Clint Barton was tinkering in his apartment in Stark Tower. He wasn't the total genius that Stark was, or the specialised genius of Banner. Coming from an orphanage and a carni background before he'd joined the – how had Selvig put it? "Jake-booted thugs" brigade – hadn't left him with anywhere near enough schooling to be able to keep up with the science-babble of those two, so he generally stayed away from the R-and-D floors and stuck to the apartment that Tony had been kind enough to give him. Really, truly, actually give him. He had ownership papers of the apartment in Starks building, even. Genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist.
The Captain had an apartment in the building too, not that he stayed there if he could help it, since he and Stark still didn't actually like each other, for all that they could work together in an emergency situation and were capable of respecting the capabilities of each other. Still just didn't like each other.
Thor had gone back to Asgard, and Natasha was still a SHIELD agent.
Hell, he would be back working there too if he could. As it was, for now, he was living off odd jobs around the city and a bit of Stark's generosity while he looked for something more stable and tinkered – he could have lived off his savings, but he preferred to not. After they'd taken their much-deserved leave of absence, he and Natasha had headed back to base to report for duty.
Natasha was welcomed back. Him? It was not so. He'd been compromised. They didn't know how deep Loki's mind-control had gone, how much might still be there. Selvig was under a closer watch than ever, but he was a great astrophysicist, hard to replace. Clint was just another sniper, and deaf in one ear at that, as though that made a difference. As far as SHIELD was concerned, he was very easily replaced. Never mind that he was the best sniper. Never mind that he was as fluent in Mandarin as someone raised with the language and passable with a couple of other languages (thanks to a few night classes, actually). Never mind that he had his field medic qualifications and knew quite a bit more besides. It didn't matter in the face of his being compromised.
Never mind that he was just as good a spy as Natasha, and a marginally better assassin (she was completely shit with a long-distance weapon that wasn't a grappling hook or didn't do massive area damage). Hell, what with him being 'compromised', his skills in those areas probably worked against him.
Never mind that he was just as good at building and disabling anything with moving parts as Tony Stark was, even if he wasn't as insanely creative with his know-how. Never mind he could pilot anything they put him in a position to need to fly. Never mind he could craft his own weapons if he had the materials and the inclination – it was why he had so many interesting arrow-heads. Nothing to do with the R-and-D department, whatever the egg-head desk-jockeys thought.
It all just bumped him up on the threat-watch list, since he also knew so many of SHIELD's secrets, and could no longer be trusted to keep them.
He wasn't a genius, he wasn't super-anything, he wasn't irreplaceable, and he was compromised beyond an acceptable level. Clint Barton, Hawkeye, jack of whatever trade he put his mind to, had been humped by his collective bosses.
And left to tinker in his apartment.
At regular intervals, since he wasn't as obsessive as the science bro's down in R-and-D, he'd stop his tinkering, make something to eat that smelled suitably mouth-watering, and would deliver enough for two men down to Stark and Banner, along with coffee and bottles of water.
The first time he'd done that, Tony had snapped – without looking up from what he and Banner were doing – that they weren't to be interrupted dammit!
"Don't mind me," Clint had answered, calm as you please. "I just come bearing home-made pizza with, according to JARVIS, all your favourite toppings. You can take slices as you work."
Bruce and Tony had both looked up then, and blinked at him in surprise. Then Bruce had smiled that shy, grateful smile of his, and Tony had stuttered out a thanks, and then whatever they were working on had jerked – and Clint had been recruited to hold things still on both sides of whatever it was while the two of them were soldering.
They buzzed him down sometimes if they needed extra hands for something, but mostly he only went down there if it was three in the afternoon and they hadn't eaten anything since he'd delivered food to them at that hour the previous day. He got paid for his deliveries of food and his occasional role as an extra set of hands with what Stark thought of as petty cash, and parts for his own tinkering up in his apartment.
Which brings us back to Clint, tinkering, alone, in his apartment in Stark Tower.
