Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children"

-Markus Zusak

He didn't like to talk about it; it was no one's damn business and people tended to judge you on that kind of thing. It was in the past: over. He didn't need to 'talk about it' and he had no desire for 'closure' as the shrinks back in the army had always called it. His parents were dead, the sound of their coffins being slammed shut had been all the closure he'd needed. But one day over dinner Phil had asked and he'd stared at him, just taking in the sight of him for a moment and then he'd started to tell him a story. A story about a boy, a travelling circus, some bottles, a bow, and a handful of stars. It'd gone a little something like this:

His childhood hadn't exactly been ideal. His father had been more interested in searching for the answer to life's problems at the bottom of a bottle of gin. His mother had only been interested in not getting hit— And maybe he'd resented her for it, but with age came clarity and if he had the chance to see her again he knew he'd forgive her on the spot.

He'd had a brother back then. A brother who'd once been just like him: scared, with a hole in his chest that ached whenever Dad looked at him like he didn't deserve to breathe. But that hole in Barney's chest had been filled up with hate and anger and rage and maybe confusion too- because Clint could remember wondering what he'd ever done to deserve this lot in life. Wondering why the God they taught about in school would abandon him there to suffer. So, Barney had taken a page from his father's book- a book written in bruises and blood, and gone searching for answers at the bottom of a bottle, only that had one rattled with pills.

The orphanage hadn't been much better. Clint had spent years learning to be quiet, to blend in, but all the nuns had ever done was lecture him on how to get noticed by the people that had paraded through every day, their eyes scanning the line up of children the same way customers used to look at the cuts of meat in window of his Dad's shop.

Running away to the circus had been Barney's idea- or maybe it'd been the pills', but either way, he'd grabbed hold of Clint's hand and dragged him out into a world away from daily prayers to a God who'd never listened and judging eyes. They'd been happy, maybe. What was happiness anyway? He'd travelled the country with his brother at his side- and Barney- well, he wasn't as strong as their Dad had been so his punches had hurt less.

Then Clint had begun learning archery and with every arrow- every thunk of a bulls eye, the hole in his own chest had gotten smaller and smaller until the only reason his chest ever ached was if Barney had kicked him especially hard.

For years he'd waited for his brother to find his answers. To realize that there weren't any. That life was just fucking unfair and maybe they were all alone, but at least they were alone together. He'd been thirteen when he began to think that maybe Barney had just given up. He'd been fourteen when he'd started thinking that maybe...maybe being alone by himself was better than being alone with his brother. He'd been smart, even if Barney had called him stupid. His grades had been good, and he could remember things and he'd had his aim. He'd been fifteen when Trick Shot had betrayed him and he'd been upset, but hell, that was just life wasn't it? People used you, and then they left and that was that. Maybe Barney had hit him and started stinking so strongly of gin that Clint could smell it from his own bed and it had given him nightmares, but Barney had stayed. And that'd meant everything.

His teachers had asked questions, but blending in was an art form he'd perfected before he could ride a bike and deflection was a close second. Friends were a luxury, not a necessity like studying. Barney had been content to work at that circus for the rest of his life, but Clint had haddreams. He'd get into a good school and get a good job and then he'd take care of them. He was seventeen when he'd realized that those dreams couldn't include his brother anymore.

He'd been lying on the floor of the storage room where they'd slept, staring at the drops of blood that had fallen like constellations on the concrete. Clint had read his future in those murky red stars.

He'd pushed himself up, his ribs flaring with agony, and climbed to his feet. He'd left that night, the echo of his younger self reverberating in his ears, telling him to turn back; that he needed to stay with his brother. Clint had cast those thoughts aside as he'd hitched his bag over his shoulder and begun the long walk to the shelter on Main Street.

Barney had left him a long time ago. It'd just been time to return the favour.

Clint had a feeling that he wouldn't have seen hide or hair of Phil even if he hadn't spent the last two months being sent to various countries on missions. Since the whole Thor incident SHIELD was in high demand, which meant that more often than not Clint was off in some godforsaken country getting eaten alive by bugs and Phil was sequestered in meetings or swamped with paperwork that Clint didn't have a high enough clearance level to work on.

