Title: Dive In
Rating: T (language)
Fandom: Avengers (movieverse)
Characters:Tony, Clint, Natasha Clint/Natasha undertones
Spoilers: Takes place after the movie.
Summary: The bottom line was that Clint was a lot of things, but he wasn't a swimmer. And he really wasn't a spy.
Notes: First, thank you readers, reviewers, general well-wishers and Tripp3235 for being awesome. Second, this is the first "official" part of what may end up being a three to four story arc. It's kind of like a prologue, because the next part will be much longer. And likely, so will the one after that. There are references to the other Avenger stories I've written, as I tend to think of all of them as existing within my own mini-universe, but none of them are necessary to read before you read this one. But hey, if you want to read them... I won't mind. Thanks again and enjoy!
"I still don't believe it," Tony said, standing at the edge and looking down with a wry shake of his head.
"Neither do I," Natasha echoed, but instead of looking down, her head was turned to the side. She'd been staring at Clint when she'd said it, a slight smile playing at the corners of her lips.
"This was a very bad idea," was all Clint had to offer.
"It's perfectly safe," Steve said, hoping he sounded reassuring.
He didn't. At least, he didn't to Clint. This was wrong, and he couldn't prove it, but he knew that, somehow, Natasha was behind this. He supposed he should just be happy they were still on speaking terms, it had been tense for a few days after Hill ordered him to come in, but it didn't last long. They whole incident with Bruce hadn't helped much either, but that was the norm between them; they got mad and then they got over it.
"Come on," Tony bellowed, clapping Clint loudly on the back and positively delighted to see him flinch. "You can do this."
"I have done this," Clint assured him, relaxing some as he'd come to realize Tony wasn't about to give him a literal push.
"Once," Natasha added.
"Once was all I needed to be qualified," Clint said.
"And do you think that was really sufficient?" Tony asked, pretending to be serious. "Practically speaking, shouldn't you be as proficient at this as you are at everything else?"
"Shut up," Clint snipped, but it was half-hearted at best. His eyes were still fixed on the surface below.
"He has a point," Natasha said, really enjoying this way too much.
"No, he doesn't," Clint returned. He should have seen this coming. He should have known. For years now she'd been breathing down his neck about this very thing, which he'd gotten very good at dodging.
"You're letting fear cloud your judgment. It's just -"
"Don't tell me it's just water," Clint said, for the first time tearing his eyes off of the pool. "People have been telling me that it's just water my whole life. You in particular."
"Well, I'm right."
"Aren't you always?"
"Do you two want us to leave?" Tony interjected, partially because there wasn't a conversation that he didn't feel the need to be a part of. "Oh, is this foreplay or something?"
"Tony," Steve muttered, turning his head away.
"Generally, yes," Natasha continued, ignoring the others entirely. Especially ignoring the snort of laughter Tony let out at her inadvertent answer to his question. "I am. Which is why you should listen to me."
"Generally you're not telling me to risk my life."
"Not true, but this is safe," Natasha argued. "I'm here. Steve's here."
"I'm here," Tony added.
"If you get into trouble," she continued, "we'll -"
"Rescue me?" Clint finished. "Yeah, no thanks."
"Well, I think we're about done," Tony said to Steve, over Natasha and Clint's continued argument.
"Yeah," Steve agreed. "I don't think this is going to happen today."
"Now you're being as pigheaded as Stark," Natasha countered. "This isn't about rescuing you. It's about keeping you from needing to be rescued."
"Oh no," Tony said with a shake of his head, still talking to Steve. "It's happening."
"If I ever need to be in the water," Clint reasoned, "I'll be fine."
"Good to know," Tony said, and with that, gave him a firm push forward.
Clint hadn't been expecting it, which was the only reason he fell in the first place. Normally he had better reflexes and balance than that, but he'd let Natasha distract him just enough to let his guard down and had to pay the price.
Instinct kicked in, reluctantly, and he'd made his way to the surface, slowed down by the weight of his clothes.
"That wasn't funny," Clint said as soon as he'd pulled himself up onto the side of the pool, greeted by three amused grins. His heart was racing and his breath was ragged, but none of it was from fatigue and he worked hard not to let it show.
