He held his breath, sucked in his stomach and tried to cry silently, big fat tears rolling down his cheeks. The voice was loud, angry, so harsh and guttural; every word was a shout, every phrase followed by a thunk of fist hitting flesh. She'd long ago quit screaming, nothing now but a few quiet moans. He could see her arm as she slumped on the floor, red rivulets of blood staining the cuff of her white uniform. Fingers jerked as the kicks landed; he squeezed his eyes shut, blocking out the bright smears on the black and white tile.
"Stop it!" His brother's voice, pitched high, fear making it tremble. "Leave her alone!"
"Don't you talk to me like that!"
The breath was knocked out of Barney's chest by the first fist to his chest, and he spun around with a cry. The second slammed into his jaw, and he went down, bouncing off the floor, skidding to a stop just in front of the small crevice Clint had folded his little body into. His brother saw him and managed a weak shake of his head, his message clear … don't move, don't say anything.
"You're as bad as she is, protecting him." A kick and Barney shut his eyes. "The lot of you aren't worth the trouble." Another kick and Barney's fists clenched. "I could have been something if this bitch hadn't gotten pregnant, could have been out of this crappy dead-end job." The last kick was vicious; Barney shuddered and went limp, blood trickling from the corner of his lip. An eerie silence descended. Clint curled up tighter, even smaller, and prayed to anyone listening, God or an angel or a saint or even the devil himself, it didn't matter who.
The meaty hand clamped around his skinny little wrist and yanked, dragging him out of his hiding place, scraping skin from his knees and elbows as he went.
"There you are," his father said, bloodshot eyes trained on him, breath smelling like a distillery. "Let's you and me have a talk."
TWO DAYS AGO – Belarus
"Stay down!" Coulson ordered the ragged group of young boys; they cowered in a corner of the lab, hiding from the gunfire that blazed around them. A.I.M. guards in their yellow overalls were positioned behind a bank of computers, blocking the exit. Someone was going to get the chewing out of their lifetime when Coulson found the person who ran intel on this job; Clint hadn't seen Phil this angry since he discovered Fury hadn't told anyone Phil was alive. This was supposed to be a milk run, a small facility with little-to-no security. Waltz in, see what they had, corrupt some files, and get out. Instead, they'd found a hive of activity including an operating room almost ready to go online and cages full of boys to experiment on.
"We're going to have company!" Clint shouted to Steve who had waded into the biggest group of enemy. Steve didn't bother to ask how Clint knew, just gave him a hand sign of agreement and tossed his shield again. Assessing their situation, Clint saw only one possible way. Darting out from his protective cover of an overturned table, he covered the open ground as fast as he could, ducking behind a half wall near the boys. Terrified eyes gazed at him through a crack in the overturned tables around them. "Do you understand English?" he asked. Most of them didn't react, but one boy, maybe twelve, stared back with his dark eyes and nodded. "Okay, when I tell you to run, I want you to go fast, okay? We're getting out of here." Another nod, and the boy relayed the information to the others. Some of them shook their heads and others cowered further away. The boy turned back to Clint.
"Avenger?" He asked, accent thick. "Hawkeye?"
"That's me. Remember, run and don't look back." Clint wasn't sure if that helped or not, but the one boy pulled himself up and spoke sharply to the others. The wall was cinderblock; notching the arrow, he took aim at the structurally weakest part and let the arrow go, timer set for 10 seconds. It landed and the explosion followed, showering them all with rubble and dust.
"Now." Clint told the boys; they started for the hole, scrabbling over sections of block. "Marines, we are leaving!" Clint shouted to the others, firing a couple gas arrows to create a diversion and make targeting hard for everyone else. Just as he turned to start for the wall, he saw one of the boys stumble and go down, blood flowing from the open gash on his foot. Without thinking, Clint got off a shot seconds before an A.I.M. guard materialized in the smoke; he ran forward, picked up the boy and made for the new exit, twisting to the left to avoid a shower of more block. A pain shot through his back, up into his arm and down his spine but he kept going, carrying the crying child out into the rainy afternoon. Steve followed, Coulson and the other agents coming out behind them, firing rounds back into the smoke.
EIGHT HOURS AGO – on a quinjet somewhere over Europe
"I don't care who vetted it. We're not going out on another half-assed mission until I've read every file and made my own plans." Coulson didn't raise his voice, didn't even sound angry, but the certainty was chilling. His eyes were cold and his body contained as he listened to the reply. "You do that. Have A.D. Hill contact me directly. Or Director Fury. Until then, we're on our way home and off duty." He severed the connection.
