When Phil opens his eyes, Barnes is crouched in front of him, holding a knife.
Phil tries to scramble upright immediately, but his arm is pinned and movement only makes him choke back a gasp of pain.
“Whoa,” Barnes says, in English, which Phil decides to take as a good sign. He holds up both his hands, releasing Phil’s arm, and Phil takes the opportunity to force himself to sit up straight.
He pulls his arm up protectively against his body, looking around quickly in case there are any more convenient lamps to use as coshes.
“Look,” Barnes says carefully, “I completely understand why you look like you wish you had your gun in your – . Wait, hold up.” He interrupts himself and scoots backwards, picking Phil’s gun up off the floor and handing it to him, butt first. “Better?”
“Much,” Phil agrees, flicking the safety off but doing Barnes the courtesy of not pointing it directly at him just yet.
“Okay,” Barnes says, still acting like Phil’s a skittish colt. “Now you’re armed, I’m not, can I get back to seeing to your arm?”
Phil lets himself have two seconds to glance down. It’s been cleaned, skin tinged pink with blood that didn’t quite wash away. He can see that the knife went clean through the fleshy part of his forearm, missing all the bones and tendons, thank god, even though it still looks a mess.
“That was – ” Phil blinks; he still feels lightheaded. “That’s a pretty good aim you’ve got.” Almost as good as Clint’s, but Phil isn’t sure he’s going to survive this moment, so he’s trying not to think about home.
“Not me,” Barnes tells him, reaching out questioningly. Phil holds out his arm, tightening his grip on the gun with his left hand. “That wasn’t me.”
“Looked like you.” Phil holds back a hiss when Barnes presses the edges of the wound together and starts to sew it up. He’s using black cotton thread but the tip of the needle feels hot, as though he managed to sterilise it somehow.
Phil sees a lighter sitting on Barnes’s thigh and guesses that that’s how.
Barnes shakes his head. “I don’t remember.” He isn’t meeting Phil’s eye but Phil can’t tell if that’s because he’s lying or because he’s ashamed. “I woke up on the floor and you were bleeding and I was bleeding and I kinda put it all together.” Now he looks up. “I attacked you, right?”
There is nothing but honest confusion – and maybe a little bit of fear – in his eyes. Phil nods. “You did. Don’t ask me why, you didn’t stop to chat first.”
Barnes looks down again, focusing on the small, neat little lines he’s using to stich Phil back together. This is obviously not his first time doing this.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “Fuck.”
Phil shrugs with one shoulder. “It was interesting to meet the Winter Soldier, I suppose.” He smiles sardonically at the top of Barnes’s head.
Barnes snorts. “That what you think happened to me?” he asks. “You think I went backward?”
“Didn’t you?” Now that Phil’s looking, he can see that Barnes’s thick, dark hair is matted with dry blood, but he’s stopped bleeding and Phil can’t see a cut. Either that’s enhanced heeling, or he has a very thick skull.
“I have no fucking clue,” Barnes says flatly, and reaches back for his knife, slicing the end of the thread then tying it off tightly. “How’s that feel?”
Phil touches the edges of the wound, feeling for any swelling or anywhere that feels hot. It hurts and it will definitely scar, but he doesn’t think it’s infected.
“Good,” he says, “thanks. How’s your head?”
Barnes rocks back on his heels. “Sore,” he admits. “But it’s fine. It’s no big deal; I heal fast.”
“Naturally?” Phil asks. “Or?”
“Nah.” Barnes flicks blood of his knife with the edge of his thumbnail. Phil’s blood. “I don’t know, but I been thinking about it. HYDRA got hold of me in the war, you know that?”
“Right, of course you do. They were trying to recreate what Erskin did to Steve. I don’t know, I’m not saying I’m a supersoldier or anything, but they put some shit in me and then I fell off a train and didn’t die. I had something going for me even before the Russians found me and put me in the Red Room.”
Phil stretches out his fingers, hoping to distract Barnes with checking out his arm while he rearranges himself against the wall, letting it take more of the weight of his head, which feels too light to hold up right now.
“What happened last night?” he asks. He assumes it was last night; the sky outside the window is grey with either dawn or dusk and he can’t have been out that long.
Barnes is quiet for long enough that Phil starts to wonder if he’s going to answer. If he doesn’t answer, Phil isn’t sure he’ll be able to keep working with him and that will be difficult.
“That address Lukov gave you?” Barnes says at last. “It’s genuine. I recognised it soon as he said it. The old man who lives there used to head up the medical wing at Department X. He’s the one who experimented on the kids when they were first recruited.”
“The kids?” Phil asks, thinking.
Barnes nods. “From what Natalia told me, he handled her training personally.”
Phil swallows. “Why did you want to go there without me?”
Barnes sucks on his lower lip, clearly trying to decide how much he wants Phil to know. “This guy, Dr Yenin? I’m pretty sure he’s got the intel you’re looking for. I didn’t want you find that out and then decide he was too valuable for me to kill.”
“Did you kill him?” Phil doesn’t know what he wants the answer to be. He has a pretty good idea what Natasha’s ‘training’ involved.
“No. He wasn’t there.” Barnes reaches into his jacket pocket and throws a packet of papers at Phil. “Stole this for you, though. Don’t know if it’ll help.”
Phil nudges at the packet with the edge of his pistol. “What is it?”
“Schematics, equations, shit like that. I don’t know, Coulson, you’re the ideas man, you decide if it’s useful.”
“I’m the ideas man until you feel like running off on your own,” Phil grouses. He raises his eyebrows when Barnes frowns at him. “So what happened to you?”
“I told you I don’t know.” Barnes looks at him closely. “I’m telling the truth; I don’t know.”
Phil sighs. He isn’t feeling at his best right now; he could do without the growing signs that Barnes is about to freak out. “Tell me what you do know.”
Barnes nods. He sits down on the floor in front of Phil and breathes out slowly. “I got in and out Yenin’s place no problem. I…” He squeezes his eyes shut. “I don’t know. Fuck.”
“Hey.” Phil makes sure to sound firm but non-confrontational. “We’ll work it out.”
Barnes smiles at him humourlessly. “Maybe it’d be best if I just walk away from you. You can do this without my help, right?”
“I can.” Phil knows that running around with Barnes has slowed down his mission. The problem is that Phil has a nasty habit of finding strays and believing in them. Barnes has tapped straight into the same protective place that Clint then Natasha unearthed in him years ago.
