Rating: Mature (light R?)
Summary: Debt is only beautiful when it has been repaid
Author notes: I can't thank the fabulous madjm enough for sticking with me through this whole thing. I literally had the first idea for this fic on June 17th and it's been driving me insane ever since. I swear, I'm not going to write anything with a plot for the rest of 2012.
They rendezvous at SHIELD’s Paris HQ the day before Clint’s supposed to leave for Nairobi.
He finds Natasha in her quarters, packing for her own mission. He’s brought the new uniform – well, part of it, anyway, the detachable cowl and half-mask – and when he pulls it on she has to work hard not to laugh aloud.
She comes very, very close to failing.
“What… is that?” she chokes. “It’s purple.”
Clint sighs. “Let’s get some coffee.”
The café is on Rue de la Roquette. Clint won’t go so far as to call it their ‘usual place’, because anything approaching predictability is an invitation to an ambush, but they’ve been there a handful of times over the years and there’s comfort in the familiarity. He knows Nat appreciates that it has two back exits (one is properly marked and the other is disguised as a janitor’s closet), and it helps that the proprietor is former French Special Forces and paranoid enough to scan the place for electronic surveillance once a week.
They sit in the back amidst the faded prints and dusty baubles; she curls up in the corner of a shabby oversized armchair and drinks her coffee black, looking askance at his café crème. “So?” she asks once they’re alone, one side of her mouth twitching in a suppressed smile. “What’s with the purple spandex?”
He grimaces. “Fury’s worried that I’m too recognizable now. Or that the bow is. Tried to convince me to stick to small arms for a couple of months.”
She raises her eyebrows. It’s shorthand for ‘that must have gone over well’. Clint just shrugs.
He knows more than a couple of people at SHIELD think that the bow is an affectation or pretension or that he has something against guns. Natasha knows better, but even she can’t really understand the adaptability, the control, the finesse. A bullet really only has one purpose, one use, but an arrow has a dozen; he has trained with almost every weapon known to man, up to and including nun-chucks, but nothing besides the bow has ever felt as much an extension of his arm, his eye, his brain.
Still, it’s always made him unique, and uniqueness is as much a liability for someone like him as predictability. It was one thing when he was only a figure in the shadows, black on black, an arrow found at the scene hours later, mysterious and untraceable; now, with footage from New York being blasted on television sets and computer screens from one side of the globe to the other, he can’t really blame Fury for being nervous. (He suspects, however, that the director is overestimating how much interest the public has taken in the two of them compared to the blond god, the big green guy, the flying robot, and the man in the spangled leotard.)
The official story, he tells Nat, will be that the bow is so in vogue now that theatrical vigilantes and mercenaries the world over are picking it up – which might be true, as far as he knows – so that in the future, anyone paying attention won’t be able to automatically equate the guy with the bow and arrow (Robin Hood, Legolas, Cupid, Katniss… he’s heard them all) with an agent of SHIELD. For once, he’s going on a mission to be seen.
Natasha looks skeptical. “And what’s to keep someone from figuring out it’s the same guy in a new costume?”
He winces at the word ‘costume’; it reminds him too much of things he’d rather forget. “Apparently my doppelganger’s going to make an appearance in Belfast around the same time, leap around some rooftops, that kind of thing.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier—“
“To put him in the Barney suit? Probably.” He figures this is Fury’s revenge for not backing down on the small arms thing. “I guess I should count myself lucky,” he snorts, propping up one leg on a dilapidated ottoman. “They could have cut me loose after New York. Fury would have been well within his rights.”
Natasha takes another sip of coffee, eyeing him over the rim of the mug. “He’s not stupid,” she says coolly. “At least not stupid enough to throw away two of his best assets.”
The comment, so calmly delivered, the implication that he seems meant to take, causes a strange ache in the middle of Clint’s stomach. It’s not entirely unpleasant.
Then again, it’s not exactly a comfortable feeling, either. The way she’s looking at him makes him think about New York in a different way, about the night after Loki’s ‘deportation’, as she likes to call it, about a suite at the Carlyle and two glasses of Blanc de Noire that went untouched.
He looks away first. It’s always him.
“What about you?” he asks, draining his cup in a show of studied nonchalance.
“Officially, I’m taking a few days off to attend to some personal business,” she says quietly, seemingly unaffected. “Unofficially I’m on loan to the State Department. I’m supposed to ‘recover and destroy all copies of a leaked document which, if made public, would lead to a serious security threat’,” she quotes in an affected, formal tone.
