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With Us (Or Without)

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“How did it feel when he gave you orders?” she asked, uncomfortably close, staring right into his eyes and Clint snarled, but he couldn’t blink to break the gaze.  They’d pried his eyelids open with clamps and had been playing images intermittently as they asked questions.  He was fucking terrified and pissed and expressed his feelings with silence and bared teeth.

She sighed.

 “Really, Agent Barton, this will be much easier if you just cooperate.”

He smiled.

Across the room, the soldier sat ramrod straight in a metal folding chair, clearly not having a task other than watching Clint.  Clint thought maybe these people were genuinely blind to the level of interest the soldier was giving Clint’s ‘interview.’  Based on how they’d all been treating the guy, and based on their area of research and intent with Clint, he was beginning to get the notion they were already practised in the art of programming brains.

 He did not approve.  He was going to burn this shithole to the ground.

 Right after he made sure his little buddies weren’t in it.

It only took a short while longer before the scientists started smacking him around, thinking he might be more cooperative with some fists and batons helping to convince him.  The anger it fuelled in him renewed his energy to be uncooperative, and whenever he could get away with it, without being spotted, he looked over and steadily met the soldiers’ blue eyes.

 ccCcc

 Day three’s breakfast was delivered by the soldier.  It was an honest-to-god Egg McMuffin.  Unwrapped, because apparently Clint could turn paper wrappers into weapons, or maybe transform it into lock picks, or perhaps a foil cellphone to call for help.

 Clint plucked the muffin from the gloved hand, too hungry to protest, and shoved half of it in his mouth with the first bite. 

“You already eat yours?” he asked around the food.  The soldier blinked at him, still quiet, but he didn’t move away.  The armed guards that stood around the room were utterly unconcerned about their soldier interacting with Clint.  “You get a good night's sleep?” he asked, words muffled before he swallowed the salt and grease and took a smaller bite.  “You tired of being a brainwashed lackey?” he wondered, and the man’s left eye twitched.  He still didn’t move away.  “Got any coffee?”  After a long moment the guy moved swiftly over to the table that had apparently been designated as the ‘breakroom,’ and was littered with take-out bags and boxes.  Clearly this was a lab that didn’t care about sample contamination.  The guy came back with a paper coffee cup.  He stopped a few feet from Clint’s cage and took a deep drink, observing Clint steadily over the rim.

 “So, first sign of personality pegs you as a dick.” Clint watched as the guy took another pointed drink.  He should be annoyed as fuck, but he was more amused than anything.  Call him crazy but he felt like they were bonding.  “We’ll get along just fine.” He decided, and flopped on his back so he could try and take a nap.

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“He should be put back in the freezer,” one of the labcoats, a short stocky guy with a perpetual frown, declared.  He wasn’t trying to keep his opinion to himself or hide the fact that he was assessing the soldier with suspicion.

 “Nah,” the other labcoat in the room, the one that was obsessive about studying Clint’s brain scans, disagreed.  “The boss wants him for another job and it always takes time for him to thaw fully.  He’ll be good for another week, so just relax.” Most of his attention on his Starkpad, like usual.

 “He’s acting weird,” the short guy said and Clint remained still on his cot, watching them through slit eyes with definite interest.

 “He’s just restless.  The mercs won’t train with him and he needs an outlet.” Brainscan guy dismissed.  “Just put him on a treadmill or something.”

“He’s not supposed to need an outlet.”  The short guy jabbed at the computer he was parked behind, tossing an annoyed glare at the floppy-haired soldier that sat two stools away from him, still and silent.

 “Not our problem, we’re not his handlers, and he’s fine.  Besides, the chair is almost calibrated for Barton’s specs.  Macy wants to get him fitted for the neuro-gear so we can start the tests.  She thinks he might be easier to flip based on his history.”

 Clint did not like the sound of that.  He didn’t imagine the soldier’s eyes flicking to him briefly, before resuming his intense focus on the short scientist.

 Clint wondered if the team was looking for him. They had no obligation to.

 More importantly, Clint wondered exactly how these people had known to grab him when they did, or if it was just a coincidence that they pulled him in right after he’d requested to be left alone. Right after Phil’s “but I’m not dead” reveal.  No alarms would be raised immediately if everyone thought he’d just run off to lick his wounds.

 Clint had a lot of time to wonder about a great deal of things in this place. Wonder, and watch.

