Hawkeye sort of takes care of people sometimes without realizing it. So if people are going to sort of take care of him sometimes, it's usually best to do it without him realizing it. Here's to some sweet Avengers team-building with everyone's favorite archer. Mostly post-movie.
Natasha let out a breath, quietly, to herself. Figured it was probably the only moment she was going to get for a few hours at least. They'd done it. New York—though a crumbled, broken, heap of debris for the most part—was saved. The world was saved. She'd just made it down to street level when she heard Stark over the comm. Please tell me nobody kissed me. He'd fallen from the sky and survived and could still make jokes. They'd all survived. Well…that wasn't expressly true. No, not all of them. Coulsen. One of the very few ever willing to overlook the red in her ledger. The Black Widow had seen lots and lots of death. But Natasha Romanoff didn't well know how to mourn. And through all the uncertainty of what she should feel and whether anything should change and what was professional and what was appropriate, all she really knew was that she'd lost a friend, someone she trusted. And she could hardly stand it.
"Did you see me jump off that building earlier?"
Natasha stirred from her thoughts and glanced over at the only man who'd ever been able to sneak up on her with any sort of consistency—and pretended she'd known he was there the whole time as they made their way up the rest of the…team a few paces ahead. His eyes were expectant and lovely and not that wacked out shade of crazy they'd been when Loki had been behind them. "No."
He looked disappointed. "Well it was awesome."
An involuntary smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. He was definitely the only man who'd ever been able to make her facial muscles respond without all the calculating and manipulating she'd spent years training them to require. "Did you see me jump on the back of that alien charioteer and pilot him to the top of Stark's tower?" She might've been smug.
Clint pulled a face. "Maybe."
"Well it was awesome."
"You never can just let me win at one thing, can you." And maybe she was the only one who could make him revert to a sulky little boy with any sort of consistency. And maybe she liked that a lot. "I blew up the Norse god of mischief," he pointed out. "While he was chasing you."
"Closed the otherworldly portal with Mischief's magic stick." And the pout he pulled at that made her stand up straighter, and the aches and scrapes of battle weren't so heavy, and the fatigue lifted some and the grief became lighter because this was the Clint who was her partner. This was the Clint she knew. Resilient and cocky and occasionally ridiculous, and not shaking in pain and withdrawal, and not too quiet and ashamed and uncertain and afraid. This was the Clint that made her stronger without even trying.
"I despise you." He didn't really.
She smiled sweetly as they reached the others. "You have reason to."
"Kids," Tony grunted loudly as Steve helped haul him to his feet, holding him steady as the billionaire swayed a bit. "Stop bickering. You're giving Daddy a headache. Keep it up, and I'm not taking you to see the bad funny hat man grovel in defeat."
Natasha smirked darkly. "Oh, but this'll be like Christmas." She hated Loki. Hate wasn't typically a thing for her. Hate aroused things like passion. And being passionate really interfered with cold distance and detached disgust. Things that were essential to her job which was essential to who she was. But when she looked at Clint and saw distance and faraway fear and revulsion instead of hate there, it made her hate that Asgardian all the more.
It was unsettling to see Clint when she first got him back. Even more unsettling than fighting him. They'd fought before—not usually when he was high on Norse mythology, but they'd fought plenty of times. This hadn't even been one of their most spectacular, not by any margin. But watching him hurt so badly...seeing the pain in his eyes that was more than the withdrawal, that was the memory of becoming a weapon against those he was supposed to protect. Of killing good men. Maybe of Loki's smile. It had hurt her. It hurt her still. Love was for children, but this was pain, and that could hardly be the same thing, could it?
"So let's go wrap up our present," Rogers said. And how did he always manage to sound so heroic?
"Aye," Thor agreed. "I'll secure Loki. Should he…"
"Ah. No. Family outing. Take Grandpa Steve with you," Stark gestured with his hand. "I'll take the kids. JARVIS, we got enough juice to get up there?" The A.I. must've affirmed he did. Either that or he ignored it. "Great! Everybody pile in the van."
"Back seat's too small," Clint said, shaking his head. He walked the couple feet to the discarded face plate from Stark's armor and picked it up. As he put it in a questioning Stark's hand, he said, "I'm riding with the crazy uncle." And he smiled and turned toward the Hulk.
"Wh-uhhh…" Stark was so not in favor of the idea. Come to think of it, neither was Natasha. But it was somewhat gratifying to see the genius billionaire playboy at a loss for words. He didn't even look amused.
"Clint…" Natasha warned, and even though she'd fought alongside the—for lack of a better term—monster, she didn't want Clint anywhere near it—him.
"You worry too much, Tasha," he said, and he walked up to Hulk slowly, his body language open and his guard down, and she'd seen him approach a wild horse much the same way in Hungary once, and he'd mounted it and thought it loved him right up until it landed him on his back in the dirt and treated him with yet another concussion. Then there was that cheetah fiasco in Botswana. That time actually worked out pretty well though.
