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Life of Crime

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It's really hard to run through Boston when you're carrying a quiver on your back, a bow in one hand, and a huge bag of money in the other. Still, Clint's doing fine—he's had a ton of practice, after all. He's never going to win any Olympic medals (for, okay, lots of reasons), but he's fast enough for a guy on foot.

Doesn't matter, because this chick's gaining on him anyway. Fucking flying. It's gotta be cheating.

"Give it up," calls the woman, floating effortlessly behind him. "I'm taking you out the easy way or the hard way, and I think we'd both rather have the easy way."

"Don't put words in my mouth," says Clint. Tries to say. He has a stitch in his side and not all that much wind left, and she's still gaining. Clint's not even sure where he's running anymore. Natasha said the rendezvous was somewhere in Cambridge, and this is Harvard, so—he's close? Probably? Fuck, he needs to stop and ask for directions, get a map, get a fucking—

Flying lady gets sick of waiting and drops down to tackle Clint. He twists, curling instinctively around his bow and the money, falls hard on his side. His quiver creaks, ominously. For a second Clint's worried that his hearing aids are going to fall out, but they're fine, he's fine. Except for his ribs.

"Jesus," he groans. "You're gonna break something."

Flying lady rolls her eyes. Whatever, she landed on her feet, she doesn't understand Clint's pain. She has a red and blue costume, swept-back blonde hair, and she's spattered in red paint because Clint threw the dye pack hidden in the money bag at her head when it started to explode. Clint doesn't recognize her at all. He squints at the star symbol on her chest, trying to get a clue.

"Eyes up here, dude." Flying lady points at her face.

"I wasn't looking at your boobs." Clint rolls onto his back, propping himself up on his elbows. "I was looking at the costume. I mean, you look great, don't get me wrong, and it's not like I don't appreciate a good form-fitting outfit, but I—"

"Wow," says flying lady. "Let me just stop you there. As a representative of the Avengers, I'm putting you under citizen's arrest for bank robbery. And probably possession of a deadly weapon. Are you allowed to have a bow in Massachusetts?"

"Probably not," says Clint. "Massachusetts is pretty draconian. Can't even have a decent-sized pocket knife."

"Right." Flying lady nods. "Plus you're wearing a purple supervillain costume, so I'm thinking you're probably on someone's most-wanted list."

"Just came from a fancy dress party," says Clint. "You can't arrest someone for crimes against fashion."

"It's fucking spandex," says flying lady. "Who wears spandex in public if they're not a cape?"

"Trapeze artists," says Clint. "Joggers. Um."

"You can't even think of a third thing."

"I could be a jogger. Hey, yeah, I was jogging! Innocent victim!" Clint raises his voice to appeal to the crowd of curious students and tourists that's beginning to cluster around them on the sidewalk. "I was just jogging in my totally normal jogging outfit, and this vigilante tackles me for no reason!"

"You've got a bag of hundred dollar bills!" flying lady shouts back. "I saw you take them from a bank after threatening the guards with your little Robin Hood set! You threw paint at my head!"

"Slander!" shouts Clint. It's really easy to yell, once you get into the swing of it. "Also—also, I think you broke my leg. Abuse!"

"Your leg is fine," hisses flying lady, which is admittedly true. "Citizens, I'm Captain Marvel and a registered member of the Avengers. Please stay back. Can someone call the police?"

Four people start dialing on their phones. The other thirty are too busy using their phones to take pictures. Clint starts to push himself up off the sidewalk, but Captain Marvel pushes him back down with a boot on his shoulder, careful but firm.

"Abuse!" shouts Clint.

"Shut up," groans Captain Marvel. "You've got a bag of stolen cash, an illegal weapon, and your defense is that you're a jogger from a costume party. What are you trying to accomplish here?"

Clint can see someone approaching from the corner of his eye. Someone familiar. "Stalling," he says, and smiles.

Captain Marvel's smart, give her that—she turns almost immediately, but it's not quick enough to avoid Natasha's fist. Marvel takes a step or two back, both hands over her nose, and Natasha pulls Clint up from the ground. Clint still has his bow, Natasha snags the money, and it's off to running again. The crowd is too shocked to stop them, and anyway most of them are still taking photos.

"She's a flyer," says Clint. Natasha shrugs and ducks into the subway station. Five seconds later, Clint hears a thump and a yelp as Captain Marvel misjudges the clearance and smacks her head on the station ceiling.

Natasha calmly pulls her Charlie card out of her jeans' pocket.

It takes two hours and four transfers before Clint really feels like they might be safe. Sweatshirt pulled over his costume, collapsible bow under the shirt, bag of money tucked into Natasha's backpack, they look almost as normal as anyone else on the T. Clint's still watching out of the corner of his eye for a flash of blonde hair, but they're practically in the fucking suburbs. It's fine.

Whenever people start to stare at them, Natasha draws Clint over to kiss his cheek or his nose, giggling as she does it. Natasha enjoys PDA because it's an easy way to make people look away, deflect attention with a combination of real affection and assumed obliviousness. Clint enjoys PDA because he actually doesn't need a reason to make out with Natasha in public.

"Why did we do this in the middle of Boston?" asks Clint, after Natasha finishes biting his lip and settles back into her seat.

"Because someone went gambling with the Russian mob," says Natasha. "And someone needed money in a hurry. The real question is why someone decided to do this in his work clothes."

Clint tugs the hem of his sweatshirt down a little lower. Yeah, purple boots, blue leggings, UMass sweatshirt three sizes too big, what are you looking at? "You're the one that told me jeans and a tank-top were unprofessional."

"I meant for a meeting." Natasha raises an eyebrow. "Von Doom was not impressed."

"Whatever," says Clint. There's still no flying blonde lady, so he leans back into the bizarrely decorated and suspiciously clean seat as the train rattles along. One more day in a glamorous life of supervillainy.

"At least I got the cash," he adds.

"Good thing," says Natasha. "We have to pick up dog food on the way back."

---

This is Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye: American male, heading into middle age. Short, sandy hair; unfortunate nose, broken at least twice; arms and shoulders corded with muscle. Hearing aids to correct for a severe impairment from an arrow-related accident a few years back. Clint would prefer not to discuss how you can get a hearing impairment from an arrow. He's got about as many scars as you would expect from a man in his particular line of work and with his particular attitude about workplace safety. His professional outfit is sleeveless, form-fitting, and incredibly purple.

The last time someone called Victor von Doom for a reference, von Doom scoffed. "Barton's sense of humor does not please Doom. Employ the man for his skills, not his conversation. Be aware that the only way to prevent Barton from conversing would be to remove his tongue."

Fortunately for everyone involved (Clint, Natasha, the Eternals, the homicidal/suicidal cult of Galactus, etc), the supervillain community tends to take von Doom's references with a grain of salt. Clint Barton doesn't take kindly to attempts at tongue-removal.

---

The safehouse is all the way at the northern end of the Red line, in a weird brick building that looks like it might be gentrified apartments but is actually just a gutted old manufacturing plant. Kate's dragged a couch into the middle of the open ground floor, and she's lying on it with Lucky and watching movies on her laptop. She doesn't bother to get up when Clint and Natasha walk in, although Clint notices Kate's hand jerk toward the handgun in her thigh-holster for a second. Lucky, of course, gets up and starts bouncing around like a wild thing. He can see they've got food.

"How'd it go?" Kate doesn't look up from her torrented copy of Blade: Trinity.

"Got the cash," says Clint. "Also got tackled by a cape. Down, Lucky."

"An Avenger," corrects Natasha. "They'll be looking for us. We should move."

"I just got this place the way I like it." Kate gestures around the floor, broken glass and busted conveyor belts and all. "Back to New York?"

"The Avenger had no idea who I was," says Clint. "We'll be more vulnerable on the move, we should stay."

"She'll report it and they'll look us up," says Natasha. "Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye, small-time thief and big-time muscle for hire. Man with very conspicuous purple costume and a bow. Natasha Romanov, alias Black Widow, ex-KGB agent and assassin. Tendency to save Barton's ass when he gets into trouble. We're recognizable."

"I'm not!" says Kate, tapping something out on her phone.

"Are too," says Clint, automatically. Then he remembers that he was trying to argue the opposite. Shit.

"Both of us are on hit lists." Natasha puts her hand on Clint's arm, and raises her eyebrows when he flinches away. "All three of us have multiple warrants out. The police probably want the dog for questioning. We should move."

"I don't like going somewhere just for the sake of going." Clint rubs his arm. He's had a lot of shitty experiences with running to nowhere. Like today, for instance. "Give me a reason to be somewhere else in particular."

Kate's phone buzzes, and she holds it up. "Bucky's in Maine. Says he has a job and could use the extra help."

"There." Natasha smiles. "We go to Maine."

"Fucking Maine," says Clint, but that's when Lucky takes advantage of his distraction and jumps high enough to lick him from chin to nose. Kate laughs at his sputtering, and Natasha's smile gets a little more genuine. Clint can't begrudge them that.

He does snag Kate's phone while they're packing up, though, and glances through her messages.

Kate: Yo, need to get out of Boston in a hurry. You got anything going on?

Bucky: I guees

Bucky: In Msine, could use some hwlp w securitty

Kate: Wow, typos much?

Bucky: Touch screnn wont recongize my left hand

Bucky: You try typong one handed

Kate: That's what swype is for

Bucky: What

Kate: Just drag over letters to type instead

Bucky: Okay this is actually pretty useful

Bucky: I didn't realize my phone could do this I'm not really a compost guy

Bucky: shut

Bucky: duck

Bucky: can you not type swears with this thing?

Kate: omg

Clint is basically crying with laughter when Natasha takes the phone away from him.

---

This is Natasha Romanova, alias the Black Widow: Russian female, much older than she looks. Red hair, generally worn long; rare and wicked smile; no discernable Russian accent when she speaks English or any other language. Her only scars are old, white and stretched from growth. Supersoldier experiments mean that she's healed away any injuries, even mortal injuries, ever since her youth. She is very loyal to a very small number of people. Approximately three people. And a dog.

Natasha's last performance review from the Red Room said that she was an excellent agent, with a proven track record of mayhem and quick thinking. It also mentioned that Natasha was demonstrating some worrying independence, and should be closely monitored in the future.

Technically speaking, Natasha's very last performance review said 'aaaaagh, no, she's turned on us! She's killing everyone!' But the proper paperwork for that review was never filed with HR.

---

Clint leaves to pay off the Russian mob, which goes—how it goes.

"Why this money red, bro?"

"There's, you know," Clint gestures, uselessly. "A dye pack? I got it out of the bag before they exploded it, but it caught some of the bills' edges. It's not a big deal."

Mishka eyes Clint. "This money stolen?"

"Obviously," says Clint. "You told me I had a day to come up with ten grand in ten hours, where else was I supposed to get it?"

"Be cool." Mishka starts sorting the money into red and not-red piles. "No one forced you to play Seka with us, bro."

"Yeah," grumbles Clint. "And no one explained the rules to me, either."

Mishka laughs and claps Clint on the back, Clint grins and bears it. He is never, ever going to get drunk in a mob bar again. And he's definitely never going to mix money and the mob again either.

When Clint gets back Natasha has procured a car. It's a shitty 90s Oldsmobile, and the rearview mirror has fallen off the windshield and keeps swinging from its lighting wires. The mirror nearly hits Clint in the face two or three times before Natasha cuts it off. The only good thing about this piece of junk is that even if the car was stolen (the dealer was a guy that Kate knows as a friend of a friend of a business partner, and he's shady as fuck), the rightful owner probably isn't much fussed about getting it back.

Okay, the other good thing about this car is that the radio still works. Clint turns up Ke$ha as he gets out of the city, ignoring Kate's dirty look as he bops along, hands drumming on the steering wheel.

"You're way too old for this," says Kate.

"I'm too old for all of this," says Clint. "But does that stop me?"

He sings along to the next five songs. It doesn't take very long before Kate stops rolling her eyes and starts singing harmony.

Natasha has her eyes closed, leaned back in the front passenger's seat. She isn't asleep. Kate is in back, petting Lucky. Clint just keeps going down I-95, a careful seven miles over the speed limit. Too fast, you get stopped. Too slow, and cops wonder what's wrong.

"Who was the cape?" asks Kate.

"What cape?" Clint passes somebody in a Subaru who's decided that 40 is a good speed for an interstate. He hopes they feel appropriately ashamed for being passed by an Oldsmobile.

"The one who tackled you," says Kate. "Like two hours ago."

"Oh, yeah." Clint shrugs. "Captain Marvel, I guess? Flyer, hits hard."

Kate taps at her phone, and then makes an annoyed noise. "There are approximately a billion people called Captain Marvel, and all of them fly. Be more specific."

"Blonde hair, white lady, red and blue costume, legs up to here—"

"Thanks for not mentioning her chest," says Kate.

