Author's Note- Special thanks to Hawksicle and the folks over at The Beta Branch for going over the story with a fine tooth comb!
Some have asked about Clint's history in the Minion-verse, so here's a little peek into some of his backstory. At least, the backstory in my head since Marvel hasn't done a Hawkeye or Black Widow movie yet to fill things out :P
Disclaimer: The Avengers are not mine, but Marvel/Disney's.
"Why the hell does Stark own a set of knives that can't cut worth a damn?" Clint snapped, shutting the cabinet door with a little more force than necessary. Useless cutlery offended his precious assassin sensibilities.
He was getting tired of this. Tony Stark had just about every gadget known to man that had been announced as "suited to take care of all your kitchen needs" and then some. Unfortunately, none of them met Clint Barton's needs when it was suddenly his turn to cook dinner for everyone. The others seemed to get by fumbling with whatever they could salvage, but the archer had always believed in using the right tools for the job, no matter what.
"Seriously, a potholder warmer?" Clint complained, holding up the small contraption. "Where does he find this stuff?"
"I believe it was the designer's idea," Pepper replied with a smile. "We told her Tony likes technology, but honestly, I think she went a little overboard. I don't want to break his heart, though. Tony thinks they're cute."
"Useless, is what they are," he muttered, rummaging through the cupboards for a decent set of non-stick pans. There were a lot of expensive and pretty looking dishes, pots, pans, and other assorted tools, but many of them lacked functionality. One burnt dish could ruin the fancy coating or the darn things could chip if they were scrubbed too hard.
Clint finally gave up, sitting down on the stool with a sigh and running a hand over his face. "Please tell me you have a kitchen supplier on speed dial."
"Sorry, Agent Barton," the CEO said apologetically, giving him an amused look. "The outfitter is the same one that provided all of these items. They promised they were top of the line."
Shaking his head, he stood up and reached into his pocket, searching for his keyring. "If Stark wants to insist on doing this communal dinner rotation thing, I'm gonna need my kitchen supplies, not this over-priced crap."
Pepper shook her head slightly as she chuckled. "He's not going to like you calling his gizmos crap when he paid premium prices for them. It's like his inventions, really. Don't skimp on price unless you want to skimp on quality."
"Yeah," Clint replied, glancing at her, "Stark's stuff may be pricey, but in comparison with this piece of junk? His equipment is actually worth the cost. That's one thing I'll give him- he may not have much by way of people skills, but the quality of his work is second to none."
Pulling out his phone, he stepped back into the common area entryway. He was still getting used to the lavish dwelling, having moved his gear from the Helicarrier last week. The agent was still trying to sort through the remains of his belongings back at what was left of the apartment complex. The fire appeared to have taken everything except what he had hastily thrown into his emergency bag.
Pepper had immediately taken charge once she found out about his destroyed possessions. One phone call had an assistant at her side within minutes, taking an inventory of what he would need until he had a chance to do his own shopping. The assistant had returned quickly with several changes of clothes, toiletries, and some dog supplies for Arrow.
Natasha answered fairly quickly. "What do you need, Clint? I'm in the middle of a training session."
"What time to do you plan on finishing? I um, I need to go back to the house. To pick up some things," Clint almost mumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose as he heard the muffled screech of a trainee. Some kids never learned.
"Sorry, I couldn't hear you." There was a plea for mercy, followed by a soft crunch.
"Tasha, you're not supposed to kill the trainees. Maim them maybe, but no killing."
There was a sigh of frustration. "Are you sure? What if they've done something to deserve it?"
"Nat," he warned, smiling at the unfortunate wails of the idiot trainee. "We've had this discussion before. No killing the new guys."
"I'm not killing them, per se."
"That was a possible ACL tear from the sounds of your victim's screaming of 'Oh God, oh God- I didn't think my knee could bend that way!' That's too much paperwork, and you know it."
Natasha huffed lightly. "That's not what I call it."
"Really? So what do you call it?"
"Pounding SHIELD's Sexual Harrassment policy into a few thick skulls," she replied smugly.
"Watch the crippling then, Nat. You don't wanna piss of the brass."
"Deputy Director Hill set the session up herself and told me to make sure they understand by any means necessary. You don't want to disobey Hill, do you?"
Clint sighed. He really wished his car hadn't gotten trashed in New Mexico. "Look- when you're done ripping them apart, could you please stop by the Tower? I need a lift to the house."