Hulk grunted and looked unpleasant. And Clint said something quietly, and Hulk snorted and put a fist to the ground. Clint looked back and grinned a reckless grin like he didn't have a care and that she shouldn't either. And with almost too much grace, he skipped up the Hulk's arm and settled himself on the massive shoulders. By some miracle, Hulk did not smash. He spoke. "Fly better than metal man. Or hammer man." Scowled.
Then he jumped, and Natasha barely caught Clint's "Whoa!"
They all followed him upward with their eyes until he disappeared messily through the top floor windows. "Huh," Stark said. "The Hulk Whisperer."
"That man has to be crazy," Rogers said to no one in particular, and even if he sounded mildly disapproving, it still sounded a lot like respect. "Does he not know…"
"Oh, he knows," Natasha confirmed.
"I saw him," Thor said, "in battle. He fights differently than most I've encountered from this world." He tilted his head in acknowledgment. "It's as if he doesn't expect to die. Or as if he doesn't expect to live. I am yet unsure which."
Natasha hadn't figured it out yet either. But that was Clint in a nutshell.
"Yeah. Weird. Hey." Iron Man fitted his face shield back on and looked at her. "Can I call you 'Tasha,' too?"
And when Stark took off, towing her along, where no one could see her, where no one would notice, she smiled and shook her head. Because even if Clint wasn't okay yet—even if Clint wasn't anywhere near okay—he could at least still be Clint. And that was important. She didn't like Natasha without Clint. And Clint would just have to get used to Natasha because he was crazy if he thought she was letting him out of her sight in the near future. At least not for longer than five minute intervals. Eventually she'd have to, and she knew that. It was the nature of the life. Certainly it was the nature of her life. But not until she was absolutely positive he wouldn't be abducted and brainwashed the moment she turned her back. And that would probably take awhile.
When they reached the room at the top of the tower, Clint was down on one knee, last arrow nocked and pointed at a very unmoving alien menace, bowstring taut, arm shaking only slightly. Hulk stood like a sentry at his right side, emitting a continuous low growl. As Loki started to shift and groan, Natasha, Thor, Stark, and Rogers pressed in close.
The second most satisfying thing in that moment was that this was utterly, obviously, definitively not part of Loki's plan. The first was the way when the fallen schemer shied back in the face of Clint's arrow, the archer's arm stopped shaking, and Natasha knew there'd be no doubt in Clint's hawk-like eyes that he was not a minion anymore. And Loki's face turned pale, and Loki's eyes held fear. And it was so satisfying.
The hours that followed were spent getting things tied up and hidden away, and shockingly SHIELD kept their distance. The Other Guy shrunk down from an XXXXXXXL to a Medium. And because Stark was Stark, they ended up at a Shawarma Palace at an unreasonable hour, their faces practically gray with fatigue, and things were quiet and companionable and still victorious.
"Sooo," Stark drawled tiredly, leaning on his elbows on the table. "You guys wanna bunk over?"
"Sure," Natasha answered with the boys.
She glanced over at Clint, seated next to her. His eyes were closed and his chin was on his chest, and wow, he was exhausted. Stark smirked and reached across the table, going to poke him or flick him or do something equally as annoying and harmless. Natasha reached over and snagged Stark's hand midway. "Don't," she said simply. Clint was still Hawkeye, and you didn't touch Hawkeye while he was sleeping. Especially sans armor. She let go of Stark's hand, and he looked thwarted, but beneath that, there was something eerily like understanding. She looked at her partner. "Clint."
His eyes were open, and he glanced at her like nothing happened. "Yeah?"
"Stay at Stark's house tonight?"
He looked at Stark. And the first thing out of his mouth had to be, "There a pool?"
Stark's eyebrows climbed. "I'll make a birdbath joke, Hawk. Fair warning."
Banner snorted and wiped his mouth, and it was more that he was tired than Stark was funny. Then he asked Clint, like the archer was made of pure whimsy, "You want to go swimming?"
"It's a mansion," Clint reasoned. "Mansions are supposed to have pools. And Jacuzzis and giant TVs and mouthy English butlers and…I don't know. Whole rooms full of Laffy Taffy or something." Natasha buried a smile in her napkin. Because A: there was that mission in D.C. where "Laffy Taffy" was the code word for "all's well," so that was probably for her benefit and B: Clint actually just really liked Laffy Taffy and would definitely have a roomful of it if ever he owned a room—which was why it was used as a code word on that mission in D.C. Sixteen hours in the ductwork of a subway station, and she'd heard a jumbo pack's worth of insanely terrible jokes.
Stark still looked thoughtful. "You know, trade the roomful of taffy for cutting edge tech R and D and the English butler for an A.I., and that's a pretty accurate picture of…"
"I'd prefer the taffy," Clint said. "Real billionaire, and there'd be taffy. Or at least junior mints or something."
"You saying I'm not rich enough for you?"
"I have high standards."
"I'm a technological genius not freaking Willy Wonka! I was on the cover of Time!"
Clint shrugged, unimpressed. "So was Shirley Temple."
"And you know what she was?"
"Rich and successful."
"Yeah, let's have this conversation after you've done a tap duet with Mr. Bojangles."
"Well maybe we will."
"Maybe we will."
Thor was leaning forward, watching this interplay with growing interest. "This...Shirley Temple. Is it a place of worship?"