“Would that be national security or job security?” he asks, which is shorthand for ‘I highly doubt you’re going to destroy every copy’, and she just smiles, which makes him wonder if she’s acting on Fury’s orders or simply on her own common sense.
They pay the check and walk for a while down the Rue de la Roquette. It is still early but the tourists are already out in full force, pouring from their hotel rooms and into the streets, pointing and taking pictures, frantically paging through French dictionaries and travel guides.
He is dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans and jacket, with the collapsible bow tucked into his waistband, snug against the small of his back, and a basic complement of arrows in the messenger bag that’s slung over one shoulder. She is wearing black as well: ridiculously tight pants, ankle boots, and a sheer top with fluttering sleeves, accented with a zebra-patterned scarf loosely draped around her neck. Her hair is dyed a rich honey-blonde, falling straight and sleek just past her jawline.
No one approaches them. They’re not quite Parisians, but they’re definitely not tourists either. They don’t seem to fit into any category. Clint likes that, and he knows she does too.
A few blocks from headquarters, which they’ll return to separately, she turns to him, goes up onto her toes, and kisses him lightly on the corner of his mouth. It’s over before he can even process it, and she’s stepping back with that not-quite-smile playing on her lips, and all he can say is, “Be careful, Nat.”
She raises her eyebrows, which is shorthand for a great many things, so he just shrugs and says, “Be careful anyway.”
An unmarked chopper picks him up south of the Kibera slums.
Clint's been in-country almost three weeks, twice as long as he intended, and he’s attracted too much attention for SHIELD to risk sending in a Quinjet. In fact, no fewer than two Nairobian cops, three agents of NSIS – Kenya’s national security service – and a dozen soldiers are watching him at this very moment from various rooftops and grassy depressions. He resists the urge to wave as the chopper lifts off.
He’s not looking forward to the debrief on this one. The mission was to be seen but, despite the costume, he’s pretty sure Fury never meant to do it in such a colorful way.
Not that he’s planning to apologize for it. He wasn’t going to ignore an armed carjacking going on right in front of him, even if it was happening on a fairly busy street where passersby could be expected to have their camera phones handy. How was he supposed to know that the victim was a member of Parliament, and that the carjacking was actually an assassination attempt, and that it would turn out to have been orchestrated by a leading member of the opposing party?
It’s kind of a big story now; the local media has started referring to him as mzingi, which is the Swahili word for a local species of bird (and not, as he had first suspected, a Swahili word for ‘large purple idiot’). Right now the global media is so hyper-aware of ‘superheroes’ – or ‘masked vigilantes’, depending on who you talk to – that it’s just a matter of time until the footage is being played all over the world.
The chopper takes him over the border into Tanzania, setting down after midnight along the banks of a meandering, rust-red river. The Quinjet is waiting, silent and dark except for the vague bluish glow from its open rear hatch. Clint thanks the chopper pilot; the young man smiles broadly, chirrups, “You come back soon, mzingi!” and gives him an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Clint jumps down on to the ground, ducking instinctively beneath the whirring blades and jogging towards the Quinjet, thinking, Clint Barton, Mzingi, Guardian of Nairobi, Purple Protector of Politicians. Remind me not to add that to my resume.
He pulls off the cowl and mask as he steps up the ramp into the Quinjet, only belatedly noticing that the hold is already occupied. He recognizes Agent Isaiah Santiago, because they have a brief albeit interesting history, but also because the guy is huge, thick-necked and broad-shouldered, downright elephantine, and Clint should know because he’s seen his share of elephants these past few weeks.
He looks into the cockpit as the hatch closes. The pilot is Jeffers, who Clint actually has interacted with a few times, but when he tries to start a conversation Jeffers just says, “That’s for you,” gesturing at a duffle in the vacant copilot’s seat, and focuses on prepping for takeoff. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to talk to me either, looking like this.
Clint’s never been so happy to see plain black gear. Even before the Quinjet is off the ground he’s peeled off what will forever be known as the Mzingi Suit, unceremoniously wadding it into a ball and pulling on the infinitely more practical clothes that someone – perhaps Fury, feeling uncharacteristically charitable – thought to send along with his ride.
