Disclaimer: Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton,and all affiliated places and characters are the sole property of Marvel Entertainment, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Not mine, not mine, not mine, and I'm not pretending they are.
Continuity: Avengers Assemble#13
Author's Note: I really don't care for the pairing of Hawkeye with Spider-Woman. From what I've seen so far, they seem to snipe at each other rather than exchange witty banter, and I honestly can't see what would bring them together other than sex. They appear to have broken up in Matt Fraction's HAWKEYE title, but - as of now, in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, at least - they are together, and that's not my call. I don't hate Jess. I've found her, in other stories, to be funny, engaging, and likable I just want her hands off Hawkeye. She'd be much better with, oh, Bruce Banner. Just MHO. Still, given the events in AA #13, I'm pretty sure that Jess would have a LOT going through her head, and since she's the one who started talking to me when I sat down to write this story (and gosh can that woman talk... she hardly gave me a second's peace!), it's told from her POV.
"Um, yeah, hi. Girlfriend here. Nice to meet you." Jessica Drew, known to most of the world as Spider-Woman when she was in full Avengers uniform, raised both hands in mock surrender and backed up a pace. "Mind pointing that thing somewhere else, big guy?"
Despite intentionally keeping her tone light, Jessica's stomach knotted. True, she knew that Hawkeye would not intentionally perforate her with long, pointy objects, but that knowledge did little to alleviate the fact that she had come around the corner to find herself looking at the wrong end of one of his arrows... the business end.
The pointy ones. Clint NEVER uses the pointy ones... not on people. We're Avengers. Avengers don't kill.
And yet, in the split seconds it took for her boyfriend to recognize her and lower his bow, it was abundantly clear: this was not a trick arrow, not one of the fancy ones. Not a net launcher or boomerang, not a blunted tip or a gas arrow. This was a simple, direct line of wood and metal - a killing bolt. It was just one more thing for her to add to the night's list of "Things That Are Really Making My Skin Crawl."
Clint Barton sighed, returning the arrow to his quiver, and glared at her sideways. "DON'T sneak up on me like that."
"What, you want me to announce my arrival by tap-dancing to 'Back in the USSR?'" She paused, considering that. "I haven't done it for years, but probably remember the steps... kick-ball-change, shuffle, tap..."
But Hawkeye was no longer looking at her... he was back on guard, all business. He had his "on duty" face up - that mask of blankness that extended even to his eyes, snuffing out the boundless good humor and wiseacre trickster that were far more typical of him. Jess had been dating him long enough to know that look.
I hate that look.
He was as tightly strung as his bow tonight... not that Jess could blame him. What he'd been through... what they'd all been through... was a bit much, even for a trio of Avengers. Vengeance trips and self-made mutants and watching a teammate who was more like family get her throat ripped out and then change into Ms. Godzilla.
Actually, that's a fairly normal day for the likes of us... normal and SUCKY, but normal.
And there it was, another item on the Skin-Crawly list: the reason why they were standing guard outside the door of a Russian hotel room in a district that could be charitably described as "economically challenged."
In the States, we have "no-tell motels." Here, they have "you won't want to admit you've been anywhere near here so why bother saying we won't tell" motels. But here they were - and with hours until dawn, here they would stay.
At least the screaming had stopped...
She sidled closer, bumping Clint with her shoulder. "Hey. Why don't you let me take a watch... you look like you've been dragged through a Russian sewer and beat up by a mob of lizard people. Oh, wait..."
For a moment, the mask slipped, and he had the good grace to try to smile... a smile that didn't really work, but it was the effort that counted. His eyes were weary beyond belief... but stubborn, too. He shook his head.
"Not now. I can sleep... after." A wet, miserable retching sound came from behind the door, followed by a snarling hiss that sounded far more animal than human, making the both cringe. "I need to be here. Just in case."
"Just in case... what?" The edge crept into her voice unintended, and he turned his face from her as she cursed silently.
Clint Barton did NOT deal well with "jealous girlfriend." It wasn't fair - he'd been the one to pursue her, she'd been the one who needed convincing, who had given into his advances with some reluctance. But now - damn, damn, damn.
Don't get into this, Jess. Not here. Not NOW. Later, maybe... but don't be an...