“Right.” Barnes nods. “I’ll fuck off. You – ” He shakes his head. “Good luck.”
“Barnes.” Phil stops him. “I can do this without you, but I don’t feel any need to. I trust you.”
Barnes stares at him. “You trust me? I put a goddamn knife in your goddamn arm.”
“Yes.” Phil smiles at him faintly. “Don’t do that again.”
Barnes rakes a hand back through his hair, wincing when it gets stuck in the blood still gluing the strands together. “You’re crazy.”
“You’re not the first person to tell me that.” Phil reaches up and grabs the corner of the nightstand, pulling himself up slowly. “Now I’m going to have a look at whatever it is you’ve brought me; why don’t you go take a shower?”
“A shower?” Barnes echoes, as though he’s never heard the word before.
“Yes,” Phil says briskly, “you know, water falling from the ceiling in a small, confined space?”
Barnes rolls his eyes. It’s the most humorous expression Phil has seen from him. “Are you sure you don’t just want me naked and unarmed so you can kill me?”
“I don’t want you naked and unarmed for any reason,” Phil tells him, distracted, sitting on the bed and opening the packet. He feels drained and exhausted, achy from sleeping on the floor, but he can push that away in the face of fresh information.
He listens as Barnes steps into the room’s tiny bathroom, completely unsurprised to hear the click of the lock engaging. The water starts running, and then Phil loses himself in Dr Yenin’s research.
“Fuck,” Clint groans, right into Steve’s mouth.
Steve presses in closer still, hand sliding from Clint’s face into his hair. He’s so damn careful and that isn’t Clint’s usual thing at all, but it’s kind of nice right now.
Clint flicks out his tongue, licking Steve’s bottom lip experimentally and Steve’s mouth opens on a gasp.
“Come here,” Clint says, tugging on Steve’s arm and pulling him as close as he can get with the fucking handbrake in the way.
Clint shoves his hand up the side of Steve’s t-shirt, clawing his nails into warm, smooth, solid skin (obviously Steve is physically perfect; that’s kind of the point, Clint knows that but it’s still distracting.)
Steve’s kisses are light, but he’s pressing deeper now, like he could sink inside Clint and block out the world for a while. Or maybe that’s not how Steve’s feeling, maybe that’s just what Clint wants. Clint doesn’t know, but he kisses back desperately anyway.
This is such a stupid fucking idea, but Steve is big and solid and warm and no one has kissed Clint in so damn long because, because he’s been waiting and hoping and – “Stop.”
Steve pulls back. The muscles in his arms are ridiculous and the way he holds himself over Clint makes sleeping parts of Clint think about reacting.
“Sorry?” Steve asks. “Did you not want - ?”
Clint bunches a fist in Steve’s shirt and pulling Steve in, biting at his bottom lip. This is Steve, this is Phil’s Captain America and -
Clint needs to stop.
“I’m not kissing you for good reasons,” he admits carefully.
Steve frowns down at him. “There are bad reasons to kiss someone?” he asks and fuck, fuck for a ninety-year-old, he’s so young.
“Yeah,” Clint says. He sits up straighter, and winces when he sees how wrinkled Steve’s shirt is. “Sorry.” Smoothing it out doesn’t do a whole load of good but he tries anyway.
“No, my god, I’m sorry.” Steve tries to scoot backwards but ends up mostly sitting in the window. Since this is a nice car that doesn’t deserve Captain America’s ass dents in it, Clint pulls him forwards again.
“Seriously, it’s fine.” He lets his hand drift up Steve’s chest, not trying to start something, just getting the feel for his muscles. “It’s more that fine; you’re very easy on the eyes. And mouth.”
Steve blushes, which is just gosh darn adorable. He leans back properly this time, settling down in the passenger seat and straightening his clothes. Clint sneaks a glance down at Steve’s crotch but he isn’t hard. Neither is Clint.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he tells Clint quietly. “I thought it might help.”
“My kisses are known for their healing powers,” Clint says flippantly, smiling.
Steve doesn’t smile back. He shakes his head. “When you touched my arm, that helped. I thought maybe more touching would help more.” He laughs shakily. “Something has to help eventually, doesn’t it?”
Clint wishes he knew. “I hope so,” is the best he can manage. He rakes up a smile from the place he keeps all his fake emotions. “Hey, at least I got to kiss you. Phil, Phil would be really jealous.”
He tripped over Phil’s name. Fucking fuck, he hates that he did that.
Steve reaches out again but Clint freezes. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think more kissing is going to – Oh.” Clint subsides because Steve isn’t going in for a kiss this time; he’s going in for a hug.
Clint leans back against Steve’s solid shoulder, squirms his own arm behind Steve’s back. It’s not a good hug, but it’s contact that isn’t embarrassingly ill-advised kissing, so he’ll take it.
Most of what Barnes scavenged from Yenin’s house is intelligence Phil already has, but there are one or two things in there – formulas for enhanced fighting ability, the mechanisms they used to put operatives on ice between missions – that Phil is determined to keep and determined to keep out of the World Security Council’s hands.
It’s all in Russian, obviously, and while Phil’s Russian is fluent, there are one or two words that annoy him by being unfamiliar.
Splashed across the title page, for example, is one word: полтергейст and it’s been driving Phil crazy trying to work out what it can mean in the context of assassins and brainwashed children and science experiments.
The shower cuts off while Phil is still musing and he gets up, knocking on the bathroom door.
“Yeah?” Barnes calls, followed by the click of the door unlocking.
Phil leans on the handle and sticks his head in. Barnes is standing in front of the mirror, an off-white hand towel around his waist, rifling through Phil’s shaving kit.
“I’ll get you some underwear,” Phil tells him, keeping his eyes carefully above waist height.
He thinks he sees Barnes grin in the mirror, but he’s too busy backing out again to be sure.
When Phil returns, he chucks a clean pair of boxers at Barnes’s back. Barnes catches them without turning around, then drops the towel easily before pulling them on.
Phil clears his throat. There was a time, a long time ago, when Bucky Barnes naked and freshly showered was Phil’s number one fantasy.
That was a long time ago, though; now Barnes is too young and too strange a hybrid of Clint’s defensive sass and Natasha’s brittleness to be anything other than someone Phil wants to help.
Which doesn’t mean that this isn’t slightly uncomfortable.
