i own nothing. For rytm's artwork:
rytm333. tumblr post/27582003637/someones-request and rytm333. tumblr post/29141379069/yap-i-love-wiiiiings [get rid of the spaces]
Steve has an angel. He doesn't really know if angels exist, and he doesn't really know if angels, if they did exist, would look like this. But he's still pretty sure what he has is an angel. What else could it be?
"I'm not an angel." It insists. "I'm a hawk."
Well, that's definitely not what it is, because Steve has seen hawks and hawks do not look like this. Hawks are birds, with beaks and feathers all over their body, with claws that are meant to kill and tear. His angel has feathers only on its wings. His angel isn't birdlike at all – it's completely humanoid save his huge wings that sprout from his back. Sure, the wings aren't exactly pure white – they're more a tawny brown, flecked with white, but Steve is still pretty sure it's an angel.
In any case, he keeps it in a cage. It doesn't seem to mind, especially because Steve is usually not too restrictive with it. He leaves its door open so it can go around his house, and in any case it doesn't seem to really care about leaving his apartment anyway. But still, Steve keeps it locked in its cage at night, or when he leaves the place, because he doesn't want it to escape.
Currently, Steve has it firmly between his legs, imprisoned under his strong arms. It doesn't really seem to mind, even though Steve's bare chest is pressing tight onto its bare back. Steve bends his head down and breathes in its scent. It smells like familiar flesh and Steve's soap and shampoo, and Steve feels right at home. He's had it, kept it hidden from SHEILD for three months now. It dropped out of the sky one day.
Steve hugs it closer to his chest and breathes in the scent. It had dropped onto his balcony when he had stood there to look at the stars on that day, trying not to punch everything in his sight. When he closes his eyes he can still see it – Clint, in the Hulk's arms. Limp. Bleeding. Broken.
He remembers the funeral, the way Tony had personally watched over Clint's cremation to "make sure SHIELD doesn't do shit experiments to his body." But he remembers looking at Fury and Hill and Coulson, all trying to be stoic but utterly morose and thinking that no, SHIELD wouldn't do it to Clint. But perhaps Tony knew that. Perhaps he had just wanted to watch over his friend's cremation.
That day, after all the Avengers had taken a fistful of ash each, after Steve had come home, feeling numb with his hands gripped gently around a tiny golden urn of ash, the creature in his arms had fallen out of the sky onto Steve's lap. Literally.
Steve still remembers catching the angel as it fell onto him, and their tangle of limbs and wings had ended it sprawled over Steve's lap. A creature that looked exactly like Clint Barton, with white-speckled brown wings and lacking the archer's worry lines. "Where did you come from?" Steve wondered idly, closing his eyes and breathing in its scent. Clint's scent.
It leans its head back onto Steve's broad shoulder. "I don't know. I fell out of the sky and you were here."
Steve nods. "I should give you a name." It looks hopefully at him, blue-green-gray eyes that he knows so well blinking at him. "I'll call you Clint." It's the obvious choice. "You'll be my angel Clint."
"I'm not an angel, I'm a hawk." It snorts, but seems satisfied with the name. "Clint." It tries out, and the name rolls softly off its tongue. "I like it." Of course you like it, Steve thinks. It lifts itself off of Steve and looks at him. "Don't lock me up today."
The blue eyes plead him, but Steve closes his eyes. "I have to."
"I won't run away. I don't want to."
"No. I can't… I can't lose you." Steve grips it closer to his chest and shuts his eyes. "Get up. Time for you to sleep soon anyway." The angel doesn't protest – it just looks crushed, which may be worse than struggling, Steve thinks. Clint walks into the large cage and doesn't look angry when Steve lets the electronic lock snap shut. It reaches out and Steve kisses its hand, and it reaches up on tip toes to kiss Steve's cheek, chastely. Steve watches his angel settle down onto the mass of sleeping bags, pulling it nearest to Steve.
It's never angry at him, no matter how many times Steve won't let it out of its cage or out of the house. It smiles at him, all adoration, and Steve lies down on his bed on the closest side. If he reaches out, he can brush his fingers along its cheek, contouring the cheekbones, and so he does. His angel smiles, closes its eyes, and is asleep in seconds.
The next morning, Steve is up early, and Clint doesn't ask to be let out until Steve lets it out. It stretches its wings in the living room and picks up the feathers that fall off before eagerly joining Steve on the kitchen table. There's bacon and eggs, and Clint's face falls. "Are you leaving again?"
Steve smiles apologetically. He's made it a habit to give Clint bacon on the mornings he has to leave for a mission, because it likes bacon so much. Clint pokes miserably at the bacon. "I'll be back soon. It's a short mission." Steve coaxes. "I promise I'll be back as soon as I can."
Clint only nods sullenly. Steve locks Clint back up, and Clint sits down on the sleeping bags. There's a sink and a toilet in the cage, so Steve won't have to worry about it being thirsty or having to take care of needs while he's gone. "Come back soon." It says, hugging a pillow to its chest.
Steve reaches between the bars and strokes Clint's cheek, wondering if Clint hated that he was leaving or that it was locked up. "I will. Be good, now." Clint nods and watches Steve leave.
