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In a certain slant of light

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“Weapons? Okay. Hired muscle? Terrific. This? This is not what I asked for.”

Somewhere buried deep, deep inside of him, Clint knows that he should be more worried about barking orders to a bunch of mercs whom, less than twelve hours ago, wanted his head on a stick. But he pushes on. The face of adversity and all that.

The man in front of him smiles cockily as he rappels his knuckles down his companion’s arm, like he’s a thing. Clint scowls, indignant on his behalf. Okay, not even Loki treats people like that.

“But we got him special.” Smarmy wheedles. “Courtesy of Kronas Corporation. The boss couldn’t resist when he heard that you guys were goin’ after S.H.I.E.L.D.. Believe me man, you won’t regret it.”

He looks at the other man, average height, average build, slightly gaunt if he was being entirely honest, with half his face hidden under a curtain of scraggly brown hair.

“You got a name soldier?”

The man snaps to attention at that, blue eyes lighting like one of Stark’s little toys on a rampage. Clint patiently waits for a reply before accepting that maybe he isn’t getting any. Maybe he really is a robot. Or mute. Clearly he did not come with instructions. The idiot beside him was about as helpful as a gum on a shoe.

Clint recalls that Kronas is a company based in Russia. But the man himself could easily be a Chechnian rebel or an Armenian terrorist. Or hell, maybe he’s some Neo-Nazi spy from a splinter Hydra cell.

Hydra, now there was an idea. They were like the Grubur brothers to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s John McClane. They were also idiots. He had enough problems juggling murderously enterprising personnel without inviting trouble.

The man clears his throat.

“Soldier” He says belatedly, his voice a hoarse rasp as though he’s not used to words. If he’s half as good as Kronas seems to think he is, Clint doubts he needed much practice. “Call me soldier.”

 

Smarmy leaves them with a knowing grin and Clint reigns back the urge to punch him in the face. He has more pressing matters at hand, the dilemma of placing a possibly brain-damaged but dangerous mercenary in an even rougher crowd.

“Any preferences?” He begins lightly. “Skill sets I should be aware of? Can’t have you fighting with the kids because you don’t eat meat or prefer Man U to Chelsea.”

It takes the soldier an average of 16.3 seconds to process and answer his question. Kind of like a laggy computer. Isn’t technology grand? Clint has half a mind to throw him to the eggheads and let them figure it out and maybe use Smarmy as a target practice for bringing him some poor sucker who’s clearly missed in a mental hospital someplace.

“Nyet” The soldier responds. Russian, interesting. “I was” his forehead creases for the briefest of moments as he gropes for words. “Am sniper.”

Clint grins.

“What a coincidence, so am I. So you’re going to have to figure out something else to do because that position is already filled.”

This earns him a hesitant look.

“Christ” He says fondly, a shock of bright red flitting through his head. “You’d eat them alive. So why don’t you show me what you’ve got soldier?”

Clint never sees it coming.

One moment, he’s standing. The next, he’s pinned against the wall with the soldier breathing hotly down his neck, a hand on his cock, experimental strokes jellifying his legs. Just as he is about to regain his bearings, the soldier goes down on one knee, all romantic-like and pops open his pants.

Clint babbles on about informed consent when all he really means is yes. There is a faint hint of a amusement across the soldier’s lips, or the Tesseract has finally moved onto surrealism as he runs his fingers through the other man’s hair, still matted and damp with something slippery like soap but isn’t, lifting it so he can see his face.

The soldier looks good for a brain-dead zombie sex-vampire, all lean lines, hungry and sort of familiar like he’s seen him somewhere before. Then he proceeds to such Clint’s brain out through his dick so that’s the end of that train of thought.

His mouth is hot and clumsy with just a hint of teeth which added to the charm. In the game of international espionage, virgins were like leprechauns. There was no such thing. Just because a target looked fifteen didn’t mean that he was. Or bad analogy.

After the sexual whiplash? Dicklash? The soldier wipes his mouth. He fucking swallows and Clint decides right there and then to put a ring on it.

