Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers or any of the characters in the story except for Cole Williams. If I did, there would totally be a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie in the works.
Author's Note: This is my first story to post on this site and my husband had to talk me into it. That being said, while I embraceconstructivecriticism remember this old saying if you choose to leave a review "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"
"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." -Christopher Reeve
Clint Barton saw things better from a distance. He thrived on watching the world march on from a perch high above everything and everyone. Isolation was key to a sniper's survival, but even before his Army days, he liked to be high above, to be separated. It was only when he was up in his perches, nests according to Tasha, that he felt safe.
Though, he considered, Tasha provided that same safety no matter where he was…Coulson did too, even before her, but he was dead…
Clint stopped his train of thought abruptly. It still hurt too much to think about his lost friend, lost brother. He still had nightmares about Coulson's death. Despite Natasha and Fury strongly advising him not to, he'd watched the video footage of Phil's death. His brave stupid handler, who had done what no one else was around to do and paid the ultimate price for it. Clint knew he would never forgive himself for not being there when his friend needed him, that he hadn't returned the favor his handler had granted him so many times in the 9 years they'd worked together. Nothing would ever compare to the pain of finally beating Loki only to get back to their safehouse after Schwarma and have Natasha sit him down and tell him Phil was dead.
Well, nothing except losing her.
Clint sighed deeply, his grey-blue eyes tracking multiple targets from his perch at the top of Stark towers. Tony had graciously allowed the entire team; sans Thor, whom they hadn't heard from since he went back to Asgard with Loki, something told Clint the big man was keeping an eye on them though; to move into his newly renovated tower.
Clint hadn't unpacked yet.
In fact, he only ever went into his room when Tasha talked/forced him into it. When he wanted solitude, which was most of the time, he came up to the roof. And so far, no had ever disturbed him, either because they didn't know where he was or because they didn't notice he was gone. Either way, as long as he was left alone, he didn't care.
Though he knew Tasha knew exactly where he was. She'd been tracking his whereabouts with near obsession ever since Loki. He tried not to be offended.
Phil never would have let him to himself for this long, knew how self destructive Clint's psyche was. Natasha knew too, and had ventured up a few times to sit with him. They would talk quietly in Russian so no one could eavesdrop. But they never talked about Phil, they never talked about Loki, and they never talked about the crushing guilt that was so close to breaking him.
But Natasha knew him, just like Phil. She knew he wasn't ready to let it go. To stop punishing himself and as much as Natasha was his other half in heart and soul, she wasn't Phil. She wasn't the smart ass, no nonsense adoptive brother that wouldn't take shit from him, yet took it all the time. She wouldn't push him until she had too, until Clint left her no other choice. Phil had always pushed, and needled, and sometimes just sat there silently until Clint was forced to deal with whatever it was just to regain his solitude.
Shit, he missed him. Missed him so much it hurt.
It had been six months since SHEILD had brought together their merry band of misfit heroes. It seemed that every bad guy with a bone to pick had come out of the wood work since that day Hulk, and it was mostly the green giant's fault, had destroyed a colossal part of downtown Manhattan. They fought together, building up the reputation of the Avengers as a global force for good, but Clint was still an outsider. By his own doing perhaps, but it was more than that. He hadn't been there, not in the beginning. When the Avengers came together, he was busy being mind-raped by Loki and fighting against them, trying to kill them. He hadn't been there until they'd already become a team, uniting in vengeance for Coulson's death. By that point he'd just been a long for the ride, so royally pissed off that he didn't care who he was fighting with as long as Loki went down.
But then the dust had settled and Loki was finally gone and he'd felt like an intruder. He wasn't one of them, not really. He was a shadow in the rafters, a ghost in the halls, the Hawk in the sky. He was always watching, always observing and never interacting. He'd always reveled in the disconnection of being a marksman. He had never relied on anyone but himself. He'd been done relying on anyone when his brother left him bleeding and broken on the muddy ground outside the prop tent at the circus. Phil had convinced him of his loyalty, and then he'd convinced Natasha, beyond that he had never had a desire to let anyone in, anyone close. But now, he couldn't help but wonder if there was something wrong with him. If his social wiring was skewed because of that fateful day all those years ago when the one person he'd always counted on had proven a traitor.