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He spotted Lia’s tiny face in the wall's high vent just as the guards were strapping him into the huge metal chair for the first time.  The soldier saw the look and turned to follow Clint’s gaze, but Lia was gone and Clint managed to kick out the nearest guard's knee, which earned him some hits to his already tender gut and pointedly hurtful words.  When he grinned at them while gasping for breath it had nothing to do with the small victory, and everything to do with relief.

 

It was the soldier that finally pinned Clint’s loose leg, reaching down with one arm and swiftly gripping his thigh when the guard, struggling to pin Clint’s arm, roughly ordered him to help out.  The stony-eyed guy didn’t even look like he was trying as he pressed Clint’s leg flat against the seat, his large grip was a fucking vice that Clint knew would leave a hot and heavy bruise where it held him.  Clint sucked in a sharp breath and stared at him, their eyes meeting through the crowd of bent heads and shoulders that worked to contain him.  The soldier held his gaze a moment, and looked away, face blank.

 

In the vent above Lia popped her head back into view as Clint’s face was held still and his head was wrapped in cold metal-like hardware.  She watched until he was pulled from the chair what felt like hours later, tired and cold and bruised more than he’d like.  His head felt like it wanted to pop right off his neck.  He threw up half way back to his cell, splattering the floor and the guards black boots. Clint didn’t glance anywhere near Lia as he was dropped back in his cage, and was relieved when she disappeared from sight as he crumpled onto his cot and curled up pitifully with his arms hugging his head.

 

She was alive and free. That meant they probably all were.

 

That was good.

 

He exhaled in soft relief, and passed out.

 

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“You are not a tool,” Clint mouthed silently at the soldier, who was clear on the other side of the lab.  The soldier stared back at him, because that was clearly his main skillset, and Clint just knew the guy could read lips.  The guy blinked slowly, lazily, in response.  Clint hadn’t seen that reaction before; it was a new mannerism.  “You’re a person,” Clint mouthed, “and you’re getting out of here when I do.  You’re coming with me.”  Because Clint would be fucked if he was going to leave this asshole to be put back in the freezer or whatever the hell it was the scientists were doing to him.

 

“Is the subject saying something to you?” the short, suspicious scientist demanded suddenly, voice sharp in the mostly quiet room.  The soldier looked to the guy, his bangs falling over his forehead and half masking his eyes.  He hadn’t had a shave in a few days; the look was suitably dark for the overly bright venue.

 

“I heard nothing,” his heavily accented voice was bland.  The scientist was not appeased with the soldier’s answer as he looked back and forth between the guy and Clint. Clint smiled at him, a closed lip effort that riled the scientist up even more

 

“He needs to be reprogrammed,” the guy argued to the other two sitting beside him as they did whatever it was they did at their fancy, paper thin computers all day.  “He’s not right.”

 

“Take it up with his handler,” the plump one said.  The soldier looked back at Clint, and then moved his gaze to stare at the floor, silent and obedient.  The short scientist huffed and stormed from the room, presumably to do just that.  The guards around the room shared a look, but remained easy.  Clint lay down for a nap.  When he woke up with the muddled memory of tiny, furry paws pressing against his fingers, he found a paperclip had been pushed into his half-closed hand, and he forced himself not to smile.

 

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“Theoretically, your brain chemistry should be more susceptible to alteration,” the woman, Macy, said conversationally as Clint was herded, very carefully, from his cell.  He had three tasers actively trained on him and the guards were a few steps too far for him to have an advantage in attacking.  Clint forced himself to look unconcerned as he was moved to the evil dentist chair, straps and machines gleaming in greeting as he got closer and closer and his heart beat faster and faster.  The soldier was standing closest to Clint, clearly the one in charge of Clint’s obedience.  Clint considered Macy’s words, decided to ignore her and looked at the soldier.

 

“What’s your name?” he asked.  The guy didn’t seem to react to his words, but Clint had sharp eyes and spotted the clenched muscle shift beneath the unshaven jaw.  “You can call me Clint,” Clint decided.  “When we get out of here, if you can’t remember your name, we’ll find one you like.”

 

“I was led to believe you had a higher IQ considering your standing within SHIELD and reputation in freelance,” Macy looked at Clint, amused.  “He’s a weapon, he doesn’t care about names, and soon you won’t either.  I suggest you save your breath, you’re going to need it.”  Clint balked, five feet from the chair, his hands cuffed in front of him.  He made to spin around, and was knocked in the stomach by the guard that had been assigned to lead him directly.  That guard had no weapons on his person for Clint to steal, just his fists.  Clint folded over himself, using the move to work on the cuffs with his gifted paperclip.