Everyone was being run ragged and more than one person had had a breakdown as of late. Clint had just returned from his latest mission in Bangladesh and as soon as he'd gotten off the plane it'd been like everyone and their mother had needed to talk to him. Psych had paged him down for a six hour evaluation, Hill had put him through his paces in the training room and R&D kept calling him down to take his measurements for whatever reason (there'd been a lot of purple fabric flying around and he'd be lying to say he wasn't a little scared).

It'd been a week since he'd returned and he hadn't been able to take a single day off what with everyone suddenly needing to get a hold of him. It was to the point where there was nothing he wanted to do more than flop down on his couch and take a nap. But seeing as when he'd actually tried that Coulson had kicked him out because of some video conference call, he decided to retreat to the couch in Fury's office.

The other man didn't even bother to look up from his work as Clint dropped from the ceiling and landed on the coffee table, almost knocking over a potted orchid Hill had put there to brighten up the place. The Director mostly ignored him, only occasionally tossing him a handful of papers to work his way through, but he didn't tell him to get back to Psych to finish his evals either, so for the most part Clint was free to doze sprawled out on the cushions. Eventually Tasha appeared with Thai and they all sat there, the scratching of their pens the only sound that broke the comfortable silence. Clint wasn't exactly sure at this point what he was filling out, but it looked to involve an insurance claim for three houses out in Monte Carlo, a thirty-thousand liter water feature, and a Rottweiler.

"You've both been tapped."

Clint glanced up from trying to calculate the approximate monetary value of a family pet. "What?"

It wasn't the first time Fury had tried to throw them off by suddenly announcing something, but he generally only did it at formal meetings. He liked to keep the mind fucking to a strictly professional capacity.

"You've both been tapped for an elite team that SHIELD is putting together."

Natasha set down her noodles as Fury stared them down, his chair creaking as he shifted his weight. "What sort of team?"

Generally speaking, they'd been on almost every 'elite team' their country, and several others, had to offer. Loan outs were common and in the past year alone they'd worked with the CIA, DOD, FBI, NSA, and CSIS.

"What do you know about the Avenger's Initiative?"

Natasha simply shrugged, but suddenly numbers were flashing in front of Clint's eyes and before he could catch himself he was blurting out everything: costs, percentages, inflation calculations, and investors' names.

Natasha gave him a questioning look (she could do this thing with her eyebrow that he tried to do in the mirror once, but he'd only given himself a headache) as he rounded off the last sum to the second decimal place and he wasn't sure who was more surprised with what he'd just done: Fury or her.

"You can remember all that, but you can't remember when we've scheduled a training session?" she asked, clearly unimpressed.

"In my defense," he started, grateful for the out she'd provided. "It was scheduled for five am. A lot of people in my place would've 'forgotten' about it too."

The Director cleared his throat to catch their attention as he leaned forward in his chair, a smile breaking out across his face, and Phil had once warned him about a smile the Director would sometimes get and how it only promised suffering.

("How the hell will I know which one you're talking about?"

"Believe me, you'll just know.")

And yeah, Phil had been right about that. Even Natasha was shifting uneasily beside him and he had a feeling this was the first time she'd seen this look too.

"Where did you learn that?"

"Well, I uh, read it," he answered lamely, fiddling nervously with the papers he'd been working on.


"Last...year? Maybe?" He said hesitantly, his eyes sliding to Natasha but she just shrugged again and left him to the wolves like the good partner she was. He could see how those rumours about her killing or abandoning her partners had sprung up. Every lie had a bit of truth to it.

Fury was still staring at him and Clint had the sudden urge to hop back up into the ceiling and go find Phil because it was really starting to freak him out.

"I take it that you've been withholding some things from medical."

"Maybe a few things, sir."

Some people lied about the amount of exercise they got in a week or if they took their vitamins, he just lied about how severe a little bit of brain trauma was. No big deal.

Fury sat back in his chair, crossing his arms as he continued to watch the archer. "You didn't need to hide this from us, Barton. The return of your eidetic memory makes you even more of an asset to SHIELD."

"Does it get me a raise?" He asked hopefully, because government wages were utter crap. He might have on base quarters, but he wasn't sure he could even afford an apartment if he'd wanted one with the way New York prices were.



"But you'll get one if you sign on to the Initiative. A rather big one actually."

Clint perked up at that and he could tell Natasha's interest had been caught as well. She had a thing for shoes and leather, and neither came cheap.

"Who else will be on the team?" she asked.

