Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers or any of the characters affiliated with them. If I did, there would totally be a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie in the works.

Author's Note: While I embrace constructive criticism, remember this old saying if you choose to leave a review "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"

Thanks to all who reviewed Chapter 13: Patty cake rocks, coastalcajun, Four Horses, Eringo 94, BatmanOtaku, Guest, JennyBunny65, britishbullet, Shelly 2728, Aurora Abbot, Reteka Hyuuga, R1dDL3M37h15, JRBarton, Saffygirl, penguincrazy, m klidnt, rose, bookworm1517, thababes, weemcg33, Melissa, hawkeyeforever, tpt player 5701, Noweia, ch33tahp4w, Kait-WIN3, Reading4Ever, ladybug114, The Pris, awkward hawk, DBhawkguy30, harleyquin990, Qweb, Batghost, Tuch, GremlinX, Liveysak, VioletBrock, Eva7673, Viviannafox, Shazrolane, Mirabilem Electo, YukinaKid, kimbee, isi7140, Lollypops101, jaguarspot, Sandy-wmd, discordchick, and TheNaggingCube

Special Thanks to all who reviewed EVERY Chapter: Kylen, bookworm1517, kimbee, discordchick, Viviannafox, Eringo94, Melissa, awkward hawk, penguincrazy, JRBarton, R1dDL3M37h15, weemcg33, DBhawkguy30,thababes, coastalcajun, Reteka Hyuuga, isi7140, jaguarspot, BatmanOtaku, Lollypops101, Shazrolane, JennyBunny65, GremlinX, Mirabilem Electo, and VioletBrock

For any of you that did review every chapter but were under the name "Guest", I didn't list you because I get several "Guest" reviews every chapter and its impossible for me to differentiate between them .

There were also several people that were only a review or two short of every chapter J Huge thanks to them as well!

Also, thanks to the couple of you who volunteered to do some drawing for my universe! I can't wait to see! :D

This one is long, as promised, but it is the last :( bittersweet for me and for you I'm sure…

THe song for this story was "Some Nights" by FUN. Give it a listen…it's the kind of song I could imagine a fight scene having in the background.

I'll shut up now and let you get on with reading :) You'll find the preview for the next story at the bottom of this chapter!

As usual Kylen is Dan's voice in this chapter and what happens to Dan was her creation and her decision :) She has been incredibly supportive throughout this story and has helped me take Dan to even new levels :D

This story is dedicated to Kylen

Onto the final chapter of "New York"…

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 25, 2010

Phil jabbed at the buttons on the TV remote and glared at the large screen settled almost precariously on a table across the room.

He would get the game on that screen if it was the last thing he ever did.

Clint's birthday was not getting ruined because the technology was getting temperamental.

He was seconds away from throwing the remote at the TV when his door suddenly burst open.

"You got the game on yet?"

Clint was balancing three boxes of pizza in one hand and hauling an 8-pack of blue Gatorade in the other. He took in Phil's unreasonably annoyed expression with an arched eyebrow and moved closer.

"It's not working." Phil jabbed his finger against the buttons harder.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa…" Clint slid the pizza boxes onto Phil's bedside tray and snatched the remote out of his hand like he was child holding something he shouldn't. "No wonder it's not working…you're making it angry with the harsh treatment."

Clint very calmly pressed a series of buttons and the room was suddenly filled with the voices of the pre-game announcers. Clint turned and with a decidedly smug grin offered the remote back to him.

Phil glared half heartedly and took it, tossing it on the bed table with a scowl.

"How did you do that?"

Clint smirked.

"I live in the modern world – you should visit sometime."

Phil rolled his eyes and shifted higher against his pillows.

Clint moved to the TV and adjusted its angle towards Phil's bed, then he glanced over his shoulder and wasn't able to turn his head back fast enough to hide his smirk before Phil saw it.

"You know, Phil…"

And Phil knew this was gonna be good.

"I've managed to go nearly seven years without spending a birthday in the infirmary…and you just had to go ruin that record."

That tone. Sarcastic and mildly scolding, but not quite devoid of humor.

It would have had Phil laughing if rolling his eyes hadn't been more appealing.

"Forgive me for getting shot three times."

It wasn't like he'd planned this after all.

Clint didn't try to hide his smirk this time, turned so Phil could see its full glory.

"Now you're just bragging."

Phil refused to roll his eyes for a third time – especially not when that was what Clint wanted him to do. Clint was the only one that could interpret a reference to multiple personal injuries as bragging. The kid wore his own scars – most of them anyway – proudly, as a testament to his strength. So naturally, he assumed the same was true for everyone.

Clint crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes brightening in determination.

Apparently Phil's refusal to give reaction had been interpreted as a challenge – a challenge that had just been accepted.

"And it's been nine days. I would have been out of the infirmary ages ago."

No doubt he would, much to Phil and Dan's never-ending annoyance.

"That's because you thrive on breaking the rules."

Had no doubt made it a personal mission.

Clint scowled in mocking offense and waved a scolding finger at him.

"I bend the rules. There's a difference."

Phil shot Clint a doubtful look.

"You break them."

And they both knew it. Clint's sudden shrug and noncommittal grunt proved that.

The archer moved to sit in the infirmary chair he'd made his own over the past week, still playing at looking mildly offended.

"Well, in my defense, if something won't bend…"

Phil couldn't hold it back, his eyes rolled without his consent.

Clint chuckled – all pretenses at offense mysteriously gone – and peeked into one of the pizza boxes. Phil put his hand on the top of it and forced it closed again.

"You won't starve if you wait a few minutes for Natasha to get here."

Clint sighed dramatically and sat back in the chair as if that simple request was nearly too much to bear. Phil glanced at the door, wondering where the red headed assassin was. Clint – as he tended to – read his mind.

"She was on the phone…threw a shoe at my head when I tried to find out how long she'd be."

Phil nodded. That meant she was ironing out the final details of her present for Clint. Getting a four acre spread of forest converted into an extreme combat range was no small task. She'd been at it for three weeks. Todd was out there right now, coordinating with her to get the final touches in place.

The fact that she planned on sneak attacking him with a paintball gun was just…brilliance.

"I guess that gives me time to give you my present then."

Clint's eyebrow arched curiously.

"You've been laid up in here for nine days…what could you possibly have gotten me?"

Phil smiled and reached for something hidden under the edge of his blanket.

"But first."

Clint's expression grew even more curious as he accepted the envelope Phil held out to him. His name was written very simply on the front of the envelope.

"You forget whose birthday it was? Needed to remind yourself? Or were you afraid I'd forgotten my own name?"

Phil wished he still had the envelope so he could throw it at Clint's head.

"Just open the damn envelope, smartass. It's not from me."

Clint held up a hand placatingly and then pulled the envelope open. Phil watched him pull out a card, brow furrowing in confusion as he read the front of the card – a generic, colorful picture wishing him a happy birthday.

Then he flipped the card open.

Phil wished he had a camera for the sudden, bright innocent smile that lit Clint's face.

He tossed the card on Phil's blanketed legs to be forgotten for now, but kept a hold of something that had been hidden inside.

A small stack of Polaroid pictures.

"Jesus Christ…" Clint shook his head and rubbed his fingers over his mouth and then huffed out a laugh and flipped through the pictures. "Do you know what this is?"

Phil shook his head. He knew who it was from – had been surprised to get a call on his private cell phone asking how to get a birthday card to Clint. Had been even more surprised when it was Kara Allias on the other end of the line.

It had been almost a year since he'd finally met Brit and Kara – and it had only taken seconds to realize just how much the acrobatic duo meant to Clint. And how much Clint meant to them.

"It's from Brit and Kara."

Phil pretended he didn't know that already and smiled.

"What is it?"

"Jesus, Phil, you're not gonna believe this."

He flipped the stack around and held it out to Phil.

Clint was right – he couldn't believe it.

It was Clint.

