Clint is Kate’s good deed for the next, well, millennia tbh.
“Is this going to be gross?” he asks from the couch, where he’s drinking coffee that Kate made and looking owlish, all bleary eyes and something too childish in his expression. It makes Kate want to smooth his messy hair back from his forehead and maybe do something involving a teddy bear, never mind that he’d give her shit about it for basically ever.
Kate refuses to look up from where she’s sweeping takeout garbage into a plastic sack.
“I don’t mean that in a homophobic way,” Clint adds after a while, because nobody ever taught Clint to stop talking back when it might stick, “I mean it in an awkward flirting getting teenage sex hormones all over my couch way.”
“Your couch already has worse crap all over it,” Kate replies, and: “I’m nearly twenty-one.”
“I don’t know why I have to get involved in this anyway,” Clint huffs, putting his feet on the coffee table Kate has cleared. “Or haven’t you told this chick that you’re working a job you don’t need and live in a magical Disney palace?”
Kate grits her teeth. “It’s a penthouse.”
Clint grins. “I thought not.”
America and Clint get on just like Kate expected, which is to say they’re trading suspicious looks and sitting at opposite ends of the couch, but they’re enjoying flinging acidic snark at the TV, and Kate is just trying not to breathe too loudly or move at all, perched in the battered armchair Clint took from a sidewalk a few years back and won’t get rid of no matter how many times Kate tells him to.
So you’re just volunteering this guy’s DVR, America had said, doubtfully, because everything she says is pretty doubtful, pulling her curls out of their regulation ponytail and making Kate’s brain forget exactly what thinking was, who is this Clint guy anyway?
He’s my weird older friend, Kate replied, because that was what Cassie had dubbed him when Kate first found herself pulling Clint out of bars and prodding him into eating things that weren’t ramen or gummy bears, but not in like a sexual way.
America’s eyebrows flew to her hairline, but it wasn’t enough to stop her from saying: and he’s got the whole series recorded?
Kate nodded, trying not to look too eager because she had no idea if America liked her or not, and she definitely wouldn’t like her once she found out Kate’s whole deal, saying: he won’t mind, if you want to come round. I’ll order a pizza.
Clint’s main reaction to Kate’s hurried explanation that she was bringing a colleague over, could he basically keep his mouth shut about, well, everything, was to roll his eyes and say: I’m pretty sure my presence will be cockblocking, Katie.
That doesn’t even make sense, Kate responded, flicking a practiced gaze over his apartment and wondering where she hid the bleach from last time.
I’m having a hangover, Clint replied, face smushed into the couch cushions, cut me some slack.
He’s forgotten the hangover now, of course, in favour of occasionally casting amused looks in Kate’s direction. This is why Kate usually tries to keep anybody she’s dating or interested in dating as far away from Clint as possible, but Cassie doesn’t watch this show and the whole Eli thing is still a bit of a mess and you don’t go over to Billy and Teddy’s place unless you’re prepared to sit through the sheer mush that is their horrifically perfect relationship. Kate has the whole thing recorded too, of course, but she can’t bring America over to her apartment until… well, possibly not ever, she’s pretty sure America wouldn’t approve of the fact Kate has, if not as much money as Tony Stark, at least as much money as God.
She manages to split a smile at one of America’s remarks, like she’s actually managing to pay attention to any of this, and ignores the way Clint is looking at her; he’s never in a position to judge. Ever.
Next morning, Kate yawns over an industrial-sized sink full of bubbles and mismatched crockery, Teddy beside her stoically listening to her bitching over their lack of a dishwasher. It’s basically a daily thing, and although Kate does make an effort to mix it up, they’re really only so many ways to complain.
“I’m much more interested in what America made of Kate’s pet hot mess,” Loki interrupts at last.
Loki is basically the worst person in the world ever. Case in point: he’s currently drinking a mug of coffee and eating a bacon sandwich and watching the rest of them get the coffee shop ready for opening. Kate has no idea how the hell he got himself hired, or why the hell none of them have managed to fire him yet.
Everyone knows Clint, of course, so they all turn to look expectantly at America, who’s been unstacking the chairs and largely ignoring the rest of them.
She shrugs under their scrutiny. “He’s an okay guy.”
“That’s a pretty high accolade,” Loki observes. “I’m not sure she likes any of us that much.”
“Die in a hole, Laufeyson,” America says, and turns back to rearranging the tables.
“See?” Loki waves a hand, nails painted black no matter how many times he’s told he can’t come to work with polish on.
“When did you last meet someone who didn’t tell you to die in a hole, Loki?” Teddy asks with interest.
“Clint didn’t,” Loki shrugs.
“I can repeat what Clint said about you,” Kate offers.