“Did you need to get in here?” Barnes asks. His wet hair is pushed back off his face, and now he looks more like the photos in his SHIELD docket and the old newsreel footage.
“I wanted to check a word with you,” Phil says. “Do you know what полтергейст means?”
Barnes freezes. Phil thought he’d seen other people go still before, but it’s nothing to this. Phil’s razor falls out of Barnes’ hands which drop to the edge of the sink, knuckles straining white through the thin skin.
“You need to get out here,” Barnes tells him, pushing the words through clenched teeth.
Instead, Phil takes a step forward. “What? Barnes, what’s - ?”
Barnes brings a knee up and slams it hard into the underside of the sink. He makes a choked off noise of pain but his eyes are clear when he focuses on Phil’s reflection in the mirror. “Now. Get out and don’t open the door, no matter what.”
“Barnes?” Phil repeats but he stops arguing when Barnes’ expression washes suddenly blank, face shutting down.
He spins around, razor blade once more clutched in his hand, slicing his own palm open before aiming it at Phil, and Phil slams the door between them, leaning all his weight onto it to keep it shut until he can fumble a coin out of his pocket and jam it under the door handle, turning the lock from the wrong side.
That will hold for as long as it takes Barnes to realise what he’s done and unlock it from the inside, so Phil grabs hold of the heavy, iron bedstead and drags it across the room. It takes all his strength and his arm starts to bleed between the stiches by the time he’s done, but no matter how hard Barnes shoves at the door, it’s not budging anymore.
Phil sinks down onto the bed and breathes out hard. At least that explains why Barnes went unexpectedly Winter Soldier last night: a trigger word. One that’s written across every page of Yenin’s notes, presumably so that none of the poor bastards he experimented on would ever have a chance to read what he’d done and help themselves.
Phil wonders if that word works on Natasha too. They’ll need to test it, but he isn’t relishing the prospect.
Barnes kicks at the door and swears at Phil in inventive, furiously angry Russian.
“Might as well sit down,” Phil shouts back, “I’m not letting you out until you give me Sergeant Barnes back.”
“Fuck you,” the Winter Soldier shouts back.
Well then. A stalemate. He opens up Yenin’s work again, wondering if he can find a word to turn off the trigger. He isn’t hopeful, but he’s got to try.
“Shit, not this again?” Clint complains, deliberately turning his back on Stark.
The rhythmic sound of Stark hammering metal bulkhead sheets together doesn’t waver. Clint should have known this was a trap when Stark offered to work down in the depths of the Helicarrier with him today.
“Sorry, Katniss, I just don’t take no for an answer.”
Clint groans. He’s sanding down the edge of a doorframe that bulked under the weight of something – Hulk, maybe. “I told you, I don’t want to live in your cute little frat house.”
Stark hums. “Is it a frat house if Agent Romanoff’s there too?”
Clint’s head snaps up; he can’t help it. “No way has Natasha agreed to move in with you.”
“Why not?” Stark asks, eyes wide and innocent. “She’s lived with me before.”
“Yeah, undercover. And under protest.” Clint stares at him. “Seriously? She said yes.”
He ignores the way the thought of that scrapes at his insides, hollowing him out just a little bit more at the idea of losing Natasha to the Avengers.
“Yep,” Stark says smugly. Then he rolls his eyes under Clint’s scrutiny. “Okay, so not quite. But I nearly got her to agree. She said she will if you will. You will, right?”
“What part of no do you have trouble with?” Clint asks him, speaking as slowly as he knows how (which is damn slowly) in case it’s listening that Stark has a problem with.
“Um, mostly the ‘n’,” Stark says, shrugging, “but also the ‘o’.”
Clint doesn’t want to laugh, but he can’t help it. “Stark,” he sighs. “I can’t.”
Stark finally puts down his hammer. Then he picks it back up, spins it in his hand and points the handle at Clint. “Why?”
The way he’s looking straight at Clint tells Clint that he won’t be accepting any bullshit as an answer. “I’m not good company,” Clint finds himself saying. And shit, that’s way too honest. Clint needs to get away from these people; they make him say stuff.
“Dude.” Stark throws the hammer up and grabs it out of the air. “Do you think I am? What about Banner? Romanoff is fucking terrifying and Thor… Okay, well, Thor’s probably not too bad when he’s here, but the rest of us.”
“Yeah, you’re really not selling this to me,” Clint warns him. “And you didn’t mention Rogers.”
For the first time, Stark actually looks a little frustrated. “Captain Stubborn Pants is still a work in progress.” He smirks slowly. “But I bet he’d agree if you did. How was your little drive last night? Did he park up and try to get to second base while Glenn Miller played your favourite tune?”
Clint takes a breath and doesn’t ask how Stark knows about everything. “It was Duke Ellington, actually,” he says and just keeps his expression blank and unblinking when Stark does a double take.
“I hate spies,” Stark grouses. “I never know when you’re lying.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Clint tells him. He reaches out and tugs the hammer out of Stark’s hand. “Now, can we get back to work or d’you want to stand around chin-wagging all day?”
“I’ll have you know, I can multi-task,” Stark tells him, but miraculously it seems like he’s going to stop pushing. “Come over dinner tonight, okay?” Or maybe not.
“Dinner again?” Clint asks. “Is that what life’s like for you?”
“I’m investing,” Stark tells him, “if I can’t win you over with the beauty of my architecture, I’ll do it with my ability to call for takeout.”
“No way do you call for your own takeout,” Clint argues, but he’s feeling slightly less panicked about the idea of going to Stark Tower than he was last night.
“Well. No. JARVIS is better at that sort of thing.” Stark widens his eyes at Clint. It’s ridiculous. “Come on. Come to dinner.”
“Fuck,” Clint snaps, but he isn’t mad. He wants to be, but it’s harder than it should be. “Fine. Fucking fine. I will have dinner with you, if you’re that much in love with me.”
Stark shoves him. “Bring Cap, too. And maybe a nice bunch of flowers for Pepper. No strawberries, though. She’s allergic.”
“Why the fuck would I bring strawberries to a – ” Clint stops himself. He’s clearly missing something. “We can stop talking now, right?”
“Hmm, what?” Stark snaps his goggles over his eyes. He wasn’t wearing them before, so they’re clearly just for show. “Get back to work, Barton, or I’ll tell Fury you’re lollygagging.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Clint says, flipping him off, and gets back to work.