A Clint that couldn't have been more than ten years old, all shaggy blonde hair and sharp blue-gray eyes. He was sprawled out on a net of some sort next to an astonishingly young version of Brit. The acrobat had a book in his hands and his mouth was open as he no doubt read the story aloud to his companion. Clint, for his part, was listening with rapt attention.

The next picture wasn't too far removed from the first. Clint looked no older, or younger. He was practically snuggled up between Brit and Kara as the latter read from another book. The most endearing part of that picture, though, was that Clint was fast asleep.

The third picture was Clint in his natural habitat. Looking down range at a target with a bow drawn in his hands. He looked to be in his early teens, shaggy blonde hair swept to the side on his forehead. Even as a child – wearing a faded Batman t-shirt and holey jeans – he looked at home with a bow in his hands. Like the weapon had been crafted just for him and like he had no other place in the world he'd rather be.

The next picture was the most recent – Clint looked to be at least 14, maybe 15. His hair had been cut short and was sticking up in messy angles from his head. He was standing on top of a gymnast bar – just standing like it was a mile wide. He had his bow in his hand, but it wasn't drawn. There was a cloth hanging in a loose circle around his neck. He was motioning at something with his left hand and his mouth was open as if he were saying something. The look on his face was a mixture of triumph, cockiness, and awe.

The final picture was different. It wasn't a candid shot of Clint behind the scenes at Carson's. It was of Clint as Hawkeye. He was standing on a stage, arms spread out from his sides in a cocky, showy fashion. His bow was held tightly in his right hand, held high in pride. He wore a black half mask – a deep purple curved triangle surrounding each eye and curving up – drawing attention to his 'hawkeyes' no doubt. The rest of the costume – mostly black with shocks of that same purple – was fairly simple. Sleeveless, so his shoulders weren't restricted, and fitted enough to show off Clint's impressively toned physique.

It was Hawkeye before he was the Hawkeye the evil souls of the world grew to fear, before his brother had betrayed him and nudged him towards a dark path. He was just a teenager, happy, cocky…innocent – not to the dark ways of the world, Phillip Jacobs had taken that from him – but innocent about the part he would play in those dark ways.

It made Phil's heart ache.

He looked up in surprise when Clint chuckled and pulled the fourth picture from Phil's hand.

"You should have seen the shot I'd just made."

Phil forced himself to smile – to push aside the longing he had to have known Clint back then.

"Must have been good – even you look impressed."

Clint's eyes lit with a spark of cocky arrogance.

"They gave me one look at the target, blind-folded me, spun me in a circle ten times and then guided me to the bar. I climbed up, lined up the shot and…" Clint imitated the motion of pulling back his bowstring with his hands – made a slight whistling sound as he released the imaginary arrow, "bullseye."

"First shot?"

Clint gave him a 'what the hell do you think' look and reached for the other pictures, shifting through them once again. Phil watched him shake his head – a rare look of nostalgia taking up residence in his expression.

"What about the other pictures?"

Clint smiled and held up the first one.

"We were on the trapeze net – he was reading me 'Treasure Island.' Kara was a little picture-taking fiend back then."

Clint huffed a laugh and held up the next picture.

"This one – this one I have no idea…as you can see, I was down for the count. I don't even remember why I was so tired…must have been Ana that took that one."

He looked at the next one for a moment before showing it to Phil again.

"I'd had a fight with Barney – didn't want to talk to Brit or Kara…just wanted to…" he shrugged, "exist, I guess."

Phil already knew archery was how Clint did that – how he shut out the rest of the world and just didn't think.

"Brit followed me – he usually did. Never let me get away with brooding after I nearly broke my neck on the gymnast bar in the middle of the night once. It was the flash of the camera that let me know he was there."

Phil nodded. He wouldn't ask any more about that one – not on Clint's birthday – not when he just wanted the kid to be smiling again.

"And the last one?"

And there it was – that cocky little smirk.

"That's Hawkeye." Clint stated as if that should have been obvious. "It was Swordsman that figured out I could be a hell of a showman when I was hiding behind a mask. He was right – the crowd loved me."

Phil could only imagine. And somehow it wasn't a surprise that Clint had preferred anonymity – even back then.

"How did you get this? The card, the pictures?"

"I gave Brit my number at the park that day. Kara called me three weeks ago – wanted to make sure there was a way to get that to you. I accommodated her."

Clint shook his head and smiled – then he granted Phil with a rare look of complete sincerity.

"Thank you."

Phil inclined his head and smiled back.

"Ready for your present now?"

Clint slid the pictures back into the card and sat back in his chair.

"Lay it on me."

Phil eased forward and reached under his pillow.

"How much do you have stashed in there?" Clint teased.

Phil shot him a quelling look and pulled out another envelope. It was simple, white and blank.

Clint arched an eyebrow and accepted it.

Phil couldn't help but hold his breath as he watched Clint pull the flap back and shake the single item out into his hand.

Several things filtered through Clint's expression in the seconds that followed.

Pain – pain like Phil rarely saw him show. A deep, heart wrenching longing. There was sorrow and even a flash of betrayal. But then there was joy.

"Where did you get this?" Clint's fist went to press against his mouth when his voice cracked and for a moment he closed his eyes.

"It took a lot of digging and searching – years worth."

Clint swallowed thickly and opened his eyes, raising them to Phil's. His eyes were a swirling mixture of emotions – and were shining suspiciously bright.

"This is my parents."

Phil nodded solemnly. He knew what the picture held – a family of four. Two parents, two kids.

It was the Bartons. The Bartons at "Chuck E Cheese" as they gathered around a cake with a bright purple candle shaped like a six.

"I remember this."

"Well it was your birthday."

Clint chuckled lightly, but the pain his expression contradicted the sound.

He stared down at the picture and abruptly drew in a shaky breath.

"I never had anything…Jacobs, he didn't let us…" Clint cleared his throat and shook his head – almost as if forbidding himself from going down that road.

"I know," Phil assured quietly. "Which is why I started looking."

Clint dropped his head down, scrubbing his hand up his face and back into his hair.

"Where did you find this, Phil?"

"On the wall of that Chuck E Cheese, buried under a hundred others just like it."

Clint laughed – still yet to pull his eyes from the picture.

"Your stubborn tenacity strikes again."

Phil smiled with a hint of pride.

"Thank you, Phil…you have no idea…" Clint stopped and smiled suddenly. "Actually, you probably know exactly what this means to me."

Phil didn't deny it. If there was one thing in the world that he knew, it was Clint. Which is what made him ask his next question.

"Even though it has Barney in it?"

Clint's expression froze for a fraction of a breath, before loosening again. His eyes dropped back down to the picture and he sighed.

"He was a good brother once, Phil. Loved me, looked out for me…this is from when that was all true. I'm glad he's in it."

Phil blew out a relieved breath just as the door swung open and their wayward red-headed assassin strode in.

Natasha pushed her way into Phil's room with a grin. Everything was ready. The course was amazing – Bryan's best work as far as Natasha was concerned. She couldn't wait to turn Clint loose on it.

Really couldn't wait to sneak up on him and shoot him with a paintball gun.

Had a quiver full of collapsible tipped, paint-filled arrows hidden on the course just for him because she knew he'd turn it into game of cat and mouse.

Who was the cat and who was the mouse? Well, that remained to be seen.

"Have I missed anything?" She asked as she came to stand behind Clint and looked to the TV, pleased to see the game didn't seem to have started. When neither of them replied, she turned her attention back to Clint and realized he was holding something up for her to see.

A picture.

Oh my god.

That was Clint – a little bitty, apparently six-year-old Clint. It had been nineteen years since that day, but those eyes couldn't lie. She knew every flake of color and nuance of those eyes.

Those were Clint's eyes.

"Wow." She breathed as she leaned over his shoulder and took in the rest of the picture. Two adults, a man and a woman. A woman with blonde hair and blue eyes – the bluest she'd ever seen. A man with dark brown hair, equally brown eyes and a strong set to his shoulders. Then there was another boy, maybe 12, looked to be the spitting image of his father.


Natasha looked from the picture, to Clint's profile, then to Phil.

The handler nodded slightly. The picture was exactly what she thought it was.

