A/N: Moving the timeline of Legacy up for this story if anyone noticed. Works better that way. Canon says it was a year after he was viraled off greens. For the purpose of this story it's only going to be a couple of weeks. Also, I've got this story down to the last chapter written so updates should be regular from here on out. Unbeta'd, so please excuse grammar/spelling errors!
Disclaimer: If I owned it, Clint and Nat would be married. Possibly with small mini-assassin children even if it makes no sense because imagine a tiny, sassy, scary little Clint/Nat hybrid with his personality, her red hair and his blue eyes. I'm not crying you're crying.
Clint finished pulling on his dark jeans and yanked his dark gray shirt on, shrugging his heavy jacket on over that. He took a moment to gaze at his SHIELD uniform with a pout and realized he missed the tight leather. It was much less restrictive of his movements than his current civilian clothing.
He also missed using his bow.
Outcome was mostly guns, not that he minded guns. His bow was his preferred weapon and all things considered, he'd still gotten to use it on the parallel missions he got sent on by SHIELD while acting like he was working for Outcome.
Clint had seen the file they had on Byer. It was almost as thick as the dictionary and they needed just a little bit more, needed some cold hard proof of him taking out his own men before the World Security Council would authorize a kill order on a highly respected retired Colonel from the United States Air Force, crazy spook or not.
Personally, he felt he should have been given the green light to take out Byer months ago, but he was a field agent, what did he know.
With a heavy sigh Clint shoved his feet into his combat boots and laced them up, steeling his mind to the task ahead. His vitals had long ago stabilized and SHIELD was working on figuring out what they'd done to his cells. For now, it was the waiting game. It was up to the analysts to figure out how the cellular makeup had shifted.
It was something he was comfortable leaving to them. He was more of the shoot first, ask questions later, scurry up a thin rope to a rooftop while shooting at bad guys type. Sitting in a lab all day analyzing through a microscope would drive him insane.
"Clint," Natasha said from the doorway, a question in her tone.
Clint turned to look at her over his shoulder, finishing up lacing the last boot and dropping his foot to the floor as she entered the room and closed the door behind her. "Hey," he greeted her with a warm smile, shouldering his duffel. "Seeing me off now? Aww, Romanoff, I'm touched."
Natasha scowled and punched him in the kidney, which he'd expected. Laughing, he twisted his hips away just quickly enough to avoid a bruising blow.
"I worked hard since coming to SHIELD three years ago to maintain my image of emotionless robot," she reminded him grumpily. "Let's keep it that way, shall we?"
"Sure, Nat," he agreed easily, pulling her into his side to kiss the top of her head. "I swear to keep it a secret that you are the mastermind behind the prank wars and that you geek out over Star Wars marathons."
"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled, but she leaned into him for a brief moment of weakness before she stepped away from his familiar warmth.
Natasha reached out and picked up his program kit, running her fingers over it. It was shaped like dog-tags but holding tiny little blue and green pills. "I never really asked what these do," she confessed. "I was too enraged at the time to wonder."
Sighing heavily, he leaned his shoulder against the wall and stared down at the tiny little gold case he'd come to hate with every fiber of his being because they kept him so vulnerable. Every damn week he had to stay in contact with Outcome because if he didn't, he'd be dead. After watching the videos of what happened if he didn't take them he wasn't too keen to test it.
"The greens are physical, the blues are mental," he admitted. "Not sure what they do exactly, but the longer I delay in taking them the worse the make me feel. The one time I tried them I physically deteriorated rapidly, could barely move my muscles were so tired all of a sudden. Got a nasty migraine, too, felt like someone was cleaving my skull in half. As soon as I took them, it only took a little while to be back to normal. They do something, enhance us somehow, I'm just not sure how. I was fast before but I'm faster now, and stronger. My mind was sharp before, but now I remember things in extreme detail and can do multiple shot calculations at once."
Natasha scowled but she did reach up to slide it around his neck and tuck it under his shirt. "We need to get you off of those as soon as we can," she grumbled. "You being at the mercy of a drug pisses me off."