Phil is so deeply engrossed in what he’s reading that the knock on his door startles him.
“Yes?” he calls.
“Are you all right? I heard banging.” It’s Larissa, the middle-aged woman who runs the building.
He looks around the room, the displaced bed, the still occasional shouts and bangs coming from the bathroom and decides he cannot let anyone in.
“Yes. Thank you. Everything’s fine.”
“You let me in,” she says firmly. “Open the door.”
Phil rolls off the bed, grabs a sweatshirt from his rucksack and drags it on, hiding the blood and stitches on his arm.
He opens the door the smallest amount possible and smiles blandly out at her. “I’m sorry. Did I disturb you?”
Her eyes flick to the door. “Is there someone in there with you?”
“Only my girlfriend.” He can’t make himself blush on demand, but he can duck his head, bite his lip as though embarrassed. “We got a little carried away.”
There’s a crash behind him. “Open the door and I promise to kill you quickly,” the Winter Soldier says, very clearly audible.
Phil sighs, internally. “When I said ‘girlfriend’,” he tries.
Larissa puts her hand on the door. Phil shoves his knee behind it, stopping her from opening it. “Open the door,” she repeats, but she doesn’t sound angry, she sounds desperate.
Phil’s opening his mouth to ask if she’s all right when there’s a barely-there buzz of displaced air, a tiny hole appears in the middle of her forehead, and a bullet thuds into the woodwork to the right of Phil’s neck. She pushes once more against the door, as though the blood leaking into her eyes hasn’t registered yet, and then she slumps forward.
It’s instinct to catch her.
It’s a stupid instinct to catch her and he shouldn’t have done it but it’s too late to realise that now when his hands are trapped under her arms, her body blocking his escape route.
The door of the apartment opposite crashes open and six, no, seven men and women come spilling through, guns raised and pointed straight at Phil.
Phil ducks and a bullet thwacks into Larissa’s back. She’s dead, she can’t feel it, but it still gives Phil the push he needs, the anger that these bastards would shoot an unarmed woman in the back.
He’s hopelessly outmatched, he’s not going to get out of this without a miracle, but he’s going to take some of them down first.
He dives to the side, kicking the door as hard as he can, using it as a starting block to propel himself across the room. He doesn’t stop to move the bed, just picks up his M60 and slams it against the central panel in the bathroom door.
The wood splinters but doesn’t crack. Phil can hear someone curse as they trip over Larissa’s body.
He has one more chance.
He hits the door again and, this time, the panel splits. The Winter Soldier’s face looms into view, startled and menacing at once, and Phil shoves his M60 through to him.
“Don’t shoot me, shoot the people behind me,” he tells him, and rolls off the bed, grabbing his handgun from the mattress and slipping underneath.
They’re in the room now so a hail of bullets follow him, but it doesn’t matter. He shoots high above the first foot he sees and hears someone howl in pain, then Barnes starts firing.
The machine gun keeps firing,
A woman falls to her knees, gun clutched in bloody fingers, but Phil holds off on shooting her, expecting her to die any second without his help.
She lifts her head and looks straight up at Barnes. “D4TWS,” she says, just a string of numbers and letters but the machine gun jolts and then the bullets stop coming.
So there is an off-switch for the trigger, then.
She grabs up her gun and points upward.
Phil shoots her and crawls out from under the bed. He makes sure to keep the bed between himself and Barnes, his back pressed to the wall so that Barnes couldn’t get the machine gun to point that way if he tried.
“You okay?” Phil asks.
Phil is not a rookie, he’s not going to put himself in the firing line to take a peak at his brainwashed Russian assassin.
There’s a harsh breath then, “What the fuck did I just do?” Barnes asks, soft.
“You killed some people who were trying to kill you.” Well, Phil assumes that they were going to kill Barnes; they were definitely going to kill Phil. He does understand that putting a gun in the Winter Soldier’s hands and telling him to shoot makes him no better than Department X, but Phil will have to wait until later to feel bad about it. “How are you feeling? Can I let you out?”
“Yeah.” Barnes breathes and then, again, “Fuck.”
Phil is getting tired of shoving this bed around. “Come on,” he says, pulling the bathroom door open, “we’ve got to get out of here.”
Barnes steps out of the room, face closing down at he takes in body after body.
Phil grabs him by the shoulder. They don’t have time for regrets right now. “They were trying to kill you,” he repeats.
Barnes looks at him blankly. “Don’t worry, Coulson, I can deal. I’m just getting mighty tired of this. When I kill someone, I prefer to remember when and why.”
“You were triggered,” Phil tells him, throwing Barnes’s clothes at him and then picking up Yenin’s notes, shoving them and the rest of his stuff back into his backpack. “That woman – ” He points over his shoulder. “ – knew the code to bring you back.”
“Huh.” Barnes walks over and looks down at her. “Yeah, I recognise her; she’s Department X.” He straightens. “This code, you know it now?”
Phil nods sharply. “I do.”
Barnes expression flickers with something that might be relief. “Well, there’s something,” he drawls. He stiffens suddenly. “Someone’s coming.”
Phil raises an eyebrow. “Several someones, I imagine,” he agrees and hoists his pack onto his back. “Ready?”
Barnes finishes fastening his belt buckle and swings Phil’s M60 over his shoulder. “Ready.”
They take the window. It’s already smashed from Barnes’s entrance and Phil’s room is only on the fifth floor, so it isn’t the hardest descent Phil’s ever made.
Halfway down, though, someone starts firing, and that makes it more interesting.
“I can’t believe you actually brought her flowers,” Stark grouses, stabbing the air in front of Clint with one chopstick.
“You told me to,” Clint reminds him, rolling his eyes even though, okay, he’s never bought a hostess gift before and he’s kind of embarrassed.
“Leave him alone, Tony,” Pepper scolds. She’s curled up on the opposite end of one sofa to Stark, laptop on her lap and box of Chinese takeout on the arm of the chair. She smiles at Clint. “The flowers were lovely.”
Clint squirms and gives her something that hopefully looks a bit like a smile and stares down hard at his pork balls. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but he’s not sure what it is.
Across the room, Steve and Banner are having what looks like a way more interesting discussion and Clint can’t help wishes he was over there instead.
He’s got Natasha over here with him, but she’s leaving him to make his own way through the conversation, which isn’t helpful or best-friend-like at all.
