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Gold On Your Fingertips

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Clint would be grumbling under his breath if he weren’t desperately trying to be quiet as he hauled himself through the vents on his elbows. He’d argued this part of the job with both Trick and Barney, to no avail. It made no sense at all to make Clint do the creeping, he’d been a full head taller than Barney for at least the last 5 years, and his shoulders were broader than both of them.

But, here he was, dragging himself through the ventilation system of whatever company they were breaking into this month. It was claustrophobic as hell, and he had to shuffle forward at an awkward angle, one shoulder always in front of the other just so he could fit.

He scowled into the darkness.

When they were done here, Clint was going to have strong words with Barney, because he wasn’t gonna do this shit again.

He consulted his mental map of the place before making a left turn at the next junction, then a right after that, finally winding up pressed against a wide, flat grate that peered into a dimly-lit room. In the very center was a key-code protected column, inside of which was some kind of chemical compound that someone was paying them a very pretty penny to lift. Clint removed the grate silently, finding it lifted easily off of its hinges. He dropped lightly to the ground, landing on the balls of his feet with the grate still in-hand, because god knew it wasn’t going to fit into the shaft he’d been crammed in while he was still in it. He’d have to go back into the ventilation system backwards to get the grate back on, but that was a problem for future Clint.

Present Clint had a vial to steal.

He was reaching a leather-gloved hand towards the unassuming keypad when cold fingers wrapped around his wrist and yanked him sideways.

“What the-” he barely bit back a shout, and the words came out in a grating whisper. He was spun sharply, but he managed to come around with a knife already in hand before he got a good look at his attacker.

A good, intimidating look. The guy was kitted up in black leather and buckles, with goggles and a mask that covered nearly all of his face. He looked expressionless beneath the black plastic and kevlar, though Clint could just barely make out a furrow between his eyebrows, hidden behind wild strands of dark hair. Clint struck out with the knife out of instinct, and the other man threw out his arm, catching the blade across his forearm. Instead of the sickening sensation of the blade sinking into cotton and then skin, there was a teeth-jarring scrape of metal on metal.

Before Clint could put too much thought into it, the other man twisted his arm and grabbed Clint by the wrist, squeezing until he dropped the knife into a waiting palm and then yanking him into an implacable hold. He tucked Clint’s knife into his belt then grabbed Clint by the back of his neck and dragged him into a slightly more well-lit area of the room. Underneath the heavy, heart-thumping sensation of adrenaline, Clint felt a spark of something that was there and gone too fast for him to identify, and he wondered if the guy had gotten something on his skin - some kind of chemical or drug.

“Who are you?” the guy growled.

“Fuck off,” Clint spat, tugging at the arm now wrapped around his bicep. There was absolutely no give in the grip, it was utterly immobile no matter how Clint twisted and squirmed.

“What do you want with the serum?” the guy tried instead, pulling Clint further into the light. Clint couldn’t see his eyes behind the goggles, but he felt like he was being measured and found wanting.

Clint kept silent as he was dragged to and fro. He had a good five or six inches of height on the other man, but it might as well have been nothing for all the good the extra bulk was doing him. He was being manhandled like a ragdoll, and he if he were being honest, it was a bit alarming. Even Barney and Trick had stopped getting physical with him years ago, now spending more time convincing him to cooperate than dragging him off behind one of the circus trailers or smacking him upside the head.

Being tall had had its advantages, up until this encounter.

Short, dark, and intimidating let go of Clint’s neck to fist a hand in his shirt and yank Clint closer. Clint opened his mouth to say something else - and who knew what it was going to be, he never considered his words before they were out of his mouth - but the guy cocked his head funny, looking at something behind Clint’s ear. He muttered something in another language - something blistering and infuriated - and then he was dragging Clint out of the building behind him.

Clint did not stop struggling, for all the good it did him. The grip on his arm was as unwavering as ever, never seemed to loosen or waver like the man’s hand was getting tired. Clint was cursing under his breath and fighting every step of the way.

“Shut up,” the man hissed, tightening his fingers hard enough to bruise. “You’re going to attract attention.”

“Who the fuck’s attention am I going to attract?” Clint grouched back, yanking ineffectually at his arm and dragging his feet. “You’re the only guard around, as far as I could tell.”

The man paused, turning his head slightly to fix that disconcerting, blank-goggled expression on Clint. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, black case, one which he opened with the thumb of his right hand, the small box beeping its acquiescence. Inside, nestled in protective foam, was a glass vial.

“I’m not guarding the serum,” he growled, “I’m taking it. You almost got us both caught.”

Clint blinked at him in confusion. The vial had been sitting in the case, exactly as Trick had described, keypad-

“It was a trap,” he said, struck a little dumb by the realization.

Clint couldn’t see his assailant roll his eyes, but he got the sense of it anyway. “It was a trap,” the man agreed, tucking the case away carefully. “And you were the schnook.”

“I was the what?” Clint tried again to shrug off the punishing grip on his arm. “Jesus fuck, could you lighten up a bit, I’d like to keep my arm attached to my body.”

The man just snorted, but his grip lightened nearly imperceptibly. Not enough for Clint’s struggles to help, but enough that he wasn’t worried about his circulation. “The sucker. The fall guy. You were supposed to set off the alarms while your buddies stole the real serum.” He paused, exuding a sense of smug pride. “Too bad I already had it. But the alarms would have been… inconvenient.”

Clint stumbled along the hallway after him, still being tugged along like a disobedient child. “You got what you were after, why not leave me behind?”

There was another pause, this one more begrudging than smug. “Shut up,” he said, instead of answering, and pulled Clint through a maintenance door and down a poorly-lit hallway. Clint struggled to keep up, if only because he got the impression that if he fell the masked man would just drag his limp body along at exactly the same pace he was currently maintaining. Clint wasn’t sure how he was managing to sustain the speed and stealth whilst still keeping a firm grip on someone who was so much taller and at least as heavy, but it didn’t seem to even faze him. He moved with the single-minded determination of a machine, taking twists and turns near-instinctively. He never once paused to consider which direction to go in, simply pulled Clint through the bowels of the installation until they were emerging into the deep, oppressive darkness of the night, somewhere in the wooded surroundings of the quasi-military building Clint had been infiltrating.

The door they came out of was unmarked, unassuming, built into the steep incline of a hill, and near-invisible behind tumbles of ivy and forest overgrowth. It had been painted something dark and non-reflective, and once the man had yanked Clint far enough away, it mostly disappeared into the undergrowth. Five minutes later, Clint wasn’t sure he could have found it again, even if he knew how to navigate his way back to his rendezvous point with Trick and Barney.

“Where the fuck are you taking me?” Clint growled, renewing his efforts to get away, now prying at the fingers wrapped around his bicep.

He didn’t get an answer - not that he’d really been expecting one. His now-kidnapper picked up the pace, pulling Clint through the darkness of the woods in near-silence, the only sounds those of Clint’s boots crushing the underbrush. Clint renewed his struggles, tugging sharply on his arm and ignoring the pain that followed, literally digging his heels into the soft earth of the ground beneath his feet.

“Be quiet,” the man hissed, shaking Clint sharply.

“Fuck off,” Clint grunted back, taking a deep breath and intending to shout. If he brought the whole of the installation down on them, so be it.

He never got the sound out, however, because the man holding him gave an aggrieved sigh, reached out with his free hand and hit Clint beneath his right ear, sharp and painful. There was a flash of light behind his eyelids and then Clint knew nothing else.

***

Clint woke groggy and disoriented, with a faint headache and a sore arm.

He was lying on a relatively comfortable sofa - by far not the worst place he’d ever slept or woken up - but he definitely wasn’t in his bunk back at the circus, and what had happened to him?

He blinked his eyes open, forcing awareness and evaluating his surroundings. It was a small, decrepit little house. The sofa he was lying on was musty with disuse, though not filthy, and the entire room had the sense of abandonment, relatively clean if somewhat dusty. The furniture was bare and minimal, and it was silent as a tomb. Clint could see the edges of a small kitchen to one side and a dark hallway to the other, leading presumably to more unseen parts of the house.

And across from him was a man in black leather, sitting in a straight-backed dining chair with his elbows on his knees, watching Clint intently.

It took a second for Clint to place him. For one thing, it took a few moments for the events of the night to come rushing back, but for another, the mask and goggles covering the man’s face had been removed, along with the leather coat he’d been wearing. Clint alternated between staring at his face - which was pinched and disgruntled but fucking beautiful holy shit - and the glinting metal of his left arm.

“Oh fuck,” Clint managed, rolling to a sitting position, only to find that his arm was definitely shackled to the frame of the sofa. He ignored that for the moment, confident he could slip free, to continue staring. “Oh fuck, you’re the Winter Soldier.”

The Soldier grunted, resting his chin on his hands and glaring at Clint like he was some sort of alien species.

The Winter Soldier was a legend, in a very specific crowd. Mostly he was an assassin. He’d been around practically forever, from what Clint could tell, and never missed a shot.

Clint hadn’t heard he was also a thief.

But he’d definitely heard about the metal arm. Everyone had heard about the metal arm - it was a trademark, like his deadly accuracy and the fact he never let a target live. He was a ghost story, unseen and unheard and unreal, someone Clint hadn’t believed actually existed and had certainly never expected to meet.

Hadn’t expected him to be so young - only a few years older than Clint - or so fucking pretty, either, with stormy grey eyes and a mouth that looked-

Well, it looked like something, that was for sure. Clint was trying not to think about it because the Winter Soldier had kidnapped him.

Oh fuck, he was so fucked. He rattled the chain that was connecting the cuff on his wrist to the frame of the sofa. “You know I can pick this lock in like, under five seconds, right?”

The Soldier shrugged. “Probably,” he agreed, looking entirely unconcerned. “There’s nowhere you can go that I won’t find you.”

Clint grimaced. That was also probably true. There was also the additional fact that his shoes were gone. Okay, time to re-evaluate. “Why’d you bring me back with you? I don’t have anything you want or need, and you know more about what was going on at that storage facility than I do.”

The Soldier snorted. “Storage facility?” He shook his head. “It was a SHIELD base, and it was a trap. For me, not you, but you almost got yourself caught in it anyway. Why are you after Captain America’s DNA?”

Clint boggled at him. “Captain America’s what?

Captain America, World War II legend and recently defrosted superhero, was barely on Clint’s radar. Sure, he’d heard of the guy - who hadn’t heard of him, once he’d shown up on the streets of New York battling fucking aliens, he wasn’t even the most interesting news of the time - but they didn’t exactly travel in the same circles. For one thing, Captain America was a hero, and for another, Clint worked for a literal circus. A circus of crime, mostly, but still a circus. Why would he have been after anything of Captain America’s, much less his DNA?

They’d been hired to steal a chemical vial not-

Clint stopped trying to puzzle it out for the moment, because being a prisoner of the Winter Soldier was a bit more pressing than wondering just what the fuck his brother had got him into. It also wasn’t the first time he hadn’t been fully in on the plan, much to his chagrin.

He was a little more pissed off about it than usual, though.

The Soldier frowned. “Who do you work for?”

“Who do you work for?” Clint shot back, then bit his lip. This wasn’t like talking to Barney or Trick, mouthing off was probably going to get him more than slapped around a little for his trouble, even if it’d been years since either one of them had even done that. Mostly Barney just rolled his eyes at Clint’s misgivings, reminded him that they weren’t taking anything from people who couldn’t afford to lose it, and kept him on the outsides of the job, telling Clint when and where to be, if not why. Trick had tried a few rounds of bullying, but that only made Clint more stubborn, more unlikely to do what they asked, so he mostly left it to Barney now.

But still - he wasn’t going to give his brother and Trick up to the goddamn Winter Soldier just because he’d asked. He clenched his jaw around the inexplicable desire to answer and stared at the Soldier mutinously.

The Soldier sighed. He looked as conflicted as Clint felt, like he wanted to say a lot of things that he wasn’t saying. “I work for people who don’t tolerate mistakes,” was what he finally settled on.

Clint bristled. He may have fucked up, but that didn’t make him a mistake, and anyway, he wasn’t the one dragging unsuspecting… thieves… out of buildings and knocking them unconscious and depositing them in unknown locations. “How was I supposed to know the whole thing was a trap for you, Mr. Badass Winter Soldier?”

The Soldier waved him off in an exhausted kind of way, like Clint’s words were meaningless. He was studying Clint like he was a particularly confounding puzzle. His eyes flicked from Clint’s face to his shoulders to his throat, occasionally focusing on some point behind Clint that he couldn’t see and which Clint wasn’t planning to take his eyes off the Soldier to check himself. Clint heaved a sigh and crossed his arms over his chest as he slouched against the back of the sofa.

Or, he tried to, except the chain around his wrist caught him just short of being able to fully reach. He opened his mouth to complain about it, only to be overruled by the loud rumbling of his stomach.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got pizza stashed around here somewhere?” he asked, less than hopeful about the answer.

The only response was the smack of a foil-wrapped protein bar hitting him in the chest. Clint sighed and picked up the protein bar, twisting his wrist and popping his thumb out of socket long enough to slip the cuff before snapping it back into place with the kind of cartilage-crunching sound that had always made the other guys in the circus cringe.

“So,” he said, unwrapping the foil of the bar, “I’m Clint.”

The Soldier just blinked at him, caught somewhere between confused and surprised.

Which, fair, Clint got that a lot.

But he figured the Soldier hadn’t expected him to acquiesce so quickly, and Clint fully intended to capitalize on that, either in information or opportunity to escape or both.

He flashed a half-smile at the other man, one he’d flashed at a dozen other people in the last few years, one that got him a second look at least seventy percent of the time, and a quickie a fairly significant portion of that. He stretched his arms up over his head and cracked his spine, working the stiffness out of the shoulder that had, until ten seconds ago, been shackled to the furniture.

“This is the part where you tell me your name.” Clint said. “Or something to call you by,” he amended. He wasn’t dumb enough to think the Winter Soldier was going around giving out his real name.

The Soldier cleared his throat, sounding somehow vaguely awkward, which just made Clint grin harder. Clint broke off a chunk of the protein bar and began chewing it, the vaguely bitter taste of fake chocolate coating his mouth.

Ugh.

He waited.

“They call me Soldat, or the Asset,” the Soldier finally said, begrudging and still like he was a little confused.

“Well that’s a shit name,” Clint told him. “They call me The Amazing Hawkeye, which is much better, but it’s not a name.”

The Soldier shrugged.

Clint finished the protein bar without any other response, and he mentally cycled through the names, nicknames, and embarrassing pet names he’d heard in his time. Growing up in a circus meant there were a lot, and most of them weren’t polite.

He decided to hold off on anything too bawdy until he figured out just what he was doing here.

“So what’s a guy like me doin’ in a place like this?” he drawled, crossing one ankle over his knee and slouching further onto the couch.

The Soldier just stared at him with that same mixture of curiosity and dread.

“Did you kidnap me for a reason,” Clint prompted, “or am I just the eye candy?” He flexed a little, for good measure, caught the Soldier’s eyes dragging along the line of his shoulders.

Clint knew what he looked like - knew how to draw the eye, how to catch the attention he wanted to have, how to invite someone in with a look. Words he was kinda shit at. He usually just flexed a little, smiled just the right way, and people were either interested or they weren’t. And yeah, maybe he touched a few too many people, let a few too many touch him, but he also - not that he would ever, ever let Barney know - couldn’t let go of the singular hope that one of those times it would be the right touch. The one people talked about in hushed whispers, like it was too sacred to share but they couldn’t help but let bits of it slip. The touch that told you the person you were touching was meant for you and you were meant for them.

The kind of touch that left you Marked.

Clint wasn’t convinced he even deserved a touch like that, the kind of life he was living, but that didn’t stop him reaching out as often as possible. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t having fun along the way.