"I'm a gentleman," says Clint. "She did yell at me for looking at her boobs, but there's like, a symbol right in the middle and it's kind of eye-catching—"

"I've got the picture, thanks." Kate taps some more. "Looks like she's way out of your league. Alien superpowers, protects the world from destruction, doesn't normally hassle bank robbers in Boston."

"I'm just lucky, I guess."

Lucky's ears perk up. Clint winks at him in the rearview mirror, which is propped up on the dashboard.

Kate grins back. "Did you seriously get called out for ogling?"

"There was a star thing!" says Clint. "I was trying to figure out what it meant."

"You think she's cute," says Kate. "You've got a crush."

"Are you twelve?" Clint passes a semi truck, wind whistling through the gaps in the Oldsmobile's insulation. "Leave me alone. She's just some cape who tackled me."

"Is that a euphemism?" asks Kate.

Clint takes one hand off the steering wheel to flip her off. Natasha smirks at them in her not-sleep.

---

This is Kate Bishop, alias Hawkeye: American female, early 20s. Long, black hair; really impressive biceps; not as tall as she thinks she is. Scar on her arm that she claims is from a fencing practice gone wrong, involving a broken epee. Scar is from a fencing practice gone wrong, but actually involved an intense warm-up game of handball. Incredible aim, but she wears two arm guards because she has a bad habit of drawing up a little instead of straight back, and the bow string always slaps her inner arm on the release.

When Kate announced that she was running away to become an international criminal and learn archery from the best marksman in the world, her dad said "Wow, interesting. I'm busy, sweetheart, can you tell me about this later? Who are you going to learn from, those Koreans who won in the Olympics?"

"No, Daddy. Clint Barton." Kate raised her voice. "The international criminal."

"I don't think he's been in the Olympics, darling." Mr. Bishop signed a few papers. "Talk to me later and I'll see if I can pay for you to fly to Seoul. I own a penthouse in Seoul."

Kate walked out and never looked back. It took a week (and an APB) for her dad to notice.

---

Maine is as woodsy and bugsy and boringsy as Maine ever is. Bucky's job is in the middle of nowhere, at a secret AIM research installation that probably involves mutating cattle or something equally ridiculous. Clint isn't being paid to care.

Clint hopes he's actually getting paid. Bucky's cool, it'll probably be fine. On the other hand—

"You didn't ask about money?" he asks Kate.

"We were in a hurry!" Kate tosses a ball across the secret AIM parking lot for Lucky to ignore. That dog is the worst at chasing things.

"You could have asked during the five-hour drive," grumbles Clint. "Other things, too. Like, are room and board provided? Are we gonna forage for dinner? Tents give me hives."

"We're not sleeping in a tent," says Natasha. "Stop whining. I thought you'd like working for AIM."

Clint blinks, slowly. "Because... why? Because I love pseudo-fascists so much? Because I love those fucking yellow hazmat suits?"

"There's a pun," says Natasha. "You know, you fire arrows... They're called AIM..."

"Jesus," says Clint, over Kate's giggles. "I'd better be getting paid for this."

"Don't worry," calls Bucky, as he picks his way around black, unmarked vans to meet them. "The money is already in your Swiss bank account, blah blah blah."

Clint grins and offers his hand for a fistbump, and smirks when Kate copies him. Natasha goes for the full-on hug, because she and Bucky go way back. She even lets Bucky swing her around a bit before extricating herself.

"It's just security work," says Bucky. "We're not expecting the Avengers to show up and bust us, but we're not not expecting it."

"You have a masterful command of modern American English," says Kate, in as classy a voice as she can manage (which is very classy). Bucky pinches her cheek, and she squeaks in that weird 'I'm an adult and this is beneath me but also it's adorable when you act like my grandfather because you honestly are super old' way that she has.

Clint's really good at interpreting Kate's squeaks, okay.

Clint missed Bucky. He's Natasha's best friend (other best friend), and he makes everything... match. Clint and Kate match—two archers, both kind of snarky, both in a little over their heads since they're only human. And Bucky and Natasha match—two ex-KGB super-soldier assassins, both calm and sarcastic, both completely in control of their shit. The four of them balance each other out.

Also Clint is not-so-secretly obsessed with Bucky's big metal arm, which is pretty much the coolest thing he has ever seen. Even if apparently it makes texting difficult.

"You're staring again," mutters Kate. "Now Bucky will call you out for ogling." Clint rolls his eyes.

"Kate and Clint on exterior security," says Bucky. "Me and Natasha on interior. AIM gave me a bunch of minions too, but they're completely useless. Can't even fire straight. I think it's the dumb bucket helmets—no peripheral vision."

"Like I said." Clint glances at Kate, who nods. "Those yellow hazmat uniforms suck."

"How many casualties are acceptable?" asks Natasha. "Can we weed out the worst of the minions?"

Bucky shrugs. "On the one hand, this is AIM and they won't give a shit as long as we leave the scientists alone. On the other hand, it'd be a waste of time. All of the minions are the worst."

Bucky Barnes: supervillain contractor and master of making the best out of a shitty situation. Clint loves working with him.

"What's the dress code?" asks Clint. "Costume or jeans? Because I've been getting some conflicting instructions from Miss Widow over here—ow!" Clint rubs his shoulder where Natasha smacked him.

"Look at me and tell me what the dress code is," says Bucky. He's wearing black pants, black gloves, and a black long-sleeved shirt with one arm cut off to display his (really really cool) prosthetic. It's the same thing he always wears.

"Yeah, that doesn't help at all," says Clint.

"That's because I have a sensible work outfit that doesn't have purple highlights or a fucking tabard." Bucky smiles. "Put on your spandex, kids."

"Don't make fun of my fashion sense." Clint starts pulling their suitcases out of the trunk, now that he's pretty sure they won't be living in a tent.

"You don't have a fashion sense," says Bucky. Kate and Natasha snicker.

Okay, so Clint only mostly loves working with Bucky.

---

This is James Buchanan 'Bucky' Barnes, alias the Winter Soldier: male, former American citizen, former Soviet citizen, currently stateless. Either in his late 30s or his mid 80s, depending on how you're counting. One big metal arm, brown hair that he cuts short when he remembers and then lets grow for months at a time, surprisingly deep laugh lines. Do not ask about the big metal arm, or the circumstances of his statelessness, or what he did between 1945 and 2006.

Bucky Barnes has been named most valuable employee by fifty-seven supervillains or supervillain organizations, including the Circus of Crime, Doctor Octopus, and the Hellfire Club. The President of the United States rescinded his posthumous Medal of Honor in 2007 for somewhat obvious reasons.

If asked, Captain America has this to say about Barnes: "He was the best friend I ever had. He's courageous, dedicated, and extraordinarily intelligent. We'll probably have to shoot him."

---

The good thing about working for Bucky is that his operations are air-tight and perfect. Nothing goes wrong completely unexpectedly, and problems are dealt with quickly and quietly.

The bad thing about working for Bucky is that his operations are air-tight and perfect.

After two weeks of crisp and beautiful weather, nothing's happened. Once Clint thought he saw a cape, but it was actually a rabbit. It's been that kind of job.

Bucky's pretty happy about that. Clint is, well, not so much.

Tonight, Clint and Natasha are just coming off-shift and Kate's taking Lucky for a walk before she goes on. Clint's lying on Natasha's bed in his work clothes, winding down in the best way he knows—whining.

"…And god, it's not like I'm asking for trouble—"

"You are," mutters Natasha.

"…I'm just asking for something." Clint presses his hands against his face. "Anything. This is the most boring job ever."

"Get out of my bed." Natasha shoves at him.

Clint moves his hands and glares at her. "Why?"

"I'm going to take a nap."

"A nap?" Clint groans. "This is what boring jobs in Maine drive us to! Naps!"

Natasha smiles at him, and Clint catches his breath for a second because this smile means 'don't push me.'

"You want excitement?" she says.

"What's on offer?" asks Clint, because he always always pushes.

Natasha yanks him up from the bed, and Clint fights her as hard as he can. He knows she can take it. Natasha catches the elbow he swings at her face, sidesteps the wild punch to her stomach. She twists him and turns him by that captured elbow, until Clint has his back pressed to Natasha's chest. She's holding his right wrist in one hand and the back of his neck in the other.

"I don't come with a menu," says Natasha. "Do you trust me?"

"Not really." Clint tries to turn enough to catch Natasha's eye. All he sees is the edge of her smile before she pushes him into the wall. Clint's chin hits plaster and he yelps, more startled by it than hurt. Natasha stills.

"Give me a color," she says.

"Beige," says Clint, staring at the very bland wall. Natasha twists his arm in her grip, and he relaxes into the pain, makes her hold him up. "Green, green. You gonna fuck me today?"

"Too much effort," says Natasha. "But I'll make you bleed."

"Awesome," says Clint, and falls hard when Natasha takes a step back and kicks out the back of his knees.

Clint knows—Clint knows this is messed up, okay? His childhood was pretty awful and now he flinches from sudden movements and hates it when people touch him unexpectedly. But Clint also dresses up in spandex and uses a bow and arrow to rob people, among other things. The fact that he likes surprise rough sex is not the thing people should be questioning.

Or, whatever, maybe it is. People have some weird priorities.

Natasha grabs him by his hair and pulls him around until his face is pressed against her crotch. Clint mouths at her, and gets shaken for his troubles.

"I want to notch your lip," says Natasha. "And if you eat me out, it'll get infected."

It takes Clint a minute to think past all the blood rushing to his crotch. "Dental dam?"

"I'll take care of myself." Natasha produces a knife. "Color?"

"Green." Clint straightens his back, braces his knees and toes against the tile of the floor. "Don't make me get stitches."

Natasha nods, and runs the flat of the blade across Clint's mouth. Clint feels like his lips are buzzing, and his hands are shaking behind his back and Natasha's eyes are so dark and so huge—

She cuts his lip once, twice, tiny shallow cuts that still spill blood down Clint's chin. Clint can immediately feel his world going fuzzy and cool, and he sways forward. Natasha catches him, sitting down to prop him up. He can hear her unzipping her uniform. She gasps once, probably when she starts fingering herself. Clint moans and manages to press one hand against his dick.

"Fuck," he says, and talking hurts in the best way ever. "Wow."

"You always look like you're having a religious experience," says Natasha. Her trace of an accent only shows up when she's drinking or fucking or out of her mind with stress. It's curling around her syllables now. "You look like one of those saints with the spears sticking out of their sides. Martyrs."

Clint chuckles and rubs his dick. Coming in the costume is the worst idea, literally the worst, but there is no way he is getting the spandex off in time—yeah, there he goes. There'll be time to worry about the laundry later. He has a spare costume. It has less purple, which sucks, but—

"God," murmurs Natasha, and grabs him by the hair again. She pulls Clint into her, holds him tight as she comes. Clint puts up with it for a little while, then backs off as soon as Natasha lets go. Now that he's got off, his face feels sore and tacky and his skin is crawling with adrenaline. He wants to go to the range, but he knows he has to stay and do the boring first aid stuff. Also change. Natasha is petting at his hair, and Clint's getting to the point where he really does not need people touching him. And his pants are clinging, shit, coming in the costume was a terrible idea.

"I am lucky," says Natasha, seriously. "To have you."

"What?" Clint narrows his eyes at her, pulls his thoughts out of the mundane pit they always drift into after an orgasm. "No, wait, I'm the lucky one. So fucking lucky, like—who would put up with me? You just cut my mouth and now I'm thinking about laundry and—Jesus, can I kiss you?"

"Infection." But Natasha kisses his cheek, and Clint beams at her. "I'll help you wash your face."

For whatever reason it doesn't bug Clint when Natasha uses a washcloth on his chin and helps him peel out of the fucking spandex. Maybe because she's so practical about it, her hands where Clint can see them and every movement with a purpose.

The Neosporin hurts on Clint's face, but man, totally worth it.

"I could strangle you next time," says Natasha, thoughtfully. "Just a little. I'd be careful."

"Sounds great," says Clint, and then they have their nap after all.

In the morning the cuts are just red marks on Clint's bottom lip, beginning to scab over. Kate looks at them askance and doesn't ask any questions, because the last time she did Clint gave her answers.

Bucky gives Clint a smirk and claps him on the back with his big metal hand. Clint tries not to wince.

"Nice costume," says Bucky. "What happened to the purple?"

Clint's spare costume is basically black cargo pants and a t-shirt with a purple (!) logo on it. It feels like a cop-out, but his spandex is going to need some serious work. There's a lot of blood and semen involved.

"Fluids," says Clint. "Fluids happened."

"Sure, that's tough." Bucky checks something in a notebook. "You and Kate are on watch today. Don't shoot anyone for fun, but remember that no one's allowed to enter or leave the compound."