He'd been a lone wolf his entire life after that, then Coulson had found him, pulled him up by his bootstraps from the gutters of his life, and made him the youngest SHEILD agent in history. The man had bled with him and protected him in a way even Barney never had. They'd formed a bond of trust after only six months and for the first time in since his awful painful childhood Clint wasn't alone.
Then he'd been sent for Natasha. When she'd asked him, in Budapest as they waited for a long since needed extraction, what he'd seen in her that made him disobey orders, he'd just smiled at her warmly and said he saw things no one else did.
Their trust had been slower in forming. She'd been burned as many times as he had. It was Vietnam that changed their relationship, two years after they'd been partnered, three after he'd brought her in. Only they knew the details of that mission, not even Coulson, their trusted handler, was granted the full story. But when they'd returned to the states, it was obvious that their trust in each other was complete and unwavering.
His trust in those two, now one, closest friends, had been hard won through blood, sweat, and pain. None of the others, Tony, Steve, Bruce or even the absent Thor, none of them had earned what Natasha had, what Coulson had. He'd asked Tasha if she trusted them. She said she was getting there, that she trusted that Clint had her back, just in case. He'd been shocked and a little jealous when she'd admitted she was already letting them in. It had taken him two years, it took them six months. When she'd noticed his reaction, she'd smiled warmly at him.
"Its because of you that I can do that, before you I didn't even know what trust was."
She had surprised him, taking to the team with eagerness after so many years of a solo operative, only partnered with him now on rare occasions. They were so highly effective alone, it was a waste to use them on the same mission unless it was absolutely warranted. That was one positive to this new gig. He'd missed having her around all the time.
She'd tried coaxing Clint into the fold a few times, to pull him into the light hearted banter of the team. But he remained distant. Protecting himself in the only way he'd ever known how, isolation. They were all good men, he knew it, Coulson had assured him of it when his handler had approached him with the offer to get involved with the Avengers Initiative. But he'd survived his younger years by trusting no one, and the years that followed by trusting very few. It was a hard habit of survival to break. You couldn't get hurt if no one was close enough to hurt you.
Natasha said he wasn't trying. She may be right, given that they were all eating dinner together right now and he was on the roof, alone, watching a world that didn't know they were being watched. It was better this way, he assured himself. For them and him. He was the weakest link among them, though he was loathe to admit it. Loki had made that irrefutably obvious. It was better to keep his distance.
Besides, Clint saw things better from a distance, he always had.
Natasha Romanoff was silent as she listened to Tony throw barb after barb at Steve, trying to bate the American hero into breaking from his calm demeanor. Growing bored, her thoughts drifted to her partner. He was on the roof right now, probably watching the world in silent contemplation. Not interacting, never interacting. Clint Barton had only ever interacted once, and she knew she was alive because of it.
She wished he would make more of an effort to integrate himself into the team. But he was a loner by nature, even more so than she. She was a true agent of espionage, trained to be social and manipulative. It was her power over others. Clint was trained to be invisible, and he was damn good at it. His survival depended on not being seen, whether he was the guy you jogged past in the park, or the waiter at your favorite bar, or the bumbling Polish tourist who needed a German/Polish dictionary to communicate and three maps to navigate. As much as she was a master at making herself noticed and memorable, he was a master at being overlooked and easily forgotten. Because then when the bullet impacted your skull on your daily jog, or the poison slipped into the drink you ordered every Tuesday night, or the bullet cracked through the window of the safe house no one was supposed to know about, you didn't remember a jogger, or a waiter, or a lost tourist, you didn't remember anything because you were dead. And your killer had been so unremarkable that you hadn't thought to mention him to anyone. It was such an ingrained habit to stay unnoticed, that she knew Clint would never willingly break from that.