Right now, though, the Soldier was giving him all kinds of mixed signals, like he wanted to look but it wasn’t allowed. Like he was thinking about touching, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.

Hell, Clint wasn’t sure he should be allowing it. Encouraging it.

But the guy was fifty different flavors of smokin’ fuckin’ hot, and Clint couldn’t think of any other reason he’d have been dragged out of a base to bumfuck Egypt like this. Granted, Clint didn’t usually begin his sexual encounters by being knocked unconscious, but he might be willing to make an exception. Just this once.

Those thighs, man.

Even in tac pants, Clint kinda wanted them wrapped around his ears.

Except the Soldier kept cutting glances at him, obviously looking at Clint’s best attributes while simultaneously trying not to look at Clint’s best attributes. Clint had noticed that before - usually when he was performing - from men who wanted to look but wanted to not want to look.

He sighed.

“I couldn’t leave you there,” the Soldier said, finally, when Clint had basically given up on getting an answer. “You’d have been caught.”

Clint’s eyebrows rose up nearly into his hair. “So? What do you care if I get caught?”

The Soldier shrugged. “You don’t want to get caught,” he said, with the kind of finality that sent shivers up Clint’s spine. Like he’d been caught and hadn’t exactly enjoyed it.

Which, Clint had done a spell in juvie, and it wasn’t exactly fun and games. But this didn’t carry quite the same weight to it.

“So what are you going to do with me?” he asked, casual, like he wasn’t worried about it.

Actually he was surprised to find that he really wasn’t all that worried about it.

If the Soldier had wanted him dead, he’d be dead, simple as that, and if he’d wanted Clint out of his way and out of his hair he could have just knocked him out and left him in the base to be found by whomever or dragged out by his brother. He hadn’t needed to drag Clint along to wherever they were now, and he so far hadn’t hurt him. So no, Clint wasn’t all that concerned.

He also wasn’t all that anxious to leave, which was a bit of a worrisome thought in and of itself. One Clint decided not to dwell on, because dwelling on thoughts like that tended to get him into trouble. Clint was much more of a ride the waves and see where he ended up sort of guy, because that kept him on Trick’s good side and meant Barney didn’t hassle him quite so much. There’d be a chance to cut and run, just as soon as The Soldier decided Clint wasn’t gonna cause any trouble and as soon as Clint figured out just where in the actual fuck he was, then he could meet back up with his brother and the circus.

In the meantime, there was sin-with-a-metal-arm eyeing him with intent, and Clint couldn’t think of any good reason why he shouldn’t take advantage of the fact.

“Cat got your tongue?” Clint asked, and the Soldier blinked at him, like he’d already forgot that Clint had asked him a question. “You got plans for me, or am I just along for the ride?”

The Soldier shook his head, scowling. “You should sleep,” he said, instead of answering the question. “I have- I was,” he emphasized the word strangely, “supposed to stand by and await pick-up in 48 hours. So I haven’t got much time.” He strode across the room and fuck if watching that stride - now that he wasn’t being dragged along in its wake - wasn’t something to see. The Soldier pulled Clint to his feet less than gently. “You should sleep while there’s time.”

Clint blinked as he was herded down the darkened hallway, past a partially-opened door that led to a small bathroom and then into the bedroom at the end of the hall. There had been no other doors which meant-

“Aw,” he said, fighting back a smirk and delivering his next words in a monotone, “there’s only one bed.” He reached for the hem of his t-shirt, only briefly wondering what the Soldier had done with his tactical belt and boots, and stripped it over his head in a practiced, showy move, before dropping it on the floor at his feet. He tossed a glance over his shoulder as he took a couple of steps towards the bed, already made up with cheap sheets and a thin blanket. “Whatever shall we do?”

“I’ll keep watch,” the Soldier growled, hovering a couple of feet inside the door.

Clint turned to face him fully. “Will you?” he asked, and a few years ago he’d have been able to manage coy, would’ve been able to look up through his eyelashes. An unprecedented growth spurt and years with a bow meant he couldn’t quite pull that off anymore, so instead he aimed more in the neighborhood of proposition. “Will you keep watch all night?” His hands dropped to the snap on his pants and he unbuttoned and unzipped them immodestly, peeling the fly back and shimmying them over his hips.

The Soldier’s eyes dropped to follow his movements, and even in the darkness of the room - lit only by the moon outside - Clint could see him swallow roughly. He backed up to the threshold. “I’m- I need a chair.”

He bolted.

Which, okay, that was Clint’s second best option. He’d have preferred the Soldier stay and take him up on the unspoken but clearly out there offer. But this worked too. He dropped the pants in a hurry, kicking them off of his feet, and then darted towards the only window in the room to inspect it.

Even in the low lighting, Clint could see the small device at the seam of the window, the one that meant if Clint lifted the sash it would set off some sort of alarm. He could break the glass out, but the sound would definitely alert the Soldier as surely as whatever alarm system was in place. And anyway, Clint wasn’t planning to go anywhere tonight, he just wanted the lay of the land. It was too dark outside the window to see much of anything, however, so Clint backed away from the glass.

A few more steps brought him to the miniscule closet, which was bare inside except for a single bulb with a pull string, which Clint yanked quickly so that he could get a good look. There was nothing inside except for what looked like an access to the attic in the ceiling. His rapid inspection didn’t immediately reveal any sort of alarm, and Clint filed the information away for later use. He backed out of the closet, yanking the light string and closing the door silently, before throwing himself onto the bed on top of the sheets, in nothing but his socks and underwear.

After a half-second’s thought, he yanked the socks off and tossed them away, stretching out with his hands behind his head. He knew how to make a pretty picture, and the distraction would hopefully work nicely to keep the Soldier from noticing Clint had been doing more than just getting nearly naked.

And on that note, it might be nice to be even more distracting. Clint gave careful thought to the pretty blue of the Soldier’s eyes, the sharp edge of his jaw. The way his thighs stretched his tac pants delightfully, and the easy way he’d pulled Clint along behind him leaving the base.

That last bit shouldn’t have been hot, but the more Clint thought about it, the hotter it seemed. How hot would it be to be pinned down by the metal arm, held in place while the Soldier did whatever he wanted. Clint took a choppy breath, his dick perking up in his briefs. Clint was usually the one holding someone down, when there was a bed available and not just a quick alleyway fuck or bathroom blow job, not the other way around. He wouldn’t have thought he was into the idea of being manhandled, but it turned out he was very, very into it.

His timing turned out to be perfect, because just as Clint was really settling into the fantasy - the one where the Soldier was pressed up against Clint’s naked back, still fully clothed in the rough leather and kevlar - the steady tread of the Soldier’s boots announced his re-entrance. Clint heard the muffled sound of wooden chair legs hitting the carpeted floor a few feet away.

“Wow,” Clint said, smirking and a little breathless, but keeping his eyes shut, “you really are planning to keep watch, huh?”

The Soldier grunted in response, and Clint could hear him settling into his chair.

Speaking of hearing, Clint needed to take his hearing aids out. He didn’t know how long he’d be in captivity - so far as that was what was happening - and therefore had no idea how long the batteries needed to last. Sighing, he reached for the small devices hooked over his ears - so much better than the clunky plastic monstrosities he’d had as a kid - and opened his eyes enough to look at the Soldier.

“I won’t be able to hear you once I take these out,” he informed the guy, because it was going to be pretty obvious what was going on if he hadn’t already noticed, “so if you’ve got anything else to say, now’s the time.’

There was a pause, and then the world’s most awkward “goodnight” came from the corner.

“Night!” Clint said, cheerfully, and then unhooked the hearing aids, carefully turning them off.

He tucked his hands behind his head again and hummed quietly to himself, not able to hear the tune but finding the vibration in his chest soothing. Unable to hear anything and in the darkness behind his closed eyelids, Clint let himself sink further into fantasy land.

If the Winter Soldier was going to abduct and imprison him, well, Clint was going to make him pay for it however he could. Or reap the rewards. One of those things. Clint groaned a little to himself as he thought about the Soldier hovering over him, hands braced on the bed above Clint’s shoulders, his lips on Clint’s skin.

Clint didn’t think the Soldier would kiss him, at least not on the mouth, but he looked like the type to want to mark him up with scrapes of teeth and the rasp of stubble. Borderline-painful bites along his collarbone and chest. Maybe a hot, wet mouth on Clint’s nipples.

He couldn’t help the moan that escaped, breathless and aroused, as he dragged a hand from behind his head down to his nipple, pinching at it almost painfully. He let out a little gasp he didn’t bother to muffle.

If the Soldier said or did anything, Clint didn’t hear it.

If he wanted Clint to stop, he’d have to make him.

He let his hand drift further, dragging his blunt nails across his chest and abs, just sharp enough to blur the line between pleasure and pain, to make his dick twitch where it was confined in the cotton of his briefs. Clint let his hand trail lower, following the line of heat to his groin, and wrapped his fingers around his cock, giving it a squeeze. Some kind of sound fell out of his mouth, but he didn’t know what it was and couldn’t be fucked to worry about it. The Soldier would either enjoy the show, or he’d leave, simple as that.

The feeling of his palm, muffled through the cotton, wasn’t enough though, and he slipped his hand beneath the waist to cup hot, hard skin. He bit his lip and wrapped his fingers around his cock, dragging his calloused fist over the sensitive head.

“Fuck,” he muttered.

Would the Soldier touch him like this - firmly, squeezing roughly - or would he tease?

Clint didn’t know but he wasn’t in the mood to tease himself.

Fuck, he suddenly wondered, what would the metal hand feel like on his dick? Smooth and cold to the touch?

Fuck,” he said, again, yanking his left arm from under his head to shove at his underwear. He wrestled them down to his thighs, freeing his cock and leaving room for him to maneuver. His dick was leaking, precome smoothing the glide of his hand just enough to prevent chafing, just enough that the near-punishing grip Clint had on himself wasn’t painful. He sucked in a breath through his teeth as he stripped his dick, suddenly past the point of wanting or even being able to draw this out.

He’d wanted to tantalize the Soldier, maybe goad him into joining Clint in bed, but now he just wanted to come.

Clint worked himself off roughly, twisting his wrist as he stroked upward and sucking in air through his teeth. He clenched his jaw as orgasm got closer and closer; could feel the little grunts he made on every exhalation, as his back arched into his own touch, hips straining upward into every stroke.

The sound he made when he came was wordless, garbled and muted by the way his breath caught in his throat and his mouth remained stubbornly shut, but he could feel the hot stripes of come hitting his stomach and chest. He milked his cock through it until there was nothing left and he collapsed onto the bed, sated and spent.

There was come cooling on his hand.

Oh fuck, there was come cooling on his hand.

Clint maybe hadn’t thought this through.

With his underwear tangled around his knees and come everywhere, Clint wasn’t entirely sure what to do. Options were limited, and Clint was still too hazy with pleasure to really engage his critical thinking skills. He stretched, scratching at his chest just above where he’d come all over himself and pondered the dilemma lazily.

He could leave it, give in to the pull of slumber and make it tomorrow Clint’s problem. But it would be crusty and gross and he’d be mad at himself about it later.

Clint could use his underwear to wipe the mess up and then - do something with the underwear? Not wear them, that was for damn sure.

He could… maybe eat it? Clint felt his nose scrunch up. That was hot under certain circumstances, but mostly heat-of-the-moment types of things, and the moment had already passed.

Before he could get too stressed about it, a warm, damp washcloth landed in the center of his chest, splashing him with droplets of water.

Guess that answered the question of whether or not the Soldier had stuck around for the show.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, using the cloth to give himself a cursory wipedown. He dropped the washcloth over the side of the bed, unsure what else to do with it. Yeah the carpet would probably get wet, but did Clint care? Not really, no.

He kicked the underwear off, shoving them down to the foot of the bed and rolling himself into the sheets and blanket on the bed like a burrito. “Night,” he slurred, now confident that the Soldier was still in the room.

***

Clint was shaken awake roughly. He shoved at the hand on his shoulder. “Go ‘way, Barn,” he grumbled, scooting deeper into the blanket nest, “sun’s not even up.”

The hand shook him harder, snatching the blankets away, and Clint glared blearily up at his brother.

Except it wasn’t his brother, it was the Winter Soldier, and oh, right, Clint had been kidnapped by a notorious assassin. Right. That was a thing. A thing that had happened to him. Super.

The Soldier didn’t look much like an assassin at the moment however, he just looked like a guy. A vaguely unkempt guy, but not the sort who would draw attention. He was dressed in a canvas jacket over a dark-colored henley, with a baseball cap on his head. He was even wearing jeans, surprising Clint even more. There was a backpack on his back, the kind that had a little chest clip, and the fact that the Soldier had snapped it inexplicably caught Clint’s attention.

He’d been shaking Clint awake with his metal hand, Clint noticed. He stared at the hand for far too long, his brain sluggish so early in the day and without any caffeine in his system.

Wake up, the Soldier signed, and Clint blinked at him in surprise.

Hardly anyone spoke sign, and to see that the Soldier knew it was a shock.

We need to go, the Soldier said, looking frustrated and tense.

Clint fitted the aids into his ears sluggishly, flicking the power switches on. It was good to know he could communicate if the batteries died, and he should maybe work to conserve them, but it was too early for that. “Where’re we goin’?” he muttered, yawning. He sat up, throwing the sheets back, which was when he realized he’d gone to bed naked.

It was also when he realized he’d jerked off like a private performer just before going to bed naked.

He could feel the faint flush working its way up his throat, but that was nothing compared to the brilliant scarlet painted over the Soldier’s cheeks, even as he scowled down at Clint.

That blush banished the faint sense of embarrassment Clint had been feeling, replacing it with cocky and smug instead. He stretched, bending his spine back nearly as far as he could manage, knowing it made his entire body stretch out into one smooth, muscled line.

He’d seen pictures of his performances, after all.

The Soldier cleared his throat, and when Clint turned to look, he’d backed away from the bed a few paces, still flushed and uncomfortable-looking.

“We need to get moving,” the Soldier informed him, powering through his own apparent embarrassment.

Clint wasn’t sure he was on board with that plan. The more he allowed the Soldier to move him from location to location, the less likely it was that his brother would find him. He opened his mouth to protest, only to be hit in the face with a mouthful of cloth. Clint clawed it off his head to find it was his t-shirt from the day before, followed quickly by his pants, along with a jacket he didn’t recognize and a second baseball cap.

“My handlers will be here tomorrow for extraction,” the Soldier informed him, sounding grim. “We want as much of a headstart as possible.”

“Why are you running from your handlers?” Clint asked, standing up and shimmying into the jeans. He tried to sound bored instead of curious, and failed miserably.

Going without underwear was going to chafe, but it was worth it for the way the Soldier’s gaze couldn’t seem to stop straying from his fly. Clint pulled the shirt over his head, careful of his hearing aids, and shrugged into the jacket. He eyed the ballcap suspiciously. It looked innocuous enough and smelled clean but it was a hideous brown with a searing orange helmet stitched on the front. Begrudgingly, he settled it on his head as the Soldier gave him a once-over and then a short nod.

He seemed torn on Clint’s question, like he didn’t want or didn’t know how to answer it.

“You don’t want to get caught,” he settled on, gruffly, and then turned on his heel and stalked out of the room. Clint followed, grabbing his underwear out of the sheets at the last second and stuffing them in the jacket pocket. His boots and socks were waiting by the door of the house, and Clint was quick to stuff his feet into them, ignoring the laces entirely. It’d taken him about eight months to get the boots at just the right amount of tied that they wouldn’t fall off but still loose enough to slip on and he was glad the Soldier hadn’t done something annoying like unlaced them to get them off Clint’s feet.

“It seems like you don’t want me to be caught,” Clint observed, bending to tug the tongue of the boots into position.

