It was dark when she woke. Bile churning in her stomach and pushing up her throat propelled her out of bed. She stumbled from the sheet twisted around her legs but managed to get across the room and into the little bathroom, arms reaching for the smooth curve of the toilet. In the middle of empting her stomach, Marta realized something was wrong. Her hair fell around her face like a curtain, and that wasn't right.

The nightmares were becoming common.

She stood shakily and gathered her hair over one shoulder and began to nervously comb out the tangles with her fingers. Aaron normally did that. She ignored the bad taste in her mouth, fear washing over her in a new round of cold sweats as she stepped through the open frame of the bathroom into the little room. Her eyes were still adjusting, but she couldn't see anyone.

"Aaron?" she whispered hoarsely as she approached his mattress, and her heart started to race when she found it empty. (They each had their own mattress because Aaron was worried he was too on edge and might hurt her if she startled him.) "Aaron?" she repeated, frozen in her places as her stomach turned over again and moisture stung her eyes.

She straightened and took a deep breath, because throwing up when there was nothing in your stomach was the worst and she needed to be calm. She felt for the light switch and flipped it on. The little room was cast in dim, yellow lighting but there was still no Cross. "Aaron?" she called again, her voice steadier, but still a whisper. She turned, knowing there was no place for him to hide, but it made her feel better to check the entire room. With the light now on, she could see the tiny table near the bathroom door had been cleared, save for a lone piece of paper on it.

She hurried over, stepping around the piled of books and maps that had somehow made it to the floor.

Had to go check on something. Be back before dawn.—C.

Her shoulders lost their tension as she breathed a sigh of relief. With a shaky hand she picked up the pen he had left and scrawled a fast, Hurry –S under his writing before turning out the light and crawling back into bed.

Marta curled into a ball, not bothering with the sheet and waited. Waited for a sign he might need her to run, might need her help, might not be coming back for her. They'd been on the boat for two days before he found where he wanted to go. The boat couldn't take them there, but dropped them "close enough" in Aaron's words. He had planned on taking a bus that day, but she had fallen in love with the town and persuaded him to stay for a day. That was four days ago, and she knew he was growing wary of being in the same spot.

Marta didn't know what she was doing. Aaron was her best chance, but she clearly slowed him down. Sex wasn't really on either of their lists in seemed, because she was too busy getting over the fact her life was something she'd never have back and she had nearly been killed and him for reason she didn't ask about.

So she waited, eyes wide and fixed on the door.


Marta shifted, curling tighter at the sound of the voice and realized she was clutching her sheet. Thankfully, when she opened her eyes Aaron was sitting on his mattress across from her. She smiled, and pulled the sheet closer in silent thanks.

"Listen Doc, we need to talk about a few things." Her smile faded, and she took in the way he was hunched towards her, elbows on his knees and hands clasped. His eyes were fierce, but that wasn't new. (Sex might not be on the table yet, but she could appreciate what she would surely get later.)

"What is it?" She asked after clearing her throat and sitting up. The sheet wrapped around her nicely to hold in the warmth of sleep.

"I think it's time we get out of here—no, no, calm down, we're not in trouble." He chuckled dryly after she relaxed again. "Sorry, no. I just think it's time we move on. Get back to normal life, don't you think?"

"Normal life? Aaron, I hate to tell you, but my job's not waiting for me back home."

"You need to understand, Doc, I haven't been completely honest with you." He frowned a little, like he was looking at something he knew wouldn't do what he wanted.

Marta leaned back, heart rate picking up all over again. This was not good, she didn't know how it was bad, but it was certainly not good. "What are you talking about? Aaron?"

"That's first. My name isn't Aaron Cross." He looked a little guilty, and it took her a moment to figure out why.

"Your name isn't. . . And you threw a whole fit over the fact I didn't know?" Her voice turned defensive and angry. "Why? What is your name? Are you talking about Kenneth?"

"No, that's not my name either, it's Clint. My name is Clint Barton. And I threw a fit because you should at least know who you're sticking! Jeeze!" He leaned back and crossed his arms, but after a moment he smiled a little. "You're taking this pretty well."

"The fact your name isn't Aaron? Well, you told me that already. So I guess it's not that big of a shock." Marta shrugged, tucking loose hair behind her ear as she waited for the other shoe to drop.

"Yeah, yeah. Listen, I want to offer you protection and a chance to continue your research without fear of Outcome deciding to wipe you off the map. The next part normally gets people, because you can't publish, but considering as of right now you're a fugitive with no access to the materials needed to continue your research at all, I doubt the right to publish is a big concern of yours."

"Slow down, slow down," she said with a wave of her hand. "What are you talking about?" This was sounding worse and worse and she didn't want to think about the dangers of falling into the wrong company again.

