A/N: Written based on an LJ prompt meme, from which tielan tossed me this: "Maria & Clint platonically living together." I had planned for lots of snark and witty repartee, but then I went to see CA2 for the second time and this happened instead... Unbeta'd, so I will probably be picking out glitches for weeks to come. (Icon by TheLadyMorgan.)
Barton is staring at the spot in his tac vest where the SHIELD insignia used to be, until he took a knife to it. Cutting off the badge has left a circular dark spot, bordered by tiny holes and a few dark threads; the whole thing now has a slightly shaggy appearance, at odds with its owner's preferred look of sleek menace.
He must realize this because he scowls a little, and starts methodically pulling out those threads one by one with long, calloused fingers.
"Guess I should be grateful, huh."
Maria tries valiantly, but she can't quite keep the irritation out of her voice as she looks up from her files. Learning the Stark Industries org chart is like trying to decode a Jackson Pollock painting; trying to insert what remains of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the corporate structure is like turning it into a Miro by way of Picasso. The last thing she needs right now is her latest roommate making small talk.
But Barton's voice is even rougher than normal when he answers, and she takes notice.
"Well, statistically speaking, forty percent of the people I killed with that attack on the helicarrier were HYDRA. That's something, I suppose."
For a moment Maria doesn't know what to say in response. Whatever she could possibly come up with will inevitably feed into the man's lingering guilt complex, which seems to have gotten worse again since the Washington meltdown. For some reason, Barton has convinced himself that if he hadn't led Loki's attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. might have discovered the HYDRA parasite sooner, might still exist.
"You can up that ratio some more tomorrow, if that makes you feel better."
Barton looks up.
"Carter sent us a new list, courtesy of the CIA. Three names this time."
"Facial recognition. Plus location. We have addresses."
"You got it here?"
Barton's eyes have acquired a sudden, feral gimme! gleam. Maria knows she should find it distasteful, that eagerness with which he's been hunting down the scattered survivors of Pierce's shadow version of S.H.I.E.L.D., ever since he reappeared in New York a week ago. Rogers might balk at his hobby, too, if he knew about it, but Maria can't – and won't - deny that seeing the Hawk go after rats in the night gives her a grim satisfaction. If his arrows nail one traitor for every friend and loyal colleague of hers who went down with the Triskelion, well, that's perfectly fine with the former Deputy Director of the former S.H.I.E.L.D.
Of course, sharing Barton's eagerness for revenge doesn't mean she can't squeeze him a little before giving him what they both want. Multi-tasking has always been Maria's forte, and sharing space with one of the planet's alpha males has its challenges.
"Provided you start putting the toilet seat down when you're done, Barton. And don't keep using up all my coffee, I'm not a Starbucks franchise. Plus, you could empty the dishwasher once in a while."
Barton's mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Maria feels a small surge of triumph and presses her advantage.
"I know you're not used to living with someone – and no, Romanoff sleeping over doesn't count. And yes, I appreciate that you can't go back to your own place because Sitwell's been there too often."
Sitwell. Of all the countless betrayals, that one stings them most. Barton, too, grinds his jaw involuntarily.
No point dwelling. Moving on.
"But as long as you're staying at my place, you get to live by my rules. Also, do put new paper on the roll when you use one up."
Barton recovers quickly, you have to hand him that.
"Actually, Romanoff sleeping over does count. 'Coz you sound just like her. You guys have a script for giving men shit?"
"We don't need a script. Your failings are obvious, and universal."
He raises both hands in surrender and gives her his crooked grin, which she shouldn't find in the least charming, but which to her horror she has found is growing on her.
"Make you a deal, Hill. You give me that file, and I get us some dinner on the way back. You empty the dishwasher though. I'd just fuck up and put stuff in the wrong place, and then you'd get even madder."
Barton will get dinner? If there has been something that has surprised her about Hawkeye, it's his excellent taste in food, acquired over his years in the field. He doesn't cook - unless toasting bagels counts - but his foraging trips have never produced anything less than spectacular. Maria's own culinary judgment, after years of Doreen's tuna melt, is about as reliable as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s personnel files.
"Fine. Real food, though. No phoning for pizza."
He snorts. It's one of the few jokes they share; it had taken three hits before Barton's targets had figured out that opening the door to a deliveryman is not the smartest thing to do when an Avenger is on the hunt.
"What kind, then?"