The Soldier didn’t say anything.

“Which is weird, since you’re the one who caught me in the first place,” Clint continued, feeling grumpy and disgruntled.

He didn’t do early mornings in the circus. Performances ran late - and so did the other, more illicit jobs - which meant he was inclined to sleep late and long, not get up before the birds.

“If they catch you, it won’t go well. For either of us,” the Soldier said, and now he sounded pained.

Clint sighed, standing up. He didn’t know how that was supposed to be his problem. Then again, he wasn’t the one dragging other unsuspecting criminals out of buildings and into the woods. “Coffee?” he said, hopefully.

It wasn’t like he was going to escape out the door right this minute, and if the Soldier was running from his own handlers, Clint could at least agree that he didn’t want to be caught by them either.

The Soldier grunted. “We need to move fast.”

“We need breakfast,” Clint argued, following him out the door of the small house. His stomach rumbled in agreement.

The house was a small cottage, not far enough into the wooded surroundings to really be a cabin, but not close enough to the neighbors to be considered a suburb. Clint could just barely see neighboring houses through the trees, but none of them were close enough to distinguish any details, and he doubted they’d have heard him screaming, if screaming had been the choice he’d made the night before. The foilage was dense enough to be rural, if not quite a forest, and he had to admit, at least to himself, that it was a good place to hide out, regardless of whether they were hiding from the Soldier’s handlers or Clint’s brother or pretty much anyone else. No one would be looking too closely at a tiny house in the rural outskirts of god-only-knew-where.

They walked a couple of miles, at least, before the Soldier drew up next to a small white Toyota Camry, indistinguishable from a million other sedans on the road in basically every way. It was unlocked, because the Soldier just pulled the door open, gesturing for Clint to get in on the passenger side.

Clint looked around, taking in his unfamiliar surroundings, the quiet of the pre-dawn morning.

Even if he took off running, he might not be able to outrun the Soldier, based on the pace the man had kept in the woods, plus he had no idea where to go.

He got into the car with a sigh.

The Soldier hotwired the car faster even than Clint had learned to do it in his misspent youth, getting the engine running nearly as quickly as he would have with a key. He put the car into gear and pulled serenely onto the road, checking his heading and choosing a direction based on some criteria Clint wasn’t privy to.

“So where are we going?” Clint asked, hands stuffed in his pockets and slumped against the passenger door. The car began dinging annoyingly until Clint finally pulled the seatbelt over his shoulder with a huff, clicking it into place.

The Soldier glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “Away from here,” he told Clint.

“So you have no idea,” Clint surmised. He hunched further into the door, letting his head rest on the glass of the window. “Great. Wake me up when we get wherever it is we’re not going,” he said, feeling his eyelids droop. “And think of a name while you’re at it, I’m not calling you whatever they called you, and I’m not calling you Soldier either.”

Clint didn’t really sleep so much as he dozed, keeping low-key tabs on his surroundings, but to his distress nothing about any of it appeared remotely familiar. It was dark, true, but the Soldier took them down backroads and through small towns, instead of along freeways or highways where Clint might get some kind of idea of where they were. He’d finally nodded off for real when the car drew to a stop and the Soldier cut the engine.

The sun was up, if barely, and they were in front of Gnaw Bone Food & Fuel, a tiny diner slash gas station that looked like any of a hundred middle-of-nowhere stops Clint had made in his lifetime. The Soldier kept his hands on the wheel, staring blankly out the window. Clint looked at him, waiting.

“James,” the Soldier finally said, flatly.

“What?”

“You can call me James,” he grunted, and then flung his door open and climbed out. Clint was quick to follow, stretching widely as he stepped out into the crisp, early-morning air. He followed the Soldier - now apparently James - inside, where they were greeted by a colorful sign that proudly welcomed them to Gnaw Bone, Indiana.

Unhelpful.

Clint had no fucking idea where anything in Indiana was, much less some place called Gnaw Bone.

The building he’d been trying to infiltrate had been just outside of Columbus, Ohio, though, and now he was in Indiana. Which was… not a good sign. Just how far had the Soldier - James - dragged him through the woods to the house, and for that matter, how long had they been in the car? Clint didn’t think it had been more than a couple of hours, but it was hard to be sure. The clock in the dash had been blinking 1200 ever since James had hotwired it.

Inside had the look of a dingy, 1970s diner, complete with linoleum booths and black and white checkerboard floors, with a small convenience store to one side demarcated by the shift in flooring to gray linoleum. James led the way, navigating past half a dozen empty booths before settling on one in the corner where he could sit with his back to the wall, leaving Clint with the itchy sensation of being exposed. There were menus stuck behind the napkin holder, vaguely sticky from years of use, and Clint pulled two out and slid one over to James, already looking over the breakfast platters. His stomach rumbled in agreement.

A waitress materialized from nowhere, looking only marginally more awake than Clint felt. “What can I get for you boys?” She asked, popping gum and looking James over distrustfully.

Clint dimpled up at her, aiming somewhere in the neighborhood of as harmless as any 6-foot-plus man could appear. “Coffee,” he begged, managing to sound even more desperate than he actually felt, which was saying a lot. “As much as you can pour.”

She grinned. “Refills are free,” she assured him. She shot a glance at James, who held two fingers up, indicating he wanted a second cup for himself. “Be right back,” she assured them, strolling away.

“Thank fuck,” Clint muttered, rubbing at his eyelids. There was truly not enough coffee in the world for the situation he had found himself in, and it only seemed more surreal as time passed.

The waitress came back with two cups - the same generic diner cups Clint had seen a thousand other times in a thousand other diners, beige ceramic with a chip on the rim - and filled them full with steaming black life-giving liquid. Clint noticed the barest brush of gold inside her wrist and tried not to stare.

It was in the shape of fingerprints, her Mark. They often were, the ones that Clint had seen, the mark of someone touched gently, with reverence. The Marks were always gold, a subtle shade that looked like a sprinkle of fairy dust, like someone had dipped their hand into very fine glitter and smeared it along their lover’s skin. New Marks were brighter, more effervescent, and marks whose owners had drifted apart were duller and less noticeable, but none of them ever went away.

Clint ruthlessly suppressed the long-harbored desire for a Mark of his own.

Instead he smiled up at the waitress winningly, shrugging out of his borrowed jacket and dumping his hat. She cocked her head at him, giving him an assessing look, and then turned a narrow gaze on James, who shrugged a little belligerently. His mouth was set in a thin, white line, and he looked as uncomfortable as Clint had ever seen him. She gave Clint another sharp-eyed once-over, then abruptly relaxed.

“What’re you havin’ for breakfast gentlemen?”

Clint ordered the biggest breakfast platter on the menu with over-medium eggs, watching as, again, James copied him by holding up two fingers for a second order. The waitress sashayed away after refilling Clint’s already-empty coffee mug and making him consider an on-the-spot proposal.

The food came out hot and filling, far from the worst thing that Clint had ever eaten, and definitely better with liberal amounts of hot sauce applied.

“Why were you stealing the serum?” James asked abruptly, when Clint already had a mouthful of toast and eggs.

He swallowed painfully, chasing the overly large bite down with a scalding swallow of coffee. “Didn’t know it was serum,” Clint said, shrugging as he pushed his toast through the runny yolk on his plate. “We get paid to steal stuff, we don’t ask too many questions.”

James gave him a disbelieving look.

“We don’t take anything from anyone who can’t afford to lose it,” Clint said defensively, even as his conscience niggled at him.

“Like secret chemical compounds from secret government installations?” James asked sardonically.

“You’re one to talk,” Clint told him, pointing his fork. “You were stealing it the same as me, what’s an assassin need with the serum?”

That seemed to stymie James for a moment before he rallied. “We’re shaping the future, creating a fighting force to bring order and peace.”

Clint snorted this time. “What, the people who trained you? They’re gonna bring order and peace?”

James’ brows drew together in vaguely offended distress. “My work has shaped the world,” he said, but it sounded more like something he’d been told than something he believed.

Clint shrugged. “Sure, you could say that. I mean - assassinating JFK changed the shit out of the world,” Clint agreed. “Shoved us balls deep in Vietnam, I think.” He studied James thoughtfully. “You were too young for that one though. Hey, how many Winter Soldiers are there?”

James blinked at him. “Just- I’m the Winter Soldier.”

“Sure.” Clint waved his fork kind of randomly, encompassing James’ face and shoulders and arm, before turning back to his breakfast. “But JFK was shot in the what? The sixties? You weren’t around then.”

James grunted as he cut into his own meal, shoving a large chunk of sausage into his mouth.

Clint looked him over with a practiced eye. He was older than Clint, by all appearances, but not by much. Maybe his early thirties at most. So the assassinations most commonly attributed to the Soldier couldn’t have been done by James, unless he was a time-traveler as well as a cyborg.

“Who else?” James asked, after a few moments of silence and the waitress refilling their cups. Well, Clint’s cup. James was still nursing his first cup of coffee to death.

“Who else what?” Clint asked, busy dumping sugar packets into his coffee.

“Who else have I - has the Soldier assassinated?”

Clint snorted. “Depends on who you ask. There’s a rumor list a mile long, goin’ back as far as the 50s I think. JFK is pretty reliably credited to you, or, well, to the Winter Soldier. They put a patsy in prison for it, but there was no way he could have made that shot from that angle.” Clint thought about the footage he’d seen. The shooter would have had to have been somewhere entirely different for the shot to have followed the trajectory it had. “Then there’s the Stark family - Howard and Maria.” James visibly flinched, just the smallest twitch around his eyebrows and a tightening of his fingers, but it drew Clint’s eye. “Made to look like a car accident but Howard’s face hit more than just a steering wheel, and something was taken from the trunk. Lucky thing Tony wasn’t with them, or we wouldn’t have Iron Man.”

He thought about it some more as he drowned his hashbrowns in more hot sauce. “That happened a couple of years before I was born though, so also before your time.” He hummed thoughtfully. “Oh, there was that Israeli guy who was going to fix that whole Palestine-Israel thing. Rabin? I think that was his name. The rumor mill swears that you did that one. Oh and that Russian defector - I’d put money on his asssassination. He defected from Russia for something, went to England where they uh… put him to work as a spy I think? Anyway guy goes out for dinner, gets what looks like food poisoning, turns out it’s fuckin’ radioactive poisoning. He was dead inside a month. That one had to be you, right?”

James looked stoic and pale, his hand frozen over his plate. Clint wondered if he’d crossed some kind of line, but he couldn’t think what it might have been. The guy was an assassin, for fuck’s sake, he couldn’t be squeamish about his own exploits.

“You alright man?” Clint asked, finally, when the silence had dragged into uncomfortable.

“I’m fine,” James grunted, turning his gaze to his plate and shoveling breakfast into his mouth with quick, automatic movements.

He didn’t ask anything else about the Winter Soldier’s reputation, and Clint didn’t volunteer any more theories.

Chapter Text

The next few days continued in a similar vein, with James stealing cars at irregular intervals and driving them - from what Clint could discern - vaguely westward. He managed to pocket a map at one truck stop, unfolding it in a cheap motel room while James was in the shower and looking over what he knew of their course. It was almost random, all back roads and small towns and tiny diners, deviating north or south or even backtracking occasionally, like James was trying to throw someone off their trail. It made things exceedingly difficult for Clint, who had no idea what their destination might be, even if he had a way to contact Barney.

It’d been nearly a week since the job in Ohio, and while Clint wasn’t exactly displeased with the company, he was getting antsy about his brother.

Clint was used to long days and nights on the road, the monotony broken up by performances or under the table jobs, so road trips weren’t exactly a hardship, but the longer he was away from Trick and Barney, the easier it was to imagine never going back.

And that part - that worried Clint.

He shouldn’t be so comfortable with a notorious assassin.

He shouldn’t be so content to ride in the passenger seat with the window down and the radio playing, his hand riding the wave of the wind as it whipped past the car.

He shouldn’t be so at home in tacky motels and stolen vehicles, trying to make conversation with the world’s most taciturn mercenary.

James, for his part, didn’t seem to mind that Clint babbled endlessly, that he propped his socked feet on the dash and snored in his sleep and sang along, off-key, with the radio. He wordlessly purchased Clint’s favorite snacks and diner meals from a seemingly-endless supply of cash in the backpack he’d brought from the house, even handing Clint off a pack of tiny batteries that fit his hearing aids exactly, just as Clint was getting worried he was going to have to turn them off and rely on sign language for the duration of the trip.

James also didn’t talk much about his past - time spent with whoever his handlers were, or hobbies or anything that revealed he even had a past - but he seemed lost in ways that made Clint’s chest hurt. He didn’t know how to order pizza and had no kind of food preferences and listened to music on the radio like he’d never heard of it before. He mimicked Clint’s choices when he was unsure, which was most of the time, until and if he discovered he didn’t like them. It turned out he liked his coffee with cream, no sugar, instead of black and sweet like Clint’s soul and he hated raw onions with a startling vehemence, but it was always like he was discovering these things about himself instead of knowing them.

Like he’d never had the chance to make his own choices or learn what he liked.

Frankly, If Clint thought about it too hard, the pieces of James’ puzzle were jagged and bleak when they were put together, so he tried to avoid that line of thought.

All of which was why when the opportunity that Clint should have been waiting for - a lone, unattended phone, old enough that the owner probably didn’t have tracking technology on it - appeared right in front of him at a small grocery, Clint almost didn’t take it. He stared at it - while James evaluated protein bars in the snack aisle - sitting unassumingly in the cupholder of the cart nearby, its owner half an aisle down, digging though snack mixes.

James pushed the cart forward, preparing to take the turn that would put them out of sight, and Clint reached out a the last second to palm the device, slipping it up the sleeve of his borrowed jacket and holding down the power button to turn it off as he did so.

He wouldn’t need it for long, just long enough to contact his brother and arrange a meeting. He could go back with the circus and leave James none the wiser; though he could probably find Clint if he had a mind to, Clint couldn’t think why he would.

Clint didn’t seem to have a damn thing the other man wanted. Clint hadn’t repeated the show of the first night in the house, but he hadn’t exactly been subtle in his visual appreciation, giving James long looks and making suggestive remarks and wandering around motel rooms in short, scratchy towels. James looked back, too, Clint caught him at it, glancing under his lashes with a flush across his cheekbones, but he avoided Clint’s every advance.

Even the one where Clint had dropped himself into James’ lap, barely dressed in low-slung sweats they’d got at a second hand shop, and no shirt.

“No,” James had growled, pushing Clint back with his metal hand, careful not to touch any part of Clint’s exposed skin with his other hand.

And that had stung a little, Clint wasn’t going to lie, so he’d mostly stopped throwing himself at James after that.

Later, much later, when they were safely ensconced in another cheap motel room, several hundred miles away, Clint took the phone into the bathroom with him, flipping the shower on full blast to cover any sounds of the phone. He turned it on, thankfully remembering to flip it to vibrate at the last second, and waited for it to finish loading. Once it was on, he opened the messenger app and fired off a quick text to Barney.

It’s Clint, he wrote, thinking quickly. I’m in Keystone, South Dakota. Come get me.

There was a minute where Clint waited, anxiety rising, for Barney to text back and then-

What the fuck, Clint? We’ll be there in 16 hours. Try not to fuck anything else up.

Clint ignored the hard knot in his chest, the feeling that he was fucking up just by having this conversation. He thought hard for a few minutes, trying to decide where to meet them. He was limited by how far he could travel by foot and what he could remember seeing nearby. Trick and Barney would be coming in Trick’s truck, probably, not the entire circus just to get Clint. I’ll meet you at the campground - Kemp’s Kamp.

Barney sent back a thumbs up, and Clint shut the phone off again, ignoring the pounding in his chest. He just had to make sure they stayed put another day. Given how hard James was avoiding whoever he thought was chasing them, that might prove challenging.