“Okay” He croaks when the soldier deigns to let him up. “You win. You can be Team Hawkeye.”

 

“Problem?”

“No sir” Clint answers truthfully because he appreciates surprise blowjobs, there should be more surprise blowjobs, and Loki cocks his head, raising a pencil-lined eyebrow as though he can hear his thoughts and Clint suppresses a shiver in spite of himself. Faithful servant or not, there is something to be said about the way Loki could just waltz in through the shit in his head.

Eventually, the god of trickery turns his attention to their latest recruit and the soldier stares back gamely where lesser men have pissed themselves in fear. The soldier does not react when the staff is pressed against his sternum in a surge of static and ghostly blue light. Loki pulls away immediately, hissing like a wet cat.

“What’s wrong boss?” Clint asks, genuinely concerned.

“What is he?” Loki demands. He replaces his staff with his hand, the five points of his fingers digging into the wool trench. Clint does not intervene. It’s not his place.

“He has no heart.” The mist dissipates against the soldier’s coat, like frost in the summer sun. “There is nothing in him to touch, nothing to turn. He is little better than a babe in his crib.” Loki sighs. “Such cruelty your kind confer onto one another.”

“Perhaps” Loki says again. “No, it is kinder this way.” The godling’s smile is madly bitter. “What he cannot remember, he will not miss.” He turns to Clint. “Has he a name?”

Clint shrugs. “He says he’s a soldier so that’s what I call him. 'Hey you' works too I’ve found out.”

Loki lets out a small laugh as though he is delighted.

“He is like Ifingr when the moons are dark. I think I will call him... Winter.” He waves a hand at Clint. “Now go away, I have a realm to conquer.”

Clint feels the significance of the words but fails to make the connection. Later, he will suffer through hours of debriefing by a panel and Natasha will laugh in his face.

“You sure boss?”

“Yes, yes” Loki answers irritably. “Go simper at someone else. I can’t stand it.”

Clint puffs up. He did not simper. If he did, it would be in a very manly way.

You’d think as a royalty, Loki was used to people looking after him. Selvig even installed a failsafe in the Tesseract just in case. The Asgardian could be a little more appreciative. ‘

Grumbling, Clint goes away as he was ordered. When he returns, he finds the newly christened ‘Winter’ standing in the exact same spot, unblinking, hell he isn’t even sure if the guy is still breathing.

“Oh shit”

Logically, he knew that the soldier could take more. Hell, he’d once waited nearly thirty-two hours on a rooftop pissing into bottles for the perfect shot. But Winter’s stance loosens at his reappearance and he looks grateful.

“So um” He says eloquently. “Me and a couple other guys need to steal a bunch of shit, wanna come?”

Winter doesn’t answer. He figures it meant yes.

 

Folks aren’t terribly pleased when their stuff goes missing and they get few decent blows in. He loses a man. Winter gets shot at. He knows he’s hit.

As soon as they’re in the clear, he strips Winter down to his skin. He does not protest. He stands still as a mannequin, eyes half-mast in a way that would be sexy any time else. The heavy trench falls to the ground. Clint wants to fuck him in it and he says as much because he can’t shut up.

“Here, let me look.”

But Winter is fine. The arm that should have been shredded and torn to bits looks better than fine, healthy pink and gold while the rest of his body is sickly white. “What the fuck...”

“Metal” The other man rasps. He pushes Clint’s fingers against his left wrist where there should have been a pulse. Instead, there is a button and the hologram disintegrates, revealing a spit-shiny metal surface, smooth and overlapping.

“Huh.” He says. “Okay, didn’t see that coming.”

Winter eyes him oddly.

“There was no time. Good enough if no one looks too close.” He pulls his shirt back on to Clint’s eternal disappointment. He shoots him a disapproving look. “You should pay attention.”

Clint frowns. “What do you mean?”

The other man breaks off into several languages, all unintelligible. At one point, he thinks that he’s speaking a mix of Japanese and Hindi. Winter gives up with a disgusted snort, more animated than he’s ever been. His tone is broody when he says, “You are far from home tonight.”