"Right." Clint checks his quiver, replaces a couple arrows. "I'll aim for the shoulders instead of their heads."

"You got it." Bucky wanders off to do head of security things. Fuck with security cameras, whatever. Clint puts on his sunglasses, because it's a beautiful boring sunny fall day.

"It's a good look," says Kate. "More special forces, less circus reject."

Kate's costume is 100% purple spandex, and she should not be throwing stones. Even her sunglasses are purple.

"I was never rejected from the circus," says Clint. "Don't listen to what they tell you, I quit before I got fired."

"Uh-huh." Kate doesn't look convinced. Clint shrugs, and goes to find a tree to climb.

---

An hour into his watch, Clint is still pretty sure that Maine is incredibly boring.

The trees are filled with golden leaves, still clinging to the branches, and birds chirp, and there are no enemies in sight. None. Shit.

"I spy, with my little eye." Kate hums over the comms. "Something... beginning... with T."

Clint runs his eyes over the woods for approximately the thousandth time. Is that an escaping AIM scientist? No, it's a rock. Easy mistake to make. "Trees. You said trees last time."

"It's not trees," says Kate. "Think more abstract."

"Come on," says Clint. "Don't make this too complicated."

"We already did trees, leaves, and rocks, Clint!" Kate huffs. "It's a forest. If we're not going to get complicated, we need to pick a new game."

"Or be quiet." Bucky breaks in, because they're kind of broadcasting on an open comm. "The comms are for emergencies."

Clint and Kate ignore him, like they have for the past two weeks.

"Thugs," says Clint.

"No bodies in sight," says Kate. "And abstract, remember."

"Uh." It's actually really hard to think of 'T' words when it could be anything. Clint shifts a little on the tree, getting as comfortable as he can (not very comfortable). "Time?"

"Ooh, nice try." Kate chuckles. "No."

"Trembling," suggests Clint. "Like, muscles trembling in anticipation."

"No."

"Thoughts."

"No."

"Things."

"Good try. No."

"Tra—"

"Quiet on the comms!" snaps Bucky.

Clint shuts up for all of five minutes, but there is literally nothing happening. Clint can only sit in watchful silence for—okay, he can actually sit in watchful silence for a really long fucking time, if he has to. He just prefers not to.

"Traps," he says.

"Not even close," says Kate. "Here's a hint: it's more like a feeling."

Clint licks his lips, feels them sting, thinks hard. "Tranquility."

"That's it!"

"Seriously? Right, okay. You want complicated, I'll give you complicated. I spy, with my little eye—" Clint catches some movement, and it's definitely not a rabbit this time. "A whole crew of Avengers, shit. Bucky, are you still on the line?"

"Here," says Bucky, while Kate goes "what the hell?"

"I'm seeing my new best friend Captain Marvel, your best friend Captain America, uh—" Clint doesn't recognize the others, so he does his best. "Some dude in a yellow and green costume, and a chick with a white handprint on her face."

"I'm prepping the base for action," says Bucky. "Stall them as long as you can."

"I can be there in five," says Kate, but Bucky grunts.

"Hold position," he says. "I don't want anyone else sneaking up on us."

"Copy," says Clint, and fires an exploding arrow at the Avengers, just to see what happens.

Captain Marvel goes straight up, Captain America ducks behind his shield, yellow-green man gets knocked down, and handprint lady jumps over the explosion and then right at Clint's tree, which—fuck.

Clint is four hundred meters away in a really tall tree, she shouldn't be able to spot him or climb the tree so fast or get that close, with her face pretty much in Clint's own face.

"Jesus," says Clint, and tries to back away from her without falling off the branch.

"Drop your weapon," says handprint lady, with careful slow enunciation. Clint narrows his eyes, because he knows where you get that kind of accent.

"How about no." He says it just as slow, and he'd sign if he had a free hand.

Handprint lady's eyes flicker over Clint—bow, quiver, hidden guns one and two, hearing aids. Her eyebrows raise.

"Drop the bow," she signs, one-handed. Clint lets go of the string instead.

The arrow misses because the lady dodges, but then the net deploys and catches her legs. She twists and catches the branch with one hand, and Clint jumps to another branch. Captains Marvel and America are nowhere to be seen, but there's yellow-green man, closing in. Clint draws, fires a boomerang arrow at his head. Yellow-green man ducks. His face is grim, and he draws back a fist that's glittering with golden energy. Clint braces himself.

Then yellow-green man gets hit in the back of the head and falls over. Boomerang arrows are the best. Clint fist-pumps and then squawks when he feels a hand close around his ankle.

"How the fuck did you get over here?"

Handprint lady grins at him and yanks him off the branch.

Clint falls, snags a branch, slips, falls some more, finally manages to grab hold of the tree long enough to lose the momentum. He's still twenty feet up.

Handprint lady signs 'drop the bow' at him again. For a second, Clint considers it. He can't fire one-handed. But, hell, he's not being paid to give up. And he is getting paid! He used e-banking to double-check.

Clint swings himself back on top of the branch, one hand going to his quiver. Nock, draw, release, repeat. Handprint lady dodges the first arrow, which almost runs her into the bola arrow, and then when she dodges that, Clint finally gets her with a normal arrow in the shoulder. Her hand loosens on the branch, and she drops.

Somehow she manages to angle it so she lands on top of Clint.

"Jesus!"

The branch breaks.

Clint hits the ground in a roll, and he's pretty sure he's gotten away with bruises, even if the roll ends with him flat on his stomach. Pretty sure. Handprint lady gets caught by yellow-green man, who burns the netting off her feet with his mystical hand things.

"Ready to surrender?" asks yellow-green man.

"Give me a sec, I'm still checking if I've got all my bits." Clint says it face-down, notices that yellow-green man doesn't bother to repeat it for handprint lady's benefit. Asshole. Everything Clint says is important. He rolls over and sits up.

Then he groans, because apparently he somehow snapped his bow string while crashing to the ground. The heroes look smug, because they're heroes and they don't give a shit if they're injured. Yellow-green man probably has a lump on the back of his head and handprint lady is bleeding from her shoulder.

Yellow-green man's hands are glowing again. Also he's grimacing in a possibly threatening/possibly constipated way.

"Don't act so tough," says Clint. "Handprint deaf chick took me down all on her own."

"Echo," says handprint deaf chick, and breaks off the shaft of the arrow stuck in her shoulder without even wincing. "This is Iron Fist. You are Hawkeye. Surrender, so we can get to more important things."

Clint sighs. He feels like he should do something, but he really doesn't want to get chemical burns or cancer or whatever from Iron Fist. "Fine. What do we do now? You gonna tie me up?"

Echo and Iron Fist look at each other. "Usually we just knock thugs out," says Iron Fist. His hands start to dim.

"Shit, really?" Clint shoves his currently-useless bow out of his lap and starts signing while he talks. It makes for better emphasis. "One, I am a contractor, not a fucking thug. Two, people usually recover pretty quickly from being knocked out unless you're causing brain damage."

"Brain damage?" signs Echo.

"Yeah." Clint shrugs. "If someone's out for more than five minutes, you've probably got some permanent shit going down. I'll sue."

Iron Fist rubs at the back of his head. "I don't have any rope or anything."

"Brain damage," signs Echo again. The two closed fists at the end of the sign are pretty evocative. "Fuck."

She's probably knocked a bunch of people unconscious without thinking about it—she's got that look. Clint rolls his eyes at the pair of them. "I've got zip-ties in my quiver."

They shrug and go for it. Then they start running for the compound, because heroes aren't going to be bogged down with a thug for long.

Clint gives them a five-minute head start before he uses an arrow head to cut himself out. They didn't even take his quiver or his bow. Clint's surprised that they took his guns. Amateurs. And Echo was distracted enough by Clint's hearing aids that she didn't notice that he's also wearing a comm.

He clicks it. "Hey Bucky, I couldn't slow down the capes."

"Yeah, I noticed already." Bucky chuckles, sounds strained. "Cap's here, and Captain Marvel."

"Two called Echo and Iron Fist headed your way." says Clint. "Where do you want me?"

"Get back to base," says Bucky. "I think it's catching on fire."

"Sounds like a great reason not to be on base." But Clint starts running anyway.

Sure, he doesn't have his guns and his bow won't be much use (the most fun part of re-stringing a compound bow is sticking it in a bow press and spending ten to forty minutes making sure everything's fitting together right). But Clint has... some knives. And some arrows that he can throw at people, probably? Shit, this is going to suck.

---

Clint can't raise Natasha on the comms, and Kate is swearing about something—Clint thinks she ran into Echo and Iron Fist. She can't talk long enough or coherent enough to give a location, so Clint heads to the base for lack of a better option.

The base only looks a little on fire. Clint gets in on the ground floor and just sees smoke, climbs to the second floor and sees a little more smoke and a lot of scientists and yellow-suited goons running around holding two-headed pigs and shit. AIM has some wacky ideas. Then Clint opens the door to the main laboratory, and yeah, here's all the fire.

Apparently the fire breaks between floors work pretty well, but there's enough fire that the base won't be long for this world. The fire department always has a lot of trouble finding secret societies' criminal installations.

Bucky is surrounded by flames and groaning machines. He's got his metal hand around Captain America's throat, holding him up off the ground. Captain America isn't even struggling, just holding Bucky's wrist while they talk. Captain America talks, to be more accurate. Bucky shouts.

"Why would you take money from AIM?" asks Captain America. "Don't you know they're just another relic of HYDRA?"

"Stop asking questions you know the answers to!" roars Bucky.

"You're tearing down everything we fought for." Captain America's voice starts out soft, turns strained as Bucky's hand tightens around his throat. "Bucky, this isn't right."

"You think a guilt-trip will solve all of this?" Bucky bares his teeth. "Get a grip, Steve. I'm not the man you knew, not anymore."

Captain America coughs and chokes as Bucky carries on with throttling him. Bucky's fingers screech in metallic protest as Captain America finally tries to pry them open. They both look so sad as they fight to the death.

It's weird, sometimes, when Clint realizes that he isn't the only one with some heavy shit going on. Yeah, he's an ex-carnie and an ex-con, currently the best marksman in the world, with about thirty warrants out on him for everything from grand theft auto to shooting that one senator in the leg. But Bucky was Captain America's sidekick, and then a brainwashed KGB assassin, and now he's a security consultant for supervillains. That's real drama.

If they made a movie about everyone's respective lives, Bucky and Natasha would get blockbuster thrillers with lots of sex and explosions. Clint would probably get some indie movie with a lot of angst and some weird dream sequences. Maybe a few seconds of full frontal nudity. It actually sounds kind of nice.

Captain Marvel tackles Clint from behind, and he starts paying attention to his job again.

He lashes out and catches Marvel in the cheek with the edge of his bow, but she keeps pushing forward with that cheating flying shit, and—

"Jesus Christ, that's a wall!" Clint screams, and Captain Marvel slows down not at all. They slam against the wall, Clint at an awkward angle that means his face is fine but one of his legs goes snap. And then the wall falls on them. And then they fall through a floor.

The structural integrity of this building is failing. Or maybe it was shit before it was on fire, who knows.

Captain Marvel coughs and rolls off of Clint. They're in some office, and the lights are still on. Miracles.

"You're that guy!" hisses Marvel. "The bank robbing guy in Boston."

"Oh, hey," says Clint, as if he hadn't noticed it was her. "Nice to see you again."

"What are you doing in Maine?" Marvel pushes herself to her feet. "Why did you change your costume? Are you an AIM minion?"

"No!" Clint feels his face heat up as he remembers why he had to change. "The costume thing is just a coincidence. If I was real AIM they would make me wear yellow, and it doesn't go with my complexion. I'm a security contractor."

Marvel looks at him for a second, like she's trying to decide if he's for real. Then she shrugs and starts looking around the room instead. "Where are we?"

"Ground floor," says Clint. Hey, his bow is still relatively fine! Awesome. "Wow, my leg really hurts."

"Shut up. I've got to get out of here, help Cap."

Clint tries to get up and realizes his mistake. Aw, bones. "You broke my leg."

"You're seriously trying that again?" Captain Marvel's eyes glow. The lights flicker. Clint can hear the fire crackling outside the door.

"It's actually broken this time," says Clint. "And now you're going to leave me to die in a burning research lab."

Marvel's eyes flicker back to normal, and she stares at him. "I won't. Get a grip."

"I can't trust you," says Clint, because the best way to get a hero to help you out is to tell them you don't think they will. "You tried to kill me and I don't even know your name."

"Christ, look—" Marvel makes an angry noise, and then an even angrier gesture. "You're a villain. You rob banks and shoot people and take money from AIM! You tried to explode me!"

"I wanted to see what you guys would do," says Clint. "No one actually got exploded. Echo and I bonded."

Marvel raises an eyebrow and apparently decides to ignore him.