"My house. You know, Mill Basin?" he said hesitantly. "I don't want to go… Um, will you please come with me? I don't know if I can do this by myself."
Natasha grew quiet. "I'll be right over."
He sighed in relief. "Thanks."
Arrow trotted up to him, leaning against his leg for a scratch. His tail wagged slightly as he looked up at the archer and whined softly.
Clint patted the German Shepherd on the head. Somehow, the damn mutt was learning when to give him his supportive puppy dog eyes, right when the assassin needed it the most. I'm right here with you, partner, the chocolate eyes seemed to be saying.
Mill Basin, Brooklyn suburbs…
Clint and Natasha pulled up in front of his old house, putting the car into park and stepping out to look at the home. It was a colonial style structure, yellow with white trim. At least, that's what Laura claimed it was; he still swore it looked pink. A swing set sat unused next to a small, faded archery target. It looked like someone had removed the other toys from the yard.
Green bushes lined the house and iron fence, and the lawn appeared fresh and well-kept. His brother-in-law had put him in touch with a landscaper after the incident five years ago; he hadn't been able to bring himself to come back to where he had lost everything.
The paint had been redone, most likely by the cleanup crew to disguise the repairs to the rear where the terrorists had left a mess. The flowers that he and Laura had painstakingly planted hadn't made it, and the landscaper had chosen not to replant them. At least the rosemary was still around, and had climbed up the narrow trellis to the side of the house where their herb garden grew wild from lack of pruning.
Clint noticed the new front door and pulled out a key, inserting it into the lock and turning. His hand reached up to the iron placard mounted next to the entry, the word "Barton" embossed on the front. Hesitating, he opened the door as Natasha put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
The entryway had new carpeting, as did the rest of the lower level. He walked around the area that he knew had held a bloodstain from where Laura had fallen, killed by a bullet to the forehead when she had answered the door. Arrow lingered there now, sniffing at the carpet and growling softly.
Pausing at the staircase, he turned and began walking up the stairs slowly.
"Where are you going, Clint?" Natasha asked, breaking the ominous silence that filled the house.
He looked down at her, his face appearing over the banister. "Getting some clothes. All I've got at HQ and the carrier are uniforms, pretty much. I don't know about you, but I really don't think tactical gear is in fashion right now."
She followed him up the stairs, the dog trailing behind. He passed into the master suite, pointedly ignoring the three bedrooms belonging to the kids. Two of them were missing beds; they had been removed by the clean-up crew, who were unsure whether or not Barton would return and didn't want him to come home to bloody beds.
Clint moved into the master bedroom, uncovering the dresser and tossing the white sheet to the side. Walking over to the closet, he pulled out a large suitcase and unzipped it. Selecting several sets of shirts and pants that hadn't been eaten by moths or five years of storage, he packed them neatly, hoping they still fit. He would need to wash them, if the excess dust was any indicator.
Pulling the framed photographs off of the dresser and walls, he laid them carefully on top of the clothes. Natasha passed him a small box containing Laura's jewelry. Sighing, he returned to the second closet for a second suitcase to house the rest of the things he planned on taking to the Tower.
On a whim, he moved the suitcases to the floor and removed the large white sheet covering the bed. Gently folding the large hand-made quilt that lay underneath, he laid it in the second suitcase and finished packing. Laura's mother had made it for them as a wedding present, and he was feeling a little nostalgic at the moment.
Arrow sat in front of Nicole and Lewis's rooms, his tail wagging slightly and staring into the empty spaces. Clint stopped, looking in to try to see what the dog was looking at, but found nothing. "What's wrong?"
The German Shepherd whined, looking up at him. He pursed his lips, his gaze softening. Setting the suitcases down, he walked quickly into each room and selected an item, tucking them under his arm and picking up the suitcases again.
Natasha took the suitcases and other items from him, taking them to the car and placing them to the trunk. When she returned, she found Clint in the kitchen looking at the new floor tiles. Arrow remained by his side. Her partner seemed to be staring into space, ignoring the sheets draped over the furniture in the rest of the house.
"Clint," she called gently, catching his attention. "Are you okay?"
He jerked slightly, looking back at her. The archer slowly turned back to the kitchen. "I'm fine."
"Do you know what you need?"
