“Hurry it up, man. I want to be done before he wakes up.”
Clint’s head hurt and the anxious voice wasn’t doing anything to soothe the ache away.
“Relax,” a second, deeper voice ordered. “He’s locked down solid, you’re safe and sound.” Clearly bored and irritated, the deeper voiced guy was also mocking the anxious one.
Clint’s mouth was uncomfortably dry, tongue heavy and sticky and distracting.
“Like fuck we are. Only way we’ll be safe around this guy is if the -”
“Shut up. No titles, dipshit, you know the rules.”
“Fuck you. I don’t know why you’re so calm. Didn’t you hear what this guy did to Assink’s team? When they tried to jump ship after he hired them for that psycho-horned nut-job that attacked the Apple?”
“Stop making shit up. Assink’s team was taken out by Talkin’s crew. Retaliation for the Hanson drop.”
“Hooooo no. It was this guy, because they tried to back out of the job before he took them to attack SHIELD.”
“Assink had eight guys. Dolores was part of his team. We caught this guy asleep in a cab, in the middle of morning rush hour. He did not take out Assink’s crew.”
“No, not all of them, but the three left won’t be walking again anytime soon, if ever.”
Fuck. Clint had really hoped no one knew about that. What happened to Assink’s crew was one of the few things he’d managed to leave out of his report to SHIELD after Loki had been sent to Asguard. Before the attack on the hellicarrier Loki hadn’t cared for their level of commitment, hadn’t been impressed with them bowing out when he was gearing up for his grand hostile takeover of earth. He’d made it very clear that mercenaries failing at their agreed upon tasks wouldn’t be useful to anyone ever again. He’d used Clint to make his point.
Clint had tried to block out the majority of his dealings with all of the mercenaries he’d hired for Loki from his memory. He’d only been fractionally successful.
Clint shifted, the memory making him nauseous. He opened his eyes blearily, preferring to take on this fresh problem than risk the recollections. It was harder than it should be to peel his eyelids apart. The piercingly bright light overhead hurt like hell and he tried to turn away. His head didn’t move.
“Shit. Shit, he’s not supposed to be awake! We’ll need to start the scans over.”
Clint swallowed, tried to find moisture, tried to find his voice. He croaked. His throat burned.
“Then get in here and knock him back out,” the deeper voice growled. Clint saw movement to his left, too far behind him to see properly. Across the room was a large surgical lamp, gleaming almost like a mirror. He saw one guy behind him, decked out in black field gear, a gun out and aimed at Clint. He could feel thick straps around his wrists, chest, hips, and each ankle, but there was some kind of brace around his head and over his neck. He pulled at the straps, feeling their tightness holding him in place.
“Do I look like an anaesthesiologist? Like I have the drugs? What do you want me to do, smack him in the head? It would kind of defeat my purpose here,” the other guy snapped, and Clint could see him on the other side of a glass wall, behind a table with a monitor; skinny with olive skin and his dark hair looked like it had been professionally styled.
“Quit squirming, Barton.” the guy behind him ordered, sounding unconcerned but his weapon never wavered in the lamp’s reflective metal. Clint blinked slowly, trying to gain better focus.
“You have a reputation for being an overachiever, Agent Barton,” a new voice entered the picture, high and soft, and a woman in a red blazer appeared beside him. He startled, but didn’t go anywhere. “But your resistance to sedation is not listed in your medical files.”
Huh? He blinked, trying to focus on what she was doing, but only saw red as she leaned way too close to him.
“No matter, we’ll have the proper doses figured out by the time we get to the open-neurological-tissue sampling and exams.” She seemed pleased by this.
“Assssss -” his rebuttal slipped away as he did. But to those still awake in the room he probably got his point across.
“Complete the scans, and do so quickly. I don’t want him under sedation for much longer. Once the drugs clear his system we’ll get another series while he’s fully cognizant,” the woman ordered and left the room with a satisfied bounce.
“God, I hope Pascall is on shift for that one,” the tech in the monitor room bemoaned.
“No names!” the guard snapped, but it didn’t matter. Clint was out for the count.
