And here it is, the last chapter.
SPECIAL thanks to the awesome love from Ms. Perception, Shazrolane, Syntyche, Dsgdiva, Qweb, jpgFury, MoonLightView, Lou-Deadfroggy, discordchick, Smiles123, and the mysterious 'Guest' ^^
All my reviewers have inspired me to carry this story this far! (because honestly I would have left it as a one shot without the amazing encouragement from my readers!) I hope you all enjoyed it!
Also, there is more teasing for Syntyche and all those who liked the last time. It's just a little bit, but I did make a promise….so thus it is fulfilled.
Be excited guys, I thought about splitting this chapter into two segments because it was soooooo long, but I decided to be nice and just give it to you straight!
You guys rock!
Clint was bored.
At first the heart crushing guilt kept the archer's mind occupied, but once that had faded into the background – mostly because Barton had convinced himself he couldn't afford the distraction – Clint found himself alone and saddled with a lot of time on his hands.
With the exception of his first meeting with Swift and the medical exam from hell he had endured, there didn't seem to be anything off happening in Nowheresville Michigan.
Clint wasn't allowed in the actual building, but was kept watching the outside parameter making sure only registered personal entered the premises. Most of the important employees were long gone by the time Clint's shift started, so he only had a list of names – names that could be fake for all he knew.
It was the most boring job Clint had ever had to deal with. Long-term undercover jobs had that effect on him. Barton was a man of action, even as a sniper, and there didn't appear to be much action here.
It was easy living in the town, the people were friendly, if a bit nosy. The old lady that owned the local café had pretty much adopted Clint as soon as she'd laid eyes on him. Margret was one of the nicest women Clint had ever met – for some reason old women tended to want to 'mother' Clint.
He'd deny it until the day he died, but Clint didn't mind the attention so much. Gloria Barton had been a good mother while she had been alive. A little naive to think her drunk of a husband would ever change, but kind none-the-less – but Clint's mother had been taken from him too soon. With Margret and the other old ladies in his life, it was like the Universe was trying to make up for his loss in some small way.
Unfortunately Margret had her eye on making Clint her granddaughter's future husband. Sure, Cecilia was a cute girl, but too young and innocent. Clint knew he'd only corrupt her.
Clint's schedule had him working night shifts, leaving him battling with the sun and nightmares for sleep during the daytime. Needless to say not only was Clint bored, but he was exhausted as well.
It was the beginning of his third week of self-exile when Clint walked through his front door and tossed his keys lazily on a nearby table before shuffling towards his bedroom in the back. He didn't change out of his work issued uniform – which was far less comfortable than his SHIELD uniform was. Instead Clint dropped face first on the bed and closed his eyes.
It felt like two seconds had gone by when his doorbell chimed.
With a groan Clint forced himself to roll out of bed. He prayed it wasn't Sarah with another casserole or some other baked goods. With a pause at his bedroom door Clint took back that thought – he was kind of hungry and there was nothing in the apartment to cook with – a casserole sounded amazing.
Running a hand through his sleep tossed hair Clint opened the door.
It took him a little longer than a second to recover.
Standing before him, dressed in a dark suit and expensive shades was Tony Stark.
Instantly Clint was fully awake. Ever since he had arrived at this apartment, Clint had known he was being monitored by Swift. If Tony wasn't careful, and when was the billionaire ever careful? Clint's cover might be blown.
Of course, if Stark was here there had to be a damned good reason. Maybe his cover had already been blown.
Wisely, Clint waited for Tony to speak first.
The archer wasn't sure what frightened him more, that Stark would blow his cover or what Stark had come there to say.
"Mr. Quinn, you look tired." The smile that adorned Tony's face was a beautifully crafted mask; Clint recognized it immediately because he'd built a few of his own over the years.
Okay, so Tony wasn't here to blow his cover, and he seemed to be aware that they were being monitored.
"Mr. Stark." Clint greeted cautiously once he found his voice.
The two men stood awkwardly for a moment, eyeing one another in question and masked fear.
"Uh, so what have I done to deserve a visit from a billionaire superhero?" Clint asked, his voice just missing the tone of genuine casual humor.
"You said 'no,'" Tony smiled too brightly. "I don't take rejection well. I've come to reoffer you a job."
