And also, just, fuck Rumlow in general.

 

Nat sighed and nodded.

 

Clint grimaced and held out his sticky hand to Rumlow.

 

“Fine,” Clint growled.

 

Rumlow smirked when he took Clint’s hand. And then scowled when his own came away sticky.

 

Discreetly, Rollins slid a bag across the table, and Natasha did the same.

 

Clint tucked the bag of creds into his tunic, and Rollins did the same with the arrowheads.

 

No one bothered to point out that Rumlow had already had twenty-one creds bagged and ready for the exchange.

 

A few minutes later, Rumlow and Rollins left, and Nat ordered a round of drinks for herself and Clint.

 

“I fucking hate that guy,” Clint groaned into his glass.

 

“Then you should enjoy just how much we made off of him,” Nat pointed out.

 

And he did. He did . But he’d enjoy it more if the glass in his hand wasn’t sticky.

 

Before Clint could comment to that effect, the tavern filled with deafeningly loud music.

 

Clint scowled and adjusted his hearing aids to filter out the worst of it.

 

And then the lights flashed - white and pink and green in a sickly manner - and Nat laughed.

 

Oh no.

 

The tavern had a small stage at one end of the dark room, and now that Clint was paying more attention to his surroundings instead of focusing on the immediate threats of Rumlow and Rollins, he noticed the dozen mirrored balls of varying sizes suspended above the small stage.

 

He glared at Nat. She grinned back at him.

 

“You. You set up this meet here.”

 

She lifted her eyebrows.

 

“Like I’d let Rumlow set the meet and prepare an ambush.”

 

“You set the meet in a karaoke bar .”

 

Nat shrugged her slim shoulders.

 

“I hate you.”

 

“You don’t have to sing,” she pointed out, smug, and then took another sip of her drink.

 

Clint continued to glare at her.

 

“All you have to do,” she continued, unperturbed, “is admit that you love-”

 

“I’m not admitting shit,” Clint interrupted her, feeling his face heat.

 

Nat continued to grin.

 

“Well, in that case, the terms of the bet were you either admit your undying love or sing at every karaoke bar we go to for the next year. And you’ve still got two months of the year left.”

 

Sometimes, Clint wished he could actually bring himself to hate Nat. She was cruel, and vicious, but he was the idiot who had bet her in the first place. And, honestly… there were far worse things she could have required of him to let him remain a coward and keep his… attraction to Steve a secret. Because he wasn’t in love . And it wasn’t undying . He just… thought the artist was hot and liked his hands and his smile and his abs and making him laugh. It was totally fine that Steve was only interested in Nat, though. Clint was cool.

 

And not in love.

 

Nat tossed back the last of her drink.

 

“I’ll go sign you up and get the next round. Drink up.”

 

-o-

 

Three rounds later, it was finally Clint’s turn to get on the stage and embarrass the hell out of himself.

 

The tavern had an old-style set-up, with a digital display of the lyrics for Clint and a hand-held microphone that was made to imitate the old Terran-style kind. 

 

The music started to play, and it was unfamiliar to Clint. Then again, most old Terran music was.

 

So, he sucked in a deep breath and started to sing along.

 

I made it through the wilderness

Somehow I made it through

Didn't know how lost I was

Until I found you.”

 

He spared a glare for Natasha, who grinned and raised her drink in approval.

 

Clint looked away from her and caught sight of a dark-haired man leaning up against the bar, staring at Clint with wide eyes.

 

Pretty eyes, like mercury, shining brightly even in the tavern’s low light. 

 

He was clearly an exo, his humanoid shape resembling Clint’s to an extent, but the black and gold and navy diamond-shaped scales along his hairline, jaw, neck and exposed

hands made it clear he wasn’t a human man. 

 

What he was, though, was fucking gorgeous.

 

Clint directed the next verse at him, deciding fuck it , and really belting out the words.

 

“I was beat

Incomplete

I'd been had, I was sad and blue

But you made me feel

Yeah, you made me feel

Shiny and new.”

 

The song was weird, but catchy, and the exo man was clearly into it - or, at least, into Clint, because he was still staring at Clint like he was the best thing he’d ever seen.

 

Clint grinned at him and winked.

 

And then had to bite back a laugh before he sang the next round of lyrics.

 

“Hoo, like a virgin

Touched for the very first time

Like a virgin

When your heart beats

Next to mine.

 

Like a virgin? Fuck, that was awkward.

 

So was the exo man’s absolutely flabbergasted expression.

 

Yeah. Clint didn’t blame him. It was one thing to be serenaded, another thing to be told you made someone feel like a virgin. 

 

Still, he was in it now, and Clint continued to belt and direct his attention on the exo guy as he continued to sing.

“Gonna give you all my love, boy

My fear is fading fast

Been saving it all for you

'Cause only love can last

You're so fine

And you're mine

Make me strong, yeah you make me bold

Oh your love thawed out

Yeah, your love thawed out

What was scared and cold .”

 

And the song just kept going .

 

Clint felt like he was up on the stage for an hour, and when he finally ended it with one last for the very first time , the entire tavern cheered and clapped for him as Clint gave

a theatrical bow and blew a kiss at the poor exo man who was frozen in place.

 

But as soon as Clint was actually off the stage and no longer in the bright wash of lights, he looked around and saw that the exo man had vanished.

 

Clint sighed. Well, that was typical of his luck.

 

He rejoined Nat at their table, picked up her drink and finished it himself, and glared down at her.

 

“Is my ritual humiliation complete? Can we please get out of here now?”