“That won’t be necessary,” Loki says hastily, sliding off the counter stool where he’s been perched having his leisurely breakfast. “Aren’t we opening in a few minutes? You’re all getting very lax.”
Seriously. Kate has no idea why he isn’t fired, and says as much, pretending she doesn’t catch the edge of America’s smile.
Clint happened like this:
Kate works in a ridiculous hipster coffee shop even though she doesn’t need the paycheck because she would go actually mad living off her father’s money and joining Cassie at college didn’t seem quite like what she wanted, and one morning there was this guy basically sleeping facedown on one of their tables looking more wrecked than even their usual morning-after types, and Kate drew the short coffee-stirrer and so took an espresso and a grimace over to wake the guy up.
He managed to get himself upright after a couple of false starts and a lot of creative swearing, shoving the back of his hand across bleary eyes, and Kate handed him the espresso and he’d managed to down it before it clicked.
“Holy shit,” she said, “holy shit, you’re Clint Barton.”
“Fucking no,” Clint Barton said, and put his face back on the table.
Kate went back to the counter, where the others were waiting.
“He’s Clint Barton!” she said, breathless, maybe a little starstruck even if the object of said starstruckness was currently rocking a horrible-looking hangover and hadn’t shaved in like a week.
“Who?” Billy asked.
“Ex-Olympic archer,” David announced, not even looking up from where he was steaming milk. “Tore a muscle in his shoulder, it never healed right, dropped into obscurity.”
David knows everything, which is sometimes great (and saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent on Wikipedia) and mostly just annoying.
“Yeah,” Kate said, “but better than he just made him sound.”
Kate learned archery at one of the summer camps her father dumped her in back when she didn’t have a mom and he had no idea what he was supposed to do with her over the vacation, and then it turned out she was really actually good, and could probably have ended up doing it professionally if she’d wanted to. Kate’s not sure that she wanted that either – she doesn’t know what she wants, hence the whole working-in-a-coffee-shop thing – but it’s still a hobby. And Clint Barton – Clint Barton is a fucking legend, okay.
“Okay, Kate,” Billy said, looking kind of wide-eyed and backing away from her a little, “we get it. Kind of.”
Kate made three more cups of black coffee, added a croissant to the tray, and carried it all back over to Clint Barton.
“Why are you in here?” she asked, handing him the first coffee.
“I’m trying this thing where I don’t literally sleep in gutters anymore,” Clint Barton replied, drinking half the cup in one gulp.
“Why are you sleeping in gutters?” Kate asked.
Clint Barton raised an eyebrow at her, which looked like it hurt. “You seem to know who I am,” he said, “so you should know why.”
“But,” Kate protested, “you’re Clint Barton.”
“So you keep saying,” Clint Barton said. “You want the name? I’ll sell it to you for fifty bucks and a breakfast burrito.”
He patted the pockets of his jacket until he managed to produce a pair of sunglasses and fumble them on.
“Those are the douchiest sunglasses I’ve ever seen,” Kate told him.
“Thanks sweetheart,” Clint Barton replied, “that’s the nicest thing anybody’s said to me all week.”
By the next week, Clint was sleeping on Kate’s couch and wearing her underwear. Kate doesn’t try to look into the how too closely anymore.
“Your romantic choices are my favourites,” Cassie says, reaching across Billy for more marshmallows.
As the best friend, Kate’s pretty sure she’s got a list she could pull up to show Cassie that she’s not exactly a paragon of good dating, but she’s also pretty sure that she’s not supposed to do that.
“They’re not that bad,” Kate protests.
“Let us know when we can start inviting Eli to movie night again, yeah?” Teddy says.
“My brother,” Billy says.
“That naked DJ guy,” Clint says.
“Oh, I liked the naked DJ guy.” Cassie claps her hands together. “Does he still do naked DJ-ing?”
“Hang on.” Clint shifts to get his phone out of his jeans pocket, and taps at the screen. A moment later, he announces: “Loki says he’s grown a beard.”
“Why have you got Loki’s number,” Kate says flatly.
“Why does Loki know he’s grown a beard?” Teddy asks, pulling out his own phone.
“Please tell me we’re going clubbing with Loki at a set done by Kate’s frequently naked ex-boyfriend.” Cassie looks gleeful, and Kate contemplates actually screaming at this point.
“You should probably invite America too,” Clint advises, sounding conscientious. Clint’s an asshole.
“You’re not helping,” Kate informs him.
“I’m not trying to.” Clint shrugs.
“We’re all going out Friday night,” Teddy says, still tapping at his phone.
“This is going to end well,” Clint says, sounding cheerful. “And if you kids are going to keep talking, can you turn up the TV? I can’t hear what Katherine Heigl’s saying.”
Kate is going to punch everything. Like, everything.
Natasha emails on Thursday night.