"Yeah." He moved into the kitchen, pulling utensils out of the drawers and piling them neatly on the granite countertop. The broken bay window that the terrorist team had burst through had been replaced along with the paneling in the dining room and kitchen cabinetry. "There's some boxes in the garage. Can you grab them for me, please?"
She nodded, disappearing through the nearby door and returning several minutes later with the boxes. Piling the items inside, Clint moved on to locate his favorite pots and pans. He and Laura had designed the gourmet kitchen together, to better practice their shared fondness for cooking and baking.
A memory caught him by surprise, of holding Callum after the bullets had taken his life. The boy had been gunned down before he could run to their neighbor Fitz for help, and had fallen into his father's arms. His hands began shaking, and Clint almost dropped the pan he was holding as tears came to his eyes.
Natasha rushed to his side, holding him in a tight, protective embrace as he broke down. "He died in my arms, Tasha. It's fucked up. It wasn't fair!"
They held on to one another for some time, the Russian slowly rubbing his back in a soothing gesture while he finally took the time to cry over his loss.
Later, Clint collected himself, wiping his eyes as he finished collecting his cookware. He looked back up to Natasha, sighing tiredly. "Thanks, Nat."
"Don't worry about it," she replied softly. "That's what partners are for."
Thankfully, Bruce volunteered to help Clint wash the five boxes of kitchen items, saving him a lot of time before dinner had to be started. He was quietly cheering at seeing some of the strange, useless appliances find homes in a storage closet instead of wasting kitchen space as the archer replaced them with some more traditional cooking supplies.
"So, Erik Selvig called me," the physicist started, trying to coax some conversation out of the quiet archer. "He, uh, asked about you."
"Oh, yeah?" Clint asked, scrubbing viciously at a pot. "What did he want?"
Bruce frowned. He knew the two didn't get along, and he really hated having to be the middleman. Thor had mentioned being saddened that two of the people he cared about would barely speak to each other, especially when they had all been through so much together. "Well, he did ask how you were doing, which was a surprise. He's not typically fond of, well, soldier types."
"Ain't that the truth," Barton muttered crossly. "Look, Doc- just level with me. He's asking for something, isn't he?"
"What makes you think he wants something?"
Clint snorted. "Because you're the third person he's used to contact me."
"Oh. That's… odd," Bruce replied, blinking in surprise. "Why doesn't he contact you directly?"
The agent shrugged, handing over the pot. "Don't know. Don't care. First time, he asked Thor. Said he wanted to talk about what went on in the Tomb. I wasn't really in the right frame of mind to talk, so I ah, told Thor to tell Selvig to leave me alone and go see a shrink. I think he did, so hopefully it helped him, I guess."
Bruce remembered the rough few weeks following the Tesseract incident. Barton had been on lockdown for several days, and after that had sequestered himself in his apartment trying to deal with the trauma. It had taken Natasha's persistence and oddly enough Tony Stark's unconventional idea of pet therapy to draw him out. Clint had vanished for a week after his apartment complex burned down, leaving SHIELD and the remaining Avengers frantic until Natasha had turned up with Barton and the dog, sitting on Tony's couch.
Erik was his friend, and Bruce knew that the astrophysicist had also suffered under Loki's not-so-tender care. He had been exhausted when they had found him on the roof of Stark Tower. The man had fallen into a depression after finally realizing the full ramifications of what he had done. It was likely that he had reached out to Barton in an effort to try to find out what had happened in the Tomb, but the archer was the last one that Erik should have been talking to at that time.
As hurtful as it may have been, Barton telling him to talk to a shrink instead may have been the best advice Erik had gotten. Bruce knew that his friend had been seeing a SHIELD psychologist ever since, and seemed to be doing better for it. It was odd that Erik was still afraid to approach Barton directly, though.
"Second time," Barton continued, scrubbing a strange looking implement, "Selvig talked to Stark- something about escorting Dr. Foster to some conference coming up soon. I guess he's a bit paranoid still. Stark told him that Fury had already arranged for me to escort him to the same conference. Knowing my luck, I'll actually get stuck doing it, too. Besides, the last thing Selvig would want is someone like me watching her. A jack-booted thug."
"He called you that?" Bruce asked, glancing back to the archer in surprise.
Clint nodded. "Among other things. That was probably the tamest of the words he used. Some of the more colorful ones involved my everlasting ignorance and heartless amoral ambiguity, or something like that."