As he’s lacing up his boots he suddenly wonders if maybe this little care package is compliments of Nat, even though she was expected to be gone a month or more. He glances over at Santiago sitting on the other side of the hold, arms crossed and expression stony, or maybe just a little airsick. If he’s been on assignment in the area he wouldn’t know if Natasha’s made it back to the carrier yet. Besides, some agents are a little leery of talking about the Widow, even when she’s not around, lest something be said that smacks of unprofessionalism. Ever since Agent Neuman… well. The less said about that, the better, really.
Clint looks in towards Jeffers, who’s usually a lot chattier than this, but the guy seems unusually focused on guiding them out over the Indian Ocean. Sighing, Clint settles back against the bulkhead, resting his bow across his knees and closing his eyes. Either way, he thinks, he’ll find out soon enough.
It’s mid-afternoon, local time, when they catch up with the Helicarrier over southwestern India, but Clint’s brain is still pretty much set on breakfast. The items on his agenda are as follows: Food. Shower. Burn Mzingi Suit and dance upon the ashes. Avoid Fury. Find out if Tasha’s back. Enlist her help in avoiding Fury.
He steps off the Quinjet’s ramp, duffle bag in one hand and bow in the other, Santiago’s lumbering footsteps not far behind. The wind is blowing straight across the deck, chilly at this altitude despite the equatorial heat, and it smells of metal and exhaust and jet fuel.
He ducks through the nearest open hatch, still shadowed by the silent Santiago. It’s warmer inside but the smell of metal is stronger. Food, he reminds himself. Shower.
Steve Rogers, who was definitely not on Clint’s agenda, is suddenly standing in the hallway looking like one of his trading cards, big and blond and righteous. He’s not in his suit – his costume, Clint thinks uncharitably – but Clint wouldn’t be surprised to find out he regularly wears it under his civilian clothes.
“Agent Barton,” he begins, but then his eyes flicker up to Santiago, who’s stopped as well. When Rogers looks back at Clint there’s a hint of uncertainty in his expression. “I need to talk to you.”
Clint sighs. Food. Shower. Should have put ‘avoid pesky supersoldier’ on the list, too, although he hadn’t known Rogers was still on board. “Is this about Stark?” he asks wearily.
As of three weeks ago, Tony Stark had been complaining to anyone who would listen about some outfit out of Oslo that was manufacturing weapons and slapping a Stark Industries sticker on the back. Fury wasn’t concerned about a handful of rockets and RPGs; they hadn’t fallen into the hands of any terrorist groups, and even if they did, they were so poorly made that they seemed most likely to blow up in their operators’ faces. In fact, Stark had seemed less worried about the chances of death and destruction and more offended that someone would put his name on substandard goods. “SHIELD isn’t in the business of enforcing trademark infringement laws,” Fury had reminded him on one highly memorable occasion.
But Rogers shakes his head. “No,” he says, with another glance at Santiago. “It’s about Agent Romanoff.”
The mission is an easy one, according to the woman who calls herself Aten. Avoiding attention is important, she says, but most of the time will be spent waiting for the target to arrive. When he does, however, it needs to be done cleanly.
Natasha isn’t sure what to think of the woman. They’re about the same age, they even look a little similar with blonde hair and slim builds, but Aten somehow reads as being younger and less confident. Not to mention much less experienced. Natasha hasn’t worked with a partner in a long time and she’s legitimately concerned that this mission, easy or not, will be compromised if she has to babysit on the side.
But Aten is adamant. She’s the only one who knows what the target looks like now, after his plastic surgery. There aren’t even any recent pictures, there’s just her, which is why the Institute sent her along on this assignment. She promises that she won’t get in the way, and Natasha believes her.
Believes her intentions, anyway. Reality is often far different.
They board a red-eye in Lima. Natasha takes her assigned window seat without thinking, but during takeoff sits back so that Aten can lean forward and get a good look outside. Not that there’s much to see in the middle of the night, just the receding lights of the airport, then the city, then the coast, embraced by the inky blankness of the Pacific.
Meanwhile, the passenger on Aten’s other side, a lanky man in a rumpled business suit, takes the opportunity to get a good look down her top. Natasha gives him an aggressive smile and suggests, “No me jodas.” Whether or not he’s a Spanish speaker, he seems to get the gist. A few minutes later he’s jammed in a pair of earbuds and taken out a laptop, pointedly ignoring the both of them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever flown before,” says Aten wonderingly, oblivious of this byplay. “When we went into Caracas we drove overland.”