"Tactically it's pretty smart," he told her with a faint smile. "Keeps us in line. We act out, they threaten to yank the meds. I've seen what happens on the videos, Nat. Fuck if I know how but the guy's mind was just gone. I can't risk that, or my eyesight." He tapped his ear with a wry smile. "My aim's pretty much all I've got going for me, now."
"You've got a lot going for you," she smirked as she glanced at his crotch knowingly, patting him on the abs. Clint's delighted, eye-crinkling, dimpled grin was worth it.
"Nice to be appreciated," he drawled, waggling his eyebrows ridiculously.
Natasha couldn't help but laugh at him a little because Clint was a gigantic goofball who also usually muttered "fuck it" in the mornings and drank his coffee straight from the coffee pot after she'd poured her cup. He claimed it tasted better that way but she knew it just meant he could avoid doing extra dishes. He was the king of lazy when he could get away with it.
Once the laughter had faded, Clint sighed and said, "Guess we should get going."
Natasha nodded and let the visage of Nat melt away to be replaced by her default mode of Black Widow.
He watched the transformation because it always amazed him how quickly she could go from his Nat to the Black Widow, even though he knew she, like him, switched in and out of covers so easily they were like second skins. It was a natural skill any decent spy picked up if they wanted to survive.
Clint steeled himself for the mission at hand and followed her out of his quarters, locking the door behind him with his hand print on the pad. He doubted he'd be seeing this room for quite some time.
"The Quintjet is waiting," Natasha briefed him as she strode by his side down the hall.
Every agent who saw them coming got out of their way, the junior agents usually gaping with stars in their eyes because Strike Team Delta was no secret. Their feats were legendary, especially considering Clint had only been with SHIELD for five years and Natasha for three, the two of them partnered together from the time she'd joined. It always seemed to surprise newbies how young they were; Clint, standing tall and proud at twenty-two and Natasha appearing to be about the same.
A few nodded at them without saying a word — May, Hill, Sitwell. By the time they made it to the hangar it would be no secret that Strike Team Delta had their game faces on and were headed out for another mission.
The hangar itself was bustling with activity, men and women scurrying back and forth in a sort of organized chaos, the din of mechanical whirring, sawing, and other activities adding to the bedlam. Straight ahead was their Quintjet, prepped and ready to go with a pilot already at the controls and Coulson at the bottom of the ramp with Doctor Weller right beside him.
"Great," Clint scowled, but he didn't slow his stride, ignoring the smirk Natasha shot his way.
"Coulson, Doctor Weller," Natasha said in a smooth, professional tone as she halted with Clint right beside her.
"Agents Barton and Romanoff," the doctor said stiffly while Coulson just smiled and rocked back and forth on his heels. "Barton," he said gruffly, peering at the young man who appeared to be healthy as a horse despite being all but dead on his table two days ago. "I'll be monitoring your vitals with SHIELD." He gestured to Clint's arm, where they'd inserted the device the day before. "That one is upgraded from the last model to include GPS and some other information like blood content. Anything out of the ordinary and it will be my voice in your ear working with Agent Coulson. The best scientists in SHIELD are trying to figure out what they did to you."
"Duly noted, Doc," Clint said with an unfriendly smirk as his sharp gaze landed on his handler, who just continued to smile. Asshole. "Coulson, I don't need a babysitter."
Without missing a beat, Coulson fired back, "I'm not going as your babysitter, Barton, don't flatter yourself. They're taking me to the New York base after we drop you off. Romanoff will be going with me to plan the parallel mission."
Clint looked at Nat out of the corner of his eye but her expression hadn't changed. She'd neglected to mention that during their hours together, though he supposed they'd been a little busy to make small talk for most of it.
They loaded on the plane and while it irritated him to not be flying, he took advantage of the fact that Phil and Nat were on board with him and he could take this time for a much-needed nap. Whatever Outcome had done, he was still recovering.
"We'll drop you near your apartment," Coulson told him matter-of-factly. "Outcome is out for blood. We managed to plant evidence that you were in the hospital for twenty-seven hours. The rest is up to you."