And to make the situation even worse, she knew his guilt over the Loki incident still ate at him. It wasn't his fault, all the men eating with her now had said so multiple times. But Clint didn't let go of his burdens that easily, he hadn't for the six years she'd known him. On top of that, he blamed himself for Coulson. He'd never said it out loud, but she knew. She'd almost begged him not to watch the video footage, but he was so stubborn, just like her. All it did was give him something tangible to torture himself with. After that, in the few times he'd actually slept long enough to dream over the last six months, he'd woken screaming his dead friend's name. She would put her hand on his bare shoulder offering silent support until his trembling stopped and reality returned. He wouldn't say anything but a mumbled "My fault." or an "I'm so sorry." Before he was climbing out of bed and heading to the range to punish himself with training. She wasn't a comforter or a nurturer by any stretch of the imagination, but she hated that she didn't know what to say to him in those moments when he was consumed by despair. He was drowning, and the only man that ever knew how to save him was gone forever.
"She's not even listening…Hey Romanoff!"
Natasha looked sharply at Tony, realizing he'd been speaking to her. It had been established early on that only Clint could call her by her first name or by any derivative of it. It was the same with Clint's name. Names were too personal, too precious, to allow just anyone to use it. When you spent as much time protecting your identity as they did, you didn't share that privilege lightly. So she was Romanoff to them, and Clint was Barton.
"What?" She asked blandly.
"I said," Tony sighed as if he were extremely put out at having to repeat himself. "Why is our feathered friend so disinclined to join us…again."
"Clint is still adjusting." She told them delicately.
"What's his deal? Jarvis tells me the guy sits in the same position on the roof for hours at a time. Just staring down at the city."
"He sees better from a distance." Natasha smiled slightly, remembering Clint telling her the same thing when she questioned why he was always climbing things, why he always wanted to be high above everything and everyone.
"Is he still blaming himself for Loki?" Steve asked looking at her squarely.
Natasha gave him a look that said the answer was obvious.
"Its more than that, though, isn't it…more than Loki, more than Coulson." Bruce spoke up quietly. Natasha looked at him sharply, unwilling to divulge any of Clint's secrets.
"Adjusting, like I said." She replied stiffly.
"If he doesn't give us a chance to earn his trust, how will we ever be able to?" Steve questioned quietly, giving Natasha a look full of compassion and understanding. She was surprised he'd figured the situation out so easily. But, she realized, he was a soldier, America's best at that…he had to be good at reading situations and people. Clint was like that too.
"He just needs time." Natasha replied softly.
"He's had six months." Came Tony's caustic reply. "And except for when SHEILD sends you two out on your super secret missions you won't talk about,"
"Can't" Natasha interjected sharply, only to be ignored as Tony continued.
"We've been fighting together for those six months…that trust thing goes both ways…by not giving us a chance to gain his, he isn't really gaining ours either." The physicist pointed out bluntly.
"It took him and me two years to really trust each other." Natasha replied in a hard tone. None of them could ever understand what hers and Clint's lives had been like, how few people they'd ever truly trusted. Or how many times they'd trusted and been betrayed. Now one of those few was gone forever and she knew that was part of the problem.
"Well you both have serious emotional problems." Tony replied with a frown.
"And what did you do in the meantime?" Steve's calm voice was a balm on Natasha's rising temper as she glared at Tony.
"I watched his back and he watched mine." Her dark eyes grew distant as she remembered the missions she and Clint had been on together. "The trust came with time." She still remembered Vietnam like it was yesterday.
"Time isn't a luxury we necessarily have, given the nature of our job here." Bruce spoke again, his tone quiet and reasonable.
"Jolly Green Giant is right." Tony crossed his arms over his chest, careful not to hide anyone's view of his arc reactor. "He's the one we're trusting to watch over us from on high every day, what if one day he just doesn't think we count as part of his team?"
Natasha's eyes flashed dangerously, her hand tightening around her fork.
"Clint will do his job. He would never let anything get in the way of that."
"Never? Really? Then how are you here?" Tony shot back.
She was halfway out of her seat when Steve's voice stopped her.
"No one was questioning his dedication, Agent Romanoff." He placated gently.
"I was." Tony refuted, his tone rising. "How are we supposed to trust him to watch our backs if he can't even stand to be in the same room as us…hell, he didn't even come to Coulson's funeral! What kind of dedication is that?"