Well, he had tonight to sleep, at least, and that would kill seven or eight hours, and then Clint would just need to make sure he could keep them here another day or so. Maybe he could play sick?

Clint climbed into the miniscule shower stall and gave himself the most cursory of scrub-downs, trying to make up the time he’d spent on the phone with Barney. He used bar soap on his entire body, including his hair, and rinsed just as quickly as he could manage. The water was still steaming the entire bathroom up by the time he got out, leaving the mirror fogged and hopefully plenty of hot water for James. Clint bundled the pilfered cell phone up with his clothes as he left the bathroom with a towel around his waist.

James glanced up from one of the two beds - the one closest to the door and the window - when Clint walked out, then averted his eyes, turning back to a beat-up paperback he’d picked up second-hand at the same shop they’d got more clothing and shoes. Slowly but surely they were building up a little collection of necessary items. Clint was up to two pairs of jeans, a hoodie, four t-shirts, and underwear he’d insisted on buying new, along with a pair of purple converse he’d found at the thrift shop and was seriously never getting rid of. James had a few more items of clothing as well, along with another pair of steel-toed boots that made Clint roll his eyes.

Currently, half their clothes were strewn around the room as James got ready to hand-wash whatever couldn’t wait and toss it over the shower door to dry before morning, and Clint felt his chest winding up even tighter, a sense of disloyalty crowding up his throat.

Stop it, he told himself. It was Stockholm Syndrome. Barney was his brother, the Circus the only family he had, however much it didn’t feel like he fit there most days, or however much he felt his skin crawl with every new job they took.

He wasn’t thinking about the time Trick had tried to get him to shoot a girl, because if he thought about that at all he might scream, might demand James drive them away right now, might confess what he’d just done.

He hadn’t shot the girl, in the end, and they’d let her go, taking the hit on the cash. A hit that had come out of Clint’s share for months afterwards, not that he’d cared.

Clint took a deep breath. He could do this. He just needed to keep it together another day.

**

Convincing James to hang around one more day was actually easier than he thought. Clint just feigned illness - took himself to the bathroom in the middle of the night to retch and gag until he very nearly threw up in the toilet, then collapsed into the bed moaning like he was dying. The next morning he woke up to James combing metal fingertips through his hair and watching him with concern.

“Sick?” James asked, as his hand withdrew and he signed as he spoke.

Clint gave a muffled grunt, the kind of thing that could be interpreted however the hearer wanted it to sound, and shoved his head back under the pillow.

He felt bad, sure, but not for the reasons James assumed.

James ducked out of the room, leaving Clint alone.

He was tempted to turn the phone back on, to see if he’d heard anything from Barney, but he had no idea where James was going or when he’d be back, so he stayed put in bed, and managed to drift back to sleep before James returned.

James came back with toast and juice and gatorade, and Clint felt like seven kinds of shit about it. He choked down the toast and some of the juice, whined piteously about coffee, then burritoed himself into the blankets to wallow in his own abject misery.

He should not feel this bad about this, dammit. James had kidnapped him! Clint should be itching to get out of here, doing everything he could to get away, not feeling guilty about arranging a rendezvous with his brother to get away from his kidnapper.

Clint was all sorts of fucked up about it, so mostly he spent the day in a funk and dozing at random intervals, while James put Dog Cops on the television and let Clint leave his hearing aids off.

Not that James was as relaxed about the whole ordeal as Clint was. He kept a close watch on the portion of the parking lot he could see, flicking the edges of the curtains to look out and prowling around the room, repacking their things and checking over his weapons. Clint watched him with a sense of resigned inevitability. It was clear the guy was expecting an ambush at any moment, and Clint felt guilty as fuck about it. It didn’t help that he knew, somewhere in the back of his mind and in the pit growing ever-larger in his stomach, that he would probably never see James again after this.

He wondered if James would go back to whoever normally kept track of him once Clint left, and something about the idea made Clint mentally flinch. He hoped James didn’t go back though, hoped he successfully avoided whoever it was and managed to find something of his own.

Clint sighed, hard enough that he could feel the air whistling out of his nose, even if he couldn’t hear it, and James looked up from his most recent pass at the window.

Did you need something? He signed, the furrow between his brows back.

And this was it, this was Clint’s chance to get him out of the room. It was dark out, close to 9:00 and if Barney made the time he claimed he was going to make, he’d be waiting for Clint out at the campground, which was a good couple of miles’ worth of walking away from their motel.

Coffee? Clint signed hopefully, giving James the tiniest grin he could manage.

The scowl he got in response was enough of a resounding no that Clint didn’t need any other.

Chicken noodle soup? He tried, one of the few things that James didn’t keep stashed and hadn’t brought back in the morning. He’d have to go to a store nearby, Clint figured, to pick it up, and that would buy him enough time to shimmy into clothes and creep out of the room and hopefully get far enough away that he wouldn’t get caught. Barney would leave immediately, if Clint told him what was going on and why he needed to go.

James heaved a sigh that Clint could see, rolling his eyes, but he gave Clint a look that could almost be called fond, if you were feeling generous, and he reached for his jacket. He gave Clint a thorough, scrutinizing look, one that made Clint want to squirm, pinned like a bug on the spot, and then shook his head.

I’ll be back. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.

Clint flipped him off, his stomach doing somersaults.

Clint waited, breathing shallowly and counting slowly to 600, before jumping out of bed and pulling on his much-abused tac pants and a dark grey hoodie. After a second of hesitation, he shoved his feet in his boots and left the purple converse behind, already mourning them. Carrying things would only slow him down.

He didn’t think twice about leaving the serum behind though. Clint didn’t know who had paid Trick to snatch it, but whoever it was didn’t need it. Hell, Clint didn’t think James’ handlers needed it either, but he also didn’t think James was on his way back to them. Clint wasn’t about to hand any super soldier DNA over to Trick to sell to the highest bidder, even he knew that was a bad idea.

And anyway, he didn’t know where James had hidden it.

Clint slipped out the front door of the room, pocketing the key, and edged into the darkness of the woods surrounding Brookside Motel. He paused to get his bearings, then began trudging east, headed in the direction that the sign they’d passed had indicated was a campground. It should have felt like relief, leaving behind the cramped motel room and the abductor who’d been carting him all over the midwest for the last week, but instead Clint felt something more akin to regret. The farther away he got, the stronger the sensation got in his chest, until he had to stop and take great, heaving breaths to push the emotion down.

What the fuck was wrong with him?

Stockholm Syndrome, that was all.

It wasn’t long before he was edging along the campground, looking for the beat-up old truck that Trick typically took around the country, as inconspicuous as it was uninteresting, more rust than paint in some places. He found it near the back edges of the area, away from shrieking families and marshmallow-toasting firepits. Clint could see the broad outline of his brother’s shoulders against the flames of the fire they’d lit, with Trick lounging nearby, looking for all the world like the old log that was set out to mark the edges of the fire area was some kind of recliner or something. Clint moved closer, careful to keep quiet, because every once in a while he liked to remind them that he was just as competent, just as dangerous as they were. At the edge of the camp he could see a bow and quiver - his bow and quiver, goddammit Barney - leaning against a tree trunk, a few arrows sticking out of another tree nearby, like Barney’d been practicing with Clint’s equipment, the fucker.

It was going to take Clint hours to get the draw back the way he liked it on the damn thing.

Just as he was about to step out of the shadowed copse of trees he was hiding in, Trick spoke.

“He’s a liability,” Trick drawled, like this was old, familiar ground, the shadow of an argument he’d had a million times before. Clint felt his brows draw together in confusion.

Who was a liability?

“He’s my brother,” Barney reminded him mildly, reaching for the arrow at his feet, testing out the fletching. “And he’s a damn good shot.”

Clint didn’t have time to feel even an inkling of pride at Barney’s defense of him because Trick was already speaking again.

“He’s a good shot who won’t take the shots we tell him to take,” Trick growled.

“I took care of the girl later,” Barney said, and Clint felt a quiet horror stealing up his spine.

They’d let that girl go. He’d- Barney’d said-

“Yeah and it cost us twenty percent,” Trick argued, heaving himself upright against the log, his back more firmly turned towards Clint. “And it’s gonna cost us more than that for this job, if he hasn’t got the goddamn vial when he turns up. How the fuck’d he end up in South Dakota anyway?”

Clint could see the shadow of Barney’s shrug. “Dunno, he didn’t say, he’s texting me from a number I don’t recognize. Rumor mill is the Winter Soldier went missing at the same time as him, though, so maybe he’s got an angry Russian assassin after him.”

Trick snorted. “He’d be dead by now if the Soldier wanted him dead.” He sounded terrifyingly unconcerned about Clint’s possible death. “He was supposed to be a decoy while we got the serum. Now the serum’s gone, your fuckin’ brother’s gone, and the Soldier is in the wind. We’re gonna end up with the goddamn Winter Soldier on our asses because Baby Barton can’t keep his damn head in the game. He’s a liability.”

Worse than Trick’s abject dismissal of him was Barney’s silence on the matter, though. He didn’t jump in to defend Clint again, didn’t bother to argue with Trick in the least. Just heaved a near-silent sigh and didn’t say anything for long minutes. “We can dump him in the next small town, if he’s got what we’re after,” Barney finally said.

“And if he doesn’t?” Trick asked, sounding dangerous.

“Then we’ll dump his body in the next small town,” Barney growled.

Clint swallowed, melting further into the shadow of the trees.

It was a hard pill to swallow, to know everything you’d ever believed about yourself and your relationships was a lie.

So he did what he did best - he compartmentalized it. He could think or not think about Barney’s planned betrayal later. First he had to get the fuck out of here.

He glanced to either side, and his eyes caught on the shadow of his bow and quiver.

Wrong.

First he had to get his goddamn bow and then he had to get the fuck out of here.

He managed it on slow, creeping movements and held breaths, easing himself around the shadows the fire cast until he could wrap his fingers around the quiver’s strap, followed by the bow itself. He picked them up gingerly, extricating them from the tangle of leaves and sticks Barney had dropped them into. He glanced mournfully at the arrows embedded in the nearby tree, but there was no way to get to them without being noticed. Trick and Barney were still talking, having moved on to other subjects, and now passing a flask as they awaited Clint’s arrival in all his ignorant glory.

Well, they were going to be sadly disappointed.

Unfortunately, Clint had few options at the moment. He couldn’t stay with his brother, and he had no means to run off on his own. If he stayed in town he’d surely be noticed, especially with no money and no vehicle.

He turned and headed back for the motel, where the Winter Soldier would probably be waiting to shoot him on sight.

Clint dropped the stolen cellphone somewhere in the woods and never looked back.

***

“So, we have to leave,” Clint said, breathless, as he burst into the motel room where James was standing in the middle of the floor, looking lost.

Clint would feel bad about that, except that he was breathless from having run the last however far, the feeling that he was being pursued crawling up his spine. He was certain that Barney or Trick would notice the missing bow sooner or later, and when they did, they'd be looking for him. There were only so many inconspicuous motel chains in this town, and it wouldn’t take them long to start looking for Clint in each and every one of them.

And sure, the Winter Soldier could probably take his brother and Trick easy, but Clint didn’t really want to watch that happen, didn’t want to have to pick a side even though he’d already picked one, unwilling though it might have been. He just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.

“What did you do?” James growled, taking in Clint’s disheveled appearance and the weapon slung over his shoulder.

Clint took a deep breath, the stupidity of his actions catching up with him as he felt simultaneously sheepish and defiant. “I, uh. Kinda… texted my brother and told him where we are and then I went to meet him but he was planning to fuck me over so I stole my bow back and ran back here?” He flinched, waiting on James’ response.

Historically, Barney hadn’t reacted well to Clint’s shenanigans.

James just sighed, sounding deeply aggrieved. “So you told your brother - who left you hanging out to dry on your last job - where to find us, the serum, and when we’d be here, and then you stole from him.”

“I didn’t know that he’d-” Clint stopped, swallowing hard as the words got caught in his throat.

It was catching up with him, a little, that Barney had intended to leave him behind, to let Clint be the fall guy as they made off with the serum or the DNA or whatever the fuck it was in that little vial, so they could collect on a payday and Clint could pay the piper. He swallowed it down. “Yeah,” he croaked, after a second, staring at the toes of his boots, “pretty much. Bow’s mine, though, I didn’t steal it. It belongs to me.”

“You any good with it?” James asked, already striding across the room to gather what little of their supplies weren’t already packed up and ready to go.

“World’s Greatest Marksman,” Clint informed him, though it was the hollow echo of pride, rather than his usual bluster and panache.

James glanced at him over his shoulder, eyebrow raised.

Clint whipped the bow off his back, nocked and drew an arrow, firing almost without conscious thought. The arrow missed the back of James’ neck by millimeters, leaving wisps of hair fluttering to the ground as it embedded itself in the narrow space between the door and the window, a hair's breadth from the gold edge of the lock slide.

James’ look was startled but not wary, and he gave Clint a short, sharp nod. “Good, you’re gonna need it. Givin’ away our position.”

“Fuck off,” Clint grumbled half-heartedly. He’d fucked up and he knew it, but he hadn’t known it when he was doing it.

James threw Clint’s recently-acquired duffle at him, distracting him from his thoughts, and shouldered his own backpack. “Let’s go,” he said, stalking out of the room. In the parking lot James bypassed the little red coupe they’d been driving for the last couple of days and headed for a beat-up but passably cared for SUV, jimmying the locks and sliding into the driver’s seat without comment. Clint climbed up beside him, tossing his duffle into the backseat along with the trash from the floorboard and buckling his seatbelt.

They were just pulling out of the parking lot when Clint saw a truck that looked unnervingly familiar pull in, and he ducked to avoid the glare of the headlights.

“Friends of yours?” James asked, keeping his eyes on the exit and not looking at the truck as it prowled the parking lot.

Clint snorted.

“I told you not to do anything stupid while I was gone,” James grumbled, turning onto the little highway that ran through the town and heading west, again, like he had some final destination in mind that he hadn’t shared with Clint.

“Yeah, well, stayin’ with the guy who kidnapped me seemed like the stupider choice,” Clint informed him, unfolding himself from the seat and leaning back into a more comfortable position.

James gave him a sharp look, then nodded, as though conceding the point. “Suppose so,” he said, after a few moments of silence. “Feeling more like this is the better option?” he asked, aiming for nonchalant and missing by a mile.

“Yeah,” Clint told him, staring out the window into the oppressive darkness. “Unless you’re planning to dump my body in the next town, this is the better choice.”

The silence this time was less comfortable, more oppressive with the vague sense of James’ banked fury. “No,” he said, like the word was dug out of his chest with a shovel. “No, I’m not planning to do that. Your brother maybe.” There was another pause, this one thoughtful. “Not you.”

“Well, you’d be the only one,” Clint informed him, slumping against the door.

“Nah,” James told him. “Someone out there’s gotta like you, besides me.”

Clint snorted.

It wasn’t until much, much later that Clint realized James had admitted to liking him.

“So how much fire power can your brother muster up?” James asked, hours later, when the sun was peeking over the horizon behind them and Clint was nodding off against the cool glass of the window.

“Not much,” he mused. “The Circus is small, more of a hit-and-run operation than a real threat. He’d sell me out in a heartbeat, though,” he added, thinking it through. Trick probably wouldn’t come after Clint himself - it’d be a loss of money, even if he caught up, what with the jobs they could be pulling instead of chasing Clint across the country. But he’d sell Clint out without thinking twice to whoever had hired them to steal the vial. “He’ll probably give me up to the buyer though,” Clint told James, squirming in his seat. He figured it’d be a long time before James trusted him alone in a motel room again.