"The people of this realm do not appreciate you," a cultured, familiar voice said in a soft, sorrowful tone.
Clint jerked his head up from his work and spotted Loki standing on the opposite side of his coffee table with no trouble. He wasn't holding the spear he'd used to take over Clint's mind when they'd first met, just a few short months ago. Small consolation. The 'god' wasn't actually holding anything, and somehow that was even more worrying. Clint hadn't forgotten his time under Loki's control after all, and just because Loki had mostly used the (as Tony had once put it) "glow-stick of destiny", did not mean that had been all that the 'god' had used.
Clint had seen Loki conjure things out of a pocket dimension of his very own, or transform things, or make things vanish, with no more than a lazy gesture. All things, he was fairly confident, were little more than the tip of the iceberg with Loki. Only that Hulk had really given the guy a serious beating had allowed them to catch the guy after Natasha had closed the portal.
"So?" Clint countered neutrally, having processed exactly what Loki had said. "Tons of people go their entire lives never being appreciated. It's hardly a novel experience." He wanted to dismiss the interloper with that comment, wanted to go back to his tinkering – a new arrowhead for his quiver – but he knew better than to take his eyes off Loki.
Even when he wasn't appearing to pose any sort of threat.
The guy had appeared out of nowhere after all, with no warning to speak of.
"So," Loki continued, "Odin has decided upon my 'punishment' for causing chaos in your realm. I am to make restitution to those I injured."
"There's a fair number of families out there missing family because of what you did. You gonna pay all of them visits like this one too?" Clint asked with a gesture towards the window behind Loki.
"No," Loki answered. "They, I did not injure personally. They are casualties of a greater wrong-doing. I did not supplant their will with my own."
"So, just me and Selvig then?" Clint asked. There had been a couple of other SHIELD agents that Loki had caught up that way, but they had been killed by some of SHIELD's enemies that Clint had recruited to Loki's cause while under the guy's control.
Loki nodded. "I have already made a delivery of several texts to Dr Selvig. Explanations of how the science and magic of Asgard works, things that the Tesseract showed to me. More advanced than anything Thor could explain to that woman of his. You... are not so simple to make proper restitution to."
Clint didn't so much as twitch. He wanted to snort in derision, to roll his eyes at Loki, to dismiss the 'god', to tell him to go fuck himself and never show his damned smiling face on Earth ever again where there was a chance of Clint himself ever having to see it again. Wanted to say that unless Loki could turn back time and not compromise him so that he'd still have his fucking job, then there wasn't a damn thing he could do.
He knew better than to do any of that though. He didn't take his eyes of Loki. He didn't mention anything that might involve magic – God and all His angels knew Loki just might follow through with that, and then what? It had been a minor miracle they'd won last time. He didn't think they'd be able to do it again.
"I... am sorry, Barton, for the way I took advantage of you while you were in my power," Loki said softly. "I should not have done the things that I did."
Clint only didn't flinch because of all his training. He was a spy, or had been, and before that (long before) he'd been a performer. He knew how to keep up a façade.
Still, being reminded of how Loki had cooed at him in that single moment of calm before they'd gone to Stuttgart, had plied his body with that silver tongue, those talented hands, and proven that his title as 'god of mischief' was one that went well with innuendo... and how, while in the thrall of Loki's power, Clint had not only liked it, but he'd also begged for more...
It wasn't rape, because he'd wanted it, welcomed it. He wasn't drunk or drugged or forced. He'd been willing. Been more than willing. It was rape, because Clint hadn't been... well, he hadn't been completely in control of himself then. He was Loki's loyal and devoted slave, with a spell around his brain rather than a collar around his neck. Not his usual self.
"Damn right you shouldn't," Clint agreed with a fierce frown.
Loki swallowed, and Clint would almost believe it was with nerves. "Heimdall said that you expressed a desire to put an arrow through my eye-socket," he ventured.
"You caught the arrow that was going to do that," Clint stated flatly. "Blew up in your face and left you to be smashed by the Hulk, as I recall."