"Go get 'em, Phil." Clint tried to get comfortable in his jump seat, but his back was aching too much. He'd taken some muscle relaxants a short time ago; he just had to wait for them to kick in. What a frustrating run around the last six months had been. Ever since General Ross had come after Bruce again and they'd uncovered a brand new threat that was trying to gain entrance to this universe … and yeah, Clint knew how crazy that sounded, but welcome to his world … they'd been chasing their tails, trying to contain the damage. Dr. Van Dyne's process for creating new Hulks and enhancing existing mutations was the single most dangerous thing H.Y.D.R.A. had come up with then Richard Fisk had shared that information with A.I.M. and other villainous groups. SHIELD was barely keeping ahead of the curve, taking out splinter cells and crazy scientists just before they successfully recreated the process. Thus, Clint bouncing from one place to the other, shutting them all down.
"It was sloppy work," Steve agreed. "I can't see how anyone would mistake that large building for something smaller. All the trucks coming and going … you'd think they would have figured it out."
They shared a look; the pilot and other SHIELD agents around them didn't know about their search for the inside person who was sharing information. Steve was right, though, this was sloppy. Such bad intel pointed suspicion directly to the people involved; Clint suspected their inside man was too smart to so easily give himself away, but maybe he or she was getting desperate. These constant missions, each one more reckless than the last, were going to raise suspicions. Thank God that, so far, they were all safe and sound, but Clint was growing more exhausted with each new op.
"I take my job very seriously." That was Coulson speak for heads would roll when he got back. "This should never have happened."
"I'm going home," Clint tossed out as his head fell back against the seat. "You'll have to do the ass chewing without me."
"How long has it been?" Steve asked. "You been back since the beach house?"
"For no more than six hours at a time." It didn't used to bother Clint, being gone so much; in fact, keeping busy kept him from noticing just how little he had in his life. But now, with Bruce waiting, the quasi-family thing he had going at the Tower, he missed it, the whole crazy mess. Going to sleep with the Big Guy and waking up Bruce. Watching movies with Thor and shouting at the screen. Winding Tony up and enjoying the fallout when he went off half-cocked. Eating deli subs with Steve before the ballgame, cheering Natasha on when she and Carol sparred, listening to Darcy run circles around Thor and Tony and just about everyone else. Somehow, and he wasn't sure how it happened, he'd gotten a life.
The comm buzzed and Steve's phone went off at the same time. Phil put the headset back on as Maria's face came up on the screen. Steve looked at his screen and sighed.
"Tony's heard," Steve warned, texting back. "I'll try to head him off at the pass." Tony would be on the warpath, even more than he already was about the inside connection. He hadn't been able to track the mole down and Tony was getting really pissed.
"I understand that, Maria," Phil said at the same time. "I'll check in with you in the morning to go through the files. I plan to get a good night's sleep, first time in weeks."
Clint watched them both continue their conversations, one verbal, one in texts, his eyes drifting closed, the ache finally receding. Phil had gotten his way; he was smiling and even made a joke. A faint red blush was creeping up Steve's neck which meant Tony had moved on to sexting, a concept Steve was more than happy to embrace considering how much time they spent apart. Clint certainly enjoyed the creative ways Bruce found to stay in contact during long deployments; he'd fired his own text off to Bruce before liftoff, telling him he was on the way home. With their new connection, he could sometimes sense Bruce, even half a world away, get a rush of joy when numbers came together for him or the Hulk beat Thor at Halo. It went both ways; worried calls after a particularly bad fight and no hiding wounds anymore, but phone sex, when Clint could feel the echoes of Bruce's climax rippling through his own, was particularly good.
Coulson sat down next to Clint and studiously avoided looking Steve's way. "I'm going over the file with a fine tooth comb before I authorize the next op. Enough is enough."
"Sounds like sleeping in my own bed is in my future." Clint said with a smile.
"Like you'll be sleeping," Coulson laughed. "Either one of you."
"You know Tony would love to set you up with someone if you're …" Clint began.
"I will kill you slowly if you even whisper any such thing to Stark," Phil threatened.
Clint just grinned and closed his eyes.
Clint sank down into the hot water and sighed as the jets hit all the right places on his aching body. A chilled pale ale sat on the rim of the massive tub next to a plate of salted caramel bars, Game of Thrones on the integrated screen in the mirrored wall. If Bruce was busy, at least Clint could indulge himself a little, try to relax, and get his back to quit hurting. Shifting to direct a jet of water to the spot that ached, Clint sighed and let his head fall back on the waterproof pillow.