“That’s where you got a look at our guy’s new face?” asks Natasha, eager to get down to specifics, and Aten’s eyes go wide as she glances around the cabin. It’s a packed flight, and she’s obviously worried about being overheard, so Natasha pulls out a pen and steno pad she’d picked up at the airport for just such a purpose. Aten grins briefly and starts to write.
Yes, after he escaped from Villavicencio. He has powerful friends. The rest of my team was killed. She hesitates. It was my first assignment since they put me back together. It’s just luck that I survived.
Natasha takes the steno pad back. I don’t believe in luck, she writes. She knows so little about Aten’s past; it’s obviously a sore subject, but it’s important to understand as much as she can before they touch back down. Why did you stay with the Institute after what they did to you?
Aten bites her lip. They did me a favor, she writes. I would have spent the rest of my life in jail. Instead I’m a free woman.
With no memories, Natasha points out. It hits a little too close to home for her to be so blasé about someone having their personality erased. The eggheads at the Institute referred to as a “comprehensive engramatic expunction”. Aten just calls it a ‘wipe’. Natasha has heard other names for it, in the past.
Aten shrugs and writes back, I don’t really think I’m missing anything. In fact I’m glad not to have those images in my head anymore. The things I did.
You killed people.
This time Aten doesn’t write anything; she just nods, looking away.
According to my files, Aten replies, her handwriting a little uneven now, some of them were. Not all of them.
Natasha sits back and stares out the window. She can see the faint pulse of light from the tips of the wings, but everything else is darkness.
She’s known that darkness before, known the emptiness of being erased and rewritten. It scares her to think that the technology has spread, that it has progressed to this point, even if it’s being used for rehabilitation. The possibilities for abuse are endless. Absolute power and all that.
Thankfully, none of that is her problem. She’s not doing this because of loyalty to the Institute, like Aten. She’s not doing this because someone told her to, because someone wrote the directive in her mind like words on a chalkboard. She’s doing this on behalf of her own bank account, nothing else. She doesn’t report to anyone anymore.
Steve suggests that they try to find out more before confronting Director Fury – after all, he only knows what he’s overheard – but Barton is not in the mood to listen.
“’Missing’?” Barton echoes the director. The agent’s voice is even, almost calm – Steve’s rarely heard it otherwise – but from his spot in the office doorway Steve notices how tense Barton’s shoulders are, how his hands keep tightening into fists before consciously relaxing. “You mean she’s gone radio silent?”
Fury sits behind his desk, fingers steepled, expression impassive. He swivels around to fix his one good eye on Steve. “I’m not even sure why I’m having this conversation right now, Agent, except that Captain Rogers has developed a penchant for being damn sneaky.”
“I don’t like secrets, sir.” The implication hangs in the air between them – if it’s that much of a problem, I can take my talents elsewhere – but neither of them wants to say it out loud. If it wasn’t for SHIELD Steve guessed he’d still be locked in the ice; he does feel indebted to them because of that. And really, where else would he go? What would he do outside the chain of command? Join up with Stark and Banner and whatever other misfits they’ve been able to recruit? There’s a recipe for disaster.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Tony Stark,” Fury retorts, as though reading Steve’s mind. Then he sighs, putting one hand to the temple above his eye-patch. “Take a seat,” he says after a moment of silence.
Barton sits, but stiffly, perched on the edge of the chair. Steve stands at his side, hands behind his back, feet slightly apart. Fury sighs again.
“Agent Romanoff’s mission was completed,” he begins, lacing his fingers together. “Three days ago we sent in a chopper to extract her, same as you, to avoid unwanted attention. The chopper went down around the Honduras-El Salvador border after sustaining damage from an unknown source.”
Barton sucks in a breath, leaning forward. “You said missing…”
“Everyone survived the initial crash, but according to the pilot someone was waiting for them on the ground. Two members of the State Department also on the chopper were killed, the pilot was left for dead… and Agent Romanoff left willingly with the assailants.”
Barton shakes his head stubbornly. “That’s not possible.”
“We’re talking about Natasha Romanoff,” intones Fury. “I’d say it’s very possible.”
Steve can tell that Barton’s getting close to saying or doing something he might regret later, so he intervenes. “Director, you really think she would just take off like that? Leave SHIELD because… what? A better offer came along?”