Kate’s never actually met Natasha, but she’s Clint’s BFF/soulmate/possibly some kind of ex-girlfriend, and mostly lives in Russia. She was a gymnast back in the day, and Kate’s googled the pics of her in black and gold and angry glitter, fluid lines and a smile that threatened more than anything else.
She’s totes Clint’s type.
Anyway, becoming Clint’s vaguely official babysitter means that Kate is somehow also friends with Natasha, or, at the very least, slightly weird penpals. Something like that.
“How is Nat?” Clint asks, sprawled across the couch with his dog, Lucky, in his lap.
“Don’t you guys talk?” Kate asks, scrolling through the rest of the email.
“‘S a different kind of talking,” Clint replies. “You crop up sometimes, Katie-Kate,” he adds, with a cheerful eyebrow wiggle.
“Go back to watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Kate tells him, sipping her green tea. Clint’s place basically just has coffee and occasionally the means to make stale toast, but after an entire day around coffee she tends to want anything else, and has taken to hiding teabags in drawers she knows he never looks in. Even her hair smells like espresso right now.
Clint laughs to himself, scratching Lucky’s ears.
I still don’t know how to tell if Clint is fine, Kate types, because he’s always fine until he’s… not. But I guess you know that better than anyone.
Kate doesn’t have to come here after work, of course: it’s not like when she first met Clint and every time she turned her back he was drunk in a strip club trying to persuade the dancers to go back to college or something equally poorly thought out. But her penthouse is big and quiet and exquisitely decorated and it’s… well, it’s not exactly home.
Friday night, Kate finds herself wearing something tight and purple and glittery, her favourite pair of impractical heels, and a pair of false eyelashes so long they’re actually kind of heavy.
She wouldn’t even still be here, standing in line pretending she’s not cold, if America weren’t also here, in a pair of black hot pants and an oversized stars and stripes sweater. Kate can’t figure out if she’s wearing it ironically or if the irony is being taken so strongly it’s come back out the other side again. She’s not going to ask, anyway, and even Loki doesn’t dare when America’s wearing stompy black boots with actual spikes on them.
Kate wants to kiss her so bad it’s actually sort of embarrassing.
Loki looks like the ridiculous hipster ass that he is, all eyeliner and stupid hair and clothing Urban Outfitters would be ashamed to stock, while David is wearing his I am here under duress expression and Billy and Teddy are too busy making out to pay attention to anything else in the line.
Have fun, kid Clint texts Kate.
“He didn’t want to come too?” America asks, glancing at Kate’s screen as she types back SCREW YOU BARTON.
“He’s not that kind of weird older friend,” Kate explains, which makes slightly more sense in her head.
Send me snapchats, Clint says.
YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SNAPCHAT IS, Kate tells him.
“He’s just excited because Noh-Varr is Kate’s ex,” Loki says, gleeful. He’s got a venti Starbucks coffee in one hand, because he’s just awful.
“Noh-Varr?” America raises an eyebrow. It’s a good look.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the name on his birth certificate,” Kate says, because there’s not a whole lot else to say.
“The break-up was hideous,” Loki continues.
“Noh-Varr made out with his ex-girlfriend a lot,” David explains to America, because David is apparently just exposition boy these days.
“Didn’t you also make out with his ex-girlfriend, Kate?” Loki asks, widening innocent eyes.
“I’m going to strangle you,” Kate says, and: “we’d broken up at that point, it’s totally different.”
She’s saved from having to say anything else by Tommy ducking into the line, looking as innocent as a gangly kid with bleached white hair can look.
“He’s here too?” Kate asks Loki.
“I’m thorough,” Loki shrugs. “William, care to do introductions?”
Billy tears his attention away from Teddy long enough to say to America: “this is Tommy, he’s my twin brother.”
“He’s also Kate’s ex,” Loki provides. Loki is an actual troll.
America’s expression doesn’t alter even slightly. Kate can’t work out if this is a good thing or not.
“I’m actually here tonight in my capacity as David’s BFF,” Tommy explains, bouncing on the balls of his feet, all grin and Adderall.
“You’re not my BFF,” David says.
“I’m slightly your BFF,” Tommy replies.
“Has anybody ever told you people that you should maybe know more people?” America finally asks.
Despite having some kind of really lengthy breakdown and being a huge asshole like eighty-seven percent of the time, Clint knows everybody. Like, it’s actually kind of weird. Most of them don’t visit his shitty apartment in Brooklyn – except Bobbi, the ex-wife, who Kate is maybe a little bit in love with because holy shit – but they crop up from time to time, just to remind Kate that she actually doesn’t know Clint nearly as well as she always thinks she does.
“I made out with Tony Stark one time,” Clint told her once, watching Tony Stark on TV fucking up a press conference with beautiful panache and a totally rocking suit.