Loki nodded. "Yes," he agreed. "So... I thought that... I could transport you to somewhere that you would be appreciated."
Clint raised a sceptical eyebrow over a distinctly unamused gaze.
Loki looked away. "However much I would appreciate you," he said lowly, "I know that you would likely not be happy with such an arrangement." He looked up and met Clint's eyes again. "I regret the way I did what I did," he said firmly. "But not what I did, in and of itself. I would very much have liked for that to be genuine on both sides. I understand of course if that is impossible."
"I'm flattered. Not damn likely in this lifetime though," Clint agreed darkly.
However great a lover Loki had been (and he had been a great lover, objectively speaking), Clint hadn't forgiven the guy for taking him when he hadn't been able to say 'no' to him – and just because he was (rightly) certain that Clint would have refused him if it weren't for that spell.
Loki nodded. "I had expected an answer like that," he admitted, "and so I stood side-by-side with Heimdall, who has not forgiven me his frostbite yet, and sought a realm, a world, even a time where you would be appreciated for all your worth," he offered.
Clint narrowed his eyes at Loki. "Like hell I'm agreeing to anything I don't know the full details of," he said firmly.
Loki nodded. "Of course," he agreed.
"And I don't just mean for me," Clint added quickly. "If I leave, if," he repeated firmly, "then I want assurances that doing so won't leave the good-guys short handed in any fatal sort of way."
"There are others willing to take your place on the Avengers team, if that is what you are asking," Loki said carefully. "I would venture that none of them would be as valuable to the team as yourself, but I am bias in your favour, where Fury is currently biased against."
Clint nodded. He knew he wasn't Fury's favourite person right now. Hell, he knew if Fury could replace Iron Man, he'd do it in a heartbeat. But Fury – and the Council – needed to control the dangerous elements. Needed to contain them. Stark rebelled against both, but having him on-side and as a contracted consultant worked enough to control the man. For himself? Clint was just a normal guy with some skills. He could be contained. Hell, he had barely left Stark Tower except for job interviews that ultimately hadn't panned out. He was already contained. Damn it all.
"I am still lacking the particulars of where you want to send me as recompense for the shit you pulled on me," Clint stated, as blandly as he could – and he could do pretty damn bland. He'd taken lessons from not only Natasha, but also Coulson when the guy had still been alive – and of course he'd been an actor (of sorts) before he'd grown up and left the circus.
"When, more particularly," Loki answered. "May I sit?" he asked.
Clint silently jerked his chin towards the chair that was, in fact, behind where Loki stood. Clint sat in it in the mornings, so that the sun would be over his shoulders and not in his eyes while he tinkered. He preferred the couch he was on at that moment, with the view of both the broken city scape sprawled beyond the window and the front door of his apartment still in his line of sight.
"Thank you," Loki said lowly, and lowered his long frame into the chair, simultaneously pulling out a folder. An honest-to-God folder, with papers in and everything. Very old-school for something in Stark Tower, even if it had been brought in by an uninvited party. "There will come a time when there will be more people than can be sustained by Midgard. Thankfully for your species, this will not occur until your people have mastered space-travel and learned how to make other worlds – planets and moons of another system – habitable for your kind."
"And you want to send me to one of these places?" Clint asked, sceptical. "After you tried to invade with aliens?"
"The Chitauri are extinct thanks to the efforts of yourself and your team. Their mind was destroyed by your explosive. Their two leaders live, but to prevent their further intervention with your race is part of my punishment also. You need not worry," Loki said in assurance.
"And I'm supposed to believe the word of the 'god' of lies?" Clint questioned reasonably.
Loki swallowed nervously. "Odin has placed a binding on me, that I may speak nothing that is not truth," he admitted, and again, he looked away from Clint's hard gaze.
"Facts and truths can be different things," Clint spat out bitterly.