She was looking at Clint's family – the family he'd lost when he was still just a child. The family she knew he longed for in the dark hours of the night when his usual defenses didn't keep back the memories.

She lightly rested her hands on his shoulders, squeezing slightly to offer comfort. She took in the serious weight in his expression and looked back at the picture, searching for a way to make him smile.

Then she saw it.

"What had you done?"

Clint started next to her – raising wide, confused eyes to hers.


"That look in your eyes," she brushed her finger across the round-faced, blonde-headed, smiling little boy and smiled, "I've seen that look. You did something mischievous. What?"

Clint's eyes brightened and his mouth curled into a smirk.

"I hadn't done anything yet…but in about ten seconds, I smashed icing in my dad and Barney's faces."

Natasha laughed and kissed Clint's cheek.

"Told you," she ruffled Clint's hair and shot Phil a glance, nodding slightly at the appreciative, approving look he gave her, "I know that look."

Todd was smiling as he strode down the halls of the helicarrier.

He wished he was going to be there to see Barton's reaction to that course. He'd have to settle for Romanoff's account of it later. Unfortunately he couldn't just take off and go do whatever he wanted – it wasn't his birthday after all.

Todd sped up when he saw a familiar tall figure ahead of him.

"Wilson! Wait up!"

Dan turned immediately to wait for him to catch up. As Todd drew up next to him, he realized something was off in Dan's expression – something wasn't quite right. Todd frowned thoughtfully, but put it aside for the moment and focused on his main purpose.

"You been to see Barton yet?"

Dan shook his head negatively – something Todd couldn't identify passing through his gaze before he averted it and cleared his throat.

"I'm headed there now actually."

Todd watched him for a moment before nodding slowly.

"Yeah, me too."

Dan motioned down the hallway and started walking again, leaving Todd no choice but to fall into step with him or get left behind. As they walked he shot a furtive look in Dan's direction. The doctor was tense and, if Todd was reading him right, upset about something.

Not at all how Todd expected him to look when they were headed to wish their favorite pain in the ass a happy birthday.

He shot the doctor another suspicious glance.

Maybe he knew something Todd didn't.

He had been coming from the direction of the main bridge. Maybe he'd heard something about the situation surrounding Barton – something that bothered him enough to put him on edge.

There had been rumors going around the helicarrier for days now. Rumors that ranged from Barton shooting five SHIELD agents so he could get Phil on a jet to Barton breaking down in tears over Phil's downed body.

One thing was consistent.


Todd suddenly realized his own shoulders were tensing up and he had allowed his face to morph into a scowl. Well if that didn't tell him what had Dan in a knot, then nothing would. He grabbed Dan's arm and pulled him to a stop.

"You know something about Barton? Did the Council catch wind of it? Has Fury decided what to do?"

Dan just stared at him, slightly blank with shock at the suddenness of the interrogation.

"What are you talking about?"

He was trying for ignorance, complete with wide eyes and a blank expression. But Dan wasn't a field agent for a reason – lying to people's faces just wasn't his best skill. Todd could see through the bluff like it was crystal clear.

"What do you know? Are they coming after him? If they are, we need to get out ahead of it."

He had to go to Fury – take responsibility for his part in what had happened. He'd been the one to discharge a weapon after all. All Barton had done was glare. But knowing what he knew now about the Council, he wouldn't put it past them to try and take Barton down over what had happened.

"They'll burn Barton for this, you know they will."

Dan shook Todd's hand off his arm and looked suddenly resolved.

"No they won't."

He said it with such absolute certainty, like it was already a done deal. The tone had Todd momentarily shocked silent. The only way he could have that kind of certainty was if…

"What did you do?"

Dan's eyes shifted away before coming back hard with determination.

"Barton's in the clear, that's all that matters."

Dan tried to step away, but Todd caught his arm again.

"What did you do?"

Dan shook off his hand again, this time with a huff of annoyance.

"I took responsibility for my actions." He arched his eyebrow at Todd in challenge. "And from the way you were just talking, that's exactly what you were gonna do."

Todd didn't waste breath trying to deny that. He'd have done it nine days ago if Fury had let him. But Fury hadn't because they'd had bigger concerns at the time. Todd hadn't had a chance to even think about going to Fury again.

Dan apparently, had made the time.

"What'd Fury do?"

"It doesn't matter." Dan insisted, but his eyes shuttered and he looked away. And now Todd knew it did – it mattered a lot. "Come on," Dan cleared his throat and nodded in the direction of Phil's room, "Barton's waiting."

Todd rolled his eyes and fell in step with Dan as he started walking again.

"He doesn't even know we're coming. And if he did, it's not like he'd sit on his hands waiting for us."

"I've been waiting for you! Where have you been?!" Clint demanded as Wilson and Bryan walked into the room.

They both blinked at him in confused surprise. Clint gestured angrily at the TV.

"The Yankees are losing!" He pointed an accusing finger at them both. "It's because you weren't here when the game started. Why would you do that to me? Why would you want the Yankees to lose on my birthday?"

Both men opened their mouths to respond, only to stop and look at each other in vague confusion.

"Baseball is a game of superstition." Phil supplied from his bed.

"Exactly." Clint gave him an approving point. "You were both there when the Yankees kicked the Angels' asses last time…so everything needs to stay the same. Same people, same drinks, same pizza."

Bryan recovered first.

"But we're not in the same room…not even on the same base."

Clint scoffed.

"It doesn't count if I can't help it."

And Bryan called himself a baseball fan.

The trainer's expression grew overwhelmingly sarcastic.

"What was I thinking?" He stated in a deadpan. Then he leaned towards Phil. "Since when do we humor crazy?"

"Since it's his birthday," Phil supplied.

Todd rolled his eyes.

Clint allowed himself to feel mildly triumphant. He loved playing that card. And he only got it one day a year, so he intended to use it well.

"But Romanoff wasn't here last time." Dan spoke up suddenly.

Clint glared at him – but it was Natasha who spoke in her own defense.

"You suggesting I'd be bad luck?"

Clint had learned to beware of that tone a long time ago. He shot Wilson a warning glance.

The doctor blinked, eyes suddenly wide.

"Nope. No. Not at all. Who, me?" He cleared his throat. "Say, where'd you get pizza anyway? Last I checked we were still floating somewhere over the Atlantic."

Clint smirked as mischievously as he could.

"I have my sources."

He let them all stew on that while he turned his attention back to the game. The people that mattered were here, he had his pizza – and it was his birthday. No way the Yankees would lose now.

The Yankees were still losing.

Dan allowed himself a small smile as Todd and Barton exchanged words in a heated debate over the last call made.

It faded just as quickly.

He still hadn't told them.

And he had to – it had to be him. He'd stopped by Fury's office on his way here – had relayed his ultimate decision about the triage situation. After Fury had laid out the options for him a week ago, he'd been instructed to take time to decide if this was really what he wanted to do.

As hard as it was, Dan stood by his decision.

And sooner or later the news would start making its way around the base and there would be hell - in the form of Barton's wrath - to pay if Dan didn't tell him first.

He'd been ready to spill it all the moment he walked in the door. But Barton had been so relaxed – well aside from his near aneurism because his team was losing. He'd been happy. And it was his birthday.

Dan had decided in about a second flat that he didn't want to ruin that.

Judging by the increasingly suspicious glances the kid kept shooting him, though, he wasn't going to have a choice in that matter for very much longer. He forced himself to reach for another piece of pizza even though he wasn't hungry.

He was still mechanically chewing when the game went to commercial.

He had managed to distract himself so well that he missed Barton's sudden intense focus on him. He even almost missed the words the kid sent his way.

"So what the hell is going on?"

Dan blinked, swallowed the pizza in his mouth, and painted on the most innocent expression he could.


Barton's eyes narrowed. He should have known better than to try and con a conman. If Todd had sniffed out the bluff, of course Barton would have.

"You really gonna try and pull that shit with me? I invented that bluff, Doc."

Dan sighed and tossed his half-eaten pizza back in the box.

