Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers or any of the characters affiliated with them. If I did, there would totally be a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie in the works.

Author's Note: While I embrace constructive criticism, remember this old saying if you choose to leave a review "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"

Surprise! We are here again. Another multi-chapter installment in the Vantage Point Universe. It has been a very long time since the last one, I know. But as most of you know, I was expecting my first child. Well…he has arrived! He was born August 27th at 12:37am – 7lbs 12oz and 21 ½ inches long. He's nearly 8 weeks old now and I finally have some time here and there to breathe and sit down at my computer. That's good for you guys because that means it's time for a new story! To further explain my long absense, I also moved from South Carolina to New York when the little man was only 4 weeks old. So it's been a hectic few months! :D

Now, on to what you've all been waiting for, "Cairo". We are stepping way back in the timeline to just under a year and a half after Clint came to SHIELD (as seen in "Youngest in History") so those of you that are loyal readers know that means we are in for some sad, angsty Clint! Whoo hoo!

But first, I've got some thanks to hand out.

First and foremost – Kylen. You all know she is my beta but she's also my good, good friend. She has been so patient and supportive as I've gone through LONG bouts of baby-distraction and writer's block. I cannot sing enough praises about her! And if you haven't checked out HER story Afghanistan, you SHOULD!

Next, wonderful thanks to the ever patient and helpful, JRBarton. She is new to our team and this fic is her first foray into the wonderful world of Vantage Point. She has also been helping me – and by helping, I mean she's been DOING this and I've been in awe – iron out a very detailed timeline of Clint's life as seen through this universe. It is so awesome and I will be eternally grateful!

Thanks also to all of you who sent me PMs over the last several months. You all brighten my day and inspire me with every message you send! Without you guys, I don't know if I'd be nearly as motivated to work through writer's block when it strikes!


Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.

Khalil Gibran

It was the rain that woke him from his half-aware doze. Laying out flat on his stomach, chin pillowed on his stacked hands and hand-held scope resting on the roof's edge right in front of him, Hawkeye had been letting his weary mind rest while his senses kept track of the world around him. It was just a waiting game at the moment. The board was set, the pieces were in motion. He was just waiting for the chance to make the final move.

The first cold drop landed on his nose and sent a spike of adrenaline through his system, every muscles suddenly thrumming with tension. He blinked and rolled his eyes up in his head to glare at the sky without actually having to move his head.

Of course it was going to rain. It wasn't like it was the edge of fucking winter in Russia or anything. Why couldn't it just be snow? Why did it have to be rain? He hated the fucking rain.

It could have been worse. It could have been the dead of fucking winter in Russia.

But Hawkeye wasn't prone to seeing the bright side all that often these days so he brushed that 'glass half full' thought aside with a scowl and settled instead on his own 'the glass is fucking empty and just shattered in my hand' thought.

He'd probably get pneumonia. Maybe literally 'catch his death'. Wouldn't that be god damned perfect?

The rain picked up just as the target's car rolled to a stop and Hawkeye could swear it was the universe's way of screwing with him.

He shifted, bracing his hands under his shoulders and pushed up. He hopped his legs forward so that he could stand, and snagged his bow from the rooftop with one hand and the scope with the other as he stood. He also pocketed the scope – he wouldn't need it now that he wasn't passing the time by counting the bricks on the face of the small townhouse – and reached back for an arrow as the car door opened.

He set the arrow and then scowled as he had to reach and wipe his drenched hair aside on his forehead so it would stop dripping into his eyes. Then he drew the arrow and sighted. It was perfect. She was just getting home, her twin 7-year-old boys would be at their father's for the weekend and would never see the body. She climbed out of the car, barely able to juggle her briefcase and the stack of papers she'd brought home with her.

As soon as she reached the front door, he'd have his shot. He'd sighted it almost two dozen times already over the past four days. The rain picked up, making it difficult to see the distance to his target.

But he wasn't called Hawkeye for nothing.