"Just in case Natasha needs you." She'd never been good at listening to her own good advice. The words pushed at her until they forced their way out, but once out, fell flat - splat - to the slightly sticky floor.
His returning silence drew tension into her shoulders, knotted her stomach. She'd been told... she'd been warned... going into this relationship. Carol. Bobbi. Jen. How many others? Teammates. Friends. They'd warned her that if she wanted to be with Clint... if she planned to make the relationship last more than a few fleeting weeks or months... that there were Things You Need To Know.
Things that Would Not Change, Not Ever, So Don't Try.
And yes, Natasha Romanova is the first thing on the list of those Things. Nat. The Black Widow. Hawkeye's ex. His FIRST ex that mattered. What had Bobbi said? That Nat was eternal. It was like she'd always been there... and always would be.
Don't get between Hawkeye and the Widow.
As if anything could.
She'd tried not to bristle when missions went out, and invariably where Nat went, Clint followed. She didn't notice it working the other way... even on this jaunt, it had been Clint who insisted on partnering Natasha; the Widow hadn't wanted backup, hadn't asked for backup, and the ice in her voice, insisting that NEITHER of them were going with her, would have frozen out lesser men - and any woman who wasn't a jealous girlfriend.
And yet... Clint had seemed entirely oblivious to it. It wasn't "yeah, go on, see if I care about your attitude." It wasn't "cut the crap, Nat, I'm coming anyway." It was a complete acceptance of the attitude, to the point that it didn't even register with him anymore.
It didn't make any sense to Jess. Natasha was cold, an ice woman, without any visible feeling for anyone when there was work to be done. She unbent a little, sometimes, between missions - enough to play the odd game of cards, to toss snide comments at "Dancing with the Stars." Mostly, however, she was the Black Widow. She was a spy to the core, and to a spy, emotions were a liability. And... she had her own agendas to follow, despite the fact that she was nominally an Avenger. Agendas like this - unfinished business, debts to pay. Jess hated the thought that, to the Widow, all Clint seemed to be was a variable in her equations. Another asset.
"That's it, isn't it?" She allowed her tone to soften now, trying to convey a silent I'm on your side here. "Clint, we're all on the same team. Literally. Figuratively. I won't let her down, any more than I'd let you down."
"I know that." His voice was low, even, and gave her nothing to read. It might have been grateful... or just exhausted. "Jess, it isn't about you. It isn't about you and me."
He paused, and if he'd been the kind of guy who thought about things before he said them, he'd have been thinking about his words carefully right now. The miniscule head-tilt, however, told Jessica that he was simply listening hard for a very short moment. His next words confirmed it.
"It's about me and Nat. I promised her I'd have her back."
You SO did not. She wanted to spit that back in his face, feeling the anger rising, then stopped, trying to force it back. The scene - had it only been hours before? - rewound, played itself out again.
They'd stumbled into the hallway - Clint on point, Jessica covering him. Behind them - Natasha lumbered, graceless, unused to the muscle and bulk of the form she'd found herself in, carrying the limp body of the girl who had nearly killed her, yellow reptilian eyes glowing faintly in the dim hallway. Jess had shuddered, keeping her distance.
They hadn't had a choice. Faced with letting Natasha bleed out on a sewer floor or take her chances with an experimental gene splicing serum, the choice had been plain - no choice at all. Jessica had seen the regenerative properties of the serum right before her eyes, and would not let a teammate die in her boyfriend's arms.
It wears off, she told herself. It wears off. Might take a while, but it will clear itself out of Nat's system, out of Galina. Then, when she's good and human again, I'll have a little chat with Clint about all this tagging around after someone else's outstanding checks.
She'd had to think of something... if not for Natasha, for Clint. She'd never seen him so utterly at a loss - never. The timbre of his voice, screaming Nat's name as he watched her fall, had raked at her own heart. It was a cry of more than anguish; it was on old wound ripped open to bleed with new vigor. He'd given up the fight before she'd hit the floor, vaulting to Nat's side, and when Jessica's eyes met his, there was... what? Desperation. Fear. Self-loathing? Yes, yes, and yes.
His hands and arms were slick with red streaks, his fingers pressed down on the wound, but his eyes told her that he had know idea what to do next... and hated himself for it. For all the other Avengers teased him, Clint was not dumb, not half-witted... he knew more about field medicine than half the heroes who'd never seen the backside of a carney camp. Growing up the way he had, Clint knew how to splice, wrap, stitch, even cauterize most things hand-to-hand combat could throw at his team.