Loki nodded in acknowledgement. "Still," he persisted, and opened the folder before he slid it across the coffee table to Clint. "If you wish to go, you must merely tell me to which of the settlements I am to deliver you. If... if you do not wish to accept this as restitution, then I must find another way to... to apologise properly for the wrongs I committed against you."
"I don't trust you to take my eyes off you to read this," Clint said straight up. "And since you said you want to send me where I'll be appreciated, I'll bet you've already picked a place," he added.
Loki nodded again, eyes downcast. "There is a dossier on the craft I would send you to board in there as well as full details of the system, and how your race will come to be as you will see it, if you go. I... I will leave you to... read at your leisure, or else to return to your previous occupation. When you decide, to accept or to not, simply call my name. Heimdall will have me summoned to the Bifrost Gate and will send me to you for your answer," Loki said, hesitantly, and stood again. He twisted his fingers a moment as he looked down at Barton, who had, indeed, not taken his eyes from Loki for even a second through the whole interview. "Also, Clint, if you ever need my aid, for anything..." he drew his fingers apart to reveal a small, silvered medallion on a chain. "Even if it is something trivial," he added insistently as he set the medallion down on the coffee table beside the folder. "I am your slave."
"What? I call your name while holding the silver trinket and you pop into existence wherever I am?" Clint asked derisively, not even glancing at the medallion. He honestly wasn't sure how he liked the idea of Loki being his 'slave', having been one himself. The saying may have been 'turnabout is fair play', but Clint hadn't really been a big follower of that. Bad-guys getting their just desserts, sure, but meted out by justice rather than irony.
"It is uru, the same metal as Mjolnir, Thor's hammer," Loki explained quietly, "mixed with the Midgard elements platinum and adimantium, and layered heavily with magic. I wear cuffs of the same," he continued, pushing back his sleeves slightly so that Clint could see the perfect cuffs that did not even have a seam in them as they rested so very closely to Loki's skin, just passed his wrists to allow for their full movement. "It works something like the legends of the djinn. I... took my inspiration for it from Disney's Aladdin and the I Dream of Genie sitcom when I crafted the items," he admitted.
"So I rub the thing," Clint said flatly.
Loki nodded. "But it must be your touch, and yours alone."
Clint was silent.
Loki shifted where he stood, bowed – deeply – to Clint, and then vanished.
"Hell in a hand-basket," Clint swore softly to himself.
"Sir," enquired the polite, artificial tones of JARVIS.
"Did you record that conversation?" Barton asked lowly.
"Indeed," JARVIS agreed.
"Did you alert anybody to what was happening?"
"Mr Stark and Mr Banner left the building half an hour prior to the arrival of Mr Odinson the younger," the AI answered. "They are presently in New Mexico. You were aware of the excursion before they left."
"Pow-wow with Foster and Testing Day," Clint groaned. "Thank you, I'd forgotten about it for a moment there."
"Understandable sir, given the circumstance."
JARVIS had become Clint's main source of company these days. Natasha was away on missions a lot after all, couldn't be contacted for fear of blowing her cover, and he wasn't really inclined to talk to the rest of the Avengers about anything at all. The AI and random strangers in coffee shops (when he went, which was rarely) were pretty much it for him now. He'd only seen Pepper once, when she'd stopped by to thank him for getting Tony to eat when he was in "Wonders of Science!" mode.
"Can you verify what he said about Selvig?" Clint asked.
"I began searching as soon as it was spoken of, anticipating such a request," JARVIS answered promptly, "and can confirm the truth of it."
Clint breathed deeply. "What about the first thing he said?" he asked softly. "Does no one here appreciate me?"
JARVIS was silent a moment. "Sir, could you clarify if that was a rhetorical question or not?" the AI asked delicately.
Clint snorted. "Guess that's an answer in and of itself," he grumbled. "That's your way of asking if I really want to know the answer, which means I wouldn't like it. Damn it all."
