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"
You guys have been SO patient. I've been working on this tirelessly with the help of my awesome beta Kylen to get this story to where I wanted it. She has been amazing and has been an inspiration in several parts of this story :) She even co-authored one of the chapters! It'll be in an AN when we get to it :) She is literally awesome and practically reads my mind half the time.
If you are new to my stuff, this is the next installment in an increasingly long line of multi-chap fics and one-shots in a universe that I created for the Avengers. It revolves around Clint Barton and various events in his life. If you are curious, check out my profile page to see what I've completed and what I've got planned :)
If this is the first of my stuff that you've clicked into today, then I've got a surprise...I also posted "Milestone: Year Six" this morning! A gift for being so patient with me :)
Thanks to all who reviewed "Year Five": sweetstrawberrysmiles, discordchick, EowynOfGallifrey, Keeter, Reteka Hyuuga, horselover28, ladygris, Sam Mayer, bookworm1517, xx-Forever Yours-xx, CyanB, Fyroni, Susan M.M, VoldieBeth, Cara, bad-seamstress-blues, AlwaysABrandNewDay, TheNightFury, chibi-ringo, authorunable, TheNaggingCube, animexluva13, Panther Moon, snitch-bewitch, Maxiekat, brightlightsandcityscapes, ArabianForest, Tsukinoko1, Strawberrywaltz, Mirabilem Electo, tpt player 5701, Midnite27, WickedBlue, liberated vulcan, chrisfaithalin, Thephoenix1996, and CourtGranger
Your truest friends are the ones who will stand by you in your darkest moments – because they're willing to brave the shadows with you – and in your greatest moments – because they're not afraid to let you shine. ― Nicole Yatsonsky
Clint didn't look over his shoulder when the door to the roof opened. He didn't look over his shoulder when he heard footsteps approaching. He didn't look over when Phil dropped down to sit next to him, either.
"You been up here all night?"
"Since about one," Clint replied with a half shrug.
Phil nodded and was silent for a moment, waiting to see if Clint would volunteer anything else.
He wasn't really surprised when he didn't.
"What was it tonight?"
Clint hadn't come and gotten him up, so it hadn't been one of his guilt-ridden contract dreams. That, of course, still left several options that were just as bad, each in their own way. It could be the night his parents died – uncommon, but understandably upsetting. However, Clint had learned to deal with his parents' death years before Phil ever met him and while he was markedly depressed after that particular nightmare, he didn't wallow in it.
That left two options: a SHIELD mission gone wrong – or his brother Barney.
When Clint didn't immediately respond, Phil took a moment to analyze his expression and his posture. He knew which dream it was immediately.
He'd dreamed of Barney last night.
He didn't do that often. Mercifully, his subconscious rarely dredged up the memories of that fateful night a little over four years ago – the night his brother had stabbed him in the chest and left him for dead. But when it did, it left Clint in a rare state. Coulson had only witnessed the immediate aftermath of a Barney dream twice in the almost three years since Clint had joined SHIELD.
Clint was always a bit of a mess immediately after waking from a nightmare. Coulson had helped him learn to cope with the dreams about his contract days. Clint handled dreams of his parent's car accident just fine on his own. When he dreamed of one of the SHIELD missions that had gone wrong, he usually just needed a few moments to reconnect with reality.
His dreams of Barney were the worst. The betrayal still cut deeply, even after all this time.
After a Barney dream, the normal wild and terrified look that Coulson now associated with one of Clint's nightmares took on a whole new quality of devastation, mixed with a dose of vulnerability. Clint usually made quick tracks away from him after those dreams and returned sometimes hours later with a blank and unaffected expression.
That was how Coulson always knew when he dreamed of Barney, because he could read Clint's expressions better than anyone else alive. He'd know Clint for four months shy of three years, and he'd become somewhat of an expert on knowing exactly what the younger man wasn't saying.
Coulson's favorite expression was the one he usually wore when they were alone. It was relaxed, trusting, and lacking the usual guardedness Clint wore with everyone else. He smiled a lot and laughed more when he wore that expression.
He also had his nightmare expression. It was usually only there for a few seconds immediately after Clint woke. The only time Coulson ever saw it was when they were on a mission together. He hated that expression because it tore at him that he couldn't prevent it. He could protect Clint from a lot, but he couldn't protect him from his dreams.
The rest of his expressions were harder to decipher, because they were all varying forms of the emotionless mask Clint wore 99% of the time. The true indicator of what was really going on behind that mask were his eyes. Those intense blue-grey eyes that could tell you everything and nothing with just a glance.
When in true game-face mode, Clint's eyes were cold, hard, terrifyingly intense, and gave nothing away.