 

“Like hell, you crazy bitch,” he pressed out between clenched teeth.  “Even if you did manage to turn me into whatever zombie you’re planning, you’re fooling yourself if you think it’s going to hold.”

 

“We have all the proof we need to know it will hold,” she looked at the soldier smugly.  Clint grinned back, far less politely, and then a hand wrapped around his wrist, grip as tight as a fucking clamp; the move was so fast he hadn’t expected it.  The soldier squeezed and then jerked his arm, exposing the fact that Clint had managed to uncuff one wrist.  Clint stepped right into his space, intending to throw him off balance, but the guard behind him was sharper than he’d been expecting and she jammed a prod into his back as the soldier let go of him.  The electric current jarred his entire body, momentarily stunning him enough that it took too long to regain his feet.  He was turned and shoved into the chair as the low level shock wore off.  He moved to attack, and couldn’t budge the arm that was once again in the soldier’s single-handed grip.  Fuck.  Despite the fact that it was taking two guys putting their weight around Clint’s left arm to pin it in place he was having more luck breaking free from them.  They wrapped a thick strap over his wrist as he struggled.

 

“Doesn’t matter what you do,” Clint snarled, still struggling as one foot was strapped down.  “You think SHIELD’s going to just let you keep me?  First chance they get they’ll remove me from the picture, in cuffs or a box, it won’t matter to them.  And let’s not forget,” he kicked with his left leg, using his bound wrist as leverage to try and tear his other arm from the soldiers unyielding grip.  “I have Captain America on my side, and he doesn’t leave people behind.”  The soldier, mostly unmoving where he loomed over Clint, seemed to go still.  Sensing the change, Clint looked up and spotted the suddenly uneasy glances the people around him were sharing.

 

“Captain America?”  The soldier said, his Slavic accent no longer present.  Clint tugged at the arm he held, but there was still no give in the grip.  At the other end of the room a guard started speaking rapidly into his radio.  The entire focus of the room seemed to shift, and Clint stopped struggling and focused on the soldier.

 

“Yeah, Steve Rogers to his friends,” Clint agreed, watching as the guy processed this, clearly confused.  Clint didn’t get it, but he knew how to adapt to shifts in any tide.  “He’s a good guy if you can get past the spangled -” a fist slammed into his face from a guard on his left, and his teeth slammed together sharply, just missing his tongue.

 

“Shut up,” the guard snarled, and punched Clint again, knocking him back into the chairs headrest.  Hot blood began to drip down his chin, the taste thick on his tongue.

 

“Wanna meet him?” Clint asked, meeting the soldier’s blue gaze, the blank mask replaced with too many emotions to get a read on.  He was hit again, this time his head bounced harshly off the chair, a sharp ache of pain raced around his skull from the impact.

 

“Stand down, Soldier,” the tall raven-haired handler Clint had only seen a few times, ordered sternly.  He stepped up beside Macy, levelling a foreboding glare at the soldier.  Clint grinned, knowing his teeth were smeared red.

 

“I’d say it’s time we got out of here,” Clint said casually, waiting and watching.  “We can grab a burger and go bug Steve.”

 

“Stevie,” the soldier said quietly, and his grip loosened on Clint’s wrist.

 

“I told you he needed reprogramming!” the suspicious scientist shrieked from somewhere behind Clint.

 

“Soldier,” the handler barked sharply, an edge of panic squeezed into his tone as the soldier's grip loosened further.  Clint went to say more but was cut off with another fist to his face.  The follow-up hit he saw coming right after failed to connect.  It was captured in the hand that no longer pinned Clint down; the brittle sound of bones snapping filled the tense room just before the screams drowned them out.  The soldier was unleashed, his interest in Clint shifting into an attack on everyone else.  He threw a guy that must have weighed two-fifty across the room with one arm.  He crashed with chaotic noise across a table and into a wall, leaving a hefty dent.  

 

Clint didn’t bother watching the show closely as he swiftly unbuckled the strap on his trapped wrist, and then unbound one ankle.  Fast as a snake he swept his newly freed arm out in time to snatch an electric prod just before it connected with his shoulder.  In a move too quick to follow he flipped it and jabbed it into his attackers forehead while simultaneously unstrapping his other ankle.

