A mini-fic written for the cottoncandy_bingo prompt "running out of time."
Feedback is always appreciated!
She feels shuttered while he's gone, when SHIELD had already written him off, let him fall under the category of "acceptable losses." To them, Clint Barton is as good as dead, nothing more than a walking corpse that hadn't realized it yet. She wants to scream, to howl at them, to curse their names and kill everything that stands between her and her partner.
It's as if she can see the sands trickling down in her hourglass, every moment, every grain of sand one closer to the end of everything good.
He means (she refuses to use the past tense, no, not yet, no) too much to her, and she's an idiot (stupid stupid stupid) for letting it go that far, for letting him dig into her and wind himself around her heart.
The worst part is that she doesn't even realize it until he's gone, so far gone, far beyond her reach.
She'd been managing her mission handily, just like she always does. And even if things tend to go smoother with him by her side, covering her back, she doesn't need him.
She just wants him (needs him craves him lo . . . no, she can't, won't think that word, not now).
When Coulson whispers those three terrible words in her ear, his voice tinny through the speaker, her heart drops, her stomach bottoms out, and she really wants to hit something.
She volunteers her erstwhile captors for the job.
She tries not to think about him as she carries out her orders, she tries not to let herself get wrapped up in what it will mean if she fails. She channels the overwhelming sense of urgency into her work, pretending for as long as she can that every second is not one step closer to the end of hope and the shattering of her chances for a life beyond all of this.
She falters, occasionally.
She sees him everywhere aboard the helicarrier – in the long, metal corridors, in the corners of rooms, in the extra coffee mug in her quarters, even the furniture of the briefing room. His presence is so thick in her mind that it permeates every surface of the place that she occasionally inhabits with her partner, with Clint.
Even his name hurts.
Reality comes crashing down around her after Banner . . . changes, and she indulges her urge for self pity, crying silently against the wall while she catches her breath and tries to wipe the image of the Hulk's green roar from her mind. No matter what happens now, that is going to stay with her, haunt her dreams for a long while.
She picks herself up and dusts herself off, though, when Fury's voice comes through the comm. She's kind of disgusted with herself at how readily she had let herself start to hope that maybe, just maybe the reports were wrong, the videos were wrong; he was really fine, just on a deep cover operation or something, because Nick Fury is still breathing and how else would Hawkeye ever miss a shot?
But his eyes aren't his own.
She has to fight him with every part of herself, using up all the reserves she has left just to stay alive, and she's never realized before that as much as she's held pieces of herself back from him, he's done the same to her. If he weren't actively trying to kill her, she would be impressed with this new side of the man, with the way he moved and struggled against her, that there are things she doesn't know about him still, years on.
She doesn't know exactly how she wins, can't pinpoint the moment where everything turned around and the tables were no longer balanced, but she likes to think that the part inside him that was still Clint played a big part in it.
She sits beside him until he wakes up.
She watches him struggle to level out and hands him a cup of water, remembering, knowing in her bones what it feels like to be there, strapped to a table and uncertain of more than just where her loyalties lie, questioning everything, even who she is. She's been stripped to the core and sewn back together again often enough to know that he will be okay if he lets himself, just like she knows she'll be right there with him every step of the way.
Sometime in between the talk of debts unpaid and the shackles of necessity, he takes her hand in his and squeezes, hard, and she feels the grains of time begin to slow.
There isn't time for them, not now, maybe not ever again if they aren't successful today, but he is fighting at her side and she at his, and there's never been anything in her life more comforting than the trust they lay in each other.
If she must die, this is the way she wants to go.
At the end of it all, after gods surrender and metal men fall from the sky and all the miracles she wouldn't let herself hope for actually happen, after all of it, they, the whole group of them, go out to dinner.
There isn't anything to talk about, not after the small talk required to negotiate food and seating arrangements, but the silence isn't uncomfortable any more than the exhaustion is, rooted as it is in the deep, sure knowledge that they have saved not just themselves and the city, but the entire world.
It's a feeling akin to peace.
Clint props his leg up on her seat, rests his foot against her side, and she feels connected again, attached to the world once more. It should be terrifying that so little can mean so much, but she finds she doesn't really mind at all, not now, maybe not ever again.
There's a glimmer of uncertainty though, residual ambiguity left over from unsettling interrogations, and she wants to know, needs to know that he's feeling all of this the same as her. She touches his knee to get his attention, the barest tap below the level of the table and away from prying eyes. She meets his eyes. He smiles at her, a tiny crook at the side of his mouth, and it's then that she knows everything is going to be okay.
They are going to be okay.
Time shifts, changes, no longer an hourglass, but an endless road, stretching out before her.