Not that Clint could blame him.

“Mmm,” James said, non-committal. “And who was that?”

Clint shrugged. “I dunno. I wasn’t in on the negotiations, I-” he cut himself off, thinking of the girl he’d thought he’d saved, the one he’d thought they’d let go. Swallowing hard, he continued. “I wasn’t in charge of anything, just did what I was told when I was told. Didn’t ask questions.” The guilt of it burned in the pit of his stomach.

“Yeah,” James sighed. “Me too.”

***

They made it four more days before anyone caught up with them.

Four days of changing cars and backtracking and hiding in the backwoods of whatever god-forsaken state they were in each day, from South Dakota to Minnesota to Wisconsin and even a brief detour into Iowa, Clint’s old stomping grounds. He very deliberately didn’t look out the window that day, refusing to think about the years he’d spent growing up in the state or the way he and Barney had stolen out of it in the dead of night on a Greyhound bus and a prayer.

Four days of watching James develop some kind of personality as they went, suddenly deciding he didn’t like runny eggs, cultivating opinions about the music on the radio, and smirking at Clint’s disastrous attempts to karaoke along with whatever pop hit was currently playing. Four days of growing to like the hints of personality Clint saw, the little smirks and sarcastic remarks, the dry and pointed sense of humor James displayed at odd times. Of enjoying more than just the pleasing aesthetic of the way that James looked, and instead growing to enjoy the deliberate way he made decisions and the way his mouth curled at the corners when Clint said something particularly funny.

He wondered if the tiny changes and weird little quirks were new altogether - sometimes they seemed to be, judging by James’ own surprise - or if they were something that Clint was only noticing now that he wasn’t busy trying to figure out how and when and where to escape. If he was noticing because he was more interested in getting to know the man he was travelling with than his motives, more invested than he had ever intended.

It was four days of seeing the weirdly haunted look in James’ eyes when he came up on some cultural reference he didn’t recognize that he should’ve, like the crack Clint had made about Y2K or the reference to Michael Jackson. The man could dismantle a pistol in mere seconds, but he didn’t know who Britney Spears was, and it left Clint with a truckload of questions.

Questions he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers to, once James started sleeping where Clint could see him, once he decided Clint was trustworthy enough to keep some kind of watch. James slept in short increments - 3 or 4 hours at a time, never a full nights’ sleep, and he always jerked awake, panting and disoriented and looking around wherever they were at like he’d never seen it before. Inevitably his eyes would land on Clint, and something about Clint’s familiar face seemed to set him at ease, allowed him to relax, though Clint couldn’t say why. What was it about Clint that set James at ease? Clint didn’t know, but he was grateful for it, when James jerked awake gasping for air with wide, terrified eyes.

They were eating pizza - Clint had finally demanded that they get some, it’d been ages since he’d had a good pizza - when it all went to shit.

Clint was sitting at the rickety desk at the far side of the room, arguing the relative merits of pineapple on pizza when James sat upright suddenly, stiff and straight in the chair he’d commandeered. He dropped the pizza box he was holding on the still-made bed next to him and reached for the gun Clint knew he kept tucked into the back of his jeans.

“Bathroom,” he hissed, pulling the weapon out and disengaging the safety. “Now.”

Clint didn’t argue, unable to ignore the creeping sensation of unease up his spine as he moved to comply. He snagged his bow from beneath the desk as he went, keeping low as he scrambled for the bathroom. He drew an arrow and nocked it out of habit, easing the door nearly closed and leaving himself only a couple of inches to see the room.

He’d moved just in time, because the door was kicked open and a swarm of black-clad figures poured in. Rapid gunfire followed the first few, destroying the glass of the large picture window and allowing even more tactically-outfitted attackers to flood the room, until James was surrounded. Clint counted at least fifteen men in riot gear carrying assault rifles and a dozen other weapons.

He had thirteen arrows in his quiver.

James held the gun in his hand, watching the room with narrowed eyes, and there was a moment of aching, unexpected stillness as they pointed weapons at him and he stood motionless.

Then James exploded into a frenzy of action that Clint could barely keep track of. He could see the glint of a knife in his hand, the silver-bright flash of his arm in motion. He heard the muffled bang of a silenced pistol as James ducked and dodged, using the knife and gun as an extension of his own body and men dropped in his wake.

It was terrifying.

It was awe-inspiring.

Clint had a too-brief moment of relief, of the feeling that James would take care of this and that they would abandon this half-bit hotel room for another just like it, and then a different man walked into the room unarmed and careless, clearly unafraid, and shouted above the muted sounds of violence.

Soldat!

James hacked his way furiously towards the man, dispatching anyone in his way with extreme prejudice, before the unknown man shouted another word, this one in a language Clint didn’t recognize, guttural and harsh. James made a pained noise that Clint could hear even across the room, and his next shot missed.

There was another sharp word, almost like a command, and James stumbled.

A third word meant James fumbled the knife in his hand, reaching up to press at his head like the words were causing him physical pain.

The fourth one brought James to his knees.

Fuck this, Clint decided, and he stepped out of the bathroom, bowstring strung taut, and put an arrow through the throat of the man speaking, cutting him off mid-shout. Whatever word he’d been trying to say died with him in a gurgle of blood that spilled past his lips before he collapsed to the ground like a puppet with his strings cut.

James was still on the floor, panting harshly over the near-silence in the room. Whoever wasn’t lying, unmoving, on the floor from James’ previous work began advancing on him, clearly catching onto the fact that he was weak and as easy a target as he was ever likely to be. A handful swung toward the source of the arrow, and Clint took them out without a second thought, shooting as swiftly as he could draw back his bow, knowing without having to be told that anyone trying to take James was an enemy to be dealt with.

Over and over, Clint drew and shot until he was out of arrows and the only people still alive in the tiny motel room were Clint himself and James, who was climbing shakily to his feet. It hadn’t taken long for Clint to be identified as a threat, and before it was over he’d shot as many people trying to come after him as had been trying to reach James.

“Let’s go,” Clint told him, reaching out to steady him, to prop him against the wall. James was pale and sweaty, clammy through the cotton of the shirt he was wearing and breathing harshly. He still had his gun, but it was dangling from his fingertips like he might drop it at any moment, so Clint reached out and took it. He re-engaged the safety, unsure how many bullets might be left in the clip, and tucked it into the back of his jeans. He slung his bow over his back and surveyed the room.

Luckily most of their stuff was still in their bags because they’d opted to eat before unpacking, and Clint snatched up both the duffle and the backpack on one arm and hauled James up against his other shoulder, supporting him as they maneuvered to the door of the room. Clint propped him against the wall again and risked the time it took to yank arrows out of bodies, quick and messy, tossing them into a plastic motel laundry sack for later cleaning. That done, he cautiously peeked outside, trying to identify if there were any more attackers lying in wait. He wasn’t as good as James with a knife or a gun, but he could hold his own in a pinch.

There was no one there, however. They’d thrown all their firepower into a full-frontal assault, banking on the man with the words and sheer numbers to take James down.

They hadn’t counted on Clint at all.

He shuddered to think what would have happened if he’d left James to his own devices back in South Dakota, if he’d run off with Barney like he’d planned. Not even touching on the plans Barney had had for him, James would not have got out of this without Clint’s help.

Clint was suddenly, fiercely glad he’d come back, that he’d chosen James, however necessary it had felt at the time. It was a choice he’d made, and he didn’t regret it.

He hefted James’ arm over his shoulder again, taking some of his weight, and maneuvered them into the parking lot. He bypassed the truck they’d been using earlier in the day, distrustful of it, and aimed them towards a minivan. It wasn’t the fastest vehicle he could have stolen, but there would be space in the back for storing things or sleeping, if they had to, and who suspected a stolen minivan? No one, that’s who.

And they got lucky again, once Clint had jimmied the lock and was in the drivers’ seat, because someone had helpfully left a spare key in a little pull out compartment to the left of the wheel, and Clint was able to start the van and drive away with no effort at all.

The whole thing had taken maybe fifteen minutes, when Clint was able to choke down the adrenaline long enough to think about it. From the time James had ordered him into the bathroom until Clint had pulled out of the parking lot was a scant few moments, a blip in his life, that could have changed it forever.

Not only could Clint have ended up captured or dead, but he could have lost James, and the idea of it was shockingly visceral and entirely unpalatable. Why Clint was so attached to an infamous assassin he barely knew, he couldn’t say, but if it were within his power to keep James safe and alive, Clint admitted silently and only to himself that he would do it.

James was slumped in the passenger seat next to Clint, worryingly quiet and unmoving, and Clint took back roads and bypasses, driving blindly through the area in an effort to throw off anyone who might be watching or attempting to follow, until he finally pulled off at a camping rest stop at least sixty miles from where he’d started. He put the van into park in a dark corner of the parking lot, and took a deep breath.

“James,” Clint whispered, touching him gingerly, then shaking him more firmly when he didn’t respond. “James,” Clint said louder. “Wake up.”

James rolled his head on his shoulder to look at Clint, glassy-eyed and pale. His gaze glanced over Clint’s features and he seemed to relax further into the door.

“Are you hurt?” Clint asked, realizing he wasn’t going to get much out of the other man.

“Mmm,” James said, shifting slightly. “Graze on my side. ‘Snothing,” he said, letting his eyes drift closed.

“It’s not nothing,” Clint argued. “You could get an infection. Fuckin’ Christ. Get your shirt off and lemme look at it, I know there’s a first aid kid in here somewhere.”

Even if James didn’t have a first aid kit in his pack, Clint was willing to bet the van had one somewhere. He’d found hand sanitizer, tissues, cough drops, and a half dozen other little things that led him to believe that the previous owner had been some kind of boy scout or something. Sure enough when he popped the dash open a bright red First Aid kit fell out at James’ feet.

Clint unzipped it to take inventory, and was surprised to find actual useful items like steristrips and dermabond glue, trauma shears and decent gauze, rather than basic bandaids and hydrocortisone cream.

James was struggling with his coat, and Clint reached over to help him shuck it off his arms, and then reached for the hem of the dark red henley James seemed to favor over all his other options. Clint peeled it up gingerly, James barely helping and getting steadily more tense as the soft cotton revealed more of his skin. Clint managed to get it up and over his head, noting a large rip along the side where either a knife wound or graze of a bullet would have skated over ribs, and he looked for a corresponding wound on James’ side.

It was there, gaping open and bleeding sluggishly, clearly in need of medical attention.

Hell, it probably needed stitches.

But considering it was directly beneath the metal of his left arm, Clint didn’t think that was gonna be an option.

“It’ll heal,” James panted, now more awake than he had been. “Don’t worry about it.”

Clint snorted. “Yeah or I could patch you up and it’ll heal better and we can move on faster. I’ve done my fair share of wound care you know.” Clint had patched himself, other performers, and canvas tents over the years, all with equal care and attention to detail. He could stitch skin about as well as cloth these days, and with fewer resources.

James huffed what would have been a laugh under better circumstances. As it was, the sound was more dry and bitter than humorous, but Clint would take it.

He reached for James’ side, hoping to evaluate the wound and at least clean some of the blood off, but James flinched back. “Gloves?” he asked, voice gravelly.

Clint turned back to the first aid kit - there was one pair of latex gloves in the box, which Clint obligingly tugged over his hands. They were too small by far, barely able to stretch over his hands, and as soon as Clint bent his fingers they burst right open, shredded to worthlessness immediately.

“No gloves,” Clint told James, sighing as he stripped the ragged remains of the rubber off his hands and tossed them aside.

James took a long, deep breath and held it, like he needed time to center or reground himself, and it set the laceration along his chest to bleeding more freely than before. Before Clint could comment on it, James exhaled noisily and then just seemed to… give up. He slumped sideways so that Clint could get to whatever he needed and made a vague hand gesture that seemed to indicate that Clint could do whatever he wanted.

“I’ll be gentle,” Clint promised, aiming for humor and missing completely, the words coming out a lot more tender than he’d intended.

Rummaging around in the first aid kit, Clint produced a couple of one-time-use antibacterial wipes, tearing them open and scrubbing them all around the skin of the wound, cleaning the blood off so he could get a good look at what he was working with. There was a small squirt bottle of irrigation fluid, and he used that to rinse the cut itself, drying it off with gauze, and then reached out with his left hand to push the edges of the cut together so that he could decide whether the dermabond would be enough or if he’d have to use the steristrips as well. There was no suture in the kit at all, so one or both would have to be enough.

As soon as Clint’s bare hand touched James skin, though, everything changed.

There was a sensation like a shiver that traveled from Clint’s fingertips and up his arm, shuddering down his spine, and he’d have written it off as static electricity if it wasn’t for the way James’ skin broke out in goosebumps and the tiny noise he made that didn’t sound a thing like pain.

Clint could feel his heart pounding in his throat, the barest hint of pain, want, fear and - underneath all that - something that felt uncomfortably like hope. He yanked his hand away like he’d been burned, like James’ skin was fire beneath his hand, and where his fingers had been so carefully pressed around the bleeding wound on his side were the perfectly-shaped imprints of Clint’s fingertips, dipped in gold.

“What the fuck?” Clint breathed, staring at the one thing he’d wanted for what felt like his whole life.

“Sorry,” James grunted, small and despondent.

Clint’s gaze shot up to look at him, but James was staring out the front windshield like the darkness around them held the secrets of the universe. “You knew?” He asked, blindsided and confused.

James swallowed hard, then nodded, cocking his head towards Clint’s throat. “Since I grabbed you.” He paused. “It’s why I couldn’t leave you behind. Didn’t have a damn clue what it meant, just knew it was important. Some bits are coming back now, though.”

Clint reached up for his neck, stopping just shy of touching. James had touched him, back in that facility, grabbed him by the back of the neck and-

“Why are you sorry?” He demanded, reaching for the contents of the first aid kit with trembling hands. He wanted an explanation, he had about a million questions, but the sight of James’ blood oozing over his own golden fingerprints was too much for him to stand. He snapped open the dermabond and pulled out a sleeve of steristrips, gluing the parted skin together with practiced ease and pinching the skin closed until it settled.

He waited for James to answer, refusing to look up from where his hands were holding so carefully, the gold still faintly visible around his grip.

“Stuck with me,” James managed to grit out, either because of pain or unwillingness to answer.

Clint snorted. “I’m a criminal carnie with a sixth grade education, it’s not like I’m a prize.” He pressed steristrips in a neat line over the now-sealed skin, unable to help the tender way he stroked them into place. Unable to help the way his hands lingered on James’ bare skin.

James reached out and wrapped the fingers of his right hand around Clint’s wrist - it was, Clint noted in the back of his mind, the first time James had voluntarily touched him since that initial grab, but at least now he knew why - and tugged it away.

“I’m worse than that,” James said steadily, pulling at Clint’s arm until Clint met his gaze. He looked sad and serious and determined. “I’m so much worse than that, you don’t know,” he swallowed hard, “you have no idea how much worse than that I am.”

“So tell me,” Clint said, soft.

James shook his head, eyes closing briefly.

Clint shrugged as much as he was able and ran his free hand along James’ side, careful to keep the touch light and undemanding. He couldn’t not touch, but he didn’t want to force James into anything he didn’t want.

It was starting to look a lot like James had been forced into a lot of things, if the guys in that hotel room were any indication. They’d been after James, had known enough about him to send that many people, had words they shouted that made James stumble, made him weak. They definitely hadn’t been anyone Clint had ever seen hanging around the circus talking to Trick or Barney, so Clint didn’t think they were the buyers. And anyway, they hadn’t been expecting Clint so it couldn’t have been that.

Clint wasn’t certain but he was pretty sure the guys he’d just killed, who’d shouted and fought and appeared violently in force were James’ handlers, come to take him back, and that put a whole new spin on everything.