 

With that done Clint looked up and flicked the paperclip he still had across the room.  The thin end he’d peeled out to pick the cuffs with imbedded deeply into the eye of the man about to taze the soldier in the back.  He went down with a bark of fear, hand cupping his eye while Clint claimed the gun from another guard he’d just put down.  Clint promptly shot two more men in the knees as they began aiming tranquilizer guns at the soldier.  Clint had one of those guns as well now, so he also hit them with a tranq before they could get their acts together and finish their task from the floor.  

 

Clint considered the situation and decided it was nice to know they didn’t feel Clint was the primary threat here; it gave him a heavy advantage.  Especially as armed men kept swarming through the room’s only door in a seemingly never-ending rush.  Clint grabbed a new gun and double tapped the next three guards that came through: a neat bullet to their tack-vest to knock them back a bit, and a tranq to the neck to keep them down.  Easy as pie.  He took a steadying breath when the onslaught seemed to slow, but kept the weapon raised and ready as he looked to the soldier on the opposite end of the room.

 

“So, you have a thing for Steve, huh?”  Clint grinned and the guy frowned at him, a tormented sort of look that Clint recognized from the mirror was the first response he got, before the guys face shifted to frustrated confusion.  That was a look Clint was much more familiar with receiving from other people.

 

Furnace -” the word, spoken in Russian, burst into the demolished room, loud enough that it pulsed over Clint’s skin and firm enough to clearly be important.  Clint translated it without thought as he whirled around, looking for the source.  He half expected to find someone with a bullhorn the size of a car pointed in their direction, but saw no one.  It was coming from overhead speakers.  Like a switch had been flipped the soldiers confusion was gone and agitation infested his body language.  His already tense shoulders lifted further in distress and he slapped his hands against his ears.  “Benign,” the voice was far too loud to block out with just a pair of hands.  “Rusted.”  It continued without pity.

 

“No no no,” the soldier muttered, moving towards the door, clearly intending to make an escape.  He was shot in the thigh, twice.  Then his other leg was hit, just above the knee.  Shit.  Clearly they weren’t worried about knocking him out anymore.  Clint fired the last round in his current gun without needing to check the target location, cursing at himself for not seeing the guy approach sooner.  He was too fucking slow, too fucking distracted.  He scooped a beretta from the floor and fired a single shot out the door, reminding the people beyond his line of site that they should think hard before attempting entry.  Clint made to help the soldier get behind an overturned table for cover.  The guy waved him off harshly.

 

“Run,” the soldier growled.  “You gotta run before they finish.”  He was on his knees with his hands crushed against his ears, little puddles of red forming on the floor ans smearing beneath his agonized movements. He looked away from Clint to burn holes in the ground with his eyes.  Clint rapidly shot the speakers he could see in the walls.

 

One,” the voice boomed, still in Russian.  So, he couldn’t kill this will bullets.  Clint didn’t bother responding to the soldier’s order, because it was stupid.  “Daybreak.” And Clint had a better idea.

 

“I’m gonna knock you out,” he announced, flipping the empty tranq gun in his hand, preparing to smash the heavier grip into the soldier’s head to achieve just that, because he had a feeling the chemicals would take too long to kick in…and they’d keep him down longer as well.  The guy looked up at him with grateful eyes - and then Lia was popping out from somewhere, chittering loudly at Clint as she scrambled up the soldier's jacket and practically plastered herself over the hands clamped to his head.

 

Nine-”

 

“What!” The soldier made to throw her away.

 

Don’t hurt her!”  Clint snarled, and whether it was from the sudden force of the words or the definite threat in them, the soldier stopped.  He looked up at Clint with pained blue eyes, hands over his ears, hair flowing in his face and a tiny marmoset clinging to the gloved hand.

 

Longing.”

 

“She’s a friend.  None of them will hurt you,” Clint really hoped they wouldn’t make a liar out of him.  Lia chittered and Gob appeared, leaping from a suspended light in the ceiling to land beside Clint’s foot, and then hopping over to scramble up the soldier and cling to where his other hand covered his ear.

 

Seventeen.”

 

“Go,” the soldier tried again, desperate, warning, and Clint got it.  He did.  He wasn’t a dummy and he could recognize trigger words for deep programming.  He’d known Natasha a long time; she’d taught him what to look for. Also, it was kind of obvious what was happening.

 

“Homecoming.”