He debated for a moment whether or not to be blunt or ease Barton into it.

Hell. Who was he kidding – blunt was practically ingrained in his personality.

"I talked to Fury."

Todd shifted uncomfortably in his chair next to him and it took Barton even less time than he expected to put it all together. The archer's eyes hardened dangerously and he sat forward slowly in his chair.

"You did what?"

Dan swallowed, refusing to show a reaction to the sudden fury in Barton's expression. The kid had never scared him before. He wasn't about to start letting him now.

"I talked to Fury – took responsibility for what happened."

Nobody needed clarification on what he was talking about. Romanoff's eyes widened and then flew to Clint when he suddenly stood from his chair, leaning over Phil's bed and pointing an angry finger at Dan's chest.

"What did you do?"

"Clint…" Phil tried to intercede, but Dan waved him off.

"I did what I had to do, Barton. It was my responsibility."

"No – it was mine." Barton growled as he rounded the foot of the bed. "What did Fury do? What did he take from you?"

Dan swallowed thickly. This was going to be the hardest part. He braced himself and tried to force the words out. But for a long moment all he could do was stare at Barton.

The archer came up into his space and latched onto his shirt, pulling him to his feet so he could glare at him properly. Dan didn't bother trying to fight it.

"What did he take?" He asked again – his tone low and hiding barely concealed fear.

Goddamned perceptiveness – he could tell the kid knew something major had shifted, he just wasn't sure what.

Dan held Barton's hard gaze and answered.


Barton's hands left his shirt like he'd been burned.

"What?" he breathed in shock – but Dan could see in his eyes that Barton had connected the dots – had drawn the right conclusion. "No."

Any other day a heartfelt objection like that – coming from Barton – would have warmed him to his soul. But today it could be the reason the kid never forgave him.

"As of an hour ago, I was removed as your primary physician," he took a breath, "and as the infirmary director."

Barton stepped back like he'd been struck.

Romanoff's mouth dropped open in shock. Todd sucked in a surprised breath and Phil blew out a less surprised breath – like he'd known this might happen. The sound had Barton's eyes snapping to his handler's like he was suddenly prey to a deadly tiger.

"You knew about this?"

Trust Barton to have the nuances of Phil's sighs down to a science.

Phil bit his lip and sighed again.

"I was afraid Fury might go this direction."

Barton stepped closer to Phil's bed.

"That's not what I meant."

Dan sighed. Barton had sniffed out that Phil knew Dan was planning to talk to Fury. Something Dan had threatened him into secrecy about. He couldn't let Phil take heat for that, especially not from Barton.

"This wasn't his choice, Barton. It was mine. And it's final."

As he hoped – and partially feared – Barton's attention swung back to him.

"A woman named Anna Webber will be taking over both the infirmary and your care."

Barton's expression turned mutinous.

"Like hell."

He moved to stalk past Dan and to the door. Only a quick hand to Barton's bicep stopped him. He withdrew the hand just as quickly when a gaze full of fire landed on him and the archer's hands fisted at his sides.

"Listen, Barton – I broke triage protocol when I let you bring Phil on board. Stuff like that has consequences." Dan sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Fury had to do something. So I'm officially being transferred to the helicarrier to take over as head of trauma surgery. Unofficially," he blew out a shaky breath, "I need to prove that I can be a doctor first and…" he felt his next words catch in his throat, "and a friend second."

It felt wrong saying it and he could tell it felt wrong hearing it. Barton shook his head sharply.

"No – no…Fury can't do this."

Dan grabbed at Barton's wrist before he could do more than shift back towards the door.

"Dammitall, Barton. He already has! Now just slow the hell down and listen."

Barton ripped his wrist out of Dan's grip, grabbed a fistful of Dan's shirt and forcefully backed him up a step.

"I'm not letting you do this."

"You don't have a goddamned choice." Dan straightened to his full height, towering over Clint – to which the kid didn't look cowed in the least. If anything, the fist in his shirt tightened. "This can't happen again. I can't make a choice like that again – because I'll choose you," he glanced purposefully around the room, "any of you – every time. And I can't be in that position – Fury can't let me be in that position."

Barton stayed toe-to-toe with him for a long moment. Then he pushed himself away from Dan, from all of them, backing a step towards the door.

"Then what the hell is the point? What's the point of having a team – of trusting anybody – if they can't be the ones to back you up? You're my doctor, Wilson."

Wilson couldn't help but be warmed by the heat and conviction in Barton's tone.

"I don't want some other idiot trying to pretend they know what's best for me." If possible, Barton's gaze grew even more serious. "I don't want my life – or theirs," he nodded towards Phil and Natasha, "in anybody's hands but yours."

"Clint," Phil called for his attention softly and Barton's eyes went to his immediately.

Wilson found himself envying the devotion the kid felt to the man.

"Do you really think that Dan would trust anyone but himself if it ever came to that? This is about politics – about making an example."

Dan nodded firmly.

"Barton, someone had to pay for that stunt. They nearly had a riot on their hands after we left. We triaged off 58 different agents and one," he looked pointedly at Phil, "lived. That I can be here, having this conversation with you while he's sitting right there. It's worth the price."

Barton's gaze went back to Phil, then to the ground then finally back to Dan's.

"And you're the one that's paying it? You decided that? But it's not just you." Fire rose in Barton's gaze again. "I know something about paying a price," none of them could help but glance at Romanoff, who shifted in her seat, "and it's never just about one person. We all," he motioned at Phil and Romanoff and even Todd – who looked like he wasn't all that sure he should be here for this, "pay that price too – because we lose you."

"You're not losing anyone, Barton." Dan grabbed Barton's shoulder, forcing him to meet his eyes. The kid was making this so much harder. "I promise you that. The road's just gonna be a little more winding than it used to be."

Barton knocked the hand off his shoulder with more force than Dan thought was necessary.

"That's bullshit. And I'm not letting it happen."

Then he was spinning on his heel, practically ripping the door off its hinges as threw it open and stormed out.

Phil looked to Romanoff, who rose out of her seat, but Dan waved her away.

"I got this."

He tried not to be offended by the triplet of doubtful looks he got as he set off after Barton.

It took every ounce of self restraint Clint had not to slam his fist into Wilson's face when the man wrapped a hand around Clint's bicep and manhandled him into an empty room. He settled instead for jerking his arm free and shoving the doctor hard in the chest – hard enough to send him back two stumbled steps.

"What the hell, Wilson!"

What was the man thinking? Intercepting Clint on his current mission – giving him reason to be on this mission in the first place.

Wilson tried to step closer, but Clint set him back again with a firm palm to the sternum.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Calm the hell down, Barton." Wilson's tone was sharp as he sidestepped and reached to throw the lock on the door. He – wisely in Clint's opinion – kept his eyes on Clint the entire time.

That was good – it helped Clint resist the urge to punch him in the face.

"We need to talk." Wilson insisted calmly.

"About what?" Clint let his fury bleed into his tone. "You playing the martyr?"

"Yes!" Wilson shot back, "because someone damned well needed to!" He intently kept Clint's gaze, maybe knew that if he looked away Clint could use it as an opportunity to strike. "My infirmary, my protocols. I broke 'em. End of story."

Clint felt defiance stiffen his shoulders and straighten his spine. The action caused the still-strained muscles to protest, but he used the pain to fuel him.

"Like hell it is." He advanced into Wilson's space – and like every time before, the man didn't back away. "We both know that I was putting Phil on that jet no matter what you said. I was ready to drop you and anyone else that tried to stop me. That was my call – my choice." He pitched his tone low – the kind of tone that he knew put fear in the hearts of the evilest men in the world. He knew it wouldn't scare Wilson – but it would show the man how serious he was.

When Wilson rolled his eyes a moment later, Clint almost lashed out.

"Oh, so Todd beating back the rioting masses had nothing to do with it? My going against every bit of training I've ever gotten on triage? Nothing? Funny. And here I thought the grown-ups around this place actually had minds of their own."

Clint clenched his jaw and beat down the wave of frustration that swept through him.

