Title: The City That Never Sleeps
Date: 8 June 2012
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Author's Note: Thanks to those who read the first chapter and decided to stick around for the second. I realize this might not be the most interesting / eventful story to read... But it's helped me get a handle on these two characters, and I have the beginnings of a real plot (for a second piece) starting to bounce around in my head.
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I thought he'd take us to the lab where Stark and Banner had bonded over science and computers or to the training mats where we'd tossed each other time and time again, maybe to logistics' extra conference room on level 4 where we'd once kissed in between meetings and paperwork, or even to that corridor where they said Coulson had died.
But instead, we ended up in the level 15 employee lounge, the tiny half-abandoned one with the broken couch and the water-stained coffee table with its web of scratches. Someone had stacked empty packing cartons against the far wall until they'd formed a faint lopsided tower of discarded waste.
"The city that never sleeps," he said with a vague gesture toward the window. The words pulled me from my thoughts, and as I turned toward the outside wall, I realized that he'd probably chosen this little-used room only for the view. Trust an archer to find a good lookout.
I felt his footsteps behind me as I wove among the dilapidated furniture, and savored how natural it felt to have him at my back again. It was something I'd taken for granted during our years together... perhaps he did as well.
Beneath us, the lights of New York City shone with a stubborn brilliance that overshadowed the destruction of the past week. The city certainly seemed to be able to rebound from attacks of any shape or kind. Always buzzing with activity, with intrigue, with life.
"I wonder what Stark's cooking up now," I murmured more to myself than to my shadow. "Ten bucks he already has some new extravagant publicity stunt up his sleeve."
Clint didn't reply, just stared down over my shoulder with those same intense eyes I'd first feared, then somehow learned to trust. So I waited, knowing that, having dragged me halfway across the ship, he'd eventually come round and say whatever it was that was on his mind.
"Before New Mexico..." he began (which meant before he shipped out with the the team to investigate Thor's hammer Mjolnir and I took that short-lived assignment in Russia - the one that ended in Coulson's phone call), "...I told myself we'd always be there for each other. Always have each other's backs... or some other crazy idealist crap."
I nodded at that. In our line of work, there's no such thing as 'always', and neither of us is the type to make empty promises.
"I never thought everything would shake out the way they did, didn't think I'd be the one to fall."
It would have been poor form for me to point out that this hadn't been the first time I'd had to save his ass... Not that he hadn't returned the favor on multiple occasions as well. It didn't matter. I owed him a debt. Beyond that, it was a waste of time to count the rounds.
"Nothing's changed, Clint," I stated, impatient at his obtuseness. He was usually succinct to a fault, a man of few words, a quiet hawk with razor claws and a scathing tongue. "Stop beating yourself up over nothing."
I jumped as his fist hit the glass beside my head and just barely stopped myself from twisting around to strike back in response.
"Goddammit, Tasha, Coulson's dead." We both knew it wasn't supposed to end like this - Coulson was the steady voice giving orders, the calm reason in the middle of the storm, the link in one's ear to safety and security... the connection to the closest thing that either of us considered home. He was SHIELD through and through, and he wasn't supposed to die.
"Is that why you won't talk to the Avengers?" I asked, knowing that he was slow to connect with people st the best of times.
"They're loud," he replied in that simple, honest way of his.
"Banner's not," I shot back for no particular reason except to keep the conversation from flowing back into dark corners of blame.
"He tries so hard to be quiet it feels like he's screaming," he countered without missing a beat.
The city was close enough below to identify individual buildings... those distinct skyscrapers that comprised the jagged skyline and gave the metropolis its identity. Rising determinedly above its competitors, Stark Tower was still missing half its letters but nevertheless shone bright against the midnight sky.
"They're civilians," he continued, resignation not disdain in his voice. "They might be partners, but they'll never be..."
"...never be SHIELD?" I finished for him. There was truth in that. The Avengers were an awesome force to be reckoned with, an eccentric but surprisingly effective team in the direst of circumstances - but they hadn't the stamina to fight the fight day in and day out. Like any contract specialists, they were the ones you called in when there was no one else left to call.
"So, is the infamous Hawkeye jealous?" I prodded, half serious and half in jest. "Fury's prized assassin outperformed by the heroes of legend?" It was a gamble. He might be in a mood for teasing or might just shrug it off in annoyance.
"Jealous of the angry green smasher? Or captain blue spandex?" He began to relax into the joke and follow my lead. It was a dance we'd done countless times before, one that both brought us together and kept our true thoughts comfortable at arms length.
"I was thinking more of the burly blond demi-god or maybe even our narcissistic arms genius," I countered, putting more effort into the tone than the words themselves. That was something I'd learned early on - sometimes it's less what you say than how you say it.
"Are you suggesting I'm not good enough to play with the super heroes?" A thin smile offset the challenge in his words, and I raised an eyebrow at his mock affront. "And who was it who got us out of Kiev? Or that awful alley in Salt Lake?"
"So the bird flies after all..." I smiled as I tilted my head back to look him square in the eye. I'd been waiting for that, that spark of defiance, the unpretentious yet unshakable self-assurance that he wrapped around himself like a shield. Loki, that manipulating SOB, could have talked anyone in believing whatever he wanted them to, but I wasn't above using some of the same techniques myself.
"Nat, you don't have to do this."
The words caught me off guard. "Do what?"
"Do... what you always do," he replied, suddenly stumbling over his words as he returned my gaze. "I do notice, you know."
I feigned innocence with silence.
"Trying to draw me out, to pull me away from... from what I did. But also distancing yourself from, from us." He half turned away and spoke to the window as though it was easier than saying the words to me. "We're like the city down there. Always being torn down, always rebuilding, but never really stopping and catching our breath together."
He paused, either to gather his thoughts or to consider what he'd already said, and I took the opportunity to interject. "Sometimes it's better," I suggested. "It's better for both of us." Better that we not get too close... too close to let go.
"Life's short. Sometimes you just have to take a chance." The smile this time was real, shy almost, and I found myself returning it (against my better judgement) as he reached for my hand against the backdrop of the city lights.
Something changed that night between us, something subtle at first but unmistakably there. We'd first been enemies, then wary colleagues, and finally trusting partners... but after we met the Avengers there was something more. A word unspoken, too childish to utter, but written in our thoughts and actions for us and us alone. Sometimes we shared a bed, sometimes not, but no one was closer to me than him. No one, ever. It had taken a vengeful psychopathic god to finally bring us together... But when you consider our line of work, perhaps that not so strange after all.
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Hawkeye, especially, didn't appear enough in the movie for me to get a solid feel for his character, so I suppose every FF author who uses him supplements the canon with fabricated personality and back story (pulling from the comics, the work of other authors, or wherever).
I guess that's part of the FF thing... :-)