 

The soldier closed his eyes at that word, and Clint prepared to snatch Lia back and knock the guy out the moment it became necessary.  Lia looked at Clint like she could read his thoughts, yapping at him and bopping her head, her tiny arms wrapped around glove-covered fingers.  “Freightcar.”  The word was said with finality, and the soldier stilled.  Clint did not hold his breath as they waited for a long moment, and then another.  Then time was starting to slip away and they needed to act before the goons outside got their act together and dropped a tranq-grenade on them or something.

 

“You good?” Clint demanded softly in the oddly hushed room.  Even the moans from the few people not unconscious or dead seemed distant to the invisible cocoon enveloping them.  Clint felt tense all over, preparing for a threat from any direction when blue eyes looked up again, confused.  After some hesitation the guy gently pulled his hands from his ears, Lia and Gob still wrapped around his fingers and chirping.  Lia took the movement as a sign and launched herself at Clint, snagging his pants because he still didn’t have a shirt to cling to.  She trilled unhappily and he quickly lifted her to his shoulder, where she dug her tiny claws into his neck and crooned.

 

“Wha -” the guy cleared his throat, looking freaking awful with blood pooling around his legs, his black pants clinging to thighs with shiny wet spots, his face pale and sweaty now where he’d been completely calm in the midst of the fight.  Shock was setting in.  Clint needed to get him out of here.  “Why…how am I still -”

 

“Later,” Clint ordered.  “Now, we get out of here.”  Clint wrapped a hand under the soldiers armpit and hauled him to his feet.  The guy groaned but allowed it.  Lia manoeuvred with no issues as Clint dragged an oddly solid arm behind his neck and over his shoulders.  Gob seemed good with scurrying up to cling to the soldier's wild hair, and Clint looked around.

 

“Where’s Akira?” he asked, hauling the soldier a bit closer, getting a better grip around his waist to secure him and keeping Clint’s left arm free for shooting.  He could just see Lia’s tiny arm point ahead at the door.  “Point him out when you see him,” he told her, feeling oddly certain she would comply, and he began pulling the soldier over bodies and debris to get to the door.  They reached it just as the alarms in the hallway began to sound and emergency lights high in the walls began to flash.

 

Clint grit his teeth in irritation and leaned the guy against the wall.  Lia jumped to join Gob clinging to dark messy hair, chattering and shrieking but keeping it oddly quiet.  Clint grabbed the large shiny lamp that had been parked against the wall since his arrival in this place, and tossed it, wheeled stand and all, over the bodies in the doorway and into the hallway.  Bullets pinged off it, making it roll and twitch in awkward reaction, but he’d seen enough in the reflection to stick an arm around the door and fire the three shots he needed.  He grabbed the soldier again, hauling his arm back over his shoulder, and dragged him into the hallway.  The guy was walking far better than Clint would be with three bullets in his legs; but he seemed to be an enhanced of some kind so Clint wasn’t overly surprised.  He’d seen Steve do something similar. Natasha usually managed to just avoid getting shot.

 

He took them left, grabbing the weapon from the shooter he’d taken out moments before, and shoved his nearly empty gun into the soldier’s free hand.

 

“Don’t shoot my monkeys,” he said with a grin that he knew was a touch nasty, and pretended to not notice the extremely unimpressed glare he got for the effort as the marmosets chittered.  Clint half dragged the guy down a metal gray corridor that stunk of underground bunker.  Metal pipes trailed along the ceiling and occasionally down the walls to disappear into the floor.  They made it around a few bends, and up two flights of stairs without encountering anyone new, and oddly there were no cameras that Clint could spot anywhere.  He was beginning to get really worried about Akira and was taking careful note of the path he was dragging them along so he could plan his route when he came back for the little guy.  He had to get the soldier outside and to cover before he could come back.

 

Of course, making plans usually meant that you wouldn’t get to use them as intended. This was proven when he came around a corridor to find two men standing halfway down the hall, one struggling with something in his hand and the other with an assault rifle already pointed in their direction.  He got a shot off just before Clint did, but Clint’s hit his target and he kept them moving forward.  The guard left standing took in the scene, and reacted somewhat differently.  He held up one hand and Clint’s attention was guaranteed as a struggling Akira was gripped in the meaty palm.  The guy pressed the muzzle of his Glock against the marmoset.  Akira and Clint froze, the soldier half-draped over Clint grunted at the abrupt shift in momentum.