Clint couldn't say he was too enthused with the thought of joining a team permanently. He and Tasha were good together. They didn't need anyone else messing things up.

"Besides the two of you, Thor from the incident in New Mexico, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and Captain America."

"Wait wait," Clint started, cutting him off. "We've got some crazy god guy, the Hulk, who's MIA last I heard, a guy in a metal suit with a drinking problem, and a Captain America wannabe?"

"We've located Dr. Banner in Brazil, the two of you will be sent out tomorrow to retrieve him, Thor has promised to aid us in our 'quest to thwart evil' and Tony Stark has joined the rich man's version of AA."

"And the Captain America?" Natasha asked.

"Was pulled from the ice in the Antarctic yesterday and is currently being defrosted. He's the real deal," the Director said, and they could hear the glee underneath his outer core of badass.

"Sir, I'm not a medical expert here, but I'm pretty sure he's dead," Clint said flatly.

Fury glared at him. "Due to some unforeseen effects of the Super Soldier serum, Captain Rogers was preserved and is very much alive."

"How is that possible?" Natasha drawled, looking about as dubious about the whole thing as Clint felt.

"I don't have time to explain—

"He means he doesn't understand either," she muttered in Russian and Clint had to bite his cheek to stop himself from laughing. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Fury might not have understood Russian, but the look he gave them said that he got the gist. "If you agree, your offices will be transferred to the Helicarrier—

"The what now?" Also, he had an office? Because no one had ever told him that.

"And your quarters will be reassigned to one of Stark's mansions which he has generously offered up for our use."

"The Heli-what?" Clint asked again.

"The Helicarrier," the Direction pronounced slowly. "Stark designed it for us and it's finally ready for actual use.

" "Stark designed us a boat?" Natasha clearly looked unimpressed, but then again, nothing really impressed her anymore.

"It's not a boat, it's an airship."

"Won't that make the morning commute a little inconvenient?" Clint asked, because unless Stark decided to give them flying cars as well, a lot of people were going to be SOL. "What if someone's kid gets sick and they need to pick them up? We're just going to land the thing in the middle of New York?"

"It'll be much more costly," Natasha added. "Insurance for the civilian workers will skyrocket. And how will we get take out? No one would able to deliver anymore."

"Both of you just shut up," Fury snapped quietly, as he rubbed at his temples. "We're getting a Helicarrier, and that's final. Don't worry about the logistics; they're not your department."

Clint frowned, but yeah, a Helicarrier sounded cool. Completely impractical, but hell, he wasn't paying for it.

"Coulson will still be your Handler," Fury continued, his fingers drumming against the top of his desk as he stared down at a folder set in front of him. "He'll maintain an office on the carrier and in the mansion. He'll act as a liaison between SHIELD and the Avengers."

Clint couldn't help the smile that split across his face as a flutter of happiness made itself known in his stomach. Natasha sent a knowing look in his direction which he blatantly ignored.

"Now, are you in?"

They shared a glance before they both nodded. They'd never been ones to turn down a challenge.

"Good. I expect the both of you to act as good examples for your less experienced teammates," he said, and they could hear the underlying threat in his voice. "And remember, you might be on this team, but first and foremost, you work for SHIELD. If we make a call that Captain Rogers- who will be acting as your commander- doesn't agree with, your duty is to SHIELD first."

"Yes, sir," they answered flatly

"And," he started seriously, his face grim. "If one of the other members gets out of hand, I expect one of you, or both, to take action and...pull the plug just as you would with another rogue agent."

They both nodded again, familiar with the standard procedure. It wouldn't be the first time either of them had put a bullet or an arrow in the head of a teammate. When you dealt with beyond classified information that even the President was kept in the dark about, it was better to tie up any loose ends that might threaten your objective. And if that meant killing a possible leak, that was simply the business they were in. Still, it wasn't every day you got permission to kill national icons.

"You'll be the only unaltered members on the team," Fury warned them. "Don't over estimate yourselves, but don't let them underestimate you either. I have faith that you'll do us all proud."