When he comes back from the mission, he goes to debrief to Fury – and is greeted by the entire Avengers team, all looking angry and confused and sad, and Clint. In the cage. "When were you going to tell us about this?" Tony demands, his voice low.
"You bugged me." Steve says, incredulous.
"I wanted to know what you were hiding from us."
"You had no right." Steve hisses, and takes a step forward. "Give him back to me. He's mine."
It's Natasha who speaks up next. "He's not anyone's." She says, her voice taut. "You've been keeping him from us." Her voice is dangerous, on the verge of exploding.
But Steve isn't going to back down. "No." He grits his teeth. "This isn't Clint. It fell into my balcony on the day he died, but it's not fucking Clint. If you're so convinced that it is, why don't you ask it what it wants to do?"
Immediately, Clint's hand reaches through the bars. Steve jerks to reach for it, and when their hands touch Clint starts to whimper. "Please." He whispers. "Get me out of here." Steve clutches its hand firmly, and he glares at the others, who doesn't dare to do anything until Steve reaches Clint's new cage and breaks the lock open to bring Clint into his arms. It dives straight into Steve's arms, shaking violently and buying its face in Steve's chest, refusing to look at anyone else. "Take me home, please." It whispers.
Steve gathers the winged angel into his arms, and its arms wrap automatically around his neck, still shaking and refusing to look at anyone else. On the way back home, it looks at him. "The man with the beard said I wasn't yours." It said, teeth chattering. Steve freezes. "But I am yours, aren't I? You won't – you won't throw me away?"
Steve's grip on the handles loosen. So that's what this is about, he thinks, breathing a sigh of relief. "Don't worry about him." Steve says, feeling an unusual urge to murder Tony. "He doesn't know what he's talking about." Steve has never thought he'd say those words about Tony Stark and actually mean it, but he does. None of them were there when Clint fell into his lap that night. None of them knew the story. Clint is his, his, his, and he's not going to risk anything given a second chance.
He ignores Tony Stark in his living room. He's expected Tony to be here, anyway. Clint takes one look at him and all but dives into his cage, pulling the cage door shut and digging into the sleeping bags. Steve makes tea, not that he expects Tony to take it. Tony doesn't. He hands a cup to Clint instead, who takes the cup and retreats into the far corner of the cage.
"Stockholm Syndrome." Tony grits out.
"Are you suggesting that I'm keeping him prisoner?" Steve's hands tighten around his mug.
"Are you suggesting you aren't?" Tony spits out. "You're keeping him in a goddamned cage." Steve doesn't have anything to say to that, because how can he explain? Tony glares at him, and then stands up to go to Clint. It stares at him, wide eyed, and backs further away, trying to press into the wall.
Steve wants to yell at him to back off, but then he sees it. He sees the pain and hurt that echoes his own in Tony's eyes, and he closes his eyes. "It's not Clint." Steve says. "He fell from the sky into my lap, the same day we buried him. We burned him. You saw the entire thing happen."
"Weirder things have happened."
"Than coming back from the ashes?" Steve counters, and Tony says nothing. "Clint, he's all right. He's a friend."
Clint still eyes him warily, and clutches onto the steaming mug of tea. Tony punches in the combination – of course he knows. Steve is going to have to change that, not that it would matter because he's sure Tony will just figure it out anyway, and holds the door open. Clint stares at Tony, Steve and the door, and shakes its head, clutching harder onto its mug and grabbing at the sleeping bags around it.
"May I come in?" Tony asks gently, and Clint's eyes widen. Tony doesn't press the matter, and after a while Clint nods minutely. Steve comes to sit near the entrance. He's never gone inside the cage before, and he won't, so he sits outside. "We used to be best friends." Tony whispers.
"What happened?" Clint asks, curiosity rising over its fear.
Tony says nothing, but Steve knows the answer. You died. He only looks on sadly at Clint and sits next to Clint. The three of them sit in silence, Clint sipping from its mug as Tony watches on. After an hour or so, Tony climbs out of the cage and shuts the door with a soft click. "Go to sleep, Clint." Steve says, stroking Clint's hair through the bars. "You've had a long day."
"Are you leaving?" Clint looks nervously at Steve and at Tony.
"Just for a bit. I'll be back before you wake up." He reassures, and Clint nods. It's asleep in seconds, and he and Tony step out into the hall of the apartment. "It's not Clint."
Tony says nothing for a while. "It is and isn't at the same time. You know it is. You should know better than me that it is." He shakes his head. "You can't leave him locked up in there."
Steve's fists clench. "You're telling me that you can bear seeing him die again?"
Tony winces and looks away. "No." He whispers. "You're right. I'd go insane if I saw him die again. But this isn't right. You and I both know the thing Clint loves most is freedom. How is what you're doing now much different from what Loki did to him?" Tony stares defiantly at Steve, and Steve doesn't answer. "Come back to the tower, Steve." Tony says. "Bring him along."
No. Steve can't do that. Because Clint is his his his and he won't see it in the arms of anyone else. The sheer prospect of him scares him and he watches Tony go with a resigned sigh. Clint is asleep, curled up on its sleeping bags and clutching the pillow to its chest. Its wings are folded around it, spotted tawny and beautiful. Steve takes a moment to run a finger down the feathers, and Clint stirs but does not wake.