"Hey, Jarvis said you were back," Bruce crossed the threshold, bare feet padding silently along the tile floor. "Said you hurt your back?"
"Just a pulled muscle, Doc." Clint enjoyed a good long look at the man from toes all the way up to his curly brown hair that had finally grown back from where he'd had to shave it while on the run. "I told Jarvis to wait until you were at a stopping point. I planned to sit here for a while. Of course, now that you're here, you're welcome to join me."
"You're just angling for a massage," Bruce said with a laugh, but he was already unbuttoning his shirt. He undressed with practiced swiftness, used to disrobing quickly before a change; Clint slid forward and made room for Bruce behind him. "Are those up for grabs? Cause I haven't eaten since breakfast." He picked up a bar and bit into it without waiting for an answer.
"Help yourself." Tension was unwinding its hold around Clint's spine, and he rested his arms on the lip of the tub, the water washing over the infinity edge as they settled. At the first touch of Bruce's hands, Clint sighed. Bruce could work magic with his fingers, finding knots and kinks and pressing them until they released. Sometimes the process hurt, but Clint kind of liked that part, the sharp pain that faded under the deep circles Bruce wove. The best was when he could feel the pop as the tendons gave way and loosened. Or maybe the best was the slick slide of those elegant fingers across his skin. Being naked didn't hurt either.
Bruce found the sorest spot, and Clint sucked in a breath, grunting at the burn as the knuckle pushed at the knot. "That's a bad one," Bruce said as he wrapped his other hand around Clint's waist to hold him still and apply even more force. "You should probably see a chiropractor."
Squirming a little, Clint bit his lip as he started to harden at the touch. "I've got you, Doc."
"Here, let's try this." Bruce pulled Clint back, settling him between his legs in the big tub. Wrapping an arm around Clint's chest, he kept up the pressure and rolled his knuckle in tiny circle. "Lean forward and to the right. Slowly."
As he stretched, muscles shifted, tensed and relaxed until he hit the exact tilt that pulled everything taut. A flash of discomfort ran all the way into his neck, and then came the release. "Oh, hell yes. That's good."
"Acupuncture really would help, you know," Bruce argued as he tugged Clint back to lie against him. "As well as more rest between ops; you're not bouncing back as fast."
"You saying I'm getting old?" The water was continually warmed as it circulated, and Clint floated his arms to the surface. "No thank you to needles. I don't like medical on good days, and I don't find the idea of being a pincushion relaxing."
They sat together as the episode ended, neither really watching, just enjoying each other for a change. With all that had happened lately, their time together had become drive by quickies or cuddled up sleep. They'd managed a whole meal last time because Bruce had gone to the helicarrier, something he didn't like to do, and brought Chinese with him. Clint was determined they talk rather than fall right into sex then rush off again.
"Well, I definitely think Joffrey's wedding plans are over the top." There was nowhere in the tower that was completely safe from Tony Stark; he didn't really listen in or watch the video despite rumors to the contrary, but if he was looking for something specific? Hell yes, Tony would have Jarvis do a search to find any reference. Honestly, Clint was certain the only reason Tony didn't yet know about the engagement was because they'd had no chance to have any discussions at all. "Rob's was better, running off all quiet like."
"Oh, you made me read that book, remember? All the weddings in that series are pretty much doomed." Bruce's hands wandered along Clint's muscles as he spoke.
"Okay, I'll give you that one." Clint rubbed his hands along Bruce's legs, up and back, a soothing motion. "Maybe we should skip the next episode and watch a romantic comedy instead if you're looking for happy endings."
"The Runaway Bride? No thanks." Bruce nuzzled his nose into Clint's longer hair and nipped at Clint's ear. "I miss the earrings. Put them back in for me?"
"They're in the bedroom on top of the dresser." He'd wear them all the time if he could, but that just wasn't feasible.
"I'll get you a diamond stud," Bruce offered. "Maybe I'll wear the other one."
Clint sat up and looked back at him. "Really? I mean, okay, yeah, that would be hot, but how would that work with the Big Guy?"
"A hoop wouldn't work, but a stud would stay in." Bruce shrugged.
"You want to get your ear pierced?" Clint was still surprised.
"I do." He smiled and Clint suddenly got the message. "How about now?"