Natasha slammed her fork onto the table, making the plates and glasses jump. Bruce flinched and Steve sighed. Tony's eyes just widened a little in surprise. She braced her hands on the wood and leaned over so she was barely a foot from Tony's face.
"He watched from 1000 meters away through a scope. Clint sees things better from a distance…he needs the distance…whatever you think Coulson was to you…he was more to Clint." She stood angrily. "Agent Coulson was the first and only person he ever trusted with his life before he met me. Coulson saved him…and if it wasn't for him, Clint would probably be working for the highest bidder right now…and he knows that. He owed Coulson everything and now he's gone and Clint wasn't…" She stopped abruptly, realizing suddenly that in her defense of her partner, she'd revealed too much. She didn't usually speak before thinking, but Clint had always had a way of getting by her defenses and pushing her to be different, better, than she was. He wasn't even in the room and he was doing it.
"Barton wasn't there." Steve finished quietly, realization in his tone. He'd wondered too, though more quietly than Tony, why their Hawk hadn't been at the funeral. It made sense now. He'd seen the camaraderie between the two agents in the weeks he'd been with SHEILD before Loki. The normally withdrawn, aloof, Hawkeye smiled with the older man, sought him out in a room. Coulson's normally calm, cool visage always broke into an easy grin when the younger agent was there. The trust had been palpable.
"Maybe I should talk to him…" Steve suggested. He knew what it felt like to lose a relationship like that. Thoughts of Bucky's death still caused a sharp pain in his heart.
"He needs time." Natasha refused firmly.
"He's had six months." Tony reminded stiffly.
"A lifetime wouldn't be enough." Steve replied sadly, his eyes haunted. Tony quieted at the look in their leader's eyes. Steve turned his eyes to Natasha. "Is that why he doesn't join us? Because of Couslon? Because he doesn't trust us?"
"It's most of it…you have to understand…Clint isn't like you, any of you…he's a covert assassin specializing in distance kills…he's hardwired to keep his distance for his own safety, to be invisible. If he doesn't want to break from that, he won't." She tried to explain, keeping her voice calm and collected all traces of anger hidden.
"And he doesn't want to?" Bruce sighed, not really asking, already knowing.
Natasha shook her head.
Steve spoke before anybody else could.
"Tell him we have his back…whether he chooses to trust in that or not."
She nodded and left the room.
"You could be more sensitive, Tony." Steve reprimanded quietly.
"We've all lost people, and trust doesn't come easy to any of us." Tony's voice had a hard edge to it. Bruce frowned.
"That doesn't mean we shouldn't respect his grief or his space."
"It's more than grief! He doesn't want to be here! It's obvious! The man hasn't spoken two words to any of us outside of the heat of battle. He's not a team player and doesn't want to be."
"You've read his file, Stark." Steve challenged, his eyebrow arched, "None of us have been through anything close to what he has, or what Natasha has…The only team he's ever been part of was cut in half when Coulson died. Fury told me the man doesn't even trust him and he's in charge of the whole damn operation."
"To be fair, none of us trust Fury." Tony interjected. Steve frowned.
"The point is that none of us could ever understand how his mind works...Romanoff was right, he's wired differently than us, even than her…he's trained to be a loner, in many ways she is too…She's is trying though, that counts for something…If anyone can get Barton to become part of the team, it'll be her."
"Besides…you weren't quite a team player when this all started." Bruce gave Tony a long look.
"I'm adjusting to the idea." Tony growled. "All I'm saying is I don't think I trust him either."
Natasha didn't say anything as she easily lowered herself to sit next to him on the ledge. She didn't share his great affinity for heights, but they didn't bother her. So the precarious perch didn't phase her. Wordlessly she held out a sandwich. His lips twitched into small smile of thanks and she couldn't help but smile slightly in response.
She stared at his profile, watching him methodically chew. He did everything methodically. No wasted movements, no misspent energy, from the way he strung his bow to the way he fought hand to hand. He'd told her once, in Budapest, that Coulson had taught him that.