"That seems a bit harsh," the physicist replied. "Erik's always been a bit standoffish towards SHIELD agents, but he's never been that nasty with words before."
"You would know him better than I would," Barton sighed. "It's one of the reasons I was put in charge of the detail. Fury told me that some of his colleagues said he was acting strange, and I was supposed to keep an eye on him in particular. Part of the problem we've got is my fault, I guess. The way we met, well, there was a bit of subterfuge on my part. He was great to hang out with, though, until the jig was up and it turned out that I wasn't an engineer after all."
Bruce winced. "Erik did mention you had a bit of a, ah, disagreement. It sounds like you did a very thorough job when you both worked together, at least. I think that's part of what bothers him the most. That man hates to be fooled by anything- no wonder he took it personally."
"Maybe," the archer muttered. "So, what did he want?"
"Well, there may have been mention that he was looking for some unusual test instruments, and he was having trouble locating them. From the sound of it, Dr. Foster is trying to fabricate a way to communicate with Asgard, and it's going to require some specialty equipment. She's apparently rather talented at jury-rigging her own gear."
"I guess that makes more sense now," Clint replied dryly, reaching for a large, sharp knife and dunking it in the soapy water. "That was my job, you know. In the Tomb."
"Acquiring things?" Bruce asked with interest. Not many people had been able to get the archer to open up about his time as a brainwashed minion of Loki. Based on Selvig and the other men's stories, though, Clint had been more than just a gofer.
"Yeah, I think so," Clint said with a shrug. "We needed a lot of equipment and resources, manpower, vehicles, that type of thing. I knew where to get them, so when Selvig or Loki needed something, I went and got it for him. Well, in most cases sent guys after it, but the more specialized equipment and materials, I went after myself."
"Like the iridium."
"Yeah, like the iridium, apparently." The archer gave a heavy sigh, stopping his washing and gazing out the kitchen window at the open skyline. "That one's still kinda fuzzy. I remember something about an eyeball?"
Bruce shuddered. The other man shrugged, and picked up where he had left off. "I know what it's like, you know. The confusion, the anger at knowing you did something bad and not being able to remember more than flashes. Some things come and some things go, you know?"
"Yeah, Doc," Clint agreed softly. "I know. There's just so much I can't remember, and then there's things that are clear as glass. Things like the new arrow designs; you remember, the ones you brought me? I know them, and I know how they work, yet I can't remember where I learned to hack the damn Helicarrier power control system. Once I worked with it a little, right before we got to the dry dock, some of it came back, but it's just…"
"Frustrating?" The physicist reached for a new drying towel, stacking the knife Clint had handed him neatly next to the others in the set. "Trust me, I've been living with frustrating for the last four years."
Clint gave him a side-long glance, chuckling lightly. He appeared slightly less stressed than when Bruce had first walked into the kitchen and caught him hiding Tony's hand-held waffle iron. It also occurred to him that this was perhaps the most he had ever heard the agent speak at one time.
"I haven't been really good at the whole, socializing… thing for years," the physicist began, picking up some more wet utensils, "I know what you're going through, though. Sort of. If you need to talk to someone, you can always stop by my lab, or wherever."
"Thanks," Clint replied with a light smile as he handed over a large soup pot. "I'll keep that in mind."
"So, on another note. Where did you get all of this stuff?" Bruce asked, setting the pot down on a towel and picking up the wet dish that Clint had handed to him. "It looks well kept, at least."
The archer shrugged. "We picked up a few things here and there. Mostly trade shows, department stores and such. Some of it was, um, wedding presents."
"You're married?" the physicist asked, his eyes widening as he turned to face the other man. He hadn't had much of a chance to go over Barton's personnel file, and after the Tesseract crisis was over, hadn't felt the need to; Bruce could understand the need to keep some things private. Besides, he was sure that Tony wouldn't take long to hack it and regale him with the contents at some point.
"Was," Clint corrected. "She's gone now."
"Would it be okay if I asked what happened?" Bruce asked cautiously, watching the other man's saddening expression. "It's okay if you don't wanna talk about it."
"Nah, it's okay. My therapist says it's good to talk about things anyway, and I really haven't said much about it," Barton replied with another shrug. "It happened about five years ago. We had just finished having dinner, and my eldest was helping me with the dishes before I set up some coffee for the security detail."
Bruce stared awkwardly at the dish in his hand. "Security detail?"