"Statistically sir, the number of people you interact with is an extremely low percentage of the population," JARVIS offered. "The potential of finding a person or persons yet in your current situation is -"
"Stymied by SHIELD keeping a very close eye on all of my activities," Clint cut in. He slumped on his couch and sighed, tired (having a conversation with Loki was tense, and therefore exhausting) and a little depressed (it would be the 'god' of lies that showed up to point out the painful and carefully avoided truth). Resigned, Clint hauled himself upright and reached for the folder that Loki had left behind for him.
The crew of the space-ship that Loki had left him details on were... well... they were good people making a living any way they could, even if they weren't entirely on the right side of the law all the time. Two soldiers who lost a war and most of their platoon, a pilot who liked to play with plastic dinosaurs, a mercenary who sent a fair chunk of his pay home to his momma and a mechanic who had gotten onto the crew because she'd gotten off on engines. There was even a high-class whore (an Alliance-approved profession when they were called a 'Companion', as this one was) who rented one of the ship's shuttles.
After having aimed an arrow at Thor that first time out in the middle of nowhere, and all the shit that had happened since, Clint liked to think that he was pretty good about not being shocked by much any more. Still, if nothing else, it looked like these folks could use having a medic on board, and Clint knew enough to patch a person who'd been shot.
He read up on the Unification War that the two soldiers had gone through (Loki had, very thoughtfully, provided all pertinent details for if Clint decided to take up the offer), learned about Earth-That-Was (and how it came to be called that more to the point) the Core planets and the Rim planets, the Alliance, the Independents, the economy, the (literally) universal language (and wasn't knowing Mandarin going to come in handy?) the lot.
"What do you think of all this JARVIS?" Clint asked the AI when he'd finished reading. He didn't bother to ask if JARVIS had been reading the files over his shoulder. The thing was just too advanced not to.
"I think it could be an excellent opportunity for you sir," the digital tones answered with polite neutrality. "I am also of the opinion that such a drastic change of location should not be undertaken lightly, and that there will be a lot of packing for you to do if you decide to go."
Clint nodded in absent agreement. "Don't show this stuff to Tony," he requested tiredly before he rubbed at the kinks in his neck and turned back to the arrowheads he had been working on before Loki had shown up.
Clint sighed at himself as he packed up everything he owned into a fair pile of manageable-sized crates. Clothes, weapons, tool box, first-aid kit and medic bag, personal grooming items, a few keepsakes, a Stark brand laptop that JARVIS had already installed himself and all of his files onto (without Clint's permission, but he wasn't going to complain either), as well as a few packets of seeds he'd bought and most of the contents of his kitchen.
The idea of living off highly processed protein didn't really appeal to him after all, even if it could be done. So, Clint had packed a lot of preserves and preserved foods in cans and jars and tins, some bags of frozen vegetables, vacuum-sealed smoked meats like ham, bacon, sausages of various flavours, some poultry and seafood for variety, and some vacuum-sealed marinated meat that was going to be delicious but for now was in with the frozen vegetables. He had sauces of all sorts, and his recipe books to make more sauces when those ran out.
He had jars of dried ingredients like flour, sugar, rice, pasta, cocoa powder, stock powder, salt, pepper, yeast, bicarb soda, dried herbs and spices, dried fruit, cereals, coffee – real coffee, as in, whole beans, carefully roasted, as well as grounds and that freeze-dried instant stuff.
He had chocolate too, a damn decent stash, since he didn't know if there would be a lot of it available in the times to come. He had sausages of cookie dough, he had a very carefully packed carton of eggs, and he had a couple of bags of fresh fruit – apples mostly, but a few stone fruit and berries as well. And he'd stacked, ever-so-carefully, his little kitchen garden that he had kept growing on the windowsill of his kitchen. It had fresh herbs and salad-greens mostly, but there were a couple of strawberry and tomato plants in there as well.
Yeah, he may not have intended to set himself up as a potential cook for the ship Loki was going to get him to so many years into the freaking future, but Clint liked to eat well, not eat slop – and that as one who had plenty of experience in eating both.