As it would turn out, transferring an entire base of operations onto a Helicarrier was pretty hard. Agents were frantically running around the halls with boxes in their arms and moving crews were already beginning to remove furniture. Some personnel would continue to work out of the landlocked office, but almost seventy percent of SHIELD's main base was being sent airborne. Clint still wasn't sure about the logistics of it all, but since he was apparently going to be living in a mansion he wasn't going to really let it bother him. The only problem was he wouldn't be able to drop in on Phil whenever he wanted anymore. The whole being stuck on the ground thing would sort of mess up his standard visits and he wasn't sure how much actual time Phil would spent at the mansion.

It'd been three days since Fury had told them about the Initiative and he still hadn't had seen Coulson anywhere. Although he'd spent most of his time down in Medical taking memory tests—Fury might play it cool, but he's secretly the biggest nark known to man, so Clint had spent hours memorizing trays of objects and longer and longer poems and facts to see how much he remembered and how well he retained it over time. It hadn't exactly been fun.

But he'd finally managed to slip everyone and was making his way towards Phil's office, intent on actually seeing him for the first time in almost four months. He cast glares in the direction of the junior agents who were heading the same way with stacks of forms in their arms, sending them scurrying off to find someone else to deal with the paperwork.


He turned to find Natasha coming down the hall in her civvies, the agents he'd just sent running dodging to the side to get out of her way.

"Here, your new uniform I had R&D make," she said, shoving the pile of leather into his hands. Clint unfolded the sleeveless shirt, taking in the dark red detailing stitched into the front.

"What was wrong with my old one?"

"Something about this being better for PR," she said dismissively.

"My old one was fine."

"They were going to change it if I made some specifications or not. Besides," she added, a smirk playing across her painted lips. "No partner of mine was going to be running around in purple spandex."

He paled at that, slowly folding the shirt back up. Well, that explained all the purple he'd seen down in R&D. "I like purple, but not that much purple," he grumbled as they began making their way down the hall together.

"Obviously. I changed the design and had them switch out the purple for the same red as my belt. If we're going to continue to be partners I won't have your uniform clashing with mine."

"Gee, thanks," he said, rolling his eyes as the door to Phil's office came into sight. Another junior agent was just about to knock so he let out a loud hiss, catching her attention. He saw Natasha make some gesture out of the corner of his eye and suddenly the other women was sprinting off in the other direction. Jeans and a t-shirt made Tasha no less intimidating.

"Where are you going anyway?" he asked, giving her a once over.

"Hair appointment."

"Huh, you should do something different," Clint said, eyeing her long red hair. "Maybe cut it shorter for a change. No one would grab it."

Natasha looked to consider his suggestion for a moment before shrugging. "We'll see. Long is more versatile."

"Harder to hide under a wig," he argued. "And damn annoying in the heat."

"Oh, and now you're suddenly a hair expert?" she laughed and he couldn't help but smile back at her. He'd never told her before, and probably never would, because he'd never made it a point to tell people how he felt about stuff like that, but he really loved her laugh. It reminded him of birthdays and Christmases and summers in the park; it reminded him of his mum one of her good days.

They were standing in front of Phil's door now, and Clint could hear music filtering through the door; something soft and old sounding. Natasha leaned forward to give him a quick one armed hug which he returned.

"Get in there, you've been pining for days," she said, her breath warm against his neck.

"I have not."

"Have too." She pulled away, mussing his hair before starting off down the hall. "Oh, and Clint?" she called, the smirk once more in place. "You might not have known this, but it doesn't take four hours to 'properly take your measurements'. After the first half hour, it's just an excuse to touch you."

He must've looked horrified because she broke out into laughter as she turned the corner, disappearing out of his line of sight. The archer thought back to all those hours he'd had to endure of hands touching him all over the place and shivered. He opened Phil's door without knocking and said: "I think I've been sexually harassed," by way of greeting.

He'd heard that Clint had gotten back from Bangladesh in once piece, but Phil hadn't actually had time to see him other than shoo him out of his office when he'd had to take an important conference call. With the Avenger's Initiative finally getting off the ground and the Helicarrier finally being operational things were hectic to say the least. Unfortunately, Captain Rogers was still thawing out, and Tony Stark was digging his heals in about the whole team thing. Out of everyone, Thor had been the easiest to coordinate and Phil knew they had Jane Foster to thank for that, bless her heart. They were going to have to reimburse her for all those Poptarts.