"Would it help if I introduced myself?" Clint needs to say something, or he's going to start thinking about how much his leg hurts. "Hi, I'm Clint Barton, I have a dog named Lucky, I used to have two functioning legs until someone pushed me through a wall—"

"What are you doing, don't tell me about your dog." Marvel's back to glaring around the room. It looks like she's trying to figure the best way out. "I don't care about your dog."

"My poor dog who will pine away if I die," says Clint. "No one to care for him." Except Natasha and Kate and Bucky and probably his brother Barney in a pinch. Spoiled old dog. Clint hopes that he's fine over in the barracks.

"You're not going to die," says Marvel, and then looks mad at herself for reassuring him. "I think I can punch through the ceiling."

"This building has three floors," points out Clint.

"I can punch through a lot of ceilings." Marvel grabs Clint's arm.

"Whoa, hey!" Clint shakes her off. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to carry you to safety," says Marvel. "Against my better judgment."

"I don't let mysterious superheroes carry me anywhere," says Clint. "Introduce yourself."

"Go die in a fire," says Marvel. "Literally. I'm not telling you my real name."

"You don't wear a mask, how secret can it be? I could google that shit." Clint's aware that he's kind of babbling, but he's starting to lose it a little and babble is helping him keep it together. He actually does not want a stranger touching him, and his leg hurts a lot, and he's clutching his bow with one white-knuckled hand. He's not asking for much.

Marvel looks him up and down, then sighs. "I'm Carol," she says. "I'm going to pick you up now."

"Hi, Carol." Clint relaxes as Carol swings him up in a fireman's carry. It's super awkward, but Carol probably needs a hand free to shoot energy beams at the ceiling. Or for other things. It's pretty hot that she's so strong, though. "Keep your hands off my butt, okay?"

"I'll try." Carol starts rising off the ground "Your ass looks good in the new costume, though. Let's hope this works."

"Yeah, cool, I'm going to pass out," says Clint. He'd better not drop his bow.

When Clint wakes up (hopefully less than five minutes later), they're outside, he still has his bow, and three out of his four limbs are still intact. Also Carol is slapping his face.

"We didn't negotiate this," Clint mumbles.

"Good, you're awake." Carol holds up three fingers in front of his face. "How many fingers? What year is it? What kind of dog is Lucky?"

"You remembered his name." Clint beams at her, wide enough that his half-healed split lip starts to burn. "That's so sweet."

"You're fine," says Carol, and straightens up. "I'm putting you under citizen’s arrest for a whole lot of shit."

"Rad." Clint rubs the back of his neck, feeling for the pocket in the back of his costume where he keeps his emergency supplies. "Can you list the charges for me?"

"I really don't have time," says Carol. "Look, I'm just going to drop you at the nearest police station, then come back to see if I can help anymore. Sound good? I actually don't care at all about your opinion."

"Give me a hand up," says Clint. He reaches out, and when Carol takes his hand he stabs her with a tranquilizer dart. Carol pulls back, frowning. The tranquilizer dart is bent.

"Did you seriously think that would work?" asks Carol.

"What, are you impervious to needles?" Clint tosses the dart away. "How do you get your annual flu shot? Blood transfusions? Piercings?"

"I don't get sick and my dreams of a belly-button ring were dashed when I got powered." Carol crosses her arms. "Are we done with this?"

"Yeah, I give up, I surrender." Clint surreptitiously rummages in his quiver. "You're still going to need to help me up, though, because my leg really is broken."

Carol hangs back, looking suspicious. Good for her. Clint throws the freeze-arrow at her head.

Carol freezes (literally, haha), outlined by creeping ice, and then slowly keels over. Clint manages to catch her on the way down and set her gently on the ground.

"Thanks for the assist," he says, blowing on his hands to warm them back up. Victory! Now he just has to get out of here on a broken leg and somehow find Natasha and everyone. Fuck.

Clint pushes himself to his feet, ignores the shooting pains from his leg, and starts hobbling in maybe the right direction.

Luckily he runs into Bucky after five minutes, because Clint passes out again in six.

---

Once Clint wakes up, there's a bunch of running. Bucky gives Clint a piggyback ride, at least until Natasha and Kate show up with that fucking Oldsmobile. It would be fun, except that every time Bucky moves it jolts Clint's leg and makes him feel like he's dying. Same thing with the Oldsmobile, actually.

Kate splints Clint's leg in the backseat, while Natasha whips them across back roads, heading for New York. Clint tries really hard not to throw up on anyone, and mostly succeeds. Bucky calls contact after contact, trying to find out if the AIM researchers got caught or escaped. Lucky whines and tries to scramble up from the floor onto Clint's chest. They stop in a small town, ditch the Oldsmobile, steal an almost equally-old black Jeep Cherokee. Bucky divides up the last of the cash he got from AIM, and they drop him in Buffalo. Lucky steals the front seat. They drive some more, and Natasha gets out at a gas station in Salamanca. Kate starts driving, and Lucky is hanging out the front window, and Clint falls asleep.

When he wakes up, they're home in NYC, parked outside his apartment building. There's no elevator, so Kate helps him up the stairs very slowly and very very carefully.

This is the thing about supervillaining that weirds Clint out: there's hardly ever a chase. The heroes show up, bust whatever scheme the head villains were planning, and Clint and all the other little villains run for it. No one wonders where they've gone. It's like they stopped being important, stopped being a threat as soon as they walked out of the story. In the thriller/indie movie of Clint's life, he's one of the minor characters. They take precautions, obviously, because you can't get complacent. They switch cars and split up and watch their backs, but hell, no one's coming after Clint. That's why Clint can keep an apartment in Bed-Stuy.

Admittedly his apartment building is owned by the Russian mob, but that's sort of beside the point. Clint's not unfindable, even if the bro in a tracksuit that rented him the apartment didn't blink at the false name on the rental application and didn't bother with a background check.

Clint wonders if it's different for someone like Bucky. Captain America obviously cares what Bucky's doing when he's not in the story. Clint can't decide if he wants that kind of attention or not. Maybe not from a cape. He's already got all the attention he needs from Kate, because she's calling their favorite extremely discreet doctor right now. That doctor loves Clint. Probably because Clint's medical fees are putting her triplets through college.

Lucky licks Clint's face.

"Good boy." Clint rubs Lucky's ears and thinks about puking again. "Fetch painkillers. Go."

Lucky pants.

"Painkillers. Morphine, codeine, fucking Tylenol, go!"

Lucky bumps against Clint's good leg. Clint pats him some more. So much for that plan.

Kate tosses the Tylenol into Clint's lap. She's so perfect.

Clint still thinks so even a couple days later when Kate won't let him use a pencil to itch under his cast.

---

Clint does google Captain Marvel, when his cast is fresh and propped up on his old busted coffee table. Like Kate said, there are like six capes with that same name, because no one said you had to be original to fight crime. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to pick out Carol on ratemycape.com.

This is Carol Danvers, alias Captain Marvel: American female, almost middle-aged or whatever 32 is nowadays. Extremely good posture, narrow eyes, hairstyle that looks a little like a long fauxhawk and a little like a mullet and somehow works on her anyway. Flight, super-strength, energy powers—pretty basic cape stuff. Air Force veteran. Made questionable fashion choices in the 80s, just like everyone else.

She's actually really hot. Even in tabloid photos, there's a set to her mouth that Clint likes. Ratemycape gives her the little chili pepper thing.

Clint's leg itches under its cast. His hand inches over toward a convenient-looking fork.

"Don't even think about it," says Kate, not looking up from her magazine. Clint sighs.

He leaves Carol a review online, tapped out very slowly because Clint never got the hang of typing. "Broke my leg, but saved my life," it says. "Guess it balances out in the end. 9/10, would be foiled again."

Chapter Text

Having a broken leg is even more boring than Maine. Clint is okay at crutches, but he doesn't feel safe going out when he's less-than-mobile. He's spent too long pissing people off and getting on the wrong side of the law. Maybe if he had a wheelchair, Clint could be fast in a wheelchair. Too bad Clint's apartment building doesn't have an elevator. Or he could get one of those new-fangled scooter things, where you put your leg up and just roll around.

"Could we get one of those scooter things?" he asks Kate.

"Natasha spent all that time hiding knife blades in your crutches, dude." Kate pulls some arrows out of her quiver. "Where would they go in a scooter?"

Clint thinks about it. "In the handles? Maybe we could do that thing where you press a button and spikes come out of the wheels."

"You watch too many movies." Kate sets five arrows against her bow, holding them carefully between her fingers and thumb. "Example A: that fricking boomerang arrow."

"The boomerang arrow is the best," says Clint, and then quiets down to let Kate concentrate. They're up on the roof, and Clint's set up some targets because no one's around to tell him not to. Target practice is Clint's reward to Kate for coming to check on him and keep him from dying of dull.

"I still don't think you can shoot five arrows at once and actually hit a target," says Kate. "Four, max."

"You can't shoot five arrows at once," says Clint. "I do five all the time. At least three times, anyway. It was awesome."

Kate glares at him, sets her jaw, draws.

"Elbow a little straighter," says Clint. "Lean your weight back." He's probably the last person to correct someone's stance, but it's always easier from the outside. "Deep breaths."

"I know how to breathe." Kate looses. One, two, three, four arrows in their targets, and the fifth one hits some random brick and then tumbles off the roof. Kate stamps her foot.

"You'll get it," says Clint. "Hey, can I ask you a question?"

Kate breathes and visibly pushes all of her frustration away. She walks over to retrieve the arrows, tosses "sure" over her shoulder.

"So," says Clint. "You're a girl. Uh, a woman. A lady."

"Strong start," says Kate.

"Hypothetically speaking, this lady breaks your leg but also rescues you from a burning building and remembers your dog's name." Clint hesitates. "Does that mean she likes you?"

"This is a super transparent hypothetical." Kate walks back over. "We talked about Carol yesterday, too."

"She also said my ass looked good," mutters Clint.

"Wow." Kate raises an eyebrow. "This has the potential to turn into some weird cape-on-Clint action."

Clint relaxes a little. "It's not just me? I know I can be a little, uh."

"You're a manwhore," says Kate, and gets back into position. "It's one of your better qualities."

"Thanks?"

"I don't know, though." Kate notches the five arrows. "Your friend Carol is a hero. She shouldn't be into you."

"Isn't Miss America really into you, though?" Clint smirks when Kate goes red. "I'm pretty sure you mentioned that you guys made out once."

"It was a heat of the battle thing!" Kate draws. "I gave her my phone number, and she never called."

"Straighten your elbow. You gave her your phone number?"

"It was a redirect to my Skype account." Kate lowers her elbow, breathes three careful breaths. "I didn't have a pen, so I just wrote it in blood on her arm."

"Maybe not the best decision," says Clint.

Kate looses. Five arrows hit their targets, each with a resounding thunk. Her smile goes satisfied and smug and gleeful, and Clint grins because his Katie-kate is happy.

"You have a girlfriend," says Kate, like it's just occurred to her.

"Probably shouldn't call Natasha that," says Clint. "It doesn't suit her at all."

Kate nods, looking thoughtful. "My point is, don't cheat on Natasha or your head is going to turn up on a spike. Like, I realize it's hard sometimes because you are a huge natural screw-up, but please try not to cause problems that involve your own death."

"Yeah," says Clint. "I'll, uh—what do you do in these kinds of situations? If you're a responsible adult?"

"Talk? I guess?" Kate starts grabbing her arrows again. "Please note that I am both proud and terrified that I am your designated 'responsible adult.'" She draws her arm back, elbow perfectly straight this time. "Think I can make all five again?"

"I know you can." Clint leans back on his crutches and grins.

It takes Kate four tries, but she does.

---

Natasha makes it back from upstate later that week—apparently the heat's died down, if there ever was any heat. She comes over to Clint's apartment to visit and help Clint clean his extensive collection of knives. It's a long process, and it's good for keeping Clint from getting too antsy. And since Natasha gave or loaned Clint about eighty percent of the knives, it makes sense that she'd want to be there when he's caring for them.

Clint isn't nervous at all. It's not like he's supposed to start a big relationship conversation today or anything.

"I ran into your landlord downstairs." Natasha sets the kettle on the stove to heat, rummages through Clint's collection of half-empty boxes of tea. "He said something about rent increasing soon."

"First I've heard of it." Clint is trying to make a switchblade shine, but it's a struggle since he's had this particular switchblade since he was twelve. He thinks Barney bought it for him? Or stole it for him, if you want to be accurate. "I'll have to heal up quick and get a job again."

"Mhm." Natasha settles down at the table with her mug and Clint's much-abused teapot. Clint gets the feeling that she's paying more attention to him than the knives, which is weird and a little uncomfortable. And it encourages Clint to make hasty decisions.

"Are we monogamous?" asks Clint. Then he ducks, in case Natasha decides to throw something.