When he was pissed, his eyes flashed with the heat of his anger.
When he was amused, his eyes laughed even when his mouth didn't.
When he was upset or sad, his eyes bled with all the heartbreak the kid had known in his short life.
But what Coulson had seen today was different. Today was his lying face.
When he lied, he was just blank.
The only other time he wore the blank face was after he dreamed of Barney. He was internalizing and pushing it all down so he didn't have to deal with it. Phil had tried, a handful of times, to get Clint to tell him about what had happened between he and Barney. He knew the story, knew that Barney had stabbed him and left him to die. But he didn't know the story behind that story. He didn't know any more than what he had seen in Clint's eyes the one time he'd told Phil what had happened and what he'd seen the two times he'd been there when Clint dreamed of Barney since.
There was so much overwhelming pain and devastation in his young charge's eyes in those moments that Phil didn't have the heart to ask any questions. Just like he didn't have the heart to ask now. He didn't want to be the cause of that look in Clint's eyes. He didn't want to dredge up old, still-bleeding wounds and poke at them. Not until Clint was ready to bring it up himself.
So instead he just simply asked,
Clint nodded. He would be fine. He always was after dreaming of Barney. It just took a little longer than normal to get his head on straight. Like tonight. He'd been up here for almost three hours and had been planning on being up here for at least two more.
Ever since he'd been pulled from general training, Coulson had pushed their morning training time back to 6 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. Clint had embraced the change.
Today, he'd needed that extra couple of hours. He needed it to deal with dreaming of Barney in the only way he knew how. Internalize and ignore, because it hurt too damn much to deal with and acknowledge.
When he looked back now, he realized Barney had stopped being a brother to him long before he put the knife in his chest. But at the time, it had blindsided him. He'd been so naive and oblivious to who his brother really was, he hadn't believed Barney would really hurt him. He had clung to that belief up until the moment he saw his brother's eyes, a second before the blade sliced into him.
The betrayal had hurt as badly as the knife and had continued hurting long after the wound had healed and turned to a scar. It still hurt, even now, hurt so badly that Clint couldn't even talk to Phil about it. Couldn't bring himself to dwell on it long enough to take the comfort he knew Phil would probably offer. He ignored it instead, pushed it down deeply so that he could pretend it wasn't there.
That was what he did now. He internalized the pain and the heartbreak. He buried it deep and forced himself to ignore it, as he had for the past three hours as he stared blankly out into the night and thought about anything but his brother.
Coulson just sat next to him silently, probably already knowing exactly what was going through Clint's head and choosing to let him be instead of forcing the issue. Clint knew it was only because it was Barney. Coulson didn't have a problem forcing any other issues if he thought it was in Clint's best interest for his mental, physical or emotional health.
But this was Barney. Clint couldn't deal with it so Coulson didn't make him.
Instead, Coulson asked what song he was listening to and Clint offered him one of his earbuds. And they sat in silence, just listening to Clint's iPod for the next two hours until they headed downstairs to get ready for their morning run.
Somehow that was enough for Clint. It made it a little better for now.
And Coulson, Coulson knew that one day Clint would be ready to face what happened between him and Barney. Phil would be there when he was.
"How can you even think that?" Clint scoffed as they started their post-run stretching routine. "It would be Fury every time."
"You honestly think if Director Fury had to face down a real Balrog that he'd win." Phil arched an eyebrow doubtfully at the claim.
"Have you seen the glare that man can deliver when he really puts his mind to it?"
"Not with nearly the frequency you have," Phil allowed with a smirk that earned him a half-hearted glare in return.
"Well, speaking as an expert on being on the receiving end of one of his glares, the Balrog wouldn't stand a chance. Fury is the reason they have a phrase about looks being able to kill."
"Are you saying you're a more formidable opponent than a Balrog? Since you've survived the glare many times." Phil laughed as they moved away from the track.
"You kidding? I'd waste a Balrog's ass before it even had a chance to light up its fire."
"I think it's always on fire."
"What the hell are you two talking about?"
They both looked up at the sound of Agent Todd Bryan's voice. Before Coulson could explain, Clint piped up.
"Fury versus mythical creatures. So far we have him taking down an Orc, Uruk-hai, Balrog, and a Nazgûl but losing to an elf."
"Why an elf?"
"Bow and arrow, duh."
"We agreed to disagree on that one," Coulson added with a slight smirk.
Todd still looked a little confused –and more than a little disturbed. Phil figured it might be time to explain.
"I got him the Lord of the Rings books for Christmas, and he's read them twice since then."
"You do realize they made movies about those books. Good movies."
