Cap 2 Spoilers
At one point in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there's a brief moment where three SHIELD techs are discussing someone who's 'in Afghanistan'. Although I'm not sure this is Clint, I decided to run with that.
One of the things that happens in an organization like SHIELD is, the more you get sent to a place, the more you get sent to it. This is why Clint finds himself in Kabul yet again on the day everything turns upside down.
Hill had warned him some years ago that learning Dari was a mistake if he didn't want to wind up in Afghanistan every other month. He'd assumed she'd been joking. She'd told him it was his funeral, and he'd rolled his eyes at her and accused her of being melodramatic.
He's been sitting in the restaurant for over an hour. He can only order so many drinks before it looks weird. He's already been asked if he's been stood up, and made jokes with the waiter about it. At this rate, he's running the risk of hitting the curfew.
Finally, his phone buzzes. He keeps his voice low, but can't help how irritated he must sound. "Rashid. I've been sitting here for almost two hours—"
"Calliope." It's the only thing Rashid says, and then the line goes dead.
It takes Clint a second to react. He sighs and summons the waiter, and after accepting sympathy for being dumped, pays and leaves. He ducks into an alleyway as soon as he can be sure no one is looking. Once he's found a convenient dumpster to crouch behind, he pops open the back of the phone, pulls out the SIM card, and crushes it under his boot. Next comes the phone, though he has to do that with his hands or risk making too much noise. It feels good to snap it in half; the touchscreen on it is crappy anyways. He digs his personal spare phone out, slides in a new SIM card, and heads for another restaurant. The old phone and SIM card get abandoned in separate trashcans at separate points along the way.
There are a handful of codewords for use in really bad situations on any operation. Unlike pass phrases, they're meant to be as succinct as possible, because they're often given when whole sentences are too risky, too time consuming, or both. They come in levels, representing the degree of failure: being double-crossed by an asset, failed extraction, blown cover, blown op-sec, and so on, up to complete and total meltdown.
Rashid has just given him the highest possible level, which means not only is their operation a bust, but things extending beyond it are too. This, of course, begs the question of whether or not Clint can trust Rashid, but Rashid isn't part of SHIELD's deeper network, and in some ways that makes him more trust-worthy than the rest of the op team when it comes to the 'total meltdown' scenario.
It takes a few minutes for the phone to activate and sync, after which there's a single email message waiting for him. It's from an address he doesn't recognize and probably won't get a response from if he replies; a one-time use account from a secure ISP dealing in data anonymization, most likely.
He hasn't bothered with the news for over a day. That's normal on a deep cover op, but if he's being told to it means something major is up. He wanders under the watchful eye of UN troops until he finds another restaurant with a TV and cable, but doesn't settle in, because the sight of three helicarriers firing on one another with the Triskelion in the background is more than enough to make the point. A good third of the restaurant patrons are staring wide-eyed and silent; a few more nudge one another and have hushed conversations while their eyes flit to the UN troops.
He goes to the bus station to get his bow and cash from the op reserve he's stowed in a storage locker, and from there straight to the airport.
His closest personal bolthole is in Turkey. It takes a lot of bribes to get there without showing up on a passenger manifest, but he doesn't want a personal alias getting out there, and he doesn't dare use any he has from SHIELD. He doesn't sleep for the entire trip; there's too much to read in the enormous leak someone has unleashed on the entire Internet, and watching the reactions is important. He has to know where it's safe to go.
Interestingly, his name is missing from anything, which narrows the list of likely leakers down to a handful of people.
The dusty little Istanbul apartment shows no signs of being discovered or watched, and the landlords don't evidence any nervousness or suspicious behavior, nor do the neighbors, so he collapses onto the bed and doesn't wake up for half a day.
He keeps the news on nonstop, watching the blow back. Nat takes no shit during the hearings, though he has to wonder why she's putting herself out there like this. Rogers would be a better option, or Hill.
Maybe he's just too jaded, but finding out SHIELD is actually HYDRA in a SHIELD suit doesn't surprise him. It does make him a little sad, because who can he really trust now, though he had long ago accepted that nothing would last—not even this. Maybe especially not this.
Nat. He can trust Nat. Who else? Fury appears to be dead; emphasis on appears, because it's hard to keep an old spy down and until Clint sets eyes on the body or Nat tells him it's true, he'll consider it awfully convenient. Rogers and Hill are alive but appear to have gone off to who knows where. (What kind of job do you apply for if you're a super soldier or former second-in-command of a counterintelligence apparatus? Head of Marketing? PE teacher?)
So he'll have to wait for Nat to find him after the hearings are done, because finding her is going to be next to impossible if she doesn't want to be found. He has to be careful or risk whatever's left of SHIELD-HYDRA snapping him up, and yet he can't use one of his personal hideouts she doesn't know about, of which there are quite a few (like the one he's in now).