But watching him there, Jess knew that he couldn't think of a single thing beyond Natasha. Beyond thinking she was dying, right there, if we couldn't get her out... and he froze.
Jess wondered if it had occurred to Clint that Nat would be dead, no questions about it, if she'd had things her way and waltzed into that sewer all alone. A searching look told her that yes, he did... and that there might be another one-on-one chat coming up in the near future, one she wouldn't be privy to.. though how much Natasha would listen was anyone's guess.
They'd paused at the door, the three of them. Jess found herself craning her neck to look up at the creature Natasha had become, and had been startled to see those alien eyes regarding her in return. The voice was gravelly where it didn't hiss, syllables dragged over vocal cords never designed by nature to speak, but the tone was soft.
"Thhhank you, Jessss."
She didn't speak to Clint. Didn't speak with words, at least - but before Jess could manage a "you're welcome," Natasha's eyes had turned to the archer. He met them, held them... and nodded. She had nodded back, then shuffled through into the room and locked the door behind her. Jess had stayed long enough for the screaming and banging to turn her shoulder blades into knots, then had offered to go and fetch fresh clothes for the next morning... and fled.
Now she placed the duffel beside the door, paced a few steps, turned to Clint, trying to keep her voice quiet. Reasonable. As non-threatening, no-jealous-girlfriend-in-miles-of-here as possible. And yet...
"I don't like who you are when you're with her," she said. Well, THAT wasn't the best opening line you've ever had.
Clint looked at her, raised an eyebrow.
"You... you're not yourself. You turn into something... someone... else. Someone like her. Cold. Closed. I hate that."
"I'm sorry." Clint's voice was low, flat. "It's part of who I am, Jess. It's part of me."
SHE'S part of me, Jess added for him, silently. It was true, even if he'd never say it.
"I just want to help you." She changed the tactic, seeking his eyes, almost pleading. "Clint. Don't shut me out this time. Let me help you. Like you wanted to help her. You need to watch her back... I get it. But let me watch yours."
"Can you?" His voice was suddenly fierce, but it was choked, too, as though forcing itself through a throat gone closed, and his eyes flashed. "Can you watch my back? Do you even know what that means right now?" His brow furrowed, and he half-turned away before wheeling back on her. "You know science. You know how it works. You know that nothing's ever... predictable... with this sort of thing. So as much as we think it won't happen, what will you do if she comes through that door and she isn't who she was? Will you help me then? Will you have my back?"
There was something almost strangled in his voice now, and his eyes glittered. His knuckles around his bow were white, and that horrible, choking voice dropped to a whisper. "Because I'll have to put an arrow through her eye socket, Jess. Quick and clean. One shot. Because that's what she wants me to do, if it comes to that. Because if she has to be taken down... I promised her that I'd be the one to do it."
There was no question that Natasha had, somehow, conveyed exactly that to Clint. Maybe not tonight... but if it went back further, if it was long past history, it was almost worse.
It wouldn't occur to her that it would kill him to do it - at least on the inside. But he would do it for her, because he had promised her that he would. For everything else Clint was - pigheaded, childish, goofy, emotionally constipated, obstinate - he always, ALWAYS kept his promises. It was one of the things she loved about him...
She didn't want to know how the promise had come to pass. Whether there was some bizarre telepathy between Hawkeye and the Widow, whether somehow, somewhen, the topic of "If I ever get turned into some potentially lethal killing machine, we need a plan B" had come up over dinner or drinks or just some late-night stakeout when conversation was running short... Jess didn't want to know.
All she did know was that, if things somehow didn't continue to go entirely pear-shaped, she and Natasha Romanova were going to have a long, long talk when they all got back to New York.
Clint had turned away again, but now, he was resting his arm against the dingy beige wall, head bowed. Jessica moved to his side, placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I'll watch with you, then," she said simply. He nodded, but she could not tell whether he was grateful for the company or not.
One thing was certain, however. The fragmentary conversations that had been started on this mission... between her and Clint, between Clint and Natasha... they were far from over. And they would need to be ended, eventually.
Until then, they were just unfinished business.