James shivered under Clint’s touch, and Clint was pulled out of his thoughts by the reminder that they were in the back of a van in chilly midwestern weather in the middle of the night, and James wasn’t wearing a shirt. “Shit,” Clint said, stretching to reach for James’ backpack. “It’s cold. I’m sorry, lemme just-”

“Not cold,” James growled, his hand gentle but unrelenting around Clint’s wrist.

Clint turned back to him curiously and then reached out - very deliberately - and rested his hand on the bare skin of James’ hip.

James shivered again, his eyes drifting nearly closed.

Clint allowed himself to enjoy the sensation this time, like it wasn’t something stolen in the night, something he wasn’t really allowed to have. The sensation of James under his hands was subtle but thrilling. Just the faint sense of his emotions - James’ cautious joy from Clint’s touch, a desperate kind of ache that wasn’t pain but was something, sorrow mixed with muted hope, and underneath it all the thrumming of pain from his wound.

“We should get moving,” James said, but he licked his lips and didn’t release Clint’s wrist.

“Mmm,” Clint agreed, but made no move to get off his knees in the back of the van.

They stared at each other in the dim half-light, until Clint leaned forward and James let go so that Clint could prop himself on his now-free hand, taking his own weight as he eased into James’ space.

“Okay?” Clint asked, when they were bare centimeters apart, when Clint could feel his own breath bouncing back warmly against his skin.

James didn’t answer, except to tilt his head up and press their mouths together.

For a first kiss, it wasn’t anything to write home about. Just the dry press of lips, both of them slightly chapped from cool fall air and exertion, barely anything really, except for how it was everything. Clint’s hand was still braced on James’ hip, and James reached up to cup his own fingers around Clint’s jaw, warm and real and present, as their mouths moved against one another. The hum of emotions between them was almost soothing, the way Clint knew he was a welcome presence despite James own self-doubt, the way he could feel his own stupid, stinging delight that there was a person out there for him reflected back at him, the mood present but not overwhelming.

Like being wrapped in a favorite blanket or a pleasant dream.

Clint adjusted the angle of his neck and pressed closer, squeezing James’ hip gently. The hand on his jaw shifted until it was wrapped around the back of his neck, and James tentatively splayed his metal hand against Clint’s lower back. Clint made a pleased sound in the back of his throat, flicking his tongue out over James’ lips.

James’ mouth opened underneath his, allowing Clint space to explore. He stroked his tongue over James’ soft palate, diving past his teeth and coaxing James into the kiss, a warm, slick slide, until the prevailing emotion of their connection was nothing but lust, just a throbbing want want want. It made Clint press forward, slotting their bodies together. James arched against him, his metal hand twisting in the cotton of Clint’s sweatshirt, and Clint rolled his hips until James moaned.

He pressed harder, pulling at James’ hip, stopping only because of the bright spark of pain that flared across their connection, making Clint break off the kiss and lean back. Both of them were breathing heavily, the small space between them warm against the cool November air that was permeating the van.

“We should probably go,” Clint said, licking his lips, the faint taste of James still on them, and James’ eyes flicked down to watch the movement, even in the dark.

“We should,” James agreed, but he didn’t make any move to let Clint go, until finally Clint wrenched himself away with a loud groan.

He hated being the responsible one.

Digging around in James’ backpack he produced a dark blue shirt for James to pull on, the red henley now a total loss between the blood and the tear in the fabric, and he handed him a sweatshirt as well. Underneath James’ clothes, Clint found a stack of cash and his own tactical belt, the one he’d been wearing in the SHIELD facility he’d infiltrated. That whole night felt like an entire lifetime ago, and it was nearly impossible to believe it hadn’t even been two weeks.

Less than two weeks he’d known James, and about five minutes since James had changed the rest of his foreseeable future.

Clint pulled the belt out and tossed it towards his own bag, grateful James hadn’t dumped it. He had his wallet in it, which in retrospect was probably a bit dumb if he’d been caught by anyone else. More importantly, it had enough tools in it to repair his arrows and fletching if he needed, and a few fancy arrowheads that could be swapped out for the regular ones he currently had, which might be good in a pinch.

The cash was a problem, though. It was all crisp and new, bundled hundred dollar bills that looked bank-fresh. He pulled a wrapped stack of them out, easily a cool 10k in his hand.

“Is this what we’ve been paying for things with?” Clint asked, waving the wad of cash at James.

“Yeah,” James said, looking wary and still a bit punch-drunk. Probably blood loss, but Clint let it inflate his ego a bit anyway.

Clint flipped through the money with his thumb. The bills were sequential as well. “It’s probably marked,” Clint informed him. “Might be how they found us. You used changed bills after the first night and then brand new ones for the motel today?” James nodded. “Yeah we won’t be using any more of this.”

Which presented its own set of problems. Clint had a bit of cash on hand, now he had his belt back, enough for a couple of nights in a motel, and then they’d have a cash flow problem. But maybe Clint could get James’ money laundered at some point if they passed through a big enough city. It would alert whoever might be tracking them, but if they did it quickly enough and moved on it might be workable.

And, well, they could always sleep in the van, Clint figured, as he shoved the money back into the bottom of the bag and climbed over the console to the front of the van and started it back up. They hadn’t been parked that long, not even long enough for the engine to go totally cold, so the vents began blowing warm air almost immediately, and Clint pointed all of them at James as he followed Clint to the front, albeit a bit more slowly. James rolled his eyes at the coddling, but didn’t move the vents as he shifted in his seat until he was comfortable. Clint stared at him pointedly until he buckled his seatbelt, and then Clint put the van into gear and drove them out of the rest stop.

Chapter Text

“Are we still heading west?” Clint asked after he’d been driving for nearly an hour in whatever random direction he’d pointed the van in. They needed to decide something because he couldn’t drive indefinitely and they needed some idea where they were headed.

“Better not,” James said, after a moment. “If they tracked us with the money they’ll know I’ve been going west, and if they did it some other way it won’t matter which direction we choose.” He grimaced, either in pain or from the worrisome thought that they had other ways of tracking him.

Clint figured it was the money, because if they’d had some other means it wouldn’t have taken them eleven days to catch up, but he kept his thoughts to himself.

“Does this mean I can take the interstate now?” he said instead.

“Sure,” James told him, the kind of dry undertone that Clint was learning meant he was amused. “Take the interstate. Head whatever direction you like, I’m just along for the ride sweetheart.”

Clint couldn’t stop the stupid fluttery feeling in his chest at the casual use of a pet name, but he couldn’t tell whether James meant it or was being sarcastic, so instead he chose to ignore the feelings while he followed the signs on the road that led to the nearest interstate.

“How do you feel about the coast?” he asked.

“Which one?”

Clint shrugged. Whichever one they ended up on first, he guessed.

“Sounds good to me,” James told him, leaning against the window and watching the blank, dark scenery fly by.

Clint hesitated for a few minutes, but once he got them on a route that would take them back east at a fair clip faster than their previous roundabout way, he edged his hand over and onto Bucky’s thigh, palm up, a silent question.

James threaded their fingers together without lifting his head from the cool glass.

His metal hand meant that Clint didn’t get the thrum of emotions that would tell him what James was feeling in the moment, but just the fact that he’d so easily accepted Clint’s silent offer was enough. Clint tightened his grip briefly, releasing it almost as quickly as he’d done it, unsure how much or how well James could feel with the fingers. But James squeezed back carefully, and that set off the fluttering sensation in Clint’s chest all over again.

He drove straight through for several hours, some of which James slept or at least did a fair imitation of sleeping, before Clint finally had to admit defeat and take the exit for the next motel that came up on the interstate signs. The sun was peeking over the horizon, and he’d had to fill up the tank of the minivan already once. They had half a tank of gas left to go, but Clint couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. He didn’t ask James if he wanted to stop, just pulled into the motel and coasted to a stop outside the office. He glanced over at James, who was watching him quietly, and then gave his hand another squeeze but didn’t say anything.

Clint climbed out of the van, leaving the engine running, and walked inside the small office.

The kid behind the desk barely glanced up at Clint, fixated on a laptop screen where Clint could see the white and black pages of some kind of document. The kid was typing furiously, obviously focused on whatever it was.

“Sixty-eight ninety-nine, the wifi is free, no pets,” he told Clint.

Clint dug his now-recovered wallet out of his pocket. He had a few hundred bucks, a debit card, and two fake IDs. It would do.

“Yeah, alright,” he said, pulling cash out. “How much for a late check-out?”

The kid blinked up at him owlishly through thick glasses. He glanced over at something behind the desk that Clint couldn’t see, then focused again on Clint. “I can do 3pm for an extra twenty-five.”

“Sold,” Clint told him, putting money down on the counter to slide it over. When the kid rolled his chair back Clint could see the polo of the motel chain tucked into dark skinny jeans, doc martens on his feet. He never got out of the chair, rolling to the computerized register. “ID?” the kid asked, holding his hand out expectantly. Clint passed over one of the fake IDs and waited while he was logged and registered, his change returned, and an electronic key handed back to him.

The room was on the far end of the building, close to the exit and away from the entrance, a fact Clint figured James would appreciate. He got back into the van and passed James the key before putting the vehicle into gear and driving them around the corner to the back of the parking lot.

Inside, the hotel room was as generic and non-descript as any of the others they’d stayed in, though cleaner than some. There was a single bed and a small bathroom, an outdated television set, and carpet Clint wasn’t sure he wanted under his bare feet. He dumped their bags on the chair nearest the bed and began dragging the blankets down, ready to collapse.

James was standing nearby, not quite shuffling but something in his posture suggesting a kind of anxiety or nervousness Clint had never seen in him before.

Clint sat on the edge of the bed and dragged his boots off, dumping them under the chair, and quickly lost his shirt and pants as well, until he was left in an undershirt and boxers, feeling like he had sand in his eyelids and cotton in his brain. He slumped into the cheap sheets, wrestling the edges out from under the mattress and punching pillows into place.

James was still standing awkwardly.

“In or out,” Clint told him sleepily, feeling the dragging edges of exhaustion pulling him under.

“What?”

“The bed,” Clint said, scooting over so there was a bit more room on the side closest to the door - James always put himself between Clint and the exit. Clint had thought it was because he was worried about an escape, but he didn’t think that anymore. “You sleepin’ or keepin’ watch? Prob’ly safe to sleep,” he slurred. “Used my money to pay for the room.” He patted the mattress beside him with heavy, unwieldy thumps, the clumsiest invitation he’d ever made.

He wanted James for snuggles though, and not for sex, so that was alright.

Or at least, not for sex right this second.

James gave an undignified snort, but he did shuck his own boots and jeans, tugging his sweatshirt over his head at the last second before climbing gingerly onto the mattress beside Clint.

Clint’s eyes were heavy and he struggled to stay awake, just long enough to make sure James was alright, was gonna be able to relax. At the moment he was holding himself stiff and uncertain, a six inch gap between them that might as well have been a canyon for all the cold air and uncertainty it held. “Get over here,” he mumbled into the pillow, reaching behind him to scrabble ineffectively at James. “It’s cold.”

Cautiously, James scooted closer until Clint could at least imagine he felt the heat of James’ body filling up the space between them, and finally Clint said fuck it and scooted himself in, until his back was pressed up against James’ right side, the soft cotton of his shirt and shorts brushing against the bits of Clint’s skin that were exposed. He reached back again and petted James’ chest awkwardly, like some combination of reward and groping. “G’night,” was all Clint managed, before he tumbled headfirst into unconsciousness.

He woke up warm and well-rested, James curled around him and a metal hand settled tentatively on his hip.

And a hard cock pressed up against his back.

“I can help with that,” Clint muttered, squirming further into the arms draped around him and grinning into his pillow. He couldn’t hear himself, because at some point James had removed his hearing aids, and something about that made the swirly feeling in Clint’s chest even tighter. The contact between them brought the gentle sensation of James’ feelings to Clint, a warm contentment tinged with exasperated amusement.

Clint blinked his eyes open to squint at the clock on the table beside the bed. They only had about an hour before they had to check out, so he’d have to take care of it quickly, but he could definitely help out with the current… situation.

He stretched to snag his hearing aids and fit them into his ears.

“I’m gonna dump the serum,” James said.

What a mood kill. Clint sighed, but didn’t move from his spot. “What is it, anyway?” Clint asked.

James shrugged behind him, the motion jostling the arm he had under Clint’s neck. “Dunno if it’s anything, it might be fake. I think it was a trap, the way it was set up when I got there. Like a carrot on a stick.” He hummed. “It’s supposed to be the supersoldier serum or Captain America’s DNA, something we could use to make more super soldiers, but…” he trailed.

“If they want Captain America’s DNA they can just scrape it off the sidewalk after one of the Avenger battles,” Clint said around a yawn. “Guy gets shot every time, I swear to god. I dunno what he has a shield for since he uses it as a frisbee.”

There was a fissure of… something in their connection, some kind of startlement and a dash of protectiveness and then sheer confusion that James shoved down until it wasn’t anything Clint could really identify anymore. “Whatever it is, the people I work for- worked for, don’t need it.”

Clint made a wordless sound of agreement, considering his next words. “Yeah, about that. What’s with the words?”

James rested his forehead between Clint’s shoulders, shaking his head vaguely. The emotions rolling through him made Clint want to throw up, some combination of guilt and shame and fear that Clint really didn’t care for. He tried to roll over so that he could see James’ face, could do a better job of offering comfort, but James held him in place effortlessly. “They’re like… resets for my brain. Makes me do whatever they want.”

Clint blinked. “What, like a reboot? Like… it’s just a metal arm, you’re not a robot, what the fuck?”

“Might be,” James said softly. “I dunno. Can’t remember what I was. Just… what they tell me. And a little bit of stuff that might be from before? A little blond guy, some dancing. My name and a serial number. My head’s a mess.”

“You know what the words are?” Clint asked, thinking about the guy he’d shot. Wondered how many other guys were out there that knew the words that would make James into Soldat again.

James shuddered. “I- yeah. Can’t say ‘em, but I know ‘em.”

“What language are they even in?” Clint wondered. “I can just shoot anyone who starts shouting nonsense, I guess.”

There was a wet-sounding snort of laughter behind him, and James’ emotions were a riotous ball of indiscernible feelings Clint couldn’t decipher. His own were mostly cold rage and confusion, so that probably wasn’t helping the situation.

“Russian. But anyone starts shouting words at me, you should get out of there,” James told him, sounding sober and serious. “I dunno what that’ll do to this,” he said, squeezing Clint’s hip.

“Fuck you, I’m not going anywhere,” Clint told him. “Whither thou goest, or whatever. They get you, they’ll have me anyway.”

“No,” James said sharply, moving to roll away until Clint wrapped a leg behind his knees to keep him in place. “Promise me.”

“I promise I won’t let them keep you,” Clint said, instead. He wasn’t gonna promise to abandon James, whatever he thought about it. He could get fucked on that idea.

How strongly he felt about it must have come through, because James subsided, twisting to wrap his arm more firmly around Clint’s waist and pressing his face into the crook of Clint’s neck and shoulder. He exhaled heavily, breath warm and damp on Clint’s skin and squeezed gently. “Maybe you should-”

“Shut up,” Clint told him. “I’m not going anywhere, and if you dump me and run off, I’ll go after them myself until you’re safe, so fuck off.” As soon as he figured out who ‘they’ were, anyway. Some kind of black ops agency, maybe. Off-the-books government bullshit, or a terrorist organization. Clint could work it out. He’d get a handful of that cash and spend it, then wait around for the calvary to show up, he-

James brushed a feather-light kiss behind his ear and tightened his grip on Clint’s body, and Clint sort of lost his train of thought. “You’re thinkin’ too hard,” James told him.