He'd gotten a notice from Medical saying that Clint and Natasha had both passed their physical and psychological evaluations which meant that they had officially been added to the Avenger's team roster. He'd also received a secondary message about Barton having regained his eidetic memory. He couldn't say he was completely surprised. He'd seen the way Clint could fly through reports and sprout off random facts, but he'd figured that Clint would tell him about it when he was ready. Apparently Fury had beaten him to the punch.

It was one of those days where the sky had clouded over, cold rain pounding the ground, making everything seen bleak and tired. No one had appeared in his doorway in the past twenty minutes, and all his paperwork was done so Phil decided he'd take a much deserved break. He along with the rest of SHIELD had been working nonstop since Captain American's discovery. It'd been the spark that had the Avenger's Initiative had really needed to get off the ground and everything had gone into overdrive. They'd had a few weeks to prepare, but the crews had finally managed to extract the Captain from the ice and now the clock was really ticking.

Coulson bit back a yawn as he loosened his tie, making his way over to his turntable that he kept in the corner. He picked a record at random, not really caring what he listened to at this point. The smooth voice of the clarinet began pouring from the speakers he'd had built into his walls as he flicked off the lights and sat himself down on Clint's couch, finally letting the tension bleed from his body.

He sighed as the door suddenly flew open but when he looked over he found a rather disturbed Clint standing there with some clothes tucked under his arm instead of an agent with more paperwork.

"I think I've been sexually harassed."

Was it even possible to miss someone as much as he'd missed Clint? He squinted over at the archer who was glowing in the light from the hall, and warmth that he hadn't known he'd lost spreading through Phil's stomach. Clint shut the door behind him, tossing the clothes he was carrying onto the desk as he made his way over.

"Sexually harassed, huh?" Phil joked, already knowing he'd waited too long to answer. Clint just smiled— and god he'd missed seeing it so much it hurt.

"Thought I'd find you in here doing work, not listening to music," Clint laughed and he hesitated for a moment before offering his hand. "Can't say I'm disappointed though."

Phil stared at the proffered hand, not sure what Clint was up to.

"Come on," the other man whined, waving his hand in front of his face. Phil finally sighed and grabbed hold, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. When he's standing Clint doesn't relinquish his hand, instead he entwines their fingers, and before he knew what was happening they were swaying.

"Dance with me," Clint smiled, his teeth flashing in the half light. Phil couldn't help but tense as he carefully wrapped an arm around archer's waist and suddenly they were so close that he could feel the warmth of Clint's skin through his shirt. He forced himself to relax as a forehead pressed into his shoulder and he heard a mumbling, "I've missed you" along with a drawn out sigh.

"It's been awhile," he nodded, tipping his head so that his cheek was resting on dirty-blonde hair. If he were in the mood to be critical, Phil would've wondered what exactly this was, seeing as even though he knew that on some level Clint returned his feelings, they'd never really talked about it, never mind gone on an official date. But after months of not even having the time to be in the same room as him, all Phil could think to do was hold Clint close and continue to sway along to the music.

"So I heard we're moving house," the archer said quietly, his face still pressed into Phil's shoulder.

"By next week things should be ready."

"I'll miss this office. My couch."

Coulson laughed at that. "I'm having it sent to my office in the new mansion. It's safe."

"Good," Clint huffed, his breath warm against his neck. They both fell silent as they continued to sway in the darkened office, the only light in the room coming from the open blinds, shadows chasing across the carpet as cars flitted by on the rain washed street. The music had a French flare to it and he felt Clint grin against his shoulder.

"I had no idea you liked French music so much," he whispered.

"He was Creole actually. I spent several years there in Paris after college," he replied quietly, listening to the crackle of the record. "It'd always been my dream."

And suddenly was he was remembering warm Paris nights spent walking along the Seine and the taste of cigarettes on his tongue.

"Huh. Was it everything you'd hoped for?"

"There were tourists and thieves everywhere and it smelled like urine more often than not."

Yes, everything and more.

Clint pulled back to look at him, a gentle smile playing across his face and he seemed to understand. "Liar. You loved it."

If it'd been anyone else Phil might've been scared that someone could read him so well.

Before he could say anything Clint had shoved his face into the crook of his neck, so Phil just closed his eyes as they swayed. And the next time he was stressed out, or wondering for the millionth time why he even put up with SHIELD, he'd remember how Clint's head had felt on his shoulder as they'd swayed together in his darkened office, the quiet notes of Sidney Bechet echoing off the walls around them.