“So, like,” Clint starts, which he personally thinks is a brilliant way to start a conversation, “how’s the rebuilding coming along?” Considering they’re sitting in the middle of a building site, he’s guessing not very well.
“Slowly,” Pepper tells him, rolling her eyes. “It would be much quicker if Tony would stop changing his mind about what he wants every few minutes.”
“I resent that,” Stark tells her. “I know what I want. It’s other people, who are the problem. Not to be a tattletale, but there’s a guy, not a million miles from us right now, who is refusing to move into the perfectly lovely apartment I’ve built for him but still expects me to build a room for his damn cat.”
“She’s not my – Wait, you built a room for Indy?” Clint stares at him. “A room? For a cat?”
Stark blinks back. “Well, she can’t live with the bots; they’d try to knit a hat out of her fur. Where else was she supposed to go?”
“It’s a nice room?” Pepper offers, like that’s the problem Clint’s having here. “We went to Pets’r’Us. No, well, that’s not quite true. We bought a branch of Pets’r’Us.”
Clint shakes his head, helplessly. “Thank you,” he says. “You didn’t need to do that.”
Pepper clears her throat. “Phil was my friend,” she says.
Clint’s chest prickles, unexpected and painful. “Thanks,” is all he manages. Natasha kicks him with the round toe of her shoe. It helps.
“You could thank us by moving in,” Stark says.
It looks like Natasha has finally had enough because she sighs, straightening up. “Stark, are you a record that’s stuck? Would you like me to smack you?”
“No, but really.” Stark moves back a couple of inches from Natasha’s glare. It’s hilarious. “What’s keeping him? Is he married?”
“Tony,” Pepper chides.
“What? He could be married. I’m engaged and, really, who saw that one coming?”
“Not me,” Pepper mumbles under her breath.
“I’m not married,” Clint tells him. Inside he sighs, mentally saying goodbye to ever having peace again. “If I say yes, will you shut up for five minutes?”
“Three,” Stark offers then bobs his head. “Okay, probably two and a half.”
Clint nods. “Deal.”
Stark lights up like a fucking Christmas tree, like Stark Tower itself. “Deal?” he echoes. “Is that a yes? That’s totally a yes. Which means that, Romanoff, you promised you’d come too. Rogers.” He raises his voice. “I’ve got Barton, you in now?”
“We’re not a set of trading cards; you don’t have to collect us all,” Steve calls back and everyone flinches. Steve’s eyes find Clint’s. “Sorry, I didn’t – ”
Clint curls one hand into a fist, nails biting into his palm. He can do this. “We are definitely not in mint condition,” he agrees and knows he said the right thing in the right way when Steve smiles at him and nods.
“Where to?” Barnes yells over the roar of the engine. The car they’ve stolen sounds like it’s on its last legs, but they don’t have time to stop for another.
Phil flips his backpack over on his lap and doesn’t look up. “Anywhere, just put your foot down.”
He knows there are at least three police cars on their tail, but he’s not too worried about those. They can outdrive the cops; it’s Department X that he’s concerned about. They won’t be interested in keeping Phil and Barnes alive long enough to put them on trial.
“I’m seriously hoping you’re about to pull out a canon,” Barnes tells him, swinging the steering wheel left and making an abrupt U-turn when a blue and white patrol car peels out from a junction up ahead.
“That’s next,” Phil promises and pulls out his knife, slitting the bottom of the pack in two sharp motions. He swallows a sigh of relief when his emergency cell phone tumbles out, intact and apparently undamaged. Damn, R&D are good sometimes.
The light up ahead on the highway turns red but Barnes doesn’t stop, slamming his foot down on the gas and racing through the light and the oncoming traffic.
Two of the cars chasing them are close enough behind that they make it through in Barnes’s wake but the rest are trapped, hemmed in by wildly careening cars.
“Shit,” Phil yells. He’ll deny laughing later but it’s been a while since he was in a car chase. The last time involved Natasha, a souped-up sports car, and a half-dozen pissed off Mets fans. If anyone asks, he hasn’t missed it.
Barnes glances across at him, narrowly missing a truck as he does. “Who the fuck are you calling?”
Phil braces a hand on the roof and uses the other to dial a familiar number. “We need backup,” he explains, holding the phone to his ear and waiting while it cycles through the generic call centre menu options.
He’s instructed to press 8 if he requires any other service. He presses 9.
“Bailing out on us already?” Barnes asks, changing gears jerkily.
“I said backup, not extraction,” Phil says. He doesn’t mention that when he bails, he’s taking Barnes with him. Now might be a bad time for that.
“Fiona’s Fabulous Flowers, can I help you?” asks a chirpy voice.
“Authorisation code nine seven five - ” They hit a pothole and the whole car bounces. “Golf November nine Zulu.”
“Transferring you!” he says, still chirpy, and puts Phil on hold.
It’s one of the most surreal moments of Phil’s life, watching Bucky Barnes lead a car chase through suburban Russia while his cell plays Mack the Knife in his ear.
Something explodes to their right and Barnes curses in Russian.
“What was that?” Phil snaps at him, craning his head around to see. There’s a man on a motorbike four cars back, pointing a grenade launcher right at them. “Fuck, drive.”
“The actual hell do you think I’m doing?” Barnes demands. He takes a rapid left, then another. They’re moving away from areas Phil recognises, the river suddenly looming up on Phil’s side of the car.
There’s another explosion, closer to them this time, and the car veers toward the river for a second before Barnes yanks it back on course.
“Wheel hit?” Phil asks.
“Pretty sure,” Barnes agrees, suddenly eerily calm. He takes one arm off the wheel, shrugging Phil’s M60 off his shoulder and handing it back to Phil. “Shoot that fucker for me, yeah?”
Phil takes the machine gun at the same moment as Music to Watch Girls By fades out and Nick Fury’s voice replaces it.
“Coulson? What’s happening?” He sounds annoyed, which means he’s worried.
“Sorry, sir.” Phil can’t talk and shoot. He misses his radio. He misses his team, who could be left to do the shooting while Phil checked in. “Got to call you back.” He shoves his cell in his pants pocket and twists, resting the machine gun’s barrel on the back of his chair and shooting one quick volley to knock out the back window.
The motorcycle swerves as though Phil were aiming for it, which he wasn’t. Yet.