She stopped at the door, barely keeping hold of her papers as she fumbled for her key.

Bow string drawn back to his cheek, eyes narrowed, he blew out a breath.

The universe could go fuck itself.

He let the arrow fly.

He knew it was going to strike true as soon as it left his fingers, but he watched anyway, his face set in stone. Just as it hit, burrowing deep into her back, between her ribs and straight into her heart, another car pulled up.

Hawkeye clenched his jaw as the back door opened and a high-pitched scream rose in the air.



Two identical little boys tore from the car, a short, thick man stumbling out of the driver's side.


Hawkeye stumbled a step back from the roof's edge. Had they seen the arrow hit? Had they watched her stumble forward into the still-locked door and then crumble to the ground? Had those two kids just been scarred for life – by him?

Hawkeye shook his head and turned away, moving toward the opposite side of the rooftop.

It didn't matter.

He didn't care.

He didn't.

He repeated it to himself as he kicked into a run, leaping from his rooftop to the next. He landed in a roll, pulled his bowstring over his head and settled the bow against his back as he rose. He sprinted across the wet rooftop to the next one.

He didn't care.

He hit the next roof, which was steeply slanted on both sides and came to a high apex. He barely managed to catch his hands on the peak before the slick roofing could work against him. He pulled himself over the top edge and let himself slide.

For a moment – one so brief it could barely even be counted as occurring – he considered letting himself slide right off the edge of the roof, down the three stories to the alley floor below. It was probably better than he deserved.

But as the edge rushed to greet him, his ingrained will to survive – also arguably his most honed talent – kicked in. He found his feet just in time to push off the edge and leap for the ledge of the next rooftop.

He'd been told more than once that he was a survivor – a fighter. Going quietly wasn't in his DNA and 'quit' was the worst four-letter word he knew. At the end of the day, Hawkeye knew he could count on one thing.

He would survive – no matter what, no matter how.

And right now – survival meant one thing. It had nothing to do with rain or rooftops and everything to do with 7-year-old boys and screams for mama.

He didn't fucking care.

He couldn't.

Clint jerked awake with a sharp intake of breath, every muscle tensing as he dug his elbows into the bed beneath him and sat up.

He was more surprised than pained by the hard metal surface his forehead slammed into.

"Son of a bitch."

He reached to touch his now marginally tender forehead as he dropped back and glared at whatever had attacked him.

Oh right.

Not bed.

Air duct.

He blew out a breath and let his arms fall bonelessly back down to the metal beneath him.

He worked silently to slow his breathing and bring his racing heart back under control. Only when he was satisfied with the rhythm of both, he started working his way out of the duct. He shoved the duct cover out of the way irritably. His irritation only grew when it flew far enough to slam into the edge of his dresser.

He muttered darkly to himself as he folded himself out of the air duct and flipped out to the ground. He squatted next to his dresser, kicking the air duct cover away and running his fingers over the fresh gouge in the wood.

Four months this thing had been his and he hadn't so much as given it a scratch. It had been his first dresser since he was six years old and he'd treated it like it was made of gold.

And that had absolutely nothing to do with Phil having been the one to give it to him. He barely withheld a sarcastic snort and fought the urge to call bullshit on himself about that.

He gave the air duct a glare for good measure as he sat back against the wall, pulling one knee up to his chest, resting his arm across it, and stretching the other leg out. Then he dropped his head back to the wall, letting it hit with a dull thud.

Six nights. Six goddamned nights he'd been pulled from sleep by a nightmare. It hadn't been like this since Phil first brought him in almost a year and a half ago. The dreams had never stopped and he doubted they ever would. But they'd grown fewer and farther between. He could sometimes go a whole week without even a whisper in his subconscious while he slept.

Once he'd gone a full 10 days. The dream that broke that dry spell had left him shaking and hyperventilating, sure, but 10 days was 10 days.