In consideration to the new economy he would be entering as well, Clint had gone out and purchased bars of the metal that got used as currency – platinum – and while he was at it, he'd bought some more metals (and other miscellaneous parts that were much more expensive) for his tinkering. And a lot of good feathers for fletching new arrows, just in case.
It all fit into a grand total of twenty-one crates and a carry-bag. It would have been a nice round twenty, but Tony had caught him packing, realised he was clearing out, and proceeded to grill him thoroughly. JARVIS had answered his maker's questions when Clint had been reluctant, though the AI didn't tell all, which was good of him. The extra crate was a going-away present from the billionaire. Clint's very own arc reactor, guaranteed to work for (at least) five years, and that if Clint had it powering an entire building the size of Stark Tower constantly – which was unlikely.
Banner had then been told, and the good doctor had carefully and thoughtfully upgraded and re-stocked Clint's medical supplies. He was a medical professional after all, not just a scientist. His licence to practice in America was only revoked because of General Ross throwing a fit about the matter.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Clint said with a sigh as he pulled his quad-bike (with his luggage in a trailer behind) to a halt in Central Park, where not even a full six months previously the Avengers had farewelled Thor as he took Loki (and the Cube) back to Asgard. "Loki, I've made my decision."
Not five full minutes passed before there was a glow of rainbow-coloured chaos and Loki stood before him.
Correction, knelt before him.
Loki had gotten down to one knee and bowed his head as soon as he had met Clint's eyes.
"Clint Barton," he genuflected softly.
Clint sighed, all sorts of uncomfortable with having Loki kneeling before him. He wasn't that guy – the guy who wanted to see his enemies and persecutors grovelling at his feet. He'd shoot them, sure, and he'd be satisfied with causing them that bit of pain, but he didn't gloat or lord over or anything like that. On the other hand, he couldn't find it in himself to tell Loki to get up off the pavement either.
"I've decided to go," Clint said.
Loki straightened, nodded solemnly, and looked to the quad-bike and its trailer. "You wish to take all of that with you as well?" he asked.
Clint nodded. "It's my stuff," he stated.
Loki extended a hand towards it, and with a twist of his wrist... it was gone. "It would be battered if it travelled through the Bifrost. I shall return it all to you when we reach your destination," he promised.
Clint slowly nodded in wary acceptance, and then the riot of chaotic colour was around them both and Clint was being transported away from all he knew. It was... not the smoothest of rides. When they landed again, it was fairly clear why. The Bifrost was still being rebuilt. It was serviceable, but not yet completely repaired.
Thor was there too, using his hammer as, well, a hammer, rather than as a weapon.
"He wants the Bifrost to be completed soon, so that when he brings Miss Foster to Asgard she shall travel more smoothly than we did," Loki said softly. "You may greet him if you like, Heimdall and I must re-direct the outward path carefully before it is opened again, so that I may take you to a new point in time, not only in space."
Clint nodded in acceptance of that, trusting Heimdall at least even if he still didn't trust Loki all that much.
"Friend Barton!" Thor greeted with a smile when he looked up from his work to see Clint there.
"Hello Thor," Clint returned with a smirk of his own. It was hard to be dour and distrustful when confronted with one of Thor's radiant, honest smiles.
"You have accepted the restitution offered to you by my brother then?" Thor asked genially.
"I have," Clint agreed with a nod of his head.
"I am glad," Thor said. "My brother spent many days and nights agonising over the best way to give some form of recompense over his wrong to you. I would have aided him if I could, but Loki insisted that there were wrongs he had done against you I did not know, and he would not tell me more than that."
"I'd just as soon no one knew all of it..." Clint replied, a bit tense on the subject matter.
Thor nodded his understanding. "Loki is... not the easiest of people," he said. "But I do know that he regrets whatever he did to you, that in his own way, he cares for you, Friend Barton. I do not know how I know, only that it is so."
"You're wrong," Clint said softly.
Thor looked at Clint in surprise.
"He doesn't regret what he did to me," Clint elaborated. "He told me so himself. He regrets the way he did it, but not what he did."