She wouldn't, probably, but Clint doesn't do serious relationship discussions and he doesn't know how they should go. It seems like they might involve throwing things. Since there are currently fifteen assorted knives on the kitchen table, ducking is actually a pretty reasonable idea.

There's a silence. When Clint surfaces from under the table, Natasha is pouring tea.

"Only by default," says Natasha. "Do you want someone else?"

Clint shrugs, tries to play it cool (and totally fails). "Carol made a passing comment about my ass."

"She broke your leg," says Natasha.

"You know me," says Clint. "That's not exactly a turn-off."

Natasha hums, pointedly not smiling. Whatever, Clint can still see it in her eyes. "Would you care if I started kissing Bucky?"

"Uh." Clint chews on his lip. "Like, in front of me? Or when I wasn't around?"

"Both," says Natasha. "Either."

Clint considers it. He's having a lot of trouble being objective because he's imagining Natasha kissing Bucky and it's really intensely hot, but he doesn't think he'd mind.

"Go for it." Clint picks up the switchblade and starts polishing again. "But if you can get him to go for a threesome, I would be so into that."

Natasha sips her tea, considering. "You just want him to fist you with his metal arm."

Clint's hand tightens on the switchblade's handle for a second, and he reflects on Kate's annoying, demeaning, extremely accurate 'manwhore' comment. "There is nothing 'just' about that."

Natasha smirks at him, and leans forward very slowly to run her thumb across Clint's lip, where the cuts have finally healed. "Okay," she says. "We're in an open relationship. Congratulations."

"That was easier than I was expecting," says Clint. "Sweet."

"Try not to get arrested." Natasha stands up, picks up her tea. "I'm going to tell Bucky the good news."

"I'll try." Clint smiles as Natasha leaves, then frowns as an important thought strikes. "Don't lead with the fisting thing! Save that for the third date!"

Natasha flips him off.

God, Clint loves this woman. Even if she just stole one of his mugs.

---

Clint's back on the job about two weeks before he should be, but the Hand asked him and Kate to help bodyguard some lawyer chick as a special favor. Clint tries to stay on the good side of mystical ninja assassins whenever possible.

Then Daredevil and some Avengers show up, and it turns out that Ms. Matsumoto is perfectly capable of defending herself. Clint focuses on defending himself, especially from all the fucking shuriken that are flying around.

His leg is holding, but it feels weak—Clint can't run and fight at the same time, so he has to stand his ground. Kate's fighting with Miss America (good for her), Matsumoto has Daredevil occupied, and shit, is that Wolverine?

Clint shoots him in the eye without a second thought or a pang of guilt. He's pretty sure Wolverine will get better. Wolverine topples, and Clint shoots him in a few more places, just in case.

There was a fourth cape, someone Clint just glimpsed. He doesn't see them now, and that is not good—

The hallway is full of fighting and battle cries, like Kate's scream of 'what do you mean, you couldn't read my handwriting! How hard can it be to figure out a ten-digit phone number?' and Miss America's answering shout of 'blood flakes away! Why did you write it in blood, anyway? Don't you have a pen?' Clint tilts his head this way and that, trying to find the missing cape.

Carol taps him on the shoulder and says "boo."

Clint half-jumps out of his skin, and grabs an arrow at random out of his quiver to try and bash her skull in. Carol ducks away and chops at Clint's wrist. The arrow (awesome boomerang arrow) falls out of Clint's hand. Clint pulls away, run/limps over to the wall, hits the elevator button. There is way too much going on, and normally he would take the stairs, avoid getting trapped, but with this fucking leg—yeah. Elevator.

Carol is stalking toward him with her hands glowing. Clint goes for his gun, keeps it trained on Carol's head. The elevator dings, and Clint steps back into it a little too soon and stumbles as he hits the opening doors. Carol darts forward while he's distracted, claps her hands to Clint's head, and then Clint's world goes very bright and then very dark as he falls back into the elevator.

When he comes to, Carol is on the other side of the elevator with Clint's gun under one of her feet. The emergency lights are on. There's a weird, white noise humming sound.

"What's happening?" asks Clint, and he can't hear himself talk. He groans, fishes the ruined hearing aids out of his ears. Slumps back against the elevator wall.

Carol says something. Clint can read lips, but he's never practiced much and it's harder in the dim light.

"Speak up," says Clint, without much hope. Technically he's hard of hearing, not totally deaf, but it has to be really loud for him to get the gist. Especially with the humming—Clint's never figured out what that is, but it showed up after the accident. Tinnitus, probably.

Carol says something else. Clint can't even tell if she's shouting or whispering. When he doesn't respond, Carol frowns.

"I can't hear you." Clint waves the hearing aids at her. "Your energy shit broke my ears."

Carol shrugs. Says the thing again, much more slowly. Something something, elevator broken, something.

"I can see that," says Clint. "Did your alien energy beams cut the power?"

Carol glares at him, which probably means yes.

"Rad." Clint thinks for a second. Small, enclosed space, no power. Even if he got his gun back, he couldn't fire without a chance of rebounding, and same thing with the bow. Given that Carol has superpowers, he's more likely to hurt himself than hurt her. Carol's probably worried that using her energy shit will break the elevator even more.

"Can you bust out?" asks Clint. "You know, break the ceiling, go up the elevator shaft?"

Carol points at him, points at his bow, draws two fingers over her throat. Okay, sure. If she opens up the space, Clint can try and kill her while she's busy pulling the top of the elevator apart.

"Would I do a thing like that?" asks Clint.

Carol nods. Fair enough, Clint probably would.

"Then I guess we're stuck." Clint leans back against the wall. "You got any paper, something to write with? I don't like playing charades."

Carol shakes her head and mutters something.

"I can't pick it up unless you say it really clearly," says Clint. "I'm the worst at lip-reading."

He waits, in case Carol decides to repeat herself. She just glares. Okay, whatever.

"I can just talk," offers Clint. "I have lots to talk about. You won't believe what Lucky did last week—"

Carol thumps her head against the elevator wall, then mimes zipping her mouth closed. Clint takes the hint.

Sitting quietly in the dark, there's nothing to distract him from the dull humming. Clint hates that noise. He bites his lip and glances at Carol. She's got her knees tucked up to her chest, one foot tapping on the floor. She looks—solid. Clint's feeling unmoored, right now, and for a second all he wants to do is curl up on the floor next to Carol and get her to pull on his hair until he doesn't care about that fucking humming.

But that would be totally inappropriate. They were trying to kill each other ten minutes ago.

"Sorry," says Clint, instead. "I have to talk. I get kind of freaked without my hearing aids."

Carol raises an eyebrow and shrugs.

"I've only had them for a few years," says Clint. "There was a thing, an accident with a sonic arrow. Never use a sonic arrow at close range without earplugs."

Carol looks up and says 'I wasn't planning on it' very distinctly. Clint grins at her.

"I've got all kinds of injuries from stupid shit like that," says Clint. "Broke my ankle when I was twelve, falling off the trapeze. Don't ask me why I was even up there. I think the acrobats were more worried about their rig than they were about me, when they found out. Did you know I used to be in the circus?"

Carol shakes her head, so Clint takes that as an invitation to tell her all about the circus, and what Lucky did last week, and his love for Chicago pizza.

"It's like, I don't understand why you have to choose between New York and Chicago. They're both great. More pizza everywhere, right?"

Carol has her mouth covered with one hand. Clint is pretty sure that she's laughing at him.

"I appreciate you letting me talk like this," says Clint. "I know we were just trying to kill each other, and I honestly do hope that the Avengers haven't fucked up the Hand's plans, because that would pretty much kill my completion bonus, but, uh. You seem pretty nice when you're not breaking my legs or my hearing aids or trying to arrest me."

Carol says something way too complicated for Clint to lipread.

"You should learn ASL," he says. "Maybe Echo would teach you."

Carol looks thoughtful. Her hair looks great today, Clint just noticed. It's getting longer, and right now in falls over her shoulders and curls at the ends. Clint realizes he's staring, and flicks his eyes back up to catch Carol's frown. Shit, at least he wasn't mesmerized by her chest this time.

"Anyway," says Clint, hastily. "You notice I'm back in purple again? I know you liked the other costume, but this one's my favorite."

No response. Carol looks even more thoughtful.

"Do you watch Dog Cops?" asks Clint, when he realizes that Carol's not going to do anything. "I fucking love Dog Cops."

Carol shakes her head. Clint grins, because it's always awesome to introduce someone to the joys of Dog Cops.

"Okay, listen, it's about," Clint yawns, "dogs, and, uh, cops, and—"

Carol has her eyes closed, and it almost seems like the elevator is in a haze.

"Is it just me?" Clint blinks, feeling lazy and slow. "Or is there something happening?"

Carol opens her eyes, looks up. She tries to struggle to her feet, but after a second she just slumps over instead. A gas mask hits Clint in the head. It seems like too much work to put it on, but he does look up.

Kate is pushing away a panel in the elevator, which she apparently cut open with the little electric saw in her left hand. She's holding a canister of gas in her other hand, and wearing a gas mask that unhelpfully obscures her mouth. Maybe she's saying something—who can tell?

"Katie-kate." Clint beams. "Guess who broke my hearing aids?"

Kate narrows her eyes and taps her gas mask.

"I think I'm too drugged to put mine on," drawls Clint. "And remind me to teach you how to sign. It's a really important—"

Clint passes out. When he wakes up, he's in the passenger's seat of an unmarked black van, and Kate has his old spare hearing aids, the ones that sort of work. He puts them in, and Kate starts (continues?) complaining about how unhelpful Clint is when he's been breathing sleeping gas for five minutes, and how heavy he is to carry around, and how it would help a lot if Clint would go on a diet, maybe lose a couple pounds if he expects his skinny girl best friend to drag his ass out of trouble.

"How'd it go with Miss America?" asks Clint, trying to change the subject.

"I wrote my phone number in pen this time." Kate grinds her teeth. "On a piece of paper. She said she'd put it through the shredder."

"Progress." Clint holds on to the door as Kate hits a turn about three times as fast as she should. It's not that anyone's chasing them, it's just that Kate is an incredibly unsafe driver.

"What were you talking about with Carol?" coos Kate, aggressively.

"Stuff," says Clint. "Pizza, Lucky, Dog Cops."

"Did you tell her that you want to have her babies?" asks Kate. "Did you mention that you get wet whenever you remember her carrying you out of a burning building, like a freaking romance novel? Did you tell her your girlfriend or life partner or whatever gave you permission to hold hands?"

"Nope," says Clint, and quietly takes his hearing aids out again. Yeah, Kate's in a mood. Clint hopes Miss America didn't slap her down too hard.

His hair is still weird and staticky from Carol zapping him, and that completion bonus is pretty much definitely gone. But on second thought, Kate actually looks kind of viciously pleased about something, and Clint had fun sitting in a broken elevator with Carol. He's calling today a win.

Kate speeds up to try and blow through a yellow light, then slams on the brakes when it turns red, stopping in the middle of the crosswalk. Clint leans his chair back and closes his eyes.

It's hard to take a nap when Kate's driving, but Clint gives it a shot anyway.

Chapter Text

Ever since the elevator, Clint has this recurring dream:

"You're so hot," moans Carol. "Your emotional problems and deep-seated issues make you more attractive, and I am definitely willing to become part of the extended support network that you have created of close friends and sex partners. This isn't a weird and implausible development in our professional and antagonistic relationship at all."

"Wow," says Clint. "Neat."

Then usually there is abstract and unsatisfying sex, and Clint wakes up hard and feeling like he should stop reading relationship advice blogs before bed.

This time, the dream is interrupted half-way through a new Carol monologue about Clint's fetishistic love for strong women. By knocking. Knock, knock, knock. Christ, falling asleep with his hearing aids in was a terrible idea.

Clint whimpers and squeezes his eyes shut.

Clint is not a morning person. Really, he doesn't think of himself as an awake person. When he's not on a job, he sleeps until noon every day he can get away with it.

For instance, on days when some asshole isn't banging on his door at the ungodly hour of 9 AM. Lucky starts barking, which means Clint has to get up, or they'll wake up his neighbor Simone's baby downstairs.

Clint shuffles out of his bedroom in boxers and a t-shirt and opens the door. His brother is the asshole banging on his door, surprise. Barney is in a fucking suit, with grease in his fucking hair, and wearing a huge fucking grin. Barney never used to be a morning person. The FBI has changed him for the worse.

"This was stuck to your door." Barney hands Clint a piece of paper. Clint can make out something about a rent increase through the haze of just woken-ness. He squints at the paper a little, in case that helps his brain comprehend words.

Barney pokes Clint in the shoulder, and laughs when Clint flinches. "How's my baby bro? Hey, Lucky."

"Coffee," mumbles Clint. He drops the piece of paper on the couch on his way to the kitchen.