He hadn't been hit with six nights in a row like this since right after the Andes, which was almost a fucking year ago. It felt like a hell of a big step backwards and was bringing his degree of frustration to a whole new level.

It was also methodically destroying his sleeping pattern, which was already screwed to hell all on its own.

Phil had been edging towards exhaustion right alongside him. Waking the man the first night had been no big deal. They'd talked it through and Clint had felt a little less self-destructive by the time they headed out for their morning run.

The second night had been more of an annoyance than anything. They'd both been tired from the nearly sleepless night before, but Phil had just squeezed his shoulder and led the way to the roof. Back-to-back nights were fairly common.

The third night – a wicked Andes flashback – Clint had pretended to be fine after about an hour and let Phil walk him back to his room. He'd then proceeded to lay on his bed and stare at his ceiling until 4am. But at least Phil had gotten to go back to sleep.

The fourth night he'd dreamed of Barney. He spent the rest of the night splitting his time between running endless laps on the track and sitting hidden up in the shadows of the catwalks. Then of course, Phil had read it all over his expression the following morning and practically read him the riot act. Only to take all the heat out of the scolding in the end by sincerely asking if he was okay.

So when he'd woken up in a shaking sweat last night – the fifth night – a name reverberating mercilessly through his brain, he'd trotted on over to Phil's room and to the roof they'd gone.

And here he was again – night six. As dreams went, this one had been fairly tame. He didn't need Phil to calm him down or offer silent comfort. There was no hyperventilating. No injuries relived. No memories of betrayal and terror. Just a name from the ledger. Just the memory of the one and only time he'd screwed his execution and been the reason two 7-year-old boys witnessed their mother's demise.

No big deal.

He didn't care.

Clint clenched his hands into fists and ground his teeth together and called bullshit on himself.

He cared – too damn much.

He cared so much his hands were shaking and his throat was tight. He cared so much he found himself resisting the urge to look up Andrei and Artur Barsukov just to make sure they'd survived witnessing something no child should ever have to witness.

He would know after all.

The image of his mom, bleeding and broken in the front seat of their van flashed unbidden through his mind. The sight of his dad, gaze unseeing and body awkwardly slumped followed quickly in its wake. It had him clenching his eyes closed and rubbing at them with his palms.

Clint blew out a sharp breath, shook his head, and pushed himself to his feet. He forced himself to take the time to pull on sweat pants, shoes and his old Army hoodie. It was mid-November and more than likely the temperature outside was settled somewhere in the realm of 'damn cold.' If it was colder than that…well then, he'd just suck it up.

He stood immobile in front of Phil's door for a long time. More than once he'd raised his hand like he was going to knock only to abort the action before ever really attempting it. Phil was tired. Clint knew he was. One night off from playing all the kings horses and all the kings men to Clint's humpty dumpty of an emotional state hadn't really been enough to keep the creeping exhaustion at bay.

A round of pummeling a punching bag in the gym – or better yet some target practice in the range – sounded more appealing than sitting on the roof with Phil's calm and understanding presence.

But getting a strip torn off in the morning because he hadn't woken him just wasn't how he wanted to start his day. Because Phil would most definitely be able to tell how Clint had spent his night.

His handler had gotten annoyingly good at reading him over the last sixteen months.

And after all the anger and frustration was gone, his handler would bring out the big guns.

The emotional shit.

"You don't have to carry this by yourself." He'd say. "Dealing with it alone has never really helped, has it?" He'd point out. Like Clint needed reminding of his tendency towards self-destructive punishment or its likeness to putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound.

Then Phil's gaze would soften and he'd squeeze Clint's shoulder and repeat the one phrase that had – at different times – both pissed him off ten ways from Sunday and comforted him more than he could have ever believed.

"You're not alone anymore."

Clint sighed. Damn him. He knocked.

It took a moment, but he didn't have to knock again. Within seconds, he heard a mattress creak, shuffling footsteps and then the sound of the lock disengaging. Then the door was swinging open and his handler was blinking tiredly at him.