"Noted," Clint yawned as he settled in the seat beside his partner, stretching his long legs out and leaning back against the wall. He was asleep before the jet had even taxied out of the hangar.
Natasha shook him awake when they landed discreetly near enough to his apartment to avoid suspicion. She walked him to the back of the jet, mindful of their audience.
Clint blocked a direct view with his body and she turned towards him, tipping her face back to meet his eyes. "Be careful," she told him seriously, reaching out to trail her fingers down his forearm and squeeze his wrist. "Stay in contact."
"I will, Nat," he promised, squeezing her elbow in return. It was the only PDA they could afford outside of a private room on base or a private safe house. "See you on the flip side, Coulson," he called.
His handler just scowled and waved with another stern reminder of "Don't be a dumbass, Clinton."
Clint snorted and slipped out of the jet, boots soundlessly moving across the roof. He wasted no time shimmying down the fire escape noiselessly and listening as the Quintjet took off with near-silence and faded into the clouds. With every step he took he shed Clint Barton and piece by piece recreated himself as Aaron Cross, the weapon Outcome had honed over the past few years.
Sighing heavily and resigning himself back to the mission at hand he made quick time down the streets and up to his penthouse, thankfully not meeting anyone on the way. It worked in his favor that it wasn't even four in the morning so not many people were up and about.
The SHIELD pad was undisturbed which was good. Byer hadn't managed to track him back to the apartment. He placed his hand on the pad and the light at the top went from red to green and the door clicked. He pushed the door open and slipped inside, grabbing the sidearm from his boot and clearing the apartment room by room.
"Clear," he muttered to himself, shoulders relaxing as he returned the gun to its holster.
Sharp eyes took in the details of the apartment.
Just inside the front door there were remnants of the shirt he'd been wearing the day at the lab. Nat must have cut it off of him before she put him in the tub. He had vague, pain-filled memories of a soft cloth wiping his face and chest and her warmth at his back. The bathroom was a disaster zone; it had water all over the floor and the tub was still a third of the way full. As soon as he yanked the plug the water drained.
Clint made a half-assed attempt to clean up. His bedroom wasn't much better. A pile of Natasha's clothes sat abandoned next to his dresser. A quick scan of the dresser contents told him that she'd taken an outfit and the spare pair of boots he always left for her. The sheets were on the floor in a heap and he could see the sweat stains his body had left on the mattress cover. There was a bowl of water on the nightstand and a pile of discarded washcloths in a soppy pile on the floor. There were two dry, unused washcloths beside the bowl that he returned to the towel cabinet.
"Burning that," he grumbled to himself as he tore it off and stuffed it in a trash bag, stuffing in her clothes as well as the cargo pants in the bathroom and the cut-up shirt in the entranceway. He had no time to get them clean and they wouldn't have time to dry out properly, easily to just throw them out. Once the bag was full he tied it off and considered burning its contents in the sink with the help of some lighter fuel.
After about four seconds of thought he decided that required too much effort.
Opening the back door, he threw the entire bag out of the penthouse. It landed in the dumpster sixteen stories below with a dull thump closely followed by a startled scream. Deciding that was so not his job description, he closed the door and made sure to lock it.
Steeling himself for the task ahead, he pulled out the phone Outcome had given him and noted the missed calls from Byer. Check-in had been two days ago and he was due to check in again today. "Whoops," he said sarcastically, finding he really didn't give a shit. Outcome had done something that nearly fucking killed him and he was going to have to crawl back pretending he had no idea it was them because the fucking program meds kept him on a leash.
He was officially done and ready to kill Byer himself.
Not looking forward to their bitching at all, he gritted his teeth and shoved the phone in his pocket. Calm as you please, he loaded all his gear into his black duffel and carried it downstairs to the parking garage, stashing it all in his trunk and shooting a mournful look at his motorcycle that someone in SHIELD must have returned for him while he was out.
When he was about four miles away from his safe house he parked next to a deserted picnic area. With nimble fingers he enabled the GSP tracker and hit number one on his speed dial. Tense as a drawn bowstring, he waited for the man on the other end to answer.
His Outcome handler picked up on the second ring with a snarl of, "Where the hell have you been?"