“There’s a block of empty factories down this way,” Barnes tells him, having to yell over the sudden increase in noise now that air and traffic sounds are rushing in through their broken window. “No point leading him straight there though.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” Phil leans heavily into the gun, forcing it still, and takes aim. He isn’t Clint, he might not make this shot first time, but he’s going to give it a damn good try.
The car bounces and Barnes curses again, but Phil doesn’t spare a glance to find out why. He can hear a car horn blaring from somewhere on their right, but he ignores that too.
The motorcyclist lifts his grenade launcher again. Phil aims at his face and fires, dragging the muzzle down the length of his body, raking his chest and hoping that enough bullets make contact to count.
The bike goes one way and its rider another, bouncing off the back of their car and falling away. The bike hits the kerb, flips over and comes flying their way.
“Barnes, left!” Phil snaps. The car swerves immediately, and the bike hits the ground just behind them, landing with a crash and the angry spinning of wheels.
Phil sinks back into his seat and is just letting himself sigh in relief when a junction appears out of nowhere, a truck taking the same blind corner that Barnes is aiming for.
There’s no time to stop. Barnes slams on the brakes so the truck hits the hood of their car rather than level with the front seats, but the collision is still massive and they fly across the road.
There a couple of seconds where Phil thinks they’re going to be fine, but then their back wheels hit something and they flip, the sky then the ground then the river the only things Phil can see.
Apparently when Stark gets agreement for something, he fucking runs with it; all of Clint’s stuff is sitting in ‘his’ room at Stark Tower before he’s even finished dinner.
Not that he has all that much stuff, but still. That’s kind of a liberty.
“JARVIS?” he asks the ceiling, wondering if that’s how this works. If not, he’s just a dude talking to himself and he’d rather not feel more crazy than he already does.
“Yes, Agent Barton,” JARVIS’s voice answers immediately.
Clint feels a little bit smug. It worked. “Oh, hey, there. Um. How are you?”
“I am perfectly well, thank you. However, I am a computer and will therefore always be well, so there is no need to make small talk before asking for my assistance.”
Huh. “What if I want to?” Clint asks curiously.
There’s no way that an AI can sound pleased but this one sounds, well, kind of pleased. “Then you would immediately become my favourite of Mr Stark’s new friends.”
Clint laughs. “It’s okay, JARVIS, you can call us strays.”
JARVIS doesn’t answer, which Clint assumes is the polite, fake-British way of not having to agree that that’s exactly what they are.
“So,” Clint tries. “If I want something, I can ask you and you’ll do it?”
“Unless it contravenes one of Mr Stark’s orders, yes.”
All right, that’s a little bit cool. “Okay, so. Where is Stark?” Clint doesn’t mention that he needs to know so he can kick Stark’s ass, figuring that might contravene an order or two.
“Mr Stark asked not to be disturbed this evening,” JARVIS tells him, “but, at this time of night, he can often be found on level five, in Dr Banner’s lab.”
Clint grins at the ceiling. “Thanks, JARVIS.”
JARVIS makes a little circuit-y noise that might be a cough. “You’re quite welcome, sir.”
Clint makes his way down the corridor, back to the elevator – they’re barely elevators, they’re all blue-lit, flashy little closets, more like sci-fi-style transporters. Which is okay, Clint’s whole life is a sci-fi movie, lately.
He finds Banner’s lab pretty easily. Mostly because Banner’s lab is actually an entire floor of labs, glass walls and buzzing, whirring, gurgling machines set up all over.
Banner himself is sitting at a desk in the middle, looking more relaxed than Clint has ever seen him.
He actually waves when he sees Clint. “Agent Barton,” he says, nodding and doing that half-smile thing of his. “Taking a look around?”
“Looking for Stark,” Clint tells him, turning slowly, to take in the… everything, everywhere. “He around?”
Banner looks at Clint over the top of his glasses and shakes his head. “He and Pepper are, um.” He raises his eyebrows pointedly. “Taking the evening to themselves.”
“Ah.” Clint takes a second to parse that. Stark’s hot and Pepper’s hot but he doesn’t want to think about them together.
“Mmm,” Banner hums. “It’s got to be strange for her, all of us living here in her home.”
Clint has always lived with a whole bunch of other people; to him the idea of only living with people he’s handpicked seems weirder, but he can kind of see how it’d be strange for Pepper.
“You’d think life with Stark would always be strange,” he says and pats the shiny surface of one of Banner’s emptier workbenches. “You mind?”
Banner shakes his head so Clint hops up, idly swinging his legs. He waves a hand at Banner. “Don’t worry about me, get back to whatever you’re doing. What are you doing?”
“Do you really want to know?” Banner asks, frowning at Clint.
“Yep.” Clint never got to spend much time in school but he likes science; anything with any kind of real world application is something he wants to learn.
It’s pretty soothing, sitting here under the bright strip lights, listening to Banner explaining some kind of bastardised KERS system that he and Stark want to trial in the Quinjets.
Clint thinks that anything that makes the ‘jets more badass is a-okay with him.
“So what would that mean for cornering?” he asks, leaning forward to see Banner’s schematics clearer. It’s weird feeling interested in shit again, but he’s not going to think about it too closely in case it goes away.
“It’d probably – ” Banner starts then the PA system clicks and they both stop talking.
“We have an incoming message from Agent Hill of SHIELD,” JARVIS announces. Clint can hear his voice echo around the entire floor and guesses that this message is going out everywhere in the Tower.
“Sure, go ahead,” Banner tells him.
“Avengers.” That’s Hill’s voice. She sounds particularly pissed off tonight. “We have a situation. Assemble at SHIELD asap.”
Bruce and Clint look at each other. “Assemble?” Bruce asks, making a face. “What does that involve?”
Clint shrugs. “Get suited up, go kick some ass?”
Bruce sighs. “I’ll go find some stretchy pants. Meet you on the roof?”
“Got it,” Clint tells him and hops down off the bench.
“Barnes? Barnes. Fuck.” Phil’s head is ringing, but he’s lucky, he landed well. Barnes wasn’t so lucky and now he’s pinned to the surface of the road, the weight of the car on his left shoulder.
Phil grabs the edge of the chassis and heaves, almost dropping it again when Barnes screams.
“Barnes, open your eyes,” Phil snaps. “You need to move with me here.”
The truck that hit them didn’t stop and the motorcycle that was chasing them is a burnt out husk on the road, but the cops or Department X – or both – will be here soon.