Clad in sweat pants and a black t-shirt, Phil looked like the only place in the world he wanted to be was in bed. But instead, he was standing in his doorway, eyes clearing by the moment as they scanned Clint's face and posture.

"Again?" The sympathy in his voice matched the sympathy written in his expression.

Clint just nodded and buried his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. Phil drew in a deep breath and left the door standing open as he bent to retrieve his shoes – resting neatly next to the door. He slid them on, snagged a jacket from somewhere out of sight, and then stepped into the hallway to join Clint.


Clint turned, headed towards the stairwell and let that be answer enough.

Phil lowered himself down to sit next to Clint, tossing a speculative look at his agent.

"What was it tonight?"

Clint just shook his head and huddled down into the collar of his hoodie, his shoulders hunching forward to accommodate the stretch in the fabric. Once his chin and mouth were sufficiently hidden within the folds of the sweatshirt, he went still and just stared out into the dark night. Phil narrowed his eyes and watched Clint's profile for a moment longer. Finally, once it became obvious that the 19 year old was content to pretend he couldn't feel Phil's stare, Phil sighed and pulled his gaze away.

It wasn't often that Clint wouldn't tell him about a dream. Barney was the usual culprit there, but this wasn't about him. Dreams about the night Clint had nearly died at his brother's hand usually resulted in dark, heavy silence and an even darker pain shining in his eyes. He never sought Phil out those nights. He preferred instead to go for a long run or a long ride on his motorcycle. By the time he gotten back some of the shadows had faded – or at least he'd gotten them sufficiently hidden.

No, this definitely hadn't been about Barney. Clint was entirely too calm and put together for it to have been about what happened with his brother.

The only other thing that brought this type of reaction out in him was a name – but not a normal name. Every so often, Clint would be haunted by a name that affected him so deeply that he couldn't even bring himself to confess it to Phil. Whether it was that the story was just too terrible to recount or that he didn't believe he deserved to have the burden lightened by sharing it with Phil wasn't really clear. Either way, Phil was usually just left floundering in the silence as a weight that looked terrifyingly tangible settled on Clint's shoulders.

If shame and self-loathing were visible, corporeal things, somehow he knew he'd see them resting on the archer's broad, young shoulders right now. Nights like this put Clint in a rare mood. It was a whole new brand of inconsolable – not as heartbreaking and painful as when it involved Barney, but no less extreme and frustrating.

He'd learned early on that on nights like this all Clint wanted was to be reminded that he wasn't alone. He didn't want comfort. He didn't want hollow absolutions. It was somehow enough for Phil to just sit with him and say nothing at all. That's what he needed, so that's what Phil did.

It was Clint that broke the stillness around them. He spoke without moving – his mouth still hidden in the collar of his hoodie.

"It's as bad as it was in the beginning."

Phil glanced at him and blew out a breath.

"It won't last forever. Eventually the cycle will break and things will settle down again."

Clint's eyes shifted over the dark landscape in front of them for a several moments before he responded.

"It's like I'm moving backwards. Like the past year hasn't even happened."

"It has." Phil assured firmly. The distance Clint had come since this time a year ago was immeasurable. To the outside observer, it may appear as if nothing had changed. The archer was still a smartass with a dark countenance. And he preferred to make enemies instead of friends. He was antisocial, almost severely so. On bad days he was still prone to dark, terrifying flashes of self-loathing anger. He still talked to authority figures with a regrettable lack of respect and tended to shirk doctor's orders more often than follow them.

But when it came to his relationship with Phil, everything had changed. A year ago they were only four months into Clint's training. The kid had been a mess back then. Every day had been a constant battle just to keep him from drowning in his own self-hatred.