Fury is still looking at Barton. “It’s happened before.”
Barton’s hands tighten on the straight metal armrests of his chair; his head falls forward and he shakes it disbelievingly. “That’s why you had Santiago on the jet,” he says with a hollow, humorless laugh. “You thought I was it on it, too, that we’d cooked up some scheme to… do what exactly?”
“Sometimes precautions need to be taken,” says Fury.
Barton narrows his eyes. “Against your own people?”
Fury leans forward now, his expression hardening. There’s a computer screen on his desk, opaque rather than transparent, and Steve sees the director glance towards it. “Agent Barton, you need to calm down.”
Barton stands. “What I need to do is talk to that chopper pilot.”
Another surreptitious look towards the computer, and Steve wonders if Fury’s sent for security to take Barton into custody, wonders if he’s going to end up having to intervene in a different way, wonders exactly what he’ll do. (“Stay who you are… a good man,” Abraham Erskine had once told him, and it had seemed simple enough at the time.)
“Mr. Bradach isn’t here at the moment,” says Fury in the terse, clipped tone of a man rapidly reaching the end of his rope. “He’s still in a hospital in San Salvador thanks to your former partner. Trust me, he’s been fully debriefed.”
Barton makes a rude sound, looks up at Steve as though to say do you believe this guy, and turns his back on them both. Fury is on his feet in a second. “Barton! You need to let this go.” His voice drops. “Romanoff was a risk from the beginning. Some people would say that this was just a matter of time.”
“Is that a fact?” Barton asks dryly, reaching for the door.
“If you can’t follow my orders, agent,” Fury adds, his voice still quiet, still dangerous, “just tell me right now and I will have no problem putting you off this ship.”
“Director…” starts Steve, taken aback by the swiftness of the ultimatum, but Barton shoots him a dark look as he turns and regards Fury with something like contempt.
“Don’t I even get time to pack?” he asks coldly.
Fury sits. One side of his mouth seems to lift, as though he’s developing a facial tic. “You have ten minutes,” is all he says.
Several agents and ship’s crew are loitering in the hallway, staring or trying not to stare, as Clint leaves Fury’s office. After a moment Rogers comes jogging after him. “Did you just get fired?”
Clint wants to laugh. He has to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all: at the last three weeks, at the way people move away from him instinctively as he hurries down the hall, at the inanity of the captain’s question. But he’s afraid if he starts to laugh he won’t be able to stop.
“Come on,” he tells Rogers. “You heard Fury. Ten minutes.”
They don’t go to his quarters – he’s still holding onto the duffle containing his bow and quiver, which is all he really needs – but to hers.
His code still works; Rogers doesn’t seem to realize where they are until the door opens. The tiny space is a mess: mattress ripped open, a few small personal effects – although not too personal, knowing Nat – thrown asunder. “I think SHIELD’s already been here,” says Rogers slowly.
“I’d say so,” agrees Clint, trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice because he’s not sure they had sarcasm in the ‘40s, and he starts searching.
The room is small but the possibilities are endless: not just the narrow desk’s two drawers but the legs of the desk as well; the bed frame; even the slight seams between wall plates are suspect. There are two spare uniforms hanging in the sliver of a closet, but nothing tucked into their pockets or sewn into a lining. Rogers stands and watches him for a moment, seemingly dumbfounded, before joining in. He isn’t exactly a lot of help, mostly just moves things around, but Clint appreciates the moral support.
He realizes, as he gets down on the floor to look at the undersides of the furniture, that his hands are shaking slightly. He feels slightly possessed; not Loki-possessed, thank God, but like he’s controlling his own body from a great distance and the interface he’s using isn’t very good.
“What are we looking for?” asks Rogers, pulling apart some discarded mattress fluff.
“No idea,” admits Clint, squeezing into the coffin-sized bathroom, running his hands across walls, ceiling, fixtures. His mind is racing. Someone was waiting for them on the ground… the pilot was left for dead… Agent Romanoff left willingly with the assailants.
He knows what he wants to find: a note, a message, something telling him that this is all a misunderstanding, that it’s a mission, that she’s going deep undercover like in Volgograd. But she hadn’t left him anything in Volgograd, either, he’d just had to trust her, trust that she knew what she was doing, trust that she would come back.