Clint shrugged. He didn't have time to go see movies. Books, books he could fit into lulls in his life. Like when he was on a ten-hour flight to a different country and needed a break from mission prep. He liked books.
Coulson looked at his watch.
"I need to get going."
"What's this meeting about anyway?" Clint asked as the three of them walked back towards the entrance to the building.
"A possible mission for you. Fury and I have to decide if it merits taking you out of the rotation."
Clint nodded in understanding. If an assignment was slated to take more than a few days, Phil and Fury always discussed it before it was assigned to Clint. He was SHIELD's top commodity and they didn't like putting him on assignments with long timelines unless absolutely necessary.
"So I'll leave you in Agent Bryan's capable hands and I'll come find you when the meeting is over."
Clint nodded and Coulson pushed his way back into the building.
"So what'll it be? Sparring? Obstacle course? Just what do you want me to kick your ass in today?"
Clint smirked at Agent Bryan. On the rare times that Coulson couldn't be there to handle a part of Clint's training, Agent Bryan was the regular stand-in. He was the only other agent on base that keep up with Clint to any degree, and he was also the only other agent Clint was comfortable enough with to take training tips from. Having been Clint's general trainer for the first year and a half of his career at SHIELD, Agent Bryan knew his abilities and training needs almost as well as Phil.
Of course, the only other time Phil had assigned anyone else, it had resulted in Clint half-drowning in an anti-interrogation room. Now, neither of them could real bring themselves to trust anyone else.
"None of the above. I've a surprise for you today. Come on."
Todd took off in a jog and Clint followed. They rounded the edge of the building and the open training field came into view. It was usually open at least. Today it had a huge structure spread across it. There were brick walls, poles, blocks of concrete, one-story roof tops, and other structures spaced across the field.
"What the hell is this?" Clint asked, though he was already intrigued.
"This is a brand-new parkour training course. Phil tells me you do shit like this all the time on missions and I'm phasing it into my general training program. I figured I'd give you the first shot at it. We just got it finished yesterday."
"This is awesome, nobody's done it yet?"
"Nope, you're the first, so this is your chance to set the course record and crush everyone else's chance before they even know they have a chance."
Clint laughed already stretching out his shoulders.
"Bet you I could do it in under four minutes."
"Your first time? Twenty bucks says you won't do it in under five."
"Easiest twenty bucks I've ever made." Clint smirked at the trainer. "Rules?"
"You have to go over or through every structure, no going around. You can touch the ground if you need to. It's arranged like a course, so just follow the natural flow of the obstacles."
Clint nodded and moved to what seemed to be the starting line. When Bryan didn't correct him, he settled into a stance.
Todd moved to stand next to him, pulling a stopwatch from his pocket.
Coulson snapped his file closed as he walked through the training gym. He pushed the door open and immediately headed to his left. Todd had told him about the parkour course when he'd first started designing it. Phil had thought it was a great idea, another way for Clint to train in a way that was most beneficial for him.
Clint always did better when he had a goal. In this case, a time to beat.
It's why he loved sparring. He loved the prospect of being a victor. He loved running because he always wanted to get faster. He loved marksman training because he could always make the shot more difficult, and he could always shave milliseconds off his time to hit different sequences of targets. He hated calisthenics because it was so repetitive, but Coulson had started challenging him to do more, faster and he'd come around.
Clint liked a challenge.
Phil rounded the building and smirked.
Todd was running along the side of the course, bills of what looked like money fanned out in his hand, jeering at Clint as he moved expertly through the course.
They neared the end of the course and Clint went rolling across the finish line at the same time Todd pressed a button on his stopwatch.
Phil laughed when Todd made a sound halfway between a cheer and a groan. They both looked up at the sound of Phil's laugh.
"Phil! Your boy is taking all my money!"
"Looks like you two are training hard." Phil couldn't hold back a grin as he moved across the grassy expanse between them.
"He's kicking this course's ass," Todd praised.
"Well, this I need to see."
Phil shot a grin at Clint who looked extremely proud.
"This is mine." Clint snatched the fan of bills out of Todd's hand and held them out to Phil. "Wanna hold my winnings for me?"
"I'd be glad to."
Clint handed over the money and jogged toward the start. Phil and Todd followed more slowly.
"That kid is ridiculous." Todd shook his head in awe. "First time through the course, he did it in 3:48, didn't touch the ground once. He's gotten down to 2:28. I bet him he couldn't do it in under 2:30 and of course he did. I think he's hustling me."
Phil smirked, studying the course as they walked.
"He can do it in 2:20," Phil decided.
"No way," Todd denied. "He's doing everything the absolute best he can and he's holding steady around that 2:30 mark, he got a good jump off of that wall, that's why he got down to 2:28 this time."