He resolves to wait a day or two and think about it. Nat has a few more weeks on the DoD's docket before she'll be cut loose anyways, and he would rather not be on the move while things are still settling.
In the end, he decides on Montenegro, and seventy-two hours after he gets there so does she (so he figures there's got to be a great bit of video footage on C-SPAN of her telling them to all go fuck themselves as she bails on their circus).
"Took you long enough," he says when he hears the balcony door slide open.
"I went to Kabul first."
"Did you really think I'd wait that long?"
She closes up the door and settles on the arm of the sofa, which puts her half in and half out of the living room light. "I thought you might have been stuck out on the op."
"Mmmm. No, Rashid gave me a head's up before we started."
"Very nice. I left him a big tip as a thank you." He holds up his pint glass, and she shakes her head. "Hungry? There's leftover pizza in the fridge."
He sets his glass down. Here they are, two refugees in a crappy apartment in Podgorica, except for him there's this detached feeling, like it's not real; he'll blink and wake up and find it was just a TV show he watched and is having recurring daydreams about.
Except for the cold feeling in his gut which says that's not going to happen, much like her expression, which despite being its usual faintly pleasant mask speaks volumes to him about what she's seen.
"Feel like telling me about it?"
She runs a hand through her hair and says, "Arnim Zola, a HYDRA scientist, was recruited by SHIELD after the War. He made sure HYDRA survived, and infiltrated SHIELD, basically because he was right there from the start. Rogers and I found a...I guess you could call it an artificial intelligence. He'd recorded himself into a computer tape system and was still running things for HYDRA from that."
Clint just stares at her for a second, then manages to pull himself together. This is Nat; she wouldn't make this shit up. Anyways, he's witnessed a god being resurrected, been possessed by another one, and helped fend off an army of invading aliens; a scientist turning himself into HAL isn't that much of a stretch.
So he focuses on the real core problem from their perspective. "SHIELD's always been HYDRA?"
"To some extent."
"...Christ." Clint leans back in his chair. "That's why you blew it wide open." She nods, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. "They'll try to reform."
"Already are. It's basically one huge power grab out there right now. The government's picking apart what they have access to, and they blew up the scientist while trying to get us." A frown crosses her features. "Well, they blew up that site. I guess he might have backups of himself."
"Backups of himself."
Nat shrugs in that way which says, 'We've seen weirder,' and he wonders how this is his life, that he can't deny it's true.
He takes up his beer in an attempt to console himself. "Fury?" She doesn't answer, which is an answer all on its own. He's alive somewhere, and the fewer people who know what he's up to the better. "Hill?"
Natasha looks amused. "She took a job with Stark."
Clint almost chokes on his drink. "That's rich. Doing what?"
"Upper level management."
It's a cover, of course. Only time will tell what for. "Rogers?"
"Looking for Barnes."
The assassin from the leaks. According to Rogers, his best friend. Or perhaps that's former best friend, given recent events.
"Now that seems like a fantastic idea." She raises an eyebrow at him, and he knows what she's getting at and can't help his morbid laugh. "I would know, I'm the King of Fantastic Ideas."
"Rogers has help with him."
"That's good." He finally looks at her, really looks at her. "Thanks for keeping my name out of your dispatches."
"It seemed like the least I could do, what with us burning the place down while you were out of town."
It would be funny if it wasn't so true. Clint turns his glass around by the rim and sighs. "I'm sorry, Nat. I know SHIELD was more than just a job for you."
She shakes her head. "Don't be. This is just how it goes."
"Well, I am, and you're not the boss of me, so I'll be as sorry on your behalf as I want to."
One corner of her mouth quirks in an almost-smile. She digs in a pocket and pulls out a jump drive. "If you're looking for something to do, I have a suggestion."
"Oh?" He reaches for the drive and plugs it in to his tablet. "Find something interesting while you were spilling HYDRA's sec-" Coulson's face fills the screen, in a file labeled for Level 8 access, and his status is marked as Active.
He is surprised about this, but he shouldn't be, which is the only reason he doesn't smash the tablet. He'll save that reaction and let it fuel the awesome right hook he's going to serve Coulson when he finds him.
"That fucking son of a bitch." He drinks the last of his beer. "Clone? HYDRA bullshit?"
He sees her shake her head out of the corner of his eye. "Something special Fury had access to outside of SHIELD."
He narrows his eyes at her. He'd always suspected the Director had his fingers in plenty of pies, but ones with people-resurrecting filling is a bit much. She says, "It was called the Guest House."
"Well that doesn't sound horrible or anything." He drums his fingers on the table, then pushes his glass away. "You coming with me?"
She smiles, and it's even genuine. "Why not. Someone has to keep you two from killing one another."
He grunts and rubs at his face. "Good luck with that," he says, and goes to pack his meager belongings.