Disclaimer: I own nothing but the story, though I would like to appreciate a Clint of my own, thank you :)
Author's notes: anuna_81 deserves at least half the credit for this fic as all our discussions about these characters are what made this fic possible in the first place :D Thanks, my dear!

Feedback is love, so please share your thoughts with me 3


Natasha watched the two men at the table in the SHIELD mess hall. At first glance they looked almost identical, especially since they wore the same outfit, black cargo pants and black t-shirts. Clint was bulkier than the slightly younger, wiry man sitting opposite him. The younger man's skin was a bit more tanned, thicker, as if he'd been exposed to the sun and the elements even more than Clint had. They talked, well the younger one talked, Clint did what he always did when presented with a new situation. He listened, he watched, he analyzed - a strategist by nature and need.

Fury had tasked her with bringing the other man and his companion in and the second she'd laid eyes on the photo in the file she knew why. He looked like Clint, a younger, leaner version. His eyes seemed harder in the picture, not as expressive as her Hawk's. How deceiving pictures could be. The man sitting across from Clint now, he was softer, more open than Clint ever was with near strangers. He seemed to enjoy every bite, while Clint didn't show the same enthusiasm. And when he wasn't chewing he was talking, his emotions clearly readable on his face and in the gestures he used. How could two people who looked so much alike on first glance be so different?

Natasha had read the files that Fury had given her on the program the younger man had been a part of. Reading his file had sent chills down her spine. What they'd done to him, it reminded her of her own experience with Red Room. Government agencies trying to manufacture the perfect spies all over the world, how fucking wonderful. She'd dug deeper into Aaron's past after receiving the assignment. He'd been selected into the program after being injured in the war. Of course he'd still been Kenneth then, a ward of the state until age eighteen, taken out of his family along with his two older brothers at age three. His father had hit him in a fit of rage, causing head trauma resulting in brain damage. His father, Frank Barton.

Clint had never mentioned a younger brother, but then he'd only been four at the time they all had been removed from the family. The accident that killed his parents happened not two days after and apparently Barney hadn't tried to keep the memory of Kenneth alive in Clint. It might have been too painful for the older boy, they'd never know now that Barney was dead. Kenneth had still been in hospital when Clint and Barney were brought into their first foster family. And Natasha could only guess that by the time Kenneth had sufficiently recovered his brothers had gotten lost in the system.

Their reunion had been thirty years in the making and orchestrated by Nick Fury himself. Clint had nearly lost it when she'd shown him the file on Aaron Cross two weeks after she'd brought him and Marta in. She hadn't wanted to wait that long, but he'd been on assignment, radio silence, certainly planned exactly that way by Fury. As a chance for Aaron and Marta to find their footing. But for Clint the revelation came out of the blue. He'd taken the file and retreated to his perch on the roof, shrugging off her attempts to keep him close, to have him talk to her. She'd let him be, knowing he needed solitude, space and air to sort out his thoughts.

He snuck into their bed late that night, pulling her close, burying his face in her hair. His skin was icy and smelled of cold and he couldn't suppress a shudder when he pressed his whole length along her body. She just held him, trailing her fingers over his back, pressing kisses along his sternum as she traced the faint scars crisscrossing his body. She held him until his ragged breathing evened out and his grip on her went slack as he fell asleep.

She woke with him hard against her ass, his calloused fingertips caressing her breasts. He fucked her with abandon and she let him. Her body was a familiar path and she let him lose himself in it. When they lay together afterwards, he told her how he'd always thought Kenneth had only been an imaginary friend. Everyone told him that he wasn't real and he had been young enough to believe them. And now… he was Aaron now, and Clint wasn't sure if he lost something he wasn't even aware he had or if he found something completely new.

He asked her about him, what he was like and she told him about the Aaron she'd gotten to know. He was outstanding at hand to hand combat, almost as fast as Natasha. He had a sharp mind and physical abilities even she could envy, but what stood out was a desire to belong. Or so she thought at least.

And now there they sat together, sharing a meal. Marta and she were doing the same, having lunch together, yet they didn't speak. They watched the two men in silence, far enough away so the two of them could speak in private. Natasha saw Clint relax. His shoulders lost the tension and his mouth quirked up at something Aaron said. She knew how much he wanted a family, but how afraid of betrayal he was. It had taken her years to get him to trust her not to and she would rip the heart out of anyone who did.

But now it seemed that someone else was worming his way into his scarred heart. And Natasha could find no fault with Aaron; he might be able to pull Clint out of his shell. But maybe she was biased because he reminded her of her.

"It's good, you know, them being together" Marta said all of a sudden and Natasha turned to her.

"Aaron needed somewhere to belong, somewhere where he could do some good. That's all he ever wanted, I think. Someone who cares about him, a family, a home. And I can see the same need in Clint."

Natasha nodded, thoughtfully regarding Marta.

"But Clint, he wouldn't do just about anything to have that, would he? He wants it on his terms, right?" Marta continued. "He reminds me of a cat somehow, he can be alone, but he chose not to. He likes to watch and keep some distance between himself and others. And I bet he won't hesitate to say what's on his mind if the situation calls for it. Am I right?"

Natasha nodded again, just as a barking laugh from Clint had her turning to the men in time to see him clapping Aaron on the arm, eliciting a big smile from the younger man. She'd do anything to hear that sound more often. Looking to Marta, she saw the same conviction on her face.

"Yes, it's good," Natasha said with a smile, finding that smiling at Marta wasn't that hard after all.