Earning the young assassin's trust had been a long and hard fight. Every victory, no matter how small, had felt like cause for massive celebration. He still remembered the day Clint took the first Gatorade and Hershey bar and the memory never failed to bring a smile to Phil's lips. That day had been the first step that had led to more small steps and eventually to them in the middle of the Andes Mountains with an injured and surrounded Barton calmly asking Phil if he didn't think it was about time he called him Clint. He'd managed to pull the kid through that hellish catastrophe of a mission and the trust the archer was putting in him was finally made complete.

He'd given him his ledger.

It had been so unassuming to look at. Small enough to slide easily into a cargo pocket, it was leather bound and bore no outward markings to indicate what was written inside. To an ignorant third party, it probably looked like a journal, a harmless collection of someone's innermost thoughts. No one would ever think by looking at the innocent, weathered, brown leather cover that it hid a list of the dead. A list containing exactly 287 names and that acted as both a memorial and a confession.

It was a memorial to the people that had belonged to those names – the lives that had been cut short.

It was a confession of guilt by the man that had killed them.

"So I would never forget," Clint had told him with heartbreaking sincerity, "So that none of them would be forgotten."

Clint saw his ledger as a confession. Phil thought it was more like a salvation. The very fact that he had kept a record, had neatly and carefully written every name down, proved that even in his darkest moments, Clint hadn't been as lost as he thought he was. Some part of him – whether it was deeply hidden and ignored or not – had cared about the lives he was taking. Phil believed, without a doubt, that keeping that ledger had been the only thing to keep Clint from losing himself completely to the darkness that he'd been drowning in when Phil found him. It had kept him human, when it would have been so much easier not to be.

Phil blew out a breath, shaking himself from his reverie. He glanced at Clint again to find him unmoved. His blue-gray gaze was fixed on something off in the distance and what Phil could see of his face was set in stone.

He could almost hear the self-loathing thoughts rebounding around in the kid's head.

"The last year happened, Clint."

The archer blinked and it was the only indication that he was listening.

"You aren't alone anymore."

Something in Clint's expression tightened and Phil could see moisture gather in his gaze for a brief moment before he blinked it away. Phil hesitated then reached to slide his hand under the hood of Clint's sweatshirt, tightening his fingers through the thick material to put comforting pressure on the base of the kid's neck.

"All this shit. The dreams. The names. All of it. I'm right here with you, okay?" He tightened his hand. "You won't ever be alone in this, not ever again." The archer ducked his chin a little more, hiding more of his face in the folds of his hoodie. Phil used his hand to pull Clint slightly towards him before shifting him back to where he started. "Hey – you hearing me?"

Clint's stormy gaze remained fixed on his knees for a moment longer before he nodded and flexed his shoulders. Phil took the gesture for what it was and pulled his hand away. He didn't let it offend him. The fact that Clint had let him touch him at all spoke to the growing depth of their friendship. The kid shrugging him off when he'd had enough was a small price to pay for being able to offer the tactile comfort when it was needed. And for someone who tended to reject any contact that wasn't in the form of physical combat, the archer seemed to need it more often than you'd expect.

After Barney nightmares, it didn't seem like the kid would smile again until Phil had found a reason to squeeze his shoulder or the back of his neck. Something – anything – to physically remind him he wasn't alone. He knew Clint would never admit it and Phil would never point it out. But he was damn happy that he was the one that brought that comfort and reassurance.

"Why now?"

Phil felt his eyebrows rise in confusion. He barely resisted the urge to ask 'why what?' before his brain caught up. Clint wasn't privy to Phil's inner-monologue and was still focused on their current conversation.

Right. He needed to stay focused.

"I don't know, Clint. Could be that something is triggering them, something you haven't noticed."

Clint made a slight face, like he didn't quite buy that.


The archer's eyebrow rose expectantly.

"Or you let your subconscious be your worst enemy."

Clint frowned.

"You think I want to dream about this shit?"

Phil shook his head.

"No. But I think that you haven't let yourself off the hook for what you've done. And I think that because of that, maybe you don't let yourself off the hook in here either." He tapped his index finger against Clint's temple.

The archer leaned his head away to escape the finger.