 

While preparing for the next phase of the operation, the kids get anxious. They’re jealous that no one’s paying attention to them and patting them on their heads.

Clint finds Winter in the middle of a brawl. The soldier is winning but there is someone clinging to his hair like a limpet, refusing to let go.

He doesn’t know what the Russians pumped into his Kool-Aid but Winter moves perfect. He lands on his back in a controlled fall, kicking his feet out to catch someone in the face. The next person went down with a busted knee, another with a sucker punch to the throat. He is like Nat with a dick.

That’s a terrifying image. Clint isn’t sure whether to be frightened or turned on. But he does know that he can’t afford to lose half his forces if Loki’s plan is to work. He shoots one of his flash-bang arrows. Winter curls up instinctively before it goes off.

“Hey! Break it up!”

People stagger by, blinking in stupor. He kicks one in the ass when he doesn’t get out of the way fast enough.

Why couldn’t Loki subjugate them? Right, no brain, no gain. And what did it say about him that he’d basically shacked up with a man with the mentality of a boiled potato.

He helps Winter up, grabbing him by the elbow to steady him.

“Man, you need a haircut.”

Winter looks puzzled.

Rather than explain, Clint gives him a haircut.

Back in the circus, they used to go around cutting each other’s hair because they had no designated stylist or a makeup artist and a good haircut still costs an arm and a leg then and now.

Clint used to be one of the better ones. It is a point of professional pride in fact and he whistles cheerily as he snips off the split ends. Shorn to an inch from his skull, Winter’s hair is now soft and spiky like the fur of a very young animal.

But at the same time, Winter’s compliance unnerves him because he’s never seen a merc sit still with a knife to his face. Maybe Winter was just special that way. Natasha would know. She could probably tell him all about the soldier named Winter but she clams up faster than high school algebra even now whenever her past is brought up.

It’ll be a pleasure prying the secrets out of her.

Winter makes a small noise when he finishes, his fingers already hooked around his waistband.

Okay, he was wrong. He is a big enough man to admit that.

Hiring Winter was an excellent idea.

 

“You should take better care of your things Natashenka.” Someone chides.

Immediately, Natasha points her gun at the Winter Soldier’s chest but he ignores her in favor of jumping down from the ventilation shaft, the metal arm and the connecting apparatus barely slowing him down. He kneels next to Clint, using his flesh-and-bone fingers to check his pulse. She is hardly reassured, she’s seen him do much worse with that hand.

Natasha doesn’t bother trying to stop him. It would be a waste of time. She calls Fury with a tense, “Sir, we have a code 112-A. Variable: The Winter Soldier.”

Calmly, the man she once knew as the Winter Soldier sits down and waits. But she can see him stroking Clint’s hair and the way he watches her through half-lidded eyes, an alien smile playing across his lips.

 

The Winter Soldier is apprehended and taken into custody. When he sees him, Captain America makes a hurt noise and demands that they let him go. They can’t. The Winter Soldier is a ghost, a logistical nightmare. He is also the only silver lining in between Loki’s misbegotten crusade.

The brig was damaged during Loki’s escape so they use Fury’s office as an interrogation room. It is the most secure location on the helicarrier. The Winter Soldier is honored.

“What do you remember?”

The answer is the same as with any other question thrown his way.

“I do not know.”

Fury eyeballs him.

“Bullshit.”

The Winter Soldier drums the desk with his good hand, his other sleeve empty, licking his lips and looking at Fury as though he’s already planned a hundred and one different ways to take him down. He shrugs depreciatingly when Natasha asks again, first in Russian, then English.

“I remember Captain America in a corset.” He offers and there is a strangled cough from the corner of the room. He tilts his head thoughtfully. “And the infamous Black Widow, pouring bleach in a boy’s soup because he made fun of her hair.”

In a quiet voice, soft and deadly, Natasha replies,

“You swore you’d never speak of that again.”

The Winter Soldier merely looks amused.