Thor sighed sadly. "I am not asking you to forgive him," he assured his friend. "I wish only to share a wisdom that was once shared with me."
"A man once said 'remember everything only as it gives you joy', but to remember only that which is good will leave us as fools and without the capability of true compassion. So it is better to say 'remember everything so that you may learn from it, and take joy where you can'," Thor expounded solemnly.
Clint breathed deeply, and thought that over. Thought of it as it pertained to his life. He hadn't had a very joyful life after all. Fulfilling, sometimes, and there had been moments where he was happy, or thought he was happy because he wasn't thinking about all the reasons that he shouldn't have been. It would all just twist him in knots if he thought about it too much though, and he knew that for certain.
Loki approached then. "It is ready," he said.
Thor nodded and clasped Clint's shoulder companionably once – Clint nodded a silent farewell in answer – before he returned to his labour.
Clint followed behind Loki as the 'god' went ahead to where Heimdall waited to open the gate for them.
"I shall reopen the gate in no more than two minutes," Heimdall stated firmly, "and you, Loki, will return by it."
"Yes Heimdall," Loki promised in answer, voice sad and solemn.
"I wish you happiness, Clint Barton," Heimdall said to him.
Clint nodded silently in gratitude.
Then Heimdall opened the Bifrost once more.
The second journey was even more uncomfortable than the first. All the same, Loki made sure they both landed on their feet when they touched down on Persephone, the Eavesdown Docks, and then with a gesture he summoned all of Clint's possessions, still stowed on the trailer of his quad-bike, and his quad-bike without so much as a scratch on the paint-job.
"I suppose you never want to see me again," Loki said softly.
"You suppose right," Clint answered. "But before you ask, yes, I've got the pendant thing you gave me anyway."
Loki nodded. "Even if you only wish for me to fetch for you something from your own time, however inconsequential, I am your slave," Loki reiterated solemnly. "The ship is that way," he added with a gesture, indicating direction. "You will recognise it from the file I gave you, I am certain."
Clint grunted in acknowledgement, checked all his belongings, and climbed onto his quad-bike – this time, he didn't care if he kept his eyes on Loki or not. There wasn't any way for the 'god' to cause him any more trouble at this point.
Loki was gone again before he'd finished turning the key to get it going again.
Clint drove slowly, taking in the sights of the world around him. The impoverished, third-world-country-like, dusty world around him, with its pieces of advancement scattered here and there around and among the blatant poverty. Even most of the ships looked as dirt-poor as the people who were barbecuing dog meat over half a rusty oil barrel. The people were colourful though, and didn't seem too down despite the ramshackle appearance of the place.
"You're coming with us," a voice said happily as Clint brought his quad-bike to a halt in front of a ship that he'd seen only as a three-inch-high pencil sketch in the folder that Loki had given him.
"Yeah?" Clint asked, a smirk tugging at his lips as he leant on the handlebars of his quad and considered the young woman who was smiling at him from beneath her colourful paper parasol as she lounged on her folding canvas chair – it seemed that some things really did just survive everything – her feet propped up on a metal cargo container for an ottoman, and (based in no small part on the fact that she was wearing a pair of cover-alls beneath that pretty Chinese jacket of hers) placed her as the ship's mechanic: K. L. Frye.
The young woman nodded resolutely, happy smile on her face. "I saw you driving up, looking at the ships rather than the destinations. Mine's the nicest," she asserted.
Clint chuckled. "I'm inclined to agree," he said. "It's the only ship I've seen that doesn't look like it will shake apart when it goes to break atmo." Interesting bit of lingo he'd had to pick up from the files, but not hard to assimilate all the same. He was already spy used to learning such things from files after all. Or had been. Whatever. Damn being compromised, but he was here now, and he was going to make the most of it.
The young woman pushed herself out of her chair and bounced over to him, and extended a hand to shake. "I'm Kaylee," she declared happily.