"I work for the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division and," Clint paused, seeing the disbelieving look on her face and rolled his eyes. "Yes, I know it's a mouth full. There's a reason I'll only tell you once. Look, Doctor Shearing, SHIELD is interested in the research you have been doing. They placed me in Outcome so I could get closer to it."

"You've got to be kidding," she whispered in horror. "Four years, they just . . . I saw you when you first came in. I've read your file. They just. . . Ripped you to pieces in hopes Outcome would take you in?"

A grin split across Barton's face, his eyes hard. "I have a tendency to not half ass things. I figure it won't be the last time I get blown up. Now look, do you think we've made it this far, that I've made it this far, by myself? SHIELD looks out for their own. We want you to continue helping people, continue your research. The Director wants to talk to you about a job, about letting you see your family again."

Marta stopped him, brow knit together as she tried to process the information he threw at her. "Why should I trust SHIELD? I thought I was doing good work and look what happened. "

Clint sat back and his smile turned bitter. "Outcome and Treadstone are shady pockets of the government that are deadly, you go in and you're not getting out seven times out of ten. SHIELD is shadier and deadlier. But we have better benefits. And I'm serious when I say they take care of their own. Hell, they take care of me. I'm the most worthless asset they have. I can't stand authority figures, I terrorize my peers," he smirked, clearly amusing himself. Marta had a feeling those were the words of others, and they were likely farther from the truth than one might think. Aaron, or Barton, had a focus that normal people didn't, and if Marta could see it she could only begin to imagine what people of power could utilize it for.

"When they found me, I had skills that they didn't know how to use. All they knew was that they wanted them. So they pursued me, seduced me into giving their fancy rules and regulations a chance. It was still the best decision I ever made, even if I had to take a bullet for it. They already know what they want you for; they have a job and a lab waiting for you to run." Clint could see the uncertainty in her eyes, and he sighed. "Look, Doctor Shearing, I'm not saying you have to join. I'm just telling you that you should consider it. It's a good gig, and I don't think you'll make it long on your own."

"On my—?"

"SHIELD will be picking me up tomorrow, and if you choose, they'll pick you up too. I suggest you talk to Director Fury. See what all he has to offer, you can always say no."

The conversation ended for the most part, after that. Clint, he was Clint, spent the rest of the day out in the town, likely covering up the fact they had ever been there, but Marta really didn't know. She didn't ask.

She packed up their belongings though, because it was easier to think when she had her hands busy.

They left when dusk settled over the beach town, heading into the lush forest on a dusty road in the back of a beat up Chevy. When he had said they'd pick him up the next day, he had actually meant just past midnight.

The transport was a copter that meet them in the middle of nowhere, what she would guess to be a half mile walk from where the truck had dropped them off. The ride was awkward, and Marta felt surrounded by strangers. The pilot was silent for the entire ride, other than when he greeted Agent Barton as they climbed in. It was Agent Barton now, because Aaron Cross had completely slipped away since they left the ground. Barton talked none stop, even though no one was responding.

He talked about a wide range of things, but they were all light hearted and he laughed a lot. His eyes would crinkle at the corners in a way she wished Aaron's would have, and he looked like he was breathing for the first time since she had met him. It was a new look, but she realized she liked the bounce in his movements and hurt that he probably hadn't had it in so long.

He kept saying he was ready to get some sun—be away from the ocean. She didn't know what that meant until later, hours later when they landed out in the middle of the ocean on an aircraft carrier.

A woman in professional dress was waiting for them, and she tried to lead Shearing off to a medical bay, but Barton wasn't following.

"Aren't you coming?"

Clint grinned, hands slipping into his back pant pockets and he shrugged. "Nah, medical is dreading the return of my perfect face, and I've got a date out in the desert I can't miss. Gotta go see a man in a suit about a thing, y'know, secret agent stuff. But don't worry, you'll be fine."

He was gone after that. There was no moment shared between them, and she didn't feel secure at all. The woman led her to medical, and left her there in the hands of more strangers.

She learned a few things, that the Director had just returned from the main land and would be able to see her once she checked out of medical, not to trust the pot pie, that Barton really did have a reputation in the med bay, and someone named Coulson was going to be thrilled to have him back around base.

"Oh, he's back is he? Great." The doctor had a found smile regardless.

"He seems like a great guy, to me."

The doctor looked up and her smile grew. "Agent Barton is an upstanding man, don't get me wrong. He brought you in, right? Don't worry, you'll see him again."

Shearing believed that too. She'd hold him to it, a silent promise that he hadn't even made, but she had a good feeling he'd hold up his end of the bargain because she had thought and thought and thought about it, and she was ready to go say yes.