"I know what you did – I know what Bryan did." He jabbed a finger in Wilson's chest. "But I put you both in that position and that's on me." He turned his finger around and jabbed it against his own chest. "I don't need anyone taking the fall for me."


Clint blinked in surprise at the sudden yell. Even Wilson looked like he'd surprised himself.

"Would you just shut the hell up and think for a minute?"

Clint continued to stare in momentary shock before narrowing his eyes in annoyance.

Purposefully annoying – that's what Wilson was being.

"What is there to think about? I'm not letting you take the hit for this. Especially if that means I've gotta put up with some asshole I don't even know every time I get busted up enough to need a doctor."

He shifted to push past Wilson. He was done talking.

But Wilson shifted with him, blocking his way. The doctor winced and his eyes dropped to Clint's hands – which he realized had tightened into fists.

"Listen to me!" The doctor ground out in frustration.

Wilson pressed his back against the lock on the door, putting Clint in a position where he'd have to go through him to get out. That idea was looking more tempting by the moment.

"If Fury was this ready to pull me as your doctor – pull me out of my role of responsibility – what the hell do you think he's gonna do to you?"

Clint blinked in vague confusion. If he could guess, Fury would do what he always did when Clint pissed him off. Add a reprimand to his file. Put him on probation. Lower his clearance. Give him a shit assignment.

The usual.

"What the hell are you talking about?" He finally demanded in confusion.

Wilson sighed deeply.

"Think it through a second, Barton." He bit his lip and closed his eyes for a moment before going on. "This was about objectivity – or the lack of it. My punishment is getting removed as your doctor and as head of the infirmary. What would the equivalent have been for you?"

Clint paled dramatically as it all clicked together in his head.



Wilson didn't look triumphant as he nodded.

"Uh-huh. I'm your doctor, kid, but Phil's your handler. Objectivity isn't even on the radar when it comes to the two of you – it never has been and that's okay. If you think any of us are gonna even think of fucking with that equation, you got another thing coming." He sighed. "I don't care that you pissed on my rulebook, kid. I would have done the same exact thing – hell, I did. But Fury has to hold someone accountable. If that's you, then what the hell were you, Todd, and I fighting so hard for?"

For a long moment, Clint could only stare at him.

He almost told Wilson to go to hell – that he was marching right to Fury and setting the damned record straight. But he couldn't force the words past his throat because the selfish part of him – the part that had gone 'fuck the rules' when Phil had been bleeding in his arms – would never do anything that could jeopardize Phil's place in his life.

He wouldn't lose Phil – not for Wilson, not for anyone.

Something told him Wilson had known that – had counted on it – had played that card knowing Clint would back down. He felt the fight drain out of him and dropped his gaze to his boots, bracing his hands on his hips wearily.

"I'm sorry."

Sorry that he was too selfish to risk losing Phil – to step up and take responsibility for his actions. Before Wilson had a chance to respond – no doubt in an attempt to absolve him – Clint went on, eyes still on his boots.

"I would have done the same thing for you." He raised his eyes again, meeting Wilson's gaze. "You know that, right?"

Wilson chuckled warmly.

"Damned straight I know it." Wilson lifted his chin, gesturing at Clint. "You've got some friends in pretty high places around here, Barton. Ones that are willing to take a hit for you every now and then. Don't knock it."

Clint tilted his head slightly, looking Wilson over seriously. He sniffed and scuffed his boots on the ground.

"You shouldn't call me that." At Wilson's confused look, he clarified. "Barton."

Wilson frowned.

"Not following the rabbit trail you're laying there, kid."

Clint felt a slight grin quirk his lips before he grew serious again. He made sure to meet Wilson's gaze as he responded.

"I don't know much about family…" he had to swallow against the memory of Williams' scathing words – words he still hadn't let himself dwell on. "But I do know that they don't call each other by last names…so…" his lips quirked into a grin again. "Clint – not Barton."

Wilson's eyes went wide in shock, which morphed into something like awe. His jaw went slack and he just stared at Clint in wordless surprise.

Clint smiled warmly and shrugged like it wasn't the big deal they both knew it was.

"I figure it's been seven years. Probably should have made the leap a long time ago." Clint's felt slight shame tweak the smile. He didn't trust easy, that was true, but Wils- DAN – had earned that from him.

It shouldn't have taken something like this for him to realize that.

Wilson shook his head, finally breaking out of his stupor.

"I'm touched, Bar…Clint." He corrected himself as he spoke and offered a warm smile. "Really. Now...have I talked you off this particular ledge? Will you let it go?"

Clint frowned, his gaze turning heavy. He hated himself for what he said next.

"It's not right. It's not fair…" he shook his head and looked away – couldn't meet Dan's eyes anymore. "But I can't." He swallowed thickly, suddenly overwhelmingly ashamed of his own selfishness. "I won't lose Phil."

Dan smiled in what looked like relief.

"And with the amount of people watching your backs, you won't have to." Dan shifted his head to gain Clint's gaze again. "Just remember you're worth the effort – every time. And so is Phil. That's what friends do."

You're worth the effort.

Clint felt a swell of emotion. He felt like he'd heard something similar to that from Dan before – but couldn't remember the man ever having spoken the words.

Phil was the only one who had ever made it a point to make sure he understood that…until now. He knew in his head – and his heart – that it was true for Natasha too, but it wasn't something they had ever needed to say to each other.

Until now, Clint hadn't really thought it was true for anyone but Phil and Tasha.

He nodded slowly, letting Dan see in his eyes a hint of the impact those simple words were having on him.

"That's what family does, Dan. Phil and Tash...they're all the family I have and now…now you're part of that." He forced himself to sport a version of his usual smirk. "Whether you like it or not."

Dan shook his head.

"Hate to tell you this, kid…" He stopped suddenly. "Guess I should cut that out too, huh?"

Clint suddenly huffed an amused laugh.

If the day ever came when Dan, Phil, Todd, and Fury stopped calling him 'kid' – he'd quit his job.

"Nobody else can seem to – don't know why I should expect you to either."

Dan snorted softly.

"Anyway," his gaze sobered and his face grew solemn, "you've had family here for a long time, kid. That will never change."

Clint's felt his chest clench like a vice had closed around it and he knew for a second a vulnerability he usually kept buried deep was showing in his eyes. He blinked it away and schooled his features.

"I think I know now more than ever…that it can."

It could change in a second – with one bullet. He could lose any of his 'family' any day, any time. That was more real to Clint now than it had ever been.

Dan sighed and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Bar- Clint, I want you to listen to me for a minute."

Clint hesitated a moment and then met Dan's eyes – telling him without words that he had his attention.

"I know what Phil means to you. Hard to miss after all this, but…" He paused, seemed to battle with himself over wording. "But God forbid anything ever happened to him, you have other people that are here for you."

Clint felt like Dan had punched him in the gut and he found himself flashing back to the promise Phil had forced out of him. It took everything he had not to let it show in his expression as he forced himself to keep listening.

"No matter who's here and who's not…you have people that care about you. People who have called you 'family' for a hell of a lot longer than I'm sure you realize."

Clint breathed away the tension remembering his conversation with Phil brought him. He raised his chin slightly and thought of Bryan and another conversation he probably needed to have about family.

"I hear you."

And he did. He had more than Phil now. He knew that. Phil had forced him to understand it. And it was easier – now that Phil was alive and staying that way for now – to accept Dan's words and keep pretending that if it ever came to this again, it would be enough.

Dan nodded.

"Good." He huffed out a breath and blinked against a wetness Clint could see in his eyes. "Go watch your ballgame, okay? Have fun, eat pizza, enjoy your birthday and ignore the hell out of the fact that you're spending it in the infirmary. That's my last order as your doctor."

Clint smiled warmly.

"Only if you follow your own directive and sit your ass down with us."

Dan hesitated for a long moment and then sighed and shrugged.

"What the hell? Someone has to help Todd root against the damned Yankees."

Phil shifted in his bed, something pulling him from his sleep. He frowned as he sensed a presence in the room with him, but he realized who it was before he ever opened his eyes.