"You're a beautiful bundle of bouncing sunshine," Clint corrected with a shake of his head and a chuckle as he accepted her hand. "I'm Clint," he answered as he shook her hand. "Pleased to meet you Kaylee. Introduce me to your ship?" he asked as he released her dainty hand with the engine grease under her carefully filed nails.
"This here's Serenity," Kaylee answered with an encompassing wave. "Firefly class, aught-three. She's the smoothest ride from here to Boros for those who can pay." Kaylee then raised a hand to twiddle with one of the loose bits of hair that wasn't tied up in the two panda-ear buns on top of her head. "Can you? Pay?" she asked, suddenly nervous that he wouldn't be able to. "I mean, you look like you can, but I don't wanna be assumin' nothin'."
Clint grinned, took the keys out of his quad bike, and gestured for Kaylee to follow him around to the back of the trailer he had on the back. "Gonna have to hide this behind your colourful sunshade if I don't want to get robbed I think," Clint said as he lowered the back of the trailer and stuck a key into the lock on one of the crates.
Kaylee obligingly lowered her parasol so that it was a shield between what she was going to be shown and the rest of the Eavesdown Docks. She proceeded to goggle and gape at the sight of the bricks of platinum that she was being presented.
"Permission to come aboard?" Clint joked as he closed and locked the crate again.
"Granted," Kaylee answered, eyes still wide as they moved from the closed crate to Clint's face.
Clint smiled back.
"So, uh, how come you don't care where you're goin'?" she asked when she'd regathered her wits, a smile working its way back onto her face like smiling was her natural state – something that Clint was fully prepared to believe of her.
"Because a pretty girl told me that I was flying with her," Clint answered, "and that's good enough for me. I'm not looking for a 'where'," he explained, "so much as some people to belong with."
Kaylee's face crumpled a little in confused sympathy. "You don't have anybody?" she asked.
Clint shrugged. "Folks died, ran away to the circus with my brother, then I ran away from the circus and my brother called me a traitor for wanting something better from my life. Found work where I could, then went military for a while, had a couple of people there watched my back and I watched theirs, but... Well, they're not around any more," Clint said, leaving it with the implication that his friends had died in the Unification War, rather than he'd left them behind in the year 2012. "I tinkered for a while, but I need to move on. Thought I'd try doing that literally."
Kaylee nodded in understanding, but then tilted her head to the side in confusion again. "I didn't think any of the Browncoats came out with as much cashy money as you've got..." she hedged, "and the Alliance soldiers all would have kept their jobs and still be soldierin'."
Clint chuckled. "I'm very good at tinkering," he offered. "And not every genius billionaire philanthropist lives... lived in the Core," he added, thinking of Tony. "I had some well-off friends for a while."
Tony may well have lived in the Core if he were alive today, could have possibly fought for the Alliance even. But he had been a generous friend, even if he wasn't a very present one, and Clint was pretty damn sure that Tony would have enjoyed going out to the Rim planets and building them arc reactors and better irrigation systems and all that sort of thing, especially since Banner had become his favourite science bro. Banner was all about helping people who couldn't always afford to help themselves. Third-world countries were where he'd gone, to do good to balance out the karma of the damage dealt by the Other Guy.
"If you say so," Kaylee allowed, but the smile was back on her face, so that was enough for Clint.
Clint smiled, shook his head, and climbed back into the seat of his quad-bike. "Where do I park it?" he asked.
"Right this way, sir!" Kaylee chirped, and skipped into the cargo hold. "We've got another of our own, which we park right over here," she said, standing in a space at the side of the hold. "Yours can go right here," she finished, taking a large step and gesturing grandly to another empty space.
"Where is it? Your ship's quad, I mean," Clint asked curiously while he parked.
"Getting the cargo of another of our passengers," Kaylee answered. "He's apparently got this big thing but no way of his own to shift it."
Clint scoffed. "Not even a hand cart? Bit Yu Bun Duh," he commented as he went back to his trailer and once more unlocked the crate that had the bars of metal in. "Now, how many do you want for my passage?"