“M’pants!” Panicked words tripped from Clint’s lips as he jackknifed up from where he lay flat on his back. He woke from his drugged sleep so sharply he nearly rolled off the cot he’d been placed on, but managed to catch himself just in time. His confused and muddled words were quickly pushed away as he forced the air from his lungs sharply, and then sucked in a deep breath. He held it in a moment, feeling the fullness beneath his ribs, before locking away any outward sign of distress with a slow and controlled exhale. Forcing calm. He looked around, his vision momentarily blurry as his eyes focused. He was in a cage, tall enough to stand in, wide enough for a cot, not deep enough that he couldn’t be easily reached through the shiny steel bars.
He took in the room beyond and was pretty unhappy with what he found. There was a reclining metal chair with all sorts of straps and odd machinery surrounding it. This space was different than the last one he’d awoken in, but was just as bright and sterile. There were a few more people here, several of which were gathered around a large monitor, staring intently at what looked like brain scans to his untrained eye.
He’d bet his entire building they were his brain scans.
“You’re finally awake,” a distantly familiar female voice called for his attention and he stood from his cot and turned to find the dark-haired woman from before standing five feet beyond the bars. She was wearing a dark green blazer this time and had a man looming behind her, still and staring. Ninety percent of Clint’s attention immediately attuned to him, because you didn’t have to be a highly experienced assassin to recognize the most dangerous threat in the room. Not when it was watching you with calculating, cold eyes.
Clint considered the new threat with a quick a glance. He was a bit taller than Clint, blue eyes and dark brown hair just long enough to flop over his ears and hug his chin in unruly strands. He was built like a weapon; sleek and broad shouldered, dressed in black from head to toe, his hands covered in gloves, but not carrying a single weapon that Clint could see. He didn’t look like a guard, and didn’t feel like a mercenary, so Clint would settle on classifying him as a loyal soldier.
When Clint kept his silence the woman quirked her head, and she smiled when she regained half his attention. The display seemed genuine, which was creepy, but Clint had dealt with worse responses to his presence.
“We were hoping you’d wake up hours ago. We’ll need to do some more scans now that you’re conscious, but first, how about some food?”
A new unarmed guy stepped forward at her suggestion with a plastic bowl in hand. He set it on the floor just outside the cage before retreating altogether. Clint made no move for the food.
“Come now, it’s not drugged. Clearly there’s no need for subterfuge in that department,” she explained. Clint looked around the room once more, not missing much despite the aching in his head and weakness lingering in his muscles. His eyes fell back on the tall soldier standing behind her at parade rest.
Clint looked down at himself. Huh. Scrub pants, no shirt, no extra bruising that he could see just yet, and no shoes, but he’d known that the moment his bare feet hit the floor. He very carefully did not panic about the fact that he wasn’t wearing his pants. His pants were gone. Anxiety began to build as he considered this. He must be slipping, because clearly she saw something in his posture change and it garnered a softly clucked reassurance.
“There’s nothing to worry about, Pet. I’ll make sure you’re well taken care of. You just do what I ask and we’ll have no problems.” Clint kept his face blank and looked away, focusing on a monitor across the room. The date was displayed in tiny digital print at one edge. It had been two days since the meeting with Phil…well shit. Of all the times to kick JARVIS out of his damn phone.
He’d been with these people for two days and his marmosets could be dead. He had no idea where they were.
He felt chilled. He looked at a corner of the bare cot, took a deep breath, then scratched at his head.
“What the fuck?” he broke his silence. It was completely warranted. He patted at his head, but the mess of hair he was accustomed to was gone. There was barely even a hint of stubble.
“Oh, don’t worry, you’re still a fine specimen even without your golden locks.” She seemed amused. “We’ll let you grow it back once our tests are complete. Now, eat your stew, because while the IV fluids we’ve had you on are sufficient for hydration, a full stomach will go a long way to stabilizing your glucose levels. I’ll be back in a few hours for some cognizant scans.” She clasped her hands before her, like she was some kind of deranged hostess, and moved across the room to join the apparent doctors in their discussion of the brain scans.