But this is different. Something in him, some deep-seated instinct, tells him that trust isn’t enough, that just waiting won’t work. He feels time ticking down, and its not just Fury’s ten minute deadline. It’s already been three days. She could be anywhere by now.
“Agent Barton,” Rogers calls out, “I know… you may not want to accept the possibility…”
“Oh, I’ve accepted it,” Clint says, giving up on the bathroom. It’s the truth; he has known since the first time he saw her in a SHIELD-issued uniform, staring unblinkingly across the table at him, that there might come a time when she would run again. “But she wouldn’t do it without a damned good reason.”
Rogers looks frustrated and a little disheveled from their frantic, unproductive search. “Two men are dead. Is there a good enough reason for that?”
Clint ignores the question, choosing to examine the inside of the closet door again. Two members of the State Department also on the chopper were killed… A dozen scenarios run through his mind, each as likely and impossible to confirm as the next: She made a copy of those leaked documents and someone found out… She was attacked and defended herself… Someone was trying to get the documents back and those two people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time…
But the pilot says she went with the people who brought down the chopper. Voluntarily.
Ergo, the pilot is a lying son of a bitch.
“What about that?” asks Rogers.
Clint blinks; he hadn’t even been looking anymore, he’d just been staring, visualizing the metal debris and human wreckage and Natasha walking away flanked by two faceless thugs. Rogers is standing in the middle of the room, pointing up at a narrow vent grille screwed into the ceiling.
“Can you reach?” Clint asks, glancing at his watch. Two minutes. Fury will be punctual.
“Sure.” The ceilings are low and Rogers is a big guy. He reaches up, hesitates as he seems to realize that he’s not carrying a screwdriver in his pocket, and then just pulls the entire grille free. Clint is ready; he catches the USB drive in one hand and holds it up for Rogers to see. “What is that?” the captain asks.
“What Fury wanted me to find,” says Clint, taking one last look around the room.
Now it’s Rogers’ turn to blink. “What…” He glances out through the open doorway. The hall is empty. “That was all an act?” he hisses. “Why on Earth…?”
“Somebody else was listening,” says Clint. He piles the ruined mattress on top of what’s left of the bed frame, pushes in the drawers, tosses the twisted vent grille onto the desk. Natasha would laugh if she could see him tidying up, but he needs to do something while he waits. One minute. “You heard what he said. ‘Some people would say this was just a matter of time.’”
“He kept looking at the computer screen,” Rogers murmurs, brow furrowing.
“Chain of command, Captain. You know how that works.” Whoever was here before them had taken apart the small desk lamp. He scoops the parts into the middle of the desk, next to the grille.
“Fury’s superiors,” says Rogers, lowering his voice. “The same people who were willing to bomb Manhattan?”
“At the very least, some bastard who has a vested interest in framing Natasha.” He tucks the flash drive into his pocket. It seems unlikely that whoever ransacked the room – no doubt on Fury’s orders – would have missed checking the vent, and he hopes that justifies the sudden flicker of hope that warms his chest, steadies his hands. Fury wouldn’t have let me find this if he didn’t think there was a chance.
“You think there will be answers on… that?” Rogers asks, nodding at Clint’s pocket, then looking up at the sounds of approaching footsteps.
“I’m hoping,” Clint says, recovering his duffle and hoisting it onto his shoulder.
A moment later the agents are there, three of them lead by the pachydermal Santiago. Clint spreads his hands to demonstrate just how unarmed and unthreatening he is. “So, someone’s giving me a ride back down, right?” he asks loudly. “You’re not planning on just chucking me out of the nearest hatch?”
Santiago glowers as if he’s seriously considering exactly that. Nothing the man has seen or heard in the last twenty minutes has made him any more of a Hawkeye fan than before. “Fury says we’re to take you where you want to go,” he says with obvious reluctance. “One-way trip.”
Clint shrugs, nods his thanks to Rogers, and gestures for Santiago and his friends to lead the way back to the top deck. The other agents take the hint, but the man-beast makes Clint walk in front of him, and “hands where I can see them.” Clint tries to take this as a compliment.
An anxious-looking Jeffers is waiting for them inside the jet. So is Rogers. He’s wearing a jacket and has a bag of his own slung across his back. Clint raises his eyebrows and says, “I got the impression you were on your way to Oslo.”
Rogers shrugs. “Stark has Ms. Potts, half his legal department and a suit of armor with him already,” he says wryly. “I thought maybe you could use the company.”
End of Part One