“You’re trying to distract me,” Clint said, already a little breathless. He could feel the thick tendrils of desire curling up between them, and the erection that hadn’t entirely gone away was once again pushing insistently against his spine.

“Is it working?”

“Little bit,” Clint informed him, shifting to tangle their legs together so that James was almost holding him in place.

James’s hand drifted, skin-warmed metal slipping under Clint’s shirt to drag across his skin. He arched into the touch as James’ thumb brushed over his nipple, teasing it to a peak and then pinching gently. “Okay?” he asked, as Clint gasped wetly.

“Very okay, the most okay,” Clint managed, reaching over his head to tangle his fingers in James’ hair.

Humming, James let his lips explore the exposed skin above Clint’s shirt, stubble rasping against the sensitive skin beneath his ear as James left hot, wet kisses and stinging bites in his wake. His hand drifted to the other nipple, giving it the same treatment as the first, plucking harder at it when Clint let out a deep groan at the contact. The hand drifted lower and lower until James paused at the waist of Clint’s boxers, hesitant.

“Fucking touch me,” Clint demanded, too far gone to care how it sounded. He was punch drunk on the feedback loop of pleasure and James’ eager response and lust and more pleasure and all he wanted was James’ hand on his cock yesterday. Hell, he’d wanted James’ hand on his cock when James was just his kidnapper; the fact that he was his Soulmate made everything so much better.

James snorted against Clint’s throat. “Demanding,” he said, but the pleased hum in their connection gave him away, and an anxiety Clint hadn’t noticed until it was gone disappeared.

Then James’ snuck his hand into Clint’s shorts and wrapped his metal fingers around Clint’s dick, and Clint’s brain disappeared.

“Aw fuck,” he gasped, thrusting into the firm grip. The movement rocked him against James, who made a small, desperate noise in response. Clint managed to untangle his hand from James’ hair and instead shoved inelegantly at both of their boxers, pushing them down until James’ bare cock was sliding against his bare skin. Clint trembled as all the skin-on-skin contact increased, making it even easier for Clint to know exactly how good James felt, warm and pressed against Clint, his wonder at getting to have this, the bottomless well of lust that both of them had tumbled into.

Fuck, this was not going to last long at all.

Clint angled his head back, seeking James’ mouth with his own, until they were kissing sloppily despite the awkward angle. James’ free hand was wrapped around Clint’s shoulders and he was rocking his hips, grinding his cock against Clint, warm and getting slicker as they moved together.

“Not gonna last long,” Clint gasped out as James flicked his thumb over the head of his erection, spreading precome and making Clint’s hips jerk.

“Me either,” James reassured him, hooking his thigh over Clint’s legs for better leverage. “S’ok, next time’ll be better. Slower, something, fuck.”

It was the swear word that set Clint off, the punched-out, wrecked sound of it, James’ voice cracking in the middle and the hot spill of come against Clint’s back. James continued thrusting, sliding slickly though the mess, his hips stuttering as he mouthed wetly at Clint’s throat and twisted his wrist on Clint’s dick. He was corkscrewing his hand, tight and fast, and the singing pleasure that James was feeling echoed through the bond until Clint couldn’t do anything but come, his hand clenched down on James’ thigh as he panted and shook and whimpered his way through climax.

“Oh my god,” was all Clint could manage, several minutes of heavy breathing later.

“Yeah,” James agreed, sounding as overwhelmed and shattered as Clint felt.

Before either of them could come up with something better to say, there was pounding on the door and someone yelled “housekeeping” through the wood.

“Give us ten minutes,” Clint yelled, glancing at the clock. No one responded, but he could hear the clattering of a housekeeping cart rolling a few feet away, then the more distant sound of pounding on the door of the room next door.

They had fifteen minutes to get out of the room.

“Fuck,” Clint said, sitting up and grimacing at the sticky feel of his skin. There was come everywhere. He stripped his t-shirt the rest of the way off before it got filthy. “Dibs on the shower,” he said, standing up to stretch and dropping his boxers as he went.

James made a noise behind him in the bed and Clint smirked over his shoulder, where James was already watching him with heavy-lidded eyes. “Up and at ‘em, big guy, we have like ten minutes to vacate the premises.” Clint sauntered into the miniscule bathroom, opening the taps and letting the water heat up while he brushed his teeth with the complimentary toothbrush. He took the time to look at himself in the mirror, admiring the red rasp of stubble burn and purpling marks on his shoulders from James’ mouth. There was the slightest red imprint on his hip from James’ fingers. He turned sideways in the mirror to admire it, and caught a flash of gold behind his ear.

Clint hadn’t noticed his Mark before because it was perfectly positioned to be hidden from a casual look in the mirror. The round impression of James’ thumb was behind his earlobe, just beneath where his hearing aids rested, with the remaining four fingers along the column of his neck on the other side and the slightest impression of his palm resting just beneath where the collar of Clint’s shirt would be. Clint had to crane his neck to see the full mark, bending his head down and forward and turning to the side just slightly while he cut his eyes back at the mirror to make it out, and he’d need a hand held mirror to really get the full visual.

It was really no wonder he hadn’t noticed it before, considering Clint spent as little time as possible in front of a mirror, always unimpressed with what stared back at him.

Still, the glittering mark on his skin soothed something inside him, some restless part of him that hadn’t really believed in the mark he’d left on James’ skin until just now, when he could see an accompanying mark on his own.

James slipped into the bathroom behind him, catching Clint’s eye in the mirror and reaching up to brush his fingers over the mark tentatively, like he wasn’t sure, even now, that he was allowed to touch. Clint leaned into the contact gratefully, his eyes slipping shut. The feeling of James’ emotions humming just beneath the surface was infinitely more calming than anything Clint had ever experienced in his life.

The steam from the shower was fogging up the room, and Clint knew they probably only had a few more minutes before the housekeepers would be back to boot them out. Still-

“Wanna share?” Clint offered, eager to get his hands on James’ naked body in ways he hadn’t been able to before.

James smirked at him, leaned in to press his lips to Clint’s in something that was a lot more tender than Clint had expected or even experienced before. “Sure, doll.”

“I’m kinda liking these pet names,” Clint informed him, climbing over the rim of the tub. He tossed his hearing aids into the sink basin at the last second, barely remembering to remove them before he ducked his head under the spray. “They’re kinda old-fashioned,” Clint continued, scrubbing soap hastily through his hair and over his shoulders, “but they suit you.” He tilted his head back, rinsing. If James said anything, Clint couldn’t hear it, but he could feel the other man’s bulk in the shower with him, taking up space and radiating heat.

The soap was removed from his hands, and then James was running slippery, sudsy hands over him, gently thorough as his fingers slid to the webbing between Clint’s fingers and his soft, sensitive cock, down to the crooked pinky toes on his feet, broken so many times Clint had lost count. Clint returned the favor, running tender hands over the scars he encountered and less-gentle squeezes over the firm muscles of James’ thighs. When the water rinsed the soap suds away, Clint leaned in to bite at the juncture of James’ thigh and hip, grinning wickedly.

Menace,” James signed, affection on his face.

They tumbled out of the shower just in time, dragging clothes over still-damp skin and snagging their bags just as housekeeping came back, not bothering to knock this time. Clint pointedly didn’t look at the still-wrecked bed, just bolted out the door behind James with a flush climbing up his throat.

Jesus.

At least they weren’t coming back.

James held his hand out for the keys and then stopped to eyeball the van suspiciously.

Granted, they’d only had it for a few hours, but it was probably reported stolen by now. Clint glanced around the nearly empty parking lot and sighed. “C’mon,” he said, heading for the passenger side. “We’ll swap the plates out at a rest stop or somethin’.” He was itching to get moving and not eager to get rid of the van, especially when it had so much room, making it much more suitable for their needs.

Sighing, James capitulated, climbing into the driver’s seat and cranking the engine. Clint reached into the back, grabbing his quiver and the tactical belt, intent on doing some repair work on his ammunition. He cleaned the arrows up as best he could, but being shot did its own damage to the fletching, and he wanted to fiddle with the custom arrowheads and the mechanism on the quiver he’d been working on to swap them around while he was shooting.

Well, maybe not the exploding arrow heads. Working on those in a moving car maybe wasn’t a good idea.

Or the putty ones.

But the rest - he could definitely work on sorting those out.

It was the mechanism in the quiver that was really causing him problems. He’d got the idea from the rotary dial of a phone and been working on a way to incorporate it into his routine ever since. There was a button on the quiver that turned the dial, but Clint had to keep careful count of which arrows were in which location to make it work. It was a fun project, something to keep his mind off whatever else was happening.

They rode in comfortable silence for a couple of hours while Clint cleaned and repaired and fiddled with his weaponry, organizing arrows into the quiver and testing the motor until he was satisfied, then went for the bow itself, checking it for damage. He couldn’t restring it in a van, there wasn’t enough space, but he was itching to. As he’d expected, Barney having fucked about with it meant the draw was off enough to annoy Clint, though obviously not enough to throw off his aim.

After that, Clint was out of shit to fiddle with and his stomach was rumbling audibly. “Food?” he asked, hopefully, and James dutifully took the next exit with another nondescript diner on the sign.

“So,” Clint said, as they pulled into a parking space. “Thoughts.” James turned to give Clint his full attention, leaving the engine running. He wasn’t used to anyone giving his ideas or words weight, but he forged forward anyway. “One: I only have enough cash for another night or two in a motel. We can sleep in the van if we have to, but that’s gonna get old fast.”

James made a noise of agreement and waited expectantly for Clint to continue.

Seriously, it was surreal. Clint cleared his throat. “Two: We can get the money you’ve got laundered if we backtrack a bit and head for Chicago. Big city, easy to get lost in, I know a couple of guys who will do the exchange and might even wait a couple of days to use the cash, which would give us a head start. But we gotta get there first, and it’s a full day’s drive from here.”

“Makes sense,” James agreed. “What’s the problem?”

“We gotta eat,” Clint said, jerking his head at the diner. “If I dip into my cash fund we might not be able to get the rooms, which again is not the end of the world, but kinda sucks. Especially, uh,” Clint cleared his own throat, suddenly shy in a way he hadn’t been since he was 16 and coaxing pretty girls and pretty boys to meet him behind the circus tents after the shows were over, “if uh, you wanna… you know.”

James looked entirely too amused. “If I wanna… what?”

Clint blew an unimpressed breath out of his nose. “If you wanna continue what we started at the last place, you know what I mean, c’mon.”

James chuckled, reaching out to drag Clint in for a kiss. “Yeah, I wanna.”

“Okay.” Clint took a deep breath, reeling from the simmering sense of desire James’ touch left behind. “Okay. Cool. Good. Uh. So yeah, if you wanna- if a bed is important to you, we need to hold onto the cash for a beds only, so that means we gotta pay for food some other way.”

“Can’t use the cash in my bag,” James said, frowning.

“Nope, but I was thinkin’ - I’ve got a debit card-” James opened his mouth to protest. “No, I know, it’s not the greatest idea, but look. They’re tracking you, right? They don’t know about me. Or you know, they might know there’s a guy with an arrow, but I’m nobody. They don’t have my name, that’s not who my brother was doin’ business with. It’s a risk, but like, pretty low risk? They’re lookin’ for your money, not my debit card, and anyway we’ll eat, pay, and get out. It’ll be quick. Ten minutes for them to run the card and sign it and we’re out and back on the road. And I’ll swap the plates on the van before we go in so we don’t get pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle.”

James took time to think about it, his face creased as he considered the possibilities, but Clint saw the moment that he realized there really wasn’t much of a better option. They could try to eat cheaply and spend less of Clint’s money, but James ate his weight in food so far as Clint could tell, and Clint wasn’t exactly a nibbler. They needed to eat and they needed to sleep, and putting twenty bucks worth of diner food on a card was probably the safest bet. Finally James gave Clint a short, sharp nod, and Clint just barely refrained from fist-pumping.

He could really dig this whole being some of the brains of the plan-thing.

They climbed out of the vehicle together, the brisk wind snatching Clint’s breath for a second, and then James leaned casually against the driver’s side, acting as a lookout and giving Clint a quick get on with it motion. Clint did, stripping the screws out of the plate on the van and tucking it under his jacket once he pulled it off. A quick glance around the parking lot revealed a similar, dark-colored minivan model a few spaces down, and Clint casually made his way over, keeping his eyes open for random passerby. After a handful of seconds during which no one showed up, he squatted down and swapped the plates out as quickly as possible, noting with relief that they were even the same state - even less likely to draw the eye - and then headed back to James at a semi-sedate pace. Four more quick screws and the van’s plates were completely different from the previous set. As an added bonus, Clint smeared a little of the dirt and grime from the parking lot over the numbers, blurring the reflective metal and making it difficult to discern the numbers without outright obscuring them.

“All good,” he said quietly as he stood, dusting his hands off. Yuck, he was gross.

As they were walking across the parking lot James slid his metal hand, encased in a black leather glove, into Clint’s back pocket, casual as you please. “Smooth,” Clint commented, grinning down at him.

James shrugged, a little pink in the cheeks. It could be argued that it was related to the cold, but Clint chose to believe otherwise.

Dinner went smoothly, service was fast, the food was filling, Clint managed to get all the grime off his hands in the bathroom before their food was delivered, and they were in and out of the place in less than half an hour, all told. They even paid at the register rather than waiting on a server to bring a check and ring the card, making even less time they were lingering while Clint’s information got blasted into space or whatever, so that when they hit the road Clint felt pretty good about the whole thing.

“See?” he said, about twenty minutes down the road, James back at the wheel and cruising exactly 7 miles over the speed limit, “easy as-”

He was cut off abruptly by a loud whoosh, like all the air had been sucked out of the sky, and then a boom, followed by James slamming on the brakes - his arm flying out to hold Clint in place despite his seatbelt - and the car fishtailing on the black asphalt. Ahead, in the middle of the road, Iron Man had landed in a classic superhero pose, kneeling, before standing almost casually and raising one arm, the repulsor in his hand already charging-

“Fuck!” Clint shouted, ducking down and throwing his hands over his head. James wrenched the wheel to avoid a blast that never actually came, because minivans weren’t intended for combat levels of defensive driving, and the entire thing spun sideways and flipped into a roll.

Clint lost track of everything except for the screech of metal and shattering of glass, the way James’ arm was across his chest like a vice holding him in place. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,” he muttered, shouted, screamed, who knew? He clamped his hands over his ears to hold his aids in place and prayed for life.

Jesus fuck.

The van came to a shuddering, screeching stop, somewhere on the shoulder of the highway, passenger side down. James leaned over his seatbelt giving Clint a frantic, frightened pat down. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Clint panted, hoping it was true. The adrenaline was kinda drowning out anything that might be wrong. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”

“Okay. Stay here, I’ll be back.”

Clint blinked at him in shock as James reached up and ripped the door of the van off the hinges, shoving it sideways and off of the van, and then released the seatbelt to haul himself up. He had a gun tucked into the back of his jeans that had probably been there the whole time, then he was gone, disappearing into the darkness with a pistol.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Clint muttered, before unsnapping his own seatbelt and collapsing sideways against the door. “Ow,” he muttered, then dragged himself upright. There were shards of broken glass everywhere, but the inside of the vehicle was still roughly in decent shape, and he was able to find his thankfully undamaged bow and quiver tucked up under his seat exactly where he’d left them. “Are we seriously taking on the Avengers with a handgun and a fuckin’ bow and arrows? This cannot be my life.” He hooked the quiver and bow over his shoulder and hauled himself out of the van much the same way James had, though not quite as effortlessly.