"But I'm not just dreaming about names."

Phil inclined his head in assent.

"True. But the other stuff you dream about…The Andes, your parents, and…" he paused, knowing that saying Barney's name would bring a flinch and a flash of pain to the kid's eyes. But that was part of the problem, wasn't it? Clint couldn't let it go. Even so, Phil couldn't bring himself to willingly inflict pain like that, so he let the statement hang and continued, "Your subconscious plays a part with those too. Kid, you've got a memory like a steel trap and because of that you remember things that you shouldn't have to. What better weapon could your subconscious ask for than your own memories?"

Clint was quiet for a moment, chewing the inside of his lip. Finally he glanced at Phil – the first time he'd looked at him since they'd taken their seats on the ledge – and met his gaze.

"A weapon, huh?"

Phil nodded slowly.

"Because we both know, a part of you still thinks you deserve to be punished. Maybe this is just another way you're doing that – inadvertently or not."

Clint held his gaze, seeming to mull over that in his mind. When he didn't disagree, instead just nodded his head slightly and looked back at the landscape, Phil knew that whatever part of Clint still believed that…it was a lot bigger than the part that didn't.

"You think I ever could?...Make it right?" Doubt and shame and sorrow had haunted the question when Clint had first asked him ten months ago "It's not enough. It could never be enough."

Phil could see now – in every line of his face, in every angle of his posture, and in every fleck in his eyes – that Clint still believed those words. Words he'd snapped at Phil almost exactly a year ago.

Believed that no matter what he did, he could never make it right.

And Phil, no matter how much he longed to, didn't know if he'd ever be able to convince him he was wrong.

"If I have to stay in gen pop for another two months, I'm gonna kill somebody."

Phil sighed next to him. Clint glanced over as they walked back from the outdoor track. They still had their normal sparring session to get to before Clint had to muster for training with everyone else. General population training was getting to the point of being laughable for him. Even though he was doing a secondary workout with Phil in the mornings, he still coasted through the general training sessions like it was easy. One of the reasons he was hoping to get out of it – a teacher's note if you will.

"Seriously, Phil. I'm not even being figurative. I might literally kill somebody."

The expression on Phil's face suggested that he didn't necessarily disagree.

"Your final eval is in seven weeks. You know that I can't do anything about your general training schedule until you pass that."

"Yeah well, that's as stupid now as it was the first time you told me."

Phil rolled his eyes, but didn't disagree.

"What if I kill someone before then?"

Phil gave him a dry look as he pulled the door open and held it for Clint to enter first.

"Give it your best effort not to."

Clint let a wicked smirk overtake his lips.

"Accidents happen."

The light shove to his back was expected and did nothing but make him smile.

"Accidents? You wet your bed again, Barton?"

Clint's gaze snapped over to glare at Todd Bryan where he stood leaning casually against the wall. The tall black man was smirking at him with his arms crossed across his chest. Clint narrowed his eyes, wondering why the man was here so early.

"Actually, Bryan, we were discussing accidentally killing someone while sparring." Clint grinned darkly. "Wanna spar?"

Bryan laughed and pushed off the wall.

"That's actually exactly why he's here." Phil interjected as he came to stand next to Clint. "I've got a meeting."

Clint made sure not to show his disappointment in his expression. He liked Bryan – he really did – and knew outside of Phil he was the only one that could give Clint a decent sparring match.

But his training sessions with Phil, they were…well, they were his.

The idea of someone else, even Bryan, stepping in just felt wrong. Especially when he was still feeling a little raw from his nightmare. His defenses were only at 'Phil level' not 'rest of the world level.' Phil understood him, cared about him even. With Phil, he left those walls he built around himself less guarded because there was trust between them.

He liked Bryan, maybe even trusted him a little. But he wasn't Phil.

A hand suddenly landed on his shoulder and he looked at it then at the man it belonged to. Phil's gaze was oddly reassuring and understanding.