"You okay?" He asked with a yawn as he shifted up in his bed. He glanced first at the clock on the wall – 3:15 am – and then looked across the room to Clint, who was sitting down on the floor against the wall next to the door. The archer's eyes rose to his and he shifted his arms where the rested across the knees that were drawn up to his chest.

"I didn't mean to wake you."

"That's not what I asked."

Clint sighed and straightened his legs out ahead of him. He looked away, rubbing a hand tiredly over his eyes, but didn't answer. Phil frowned, taking a moment to analyze what he was seeing – posture, expression, eyes.

And all at once, he knew.

"You're letting him win."

Clint's eyes shot up to his and he blinked in vague surprise.

"You're letting him win." Phil repeated simply.

Clint kept staring at him in shock, somehow, once again surprised by how well Phil knew him. One day he'd realize that Phil would always know him – would always be able to tell when something was wrong.

He was vaguely surprised when Clint's shoulders squared in defense and he frowned.

"No, I'm not."

So no denying this was about Williams then.

"What did he say to you?"

There it was again – that blankness from days before.

"Jesus, Clint – you can't let a dead man hold something over you like this."

Clint reached to scrub his hand through his hair in frustration.

"I know that, Phil, but…" He shook his head and looked away.

But that's exactly what he was letting him do. Phil fought every instinct he had that was screaming at him to climb out of this damn bed and go comfort him – or shake him until he realized whatever Williams had said was wrong.

Instead, he schooled his features.

"But what?" He kept his tone low and as close to soothing as he dared.

He watched Clint's jaw flex and he drew his knees back up to his chest again – a defensive position that gave away how vulnerable Clint was actually feeling. He looked so young, sitting there in athletic pants, a t-shirt, and bare feet – with sleep-mussed hair and those eyes. He looked like someone that needed to be protected – not like a skilled killer that had been protecting himself since he was six years old.

When he finally answered, the tone had Phil wanting to go kill Williams for a second time.

"What if he's right?" Pain. Sorrow. Fear. Self-loathing. Vulnerability. All of it was mixed up in that tone and it hurt to hear.

Phil sat up carefully in his bed and turned to face Clint as best he could.

"Clint, what did he say?"

Because he couldn't fight this battle until he knew what the enemy was. And this battle needed to be fought – right now. He needed to get that tone out of Clint's voice – to get the slump out of his shoulders. He needed to get that look out of his eyes and he needed to do it now.

Clint's sigh drew his focus and he watched him close his eyes tightly and clench his jaw.

"What am I to you, Phil?"

That came out of left field. Phil shook his head in confusion.


"What am I to you?"

Where was that coming from? What the hell had Williams said to him?

Phil sighed and eased his legs over the side of the bed, preparing to test his weight on them. As he'd predicted – and counted on – Clint was suddenly at his side, pushing him back into the bed.

"Lay back down before you hurt yourself."

"Had to get you over here somehow." Phil smirked in triumph. He pulled at Clint's wrist until the kid sat on the edge of the bed.

The archer rolled his eyes and mumbled something under his breath. Phil settled back against his pillows and watched him for a long moment. When it didn't appear that Clint was going to ask his question again, Phil decided to just answer like he had.

"Why would you ask me that?"

Clint shook his head and looked down at his hands, scratching at the splint on his finger. Phil thought for a minute.

Damn Williams. He was still hurting Clint – deader than dead and he was still landing hits.

"Are you gonna let him do this? Make you question what I've told you – shown you – over and over?"

Clint's expression crumbled and he steadfastly refused to raise his eyes.

Phil sighed sadly.

It was always in the night – when his defenses were at their lowest – that Clint's insecurities attacked him with the most ferocity. Whether it was a nightmare or just that the world around him was so quiet that he thought too much, Clint was terrible at defending himself against himself – against his own impossible standard.

He sat forward, wincing slightly as his chest pulled sharply, and wrapped his hand around the back of Clint's neck.

"You are everything to me. You're my family, Clint." He whispered it low and fervent – needing Clint to believe him, to hear the truth in his tone.

The muscles under his hand were taught with tension and Clint still didn't look at him.


Phil felt like he'd been slapped.

"How could you say that about someone like me?"

He tightened his hand around the nape of Clint's neck until the pain had the kid looking up at him.

"Don't you ever talk about yourself like you don't deserve what I give to you."

Clint's eyes were an open book at the moment and every insecurity, every self-loathing thought was racing around those eyes for the world to see.

"But I don't." Clint believed it – Phil could hear it in every part of his voice. "I'm a killer – that's all I am. It's all I'll ever be."

"You're my friend." Phil countered sharply. "My brother – my son." He whispered the last lowly and went on before Clint could acknowledge it one way or another. "You're the most talented agent to ever come through this organization. You're an amazing strategist – the best archer in the world. You're funny and sarcastic and smart. You're brave and selfless and strong and consistently throw yourself between danger and innocents without hesitation. You're a fighter – like no one I've ever seen. That's who you are."

He tilted his head to hold Clint's gaze when the kid tried to look away.

"And you're a killer."

Because there was no denying that fact – not with a kill count like Clint's.

"But who you are goes so far beyond that small piece of it. You have to see that."

He had to. How could he not when it was so clear to Phil.

"You are everything to me."

He said it again – with every ounce of affection and devotion he had in him.

"Don't let Williams take that truth away from you."

Clint chewed the inside of his lip and then blew out a shaky breath.

"He said I was a tool to you –to everyone here. An abused animal that you're nice to so that I'll do what you want." Clint made a sour face, like part of him couldn't deny the truth in that. "He said it was pathetic to think I'd found a family with liars and killers. Said I didn't have a family – that I never will."

Phil didn't often entertain homicidal thoughts – but right now he wished Williams was still alive so he could kill him himself. He doubted Williams had known the truth about Phillip Jacobs, it wasn't in Clint's file. He'd probably made the comment about an 'abused animal' without truly realizing the truth behind it.

That didn't make it hit any less closer to home, though.

And no family? The man had obviously not been paying close enough attention to Phil the past seven years because you didn't get more like family than how he treated Clint.

"Well, he was contradicting himself for one thing." Phil watched as Clint's eyes came up, questioning. Phil couldn't keep a small smile from growing. "Why else would he have come after us?"

Clint blinked in vague realization.


Phil pressed on.

"And he was wrong." He said it with as much conviction as he could muster.

"That's what I told him."

Phil drew back slightly. That was unexpected. And begged the question of why they were having this conversation at all.

"You did?"

Clint nodded slightly – an odd look on his face at the admittance.

"Well, there you go." Phil smiled warmly. "Where's that fight now?"

Clint sighed.

"Lost in the dark." And buried under his ruthless insecurities, no doubt.

There was such truth in that it hurt.

"Then how about you stick around and we'll fight together for a little while, huh?"

Clint hesitated for a long moment – unwilling to admit his vulnerability even to Phil, even in such a small way. But then he nodded and shifted off the bed, toeing one of the chairs in the room closer. He sat with a sigh, maybe closer to the bed than was strictly necessary. Phil shifted against his pillows and debated on how to proceed.

Finally he smiled.

"So which do you want to talk about first – how you hid a crease deep enough to see rib or how you put down four agents in the infirmary when they tried to stop you from following me into surgery?"

The sudden sheepish look on Clint's face told him both counts were true – but defense was already rising in his eyes and Phil settled back to listen.

"Get your asses moving! Vacation time is over, you lazy bastards!"

Clint snickered loudly enough to be heard, grinning broadly when Bryan spun around to face him, mouth open and ready to tear him a new one.

The fight drained out of him just as quickly.

"It's only you."

Clint put on a face of mock hurt.

"Sorry to disappoint."

Bryan rolled his eyes and glanced down at the indoor track a story below him. He was up on a viewing balcony and Clint had used his distraction with the recruits as a chance to sneak up here with him.

"So you got a second?"

Bryan's eyes came back to his immediately.

"For you, kid? I've got two."