"Yeah, yeah." Barney follows him, one hand on Lucky's back as Lucky goes nuts. Lucky loves Barney about three times as much as he loves everyone else, because Lucky has terrible taste. "You look like shit."

Clint thinks about it while he's starting the coffee pot. He's still got a limp (guess what's bad for healing broken legs? Fighting off superheroes!), he hasn't been sleeping super well, and the circles under his eyes probably look like a five-year-old playing with mascara (Clint has been that five-year-old, he speaks from experience).

"Thanks, Captain Obvious." Clint's aware that it's about two minutes too late for a good comeback, but he has to try. "What do you want?"

"Any of that coffee for me?"

"No." Clint pulls the pot off the drip, dumps sugar and milk right into it. "Why are you here? Don't you have work today?"

"It's Saturday," says Barney. "I don't get any coffee?"

"FBI agents get the weekend off?" Clint starts drinking his coffee. It's way too hot, but that just helps wake him up.

"There's a special duty squad on the weekends." Barney rummages in his messenger bag, produces a big folder. "Brought an updated copy of your file." Barney tosses it to Clint, and papers go scattering everywhere as Clint's highly-trained reflexes do absolutely nothing. His reflexes are on break until at least 10, maybe 11. Noon at the absolute latest.

Clint tries to look unfazed by the flurry of paper on his kitchen floor. "Sic 'im, Lucky."

Lucky cocks his head. Barney laughs.

"This is the most ineffective attack dog in the world, man. Just read the fucking file."

Clint's file is about a foot thick (once he's gathered it back together), but most of it looks like junk. There's a bunch of shit about his childhood that he moves past as quickly as possible, and then the stuff about his army service, and the rest is basically trivia. Stuff about his dog, about his hearing aids, about his favorite foods. Comparisons of his two costumes. Literally half the file is about Dog Cops and its implications for his psychology. It mostly looks like Carol's passed on all of his fun conversation-starters as legitimate intel. He'd thought they were friends.

Profilers have wasted a lot of time trying to figure out which Dog Cops character Clint identifies with. Which, come on, it's gotta be Mr. Whiskers. Everyone loves Mr. Whiskers. Clint snorts and puts the file back down. "You need a favor, right?"

"Maybe I just love my brother so much, that I come here on my day off to show him his FBI file." Barney scratches Lucky's ears. "Yeah, kiddo, of course I need a favor."

Clint takes a drink from the coffee pot. "Will I have to put on pants for this favor?"

"I don't know about you," says Barney. "But my job always requires pants."

"Then no can do," says Clint. "Saturday is a no-pants day."

Barney starts to say something, and then stops himself and glares. Clint grins back at him. It's not that he won't do a favor for Barney, or that he's got a bone to pick. It's just Clint was the annoying younger brother for years, and sometimes he gets nostalgic.

"After all I did for you," says Barney, at last, and Clint groans.

"Don't start this again—"

"After all I did for you," says Barney, louder. "Who taught you how to fight? Who got you your first job at the circus? Who paid for your GED classes? Who was there for your first fucking bank robbery?"

"Jesus, Barney, you don't have pull out a list—"

"All of that, and you won't even do your poor brother a favor." Barney sniffs. "Or pour him a cup of coffee."

"You can have the coffee!" Clint pulls a mug out of the cupboard.

"I don't want the coffee," says Barney.

"Take it." Clint pours. "Take the coffee."

"The coffee is full of your germs now," says Barney. "You ain't brushed your teeth yet."

Okay, Clint is definitely not nostalgic for the annoying elder brother.

"What's the favor?" Clint sighs. "I guess I can wear pants today after all."

Barney grins and takes the coffee mug.

---

This is Charles Bernard "Barney" Barton, FBI: American male, five and a half years older than his brother. Short, reddish hair; the unfortunate Barton nose; one chipped front tooth that he's never gotten repaired. His juvenile record is expunged, he practices archery in his spare time, and on paper he's a model agent.

There's something about him that makes the higher-ups nervous, though. Some look in his eye. Maybe he's too good to be true.

His annual psych review talks a lot about Barney's family—his rejection of his deceased parents, his continuing close relationship with his mentors from the circus, and his exasperated fondness for his little brother. The psychiatrist thinks it's a little weird that Barney never mentions anyone by name, but doesn't push. It's probably just reticence. Someone as open and honest as Agent Barney Barton couldn't be hiding anything important.

---

Barney is an extremely corrupt FBI agent. He closes cases and does some good work, sure. But he also takes bribes, blackmails people, and runs a money-laundering scheme on the side.

Clint's learned a lot from Barney.

The point is, some government bureaucrat has evidence of Barney's misdeeds, and is demanding a kickback. Barney doesn't like paying out, so he wants Clint to go to this guy's house and steal all the files off his computer. Hopefully Barney can find something incriminating in there so that he can one-up the bureaucrat in the blackmailing game and keep his ill-gotten gains to himself.

"How much you gonna pay me for this?" asks Clint.

"Pay? Pay?" Barney shakes his head. "This is family, Clint. I'm your brother."

"Right, so I'll charge you nine and a half instead of ten."

"Nine and a half grand?" Barney makes a disgusted noise. "That's criminal."

"Well," Clint smiles, "yeah."

They negotiate, which involves guilt-trips, accounting of past exchanges of favors, and a tangential argument about whether Clint actually did push Barney into a pond when Clint was eight. (He totally did not, that was their cousin Sarah.) Half-way through negotiations, Lucky pads over and flops down on the couch, his tail thumping irregularly on the cushions and his head turning from brother to brother, depending on which of them is doing something more interesting. Finally they settle on seven thousand and Barney watching Lucky for the rest of the day. Clint gets ready.

Clint's tempted to go rob this bureaucrat's house in his fuck-off purple work clothes, but Barney likes things to be discreet or whatever. Instead Clint goes for the black pants from his spare costume, a fresh t-shirt, and a puffy coat. He stuffs some arrows and a collapsible bow in a duffel bag. It's not good to treat his equipment like that, but it's a little more discreet than a big reinforced quiver.

Barney's playing tug-of-war with Lucky and one of Clint's socks when Clint comes back out.

"Seriously?" Barney looks Clint up and down, raises an eyebrow. "You're wearing that?"

Clint glances down. He's wearing his Green Goblin minion of the week t-shirt, from back when he was just starting out and needed the cash enough to actually play at being a model employee.

"It looks ironic," says Clint. "I'm in disguise as a hipster."

Barney rolls his eyes. Clint sighs and zips up his coat.

---

Barney gives Clint a ride as far as the edge of Sunnyside, after a lot of protests.

("I don't want anyone to see my fucking car anywhere near there!"

"It's in Queens, man. I'm not taking the bus all the way to Queens."

"All the way? It's five miles, dipshit."

"Yeah, five entire miles. That'd take hours.")

Clint waves to Lucky as Barney's fancy Porsche pulls away, then hitches his duffel up on his shoulder and gets to work.

Clint knew this shit was going to be easy as soon as Barney told him the target's address. Sunnyside Gardens has a lot of trees, bushes, and other random barriers to line of sight. Even on a dry January day, the thickets of branches are still enough to hide from a normal passer-by. It only takes Clint fifteen minutes to find a sheltered spot that still gives him eyes on the bureaucrat's house. More importantly, eyes on the bureaucrat's home office.

There's a window, and Clint can see a laptop sitting open on the desk. He unzips his coat for ease of movement, snaps the collapsible bow open, and draws a USB arrow.

Clint worked on this thing for months. Everyone (Kate) said it was a terrible idea, but he kept trying. Designed the cartridge, tested the weight, bought an encrypted insta-download program from the System Crash collective. At this point, the hardest part is getting it into the USB slot without busting the computer open.

Breathe in, breathe out. Draw and loose.

The arrow zips through the window, carving a neat rectangle through the shatter-proof glass. The barrier slows it down, and the arrow thunks right into the USB port without knocking over the laptop or shattering into pieces or anything. Clint carefully does not whoop in triumph.

Of course, now he still has to break into the house to get the arrow back. More sensible people (Kate) would say that if he has to break in, he might as well stick the USB drive in the laptop with his own two hands. More sensible people do not comprehend the genius of the USB arrow.

Clint leaves his duffel in a bush and starts climbing a tree.

Breaking and entering was one of the first criminal things Clint ever learned, right after pick-pocketing and right before mugging. Back when Natasha was still doing spy shit, he used to do this all the time. Clint mostly feels nostalgia while he leaps onto a window ledge, throws a knife at the alarm system, ducks into the office, grabs the USB arrow, and ducks back out.

Too fucking easy. Clint breaks the arrow off the USB drive and sticks the drive in his pocket before he climbs back down. Then he picks up his duffel from the bush, brushes off his hands, and starts strolling out the gate. He's so caught up in looking casual and innocent, he almost runs smack into Carol fucking Danvers on the street.

"Sorry," says Clint. Maybe she won't recognize him, that would be awesome, Christ, he should wear a mask more often—"Excuse me."

Carol grabs Clint's arm before Clint can go anywhere. Clint freezes and tries not to flinch too much.

"Hey, Barton," says Carol, pleasantly. "What are you up to?"

Clint smiles and keeps his hands well away from his pockets and the USB drive while he thinks through possible answers. Whoa, weird case of mistaken identity, never seen you before in my life—no. Pretending his hearing aids are busted again—no. Just on a walk— yes. "I just went for a walk." Clint gently pulls his arm out of Carol's grasp. "What are you up to? You live around here?"

Carol narrows her eyes. "I'm having flashbacks to the jogging defense. You're not working?"

"Am I wearing my work clothes?" Clint gestures down at himself, a second before he remembers the fucking Green Goblin t-shirt. "That's ironic," he says. Carol's eyes have fixed on it. "Doesn't Osborn work for the government now?"

"No." Carol grimaces. "I mean, he did. It's complicated. Why are you in Sunnyside?"

"Did you know this is a historic area?" Clint leans in, lowers his voice. "I'm a cultured man who loves historic houses, and long walks in the park, and good food. There's a great gyro place around the corner. You had lunch yet?"

He's expecting Carol to step back, turn him down and maybe, hopefully, walk away. But she steps forward instead, until they're almost nose to nose.

"I love gyros," she says, tone flat. "You're buying."

Clint's pretty sure she just wants to keep an eye on him until something explodes or people start screaming 'thief' or a giant robot made of arrows appears out of the sewer system. But his stomach does a little jump anyway.

"Great!" he chirps, and starts walking.

Carol watches him like a hawk while they stroll over to the gyro place. Clint tries to seem charming and non-threatening and not like he needs to be searched for illegal weapons or stolen data. It helps when he remembers that he's wearing his great-ass pants.

Carol's eyes do keep drifting down, and it seems like she slows down a little to walk a step behind.

Clint's not the only one looking good today, and it's a struggle to keep looking ahead so that he doesn't run into any other random superheroes. He's never seen Carol in civvies before. She's wearing a tight dark gold turtleneck, with black jeans and a swishy black coat. Her hair is tumbling down her shoulders, and her lipstick is a brassy red, and—

And Clint almost falls off the curb. Carol looks suspicious, like this is all part of his devious plan to break an ankle and then blame it on her.

"I watched Dog Cops," says Carol, abruptly.

"Did you like it?" asks Clint.

Carol shrugs. "I wanted to get a look inside your head, see if I could tell what was going on in there. If Dog Cops has anything to do with it, the inside of your head is mostly barking."

Clint grins. "I can tell you what goes on in my head. It's mostly shooting arrows, whining about my bruises, and thinking about muscles."

Carol's brow creases. "Your own muscles?"

"Other people's muscles," says Clint. "It's a nicer way of saying that I'm thinking about hot bods."

God, that was painfully awkward. Clint has no idea how to flirt with a superhero. The best way he knows to flirt with your average villain is to ask if they want to fuck, and the best way he knows to flirt with somebody normal is to buy them a drink.

Maybe buying a gyro will work instead? Who knows. Clint pushes open the door to the restaurant.

They order, Clint pays (cash, not credit, he doesn't want Carol to see any of the aliases on his cards). They sit down at a booth with their drinks.

"Where does crime fit in?" asks Carol.

"What?"

"The inside of your head," says Carol. "Arrows, whining, muscle-hotties. What about crime?"

"Crime goes under the general arrow-shooting umbrella," says Clint. "It's one of the more interesting things to do with arrows."

"I guess it's not a very flexible skill," says Carol.

"It was this or the Olympics," says Clint. "And I already blew my chance at the Olympics when I was nineteen and decided to steal state secrets."

Carol cocks her head. "With the Black Widow. She was still working for Russia at the time."

"We go way back," says Clint. "You've been reading my file."

"You keep turning up," says Carol. "I like being informed."

"See anything interesting?" asks Clint.

