A/N: This is a sequel, of sorts, to the first vignette in "Five Times Clint Barton Loses His Train of Thought" (you can find it via my profile page), which shows a six-year-old Clint Barton hiding from his miserable childhood with his only friend. I clipped that piece into the aww!cute challenge on be_compromised, but people thought it was way too sad, and wouldn't I please do something happy!cute instead. This is what came out, and frankly with all the angst on "Highway of Diamonds" I could sure use a fluff break. It was intended as a mere comment fic, but Kylen said "post it" and then I took a mini-poll among some of my f-listers and they said yes you should, and so here we are: proof that (occasionally) Alpha Flyer has a heart.
I don't own Clint or Natasha, but certain other things are universal.
By Alpha Flyer
He loves the way she says his name when they're alone. Her voice is never the same, carrying an encyclopedia of meanings for him to discover and learn.
When he'd awoken from Loki's control, his name from her lips had conveyed reassurance, comfort, relief, and more than a bit of now-get-up-and-get-on-with-it; it had been that voice which had banished the God of Lies from his mind and brought him back to himself, more than the impact of the metal railing or her fist to his skull.
Since they have become lovers he has heard her breathe his name in surrender or affirmation, as a caress or a demand - sometimes (always) implying that ... thing neither of them has yet put into words.
Here it comes again, his name; the inflection something he hasn't heard before - a carefully calibrated blend of amusement and disbelief. The Romanoff equivalent of a Barton what the fuck?, with an overlay of something he can't quite identify.
"Yeah?" Best to stay neutral, until he can assess the terrain for landmines. "What?"
"What is ... this?"
Natasha is cleaning out the storage closet in his little flat, trying to make room for a few things of her own. They're not moving in together or anything - they both value their space - but she has started to stay over at his place rather more these days and it makes sense for her to keep a few things here. But finding room is an issue in the small apartment. It's not that Clint has a tonne of stuff (he doesn't), but the closets are tiny, and yeah, it's probably about time that those empty boxes of fletching supplies go for recycling.
He turns around to see what she's on about, and it's like someone punched him in the gut.
Dangling between Natasha's thumb and her forefinger, almost as if it were an alien artifact (possibly contaminated), is a raggedy scrap of fabric, barely recognizable as what it might once have been: A stuffed bear. Not particularly pretty or cute, and the fur has been mostly rubbed bare by over-zealous little hands, but a bear nonetheless.
Clint swallows, hard.
"A stuffed bear. I can see that. What is it doing in your closet, Hawkeye?"
Images flash unbidden before Clint's eyes. The panic when he almost hadn't found his bear before he and Barney moved from one foster home to the one that would be their last; it was the social worker who insisted that he'd be allowed to look for him over the family's cold glares. Grabbing him the night Barney said they should run away, to the circus at the edge of town. The look on the cop's face ("Your effects, now get the fuck out of town, kid, and don't come back!"), when they had to let him go after a night in jail. Pfc Walker in Afghanistan, cackling, "Barton has possessions. Guess what, guys?" (Guy had ended up with two loose teeth before he could answer his own question; the week in the tank had been worth it, and no one else ever looked.)
Against all that, there were the nights when that little scrap of fur had been all that stood between a little boy and his fears, listened patiently to his stories, or provided comfort after a beating.
And now, the bear dangles from the hand of one of the most lethal people on Earth - a woman whose own childhood is a jumble of memories, implanted by men without conscience - holding what to her must seem like scrap of grungy fabric, in a shape too ridiculous for a grown man (and a trained assassin) to own.
Clint has never felt this … exposed.
But he owes a debt. Natasha understands about those, and maybe she will understand about this.
"He's not an it, Tasha. He's a he. And he's ... a friend. The ... oldest."
He steps into her space and takes the bear from her hand, inspecting him for evidence of moth damage (he had to be dry cleaned after Kandahar, to destroy possible eggs). There isn't any, but the left ear is even danglier than it used to be, and the right eye is still gone.
Under his partner's watchful gaze, Clint whacks the bear's body a couple of times to get the dust out. For the briefest of moments he brings the scrap of fur up against his chin, just under his ear to feel what softness remains, before turning the wizened, ugly face in Natasha's direction.
"Teddy," he says, in his best formal briefing room voice, with just a touch of defiance, "meet Natasha. Tasha, this is Teddy."
For a moment Natasha just stands there, her eyes moving between the bear and its owner, back and forth, and Clint knows that a judgment is imminent by the way she shifts her stance ever so slightly. (Black Widow has few tells, but this one he learned early on.)
It comes sooner than he'd thought.
"Clint," she says, her voice vibrating a little in that you're-an-idiot-but-you're-my-idiot way that he's figured out usually means things will be okay. He breathes a small sigh of relief as she continues.
"Don't ever let Stark anywhere near him."