Of all the space-bars in all the Universe, Clint had to walk into his.
The Gamma Bomb was not a nice bar. The re-purposed missile housing was dingy and covered in a fine layer of solar dust. There were so many holes in the life support shield that patrons had taken to wearing their oxygen masks at all times and just pushing them aside at intervals to suck in alcohol. There was a rumor going around that the holes in the shielding were all made by the owner, one Bruce Banner, who had the unfortunate habit of breaking up bar fights by smashing skulls against the wall.
No one really minded, though. It was the best swill this side of the Andromeda Divide, not least of which because the local Enforcers were too chicken-shit to go there and the Universe’s Gestapo didn’t know it existed.
It was the perfect place to lie low for a while, if the UG was hot on your trail.
Bruce didn’t drink. He had enough problems without adding any more blackouts to the equation. Plus, most of the booze that came through his docking port was illegal and untested on humans, so he played the part of the mad scientist to make sure no one would die horribly when the ingested it. He was wiping up a spatter of something called Asgardian Ale (which even the great Tony Stark hadn’t been able to keep down) when they walked in.
A red-headed woman was leading. Bruce couldn’t make out much of her face behind her oxygen mask, but he could see that here eyebrows were drawn together in frustration. She was flanked on either side by two other women, one with perfectly straight black hair and a shocking purple space suit with circles cut out of the hip, and the other blonde with a black-and-white space suit. The three seemed to be taking a defensive position around the man in the center of their little triangle.
Bruce frowned at the sight of the man, something itching at the back of his mind. Some memory of where he’d seen the blonde-haired, blue-eyed guy whose features were currently happy as could be, yet belied a life-time of stoicism and tension.
The man wasn’t wearing an oxygen mask. Bruce was the only one who still did that, long ago having perfected the art of possessing luck bade enough to ensure he would live through anything. He assumed the man wouldn’t live to regret that decision once the life support went out again.
“Three yellow dwarfs,” the red-head said, slapping her credit chip on the bar. “And one hidey-hole special.”
Bruce winced and accepted the chip, turning it over in his hands. “The yellow dwarfs I can do. The special requires a bit more information.”
The three women all exchanged looks while the man stood there looking oblivious. Finally, the red-head turned back to Bruce, who had already set their drinks out. The man reached for one but she slapped his hand away. “What do you need from us?” she asked.
“Names, first of all,” Bruce said, leaning over the bar and folding his arms together. He had to grip his forearms tightly to avoid slipping into the habit of rubbing his hands together. A nervous habit he’d picked up on his last stint in the UG’s zero-star dump of a correctional facility. He was pretty sure he’d been programmed to do it, but he couldn’t be sure.
“I’m Natasha,” the red-head said, knocking back her drink like a shot despite the fact that the yellow dwarf was meant to be sipped over the space of four or five hours. “This is Bobbi and Kate,” she said, gesturing at the blonde and black-haired women in turn. “This here is Clint, who is in need of your services.”
Bruce nodded at each woman in turn and then settled his gaze on Clint. The man looked oddly embarrassed, and quickly averted his blue gaze from Bruce’s brown one. “What are you running from?” Bruce asked.
“That’s on a need to know basis,” Natasha said.
Bruce turned to look at her, affecting his most terrifying, withering gaze. It was the one that had gotten Thor to quit punching all the frost giants without Bruce needing to say a word. Natasha seemed unaffected.
“I need an answer,” Bruce said simply. “And I’d like to hear it from him.” He tipped his head to Clint. “So I know who I’m working with.”
Clint cleared his throat. “Nat, it’s fine,” he said. He gave her a lazy smirk that she was just as immune to. “I think it’s pretty usual. I’m on the lam from the UG.”
“Well, that is usual,” Bruce said. He poured Natasha another drink and took the credits off her chip. “I don’t think anyone that comes through here hasn’t had a run in with them. What’d they peg you for?”
“Stealing data, trying to blow them up. No big. Hey, can I get one of those yellow dwarfs?”
“No,” said Natasha, so Bruce didn’t pour him one.
“Data theft is going to upset them,” Bruce said. He occupied himself with wiping off the counter again. “That’s going to cost you extra.”
“That’s fine,” Natasha said.
“Yeah, I mean, not really?” Clint said. Natasha shot him a glare, and he raised his hands as if to ward off attack. “I mean, between you and Katie-Kate there’s plenty of money.”
“Damn straight,” Kate said.
“But,” Clint stressed. “I can take care of myself. I don’t really need any extra packages.”
“I think you do,” Bobbi said. “You’re likely to fall asleep on your own watch and drool all over yourself, and then Ross will be on you like char on toast.”
“Wait,” Bruce said, freezing. “Ross?”
“That’s the UG operative on my case,” Clint said. “Why?”
“You brought Ross to my doorstep?” Bruce hissed. He leaned in, pissed off as hell. “What were you thinking?”
“What? I don’t think,” Clint said. “I mean…What’s the deal with Ross?”
Bruce tore away from the bar and retrieved Natasha’s credit chip. He threw it at her and it skittered over the bar. “Get out of my sight,” he ordered, furious. “And you better hope Ross didn’t follow you here, or you’ll have me after you.”
Natasha picked up the chip, “Now just a–”
Whatever she was about to say, she never got the chance. Bruce felt the tell-tale signs of the life support system heaving and stuttering, and then it went out. Lights and all. Bruce took a deep breath and held onto the bar, hard. There was a muffled boom that barely registered as the air dissipated through the shield. Next thing Bruce knew, his bar was being lit again.
By laser fire.
Bruce grabbed the nearest object–a glass still half full of yellow dwarf–and hurled it at the nearest UG soldier. It shattered in his face and his gun went wild, firing into the air as bar patrons scattered. The room was lit with an ethereal grey glow and Bruce saw him.
Even under his oxygen mask, his mustache was unmistakable.
With maybe thirty seconds of air, Bruce slammed the emergency button to call for assistance. The backup generators kicked in and Bruce blinked in surprise.
Apparently, Clint’s posse could defend him pretty well.
They were dashing through the UG soldiers. Bobbi slapped one in the face with a stick. Natasha shot one with what appeared to be her bracelets. Kate had some sort of energy bow that was completely invisible, yet shot spikes of purple energy wherever she aimed.
He flipped through the air and rebounded off the walls of the bar. He careened into the nearest soldier and punched him out. He drew his arm back, and although Bruce still couldn’t see the bow apparently he had one, too. He fired and another UG soldier fell but they were still swarming in. Ross turned to fire his gun at Clint and Bruce suddenly remembered how he knew this dummy.
“Hawkeye!” he shouted, wasting precious air.
Clint ducked beneath the shot. He fired an energy arrow at Ross and leapt over the bar. He was grinning, lips pursed tightly to hold in his breath, as he tugged Bruce down to the ground.
Shots scattered over their heads. Bruce’s vision was fuzzy. He remembered Clint bounding through zero-G’s, and he wondered where his purple uniform had gone. The black looked better on him.
Clint pinched him on the side of the neck and Bruce blinked back to attention. He lungs were screaming for him to just breathe, but he knew there was no oxygen. If he opened his mouth again now he’d be done for. He slammed the button for backup again, desperate.
The trapdoor beneath him opened and Betty shoved a mask into his face. He took a deep breath of oxygen, blissful and pure, and passed it to Clint before climbing into the escape hatch.
He figured Clint would follow him. And he was right.