Barnes groans and tries to roll toward Phil, eyes squeezed tightly shut. He stops before he can get far, choking out a curse, and sinks back.
“I can’t,” he slurs, voice barely there. He drags his eyes open and squints up at Phil. “Get out of here.”
Phil doesn’t bother responding. His shoulders and arms are starting to scream at him and he can’t brace the weight of the car much longer, but he can’t stand the thought of letting it fall back onto Barnes.
He leans in, trying to get a better look at how exactly Barnes is pinned, and has to call on all his years of playing the poker-faced SHIELD agent not to curse out loud.
It’s bad. The front axle is snapped and half-buried in Barnes’s shoulder. What Phil can see of his arm is a crushed and bloody mess; Phil can’t see his hand but he hopes like hell that that’s just because it’s dark under the car.
“Coulson.” Barnes turns his head, forehead brushing Phil’s knee. “Seriously, fuck, go.” He lifts his other arm and pushes weakly at Phil’s chest.
Phil’s strength finally gives out and the car slips out of his hands. Barnes groans and arches away instinctively, biting back a scream when the weight of everything holds him back.
“Sorry, shit, sorry.” Phil rolls from his knees into a crouch, pressing his fingers to the underside of Barnes’s jaw, checking to see how he’s doing. His pulse is fast and thready, falling fast off the edge into shock.
In the distance, Phil can hear the drone of an engine coming closer. He pushes that out of his mind. If he focuses on it, it’ll be here before he can do anything else.
“I’m going to lift the car again,” he tells Barnes. “It’ll hurt and I’m sorry but I need you to move.”
Barnes stares blankly up at a space past Phil’s shoulder. He shakes his head. “Won’t work. I’m pretty sure I’ll pass out if I try.”
Phil wouldn’t be surprised: Barnes is grey-pale and his breathing is uneven. “That’s okay,” Phil tells him. “As long as you do it after you’re clear of the car, I can get you to safety.”
Barnes laughs shakily. “You’re a stubborn motherfucker,” he says, but there’s more strength in his voice when he says it. “Okay. One more time. But if it doesn’t work, you’ve got to fucking leave me, okay.”
Phil makes a humming noise and doesn’t commit to anything. He pushes his hands back under the chassis, ignoring the throb of his bruised palms.
Barnes takes a deep breath and nods. “Three,” he says and Phil lifts.
The noise Barnes makes isn’t one that Phil ever wants to hear again, but he manages to drag himself a couple of torturous-looking inches before sinking back down, panting.
Phil can see more of his arm now and it doesn’t look good: swollen and purple where the flesh hasn’t been sheered off.
Barnes looks at Phil rather than down at his own arm. “It’s bad, right?”
Phil has lied to a lot of people in his life, several of whom were worse off than Barnes. Not today. “It’s bad,” he agrees. He can hear a siren now, the whine of more than one engine.
Barnes manages to focus on Phil’s face and stares hard, a lot of expressions shifting through his eyes. Then all of a sudden, he moves, uncurling his good hand from Phil’s shirt and fumbling with his belt instead.
“What are you - ?” Phil asks then stops when Barnes hands him a wickedly sharp-looking blade.
“Do it for me, yeah?” Barnes asks.
Phil knows what he’s asking but he still shakes his head, saying, “What?”
Barnes tries to move again and doesn’t get anywhere this time. The axle is in deeper than Phil thought and, even if it weren’t, Phil can see now that the whole middle section of the car has collapsed, holding Barnes’s hand firmly pinned. Phil can’t work out a way to lift enough of the car at once to get him free.
“Am I getting out of here with my arm like this?” Barnes asks him. He’s talking around deep gulping breaths, like even that hurts. Phil shakes his head. “Are you going to leave me?” Phil swallows, shaking his head again. “Then cut off my fucking arm, Coulson, shit.”
Phil stares at the blade then back to Barnes. “No,” he says.
Barnes’s eyes slide shut and it looks painful to open them again. “C’mon,” he begs. “It’s okay. Please. Phil.”
Phil takes the knife.
“We have a potential rescue mission,” Hill says, throwing folders down across the table.
“Potential?” Steve asks, looking up at her.
“Russia?” Natasha asks, flipping quickly through the pack.
Clint pulls another folder toward himself, opening it up while Hill says, “We have an agent working in Kagula, deep cover. He called Fury a couple of hours ago, then immediately lost contact. It could be nothing, but Fury wants you on hand in case it’s something.”
“What agent?” Clint asks. The docket is telling him fuck all and if it’s someone important enough for Fury to send the Avengers after, it’s got to be someone he knows.
Hill’s expression is briefly annoyed then completely blank. “I don’t know,” she says. It sounds like it hurts her to say.
“You don’t know? Huh.” Stark kicks back in his chair. “Aren’t you like, Fury Lite?”
“I know what I need to know,” she tells him smartly. She clicks her wireless mouse and a map pops up on the whiteboard behind her. “It would be helpful for you all to learn the lay of the land. Hopefully, by the time we’re done, Fury will be able to give us the go order.”
“Or let us go home to bed,” Clint mutters, more to be grousing than anything else. When he glances up, Natasha is looking at him, frowning slightly.
What? he mouths.
She doesn’t answer, just wrinkles her nose.
Clint nods; he agrees. If something’s going down that Hill doesn’t know about, it must be the end of the damn world.
Except, wait. She did know about that when it was happening.
“Don’t tell Steve you met me,” Barnes mumbles, a slurred rumble of sound into Phil’s thigh.
“What?” Phil asks, still trying desperately to get his cell phone to work. It survived his trip around Russia, but apparently a car crash was beyond it. He takes back all his charitable thoughts about R&D.
“Steve,” Barnes repeats then makes a sharp, pained noise.
Phil’s head snaps up. “What’s wrong?” he demands, reaching out to steady Barnes, eyes skittering away once from the place where his arm used to be before he forces himself to focus on it.
There are a lot of things Phil has done in his life, but he’s never amputated a man’s arm before. He lost his lunch once it was over and he can’t think about it without feeling nauseated all over again.
Barnes laughs brokenly. “It hurts,” he says, “my fucking hand hurts.”
“Your hand?” Phil looks at Barnes’s one remaining hand. It’s clutching Phil’s thigh tight, but it looks fine.
“Yeah, yes, the one that’s not there anymore.” Barnes presses his face into Phil’s stomach and shakes.
