The more he thinks about it, the less right it seems.
They're missing something.
His guts tells him it’s something big.
It's becoming more evident with each hide-out they bust.
He remembers them all.
Remembers where they are and what kind of equipment they should be holding. What kind of personnel was guarding it.
One of the two baby-sitters that have been assigned to him on a semi-permanent basis scowls and runs his fingers over one of the lab-table counter-tops and it comes back spotless.
This is the sixth place they've hit, and just like the others, it's empty.
Even most of the furniture is gone.
The trash has been taken out and the carpet's vaccuumed.
There's not even a single finger-print to be had.
Going by the tersely whispered communication going on in the background, where one of the agents is talking with his liaison on one of the other teams, the others have lucked-out as much as he has.
Eyes narrowed, he surveys the lab once more. There’s not so much as a broken petri-dish lying around.
Like the rest of the rooms, it’s been wiped clear of all tell-tale traces, almost down to last dust-mote.
It's like someone hired a fuckin' team of helpful household brownies.
Or, he snarls inwardly,..... as if he only imagined the whole thing.
But it was real. It WAS.
And as the trickster god's second in command he thought he'd been in on damn well EVERYTHING, so how come he hadn't know about THIS?
After the dust had settled over New York and Loki had been returned to Asgard, where he hopefully was suffering suffering some awfully traditional punishment at the hands of old One-eye, he’d been ready to return to the usual “situation normal, all fucked up” state of affairs.
Somehow though, the plans and machinations the Trickster God had set in motion while earthside were still running well enough to throw a wrench into the formerly smoothly ticking life of one Clint Barton.
And things hadn’t even looked as bad as they should have at first.
In the heat of the battle, the team welcomed him back, unquestioning, undoubting, following Natasha's lead.
SHIELD of course, especially Fury, who indubitably has his picture printed in the dictionary right beside the entry for "distrust", has been a helluva lot more reserved.
He understands. He does. Really.
In fact, if one of the men under his command during a mission had been as badly compromised as he has been, at best he'd have retired the guy to some quiet out-of-the-way pencil-pushing post where he was under close surveillance until his hair was grey and all inside info he possessed was hopelessly out-of-date.
Thankfully, he’s one of the deadliest weapons in Fury’s armoury, one that Fury dares not leave unused, and so he’s back in the game.
In the first hours after their victory, the rest of the team had celebrated. Drinking. Laughing. Fucking. Eating schawarma.
He'd spent that time being poked and prodded by a swarm of scientists, psychiatrists, toxicologists, you name it, just to make sure he was truly, really, absolutely no longer compromised. After that, he’d made an extensive report to Fury himself, even though he'd been so tired he'd been pretty much swooning in his boots.
It was only to be expected that the rats would leave the sinking ship, so in the wee hours of the morning, when even Tony Stark had gone to bed to sleep it all off, he’d been on a plane halfway around the world, coordinating the raid on whatever resources, alive or not, Loki had left behind.
He'd hoped to buy his way further back into Fury's good graces by delivering each and every of Loki's secrets that he had been privy too.
He’d expected what guards and personnel remained to realize that their own, private little god had gotten his ass handed to him and to make good their escape.
In a similar situation, he’d have done the same.
It was the logical thing to do.
On a hasty flight, people leave things behind.
Anything too heavy to carry.
Anything that might be traceable.
Anything that can’t be converted into easy cash.
His gaze sweeps around the lab, neat and tidy and empty like the kitchen at a brand new house, all done up for the next interested buyer by an overzealous real estate agent. The only thing that's missing is some fake scent of fresh-baked apple-pie.
The nest is empty, the birds have flown, and he's left looking like a fool at best and a traitor at worst.