Carol smirks at him. "Oh, lots of things. The Black Widow is the one who hit me in the face, right?"

"Yeah, sorry. She gets protective."

Carol raises an eyebrow, and Clint realizes this is his opening for flirting attempt 2.0.

"We're partners," he says. "Me and the Black Widow. But we have an, uh, open relationship. It's very casual—I mean, it's not very casual, it's actually really serious and I would die for her, but it's fine if we sleep with other people."

Carol raises the other eyebrow. Clint gives up on flirting and waits for the building to collapse on top of him and put him out of his misery. He's always been shit with women. And men. And everyone else. It's a miracle that he gets laid as regularly as he does.

The guy at the counter calls their orders, and Carol gets up to grab them. Clint taps his fingers along the table and regroups.

"What about you?" he asks, when Carol gets back.

"I'm not dating anyone." Carol drops Clint's gyro and fries in front of him.

"Awesome," says Clint, but catches himself pretty quickly. "I mean, not awesome, also not what I meant. Like, have you ever thought about doing something else? Hanging up the cape and becoming a clean energy source?"

"That sounds boring," says Carol, and stuffs half her gyro into her face.

It turns out that Carol is the least graceful eater in the world. It's sort of awe-inspiring, and for a couple minutes Clint just picks at his food and watches. Then he realizes that he's being creepy, and starts actually eating.

"You could defect," says Carol, after a second.

Clint swallows. "What?"

"For the Olympics," says Carol. "Defect to somewhere without an extradition treaty and compete in the Olympics for them."

"I don't think there are many places that would have me," says Clint.

"Croatia?"

"I once stole a million dollars from Agrokor," says Clint. "Guess what the biggest company in Croatia is?"

"Dubai?"

"They're still mad at me for rappelling down the Burj Kalifa."

"South Korea?"

"Do you have a list in your head of countries without US extradition?" asks Clint.

"Yep," says Carol. "Just in case, you know."

Clint leans back in his chair. "South Korea has some of the best archery in the world, so it's tempting. But I think I'll stick to my life of crime, thanks."

Clint takes another bite of his gyro, waits for Carol to say something. She doesn't. When he looks back up, Carol is glaring at him. It's a little undercut by the smear of tzatziki on her chin.

"What's up?" asks Clint.

"I can't figure you out," says Carol. "You talk too much about nothing, and I think you have some serious issues. I mean, besides the rap sheet and the outstanding warrants. But you're also awkward and kind of cute, so—I don't know."

"Cute?" asks Clint.

"Don't get any ideas," snaps Carol. "It's a completely neutral observation."

"Cute." Clint smiles. "I'll take it."

They chew for a while, sizing each other up. Carol doesn't look any less intimidating now that she's admitted Clint has facets besides his criminality. Man, Clint should have never mentioned the muscles/hot bods thing. Carol has amazing biceps and triceps, and Clint just wants to look at them all day. But now Carol will know that means he's into her, which—wait, is what he wants her to know. So maybe Clint should stare at her arms? Is that still creepy?

"Who's your other friend?" asks Carol. "The girl with the black hair who knocked me out."

"You mean Hawkeye?" Clint beams, because bragging about Kate is the best. "Isn't she great? She's super smart, and her archery is getting better every day—"

"I thought you were Hawkeye," says Carol, through a mouthful of fries.

"Yeah, I'm Hawkeye, she's Hawkeye. Hawkeyes."

"You couldn't come up with something less confusing? Like, uh, Hawkeye and Hawkgirl?"

Clint frowns. "Look, she's not my sidekick. Hawkeye and I are on the same level, and making her name some kind of feminization of my gender-neutral name would mark her as derivative. Which she's not. Like, what do you want? Lady Hawkeye? Hawkette? Fuck that."

Carol raises an eyebrow. "Good point. Did you memorize that speech?"

"Hawkeye said some of that stuff when we were discussing names," admits Clint. "Lady Hawkeye was my idea."

"Classy."

"Sometimes people call me Hawkguy," says Clint. "If that helps."

Carol eats the rest of her fries.

"Plus, you're not one to talk," says Clint. "There are like a million Captain Marvels. I looked it up. I mean, Kate looked it up first, but I still read the Wikipedia page on my own."

Carol sips her coke. "I'm not the first Captain Marvel. The first one was a Kree, Mar-Vell. There was this explosion, and our DNA melded and I got powered."

"Your DNA melded? That's a thing?"

"I don't know, apparently." Carol pushes her empty plate back. "I was Ms. Marvel for a long time, but then I promoted myself. I was a colonel in the Air Force, you know."

"Yeah, you outrank me," says former private first class, dishonorably discharged Clint. "I never got far in the military."

"Maybe if you hadn't lied about your age and then stolen classified documents," says Carol. Clint shrugs.

"The point is, it's not my name," says Carol. "I don't control who else can use it. There are lots us following Mar-Vell's legacy. Oh, and Monica. I think Monica just likes the way Captain Marvel sounds."

"I'm so glad we're sharing," says Clint. "I know that sounds sarcastic, but it's not."

"Uhuh." Carol—Carol actually smiles at him. Clint smiles back, trying not to look too eager. Gyro flirting is a success!

"Okay, good lunch." Carol straightens up in her seat. "I think I ought to take you to the police now."

Shit.

"Yeah," says Clint, slowly. "About that."

Then he throws his drink at Carol, knocks the table over, and runs for it while she's still squawking. It's not his proudest moment. Fortunately the B24 is pulling up as Clint gets out of the restaurant, so it just looks like he's running for the bus.

He's sitting in the back of the bus when Carol makes it out onto the street. Her hair is dripping with orange soda, and she's got murder in her eyes. Clint really wants to wave, but he's pretty sure that would have bad results. He leans back into his seat instead, pulls his coat's hood a little further down his head, and whistles the most innocent-sounding song he can manage.

"Shut the fuck up," says the elderly lady sitting across from Clint.

"Yes, ma'am," says Clint, and shuts up.

---

Barney and Lucky both look happy to see Clint back in one piece, but Lucky's the only one who tries to jump up and slobber all over him. Clint appreciates his brother's restraint.

"Got it." He tosses the USB drive at Barney's head, and Barney snags it out of the air.

"Whole computer?"

"Anything that was on his laptop," Clint shrugs. "Hope there's something useful."

Barney sits down on the couch, plugs in the USB drive into his own laptop, and starts paging through files.

"What are you looking for?" asks Clint. "Financial records? One of the entries says 'the fuckloads of cash I've embezzled?'"

"No one's that dumb." Barney opens and closes folders. "Any problems?"

"I ran into a cape," says Clint.

Barney stills. "Jesus, what happened?"

"It's cool, Carol's a—" Clint hesitates. "Friend? I guess? We got lunch, she didn't suspect anything. Anything specific, I mean."

Barney lets out a breath and starts clicking things again. "Carol, huh? That the chick who broke your leg? The one you've got the hots for?"

Clint thinks about denying it, but he's pretty shit at lying to Barney. "Who told?"

"Kate." Barney taps his phone and smirks. "We text."

"About me?"

"Mostly about you," says Barney. "All the dumb shit you do. Like the time Carol broke your hearing aids and you started telling her your life story? What was that about?"

"Fuck off," says Clint. Barney laughs at him.

"I oughtta text Kate about this whole mess. Carol caught you red-handed and you took her out to lunch? Who paid?"

Clint growls at Barney and then takes the laptop away while he's distracted with his phone. Clint sorts through the folders, clicks one labeled 'finances,' clicks a sub-folder called '2013,' and finally pulls up an excel sheet of income and payments. The columns are the months, and the rows are the category. One row is titled 'bribes.'

"Huh." Barney leans over Clint's shoulder. "I guess this guy is that dumb. Bet he didn't report that shit to the IRS."

"Who's dumber, this idiot or the guy he somehow got enough dirt on to blackmail?" Clint strokes his chin, thoughtfully, and chuckles when Barney whacks his arm.

"Kate wants to know what Carol was wearing," says Barney.

"Dark gold turtleneck, black jeans and mid-thigh length coat," says Clint.

Barney stares at him. "Jesus. Either you're possessed by the ghost of a fashion designer, or you've got it bad."

"I have returned from the grave," says Clint in his spookiest voice, "to tell you that your tie is much too skinny. Thick purple ties will be in next season. Wooooo."

"Your ghost sounds like it's got pneumonia," says Barney, and takes his laptop back.

Clint's phone starts buzzing.

Kate: Lunch with Carol???

Kate: Where did you take her?

Kate: What did you wear?

Kate: Was it romantic??

Clint: i bought her lunch and we chatted. then she tried to arrest me and i threw my drink at her.

Kate: Wow, true love.

If Clint's life was a movie, this scene would be over. They'd cut to a shot of Carol at home, putting away groceries and thinking about Clint, the one who got away. Clint imagines it for a little while, but gets stuck on what kind of groceries Carol would buy. Does she cook, or is it all frozen pizzas and shit? Clint thinks it could go either way.

"Do you think superheroes have time to cook?" he asks Barney.

"You're a mess," says Barney, and keeps typing.

Chapter Text

Clint's having that dream again.

"…and really," says Carol, "this whole fantasy is emblematic of your desire for what you can't have, a woman who is too powerful and smart and good for you. You want the unattainable because attaining something means dealing with the consequences. The upkeep of a relationship. It's a miracle that you've retained the supportive friends and family you do have—"

Clint rolls over, stuffs his pillow over his head to try and block out dream-Carol's voice. His alarm clock goes off with perfect timing, vibrating hard enough that Clint feels it in his bones. He flails to hit the snooze button, and hits something soft instead. He opens one eye.
"Good morning," says/signs Natasha, sitting right next to him. Clint nearly falls out of bed before she grabs his wrist and hauls him back.

"How did you get in?" he mumbles. "Is my door busted? Did I give you a key? I don't remember giving you a key."

"I copied Kate's key." Natasha picks up a coffee mug from the nightstand, offers it to Clint along with his hearing aids. Natasha can sign okay, just a little slow and awkward, but she doesn't like it for long conversations. "I have good news and bad news."

Clint groans and sits up enough to stick his hearing aids in and take the coffee. "I don't like it when you say that. Why can't it all be good news?"

"Because life is hard." Natasha prods him, and Clint doesn't jump because he knew she was going to do that. "Which do you want first?"

"Both at once. Simultaneously. Clone yourself so you can speak in stereo."

Natasha huffs. "Bucky is an excellent fuck and is very interested in a threesome. His exact words were 'God, I'd love to get my hand inside Barton's tight little ass.'"

"Yes!" Clint throws his arms in the air in victory. Somehow he doesn't spill the coffee, though Natasha watches warily until Clint lowers his arms again. "How soon can we do this?"

"Soon." Natasha shrugs. "Before our next job. We've got a contract with Madame Masque for all four of us."

"That doesn't sound bad," says Clint. "Was that supposed to be the bad news?"

"The bad news is that she's hired Bullseye too," says Natasha. "And you're definitely not allowed to kill him. When would be a good time for the threesome?"

Clint slumps back onto the headboard. "Better save it until after the job, actually. I'll need a reward for good behavior."

They sit in silence for a second, while Clint sips his coffee and Natasha contemplates whatever it is that she's thinking about.

"Hey," says Clint. "I keep having these dreams—"

"I have dreams," says Natasha. "About giant frogs and a snake that chases me through a maze and a sea of blood."

"That sounds like a horror show," says Clint. "Are you, uh, going somewhere with this?"

"Everyone has nightmares," says Natasha. "They show us our anxieties. They are not always true."

Clint rolls this over in his mind. He drinks more coffee. "I was talking in my sleep, wasn't I?"

"Your vocabulary gets better when you're asleep," says Natasha. "It's impressive."

Clint sets his coffee mug down on the floor. He leans into Natasha's side, and smiles when she doesn't put her arm over him, doesn't lean back, just lets him have her solidity. He takes one of her hands and starts massaging it, because Natasha showed him how to do this once and it always makes her look less tense.

In the indie movie of Clint's life, there's probably some romantic acoustic cover of a classic rock song playing right now.

"I'm lucky," says Clint, as he strokes down from Natasha's ring finger to her wrist. "To have you."

Natasha smiles at him. "You still can't murder Bullseye."

Clint groans. "Come on! Can't I even—Can I just maim him a little?"

"Maybe if you make it look like an accident," says Natasha.

Yeah, that's why Clint loves her.

---

Clint hates Bullseye. Hates the way he talks to Natasha, the way he looks at Kate, the way his aim is almost as good as Clint's with a gun, better with knives. Clint's contracts almost always have a rider saying that Bullseye can't be brought in, but this time Bullseye got hired first.

Clint's not really a big enough deal to get another contractor fired. Bucky is, but Bucky also thinks that the whole thing is childish. Bucky thinks that the best way to get over an irrational dislike is to spend time with the target of your dislike. Bucky controls the shift schedule and partner assignments. Bucky is an asshole.