Exhausted, back still sore, and knowing he was about to fly off again in a day or two, it was the worst timing. Phil was probably at the office, who knew where Natasha was in transit, and there would be paperwork. Showing up at the justice of the peace? Gossip would fly in seconds, cell phone photos and videos impossible to stop. Father Stephen might do it, if he were available at the last minute. He wanted to do this, but run off and get married on a whim rather than with a plan? Okay, he'd come to peace with the whole 'hitch himself to another person forever' thing, even was willing to admit that he wanted the happily-ever-after more than he ever thought possible. And maybe fate just was conspiring against them – hell, Clint's whole life was one long spin on the wheel of fortune – to keep them from ever being happy. Well, he'd always planned on the fly anyway, so why change now?
"There's a lovely little jeweler down near Maggie's. We could grab some dinner afterwards, stop at that bakery two blocks over for some cupcakes?" Clint turned over and pinned Bruce against the edge of the tub.
"You start that and we'll never get out of here," Bruce warned, his voice gone husky as their bodies slid together. "If you want, we can wait until later."
"Now is good. Phil's working on the next mission; who knows how long I've got before the next call?" Still, he let his body float as he kissed Bruce, a long slow exploration hotter than the water in the tub. Finally, he pushed back and opened the drain as Bruce watched him through hooded eyes. They got out, toweling off and kissing again leaning against the granite countertop, mirrors fogged from the steam. The bedroom was cooler as they went to their closet; Clint wasn't certain what to wear for an impromptu wedding, and Bruce didn't have much of an idea either, so they picked out clothes for each other. Clint took out his favorite purple shirt and grey slacks and laid them out for Bruce. A black fitted shirt and slim silver trousers for Clint, with a thin purple tie with a contrasting stripe. The length of Asgardian red silk Clint used as a scarf, tucking under the lapel of his grey wool coat. In his ear, he let Bruce slip one gold loop and that almost derailed the evening when Bruce ran his tongue over the circle and then kissed that spot on Clint's neck.
Leaving was easy; Steve had arrived at the same time as Clint which meant Tony was distracted. Thor was away visiting Jane, Carol and Hank in the lab, Janet with them, so there was no one to run into along the way. That gave them a good hour or two before anyone would miss them. They stopped on the 87th floor and picked up the burner phones Clint had stashed in the back of a drawer in a filing room along with a wallet full of cash. Once they were out on the street, Father Stephen answered on the third ring and didn't laugh when Clint told him why he'd called. Turned out, he was free after the spaghetti dinner for the Haiti mission trip, so they made a tentative appointment to meet him at 8 p.m. at the parsonage.
"You up for dinner with us tonight?" Clint asked when Phil responded to his text with the recognition code. "Maggie's at 6:30ish?"
Silent for a second, Phil processed the fact that Clint was calling on a burn phone and had used a plural pronoun. "Ask Bruce if I need to bring the folder," he finally said. Clint raised an eyebrow at Bruce and mouthed 'folder?' Bruce nodded in response. "Yes, I guess."
"Good. I'll bring Natasha. I just spoke to her and can swing by HQ to get her out of debrief. She won't mind. See you there." Phil hung up.
"Let me guess. Paperwork?" Clint asked Bruce as they paused outside of the jeweler's window.
"He offered. We just need to sign it." Pushing open the door, Bruce went inside the small but elegant store. Simple glass cases held a variety of designs, all unique and handcrafted; Clint had passed the window a number of times and admired the Celtic scrollwork in the beautifully polished silver. The young saleswoman – the daughter of the craftsman – obviously recognized them, but she merely smiled and asked if she could help. The hasty plan had been to get diamonds, but Clint's eyes immediately gravitated to a selection of emeralds held in intricately worked silver. One was a small cuff with a green stone that reminded him of the Big Guy.
"It's a triqueta," she told him, taking it out so he could put it in. Heavy enough to not worry about breaking, but not too large, the piece settled on his ear and Bruce reached out to touch it, his smile making his feelings plain. "A three sided trinity knot."
"Green?" With a laugh, Bruce moved over to the next case. "I'm thinking amethyst. Something sturdy …" He stopped and Clint felt the Hulk's excitement wash down the connection; he'd found something he liked.
"Which one?" Clint bent down to look and knew immediately. The earrings were brilliant purple inside a ring of silver; it would be large in Bruce's ear and small in the Hulk's, a perfect size. Around the edge ran a wisdom knot, tiny lines that interlocked and circled back along themselves. They'd already decided to get the set in case one was lost. "Now we just have to get the piercing."