"What was your last bet for?"
"Double or nothing he does it in 2:20 or less."
"You might as well give me the money now, Phil."
"We'll see." Phil smirked again. "Can I tell him something really quick?"
"Go ahead, it won't help."
Phil's smirk widened and he jogged to where Clint was draining the last of a blue Gatorade at the start of the course.
"What are you two cooking up over there?" Clint asked suspiciously.
"I just bet him that you could do the course in 2:20."
Clint arched an eyebrow.
"I don't know, Phil, I've been nailing all the transitions and shaved off as many seconds as I can."
"That third wall. When you get over it, do you look before you jump to the next structure?"
"Yeah, I have to gauge the distance."
"How many times have you done the course?"
"Seven or eight."
Coulson smiled slightly. Only Clint could do a physically-taxing course like this seven or eight times and only get faster.
"Then you know the distance now. Same with all the other jumps. You can get down to 2:20, I know you can."
Clint still looked doubtful.
"Would I have bet him a hundred bucks if I didn't think you could do it?"
Clint's eyes widened.
"A hundred bucks? Are you crazy?"
Clint shook his head, but there was pride in his eyes, pride that Coulson was so confident in him.
"Fine. I'll give it a shot."
"Good man," Phil praised, nodding at Todd.
"Ready?" Todd yelled from where he stood.
Phil ran alongside the course as Clint moved through it. The kid was an expert at this. He was up and over walls so quickly he looked like he was flying, weaving his body through gaps like they were ten feet wide instead of four, and exploding out of jumps like the surfaces were springs instead of solid.
Phil had one heart-stopping moment when Clint was hanging off the backside of a wall like a monkey, with a window opening as his next target on the next structure. Clint pushed off his perch, balling up and twisting his body even as he passed cleanly through the window and caught himself on a drain pipe on the next structure. Phil had been sure Clint was going to crack his head open on the window frame. He should have known better.
Finally, Clint was sprinting across the final rooftop, and flipping acrobatically into the air to land on the top of the final wall. He leapt, catching his hands on the first of the last series of scaffold bars. He folded his body, threading through the crossed bars, hooking his knees on the next ones, and dropping backwards to flip under them. He released and momentum carried him up, to catch the next X and then he propelled his body through the final opening and dropped the ten feet to the ground, tucking into a roll over the finish line.
"Time?" Coulson demanded of Todd, who was already shaking his head in disbelief.
"2:19:56," he stated with a scoff. "You fucking played me. You ran game on me, Phil, admit it."
"I did no such thing, I just knew that he could do better 2:20. Hell, give him a few weeks and he'll probably get even faster."
Coulson clapped Clint on the shoulder proudly. Clint couldn't help but grin in response.
"But we'll have to wait to test that theory, Clint, we've got an assignment."
"We?" Clint wasn't quite able to keep the hopeful tone out of his voice.
"Yep, I'm going with you as tactical support on location."
Clint didn't even try to hold back his grin this time.
"What do you know about the Croatian War of Independence?" Phil asked as he dropped a mission brief on the table in front of Clint. A bottle of blue Gatorade and a Hershey's candy bar followed a moment later. Clint immediately tore open the chocolate and tossed a piece in his mouth.
"Fought from '91 to '95 between Croatia and Serbia and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army. Sparked when Croatia tried to leave Yugoslavia, but Serbia said 'no-no'. They wanted to expand "Greater Serbia" and that included conquering Croatia. When push came to shove, Croatia managed to pull it out in for good in '95 with Operation Flash and Operation Storm. There was a lot of fall out and the economy was in the crapper but they've been pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps ever since," Clint replied easily.
Coulson smiled proudly.
"Somebody actually did their homework on wars fought for independence that I assigned four months ago."
"Hey, I always do the homework you assign," Clint scoffed. At Coulson's withering look he quickly amended, "Okay, so not always but I did do that one. Even though the fact that I still have homework as a twenty year old, soon to be twenty one year old, is ridiculous."
Clint rolled his eyes.
"What's the mission?"
Coulson motioned for him to open his file and Clint did so immediately.
"Who's this handsome little bastard?"
"Let me introduce you to Josif Andrić. He's ex-Serbian military and he's part of a sect that didn't like the way the war went. We've got word that he's planning to make a move on Stjepan Mesić. He's the…"
"The current president of Croatia," Clint finished knowingly, studying the picture of Andrić closely. "He's gonna be in the open?"
"He's leaving for a trip to Podgorica, Montenengro in three days to formally accept the honorary citizenship they awarded him last week. He's going by car to the airport and taking a private jet to Podgorica, in spite of the typical March weather. That's Andrić's window – either that or when Mesić gets back seven days later."