Clint blinked, but remembered his cover story. His alias had been offered a security job with Stark Industries. For a moment Clint frowned, had this been part of the plan all along? Fury was a sneaky bastard, there was a chance that he had set up a way for Clint to back out of the mission.
Dropping his gaze Clint found it hard to look at Stark. It was an act, but to what degree? Who put Tony up to this?
"I'm sorry if I offended you, sir." Clint offered finally, the statement having duel meanings. Clint wanted Tony to know he was sorry, that he hadn't stopped being sorry during his exile. "I thought I could do some good here."
"No, I'm not offended. I enjoy a challenge." The cheer in Tony's voice made Clint look up sharply. "I've come to take you out to dinner and give you another proposal, one I know you cannot refuse."
Clint glanced behind Tony as he spoke and eyed his limo curiously. They'd be able to speak without worry in there. No bugs or cameras waiting to reveal that Clint was a spy.
"My father taught me never to pass up a free meal." Clint agreed after a long pause, his eyes falling back onto Stark's face, but never raising to look Tony directly in the eyes. Clint didn't bother adding that his father rarely made enough money to feed them before his death, which was why he suggested never passing up a free meal – any advice given by his father was typically followed by a drunk fueled beating but Clint really didn't want to be thinking about that.
"Then it's settled." Stark practically chimed as he clapped his hands together in front of him. "I'll wait for you to get ready."
"You can wait inside if you'd like." Clint offered after another moment had passed them by.
Tony glanced into the small space curiously, brushing by Clint without a need for any more encouragement. "Nice place you have here. A bit…small."
"Thanks. You can sit, wherever," The archer fumbled, waving a hand towards the couch shoved in the corner, "I'll only be a moment." Clint sighed and ducked back into his bedroom, closing the door.
Clint quickly stripped out of his work clothes and took a quick shower, only allowing himself to enjoy the hot water running down his bare back. His muscles were in knots from the sudden onslaught of stress he was facing.
Perhaps it would be better if they stayed in the bugged apartment. That way Tony would have to keep up his fake cheery façade and Clint could pretend that everything was okay. That none of what happened had happened.
But that would be a lie and Clint was tired of lies.
Turning off the water Clint stood there for a moment, naked with water droplets dripping off of his pale skin and damn hair.
With a grate deal of effort Clint pulled himself out of the shower finished getting ready. What felt like eternity really only lasted about fifteen minutes. Clint exited his room dressed in his nicest dark blue jeans and a button up long sleeve black shirt he'd found hanging in his closet.
Obnoxiously, Tony whistled.
"Um," Clint fumbled, trying not to glare – in this scenario they were supposed to be strangers, and Stark is rich and 'intimidating' with authority. "I'm ready to go, sir, if you are."
Stark nodded with a sly smirk, Clint realized quickly that the bastard was actually enjoying this. Probably not all of it, just the part were Clint revered him with a sense of authority. Never before in their friendship, or acquaintance for that matter, had Clint called Tony 'sir.'
The game the men were playing didn't end until Happy opened the limo door for them and shut it after they had crawled inside.
Inside the façade ended. Tony's smile vanished in a blink of the archer's keen eyes. Worry twisted in Clint's heart, he didn't breathe or risk moving – instead he waited.
Barton felt Tony watching him more than anything else. The idea of looking up at his old friend made Clint feel like he was choking.
The awkward silence stretched on as the vehicle started moving.
Finally Stark spoke, his voice was lighter than the mood felt. "Look, Barton, I know you've been busy with this dangerous, super spy stuff."
Clint refused to look up, his shoulders tense, waiting for Tony to get to the point —for the yelling to start. If not that, he wanted Stark to tell him what he had come to say and leave.
"But," Tony hesitated, probably wondering if he had a captive audience since his companion wasn't looking at him. Or maybe it was something else, this whole situation felt wrong for Clint.
"But," Tony repeated with a softer tone that actually made Clint flinch. "I've come to the realization that our team is seriously slacking without our star archer."
Finally Clint looked up, if only to see if the man was lying – Tony sounded sincere, but the man had perfected 'faking' it over the years.
Though Clint had looked up, he stilled couldn't bring himself to meet Tony's eyes. He also couldn't bring himself to talk. What could he say? Sorry for being such a screw up? That speech had never worked in the past. Every person he'd tried it with left anyway.
"Clint, I'm talking about you. We need you."
"You don't have to do this thing." Clint found himself saying.