"We don't do that here," she said. "But Harry around the corner does; he runs the best tattoo parlor in the city."
"Tattoos?" Bruce smiled. "Well, we did talk about that, and it turns out we have time …"
"Harry doesn't do same day service. He's an artist himself, does some of the designs for mom's work. Likes to talk to you and then create something unique." She handed them a card for both stores. "We'll keep your design on file in case you need any replacements. Don't worry, we're discreet. Mom's not interested in the notoriety; she likes making people happy. "They thanked her and left the shop; Clint was already planning on telling Pepper and Natasha and sending them here. Both of them appreciated quality work.
Harry turned out to be a tall, slim man in his fifties with surprisingly few tattoos of his own. His assistant, a younger man with shaggy brown hair, was covered from fingertips up, and tattoos curled along his neck out from under his t-shirt. They were gorgeous pieces of artwork; it didn't take long for them to fall into conversation with the artist while Bruce got his basic stud. Clint held his hand, more for the Big Guy than Bruce, and only a little swirl of color appeared on Bruce's skin. Harry just laughed and said, "Should I incorporate green in the design?"
Maggie's wasn't too full when they arrived at six; they'd called ahead and warned her they were coming so she had a back booth ready and fresh garlic bread was out in minutes. Scrunching in on the same side of the booth, Clint was pressed between the wall and Bruce's warm thigh flush against his own. The first glass of red wine added to the warmth he was already feeling in his gut, and they didn't bother to hide their hands under the table as they tangled their fingers together, laying them on the red checkered cloth for everyone to see. Clint was content, flushed with pleasure, everything else retreating behind the wash of sensations. The smell of garlic and bay leaves, oregano and roasted tomatoes filled his nostrils. The taste of dry wine mixed with crusty, buttery bread in his mouth. Eyes captured colors – red scarf, purple shirt, blue neon of the open sign, and liquid brown eyes. He felt skin against skin, bodies pressed through layers of cloth, and the tactile feel of the smooth glass. The sound of Bruce's laugh, the low chatter of other diners, Maggie shouting at a server filled his ears. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, this was what happiness felt like.
Arriving ten minutes early, Phil had taken off his tie but still wore one of his work suits. Natasha was in a little black dress; she owned far too many of them, and Clint teased her about wearing them under wetsuits like James Bond and his tuxedo. Tossing a file folder on the table, Phil gladly took the glass of wine Maggie brought over, serving them herself with a quizzical eye at Clint. She knew something was up, but she wouldn't ask. He'd be sure and invite her to the party when they made the announcement.
"Finally came to your senses and decided to follow my advice?" Natasha asked as she sipped her wine, snagging the last piece of garlic bread.
"We're meeting Father Stephen at 8 if you are so inclined to join us," Clint shot back with his usual sass. "Phil is automatically invited since he did the paperwork for us."
"You're just pissy because I was right." Natasha didn't blink at Clint's tone. "The whole big shindig would never have worked out."
"We're still doing that. Later. A party or something." Bruce tossed in; he was running his thumb across Clint's fingers, unable to stop touching him. He turned and smiled at Clint.
"Earring." Natasha stopped chewing for a second, her eyes sharp and focused. "That's new. And Clint … damn that's lovely. An emerald? Take it off, let me see." He did as ordered, passing the new piece over; she held it up to the light for a better view and he recognized that covetous look on her face. "A trinity loop? Good choice. Where?"
"Not far from here. I've got the jeweler's card for you. I knew you'd like it." He put the cuff back on.
"What did you pick out?" She asked. Bruce tugged the box out of his pocket and slid it across the table. "Gorgeous wisdom knot. Perfect size for both of you. You plan on wearing it all the time?"
"As much as I can. Clint will have to take his off." Bruce tucked the box back away.
"And the tattoos?" Phil asked. "I thought that was the plan."
"You're scarier than she is." Clint shook his head. "Psychic. That's what you are."
"We'll see the designs next week," Bruce calmly continued the conversation, squeezing Clint's hand.
"A trinity loop or wisdom knot?" Speaking of psychic, Natasha was even worse. She knew Clint's business before he did.
"Both." At least Clint knew one thing she didn't.