“Everyone’s made out with Tony Stark one time,” Kate replied, taking the vodka away from Clint.
“Well, no,” Kate said, because the last time she’d met Tony Stark she’d been an actual child.
“So I win that one,” Clint finished, triumphantly, and took the vodka back.
“It’s a dumbass competition,” Kate told him, and sulked the rest of the night.]
The thing is that Noh-Varr wasn’t always great with the feelings or the communicating or the not-still-being-in-love-with-his-ex-girlfriend thing, but damn, but he knew music. Kate might actually forgive him one of these days if it means that she gets the mixtapes back.
(Yeah, Noh is pretty oldschool. It’s like a whole thing.)
Cassie shows up with Jonas at some point, stays long enough to buy Kate a drink she technically isn’t legal for, and then drags her boyfriend onto the dancefloor. Billy and Teddy haven’t actually left the dancefloor yet, all hands and wrapped up in each other, and Tommy alternates between dancing with whoever comes near him and going back to harangue David. Kate’s still not sure how or why Tommy decided to randomly adopt David, and if she should heads-up Billy at some point that their shift supervisor may end up dating his brother a little, but then it’s sort of really not her problem.
Loki is, typically, nowhere to be seen, and she doesn’t know where America is either, which is less comforting.
Anyway, the important thing is that Kate held out for over an hour before she did this.
There’s a bouncer-type standing near the DJ booth, and he looks Kate up and down before he shakes his head. Kate resents the groupie implication because: been there, done that. She probably still has the t-shirt in a closet somewhere.
She’s probably supposed to slip him some money at this point, but instead Kate presses herself onto tiptoes to say: “tell Noh that Kate wants to say hi.” The bouncer still looks pretty unimpressed, but she shrugs and adds: “I’ll wait here.”
The guy leaves, and Kate gets to twelve mississippi before he comes back and grudgingly lets her past.
Noh-Varr is lit in bright streaks from the club’s lights, but it’s at least a bit quieter in the booth, surrounded by stacks of records.
“Kate,” he says.
“Beard,” Kate says. “I mean, hi, Noh. And also your beard.”
He’s holding a strategic record in place, possibly not deliberately, but while it’s nothing Kate hasn’t seen before, she’s not sure she’s ready for Naked Noh-Varr yet. Not tonight, anyway.
“Loki said you’d all be coming,” Noh says, leaning back against his mixing desk. “You don’t like the beard?”
“It’s like a proper beard,” Kate replies, stepping forward enough to poke at it. “I assumed Loki meant you’d just got some stubble or something.”
“So you came by to see my beard?” Noh asks, looking sceptical.
Kate considers her options, considers what Loki will and will not have said, and instead offers: “…there’s this girl.”
Noh’s expression clears with comprehension, probably because he spent enough time around Loki to figure out how his mind works.
“Tommy’s here too,” Kate adds. “So if you could play like a minimum of awkward slower songs, that would be great.”
Noh-Varr nods, and his smile almost looks genuine. Kate thinks that they might be able to be adults about this after all, which would be cool. “Go find your girl,” he says, “I’ll keep you dancing.”
Kate pauses at the door to the booth. “Don’t play our song, Noh,” she adds.
His smile wanes a little wistful, and she grits her teeth against any and all emotions. “I won’t,” he says, and blows her a kiss as she goes.
David disappears at some point because he’s got the early shift tomorrow, and Teddy and Billy having either gone home or are getting up to something in the bathroom, Kate doesn’t super want to know which, and Cassie and Jonas are sharing a plastic bottle of water over by the wall, and Kate can’t register much of this because the lights are glinting gold off America’s hair and they may not be touching but they’re pretty damn close and definitely, definitely dancing together.
Kate drank way too many of those shots Tommy was buying like there was going to be a national shortage, and her ex-boyfriend is playing that way overplayed Daft Punk song and not wearing any clothes in the DJ booth, and he has a beard, and America has spikes on her shoes, and dammit, she is never accepting drinks that Tommy and Loki have had a hand in ever again because she has no idea wtf is happening but she is pretty drunk and America’s eyes are bright and mostly laughing at her.
“I think I might actually need you to hold me upright,” Kate says into America’s ear, and she gets an arm around her waist in response a moment later. It’s pretty nice.
“Smooth,” America replies, breath warm against Kate’s cheek, and Kate does some combination of a giggle and a facepalm that would send her tipping over if America weren’t weirdly strong and pulling her toward Cassie and Jonas.
“I’m normally much more sexy and collected in these situations,” Kate explains, because she is, when Loki and/or Tommy aren’t amusing themselves at her expense.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” America tells her, mouth pulled into a genuine smile that’s kind of glorious, and hey, maybe she doesn’t despise Kate that much after all.