Clint smiled slightly. He wondered if Bryan knew how much of an open book he tended to be.

"So I hear you incited a riot on my behalf."

Bryan blinked in shock at the blunt statement.

Yeah, Clint hadn't expected him to be ready for that.

"I didn't…well…I…just…" Bryan sighed. "Yeah."

Clint smirked.

"I haven't thanked you for that yet."

Bryan's eyebrow arched.

"No, you haven't."

Clint let his smirk grow into a warm smile.

"Well…thank you."

Bryan nodded slowly.

"You're welcome."

Clint nodded back and just stared at him. A moment later Bryan shifted, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully.

"Was that all?" Bryan sounded vaguely unsettled.

Oh, so easy.

Clint smiled a bright, sarcastic smile – like he was thrilled Bryan had asked.

"No, actually."

Bryan rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Then by all means, Barton, my day is yours."

Clint smirked – but then let the humor fade away. Allowing his expression to grow serious and heavy, he moved to the railing, leaning over to rest his forearms on it. It took a few breaths but Bryan sighed and joined him, mirroring his position.

"You all right, Barton?"

Clint smiled slightly. Williams hadn't known what he was talking about. Clint had family in spades.

"No – no, I'm not." He put just a touch of vulnerability in his tone, enough that he knew Bryan would pick up on it.

He could feel the concern roll of Bryan a moment later.

They were both silent for a beat and then Bryan shifted next to him.

"Is this about…" Bryan sighed deeply, "your name?"

Clint's eyes widened and he turned to lean sideways against the rail. Bryan was smirking.

"Wilson sold me out."

"I thought it was Dan now."

It was Clint's turn to roll his eyes.

"Don't play a player, kid. I taught you the game, remember?"

Clint faced forward again with a huff.

"Now is there something you want to tell me?"

Clint scowled.

"Not anymore."

Bryan chuckled softly, his hand landing on Clint's shoulder a moment later.

"You're the one trying to jerk me around and now you're playing wounded? That's funny, kid."

Clint rolled his eyes again – this time with more affection than annoyance. He turned to face Bryan again.

"It's been brought to my attention, that you're in a nasty habit of calling me by my last name…like I'm just some normal, everyday recruit that passes through your program…"

"Well, you're definitely not normal." Bryan slid in under his breath.

Clint glared at him with vague annoyance and went on.

"I was going to start going on about how family doesn't do that – but I'm rethinking my stance by the second."

Something in Bryan's expression shifted – growing more serious.


Clint frowned.

"I thought Dan ratted me out."

"Kid, you start calling him Dan and he starts calling you Clint – it doesn't take a genius to realize something shifted. You come up here acting like you've come to some big emotional revelation, I put the pieces together…I didn't realize that…" Bryan trailed off with a sigh.

"That you're family to me?" Clint finished quietly – his own gaze serious and sincere now.

Bryan's gaze shifted to his – a little guarded – not quite sure what to make of Clint's words.

"There's a part of me, Bryan…that you understand better than anyone." Clint thought back to the man forcing him to listen when Clint was letting himself get overrun by memories of what he'd lost. "You're one of the ones I've trusted for a long time and I want everyone else to know that, too. I want you to know that."

Bryan's jaw clenched tightly and his eyes were suddenly bright with emotion.

"People I trust – they call me Clint. And those people," Clint sighed and smiled warmly, "I call them family. We clear?"

Todd nodded without saying anything and Clint nodded in return.

"What you did for me – for Phil. I won't ever forget it. It shouldn't have taken a show of loyalty like that for me to say all of this. I'm sorry it did."

Todd shook his head.

"You don't need to apologize to me. I understand protecting yourself, Clint. How can I hold that against you when protecting you is one of my top priorities?"

And suddenly Clint felt like the one that had taken the emotional sucker punch. Todd smiled warmly and slung an arm over his shoulder, pulling him towards the rail.

"Now…we need to figure out how you can lord your superiority over these guys now that the parkour course is a field trip away…"

"Your first day of real PT and you insist on being early." Clint shook his head mockingly as he slowed Phil's wheelchair to a stop.

"Well, no one can pull off fashionably late like you, Clint – so I figure why even try?"

Clint blew out a short sarcastic, mocking laugh and moved around to sit on the bench for the bench press.

"There's such a thing as on time, you know."

He smirked as he lay back on the bench, wrapping his hands around the bar and glancing at the weights on either end of it.

"But then I wouldn't get to listen to you complain."

Clint lifted his head, looking down the length of his body at Phil, who was pushing the wheels of his chair forward and then pulling them back – shifting the chair forward a few inches and then back. It was a fidgety thing to do – not typical of the epitome of calm self control that was Phil Coulson.

Time to get his mind on something other than the impending hell that was physical therapy.

"So…" Clint lifted the bar off the rack and held his arms straight for a moment, "what's the word from the Council? They still want me hogtied on a spit? Or did Fury tell them about the tie between Williams and Maskov and get me off the naughty list?" He lowered the bar to his chest and pressed it back up.

He heard Phil's wheelchair stop moving and moved the bar back to the rack, sitting up to look hard at his handler.

"You realize you only did one rep, right?"

Clint waved a hand through the air.

"Put the deadpan humor on hold for a second – you've got your 'worried face' on."

"My 'worried face'?"

Clint ignored the doubtful sarcasm in Phil's voice and hardened his gaze.

"What's going on, Phil?"

Phil sighed and wheeled himself a little closer.

"Fury didn't tell them about Maskov for obvious reasons."

Clint inclined his head in agreement. He couldn't say he was disappointed - he had killed the man without orders or any tangible provocation. He didn't mind the Council not having that to use against him.

"So I'm clear?"

"He told me the Council hasn't come to a ruling on your involvement in Williams' actions at this juncture." "

"Involvement." Clint repeated it under his breath with an annoyed huff.

Clint stood abruptly from the bench and paced away. Even after two weeks, that de-brief still burned at him. Apparently time hadn't cooled their tempers on the matter, either. He turned back to face Phil with a scowl.

He was so sick of this - had even started to foolishly hope that maybe his troubles with them were coming to an end.

Guess the bad blood ran a little too thick even with Williams out of the equation.

"They want to know my involvement? I'm gonna stand by 'fucking victim'."

"You know there are members that don't see it that way."

Yeah Clint knew - they hadn't exactly been shy about saying it to his face. Didn't make it any more idiotic.

Phil sighed again and scowled – didn't appear any more pleased with this news than Clint was.

"Fury says there are members still making the argument that you pushed Williams into this – that you instigated his reaction."

Clint threw his hands up in frustration.

"They hate me. I knew it. They've always hated me and they always will. The son of a bitch nearly kills me how many times – nearly kills Natasha and you…and he's the fucking victim here?"

Phil patted his hand in the air to tell him to calm down.

But Clint didn't feel like calming down thank you very much.

"They don't all hate you. The Council is split about it."

"Split?" Clint frowned doubtfully. He thought suddenly of the balding man who'd actually talked to him with respect, even understanding.

"They have an even number with Williams out of the picture. The vote on your involvement is literally split."

Clint shook his head in confusion.

"What does that mean?"

"It means that until another Council member is appointed, no decision will be made. Your case has been put on the back burner."

Clint huffed in annoyance and drifted back to the bench to sit. It was better than getting the ax right now, he supposed. Now he had to just sit back and hope the next Council member was sympathetic.

Right…because his luck was always so good.

"So they're looking for another Council member?"

"The process is in the early stages. It could take years for someone to be chosen."


Phil gave a look that was patronizing at best – condescending at worst.

"Clint, do you have any idea how long it took to form the Council we have now?"

Clint rolled his eyes and rubbed his hand across his face. How the hell would he know that?

"I don't know…years?"

If Phil read the sarcasm in his tone – and he'd laid it pretty thick – he gave no indication.

"Nearly a decade."

"And if they have more split decisions between now and ten years from now?"

Phil chuckled slightly – like Clint was a small child that was talking about things he didn't understand.

"It won't take ten years to pick one member."