Maria tosses Carter's chip over; Barton snatches it out of the air without looking and gives it a dramatic little kiss before inserting it in his StarkPhone.
The next few minutes pass in silence as he scrolls through the information on the small screen, shaking his head once and muttering a curse. Another familiar name, no doubt - another scab ripped off a still oozing wound.
Maria returns to her org chart, her lips pursed in concentration. Based on the records Potts has provided, hiring in the Stark Industries R&D department has been pretty much out of control over the last few years - as good a place as any to hide a S.H.I.E.L.D. unit.
Coulson's team had made contact earlier in the week; Fitz' and Simmons' academic profiles would fit, if someone were to check on the new hires. Coulson will need a credible source of income to keep that bus of his afloat, and Stark has agreed to bankroll whoever Maria can find and slot into his company. Honouring Howard's memory, he is - definitely worth the ignominy of that lie detector test he'd made her take before informing her of his offer.
Maria barely notices when Barton gets up, silent and graceful as a large cat. He heads for the coat rack where he's been keeping the duffle with his bow and quiver, ever since her complaints about the amount of space his kit takes up on the coffee table.
A mumbled "see ya later," the door clicks shut, and he's gone; silently, Maria wishes him a successful hunt.
He comes back just as she begins to realize that the odd feeling in her gut is probably hunger. Eleven o'clock already? No wonder.
The click-click of the safety mechanism has her reaching for her gun, but then she hears his voice. Surprisingly, she finds herself relaxing instantly.
"Pizza delivery. Where you want it, lady?"
It's interesting, really, how her reaction to Barton's inappropriate outbursts of humour has changed – when he'd first joined S.H.I.E.L.D., she had found him insubordinate and irritating. Now, his smartass remarks are almost a comfort, like a familiar sweater you put on against the chill.
He hangs up the duffel and drops two bags on the counter. The paper one is filled with containers that are emitting delicious smells – lemongrass, kaffir lime and coconut. Maria doesn't ask what's in the plastic bag; if Barton wants her to know, he will tell her.
"How did you know I like Cambodian?"
Maria emits an involuntary moan of contentment as fishes out a carton marked "shrimp amok," opens it and digs in standing up, without bothering to pour the contents onto a plate.
Barton shrugs, but his feigned diffidence can't quite hide a smug smile.
"Natasha," he says. "I may suck when it comes to bathroom manners, but I do remember some stuff. Speaking of, better go wash my hands."
Belatedly Maria remembers just where and how her peripatetic roommate has been spending his evening. Washing his hands is probably a good idea, all things considered.
She chews thoughtfully before inspecting the other cartons. Pomelo salad? He must have gotten that for her; the Hawk is not known as a lover of things vegetarian. Romanoff has had more influence on the man than anyone would have thought possible.
"So how did it go tonight?" she asks in the direction of the closed bathroom door.
"Gimme a minute, will ya?"
He sounds … preoccupied. Oh. Right. Washing hands. All indications to the contrary, Clint Barton is apparently capable of euphemism. The sound of a flushing toilet is followed by running water.
"Seat!" she hollers around a spring roll, and nods in satisfaction when she hears a muttered curse, followed by the unmistakable clunk of plastic on china. Barton emerges, wiping his hands on his shirt.
"Two out of three," he says, reaching for a spring roll. "You hiding the container with the sauce somewhere?"
Maria takes the rest of the boxes out of the bag, something she should probably have done first. Three months away from the job, and already getting unmethodical - maybe Barton is rubbing off on her? Time to haul out the Deputy Director.
"Report, Agent," she says, aware that circumstances and the panoply of open cardboard boxes are probably depriving the command of its impact. Barton seems happy enough to fall into old patterns, though, and rattles off the basic facts.
"Anderson, David and Gerstein, Thorsten. Spider hole in TriBeCa. Caught them in the staircase on their way out, with the door still open - total bonus, that. Even better, Anderson must've left his Mac on 'sleep' just before they left; I got there just before the password locked. Three cheers for idiots who forget to change default settings. Fifteen minutes is a long time in the spy business."
He tosses her a USB stick, one of those marked SI that can copy an entire hard drive in under five minutes, no trace. HYDRA won't know its people were hacked until they fail to make their next check-in. Bonanza. Maria is tempted to head straight back to her laptop, but she hasn't eaten since breakfast, and there are times when one's body must take priority.