“You are terrible at reading people, man,” America says, pushing Kate into Cassie’s waiting hug, and that’s pretty much it for Kate Bishop’s night.
She wakes up on a couch with Lucky trying to clamber all over her and her really gross hangover.
“Baby, no,” she says, trying ineffectually to push him off.
When Kate’s finally wrestled Lucky off her and he’s slunk off to sulk or eat something important, she finds that both Clint and America are watching her with amusement. America is wearing one of Clint’s Sydney Olympics t-shirts and has a towel wrapped around her hair, while Clint looks his usual wreck of should-have-shaved-two-days-ago.
“America brought you here,” Clint says, “because for some reason she doesn’t know where you live, and you weren’t in any state to say helpful things, so that’s why you’re here. I’m going to go make you a hangover cure.”
“Not the one with the raw egg,” Kate begs, but Clint is already cheerfully whistling and ignoring her as he walks away.
“Morning, Princess,” America says, sitting down on a part of the couch that doesn’t currently have Kate’s body sprawled miserably across it. She’s still wearing the hotpants from last night, and there’s a lot of thigh going on. Kate is so mad that she’s too busy having her brain collapse in on itself to properly appreciate it.
“Is that derogatory?” Kate manages thickly, pushing herself upright. As the blanket someone draped over her falls to the floor, she becomes aware that this dress really is super tiny in daylight, though looking pretty good for something she’s been dancing and then unconscious in.
America shrugs. “It’s not supposed to be. How are you feeling?”
Kate just looks at her.
“Yeah, I figured.” America smiles. “Not looking too bad on you, though, Kate.”
She goes to help Clint with the coffee before Kate can say anything, which is probably just as well, because all Kate can really manage is: huh.
“My dad’s having one of those things,” Kate explains on Tuesday afternoon, “I need a date.”
“Aren’t you and America…” Billy waves a hand. “Well, you know, something like that.”
“She hasn’t told America about the ridiculous money and parties thing,” David says, because David is better than Cassie’s psychology degree at figuring people out. Actually, Cassie once brought them all questionnaires that she needed done for a paper, and Loki hit like ninety percent of the markers for being a psychopath. The best part of that, though, was that nobody was surprised at all.
“Oh,” Billy says. “You could take Clint?”
“Clint hates going to these things,” Kate reminds him, not adding that she’ll probably have to buy Clint another suit after what he did to the last one. Formal events are super not his thing. They’re sort of Kate’s, but only if she brings people with her to make them bearable.
“You could bring me,” Loki suggests, doing his attempt at a winning smile and batting his eyelashes.
“I’m pretty sure you’re invited too,” Kate shrugs, “I know your brother RSPV’d.”
Loki’s expression shuts down, like it always does around mentions to his family. Loki’s dad possibly has even more money than Kate’s – it’s not like they’ve sat down and compared notes – and his older brother is everyone’s favourite, and Loki is… well, Loki is Loki.
“You need a plus one of your own,” Kate continues, “maybe we could call Leah.”
“No,” Loki says.
“You took us all clubbing with two of my exes,” Kate reminds him, “and then got me really really drunk around the person I’m interested in now.”
“And fun was had by all,” Loki says, though his voice has gone all tight and hard. “Leah and I aren’t there yet. We will never be there.”
“That bad, huh?” Billy asks.
“Like you know about break-ups,” Loki scoffs.
It’s kind of true: Billy and and Teddy fell out one time and he cried on Kate’s couch for like a week while yelling at daytime soaps, and then they got back together again and basically stayed in a blanket fort for a weekend cuddling and probably doing some other stuff Kate isn’t going to picture right now. It’s adorable, but maddening. Most people aren’t supposed to fall like this for their first boyfriend and then have it somehow work out fine.
“This isn’t solving my problem,” Kate reminds them, before it turns into sniping and someone says something actually hurtful.
Clint’s in the coffee shop this afternoon, using their wifi and drinking as many coffees as Kate will willingly give him on the house; it’s not like he’s a kid or she can’t leave him alone for five minutes, but she still prefers it when he’s making his bad life choices somewhere she can watch and intervene if she likes. Billy took him over a latte a couple of minutes ago, and Kate sees Clint pick up the cup, stare at it, and then come over to the counter.
“What is this,” Clint says.
It’s not like Tuesday afternoons are any slower than any other afternoons, but they often feel it, which is when Billy and David start messing around with latte art. David is better at it than Billy is, but Billy is not afraid of using google to help himself out.
“It’s a dalek,” Billy explains.
Clint continues to look at him.
“From Doctor Who,” Billy adds. “We watched the marathon on BBC America for like your… sixth intervention? My mom made lasagne.”
Clint blinks. “Jesus fuck,” he says, and goes to sit back down again.