Clint rolled his eyes and all but threw himself back on the bench – narrowly avoiding cracking the back of his head on the bar.

Phil laughed again – this time it sounded vaguely apologetic. His tone was more conciliatory this time, less condescending. Though, if there was one person that could get away with condescension with him, it'd be Phil.

"The Council doesn't often have decisions that come down to one vote. Believe it or not, they're usually unanimous."

"A unanimous bunch of assholes." Clint sighed. "So I'm just special then."

He wasn't sure being 'special' in any circumstance surrounding the Council was a good thing.

"Oh, there's something special about you, Barton."

Clint smiled and grabbed the bar hovering over his head. He used it to pull his body back on the bench and then sat up, hooking his elbows over the bar and lounging forward with a lazy smirk.

"Mornin', Braxton."

"You shouldn't be anywhere near that bench press while your back is still healing."

Rachel Braxton smiled at him, but her eyes were firm as she moved away from the door and to Phil's side. Surprise, surprise, she couldn't help but be all doctor-y.

"Ready to get started, Phil?" She asked as she noted something on her data pad before tucking it under her arm.

"Yes, ma'am." Phil nodded dutifully.

Clint rolled his eyes.

"Teacher's pet."

Braxton turned to him and gave him a mildly scolding look – a look he'd earned varying degrees of during his own time under her care.

"There a reason you're here, Barton?"

Clint smirked.

"Figured I could give Phil some pointers on surviving sessions with you – lend him some of my vast knowledge."

Braxton laughed and rolled her eyes then looked to Phil, who just nodded.

Clint grinned, feeling vindicated. If Phil wanted him here, then Braxton would let him stay. Simple as that.

All of their attention was drawn to the door when it opened suddenly and a tall, broad-shouldered woman strode through. Her brown hair was pulled back in a harsh bun and the look in her eyes was hard and no-nonsense.

Braxton was the one that ventured to speak first.

"Dr. Webber...do you need something?"

So this was Webber. Clint felt his back stiffening in defiance already and ordered himself to relax and give her the benefit of the doubt. He hadn't liked Dan on first impression either.

"I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself to Agent Coulson."

Webber's sharp gray eyes cut to Phil, who nodded in greeting.

Then they shifted to Clint and he met and held her gaze without hesitation.

"And you must be Agent Barton."

Clint smirked cockily.

"So you've heard of me?"

She hummed lowly in response – her eyes flashing.

Oh yeah – she'd heard of him. And she didn't seem particularly impressed with what she'd heard. But before Clint could do more than cock his head and open his mouth to respond, Braxton spoke up.

"Thank you for dropping in, Dr. Webber, but this is a private session so…"

"Private?"Webber cut in with an arched eyebrow.

Suddenly her eyes were on Clint again and he resisted the urge to stiffen in defense. Instead, he remained relaxed and lounged on the bar – like he wasn't particularly bothered by the rising tension in the room.

"Then I will expect Agent Barton to remove himself as well, as his presence will only hamper the process here."

Clint gave up all pretenses of relaxation – stiffened sharply in his spot on the bench. The sudden tension in his muscles sent a sharp twinge down his spine, but he ignored it.

No way was she kicking him out.

Something in her gaze shifted at his response. And it wasn't just in her eyes. Her shoulders rolled ever so slightly back, and her posture grew a little straighter. And when she didn't break the stare down, Clint saw a hint of challenge her in eyes.

A challenge. Like she'd been waiting for him dig in his heels and fight her on this.

Well, that explained what she'd heard. But his tendency to step out against authority wasn't exactly a closely-guarded secret – was more like common knowledge. So he wasn't all that surprised that she'd come in prepared for that.

But to throw down with him in a power play like this on day damn one?

It just didn't exactly scream 'bedside manner' like he'd hoped their first meeting would.

Clint opened his mouth to spit out something that was sure to get him in trouble but Braxton suddenly stepped in between them and raised a hand in both their directions.

"Dr. Webber, I'd like to include Agent Barton, if you don't mind."

Webber shook her head, and straightened her posture just a little more.

"Private sessions are not to include third parties. You know this, Ms. Braxton."

"I'm not leaving." Clint put in sharply.

Webber's eyes cut to him again and the hard look there had him standing from the bench. Had his muscles tensing and his posture shifting like he was prepping to defend against an attack.

And maybe he was.

This wasn't just about the rules of PT. She didn't like him – he could see it right there in her eyes. She didn't even know him – hadn't taken even a second to try – and she was passing judgments.

"Agent Barton," and damned if her tone didn't cross from an attempt at patience into pure condescension, "we have rules for a reason. And whether you've been able to escape following them in the past without repercussion," she cast a pointed look in Phil's direction, "Ifully intend to see that they are upheld by my staff and those under their care."

She'd said it like it was a chore – something that hadn't been done properly until she came along. She was bringing Dan into this without ever having to say his name. Dan – whose only offense was being a goddamned friend.

And on top of that she was looking at him like he was a disobedient wild child that needed to be brought to task and taught a lesson. She was acting like she had a fucking clue about the situation surrounding what had happened with Phil. Then she was throwing what she apparently viewed as an unforgivable offense right in his face like he should be ashamed of what he'd done.

Ashamed of saving Phil.

That bitch.

Clearly, she had no idea who she was dealing with if she thought a few sharp words would even knock him off his stride.

"Now, Agent, if you wouldn't mind," she motioned towards the door, "I insist."

He'd never had his classification throw at him like it was a personal insult to his character before. But he could throw down in the word game with the best of them. So Clint threw on the most sarcastic smirk he could manage and leaned his forearms casually against the bar in front of him.

"Word to the wise, Doctor." He could make titles sound like insults too and he watched her twitch at the tone. "Your bedside manner sucks ass. You want cooperation, cut all this condescending bullshit and don't act like you fucking know me. If you did, you'd know that you can take your insistence and shove it up y-"

"Clint." Phil scolded sharply.

Clint shot him a betrayed look – and Phil's eyes silently demanded he calm the hell down.

"I'm not leaving, Phil."

Phil raised a calming hand of his own – clearly telling him that he'd handle this – and looked to Webber.

"I asked for Clint to be here."

"And Agent Barton has been through intensive physical therapy before – he's a help here, not a hindrance." Braxton added firmly.

Webber frowned – her eyes locked on Clint's for a long moment. She didn't seem to appreciate the defiance he knew was shining there, because her eyes narrowed. She held his gaze for a moment longer – long enough that he knew this power play between them was just getting started. Then something in her gaze shifted and she seemed to dismiss him all together. Like he wasn't even there anymore.

"Fine. If you believe it will aid the healing process." She looked back to Braxton for confirmation.

"I do."

Webber nodded sharply and turned on her heel without another glance in his direction or an acknowledgement that they'd even locked horns at all.

"Nice to meet you," Clint called after her as sarcastically as he could manage and as soon as the door closed behind her he added a hissed, "bitch."

"Respect, Clint." Phil reminded firmly.

Clint rolled his eyes.


"She didn't realize what she was asking." Phil continued in a painfully reasonable tone.

"Like hell she didn't." Clint scowled and moved around the bench press to help Braxton support Phil as he slowly stood from the wheel chair.

"CLINT." Phil turned to give him a pleading glance, one that was begging for him to just let it go. Clint rolled his eyes. They did have bigger concerns at the moment.


Bitch was still going down, though.

He intended to guaran-fuckin-tee it.

End of New York

So? What did you think? We laughed, we cried, we yelled, we threw our computers/tablets/ipads/phones across the room? It was a wild ride, for sure :D

Reviews are the sun to my flower…the wind to my sail…the rain to my rain gutter…okay that last one was a little weird but review anyway, huh?

I've started work on my next story and I'll have you all know that I HAD been planning on doing a different one next…but you all wanted this one…Kylen wanted this one…I wanted this one…so here we go


A mission in Cairo. A car bomb and a body. Phil thinks Clint is gone forever. But nothing is as it seems, and Clint is forced to fight for his life alone, because for the first time since joining SHIELD...nobody is coming for him.