"Yeah. It's common for senior agents to have a security detail if they've got a family. SHIELD doesn't deny you a chance at a social life, but it's not usually recommended since the civilians may not have training to prevent kidnapping or worse. Laura was a programmer- not exactly a trained field agent. Fury insisted on the detail, and I can't say I disagreed. Besides, it's good training for some of the newer agents."
"Did you ever watch her program anything?" Bruce asked suddenly. "I'm not sure what she may have programmed on a regular basis since I didn't know her, but could it be possible that you learned some of it from her without realizing?"
"Hm," the archer replied, pausing for a moment. "You may be on to something, Doc. Maybe that, combined with some of the stuff I learned at SHIELD in advanced training just sort of, you know, clicked."
The physicist and occasional green monstrosity nodded silently. There were many things they were still learning about the effects of the Tesseract. Several of the scientists had been poking and prodding Erik, giving him IQ tests and requesting regular brain activity scans; the astrophysicist had eventually decided enough was enough and fled to his home in New Mexico, where he was working with Jane Foster.
If it was that bad for Erik Selvig, Bruce could only imagine what it would be like for a non-scientist like Agent Barton, who could theoretically be ordered to submit to the tests whether he liked it or not. Erik was a civilian consultant, therefore he had only endured the tests to satisfy his own curiosity until Dr. Kopersky had pushed his buttons too far.
"Anyway," Barton continued, "I had just finished taking down a drug ring that had ties to some other oddly named organizations that didn't take kindly to their operations getting messed with. So, about a week later, I get home, cook dinner, and get ready to say goodnight to the wife and kids."
He took a deep breath, preparing himself for the next part. "The doorbell rang, and Laura went to answer the door. Someone… someone shot her when she opened it. About the same time, the other half came in through the dining room window. They dropped me in the kitchen."
Bruce watched sadly as Clint gently set down the last dish. "What kind of idiots drop a guy like me in the fucking kitchen? They went for Callum, and I managed to take most of them down with whatever I could grab from the silverware drawers. I just, uh, wasn't fast enough. The bastards shot my boy when he tried to run for help. At least I got to hold him before, you know…"
"Before he, ah, passed." Bruce finished.
The archer hung his head. "Yeah. Some of them went upstairs, caught Nicole and Lewis in their beds. I just… I couldn't do anything. Multiple bullet wounds followed by a nasty blow to the head? Pretty much put me down for the count. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in the tender custody of some upstart terrorist group."
"Well, it looks like you escaped," the physicist pointed out, helping Clint tuck the cooking supplies away. The archer removed several pieces, citing that he needed them to cook dinner.
"Yeah, I suppose."
There was a loud crash, followed by a fwoosh coming from the entryway. A chittering blurp followed a dog's frantic barking. Both men turned around, trying to locate what was causing the noise. Clint tilted his head to one side, trying to reconcile what they were seeing.
Bruce spoke first, his eyes wide with surprise. "I think your dog just tried to eat Dummy."
"Tried being the operative word," Clint replied weakly. "I'm not quite sure who's winning."
Arrow shot around the corner, covered with white foam. The large helper bot trundled around the corner, beeping what could only be expletives. It was aiming its cylindrical extinguisher nozzle attachment at the dog, waving it menacingly.
The German Shepherd growled at the robot, darting behind Clint's legs. The archer's eyes widened. "Oh shit!"
Holding up a large skillet, the agent ducked behind the island. White foam splattered against the metal pan, dirtying the dishes that they had just finished cleaning. Barking wildly, Arrow scrambled to dodge the robot.
The substance didn't smell like regular extinguisher material. Scooping up a small amount of the foam, Clint held it up to his nose and smelled. There was a trace of rose and lavender. Realizing where he had smelled it before, he frowned.
"Jarvis? Why is Dummy trying to wash my dog with Pepper's shampoo?" he asked with caution.
"I do believe Mr. Stark may have ordered Dummy to clean up after him, sir. Dummy tends to be a bit over-enthusiastic at times. I do apologize for the trouble, Agent Barton," Jarvis's apologetic tone replied. The last words were followed by another squirt of scented foam. "Dummy, please behave yourself."
Bruce snickered. They both fell to the floor, laughing as Arrow stared at them morosely.
Clint sighed, his face red. He had a long way to go before he could say things were going right in his life, but this new home… it was a definite start.