"Nice to talk to you too, Byer," he shot back without missing a beat as the man went off on a vicious tirade.
Rolling his eyes, he decided he was very ready for this shit assignment to be over. Having to be Clint Barton and Aaron Cross at the same time was getting to be a bit tedious. (Especially when one threw in that stupid undercover mission in Afghanistan as a crazy jackass named James gathering intel for the EXO-7 Falcon project that he really preferred not to think about. Throw in a couple more undercover missions and he felt like he was trying to be six people at once because more than once, he had been pretending to be six people at once).
It was exhausting.
Sometimes, being a spy really sucked.
Days like this, he wished he'd stayed in the damn circus.
Outcome's goonies cornered him in the park, not that he even tried to hide or get away. For the love of god he literally stood there with his hands in his pockets watching them drive towards him.
Before he could even open his mouth, they had him pinned to the hood of his car while they dragged out all his gear and tossed it in their standard van that screamed "I WORK FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT YOU CANNOT SEE ME". After tying his hands together and shoving a bag over his head, they tossed him bodily into the van after his gear.
He'd been extremely polite about the whole ordeal thus far especially considering they'd given him no less than six openings to attack and kill them both.
"Are you fucking kidding me right now," he said dryly to no one in particular. The doors to the van slammed shut and the men who had grabbed him were muttering furiously to each other in what he assumed they thought were quiet voices as they climbed into the front seats and the engine started.
He managed to catch Byer, alive, secret location, tarmac, and Ward.
"Where do they find these people," he said to himself in a tone of frank disbelief, astounded by their sheer stupidity.
"Shut it, Cross," one of them barked.
Clint was mildly offended. Not many knew who he (or rather, his cover) was or that he even existed. On the upside, the dumbass had just confirmed that he was one of Outcomes cronies or at least belonged to any of the programs attached to or branching off from Treadstone. That was the only way they would know him by name.
Probably some low-ranking Level D assassins, if their shit stealth was anything to go by. He'd not only seen them coming from (quite literally) a mile away, he'd immediately pegged them as US Government.
If the all-black color wasn't enough to go on, the government plates were kind of a dead giveaway.
Cursing his life, Clint shifted around on the metal in an effort to get comfortable. He was bouncing around more or less like a rag doll without his arms to help stabilize him. By tensing his core and leaning all his weight into the wall of the van behind him he managed the ride in a semi-comfortable state.
No worse than a Blackhawk helicopter or a Humvee, he supposed. He'd had worse so he just sucked it up and dealt with it, mentally tracking their movements and cataloging every single turn while estimating speed. They were on a highway for about an hour before they pulled off, bumping over gravel and coming to an abrupt stop that left him tipping into the back of the driver's seat.
At that point they dragged him bodily from the car again and he let them, knowing he was far too valuable to kill at the moment. Inhaling deeply through his nose he got whiffs of jet fuel and grease. Airport, then. Explained the muttered "tarmac" from earlier.
Sure enough he only had to wait another few minutes, being physically dragged the entire way, before he could hear the whir of plane engines.
"I can walk, you know," he drawled to the man at his right. The view through the bag wasn't ideal but the sun was coming up which made it a little easier. He pegged the man about an inch taller than him and considerably broader with a stiff back that told of military training. The grip he had on his bicep was like iron. Control freak then. Figured Byer would send someone like this to pick him up.
"I said shut up," the man snarled with a distinctive Midwestern twang.
Clint silently cataloged that voice into his memory. It might come in handy in the future.
There was no more talking after that and the second man always stayed directly behind him. They shoved him up a narrow flight of stairs with a gun between his shoulder blades and he refrained from pointing out their dumbass move of tying his hands in front of him where he could easily disarm them. Most likely rookies, then.
And here he'd thought Byer had half a brain cell. Evidently not.
Pretending to cooperate he allowed them to shove him into a relatively comfortable chair and strap him in. Sensing they were about to make some half-assed threat he cut them to the chase and drawled, "Yeah, yeah, move and you shoot me in the face. Got it, Peaches."
Smirking because they couldn't see his face, he felt rather than saw their surprise.