He crouched on the edge of the frame, taking in the scene in front of him. The van’s lights were still miraculously intact, illuminating the scene in front of him. James had ripped the sleeve off of his shirt and jacket, the metal arm full on display, and he was engaged in what looked like an actual fist fight with Iron Man. Meanwhile, there was someone creeping around the edges of the fight, slim and fast-moving, and before he could think about it, Clint reached for his bow and one of his special arrows - the ones that had flares on the end - and fired it, illuminating the forest around the figure and revealing coppery red hair and a black catsuit.

Aw fuck, they were fighting Iron Man and Black Widow.

No way was this ending well.

Clint threw himself into a tumble off of the van, ignoring the various aches and pains of being slung around in a seatbelt and ran for the treeline just past the van. He scrambled for the first low-hanging branch he could find, climbing the tree as easily as he had the rigging of the circus until he could plant himself between a forked branch and still see the mayhem.

James was keeping close, which Clint had to admit was smart, because being blasted by repulsors didn’t seem like any sort of fun, and his hand to hand technique was clearly superior. Unfortunately, he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt instead of head-to-toe body armor and it was only a matter of time before he took a hit that knocked him down and-

Like Clint thinking it had wished it into existence, Iron Man finally got in a hard enough hit that it threw James back several feet, and Iron Man lifted his arm, the whine of the repulsor loud enough that Clint could hear it even from his treetop perch. Clint reached behind him again and snagged a different arrow, one he’d developed for an infiltration job with Barney, and took careful aim. Iron Man’s suit had a gap below the armpit, just where the chest plates and the flank of the armor met, where the inner workings of the suit were barely exposed and-

Clint fired, and the arrow lodged itself exactly where he’d aimed, emitting a low-toned whine as it went off.

The entire Iron Man suit shut down abruptly, the mechanical noises ceasing and the lights of the eyes going out. The arm that had been charging to fire on James dropped uselessly to the suit’s side, and Clint scrambled to get out of the tree fast enough to make it to James.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he mumbled, hitting the ground at speed and from higher than he probably should have jumped, tucking into a roll on his shoulder and coming up running. He skidded to a stop in front of James breathing hard, two arrows drawn and pointing into the darkness around them.

Moments later, a jet so advanced Clint wouldn’t have been surprised if it was an alien ship materialized in the long, empty space of the highway behind Iron Man. The back of it opened, and Captain America strolled down the ramp, shield strapped to his arm.

“Now son,” he said, when he got close enough, “just don’t.”

Clint couldn’t contain the hysterical snort of laughter that bubbled up out of his chest, escaping out of his nose like a choked-off giggle as he immediately thought of the god-awful Captain America PSAs that were the butt of every internet joke.

Behind him, James sighed.

Clint caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and he whipped the bow around, catching the Black Widow to their side, the bracelets on her wrists lit up in crackling blue electricity.

Oh great, getting electrocuted was definitely on his to do list tonight.

James turned his body slightly to face her, and Clint switched his attention back to Captain America.

They were so going to jail.

“Tony,” Captain America said carefully, “how long until your suit’s back up?”

“About three and a half minutes,” Clint called.

Captain America gave him a raised eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

Clint noticed that no one had said he was wrong. Clint shrugged, carefully not dislodging the arrows in his grip. “I designed the tech. It’s meant to last ten minutes on a regular mainframe, but I figured Tony Stark is a little smarter than that, so I cut the time by sixty percent.” He couldn’t really see the Captain’s expression behind the cowl, but he got the impression he was getting the infamous Eyebrows of Disappointment.

“Hey Cap,” he called, smirking, “listen, I know this is gonna go badly but could you just- I’ll literally give you like five hundred bucks to say ‘So your body’s changing’.”

The snort of laughter that echoed in the Iron Man suit was worth the way Captain America scowled at him.

Behind them, Black Widow called out something in an unfamiliar language, and Clint took his chances on the EMP arrow and Captain America’s innate sense of justice to turn and face her, his aim deadly and true at this range.

“Yo, lady,” Clint said, low and fueled with rage, “I know you’re meant to be the good guys and all, but the last person who started shouting random Russian words ended up with an arrow in his throat, so maybe don’t do that.”

Black Widow blinked at him in surprise, then the edges of her mouth curled into a smile that Clint felt he should probably be a bit more worried about.

“Don’t do anything stupid, you punk,” James growled from beside him.

“Not really my strong suit,” Clint reminded him.

The Widow took two steps forward, and Clint pulled the bow string taut again, breathing deeply and falling into that space in his brain where everything was targets and nothing else mattered. He was sinking into it, calculating angles and velocities, the kind of numbers he’d never learned in school but just intuitively knew from years and years of practice and experience and sheer raw talent.

He was broken out of his concentration by Captain America saying, in a small and broken voice, “Bucky?”

Black Widow froze.

The Iron Man suit rebooted, but instead of charging his repulsors, Iron Man flipped the faceplate of his helmet up to stare at the captain, and wow, it really was Tony Stark under the helmet. Clint hadn’t been sure the conspiracy theorists that claimed it wasn’t were wrong.

Captain America took a half step forward, looking devastated. He pulled the cowl off of his head, leaving a mess of blonde hair sticking up behind it.

“Who the hell is Bucky?” James snarled, not backing down.

Clint glanced between Steve Rogers, all-American war hero and former popsicle, recently celebrating his 101st birthday but not looking a day over 30, and James - James who was an infamous assassin dating back 70 years, who also didn’t look a day over 30, couldn’t remember a thing about his past, but bore a startling resemblance to a grainy black and white photo Clint barely remembered from a history book he hadn’t seen in like fifteen years - and groaned.

He lowered the bow.

“I think you the hell is Bucky,” Clint informed James.

James Buchanan Barnes.

Steve Rogers’ best friend, who’d supposedly died falling from a train sometime in the 1940-somethings.

Seriously what the fuck was Clint’s life?

“Alright,” he announced, rolling his eyes. “Give us like two minutes.”

Tony Stark turned to stare at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Two minutes,” Clint said again, shoving the arrows back into his quiver and slinging the bow over his shoulder.

“So,” he said to James, who looked as confused as Steve Rogers apparently felt. “Thoughts.”

“Your last plan didn’t go that great,” James reminded him, sounding grumpy as fuck about it.

“That’s not my fault! I didn’t know the fuckin’ Avengers were looking for you. I thought it was just the fuckin’ nightmare guys in the black or whatever, with the words. This is not my fault.”

“Actually,” Black Widow said, sounding bored, “we were looking for you.”

“Okay,” Clint conceded, “maybe it was my fault. But! I didn’t know the Avengers were- wait, why were the Avengers looking for me?” He glanced around, bewildered.

“You stole the serum,” Black Widow informed him.

“I did not! He stole the serum, and me, I am an innocent bystander, I-”

“Clint,” James said, derailing his argument. “Focus. And you were trying to steal the serum.”

“Yeah, okay, that’s fair. Anyway. I was thinking. We should surrender.”

James blinked at him.

“I mean we’re not gonna win this right? Besides, the Avengers have gotta be better than whoever was trying to catch you with the fucked up brainwashing words or whatever.”

James seemed to consider that carefully, before reaching up with his free hand - his bare, right hand - and pressing his fingertips gently to Clint’s cheek. Clint tried to let all the emotions he was feeling go - the stress and the truly terrifying sight of James battling it out with goddamn Iron Man, and the stark fear that Black Widow inspired in him - and instead just focus on the way he wanted James to feel him, full of acceptance and concern and-

Aw, shit. Probably love. That’s- that was probably love.

He wrapped his hand around James’ fingers and just held them there for an endless, syrupy moment.

“Okay,” James said, not taking his fingers or his eyes off of Clint, “okay, we surrender.” He switched the safety on his gun and dropped it on the ground, kicking it over towards the Widow.

“I’m not dropping my bow on the ground,” Clint said. “Just for the record. I’ll hand it gently to someone who appreciates it but there will be no dropping and kicking.”

James rolled his eyes. “You’re impossible.”

***

The Avengers cells were much nicer than any Clint had ever been in before, he had to admit. Even if they had taken away everything up to and including his shoes, leaving him in the equivalent of hospital scrubs and bare feet. The room was spacious and well-lit, and even the (wall mounted, no bits to take apart and use for lock picks or shivs) bunk was surprisingly comfortable. They’d even left him some things to entertain himself with - including a rubber bouncy ball, which Clint would have made some kind of childish remark about if he weren’t currently throwing it very precisely around the room, banking it off of the walls, floor, ceiling, and facilities so that it landed perfectly in his palm on every rebound.

Clint would probably be a lot less disgruntled about it than he was, if it weren’t for the fact that James - Bucky? Should he be calling him Bucky? It felt weird. - was locked in the cell next to him, which meant Clint couldn’t see him, touch him, or anything else to confirm he was alive.

Well, he could shout.

Fucking Avengers.

“Hey James,” Clint called, waiting on a response. He tipped the chair he was sitting in back until it was balanced on two legs as he continued tossing the ball around.

James grunted.

Clint didn’t like it.

He couldn’t see his face, couldn’t read the micro-expressions he had just started learning, couldn’t figure out if James was just annoyed with Clint’s constant bouncing of the ball and pacing and general jitteriness that was half being locked up and half being locked up away from James, or if he was just being his usual monosyllabic self.

“How do you sell a deaf man a chicken?” Clint waited on James to respond. He made another grunting noise, but Clint waited him out, and finally James said, “I dunno, how?”

He sounded mildly exasperated, but no more upset than usual, Clint figured. It was just hard to tell.

“DO YOU WANT TO BUY A CHICKEN?” Clint shouted as loud as he could manage.

The joke was funnier when you shouted it in someone’s face, startling the shit out of them, but it was still pretty good. No one expected the deaf guy to be telling deaf jokes.

James huffed something that resembled a laugh, and Clint’s chest ached.

He wanted to touch, and he didn’t know if that was a part of their bond or just his natural inclination, but they’d been locked up in the basement or whatever of Avenger Tower for hours, and the only thing that had happened was that Steve Rogers had come down to give James puppy dog eyes and sound like a sad sack as he talked about their shared childhood while James didn’t really answer him, until the Falcon had come to drag him away again.

Well, fuck this, Clint figured.

There was a vent just above his bunk, set high enough in the wall that most people probably couldn’t reach it, but Clint hadn’t been a circus brat for nothing and he figured he could jump high enough off the bed to catch the edges of the shaft, if he could just get the grate off.

He changed the angle of the ball he was tossing, until it was smacking into the corners of the grate one by one, over and over, until it was rattling with every pass. Finally, eventually, after what felt like twenty seven years of waiting but which was probably only about half an hour, the grate fell with minimal clatter onto the bunk below.

Sweet.

Clint let the chair legs hit the ground and scrambled onto the bunk, kicking the mattress and grate off onto the floor. There was no way they weren’t being watched on camera, so he had a short amount of time to manage this. He took a running leap from the end of the bunk and managed to hook his fingertips into the edge of the vent, grunting as he pulled himself up into it. Tight squeeze, but he’d manage.

The ventilation system was surprisingly clean and well-lit. Benefits of being imprisoned in Tony Stark’s personal building, he guessed. The ventilation to his cell was on the opposite side to James’ cell, so Clint took a random guess and made a left at the next junction, heading for the center of the room. It wasn’t a very big system, dead-ending at regular intervals, and eventually Cint managed to work his way into an access point that led to another grate, one that was lit through the bars. Peeking in, Clint could see another cell, but not very much of what it contained.

“Olly-olly-oxenfree,” he called, then braced his feet on the walls of the ventilation shaft as he shoved at the grate in front of him until it popped loose.

“Fuckin’ christ,” got grunted out below him, and when Clint poked his head out of the vent James was glaring up at him, the grate partially-crushed in his metal fingers.

“Good catch,” Clint said, shimmying out of the narrow hole in the wall. James rolled out of the way just in time as Clint executed a neat tumble from the vent to land on the bunk below, his head landing perfectly on the abandoned pillow. The whole thing was warm and smelled faintly of James, and Clint wanted to roll over and bury himself in it, except he had the real thing right there glaring down at him.

Clint smiled winningly, holding out his hand. James took it, and Clint sighed into the blissful sensation of finally getting to touch. “C’mere,” Clint said, pulling James towards him until he was tangled up with Clint on the narrow ledge of the bunk. It took them a few minutes of pushing and pulling and Clint getting pinched by the plates in James’ arm at least twice, but they finally managed to settle with Clint curled around James with his back to the wall and James facing out towards the cell. It made Clint huff a little laugh, but he kept his comments to himself, sliding his palm under the rough cotton of James’ Avenger-issued scrub top to rest lightly on the ridges of his abdominal muscles.

“You’re an idiot,” James said, gruffly, but Clint could feel that he wasn’t mad, really, just anxious and uncertain. He was gripping Clint’s other hand tightly enough that Clint could tell without the connection he was glad Clint was here.

“Yeah,” Clint agreed, burying his face into the tender skin that was usually hidden by James’ hair, but he’d tied it back out of his face once they’d taken his cap away. The back of his neck was pale and vulnerable and Clint pressed his lips to it oh-so-gently. “But I’m an idiot with a badass soulmate, so that’s fine.”

Clint couldn’t see James roll his eyes, but he got the general sense of eye-rolling anyway. “You should’ve got out, not climbed in here with me.”

“I told you,” Clint said patiently, pressing another kiss to James’ spine, nibbling at the edge of vertebrae there, “where you go, I go, etcetera etcetera. And I wasn’t gonna leave you behind before I got a chance to suck your dick.”

James opened his mouth in sputtering protest but Clint continued on over him. “Besides, the ventilation here doesn’t connect to the rest of the building so I couldn’t escape through there anyway.”

They lay in comfortable silence, the hum of connection passing between them and lulling Clint nearly to sleep before anyone came to check.

Black Widow strolled to the edges of glass the enclosed the cell and studied them thoughtfully. “So, where’s the serum?”

James bristled.

“Somewhere in the sewage system east of Kansas City,” Clint said tiredly. “Can I have a nap now?”

“You dumped the supersoldier serum?” she asked, clearly doubtful.

“Meh,” Clint said, rising up on one elbow so he could look at her. She was wearing jeans and a soft cotton shirt, and he figured she had at least a half dozen weapons hidden on her person. “We figured you already had one, and whoever’d trained James didn’t need one, so we flushed it. Literally.”

“Hydra,” Widow said.

Beside Clint, James went tense. “What are you talking about?”

“Hydra had you,” Widow informed him, blase about it like she couldn’t see that James was gearing up for a fight, his arm whining as it recalibrated. Clint stroked his fingers over James’s flank, fighting for a calm James didn’t feel.

“Wasn’t Hydra the bad guys Captain America fought in the stone age or whatever?” Clint asked. “He blew up a plane right? Ka-pow, no more Hydra.”

“Yes, that’s what everyone thought.” Widow told them. “But then, everyone thought you were dead and the Winter Soldier was a myth - well, everyone but me, but then, I’ve met you before. You could at least recognize me.” She tugged the edge of her shirt up, revealing a star-shaped scar on the side of her abdomen.

Clint felt the jolt of recognition that slid through James.

“Odessa?” he asked, uncertainly. “Some kind of scientist?”

Black Widow hummed something that was vaguely affirmative. Her gaze swapped to Clint. “So how does a criminal circus performer end up with the Winter Soldier for a partner?”

“Soulmate,” Clint corrected her, flopping back down. “And he kidnapped me. We were just trying to quietly go on the run, lady, ‘til you showed up.”

“On the run from who?” she asked, leaning casually against the nearest desk.

“Hydra, apparently.” Clint was super over this whole thing. He really just wanted to have a nap and some coffee and a blow job, not necessarily in that order, and they were busy being interrogated by an infamous assassin.

He was bored.

“Can you just cut to the chase or whatever?” he asked, waving his hand vaguely. “I wanna nap.” James elbowed him.

Clint elbowed back.

The Widow sighed, clearly already put out with the two of them. “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”