Kate looks around. “I guess I’m taking Cassie to my dad’s thing,” she sighs, “thanks for nothing, guys.”
Billy and Teddy are making Clint watch American Idol, but there’s pizza and endless coffee and Lucky is happily sprawled over Kate’s legs so it’s all kind of great anyway.
“I still think you should ask America to your swanky party thing,” Teddy says, sucking sauce off his thumb. “She’ll wear boots and your dad will freak out and it’ll be great.”
“I’m not sure she’d say yes,” Kate shrugs.
Clint laughs to himself, reaching for more pizza. “Katie-Kate, I was there when she carried you up however many stairs it is to here.”
“And you think that that means-” Kate hates being unsure of herself. Leaping straight into bed with Noh-Varr was so much simpler. America’s disconcerting: not so much sending mixed signals as signals that just make no sense at all.
“You’re coming to me for romantic advice,” Clint says, flat. “Oh good. This will end well.”
Kate just keeps glaring at him until he sighs and puts down his coffee mug. “Do you want sex or feelings?” he asks.
“I can’t have both?” Kate asks, which is possibly a bad sign because she can spot which one would be much, much easier.
“No,” Clint says. “You can have one but not both.”
“We have sex and feelings,” Billy pipes up.
“Because you two are the worst and do not count,” Clint replies briskly. He turns to look at Kate again. “Look, Natasha is the only woman I’ve ever loved-”
“What about Bobbi?” Kate asks.
“What about Kate?” Billy asks.
“Okay, okay,” Clint puts his hands up, “I’ve loved lots of women, but Nat still talks to me.”
“Bobbi still talks to you,” Kate reminds him.
“She still talks to you,” Clint corrects.
“Your weird friendship is my favourite,” Teddy remarks.
“Shut up, Spoken-For-Since-You-Were-Fourteen Kid,” Clint says, on an eyeroll, “I’m trying to listen to this guy cry over his dead grandma or deaf sister or whatever.”
“Your empathy is your best feature,” Billy observes.
“I read that book your boyfriend left lying around.” Clint shrugs. “Dead Cancer Teenagers.”
“That wasn’t the title,” Teddy says, but he’s laughing as he turns up the volume.
Kate slumps in her seat and turns Clint’s words over in her head while people cry onscreen and Lucky makes a lazy attempt for the pizza still left in the box without actually getting off her legs or moving at all.
“You give shitty advice,” she says at last.
“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” Clint replies, tipping his head onto her shoulder anyway.
“So, this is a benefit for…” Cassie raises enquiring eyebrows at Kate.
“Um.” Kate frantically flips through her mental rolodex for Things My Dad Pretends To Give A Shit About. Number one on that list is actually her, but she’s not doing that tonight, not when there’s an open bar and her dad somewhere in the vicinity, all teeth and six hundred dollar tie. “I don’t know,” she admits at last. “I think there’s a silent auction happening somewhere.”
Cassie laughs at her, wearing the dress she bought for her last college ball and shoes borrowed from Kate’s extensive collection – she’s not above exploiting her dad’s general disinterest, after all – beaded clutch in one hand and champagne flute in the other. She looks much more comfortable here than Kate ever will, born to it or not.
“I don’t think I’m drunk enough for this,” Kate mumbles, making a mental note to find a member of staff willing to keep her glass topped up all night for an extra handful of cash. Topped up with what, she doesn’t even care anymore.
“Drunk and malevolently resentful is the look for tonight,” a voice announces, and Loki appears, bearing an entire tray of drinks. He offers it to Kate with a flourish; she takes two.
“Are you wearing a cravat?” Cassie asks, poking at it.
Loki rolls his eyes. He’s wearing more eyeliner than Kate is right now – which is actually saying something – and angry-looking boots with his tux. “How’s it going with your dad?” he asks Kate, faux-bright.
“He said ‘hello’ and wandered off to talk to a senator,” Kate shrugs. It was possibly more than she was expecting, but she doesn’t add that bit aloud. “What about yours?”
“He told me I needed a haircut,” Loki says, and sniffs disdainfully.
“You do,” Kate reminds him, because Loki’s hair is tumbling beyond more emo than Billy’s into curly Barbie territory.
“You guys are making me weirdly glad my dad is dead,” Cassie observes, and reaches for another glass of champagne. “Do you know what this benefit is for?” she adds, turning to Loki.
Loki raises his eyebrows. “This is a benefit?”
Kate puts a freshly-emptied flute onto the tray and digs out her phone, shooting out a you okay, guy text to Clint.
She doesn’t get a reply, which… she thins her lips and slips her phone back into the clutch that cost more than Clint’s last rent payment.
“I like it when you get all Mama Bear,” Cassie tells her, “but don’t freak out until you need to.”
Kate nods, but she gets the feeling that this isn’t over. It never is.