"Thought you might want to let JARVIS have a look at this, so I left Number Three for tomorrow. Just in case."
He takes a bite out of a spring roll and chews thoughtfully.
"Gerstein and I did a mission in Phnom Penh together, back in the day. What gave me the idea for Cambodian, actually. Guy was a jerk even then, but he sure knew how to pick restaurants."
Maria wonders whether Barton is as diffident as he sounds. There have been far too many instances in the last few weeks where they'd had to remove the label of friend from a familiar face, and paint it with a laser target instead. (Or in Barton's case, serving divorce papers with extreme prejudice, special fletched delivery.)
They eat in silence for a while. The pomelo salad is just the right mix between sweet, sour and spicy – the best thing Maria has had since … in quite a while.
"You should try some of this, Clint. It's fruit, not vegetable. Full of Vitamin C, but you may like it anyway."
"Like I said, you sound a lot like Tasha."
Something in his voice is off though, perhaps the result of her sudden use of his first name?
Romanoff. Natasha. The last time Maria saw the other half of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most effective team of operatives had been just after the Committee hearings in Washington. Barton, for his part, had already been gone for what, months?
"When is the last time you saw her?"
For a second, something in his face tightens. He reaches for his water glass and takes a deep draught.
"Been a while."
Of course. Mission at first, then the implosion, restricted contact, cell structure, compartments. The end of Strike Team Delta, just like that.
She's not sure what makes her say it; it's against regulations, but who's to say what those are, with S.H.I.E.L.D. underground and the Council beheaded?
"I saw her after the hearing, Clint. She's been wearing the necklace."
He gives her a blank stare. Men.
"The one with the arrow."
Comprehension dawns in his eyes, and his face softens for a moment.
"Thanks. Emm… Would you …"
He doesn't finish the sentence, but she knows what he means, and nods.
"Yes, of course. Next time I see her."
Whenever that will be.
They clear off the table together, Barton dropping the empty cartons and plastic forks and spoons in the garbage while Maria shoves the leftovers into the fridge. Just how much did Barton think she would eat? There must be at least two more meals' worth of food.
"I'll hit Radic on my way out of town tomorrow," he says, his tone conversational. Maria takes from the statement what he intended her to.
She's not quite sure how she feels about that, about the idea of having the place to herself again. Toilet seat issues notwithstanding, she has almost gotten used to him over the last few days (once he stopped fletching his arrows at the coffee table).
"New orders. Going to join Banner again." He hesitates. "I'll be heading out early."
Maria knows better than to ask him questions. If he needs to keep a firewall between her work on the reconstruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. and whatever the Avengers are up to, so be it; compartmentalization is more necessary than ever. When the time is right – or the need is there – Fury and Rogers will bring everyone together.
She trusts in that. She has to.
Maria knows, too, that this will be the last she will see of Barton for a while – no, for as long as it takes. She gives him the briefest of nods.
"Better get some sleep then, both of us."
Barton doesn't argue and heads for the guest room, turning around briefly at the door.
"Listen, Maria. If I don't see you …"
"I know," she says, before he can finish. "Me too, Clint."
Maria wakes when he leaves, of course – she wouldn't be where she is now if someone could get the drop on her in the middle of the night that easily. Judging by what time it is he probably never did sleep. (Still.)
She could get up, but some goodbyes are just too awkward, and she isn't quite sure how she would handle this one. A handshake doesn't seem quite enough, but Barton is not exactly the kind of guy you hug. (Not that Maria is the hugging type; the Hill women have always been more about sharp, hard edges than softness and curves.)
But there is one thing she knows, and she thinks Barton knows it better than most. These days, the number of people who would come to another's house is small; smaller still the number of those who could be let in. And you don't need to say goodbye to the ones you know will be back.
The door clicks shut and Hawkeye is gone for the second time this night; this time, it is better for her not to know where.
There's a box of Nespresso capsules (Colombian Supreme, her favourite) in the bathroom; must have been what was in the other bag Barton had brought in. The box is on the toilet seat – which is properly closed - and there's a hastily scribbled note: Thanks for everything. CB.
When she goes to check, Maria finds that he has stripped his bed for the next person Nick Fury or Rogers will send her way. That she will have another guest in her spare room soon is not in doubt.
She pops a capsule into the coffee maker, inhaling the rich, nutty scent, and allows herself a small smile. The network is growing, getting stronger.