Right now, he looked exhausted, dark shadows ghosted under his eyes. His normally tan skin was pale, making old scars stand out too sharply. She was worried about him. He wasn't adjusting. To the team or to loosing Coulson.
With a sigh, she reached over to entwine her fingers with his free hand. It wasn't something they did often, show physical affection where prying eyes could see. But she was learning that sometimes it was needed. When he didn't protest, she knew she'd made the right call.
Natasha looked back out over the city, thinking about everything that had happened. So much had changed in the last six months. Even she was a little surprised at how happy she was with most of those changes. Just yesterday, she'd had a moment where she had been able to forget who she used to be. She'd been so happy, she'd whispered excitedly about it late into the night. She hadn't thought about Clint's mood much until later, after he'd left to train in the wee hours of the morning, after waking from yet another nightmare.
"She held me so tightly. She trusted me to protect her and I did…I saved that little girl and it felt so good…and for a minute I forgot about everything else…you know?" Natasha whispered excitedly, tilting her head up on his chest to look at his face.
Clint hummed an affirmative response, his fingers tracking gently through her hair, she felt like purring, it felt so good. He had a pensive look in his eyes, but a small smile quirked his lips. It was the smile that caught her attention, it was far too rare these days.
"What?" She asked, wondering about the small smile. His fingers trailed over her bare shoulder before he responded.
"You're happy." He observed bemusedly.
"In this moment, I am." He answered confidently.
"This moment?" She questioned curiously.
"Isn't that all we can really ask for?" He smiled at her before letting his hands dance out of sight and she didn't notice the latent sadness in his eyes as she giggled and let him roll her over.
"What's wrong?" She ventured eventually, it was time to deal with this, whether he liked it or not.
"Hmm?" He barely took his eyes off the setting sun, his sandwich long since finished.
"You aren't happy here…why?" Blunt was her nature and she knew he both hated and loved it.
"I'm happy." He refuted quietly.
"In this moment?" She challenged, her tone hardening. She heard him sigh.
"What do you want me to do?" He asked tiredly.
"I am trying." Even as he said it, he knew it was a lie. Judging by the narrowing of her eyes, she knew it too.
"No you're not. You hide up here for hours, sneak down for food and then sneak back up before anybody can even notice you're around."
"I'm not hiding." Clint defended sharply.
"Yes you are." Natasha disagreed bluntly. "You're hiding from what's happened."
"Trust me, Nat, there is no hiding from what happened…if there was, I'd be all over that." He laughed a sad little laugh that broke her heart a little.
"You don't have to deal with it alone." She reminded, squeezing the hand she still held in hers.
"But I am alone, Nat." Clint frowned at her. In a fit of hurt anger, she ripped her hand out of his.
"That is a hell of a thing for you to say to me…after everything we've been through."
Clint's grey eyes showed more life than she'd see in months as he turned to argue further.
"But that's just it! What happened with Loki…that was me, just me…none of you were there and none of you could ever understand what it felt like to have no control over anything you said or did."
"You said you didn't remember anything." Her voice got low in her anger.
With a huff, Natasha stood and paced away for a moment.
"I can't just let it go, Nat…I can't…" He added more quietly, staring back over the horizon. If he'd been watching her, he'd have seen her shoulders heave in a sigh.
"No one's asking you to." She replied in an equal tone, moving to sit with him again.
"I killed so many people Tasha, fellow agents…I tried to kill you and all of them," He gestured towards the tower. "So now I'm just supposed to jump on the bandwagon with a bunch of guys I tried to kill? I'm sure they're all just overjoyed about that."
"Nobody blames you." She insisted. You do enough of that yourself. She added silently.
He didn't reply to that, just sighed deeply, watching the sun set behind a skyscraper.
"You're not alone…not while I'm here." She whispered quietly, but firmly. Like we promised in Vietnam. She added silently.
"I know…it's just that this…all of this…is hard…when I came to SHEILD, I felt for the first time like I was wear I belonged…now they look at me like I'm an enemy…I don't fit there anymore, and I don't fit here…"
"You could if you wanted to." She replied with an arched eyebrow. "And you were cleared of any responsibility for what happened…you're not an enemy."
"Tell that to the friends of the people I killed."