"What's Andrić's play? Assassination?"
"We're not exactly sure, but we have confirmed intel that he's on the ground in Zagreb."
"What's our mission?"
"Find him and stop him by any means necessary."
"No prejudice this time?"
Coulson smiled slightly. Clint actually sounded disappointed.
"If we confirm that he's going try and eliminate the president and start a whole new war, then you bet your ass we'll take the bastard down with prejudice. Until then, you'll have to settle for just taking him down."
"I can do that." Clint's face lit up with a smirk this time. "When do we leave?"
"Wheels up in thirty."
"I haven't even had breakfast yet," Clint complained, though he was already flipping his file closed and running through his packing list in his head.
"I'll grab you something from the mess hall and meet you in the hangar," Coulson promised.
"Am I flying?"
"Not this time, our chauffeur is dropping us off and then picking up a team in Austria and then swinging back for us."
"Fine, and I swear to God if you get me one of those dehydrated fruit granola things again I will harm you. That shit was disgusting."
"It was healthy."
"My point exactly."
"So you'd rather some high-protein oatmeal?"
"Damn it, Phil, now I've lost my appetite."
Clint moved around his room in just a pair of black cargo pants, hair still dripping from his military-quick shower. He tossed his latest novel in his book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, into his bag and then tossed his favorite Desert Eagles in on top of it. He bundled up fresh t-shirts, an extra pair of pants, boxers, a pair of athletic shorts, and socks, lots of socks, and crammed them in with the book and the weapons.
His combat knife, something he'd taken off a guy in Romania, was already sheathed at his back. He wasn't terribly fond of the knife's balance, but it was the best knife he'd come across and he didn't have much time to go shopping.
He pulled a t-shirt on and shrugged into his layered grey zip-up hoodie and black jacket. A glance at his beside clock said he had exactly two minutes to get to the hangar.
He zipped his bag closed with a snap, slung his quiver over his shoulder and started searching frantically for his boots. He spied one sticking out from under his bed. He went to his hands and knees, snatching the wayward footwear and hooking his bag over his shoulder. He crammed his iPod into his back pocket and started hopping towards the door on one foot, pulling one boot on while the other hung by its laces from his teeth.
Foot finally encased, he left the boot untied and pulled his door open. He hopped on his other foot down the hall and got his second boot on in the same fashion he had his first.
That was when he remembered his sniper rifle sitting happily in its case on his bed.
"Son of a bitch."
He hurried the six feet back to his door, waited impatiently for the palm reader to confirm his identity and unlock the door, and then rushed back into the room. He snagged his sniper rifle case by the strap and looped it over his head as he ran back out of the room, nearly tripping over his shoe laces as he went.
He got to the hangar in time to see that Coulson wasn't even there yet. With a sigh that was partly relief, partly frustration, he made his way onto their jet, nodding a greeting at their pilot. He had just finished setting down his bag and pulling off his rifle and his quiver when Coulson strolled up the ramp. Clint sat to tie his shoes, all the while smirking evilly at Phil.
"Still late. What was that you told me when I was late for morning training that one time?"
"One time?" Coulson scoffed.
"If you're not early, you're late. That's what you said."
"And were you early?"
"You can't prove otherwise because you were late."
"You're about one smart-ass remark away from not getting what's in this bag."
Coulson held up a small white bag and Clint was immediately hit with a delicious smell.
"Is that a bagel?"
"Yep, complete with cream cheese and butter to add at your discretion."
"Plain, no extra shit?"
"You think I don't know you at all?"
"Extra cream cheese?"
"Again, you think I don't know you?"
"From that place on 56th?"
"What do you think I am, a miracle worker?" Coulson defended. Clint looked vaguely apologetic. "Of course it's from the place on 56th."
"You're the best," Clint crowed as Phil tossed him the bag. "How did you get this?"
"I know a guy."
"Of course you do," Clint shook his head in a mixture of awe and appreciation.
"Don't say I never did anything for you." Coulson pointed at him with a firm look and moved to greet their pilot.
Clint smiled after him.
That was one thing he could never say about Phil Coulson.
End of Chapter One
And we are underway once again! Don't forget to go check out Year Six!
You can, as always, expect daily updates!
Many of you know how much I love reviews...for those of you that don't...they make me really, really happy :D
Here's your preview of Chapter 2
"So, I think it's about time to get some food. You know a place?" Phil asked after a look at his watch.
"Nope," Clint replied simply.
Phil blinked at him, but Clint only shrugged.
"What? I've never been to Croatia before, much less Zagreb."