Clint looked down as he took a deep breath and let it out slow. "That thing where you pretend the others didn't put you up to this. What I did, was unforgivable." For the first time Clint raised his eyes to Tony. The man looked surprised.
"Well, that's too bad because I forgiv – "
"Stop, just stop." Barton cut him off sharply. "You don't want me back. I'll be a constant reminder of betrayal. You won't ever be able to trust me again, not after what I did."
Tony was quiet for a few seconds before he broke the silence. "Sounds like you've already gone and crucified yourself. How hard was it to pound the nails into your hands and feet? I'm guessing hard."
This time Clint looked up all too easily, wondering where the hell Tony got off joking at a time like this. This wasn't funny, none of it was. "Why are you here?"
"I told you, we need you back. The bad-ass you, not this," Stark gestured to Clint wildly with one hand as he spoke, "Sad-suicidal version of you. The team needs you and I want you back. It admittedly took me a bit too long to realize you weren't the bad guy in all this. Hell, we were both blindsided Clint, I saw it in your eyes. I just needed someone to blame and chose wrong."
Clint opened his mouth to interrupt but Tony's hand shot out and slapped him gently upside the head. It was more shocking than anything else, and it got Clint's attention when Tony started speaking again. "Don't even consider apologizing again. It wasn't your fault. I don't care if I have to give you a concussion to beat it into you, realize that right now, Feathers."
The nickname caused Clint's eyebrows to jump upwards in surprise.
Tony smiled brightly when he saw he had the archer's full attention. "Look, I know me so I'll be honest, it won't be easy. I can be a pissy little bitch when I'm in the mood. I can't say I won't say mean things, because, let's face it – I'm me. I have no filter, it's part of my charm." The billionaire paused with a smirk before continuing. "All I'm saying is I want to try and fix this. And hell, if you die on some fucked up mission we'll never get the chance."
Clint heard what he said and he wanted to believe it was all true, that Tony was the one who wanted things to be better, but he couldn't help but think that it might just be for the sake of the team. That Tony was doing this only because he felt obligated too. It was an odd thought for most people, Stark pretended to be this selfish asshole more than not – but Clint knew Tony. He bled red just like the rest of them.
"Look, Clint." The playfulness had left the billionaire's voice again, drawing the archer's eyes back up to his once again. "I know how hard it will be, for both of us, but I want this to work out. Not just for the team either. You were my best friend and I really think we can be friends again. Honestly, I'm not sure if we ever stopped, we just, paused for the moment. I would never be able to forgive myself if you died on some stupid mission because you had the balls to be honest with me when a lesser man would have simply lied."
Clint dropped his gaze again, suddenly finding the carpet in the limo fascinating.
"Tony, I'm sor – " Clint paused only long enough to snatch Tony's hand mid air as it shot out to slap him again. "Sorry." Clint finished with a fraction of a smile at the small victory. "I need you to know."
"You, my friend, are an idiot." Stark groaned, falling back into his seat with more force than necessary. "You have nothing to be sorry about. Me, on the other hand – If I were the apologizing kind, which by the way I'm not, my knees would be bleeding from groveling. I was an ass – we both know it. I've accepted it, the team has accepted it so you might as well embrace it. This little car ride is all the apology and groveling you are going to get – deal with it."
Clint smirked a bit, his heart felt lightened, like the sun just broke through the thick dark clouds of guilt that had been hovering over him since this whole thing started. Maybe, just maybe things could go back to a semblance of normal. Maybe he hadn't totally screwed up the one chance he'd ever had at a real, loving family.
"So, are you going to come back?" Tony asked just before he dropped Clint off that night. They had a nice evening with Stark filling Clint in on what he'd missed at the tower. "I know a killer spider and a few other old friends who have been less than subtle about missing you."
The question didn't really need much contemplation. Clint wanted nothing more than to go home.
"I just need to finish up here," Clint promised before they parted. "Then I'll come home. Promise."
Stark smirked, "I'll hold you too it." He saluted before he nodded to Happy and the limo pulled away.
Clint took a moment to watch the vehicle drive out of sight before returning to his apartment. His heart was flying with revived hope, but Clint had a choice to make. Go home immediately and rebuild what was broken, or stay and finish the mission.
All the work he had done so far, which honestly didn't feel like much, would be wiped clean if he left now. However, there was no telling how long he'd be stuck in Michigan if he stayed.