"They can go to hell." She spat. "It was not your fault." She felt like a broken record.
He just shook his head in the same self depreciating way he always had when he blamed himself for something. He'd never held himself in high enough regard in her opinion.
"You will always be one of SHIELD's best agents," She started quietly, "What happened, was unfortunate, but it could have happened to anyone, me, Fury, Coulson…"
"But it happened to me." He reminded softly, his tone broken. Had anyone else been present, he never would have allowed such emotion to color his tone, but it was just her, and with her he didn't pretend, and neither did she.
"Yes it did." She conceded, grasping his hand once more, she idly traced her fingers over the light scars on his knuckles. "And you are the strongest person I know, Barton, you always have been. That's why I know you'll find a way to get through this."
"How can you be so sure?" He asked, his stormy eyes watching her fingers trace the old scars.
"Because I need you to get through this…and you've never let me down."
He raised his eyes to hers, searching her dark orbs.
"I need you Clint…or none of what I'm building here matters…without you nothing matters."
"Why is this team so important to you?" He asked quietly, taking her words to heart.
"I did the solo act for a long time…then I met you and you taught me how to be part of a team…then Fury split us up and now I have a chance to be part of a team again…be part of something great. It's a chance to right some old wrongs."
"We already had a team, Nat. Whether we did every assignment together or not, we were a team¸ you, me and Coulson. "
Natasha sighed. She missed Coulson too, but he had wanted this for them, she was sure of it.
"He wanted you on this team. He read you in on it before Fury even sent me under with Stark. He wanted you to be part of this."
"Why? What makes me so important to this team. I'm human, Tasha, just human…that point is painfully obvious."
"Why? Because Loki ambushed you in a secure lab and used magic to take over your mind? Tell me exactly how you could have stopped that, how you could have done anything differently?" She demanded, her tone unyielding.
He stayed silent, staring out into the darkening sky.
"And you wanna know why you're important?" She continued in a more gentle tone. "Because no one sees things like you do…you see the whole picture and not just when we're in a fight…Coulson saw that in you and bred it until you were a tactical genius. He knew you'd be a vital part to this team…you see things no one else does, remember?" She smiled a little, nudging his shoulder.
Clint was silent staring darkly out into the sky.
"If you want to walk away, I'll go with you." She offered quietly, sincerely.
His eyes snapped to hers. He wanted so badly to accept. But that was selfish, so selfish. She wanted this and he had never been good about denying her what she wanted. He couldn't take this from her, not when she was finally learning how to be happy.
"I want to go." He stated honestly, but went on before she could reply, "But I'll stay, if you want to, I'll stay with you Tasha."
Her eyes softened.
"I don't want you to be unhappy, мой ястреб. Not for me, not for anyone."
Clint couldn't help but smile at the Russian endearment. My Hawk. He was hers, had been since Vietnam. Her protector, her lover, her friend and confidant, hers to protect, hers to trust. Her Hawk.
"I'd do anything for you, Tasha…anything…We'll stay."
"Are you sure?"
"No…but you are…and that's been enough for me for a long time now…I'll figure my shit out eventually…I just need you to give me time…and not give up on me."
"Never." She promised fiercely. "As long as you promise not to give up on yourself."
She forced him to meet her eyes and watched the battle take place behind is stormy gaze. He was already halfway there, she knew. Which is why he needed to promise.
"I promise, Мой пламенный паук." He smiled, using his nickname for her. My fiery spider.
She grinned. They would get through this, somehow.
End of Chapter One...love it, hate it, throw flaming torches at it? I do have this whole story finished, so I can make updates pretty frequent if the general public would like me to continue :) To wet your appetite...
"God dammit!" Hawkeye shouted, ripping his night vision goggle from his face and squeezing his eyes closed.
"Hawkeye, status?" the Widow demanded over comms.
"Flash grenade, I can't fucking see!" He snapped, forcing his eyes open and blinking at the black sky, everything was just a compilation of dark blurs.
"Fire!" The mysterious man ordered from his command center. With the Hawk's most valuable asset temporarily out of commission, this was his only chance to catch him unaware.