Which means Clint was out in the field when the shit with SHIELD went down. Can you imagine how poorly that probably went?
All I can imagine is there was Clint, running an op somewhere in Eastern Europe or something, when suddenly all the dominoes began to topple. Instantly everything was gone: transport, logistics, all of his accounts, the exfiltration team. His goddamn COVER, every alias he had ever had, everything. And wow, if he thought things had gone to shit after the Battle of New York for him, this was an amazing new level of god awful. Because suddenly everyone was gunning for him, from Interpol to MI-6 to the SVR, because the only thing that would probably scare the world’s intelligence community worse than watching SHIELD collapse in on itself was realizing how many of its personnel were now rogue agents running around in their backyards.
Every one of Clint’s options would have been terrible, and there wasn’t a safe-house in a three hundred mile radius that he would trust. He half considered surrendering to the American Embassy, but he couldn’t shake the niggling suspicion that had it been the DIA or CIA that had imploded so spectacularly, Clint would be welcoming in burned agents from the cold with a warm muzzle to the back of the head.
So Clint went to ground for weeks, listening to chatter where he could and kept a ear out for his friends. At least the friends that hadn’t turned out to be fucking Hydra. (He’d sat down with a bottle of the cheapest vodka he could find one night, scrolling through the the documents on a stolen laptop with hijacked wifi. His throat had burned with more than alcohol as he let the names settle into his mind. Trojak, Brown, Drew, Rumlow, Sitwell, on and on the list went. People he had trusted with his life, people he would have taken a goddamn bullet for.
He’d passed out long before he’d thought to look backwards to fallen agents, but it had been his first conscious thought upon waking the next morning, more of an absolute need than an idea. Phil.
If he had had anyone there to lie to about it, he would have sworn up and down it was the booze that caused him to throw up all over the bedspread like a fucking child. It certainly wasn’t the way the world had tipped onto it’s side when he had read up on all Coulson’s postmortem adventures, that single lie sending his entire brain into some kind of nausea-inducing cascading failure. if there were anyone to lie to, that is. Instead he just laid down on the cold tile floor, the roiling of his stomach the only thing keeping him from screaming himself hoarse.)
It’s 19 days after Clint’s world crashed down around him again that Tasha finds him holed up in the outskirts of Sofia. She just materializes out of the evening crowd, taking a seat next to him on the bus stop bench. Clint closes his eyes, breathing. Steady.
"I’m sorry," he says, not looking at her.
"For what?" She asks, and he can practically feel her eyes traveling over him, cataloging the human disaster before her.
"For letting you think I saved you," Clint says, shrugging. His voice is distant to his own ears. "For telling you there was another call to make. It was a lie, and I didn’t even know I was telling it." He lets his head fall forward slightly. "I thought I was saving you because i thought I had been saved. What a fucking joke.”
Natasha’s fingers ghosts across the back of his neck, barely touching. “The punchline needs work,” she says finally, letting her palm rest just above his collar. He shudders at the warmth. “All that matters is that you tried. No one had before. That…that meant everything, Clint. It still does.”
After moment of silence, of mentally grasping onto the first halfway happy sensation he’d had in weeks, Clint turns to Natasha.
"What do we do now?" He asks, because it has to be a ‘we,’ there is no other option. There is no way he could do this alone. Not again.
"When we’re ready," and something in Clint’s chest begins to unwind at that, because she is with him, thank god. Natasha is with him. "Hill is coordinating with her new employer to deal with the long term fallout. Things are…not great, stateside. But Maria’s doing what she can to get everyone worth saving into a lifeboat."
"You’ve got papers?"
"I’ve got what we need."
"And should we trust this new employer?" Clint asks, eyeing her. "Don’t know if you noticed, but my last exit interview didn’t go so well."
She smiles a small, sad smile. “Oh, this is definitely a case of out of the frying pan and into the oven. Undoubtedly. But they’re going to want to do what we want to do, so that’s that.”
"And what exactly is it we all want to do?"
And suddenly, her smile is just a little too bright as she sits back against the bench. “A little avenging, of course.”