Clint looked at the soldier, still standing completely still and watching him with cold blue eyes. Clint stared back. They stayed like this for several long minutes.
“You know, your stare has nothing on Akira,” Clint decided, ignoring the twist of hot worry in his chest. The soldier didn’t seem concerned. “You better be nice to me or I’ll tell Natasha on you.” The guy's eye twitched. “Are you the one that shaved my head? You seem to have the opposite problem.” Clint scratched at his bare scalp, feeling colder now that he was aware he’d been sheared for their tests. He decided not to think too hard on it, not really needing to as it was pretty obvious what they were after.
He was surprised these people, whoever they were, had waited so long to try and get a look at his brain. SHIELD was pretty sure the majority of neuro-shifts that Loki had induced had settled back to Clint’s norm by now, so there wasn’t much to learn from him in the mind-control arena anymore. Then again SHIELD also hadn’t trusted him enough to let him know one of the few people he called family was alive, so…
“Any idea what happened to my pants? It’s just that I finally have them worked into that perfect fit, you know?” He got nothing. “Can I have your shirt? I’m pretty sure my nips are going to be hard enough to cut diamonds soon if they crank the air-conditioning any higher.”
“Eat,” the soldier ordered.
“Wow, that was impressive. I heard you speak but your face didn’t move.” The soldier’s eye twitched. Clint’s stomach rumbled. He made no move for the food. The soldier didn’t say anything further, just stood and stared. Clint sat on the cot, shifting back until the bars were sharply cold on his bared skin and pressed uncomfortably against his shoulders. He settled in to wait.
They came for the next set of scans after the promised hours passed. Clint cooperated, because he knew how and when to pick his battles and they were still too cautious around him. Too aware of his every move.
Nobody gave him a shirt. Voyeuristic assholes.
“Where is he?” Natasha asked, appearing from behind his door like a ghost after Phil had only made it a few steps into his office. She’d been off grid since she’d landed in DC a day and a half ago, not reporting to SHIELD nor, as far as SHIELD could tell, the Avengers. Phil wasn’t surprised she’d learned about the bus, figured out where it was hangared, or that she’d slipped onto the overly secured plane without anyone noticing. Phil took a deep breath and moved behind his desk.
“I don’t know,” his chest ached with the admission. “SHIELD is respecting his request for privacy.” Phil nudged a fingertip against the edge of a file sitting on his desk but felt too wound up to sit. He moved back to the front of the desk and instead leaned against it, taking her in for the first time in person since Loki. Natasha didn’t move from where she rested against the wall, watching him.
“No,” she corrected flatly, “SHIELD just can’t find him.” He pressed his lips together, because it was true. They had a dedicated team searching for Clint, but it seemed SHIELD had forgotten how good Clint was at disappearing when he was motivated. The re-emergence of this skillset, after years of loyalty, had a select group of people very concerned.
“I thought you were meeting up with him,” Phil admitted, because he knew how they operated and Clint wouldn’t have pulled a complete runner before getting in touch with her.
“Thinking has clearly been unhelpful to you lately,” she said softly, and moved to the door, ready to leave. Done with him.
“Natasha,” Phil called, his chest tight with nerves, worry, guilt, stubbornness - it didn’t matter. She looked back at him, gaze cool. “I argued to bring you both into the loop.” Everything had moved so quickly after the battle; his new assignment and team had taken off in the blink of an eye. He’d barely had time to breathe with the weight of it. He’d been on this plane before Loki had even been sent back to Asgard. Before Clint had been released from medical. She watched him for a long moment.
“Okay,” she said, and left on silent feet. It was far from forgiveness, but it was also much too early to hope for that.
He forced aside the worry that Natasha didn’t know where their archer was. If she wanted help finding him she’d demand it. This visit had just been reconnaissance for her. Clint wasn’t the only one upset about being kept in the dark about him.
Phil couldn’t blame either of them for their reactions.
In the privacy of his office he squeezed his eyes shut once in deep regret, and then pushed it aside. He had work to do. Natasha would find Clint, and in a few weeks or months maybe he could work towards fixing the trust he’d broken.