"The meeting is with Fury. If it goes how I expect it to, you won't be reporting for general training today."

Simultaneously frustrated that Phil had read him so easily and mollified by the explanation, Clint just nodded. Phil's hand tightened on his shoulder and then fell away.

"I'll come get you after the meeting."

Clint nodded again and watched Phil leave. He turned his gaze back to Bryan, frowning at the contemplative look on the man's face.

His frown morphed into a scowl that he hoped very clearly communicated a sharp and snarled 'What?'

The trainer's dark eyebrow rose at the hostile expression, but otherwise he appeared unaffected.

"You ready to get to work, princess?" Bryan drawled as he headed towards the training mat.

Clint rolled his eyes and followed.

Todd barely stifled a groan as his back slammed into the training mat.

"That all you got? It barely even tickled." He hoped his tone sounded less winded than he felt.

Barton's eyebrow quirked in vague amusement and he retreated a few steps to allow Todd to stand. He climbed to his feet slowly, barely stifling another groan as he did. Barton was eyeing him in the calculating, predatory fashion he eyed all his sparring partners. The archer looked relaxed in his stance, hands curled loosely at his sides and knees only slightly bent.

To anyone that didn't know him, he looked like his guard was down.

But Todd knew him – knew his fighting style at least – and Barton was never not on guard. He was willing to bet the kid slept with his guard up, ready to dive head first into battle at a moment's notice. Probably even slept with a weapon close at hand – like a soldier in the trenches.

Todd tilted his head, assessing Barton as they circled each other.

The kid was fascinating to watch. Every move he made had a purpose. No energy was wasted. A lot of that was courtesy of Phil's training. But you couldn't teach the natural, lethal grace Barton moved with. He was like a fucking panther on the prowl.

And right now, Todd was his prey.

Todd feinted left and then spun to his right, bringing his leg up for a high roundhouse. Barton ducked under his leg easily and as Todd completed the rotation, he threw a sharp, low jab into Todd's exposed kidney. Todd absorbed the blow and turned, squaring up to Barton and throwing a tight right jab, followed it quickly with a left hook. While Barton was expertly dodging and then ducking, Todd kicked sharply at his thigh.

Barton let the kick land, locked Todd's foot to his thigh with his hand, and then turned. He put his back to Todd's chest and – keeping Todd's foot trapped against his left leg with one hand – stepped over Todd's extended leg with his right foot. Now he was straddling Todd's leg, Todd's foot now trapped against Barton's right inner thigh.

As soon as the archer's weight settled on his right foot, he moved his left leg, but kept Todd's foot trapped in his hand. He shifted back, bending his knee and hooking his leg up between Todd's so Barton's heel was pressed against Todd's lower back.


Barton's body turned, pivoting on his right leg, and sharply torqueing Todd's still trapped foot at the same time. Todd's body didn't have any choice but to turn with the pressure on his back and the pull of the muscles in his hip. His weight went off his supporting leg and then he was twisting in the air, headed for the mat face first.

He barely got his hands out in front of him enough to slightly cushion the landing as his chest slammed into the mat. Barton's grip on his leg had already loosened and his other leg – the one that had been holding all his weight and was now tangled with his other leg – sharply tweaked. The pain faded just as quickly as it had come even as Todd coughed out a groan.

He sensed Barton hovering just out of reach, waiting to see if Todd would get up.

"Didn't see that one coming." Todd coughed again and pushed himself up to his feet. "Phil teach you that?"

Barton made a face that clearly said 'please' with as much sarcasm as facial expression could manage. Todd chuckled but wasn't surprised. Phil was a great fighter, but he was a boxer. Whatever move Barton had just pulled off, that wasn't boxing. And it also wasn't something anybody else could have pulled off.

"So you came up with that all on your own?"

Barton shrugged. Todd arched an eyebrow.

"Not bad, kid."

Barton shrugged again and motioned for Todd to get his hands up.

"I'm gonna get you this time," the trainer taunted.