After long and tiring introspective debate, Clint made his decision.
Dressing in work out clothes the archer left the apartment and ran to a place he knew his conversation wouldn't be over heard.
"Speak." A gruff voice barked on the other end of the line.
Clint smirked. "I see you haven't lost your charm, Director."
"Barton, do you have any new information?" Fury asked, ignoring his agent's insubordination.
"Stark visited, I'm taking the out." Clint decided to be blunt. Few people could be that way with the director of SHIELD, but Clint had formed a soft spot in big-bad Fury's heart.
There was a short pause before Fury answered. "I have an agent on standby ready to take your place, how soon do you want out?"
"Immediately." Clint responded, smiling lightly at Fury's plot. The director had given him the out from the start. It felt good known that he had friends watching his back, even in times of trouble. "I'll speak with Swift tonight before my shift and tell him I got a better job offer with Stark."
"Just so I have this clear, when you come back you are rejoining the Avengers?"
"Yes, sir." Clint felt his smile grow into a grin. His heart felt warm with the realization he was going home. It had been far too long, he missed his team – his family.
After worrying for so long that he'd never be accepted back this all felt like some sugar high dream.
"Good to hear it, Barton. I'll see you soon."
After the conversation, and hashing out a few last minute details, Clint jogged back into town and back to his apartment. It didn't take Clint long to call Swift's office and arrange a meeting before his shift started.
The agent within him noticed with surprise how easy it was to get in to see the man last minute, but Clint didn't care just as long as he got the hell out of there as soon as possible – he had a home to get back too.
While he waited Clint allowed himself a short shower and changed into the work issued uniform before heading out to meet with his fake boss for the last time.
The main building was quiet when Clint arrived and only Swift was there to greet him.
The two men shook hands and together entered Swift's office. "Sergeant Quinn, I was a little surprised to hear you wanted to speak with me, is everything alright?" The older man asked as he closed the door behind them and walked around his desk to settle in his chair.
Clint decided on standing at ease in front of the man instead of sitting down, his hands clasped lightly behind his back as he addressed Swift. "I'm afraid I've been offered another job." Clint announced, finding no need to dance around the topic. He wanted to get out of there and catch the next plane back to New York.
"Stark Industries have made it clear that they are very interested in me working for them, I would be a fool not to take the opportunity. I am sorry to be leaving you so suddenly, I've made some calls to my old superior officers, they've already started to look for an acceptable replacement."
Swift tipped his head to the side as he studied Clint with calculating eyes, "I'm sure they have." The older man said with a resigned tone. "I will be very sorry to see you go, Agent Barton."
The switch in name sent Clint on high alert a second too slow, warning flashing in his mind as he heard the door opened behind him. The archer turned, but it was already too late – one of the men had already successfully driven a syringe into Clint's exposed neck.
Without much of a second thought Clint reached out and twisted the man's neck, snapping it with familiar ease, but the damage had been done.
The drug he had been injected with was fast acting, already Clint's legs felt numb and wobbly. Clint turned ready to defend himself even though his vision was already clouding around the edges.
Swift stepped into focus just as Clint's knees hit the carpet. "Unfortunately for you, Agent, I can't afford to let an opportunity like you slip away. We've known from the very beginning who you are and who you work for. The only reason we've kept you alive this long is in here." The man's finger pointed at the archer's head. "You are the perfect test subject."
That fleeting bit of light Clint had felt break through the clouded walls of his heart earlier vanished with the man's words. As his strength left him Clint felt cold.
The last thought that crossed the archer's mind before he fell into complete darkness was that he had inadvertently lied to Tony.
Clint wasn't going home after all.
End of Part One
So that's all folks, killer ending right? Blame it on school. I'll write when I can write ^^ Encouragement and ideas are always welcomed! I get more inspired about plot and ideas when I talk them out with people (I heart brainstorming ^^)
I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to do next, but I'm always open to adding things…
Such as Clintasha, I do see Natasha and Clint possibly rekindling their relationship…but you'll have to be patient my dear readers ^^ Rome was not built in a day and they are two seriously messed up assassins ^^
PS: If you kill me you'll never see what happens next ^^ And if ever you feel I'm moving too slow on getting the next part of the story up feel free to bug me (but do it kindly, no death threats…those just creep me out)
Reviews and Encouragement are loved ^^
I miss you guys already!