“That, I do not remember.”

“Ooh he’s good.” Tony faux-whispers. “Can we keep him?”

Steve hisses. “Tony! He’s a person!”

“I’m close to just throwing the lot of you out of this room.” Fury says to no one in particular. Everyone else shuts up fairly quickly.

“I woke.” The Winter Soldier continues, drawing abstract patterns. The oil on the pads of his fingers leaves faint smears across the deep mahogany. “I was told I was to be given to a god. Your operative was the only real thing in that place.”

Natasha remains tense but gives him a sharp nod as though she understands.

“I remember” The Winter Soldier says slowly. “You have an invasion to stop. I offer my full assistance.”

 

Clint wakes up.

“Do you know what it’s like to be remade?”

A foolish question. As ancient as he was, Loki was just a lonely boy trapped in the body of a god. His methods fell short of the refinements she, they, went through in the Red Room.

“What is he?” he asks, sounding bewildered. “He’s like you but considerate.”

Natasha punches him in the arm. It makes him feel better.

“Haven’t you guessed?” She asks, her voice dripping with irony. Clint doesn’t like where this is going. “Congratulations Clint. You’ve found the Winter Soldier.”

 

After saving the world, Clint is debriefed. As expected, the firing squad exchange identical looks of disbelief and he can see Natasha’s throat aflutter with stifled laughter.

“You were with the Winter Soldier for two days but didn’t make the connection?”

“I was brainwashed!” Clint protests loudly. “He’s been active since the Cold War. I didn’t know he was...”

“Young?” Natasha hazards.

“Well-preserved!” He shoots back.

“But you knew he existed.” Hill says calmly. “One of the terms of Agent Romanov’s surrender was information about all remaining operatives in the Red Room program.”

Clint crosses his arms, all but pouting.

“Yeah, it was nice knowing he had a metal arm.” He snarks.

“What I want to know is how Barton got him to defect. We’ve been chasing him for what? Close on forty years now?” Woo asks, putting down his file.

“Fifty” Carter corrects him. “Jerusalem, 1948.”

“Cryogenics” Natasha answers. “They reprogram him after each thaw. It is possible that they did not follow the correct procedure this time, which would have left him in his default state.”

“That being...?”

Natasha gives this question due consideration.

“The Winter Soldier was the Red Room’s greatest accomplishment. They would have prepared him for all likely scenarios.”

That sadly makes a lot of sense.

 

He finds the Winter Soldier in the firing range. Standards have fallen in the three days he was gone. He doesn’t even have a babysitter.

“Hey”

“Hey” Winter greets back and for the next hour, they manfully trade shots over a target.

“So...” he starts because he can’t stand the silence any longer. “You’re the Winter Soldier.”

“That’s what they tell me.” Winter grunts. His body language is closed off but it’s infinitely more expressive than what it was before. He doesn’t like how the other man’s jaw twitches as he moves closer. “You here to take me in?”

“Might” Clint admits. “Later”

Winter, or Barnes, he thinks unhappily, a name tied to a myriad of connections and personal claims, seems disinclined to say anything more. It hurts a guy. Time to man up.

“Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot. I’m sorry about what happened before. You were brainwashed, I was brainwashed but it turns out I was less brainwashed. Who knew Loki was such a humanitarian?” This startles a laugh from the other man. Encouraged, he holds out a hand. “Clint Barton, big fan of your work uh if hypothetically, you were one of the good guys.”

Winter looks at him disdainfully, setting down his rifle. Clint is starting to think that it’s a legitimate technique taught to all Red Room operatives.

“Yeah no. I think we’re a little past that pal.” And he starts to leave.

Clint swears under his breath.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“Somewhere private.” Winter answers, tossing back an unreadable look. “Thought you wanted in my coat.”

“I can do that. I can definitely do that.”

It’s ridiculous, he’s forty-two and it absolutely feels like falling in love for the first time. He’d shoot himself just to check if he wasn’t busy putting the gun down right beside Winter’s.

Winter grins.

“Well soldier, you coming?”