He’s actually doing better than Phil had feared; shock hasn’t killed him yet, maybe it won’t. Phil’s checked and rechecked the tourniquet and the combat gauze and the bleeding is under control.
If they weren’t holed up in a warehouse in the middle of god knows where, Phil would give him even odds of surviving this. As it is, he doesn’t know.
Helpless, Phil sets his phone through another refresh cycle, then sets it down on the floor by his thigh, reaching down to push sweaty hair off Barnes’s forehead.
“You need to tell him… don’t tell him.” Barnes tugs hard at Phil’s sweatshirt. “If you tell him you found me, he’s going to kill himself fretting about how he should have found me first. You can’t tell him.”
They’re back to Captain Rogers, apparently.
“It’s okay,” Phil tells him. “Help’s on its way.”
Barnes smiles faintly. “Liar,” he croaks, and Phil frowns at Barnes’s glassy eyes, too-slow breathing.
Phil curses internally. He’s not losing Barnes now, not when they’re safe for the moment. He knows there’s a search going on outside, but no one’s come near their building yet. Phil is not prepared to sit here with Bucky Barnes’s dead body and wait to be found.
“Peggy Carter was my great aunt,” he says quietly. No one but Nick knows that; Phil never found a moment to tell Captain Rogers.
Bucky’s eyes seem to focus at that, but Phil might just be seeing what he wants to see.
“She told me about you and Captain Ro- You and Steve.”
Bucky’s lips part. “Yeah?” he croaks.
Phil nods. “It was important to me,” he says slowly, “when I was a kid, growing up, to know that you could be gay and still be a hero.”
Barnes doesn’t blink, but he does seem to be staying awake to listen. Phil can work with that.
“I left someone behind too,” he hears himself say. “And if I can get this phone to work, then he and Steve are going to move heaven and earth to get us out of here.”
“Don’t tell Steve,” Bucky says again, eyes closing.
Phil swears. “Stay the fuck awake, Sergeant,” he orders. “I’m not telling Steve anything; I want to be able to leave that to you.”
Barnes hums. “S’not going to happen.”
And then Phil’s cell phone beeps and switches itself on.
Ten hours after Fury gives the order, the Avengers are spilling out into the streets of a run-down, tired-looking warehouse district in the middle of Eastern Russia.
Never let it be said that Clint’s job doesn’t take him to glamorous places.
“There are two groups of unknown persons at your six and eight o’clock,” Hill tells them over the radio, “assume hostile.” She pauses. “Get off the streets, guys.”
“Ma’am,” Steve says, and runs forward ten paces, stopping at the end of a block and holding up his hand for everyone to do the same.
They all glance at each other, everyone apparently realising when Clint did that Steve expected them to be following him.
They are not exactly rocking this team thing yet.
“Let me get this straight,” Stark hisses, voice echoing weirdly from this close to the Iron Man suit, “there are, what, fifty buildings, spread out over twenty blocks? And our unknown agent is in one of them. Anyone got a pencil? We can draw lots.”
“Fury said he crashed his car,” Steve points out. “Once we find that, Agent Hill can sweep the area.”
“This is ridiculous. I can just – ” Stark fires up his boots, rising a couple inches off the ground. Steve sticks out an arm without looking and yanks him back down.
“He’s got a point,” Clint offers. He’s not sure he’s spoken since they changed planes in Germany. Natasha napped for the last part of the journey, and Clint didn’t really feel like talking to anyone else.
Hill sighs at them all. “Okay, Hawkeye,” she says. “Up you go.”
Clint salutes empty air. He used to do that to Phil all the time. The pang he feels at the memory is better somehow; not much, but less furiously painful.
Maybe he’s getting used to Phil being dead. He doesn’t want that to be it.
“Hey, how come he gets to have fun?” Stark grouses, but Clint’s already scaling the outside of the nearest building. The old, rusty ironwork takes his weight easily, and he’s on the roof before Hill’s even thought of a comeback.
From up here, he can see that Hill’s intel was spot on. There’s a gaggle of what looks like cops approaching from the northeast and a bigger, better-armed group of unknowns circling around a sturdy-looking red-brick building four blocks up from Clint’s rooftop.
Two blocks west from that, he can see an upturned car and the burnt-out remains of what was probably a motorbike.
“Think I’ve got them, Cap,” he says, stepping onto the edge of the wall to get a closer look. As he watches, more reinforcements arrive to back up the bigger group. Even from this far away, he can see how shiny and plentiful their guns are.
Fifteen seconds later, there’s the clomp of boots and Iron Man lands beside him.
“Jesus,” Tony whistles, “there’s a whole damn army down there.”
“Whoever they’re looking for must be someone special,” Bruce says thoughtfully.
Natasha makes the growling sound in her throat that means she’s rolling her eyes. “Then let’s stop talking and go get them.”
Barnes is unconscious by the time Phil starts to hear movement outside. There are quiet, murmured orders than he can’t make out, but the tread of boots is unmistakable.
He takes the safety off his pistol and runs a hand over the line of carefully assembled and loaded firearms at his elbow.
He and Barnes have moved as far as possible from the window now, but there’s no hope of them getting out of this room before the attack comes. Shifting Barnes ten feet set off a fresh wave of bleeding that Phil only just managed to deal with.
“Okay, Barnes, show time,” he says, carefully sliding out from under Barnes and kneeling in front of him instead. It doesn’t do much to shield Barnes’s legs, but it should stop him taking a direct hit in the head or torso. For as long as Phil remains upright, anyway.
There’s an almighty explosion downstairs, hard enough that it shakes the foundations of the building, Phil swaying on his knees. He’s still fighting to regain his balance when the door caves in and the doorway fills with Department X grunts.
Phil lifts his gun.
The window to his left smashes inwards and the Hulk comes roaring through.
Phil allows himself one blink of surprise.
Hulk comes face to face with the grunts, stops, and roars, grabbing the nearest by the throat and throwing him into the wall.
Phil sinks back onto his ass, gun still clutched in both hands to keep it steady.
Before Hulk can grab the next guy, an arrow flies over his shoulder, barely brushing his ear, and the doorway explodes.
“Nice shot,” Phil hears, in Tony Stark’s voice, and then Iron Man touches down in the broken window, Clint hitching a ride on his side.
“He’s made trickier shots than that, Stark,” Phil finds himself saying, and everything goes quiet.