 

Nat smirked but rose to her feet.

 

“You sure you don’t want to track down that exo you were eyefucking from the stage?”

 

Clint rolled his eyes.

 

“Yeah, because telling him he makes me feel like a virgin was definitely the best pick-up ever.”

 

Nat shrugged one shoulder.

 

“You’ve done more with less.”

 

And wasn’t that the truth.

 

Still, they paid their tab and left the bar, hunching their shoulders against the hot, harsh wind that blew down the streets carrying the stench of garbage with it.

 

They were just a few hundred meters from the spaceport and freedom - and showers - when, predictably, Rumlow and Rollins tried to jump them.

 

Nat and Clint drew their knives in near unison. They had been expecting this, after all, but before they could close the distance between themselves and Rumlow and Rollins with their guns, a roar split the hot night air.

 

All four humans turned in surprise.

 

It was the exo man from the tavern, his eyes still that bright silver in the darkness, but there was something else in them now too, in his entire manner and-

 

Clint tugged Nat aside on instinct, just as the exo opened his mouth and, instead of another roar, unleashed a jet of fire .

 

Rumlow and Rollins screamed, the flames licking their clothes and skin.

 

The exo just advanced, still spewing fire and- 

 

And five minutes later, Rumlow and Rollins were a pile of charred bones, and Clint and Nat were sprawled on the dirty, dusty road staring up at the exo and his gleaming eyes.

 

“Uh…” Clint had no idea what the fuck to say.

 

“Are you hurt?” the exo asked, his voice a bit gruff, almost a growl. Which, Clint figured, breathing fire would do that to you.

 

“No?” Clint looked at Nat, who shook her head.

 

“Good. Those men… were very bad.”

 

Clint swallowed hard and licked his lips. He was pretty sure that pointing out that he and Nat were also very bad wasn’t smart.

 

Nat pinched him, and Clint definitely kept his mouth shut.

 

The exo held out one diamond-scaled hand.

 

Clint stared at it dumbly, but Nat rolled her eyes and accepted the help up to her feet.

 

Feeling like an idiot - nothing new there - Clint rose to his own feet and brushed off his clothes. And immediately regretted it.

 

“My name is Bucky,” the exo said, focus once again entirely on Clint.

 

It made him shiver. There was weight to his gaze, wonderful and scary at the same time.

 

“Clint,” Clint offered.

 

“Natasha.”

 

Bucky nodded at her, and then immediately looked back at Clint again.

 

“You, uh… okay there?” Clint asked him.

 

Bucky frowned.

 

“I don’t know your mating customs. What world are you from, human Clint?”

 

Clint stared at him.

 

Nat choked.

 

“I - what?”

 

“I wish to court you, human Clint. I do not want to start off on poor terms with my future mate, so I want to do it the correct way. What are your mating customs?”

 

There was… a lot that Bucky had just said that Clint just could not process.

 

Good thing Nat was there.

 

“What makes you think Clint is going to be your future mate?” she asked, voice sharp and aggressive.

 

Bucky’s silver eyes glowed even brighter.

 

“He called to me. He told me of his purity and asked for my touch.”

 

Clint frowned.

 

“Uh, no, I-”

 

“He sang karaoke,” Nat broke in. “That- He wasn’t telling you shit.”

 

But Bucky just arched one eyebrow at her and refocused, yet again, on Clint.

 

“Weren’t you? I am aware of karaoke and your… human entertainment choices. But you sang to me . And I could smell your desire. I still smell it.”

 

Okay, that… was more than a little embarrassing.

 

“Uh.” Clint scrubbed at the back of his neck. “I mean, you’re a hot dude. A hot exo - what are you, anyway?”

 

Clint had been from one end of the galaxy to the other, and he’d met a lot of exos, but none that could shoot fire from their mouths.

 

“I’m a dragon,” Bucky said with a shrug. As if that should have been obvious. As if that wasn’t a mind-blowing revelation.

 

“Okay. Cool. Cool.” Clint repeated it, trying to buy himself time. Because - a fucking dragon ?

 

Dragons were some of the oldest - and these days, rarest - exos. The first alien species humans had encountered when spreading beyond their original Terran solar system.

Dragons were ancient and- and-

 

Clint’s brain flooded with all of the random facts and myths he had heard about dragons, but the only thing he was able to actually articulate was:

 

“Does your dick have scales on it too?”

 

Nat closed her eyes and bowed her head.

 

But Bucky just smiled, wide and bright, revealing a few rather sharp-looking teeth in his mouth.

 

“Is intercourse part of your courting? You said I made you feel like a virgin - does that mean you wish me to give you sexual pleasure before you will mate with me?”

 

Nat couldn’t contain herself any longer. She burst out laughing.

 

Clint stammered. How the fuck was he supposed to respond to that?

 

“I, uh, I mean, well-”

 

“We have to get off-world,” Nat thankfully interrupted Clint’s rambling.

 

Bucky looked absolutely devastated, eyes going soft and dark and mournful as they raked over Clint as if trying to memorize him.

 

“Want to come with?” Clint found himself asking.

 

And that brilliant, sharp smile was immediately back on Bucky’s face. It made Clint’s heart pound.

 

“Yes, I will follow you anywhere,” Bucky said.

 

He held out his hand, and Clint stared at it.

 

Nat shoved at him, and Clint’s brain finally decided to engage.

 

Bucky’s scaly fingers were warm and rough in his own, the fit perfect, and Clint couldn’t help but reflect Bucky’s delighted smile back at him.

-o-