One day he's going to have to let it fly free. He knows that, have known that since he had the expensive cage built. But not yet. He's going to hang onto the moments as much as he can, because he can't watch Clint die again. Even if the angel isn't exactly Clint, even though he saw Clint die, even though he saw Clint's body turn to ashes, even though he knows it isn't Clint, he can't watch the same face be stained with blood again, and he can't watch the same eyes shut forever in sleep that will never end. He just can't.
Days pass normally after that, or as normally as they can after the team finds out Captain America has been keeping a winged Clint in a cage. Natasha doesn't talk to him. Bruce looks at him differently. Thor stutters when he talks to Steve. Tony glares. Coulson looks angry all the time. Hill snaps at everyone. Fury looks tired.
Clint, on its part, is tamer. It doesn't ask if it can stay outside the cage, and doesn't like venturing outside it. As much as it's a prison, it's also a safe wall. It eagerly greets Steve when he comes back, and will only stay outside when Steve is nearby.
It likes snuggling up to Steve when they're awake, and sometimes Steve chains it to the bed and lets it sleep in his bed, which it likes more than sleeping in the cage. But Steve notices. Its smiles get less radiant, and it looks longingly at the blue skies outside, even though it pretends to be scared of it.
Clint Barton was a man born to be free, and so is his angel-doppelganger.
Steve knows that. But still. But still.
Time passes, and the wariness of the Avengers toward him lessen, though Steve knows they still don't trust him as they used to. On the year of real-Clint's death and angel-Clint's arrival, Steve feels an irrational urge to buy cake. He buys an entire, huge red velvet, remembering how real-Clint used to love it.
When he comes home with it, Clint is so happy it flies around the living room, elated. They eat through most of the cake (Clint eats two pieces. Steve eats the rest), and then rest, looking up into the starry sky. The same one the creature in his arms fell out of a year ago, Steve thinks, and he puts his lips onto Clint's ear. "Face me." He whispers, his voice shaking. Clint does, and Steve doesn't think – he just does. Their lips meet, and the soft pair of lips that meet Steve's are exactly the ones he remembers, down to the eagerness of the response and the small quirk of the lips as they separate. "Clint." He whispers.
Steve jerks at the name. The angel never calls him by name. Never. The angel isn't smiling at him – it's smirking at him, the trademark lopsided smirk that Steve used to love, and Steve grips at Clint's hands. "Clint." He breathes. "It's – Clint, it's you."
"Yeah." Clint laughs. "Fuck, I've got wings, how weird is that?" He looks back at his back and tries to flex them. "Fuck, that's so weird."
Steve stares. "How is this possible?" He whispers, his body shaking. "You died." His teeth chattered. "You died, I saw you." He clutches onto Clint, enfolding the smaller into his arms, wings and all. "How is this possible? Where were you for the entire year?"
Clint laughs and holds Steve just as tightly as Steve holds Clint. "I don't know. I just – I don't remember much of it." He pulls back a little and laughs. "I remember you kept me in a cage." When Steve blushes, he hugs Clint again. "But I understand." He whispers, because Clint is just like that, wonderful and amazing. "I understand."
They talk and cry and laugh and hold each other in silence, and Steve kisses Clint over and over again, just to feel that familiar quirk of the lips against his, just to feel Clint's hands wrap around his shoulders. Steve doesn't know what happened. He doesn't know how it happened, and he doesn't care. Clint calls it the 'Sleeping Beauty' effect, but honestly for once Steve isn't one for details.
And neither is anyone else. Natasha takes Steve aside and jabs a finger into his chest. "Not many people get a second chance." She says, her voice low. "But we did. You did. Don't – Don't fuck this up."
He wants to snap at her, be cruel and malicious, but then her mask drops for a split second. He sees her vulnerable, the way she never wants to be, and he understands. Clint is her friend, different from the way they are her teammates, and he is the first person who has cared so much about her and who she cares so much about. He takes her tiny hand, and she looks so fragile all of a sudden. She glares up at him, but he smiles and her glare falters. He crushes her in a bear-hug, and she doesn't even protest. "I'll protect him." He promises, and feels her tremble ever so slightly. "I promise, Natasha. I won't let him die."
She clutches at his back for a moment, holding tightly onto him for a second, then pushes him away. There's a faint blush staining her cheeks. "Yeah." She smiles, not sardonic but genuine for a second before it turns into a smirk. "Yeah, you do that."
Before he can respond, they hear a loud cheer outside, and they look outside. Clint has spread his wings – it's he, his, him now, not it and its – and is flying, diving and swooping back up, white-speckled-brown wings reaching an impressive span as he soars in the air. The sunlight caught him from the back and it threw a halo of light around him, and Steve smiles.
Clint is his angel. He spreads his arms toward Clint, and Clint tackles him. If he wasn't Captain America, he'd be bruised, but he is, and he holds Clint. "You're my angel, Clint."
"I'm no angel." Clint smiles brilliantly up at him. "I'm a hawk."