"It was a little funny," Tony argued.
"Here," Steve offered, reaching out a hand and hauling him up.
"You couldn't let me change first," Clint snapped as he wrung out his shirt.
"As I've learned, from my extensive self-defense courses," Tony answered smugly, "it's all about surprise."
"I think what I actually said was hire a bodyguard," Clint returned as he bent over to undo his boots.
"Couldn't hurt," Natasha agreed and even Steve, who had witnessed more than a few of Tony's lessons, had to laugh.
"What else did you say..." Tony continued. "That's right. No one's down until they're down."
"What's that - " Clint started to ask, but too late as Tony had already pushed him back into the water.
He was slower to surface this time, but he still made it. This time the only one who looked amused was Tony. Steve offered to help him again, but this time Clint waved him off and exited on his own. He was livid, and it showed, and for once he didn't care that his emotions were so easily read. He was past caring about that and far more concerned about the shake in his hands.
Without another word Clint sloshed his way to a nearby bench and wrenched off his shirt before starting, again, on his boots.
"So," Tony said, standing before him, "it was a good first attempt."
Clint didn't even bother to answer. He just glared up at him before finally turning to stare at Natasha. "Why did you tell him?"
"I didn't," she protested, offering him a towel which he waved off. Natasha shrugged at his pigheaded refusal. She was used to it.
"She didn't," Tony agreed. "I actually figured this one out on my own."
"How?" Clint asked as he ran his hands through his hair, shaking loose as much water as possible.
"For starters, you've never been in either pool."
"Also, you are ridiculously qualified in everything SHIELD has to offer... unless it's in the water."
"Maybe we should start in the lap pool?" Steve suggested, still trying to make this work. Like Natasha, he thought swimming was a necessary skill. "It's shallower. If you panic -"
"I don't panic."
"Sorry," Steve conceded. "If you wanted, you could stand."
"If he can stand, he's not swimming," Tony returned.
"I don't need to know how to swim," Clint said.
"Okay," Tony said, hands up in mock surrender. "Fine. No swimming for you."
"Know what I'll do?" Tony continued. "I'll help you out. I bet, with some easy modifications, I can add some nifty flotation devices to that pretty little black suit of yours. Maybe one of those inner tube things. With a duck. We can call you Duck Man."
"You know," Clint said, standing as he spoke and removing his waterlogged pants before walking away, "I don't have to take this."
"Barton," Tony said. "Put some clothes on. You're scandalizing Rodgers."
Steve could only shake his head and turn away. Honestly, he didn't know what was worse. When Tony and Clint got along, they ripped apart everyone around them. When they didn't, they went after one another.
"Oh, come back," Tony called, but Clint kept walking. "Nice underwear," he yelled instead, to which Clint flipped him off before pushing open the door to the locker room.
"So, is this the kind of unity you were hoping to achieve?" Steve asked Tony, not bothering to hide his disappointment in how things had gone.
"He's overreacting," Tony argued. "Come on, Natasha. Take my side. Tell the Captain that your boyfriend is overreacting."
Natasha looked as if she was going to say something, but didn't. She just shook her head, gave the door Clint had exited through one quick look, and then left.
"He'll be back," Tony said to Steve.
The top ten floors of Stark Tower were being converted with relative ease into a headquarters for the Avengers, more or less. There was still much to do, but it was coming along nicely. Tony, of course, still had the entire penthouse to himself; he wasn't about to change that. The floor directly below his place had become a makeshift command center. And the three floors below that were made into separate living quarters, so that those Tony invited to stay, could, if they wanted.
After making his way to these new living quarters, Tony stopped outside the door he needed, hesitated for only a moment, then knocked.
Clint answered, glared at him for a minute before he shook his head, and then walked away from the door and back inside, leaving the door open for Tony to follow.
"Haven't seen you for a few days," Tony began conversationally, shutting the door following Clint into the living room.
"I've been busy. I still work for SHIELD, remember?"
"That's right," Tony said as his eyes cast about the room. "Got a mission coming up?"
"Still no handler?" Tony asked.
Clint sighed and dropped his head. "She's going out and don't ask. I can't tell you what or where or... I can't tell you."