Now Barton smirked – mockingly. Todd took it as a challenge.

They silently circled.

Todd found himself wondering if Barton was this quiet all the time. Granted, he usually saw the archer during gen pop training and getting the kid to rub two words together was like beating your head against a brick wall.

But there were moments.

Moments when something broke through the silence. It had happened earlier, when Barton walked into the gym. He'd had a sarcastic comeback flying back at Todd without even taking a breath. Todd had been amused, but also shocked. The kid had clammed back up the moment he realized Phil was leaving, though and had barely uttered a handful of words since.

It wasn't that Todd wasn't used to it, but he'd halfway expected it to be different when they were alone. Without all the other recruits around, he'd figured Barton would feel more at ease. But apparently 'at ease' was only possible when his handler was close at hand.

But that little flash of sarcastic humor brought Todd hope. He'd already known Barton was a smart ass. But his quips with the other recruits were usually darker and more hostile. He'd been joking with Todd earlier, honest to God joking. There was a good-humored nineteen year old hidden behind the mask of bullshit – he was certain of it. He saw it when Barton and Phil thought no one was watching.

And now he really wanted to meet that kid first hand.

He hadn't realized he'd lost track of Barton until there was a fist swinging at his face.

He barely dodged it in time to avoid a cracked tooth.

"Thought you were gonna get me this time."

Todd blinked. Was that…sarcasm? But not the usual hostile sarcasm he spit at other agents. That was the very joking sarcasm Todd had just been wishing for. What the hell? Was Barton a fucking mind reader too?

Todd couldn't help it, he smiled. And then he quickly forced it into a smirk, so the archer wouldn't get suspicious.

"Your ass is mine, Barton."

He stepped forward, launching into a long and fast series of punches. He backed Barton across the mat, forcing the archer to retreat in order to continue dodging. Finally, he got an opening. Barton leaned left to avoid a jab, but leaned a little too far. He was off balance.

Todd spun into a quick, tight spin kick, aiming for Barton's exposed side.

He was sure he had him.

But then Barton was exploding upward, tucking into a tight ball and flipping backward – clearing Todd's leg and landing out of reach. Todd was left to finish the wasted rotation and glare at Barton's suddenly smirking face.

"This ass? You ain't touchin' this ass."

Todd laughed.

Holy hell. He'd just met the real Clint Barton.

"Is he ready for this?" Nick Fury steepled his hands in front of his face and stared across his desk at Phil – his second in command and most trusted agent. Phil was still reading over the mission file, a small frown turning down the corners of his lips.

For several long, silent moments, Phil didn't answer. Even after he closed the file and stared heavily at some invisible spot on the top of Nick's desk, he didn't reply. Nick waited. This was no small question and he needed Phil's most honest and well-considered reply. If Barton wasn't ready, they needed to decide that now.

Finally Phil blew out a breath and raised his gaze. He met Nick's eye with confidence and without reservation.

"He's ready."

Fury nodded. He really hadn't expected any less.

"Read him in. I want him on a plane to Cairo by lunch."

End of Chapter 1

Here we go! Are you all ready for an all new adventure! :D This story IS complete, so as usual, look for daily updates.

Drop me a review to let me know if you're excited about a new story and if you like how we started off! ;)

See you tomorrow! To hold you over, here's a preview of chapter 2:

"You may have an issue gaining respect given your age. They probably won't take you seriously at first."

Clint felt a wave of cool, dark confidence sweep over him. People had made that mistake when he first started out in the contract world. They'd looked at him and seen nothing but a kid with a bad attitude. They hadn't seen the darkness smoldering beneath the youthful exterior. It had been a mistake – theirs – and it hadn't taken long for them to realize the error of their ways. He'd done what was necessary to make sure they did – to make sure no one ever looked at him like that again.

He dropped his hand to rest on his bow, tightening his fingers around the familiar weapon and feeling a piece of the old Hawkeye slide back into place.

"They won't make that mistake for long."