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A Briefly Ventilated Encounter

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The ventilation ducts were small, almost too small to facilitate crawling. Luckily Clint hadn’t yet been reduced to squirming around on his stomach, though he’d had to leave his quiver and bow up on the roof. He was forced to crawl slowly to keep from giving himself away; duct work wasn’t the quietest thing to move around in.

How’s it going in there, mole man? Tony asked in his ear.

“I’d like to see you try it,” Clint murmured back.

You’re the bendy circus clown.

Clint didn’t bother pointing out that he’d never been a clown during his time with the circus. Tony already knew that, he just liked being a ball-breaker.

You should be coming to an intersection, Tony said. Take the left junction.

“Copy that.”

Only Clint couldn’t make the left when he got the intersection, because someone was already there. A female someone decked out in black and wearing heavy-duty gloves like Clint to keep from getting sliced up by the sheet metal. Not her first time crawling through a ventilation system.

“There’s someone else in here,” they both said at the same time.

It wasn’t an ideal set-up for close combat fighting and would draw enough unwanted attention to abort the mission. Tony said as much in his ear, but Clint wasn’t stupid. Hydra wouldn’t have agents slipping through their own ductwork.

“You here for the blueprints?” the woman asked. There were strands of blonde hair sticking out from under her black knit cap, dirt smudges on her face, and she very clearly had someone talking in her ear as well.

What blueprints?

“Not after blueprints,” Clint said.

“Oh. Good. Bye.” The girl made to turn right, and then stopped, rolling her eyes. “What difference does it make? Fine. Fine, I said!”

She looked back at Clint. “Why are you here?”

Don’t tell her anything!

“Looking for a friend of mine.”

“If it’s the guy with the metal arm, he’s in the sub-basement. You might want to hurry, though. He looked pretty bad.” She tipped her head and scowled. “Well, we’re not here for that, are we? Am I just supposed to rescue everyone I find tied to a chair? It’s not like he was wearing a sign saying, ‘Hey, I’m a good guy! Rescue me!’”

Clint felt a sense of urgency to get Bucky and get out of there, but he was also intrigued by his friend in ventilation transportation. Who was she? Who did she work for?

You won’t be able to get him out of there on your own if they’ve been working him over, Tony said. We’re coming in hot. Tell your new gal pal to be ready.

“Wait,” Clint said, when the woman tried to crawl off again. “My associates are about to come in here guns blazing. If you want to get what you’re after, you need to hurry. And keep your head down.”

“Thanks. I hope your friend is okay.”

They parted ways, and Clint reminded Tony that his gear was on the roof and would need to be retrieved. He could fight well enough without the arrows, but he liked having them at his back. Just in case.

After everything went down, and Bucky was being transported back to Avenger’s Tower for medical treatment, Clint scanned the crowd of onlookers outside the partially destroyed office building. He finally saw her across the barricade, looking sooty and a little singed around the edges, but basically in one piece.

He raised his hand in a kind of wave, and she grinned back, holding aloft a plastic tube that probably held a roll of blueprints before melting into the crowd and vanishing.

“Everything okay?” Nat asked, appearing at Clint’s side. “We miss something?”

“Nah. We’re good.”

They headed back to where they’d left the SUV. Clint needed a shower and a couple butterfly bandages. He wondered if he’d ever see that woman again.

Maybe the next time he had cause to travel through a ventilation system.