Twang muttered some unkind things under his breath before snapping, "Larry, go tell the pilot we're ready for takeoff."
And there was dumbass rookie mistake number four thousand and six: using first names.
He barely refrained from snorting.
"A first-class seat to Daddy? I'm touched," Clint drawled instead. He didn't make a sound when a fist connected with his face, sending his head rocking to the side. "Touchy," he added in amusement, easily dodging the next blow by judging the shadows he could make out through the bag over his face.
"I said shut the fuck up, Cross!"
"Sure thing, Cupcake."
"I thought you spy types were supposed to be silent," Twang muttered, seating himself across the way somewhere judging by how his voice moved away from Clint as he spoke.
Clint hated flying when he wasn't the pilot but he ignored the tight feeling in his chest and thought about other things, like the texture of Natasha's smooth skin beneath the rough pads of his fingertips and the way she always shivered when he bit down on the back of her shoulder.
The plane took off not long after and he silently counted the minutes in his head. The device SHIELD had planted in his forearm would relay his location and vitals while the small, roughly inch long cylindrical shaped tracker Outcome had put in his hip without his consent was broadcasting a radio signal so that Outcome could track him.
They'd know where he was, which was better than nothing. Right about now Nat and Phil should have been in New York raising hell as they tended to do while on missions.
He amused himself for the hour and a half flight by imagining the various scenarios of Byer's death. Natasha was damn creative, especially when she was pissed. There were about thirty ways he could think of off the top of his head that she could kill him and make it look like an accident. If Phil decided to help Byer didn't stand a chance.
By the time they landed Clint had decided he was four hundred percent done with all this cloak and dagger, bag-over-the-head bullshit. It was offensive. He had ears that (mostly) worked, the eyes of a hawk (quite literally), and an incredible memory. Clint's extensive knowledge of the globe paired with an internal GPS and sharp spatial awareness he'd developed during his time in the circus meant he knew exactly where they were when they landed.
Washington D.C., because where the hell else would Byer be?
When he wasn't on missions or hovering over his Outcome agents treating them like they were morons (We got shitty intel and didn't know there were innocent civilians in the building his left testicle, Fury had been royally pissed about that one) he was lording his superior rank and strutting around like a peacock.
Clint snorted slightly to himself because Byer was former Air Force which went a long way to explain the enormous stick the man seemed to have wedged up his ass. He doubted the man had seen much combat if any combat at all. There was a reason their nickname from the other armed forces was "Chair Force".
By the time he'd concluded his inner monologue and ran through the alphabet in six different languages, the plane had taxied to a stop.
Deciding to take his real handler's advice to heart for once in his life, he kept his mouth shut as they hauled him out of his seat. He remained silent as they dragged him down the stairs to the tarmac and shoved him in yet-another Government issued vehicle. It was an SUV this time judging by the profile.
They were definitely in DC because this city had a uniquely particular odor of corporate greed mixed with dog shit, no matter how Natasha looked at him like he was crazy every time he brought it up. He figured Phil would be proud of him for not running his mouth off for a change.
Stony silence filled the car on the way to Byer's little not-so-secret office.
Seriously, were these people for real?
He suddenly longed for SHIELD because their people were at least competent.
They drove for thirty-six minutes, stopping frequently. He could hear the rush of traffic and mentally pictured them moving along a map as they drove north and then northwest, winding through the streets of DC before ending up at Byer's office. He knew as soon as they stopped he'd have the bag and ties removed before being "escorted" up to Byer's office to get chewed out and reprimanded.
Or rather, they'd dump him in one of the lab levels where they'd interrogated him post-bomb blast where Byer could chew him out without any witnesses.
"Honey, I'm home," he muttered when the car came to a stop.
All the same, he pretended to act surprised at their location when they removed the hood and the zip ties on his wrists. Clint mentally rolled his eyes because they actually bought it.
E/N: Snarky Clint is the best Clint.
Next up: Clint's return to Outcome. Byer is not nearly as threatening as Fury.
For his superb acting performance, Clint thinks he deserves an Oscar.
And a shower, because Byer is a sleazy asshole.