“I can see the resentment,” Kate says, sprawled across a chaise-longue, while Loki pops the cork on another pilfered champagne bottle. They should probably stop, but tonight is not getting any more bearable. “I mean, your brother is much, much hotter than you are.”
“Thank you so much,” Loki says, throwing the cork at her. Kate catches it out of the air, because she’s drunk and shit, but her reflexes are still the best.
Cassie is barefoot, the left strap of her dress slipping off her shoulder, and though she’s pink-cheeked, insists that she isn’t sexting Jonas. Kate isn’t convinced, but also isn’t inclined to move to tease her.
“I bet he rescues puppies and eats organic and does yoga,” Kate carries on, because needling Loki is maybe one of her favourite hobbies.
“Your sister’s married,” Loki shoots back, “and your dad talks to her.”
“You guys should probably stop before the first punch gets thrown,” Cassie suggests.
Kate’s phone buzzes; it’s still not Clint, but America’s name popping up on the screen is… unexpected.
Having fun at your party?
Loki is morosely splashing more champagne into a glass, and Cassie is giggling at her phone. Kate is pretty sure she’s reacting to this in a dignified fashion, and looks back down at the text before she can be proven wrong.
I didn’t tell you I was at a party, Kate replies.
Oh, please, Princess, America responds.
Kate looks thoughtfully at Loki, but before she can say anything aloud, her phone starts buzzing. She glances back down, and this time it’s Clint.
“Hey,” she answers.
“Katie-Kate,” Clint drawls.
Kate sighs. She doesn’t exactly have a high horse of her own right now, but, still. Damn. “Where are you drunk?” she asks. “Do you have a designated driver or a cab number?”
“Everything’s fine,” Clint replies loudly, which is not what Kate asked. This is never a good sign.
“Just give me an address,” she insists. Cassie and Loki are both watching, Loki still drinking, Cassie fidgeting with the hem of her gown.
“Don’t worry, Katie-Kate-Kate,” Clint insists, and there’s the sound of breaking glass.
“Oh,” Kate says, “fuck. No. Clint. Fuck.”
She hears his phone drop, some yelling, and what probably sounds like punching. This is not the first time this has happened, but Kate still wishes that Clint wouldn’t call her from his bar brawls. Before or after would be preferable; during is just awkward.
The line goes dead, and when Kate tries calling back, it goes straight to voicemail.
“Well,” she says flatly, “this is a positive development that I’m really pleased about.”
Cassie comes to sit next to her on the chaise-longue. “Phone Tree?” she asks.
Kate sighs. “Phone Tree,” she agrees.
[Pseudo-Wiki: Kate Bishop’s Clint Barton Is Drunk Somewhere In What I Hope Is New York And I Can’t Find Him Phone Tree.
“The first rule of the Phone Tree is that you don’t talk about the Phone Tree,” Loki said, when Kate told America she was going on it.
“That’s not even slightly true,” Kate replied, elbowing him in the head.
The Phone Tree does actually have a rule: Once You’re On The Phone Tree, You Don’t Come Off The Phone Tree Unless You Die Or Move Out Of New York. It’s a slightly awkward tangle of other people’s exes, college roommates and coworkers, but say what you like about it: it fucking gets results.]
Kate calls David, Cassie calls Jonas, and Loki calls Billy. While they wait for people to check their designated local bars, Cassie goes in search of caffeine.
“Is Leah still on the Tree?” Loki asks, faux-casual.
“Of course she is,” Kate replies. “And no, you cannot have her new number.”
Loki scowls, but doesn’t say anything until Cassie returns, balancing a tray with glasses of water and cups of espresso on it. It says something, that they can keep stealing things from the waiting staff, and no one bothers to notice them.
Kate is worried in a resigned sort of way, already figuring out where the all-night pharmacies are and which ER they can go to again without people wondering whether she’s secretly Clint’s abusive girlfriend. It keeps her mind busy, anyway, until her phone beeps with a text from Noh-Varr with an address in it.
“Isn’t he DJ-ing tonight?” Cassie asks, following Kate down the stairs.
“Well, not any more,” Loki remarks. Kate could tell him not to come, but she’s already preparing for inevitable bickering with a drunk and presumably injured Clint; she doesn’t have the energy to fight Loki out of getting into their cab.
They’re a few minutes away when Kate’s phone beeps with a matching text from America. She’s pretty sure that she didn’t overlap territories, but hey, maybe she did.
“I’m so glad I have an extra bottle of champagne in my coat,” Loki observes, peering over Kate’s shoulder. “Tonight might not be a total loss after all.”
“Okay,” Clint says when Kate’s dragged him more or less upright and propped him against a wall, “this looks bad.”
“Yeah, it does, you fucking dummy,” she replies quietly.