A platter of fried zucchini and anti-pasto appeared on the table; the talk turned to other topics and they steered clear of anything work related. Laughter, a second bottle of wine, and Clint nudged Bruce out of the bench to head back to the bathroom before the entrees, whatever Maggie had decided to make for them. He bumped two people coming out of the small hallway and locked the door to the small room behind him. The image he saw in the mirror didn't track with his usual perception of himself; eyes bright with excitement and a flush on his cheeks - good God he looked like a man in love. Zipping back up, he washed his hands in the tiny sink next to the small bureau with paper towels. Lying across the top, next to the hand sanitizer, was an innocuous manila file folder, exactly like the one Phil had brought with him. Out of place in the otherwise neat room, Clint leaned over and looked curiously at the label.
All the air left his lungs, and his chest seized up into a tight band. His hands grabbed onto the porcelain edge as cold spiraled down his arms and legs, freezing him in place. For seconds, he couldn't wrap his brain around the five letters even when he knew the file was for him. He hadn't heard that name in years, had tried not to think about that part of his life; he wasn't foolish enough to believe no one knew the identity he'd used on and off, both before he'd come to SHIELD and a few times afterwards. Though they'd never talked about it, both Natasha and Phil knew, and Fury as well, but they would just confront him, not leave some mysterious file out in the open.
He shouldn't open it. His training was kicking in, telling him to call this in, check it for booby traps or other dangers. To run after those people he'd seen in the hallway, find out who they were. All logical, safe responses of a professional. All those possibilities ran through his head as he reached over and flipped it open. Three pictures and two pieces of paper were inside. First was a picture of a lovely dark-haired woman with startling green eyes, smiling shyly at the camera. He recognized her, could remember Bogota, the name of the mark, how he'd made the kill, the way she'd helped him, but not her name. Turning it over, he saw the paper glued to the back, Times New Roman font. Angela Martinez, 19. Behind that was another picture of the same woman, this time older, in a maid's uniform surrounded by nuns in full habits. Smiling again, her hands rested on the shoulders of a young girl with dirty knees showing beneath her pleated skirt, white socks slouched down and Mary Janes scuffed around the edges. Brown hair spilled out of her braid and there was a smear of dirt on her white shirt. Blue eyes were filled with mischief as she gazed boldly at the photographer. His fingers shook as he looked at the back. Angela Martinez, 26, and Margarita Martinez, 7, Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Convent, Espinal, Columbia.
Heartbeat racing, he slipped the birth certificate out, the data corroborating what he already knew in his heart. Margarita Louisa Martinez was born in Espinal, father listed as unknown. Laying the document aside, he looked at the newspaper clipping, an article from two weeks ago. Cuarto Cadáver Encontrado, the headline proclaimed. Four dead women, bodies violated and mutilated in the last two months. The policia said they were artfully arranged as if the killer wanted them found, but they didn't know why. Clint did. The m.o. was the same as the man he'd killed all those years ago, Rogero Ochoa. Someone was sending Clint a message.
He flipped over the last picture … and his heart stopped, a flash of white hot anger so strong he hissed out loud. She was older, hair dirty and bedraggled, stuck to her face in uncombed hunks. Dull with pain and despair, her eyes stared listlessly, one half swollen closed, and the other caked with dried blood. Bruised and battered, she held a copy of Bogota Free Planet dated seven days ago under her chin. The caption read: Margarita Martinez Ochoa, 15. Come and get her before I kill her. J.O.
Knees gave out, and he sank down to the tiles, the picture clenched in his grip. One part of his brain was screaming no, no, no, no, no, anger vibrating through his whole body. But another part had been expecting this, had been waiting for the final shoe to drop and shatter everything good. Just like always. He'd done too many terrible things in his life for karma to let him be. How could he ever tell Bruce that he'd used an innocent young woman, left her dangling after a cold-blooded kill, abandoned her pregnant and alone?
He tucked everything back into the folder and tried to breathe normally. The closest stash was in a midtown garage; he had a car with full identities and enough cash to get him to Columbia. He had plans within plans that he didn't have to consciously think about; he could be on his way within the half hour.
"Clint?" Bruce knocked on the door. "You okay?"
Of course, Bruce would know. Clint could sense both Bruce and the Hulk now that he tried; the Big Guy was on the verge of pounding through the door. His gut told him to run – the window was big enough and there was an alley behind – but he caught a glint of the emerald in the mirror, and he knew he couldn't do it, not after insisting Bruce trust him. So he unlocked the door and let him in before the Hulk made his own entrance.
"What's happened?" Bruce's arms were steady and secure, his face going green as the Big Guy made his presence know.
"I've fucked it all up, did something terrible." Clint dropped his head on Bruce's shoulder. "I've got to go take care of it."
"Okay." Bruce caught Clint's chin and tilted his head up so he could look into his eyes. "Where are we going?"