Tony nodded and realized they were both still standing. Clint had let him in because Tony owned the place, but he wasn't about to let him get comfortable.
"Do you know?" Tony prodded.
"I know enough."
"I thought the two of you were kind of a team," Tony continued and Clint crossed his arms. "That you worked together or something."
"Sometimes we do. I'm not needed on this particular mission. I have my strengths, she has hers. Sometimes the two don't mesh."
"So, you don't mesh? I thought for certain that you did."
"Tony, if you want to talk about the inner workings of SHIELD, you need to take it up with Fury. There's nothing I can tell you."
"I'm sure there is plenty you could tell me if I was asking."
"Are you asking?"
"Not today," Tony admitted with a smile. "I'm not trying to get you in trouble. Are you going somewhere?" he asked, spotting the bag on the chair.
"I'll be on the Helicarrier for a few days."
"On the water? Or... over? Don't tell me, I'll assume on."
"I don't need to learn how to swim," Clint sighed, finally sitting down which Tony took as his cue to do the same. "I've worked with SHIELD for ten years now and it's never been an issue. It isn't an issue."
"And before that... You weren't conceived in a lab somewhere," Tony said. And then, suddenly his eyes lit up as he added, "Were you?"
"No," Clint laughed and much of the tension left the room. "I was just... I was around."
"Sounds like a good story."
"I'm not sure about that," Clint said, still with a smile.
"Is it better than the one about why you won't get in the water?"
"You're not going to let up, are you?"
"To be fair," Tony persisted, "you are the one pushing Bruce to learn to fight."
"And you agreed with me."
"I still do," Tony continued. "But, isn't it kind of... I don't know... hypocritical for you to expect someone else to just get over their issues when you won't do the same?"
Clint ran a hand over his eyes as he shook his head, mulling it over. He knew he could just tell Tony that it wasn't going to happen, that under no circumstance would he voluntarily get into the water, but knowing Tony this wasn't going to just go away. He would persist. Possibly with Steve's help. Definitely with Tasha's. That really left him little choice.
"If I do this," Clint began, holding up a hand to delay Tony's response, "I want it understood that no one is to push me before I'm ready, okay?"
"That means you, Tony. Don't push me into the pool again. Ever."
"Got it. No pushing."
"Also, I want a qualified instructor. Not you."
"Steve is plenty qualified. Will he do?"
"Yes," Clint nodded, expecting as much.
"And now are you going to tell me what kind of horrible freak accident in the water left you unable to even use a bathtub?"
"There was no... " he stammered, disturbed by how close Tony had jokingly come to the truth. "There was nothing."
"Why don't you tell me and then I'll decided for myself."
"Fine," Clint sighed. "When I was younger... a fortune teller told me that I would drown."
Tony watched and waited and then waited some more, certain there was more, but when there wasn't, "That's it?"
"Some lady with a crystal ball -"
"Tarot cards, actually."
"Cards then," Tony amended, "she tells you you're going to drown and..."
"And, yeah. That's it. Honestly, I never liked the water much to begin with but after that... it stuck."
"Huh," Tony said as he got to his feet.
They made a tentative arrangement to begin after Clint returned, but after that there really wasn't much more to say. Ten minutes after Tony left, Natasha knocked on Clint's door with a simple, "Ready?"
Clint nodded, grabbed his bag and they were on their way.
"Nervous?" she asked as she navigated the streets, five minutes into their ride. She didn't need to say more. Clint knew she was asking about being back on the Helicarrier. He'd only been back once since the incident, and it hadn't been a long stay.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" he deflected, knowing she wouldn't push back. He'd tell her if it was a problem, something she'd never ask on her own.
"Not if you know what's good for you," she returned with a smile that allowed them to settle back into a comfortable silence.
"You'll like this," Clint began, fittingly as they crossed a bridge. "I'm going to learn to swim."
"I know," Natasha said. "Tony told me."
"That was quick."
"Met him on the elevator."
"Well, I'm glad he didn't just broadcast it to the building."
"I wouldn't put it past him," she laughed.
The ride was short, but once they'd arrived, Clint didn't seem to want to leave the car. Natasha waited with him, knowing he'd get out after a minute or two. Finally, when it became clear he wasn't going to budge, she knew she had to let him off the hook.