 

“That’s right, we heard you had some friends in the building,” the guy sneered, looking at the gun aimed his way pointedly.  Clint shifted to point it wide, and realized abruptly that he recognized the man.  He’d been a new recruit to SHIELD two years ago.  Haps, or Harlow or something.  Clint had been assigned to assess his intake group for long-range status, but he hadn’t made the cut.  Clint remembered that he’d been pretty pissed off at the time, but had never protested the course results.

 

“What the fuck?” Clint asked, because if this place was SHIELD, if this was sanctioned and Phil – and Coulson and Fury had agreed to whatever the hell was happening here…

 

“Now, drop the Asset and your gun, and I won’t blow this little -” Clint fired his gun without shifting, the bullet ricocheted off the thick iron pipe against the wall and took down his target smoothly enough that he never had the chance to squeeze the trigger of his own gun.  Akira squirmed out of the grip as the guy fell, and Clint dragged the soldier forward.  He stumbled a bit beneath the weight and a moment of dizziness as he stuck a hand down and quickly scooped Akira up, placing him on the soldier’s stretched out shoulder so he could join Lia and Gob.  They were almost disconcertingly quiet at the moment but Clint didn’t have time to consider it.  He moved them on.

 

“Barton -” the guy draped over him muttered as he was pulled along.  He wasn’t exactly improving as he stumbled with each step, but he wasn’t getting worse so that was something.

 

“Quiet -” Clint snapped, not interested in chatter after what just happened, and he dragged them around another corner, only to stop dead in his tracks.

 

Shit.

 

There was basically a wall in front of them, built from six armed men.  They stood four wide with two backing them, large riot-like shields held protectively before them and their weapons trained confidently through the slight gaps between.    Two more men in plain civilian business suits, stood behind the barricade; The smaller one looked nervous, the other looked indifferent.  The indifferent one began speaking immediately.

 

“Furnace,” he boomed, still in Russian, with a surprisingly deep voice that Clint recognized as the one from over the speakers earlier.  “Benign,” he continued, unfazed by Clint’s weapon pointed in their direction.  Pressed tightly as he was against Clint’s body he felt the soldier tense.  The guy’s breath grew laboured in a way it hadn’t earlier despite having three bullets in him.  Each exhalation felt unnecessarily loud so close to Clint’s ear.

 

“Stop him,” the guy said, practically begged Clint, voice soft.  “Stop him or kill me.”  Clint heard the conviction in the demand, he did! He just really didn’t care about it.

 

“Rusted,” The asshole behind the barricade continued. “One-”

 

Gob shrieked, and Lia chittered, and the second, nervous, scientist’s eyes widened as he noticed them.

 

“Sir!  The marmosets!” he interrupted the Russian litany and the guy glared fiercely at him.  The soldiers, barricaded behind their wall, remained unmoved.  Clint could take out three before they got a decent shot off, which wasn’t enough.  He figured the soldier could probably take out two in his state, if he knew how to shoot, but with Clint’s luck they’d both just shoot the same guard, which wouldn’t help.  “They’re supposed to be dead.”  The nervous suit looked more terrified now than he had when Clint and his prize had appeared before them.

 

“What are you -” the irritated commander started, clearly pissed, only to be cut off by the guy again.

 

“The marmosets!  The Trio,” the smaller suit said insistently, but the other guy clearly wasn’t getting it and if Clint dropped the soldier he could use the surprise to take out one more guy, but that still wouldn’t be enough.  One gun could still kill.  “The psychic monkeys from the Capricorn site,” the guy hissed, failing at being discreet.  “That’s why the Asset didn’t fall back in line earlier!  The code isn’t going to work if they’re here.  Activate the gas and we can sort it out later!” Oh, Clint did not like the sound of that.  He’d rather get shot than end up back in that chair.  He knew the soldier felt the same way.

 

Then the two soldiers and two suits standing tall behind their barricade stiffened in a sudden and familiar way.  They began falling to the ground.  Clint began firing at the riot shields, sending the bullets off harmlessly but forcing the remaining four to hold their position while they no doubt wondered why their partners weren’t firing back.  It was only moments before they were tumbling to the ground as well.  Clint heard a hiss of gas even as they toppled and the shields clattered loudly.