Behind her, she’s dimly aware of Cassie asking the distinctly unhelpful bartender for ice and a first aid kit, if they have one, but she keeps her attention on Clint for now, blotting at his bleeding nose with a wad of paper towels from the bathroom. It doesn’t seem to be broken, which is actually an exciting change.
Clint looks up at them all with the one eye that isn’t swollen shut: at Kate, crouching in her stupidly expensive party dress and six inch heels; at Cassie, still looking like a prom queen while she and America and her stars and stripes patterned jacket argue with the bartender about whether a first aid kit is a legal requirement for a bar and what he thinks they’re going to do with a handful of ice cubes; at Loki, a ridiculous hipster scarf tossed over his tux, eyeliner the wrong side of smudged; at Noh, in tiny denim cut-offs and a pair of florescent sneakers that probably aren’t his own.
“Some cavalry,” he remarks dryly.
“You wait until Billy and Teddy show up,” Kate replies grimly, trying to assess in the shitty lighting if anything’s broken or going to need stitches. Again.
A door bangs behind her and Kate turns to see America emerging from the bathroom. She hands Kate a cold bundle that presumably contains the ice cubes now, wiping wet hands off on her jeans. Kate presses it to where the bruising looks worst, a little harder than necessary for the way Clint hisses when she does, and then looks back over her shoulder at America, whose jacket is suddenly zipped up a lot higher than it was earlier.
“Is this your t-shirt?” Kate asks quietly.
America gives a one-shouldered shrug. “Trust me, you really aren’t gonna find a clean dishcloth around here, Princess. Sundance can spring for a new one.”
Clint looks blearily up. “I’m totally Butch.”
America arches an eyebrow. “You know they both die at the end, right?”
It looks like Clint tries rolling his eyes, but one of them is bruised shut, and he only gets halfway with the other one before flinching and giving up. Kate dabs at the bruising with America’s ice-filled t-shirt, filing away thoughts to have about this later when her hands aren’t sticky with blood and her knees aren’t sticky with whatever she’s not thinking about is on this bar’s floor.
“I ruined your party,” Clint remarks after a while.
“Deliberately, I assume,” Kate replies.
Clint shrugs in a way that looks like it hurts, and it’s kind of sweet and kind of pathetic. She kisses the cheek that doesn’t look bruised, and his split lip starts bleeding again when he smiles.
It’s like four in the morning by the time Kate’s gotten Clint into bed and unconscious, Lucky to lie at the end of it like the world’s worst guard dog, and everyone else to get out of Clint’s apartment and go away to their respective homes/all night dance party rave disco things (well, the last one might just have been Noh-Varr, his stolen sneakers, and the Daisy Dukes Kate suspects he isn’t wearing underwear beneath).
Well, not quite everyone else.
“I can use google, you know,” America remarks, hands wrapped around a mug of Clint’s strongest coffee. Kate’s dress is ruined, but she doesn’t think she liked it that much anyway. “Like, in case you thought you were being subtle about being a billionaire.”
“Daughter of a billionaire,” Kate corrects absently, though she has a trustfund that runs into… well, a lot of zeroes, anyway. “You didn’t say anything,” she adds.
“‘Cause you like talking about it so much,” America deadpans, and jerks her head toward Clint’s room. “This a regular thing?”
“Define ‘regular’,” Kate replies, but the existence of the Phone Tree and the ice packs in Clint’s freezer probably tell the story for her. It’s not as regular as it used to be, anyway, and Clint’s injuries tend to lean more toward mild car accident victim and less toward beaten to an actual pulp these days. Small mercies and shit.
“You’re going to get Billy and Teddy to physically come babysit when you take me out on Friday, then,” America says, a foregone conclusion.
Kate doesn’t choke on her coffee, because she’s a dignified human being who can go out with other dignified human beings, even ones who look kind of like they can fuck you up in a back alley without breaking a nail.
It’s totally hot. The whole thing is a kind of awful.
“When I take you out or take you out?” Kate asks, careful, because Clint’s deeply unhelpful sex and feelings speech has reared its head.
“Well,” America says, “if you think I’m putting out for less than a mojito and fries, you can think again, Princess.”
“I can probably manage that,” Kate allows, and clinks their coffee mugs together, sealing the deal.
America smiles, suddenly, warm and bright and unreal and somehow a little implausible, something Kate didn’t even realise she was hiding until it burst out, and she doesn’t even try to stop herself from leaning over the breakfast bar Clint somehow has to press a kiss to it. They’ll probably have better kisses when it isn’t four a.m. and they both taste like over-brewed coffee and Kate isn’t wearing a dress that’s stained with blood and beer and who knows what else, still a little drunk and a lot worn out, but right now, Kate can’t even imagine them. Nothing’s going to be better than this. Nothing.