"You can skip this one," she offered, resting her hand on top of his. "I understand -"
"No," he interrupted. "It's not... I want to tell you something and I'd rather do it before we get inside and everyone is everywhere and... "
Clint didn't need to finish, she knew. They had no privacy inside of SHIELD. Everything they said was potentially monitored. Every move they made was watched. It's how they'd gotten so good at not speaking.
"I need you to come back this time, Tasha." Instinctively, she withdrew her hand, but that didn't dissuade him. "I know we don't talk about this, especially before..."
"I'm leaving tonight," she said, talking over him and nearly angry. They didn't talk about this because it wasn't necessary, Natasha knew, she already knew, and it was distracting. It was unnecessary, and distracting, and exactly what she didn't need to focus on at the moment.
"...but that was before and now..."
Natasha turned away from him and pressed down her anger. This wasn't like Clint. This was a clear indicator that something was wrong. So many little things about how he'd been acting lately had been adding up, but this was something entirely different.
"I'm not sure I can keep doing this."
"What?" she asked reluctantly.
"I'm tired of picking and choosing what to tell people. It feels like I've been lying so long I don't know how to tell the truth."
"Is this about..." Natasha began, feeling like it was suddenly clicking into place. "It is. You couldn't tell him why, could you? You couldn't tell him why you hate the water so much, so you made something up. Clint," she said with a bit of a laugh, "it's okay. You don't have to tell everyone everything they want to know about you, just because they ask." She paused, keeping her tone light and hoping to get some form of concession from him. "So, you made up some story. It's no big deal."
"I did make up some story, kind of," he admitted, before looking her eyes. "The same one I told you."
"The fortune teller?" she asked in surprise. "That never happened?"
"It happened, but it's not the real story. It's not really why."
Natasha waited, the question poised on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn't do it. She couldn't. Years of training told her it wasn't her business unless he chose to make it her business. But mostly, she was hurt. He never lied to her. About anything.
"You don't want to know?"
"I don't have time to play games, Clint," she returned, getting out the car and quickly walking round to take her bag from the trunk.
"I'm sorry I lied," he said as he joined her, taking his own bag out quickly before she slammed the lid shut.
"It was years ago," she dismissed, walking briskly towards the entrance.
"I'm still sorry."
"If you didn't want to tell me, then you shouldn't have said anything," Natasha snapped, suddenly wheeling on him as she came to a halt. "Silence I understand. I can respect it."
"No," he argued. "I tried. I tried and you wouldn't let up."
"I've never asked you why. About anything. Not since..."
"No, but you've never had a problem asking why not," Clint fired back at her. "And you wouldn't let it go. I had to say something to you to get you to stop and I wasn't ready for the truth."
"And now you are."
"Good for you," she spat out, turning to go again.
"Don't you want to know?" he asked, now just as angry as she was as he was once more following in her wake. "Don't you care?"
"I care," she said, stopping and turning to face him again. "I'm just confused. I don't understand what's going on right now. What's gotten into you?"
"I don't like what we're being asked to do."
Natasha looked him in the eyes and nodded. "SHIELD," she said and his look confirmed it. Finally, they'd gotten there and she understood what was really going on with him. He wasn't a spy.
"It doesn't feel right," he persisted.
Clint visibly relaxed with her answer, and Natasha knew it wasn't just because she'd agreed with him, but that he'd also been worried it had all been in his head. That's what doubt did.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do," he admitted.
"You may not have to do anything."
"Eventually I will. You will too. They'll make us choose."
"But not today," she shrugged, her eyes darting to the deck and back again in one smooth movement. "See that?"
"Yeah," Clint answered without taking a look for himself. They're arrival had been noted.
"We need to get inside. People will talk."
"They already talk."
Natasha smiled and nudged him in the shoulder playfully. Clint went with her, but he was clearly reluctant.
"I won't be long," she assured him, another breech of their personal protocol. "We'll talk then. About everything."
Natasha didn't answer. No answer meant no commitment, but Clint seemed satisfied just the same. They walked the rest of the way in silence, side by side.
It wasn't until they'd reached the entrance that he leaned in close, touching her gently on the back, and whispered in her ear, "Just come back."