 

“Hold your breath!” he snapped and took a deep one of his own, before dragging his party forward, and grinning as Natasha approached from further down the corridor.  She met his grin with a frown, looking him over before she turned and led the way to a door, and up another set of stairs.  They were outside the building in about forty-five seconds, which was good because while Clint could hold his breath for almost four minutes, doing so while moving and hauling around two-hundred pounds of damaged person, was a completely different story.  He sucked in a deep breath, tasting the fresh air, and the marmosets instantly began making soft, urgent noises from where they were clinging to the soldier’s shirt, just behind Clint’s neck.

 

“Hey, Nat, nice wheels,” he approved of the Humvee that was parked twenty feet away, engine running and six unmoving figures lying in various positions spread about the dirt road.

 

“You’re hurt,” she said, not moving closer, her eyes trained directly on the guy Clint was holding up.

 

“Nah, not my blood.  It’s his,” his tilted his head at the soldier, who, come to think of it, was not leaning on Clint too heavily anymore.  “Nat, this is…Indego, real name unknown.  He’s cool.”

 

“You have no idea who he is, do you?” she sighed, but the potency of her gaze was starting to gain his attention more completely, now that the adrenalin was wearing off.

 

“He’s cool,” he repeated, frowning.  Actually, he was feeling a little less cool and more decidedly warm beside Clint…and when did Clint’s arm become the one draped over his shoulders?  Wasn’t he supposed to be unable to walk?

 

“You’re hurt,” Nat repeated, still making no move towards them.  

 

“Nah, if anything it’s just a minor concussion,” he dismissed, because his head was pounding but he’d had far worse from sparring with her.  She looked far from appeased and Clint finally noticed her tension, and her words registered properly.  He looked down at himself.  Oh, okay.  That was clearly a bullet wound in his side.

 

“Just a graze.  Clear through-n-through,” he decided, but the pain suddenly punched into him, a heavy, ripping-burning that was absolutely intent on taking all his focus now that he was aware of it and didn’t have to fight anyone.

 

“You’re bleeding too much,” the soldier said, soft, maybe a little bit wrecked, and Clint tried to shrug but the guy had an inch or two on him and with his arm draped over him the movement was difficult.

 

“Pot: kettle,” Clint muttered.  “Nat, we need to get out of here.  Can we settle whatever this is between you two later?”

 

She hesitated.  Clint was shot and she hesitated.  Clint side-eyed the soldier, wondering who the hell he was to get that reaction.  “Look, Indego, Nat is my people.  You go after her in any way, you’ll think these guys here were a public splash park giving away free ice cream,” he said gravely.

 

“What?”  The guy sounded really confused.  Clint was too actually.  Okay, maybe he had lost a bit more blood than was probably healthy on top of days of minimum nourishment, sleep, and too many drugs.  Nat, though, seemed to have lightened up a bit with his reassurance, even if she was still far too tense.

 

“Nat,” he looked at her, hoping she got his meaning because he was beginning to loose focus.  “We gotta go dark for a bit.  Completely.   I’ll explain when I’m conscious just don’t-” he swallowed thickly and felt tiny hands scrambling around his neck, warm and comforting.  “You guys get along, work together, cause no one else-”

 

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Clint trailed off and slumped into unconsciousness.  The slightly taller, broad shouldered man that had dragged Clint’s arm over his own shoulders only minutes before, didn’t let Clint fall to the dirt.  Natasha was definitely surprised her partner wasn’t lying at the man’s feet, giving him the chance to free his limbs for a fight.  She looked Clint over, noted his cleanly shaven head, pale skin littered with bruises, blood, and monitor stickers, and how he hung limply from a very careful grip.  She looked at the Winter Soldier, trying to hide the absolute fury that he had Clint at his mercy and she was ten feet away, too far to free her partner safely.   In the hands of this particular man, two feet might have been too far for her to save Clint.  

 

The echo of alarms rang inside the building.

 

“I won’t hurt him,” the soldier promised, his tone both solemn and severe, and completely lacking the Russian accent she remembered.  He sounded American.  She stared at him.  She could read the confusion where she remembered blankness, she saw fear where she remembered cold.  She looked back to Clint, realized there was only one decision she would make here, and swiftly slipped her gun back into her thigh holster.  The three little creatures that had recently become such fixtures in Clint’s life were trying to cling to her partners shoulders.  They were having difficulty keeping their perch on his sweat slicked bare skin, but they clearly weren’t going anywhere but with them.

 

“Get him in the truck,” she ordered the Winter Soldier, and deliberately turned her back to them, running ahead to open the vehicle’s doors.

 

She kept all her weapons within easy reach.