Banner nearly choked on Dr. Pepper until a straight-faced Stark slapped him on the back. "Not quite, my friend," he said, grinning and failing miserably at hiding his laughter behind his hand. Hulk's hands weren't big enough to hide that kind of laughter.
"I know," Rogers blurted, a little too loudly. "I know who she is. She was in pictures." He looked around with pride that quickly turned into embarrassment. "She was…you know. Small…actress."
Clint was grinning. There was tiredness in it, and only because she was sitting so close could she see the tremors that ran through his hands beneath the table and made his knees shake a little. Natasha understood Clint in ways that very few did, knew more about him than most, and everything she knew and absolutely understood about him made enticingly little sense. Because was there anyone else on the planet, on any planet for that matter, who could be this tired and still get a towering blonde alien powerhouse to say the word "Bojangles"? Which was admittedly hilarious for some reason, and not just to Banner.
Later, back at Stark's tower, even though it had been torn up a little, they all got their own rooms, and all the rooms had the did actually have giant TVs, and Stark set JARVIS to recite lines from the butler on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and it made Clint and Banner giggle like little girls and Thor and Rogers look on in bewildered amusement. And somehow, somehow, there was a party-sized bag of assorted Laffy Taffy waiting on Clint's pillow, and that was just Stark showing off. But it made Clint smile in that rare, soft, sincere way he did when he found out someone had accidentally listened to him, so Natasha had to be grateful.
It was not long before dawn that they all retired to their respective rooms. And Natasha, though she was about as exhausted as she'd ever been, found her eyes opened maybe an hour after she'd closed them. Something bothered her. And it was possible she was wrong, but she doubted it. She knew him too well. With a resigned sigh, she pushed herself up from the most comfortable bed she'd been in in a long time, and went in search. Checked his room first, and being right was so much more fun when there was someone with her to whom she could gloat. She didn't really have to wonder about tracking him down. Just moved toward the highest point she could find.
The sight of Clint on the battle-scarred roof of the tower, back to her, leaning forward with elbows on knees, feet dangling over the edge, was not exactly a surprise. But then, her approaching him at barely six a.m. after a ridiculously tiresome night didn't seem like a shocker for him either. She settled in beside him, looking down on the path of destruction left by the alien invasion. It was pretty spectacular. The bag of taffy was in his lap. And he was chewing. Loudly.
She was sitting close enough to feel him still trembling.
"It's late." A lame opening was still an opening.
"It is early," he corrected.
"How long do you think it'll be?"
He glanced at her, eyes questioning. "Till what?"
"Till you can sleep."
As soon as the understanding was there, he looked back out over New York. Shrugged. He didn't say anything else. Right then he wouldn't say anything else. But he did hand her a banana-flavored piece of taffy. The banana ones were her favorite. She'd never told him that. She unwrapped it and bit off a hunk.
Natasha wished she could fix him. It was hypocritical on every level. She was as messed up as he was about four times over. But still she wished she could fix this for him. She sighed. Then looked at him. "What did the finger say to the thumb?" she asked reluctantly. Of all the stupid...
He raised an eyebrow, and his focus was back on her.
"What did the freaking finger say to the thumb?" she demanded.
He actually looked startled. "What?"
"'I'm in glove with you.'"
First there was confusion, but then Clint's smile was quick and bright and surprised. And in that moment, he looked the way he should look. He looked the way he did when she actually succeeded in protecting him. He leaned the slightest bit closer, and the smile was gold, and it stayed. "What's yellow, has wheels, and lies on its back?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "A dead school bus."
"What?" she demanded, incredulous. His answering huff of laughter made her grin internally. "Clint, that doesn't make any sense."
"Tell that to…Steven R. from New York. Whoa…"
"It does not say that."
"Holy...Captain America sent this to the Laffy Taffy company," he stated as fact with the kind of awe reserved for archaeologists unearthing some ancient relic. "Probably back in 1940."
"Yes. Absolutely. Because Captain America had nothing better to do in 1940." She looked at his completely pretend serious face. "I generally have no idea what to do with you, partner." It was true. Generally. But sometimes she knew exactly what to do. Sometimes she just needed to sit on the roof of a partially demolished building and read awful, nonsensical jokes while the sun came up. And no, it wasn't enough to fix him. But it was enough to chase the shadows back from his eyes. Even if just for a moment. She'd take that.
He had at least three in his mouth and still managed to ask, "What do you call a broken window?"
This one she rolled her eyes and answered for him. "A pain in the glass."
A/N: So what do you do when you see a movie with compelling, sensitively written, perfectly plotted, expertly dialogued characters? You take 'em, and you mess 'em all up! Heh, that movie was perfect though, for real. But since I can't write like Joss, I just gotta write like me. Eh, the characters will survive it I think. They're comic book characters. They're meant to be written and rewritten and re-rewritten. It's the nature of the culture. Just gonna say up front, my Hawkeye is probably younger than the Hawkeye portrayed by the fabulous (and devastatingly handsome) Jeremy Renner. My team dynamics will be softer. I'm a softie. I make no apologies for that. Except this one: Sorry. So this is for all you softies out there.