All of this leads to Clint and Bullseye working security together, up on the roof of the Maggia warehouse.

"So," says Bullseye.

"Please don't talk to me," says Clint.

"Rude," says Bullseye, easily. "I was just going to ask about your bow."

Clint glares.

"Do people ever mistake you for an escaped renaissance faire performer?" asks Bullseye. "I mean, the costume, the stone-age technology, the fact that it's pretty close to your actual back-story—"

"I was a circus kid," snaps Clint. "It's totally different."

Bullseye shrugs. Clint wants to stab through Bullseye's hands with a barbed arrow and pull out his tendons. Fucker keeps grinning at him.

"Nice weather tonight." Bullseye shuffles a deck of cards he brought up with him. What kind of dick brings cards to a night watch? Plus, there's blood on half the deck, which—ugh. That's what guns and knives and arrows are for. Only someone like Bullseye would kill someone with fucking playing cards.

And maybe Gambit. Does Gambit kill people? Clint never liked him anyway.

"You're quiet." Bullseye lays out cards for solitaire. "Thinking about something?"

"Planning your murder," says Clint, absently. Jesus, he hasn't seen Gambit in forever. Is he still with the X-Men? Clint hates fighting the X-Men, it always makes him feel uncomfortably like one of those anti-mutant douches.

"Thinking about your boo?" Bullseye's grin gets wider. He's missing a tooth in the back. "Heard that a little birdy has a crush."

"I'm trying to be professional and not stab you," explains Clint. "It's really hard. Takes a lot of concentration."

"Captain Marvel, huh?" Bullseye whistles. "Can't blame you. Did you see her last costume? Thigh-high boots, leotard, no pants? Great fucking gams."

Clint tries to ignore Bullseye. Also the image of Carol in a leotard and thigh-highs. Both are impossible.

"I fantasize about pulling your teeth out one at a time," says Clint, voice flat.

Bullseye chuckles. "Don't we all?"

There's a pause while Bullseye sighs, happily, and Clint thinks about disinfecting his entire body after he's off this goddamn roof. Then Bullseye straightens up.

"Do you see that?"

Bullseye points, and Clint looks over to see a group of people ineptly sneaking their way.

"Is that the X-Men?" Clint squints. "I was just thinking about them, weird."

"What the hell would the X-Men be doing here?" Bullseye starts picking up his cards.

"Shit." The ugly yellow-black uniforms are unmistakable, even this far away. Clint rolls his shoulders, grabs an arrow. "I don't know. I didn't sign on for mutants. I'm not prejudiced, right, it's—I'm just a guy with a bow, you know?"

"And some guns," says Bullseye, pulling out a fucking shotgun. Where does he keep that thing, down his pants? "Don't forget your guns."

"Half those guys can light themselves on fire, and the other half can use their brains to take over your brain," says Clint. "We're going to get creamed."

"Anyone can light themselves on fire if they try hard enough." Bullseye chuckles and starts shooting. Clint follows suit, swearing all the while.

They get creamed. The only consolation is that the X-Men are shit at actually turning non-mutants over to the cops, and also that Bullseye gets elbowed in the back of the head by some tiny Asian girl who is also apparently a vampire. A mutant vampire who makes fireworks. Clint doesn't understand the X-Men, but Bullseye getting busted up is a beautiful moment that Clint will treasure forever. It almost makes up for the fact that Clint also got elbowed in the head by tiny sparkly vampire lady. And now has a concussion. And didn't get paid by Madame Masque because apparently having your warehouse set on fire magically absolves you from contract obligations.

Clint never got this kind of shit from AIM. Or von Doom. Some people are professionals.

"You've explained this to me three times," says Kate. "Are you having memory loss? Do you know where you are? This is your apartment."

"I'm going to throw up," says Clint, and does. There's a bucket, it's okay. Yay, bucket. Lucky, on the floor nearby, cover his face with his paws and whines.

Kate hands Clint a damp washcloth, and pats him on the back. She's so perfect.

"You should start learning to throw toothpicks," says Clint. "So the next time we see Bullseye you can throw a toothpick into his fucking eye. And then I'll laugh, because toothpicks are totally his thing! And also he'll be bleeding."

"You've told me this three times too," says Kate. "You want me to call the doctor again?"

"No, it's fine." Clint sighs. It's not that he's forgetting things, he's just so annoyed that he's repeating himself. "I have my meds. I'll shut up about Bullseye."

"Your vision still fuzzy? You want to watch Dog Cops?"

"Having trouble focusing," says Clint. "I'll just listen."

Kate fiddles with her laptop and produces the Dog Cops pilot. Clint leans back sideways in the couch, sticks his feet in Kate's lap. He can only get away with that when he's hurt. After a while Lucky jumps up to sit with them, mostly on top of Clint.

"Carol wouldn't give me a concussion," mumbles Clint. "Carol appreciates my brain."

"Don't start about Carol," says Kate. And then, because she's a hypocrite, she says, "Hey, Miss America called."

"Congrats." Clint rubs Lucky's ears. "What did she say?"

"That she was going to take me down and make sure I never did anything bad ever again." Kate shifts on the couch, and Clint opens one eye to watch her smile. "She said I looked hot when I was trying to shoot her in the throat."

"Seriously?"

"Well," Kate bites her lip, "she implied that. What she actually said was that it was really shitty of me to look so good while being so bad. I think she was also wearing make-up? I can't believe she turned on her web-cam, it was amazing. She was definitely wearing lip-stick, and—"

Clint dozes while Kate dissects every detail of Miss America's call and the Dog Cops track down a serial killer in the background.

It's not really that bad of an end, for a job. Especially when Clint replays Bullseye's little blink of surprise when he got walloped by tiny vampire lady. Clint should send her a thank-you gift.

"Do vampires appreciate fruit baskets?" asks Clint.

Kate doesn't say anything for a long time. Then she starts snorting, like she's trying to keep herself from laughing. Clint tries to focus on her.

"Only," says Kate, and then has to stop to laugh some more. "Only if it has blood oranges!"

"Christ." Clint taps Lucky on the head. "Get her, boy."

Lucky whines and does absolutely nothing. Kate's still stifling the occasional giggle ten minutes later, when Clint falls asleep in about the most uncomfortable position in history, with his neck propped up on the couch armrest and a big dog crushing his ribcage.

Clint and Kate are the best at concussion-care.

---

Being injured sucks, and the concussion also kills Clint's sex drive. Which is probably for the best, but it's a drag because it would be really convenient to have that threesome during Clint's downtime.

This is how Clint can tell he's an adult. Thinking about when sex would be convenient.

It's pretty much the only way Clint can tell he's an adult, because he's lying on his couch with half of a cold pizza in a box on the floor and the radio playing all the hits from when he was five.

His apartment is empty, because Kate took Lucky to a job in California. Clint has no idea why she needed his dog.

He considers a few possibilities—infiltrating a dog smuggling ring, finally defeating Squirrel Girl, cameo on Dog Cops—and then decides to just ask.

Clint: why did u take my dog??

Kate: I needed the company

Clint: i could use some company

Kate: P sure you have other friends

Kate: Maybe even friends with dogs

Kate: Also remember that the doctor said only two hours of screen time a day, use it wisely

Clint: r u saying that txtng u is a waste of my screen time

Kate: Texting me to whine is

Kate: I have no remorse about stealing your dog

Kate: Lucky and I are best bros

Then Kate sends Clint a picture of her and Lucky on the beach. It looks gorgeous and warm (it's 40 degrees in NYC), and Lucky is wearing Kate's sunglasses. Everything sucks. Clint groans, thumps his head back against the couch arm-rest, and then groans again when the movement makes him feel dizzy.

The last few months have been full of so many not fun injuries. The broken leg, the concussion, the muscle Clint strained in his shoulder all the way back in August. His neck had felt like it was going to burst every time he tried to draw a bow.

The last fun injury Clint had was ages ago, September, when Natasha cut his lip. It didn't scar, but the skin there still feels tender and sensitive.

Clint reclines on his couch, rubbing his thumb across his lower lip. God, Natasha had looked hot that night. Clint still has a grudge against Maine for being dull, but he can almost forgive it for everything when he remembers Natasha with a bloody knife in her hand and the shooting cold perfect pain. Clint presses hard against his mouth with the back of his hand, and ok, wow, hello libido my old friend.

Clint fumbles for his phone, almost dials Kate by accident (would never live it down), and finally hits Natasha's number.

"Yes."

"Hi, I have achieved an erection," says Clint, because he is smooth.

Natasha grunts, and there's the sound of meat hitting meat. "I'm kind of in the middle of something."

"It's cool, I can wait." Clint pats his groin, proudly. "If I can do it once, I can do it again."

Natasha grunts a little louder, and Clint is pretty sure that's a chuckle. Then there's a crunching noise, like someone reached for the phone and then Natasha broke their finger.

Clint's heard that noise a few times. It happens pretty often when he calls Natasha at work.

"I'll let Bucky know that you're back in the game," says Natasha. "If you're still interested."

"Absolutely," says Clint. "Have a good day, honey."

The noise Natasha makes before she hangs up is definitely a laugh.

Clint smiles, hand still cupped over his hard-on, and listens to the chorus of John Mellencamp's Hurts So Good. It's actually really appropriate, but it's also one of the least sexy songs Clint's ever heard and he's pretty sure he can't jerk off to it.

By the time Clint feels motivated enough to get up and turn the radio off, his hard-on's gone. Yep, he's an adult now. Teenage him wouldn't have thought twice about jerking off to anything.

---

A couple days later, Clint and Natasha and Bucky are in Natasha's bedroom, and Clint is trying to figure out what the hell he's doing here.

If you asked Clint yesterday, he would have said that having sex with his best friend and her best friend would be comfortable and hot and awesome, just like low-slung pajama pants.

Now he's remembering that he's never had a first-time that wasn't awkward as hell. When Bucky took his shirt off, Clint turned bright, blazing red.

"You're blushing," coos Bucky, running the back of his flesh hand along Clint's jaw. "Natasha, you didn't tell me that your little bird blushed."

"He normally doesn't," says Natasha. "Sometimes his cheeks go red after you slap him a few times, but that's different."

It's Bucky's shoulders that are the problem. Clint's always had a thing for thick, muscled shoulders, and then Bucky's left shoulder-blade is interrupted by the metal of his arm. The skin around the join is scarred and Clint really wants to lick it except that would probably freak Bucky out. It's freaking Clint out.

"Remember to breathe," says Natasha, amused.

"Shit, I made him speechless," says Bucky. "This is really helping my ego."

"Your ego doesn't need any help," manages Clint. He sounds hoarse, and Bucky grins at him, head obviously swelling.

Bucky still has his hand on Clint's face, and Clint is starting to have some serious personal space issues. He takes a step back, just to breathe, and trips backwards into Natasha's bed. His balance tips and settles, more slowly than it would before he got hit in the head.

"You okay?" Bucky leans over. "If you ever need a break, just shout."

"Color system?" asks Clint.

"Sure," says Natasha. "It's easy, Bucky, you know how to drive."

"Yeah, yeah, I've done this kind of thing before." Bucky takes off his belt. "I'm green. You?"

"Green." Natasha takes off her shirt, and she's not wearing a bra. Clint's mind goes blank for a few seconds.

"Clint?" Bucky swats his leg, and Clint shivers like a spooked horse. "Give me a color."

"Yellow," says Clint. "Uh, I'm having trouble with the light touches. You gotta either back off or take over, you know?"

"No?" says Bucky. Jesus, he's pulling his hair back into a short ponytail. Clint wants to skip over all the boring difficult stuff and go straight into nasty fucking.

Natasha snaps her fingers at Clint. "Explain. It will be more fun for everyone if you do."

"Right, okay." Clint closes his eyes so he doesn't have to look at anyone's naked chests while he talks through his hang-ups. "The touching is bothering me because I'm not expecting it. You can stop touching me, which is a terrible option because I was dead serious about wanting your hand up my ass. Or you can grab me and hold on hard, so I know where you are and what to expect."

"But not too hard," says Natasha. "Clint's still recovering."

"Spoilsport," says Clint—tries to say, because that's when Bucky grabs one of Clint's ears and lifts him into a sitting position.

"Green," squeaks Clint. "Jesus, you catch on fast."

"Yeah." Bucky's grin is sharp and dangerous, and all the blood drains from Clint's blush into his dick. "One more ground-rule," says Bucky. "Don't touch my shoulder, okay? I know you've got a thing for my arm, but the join feels weird."

"Got it." Clint swallows his disappointment. It's easy, because his thing for Bucky (and Natasha) vastly outweighs his thing for any mechanical arm. Also, Bucky didn't say he couldn't look.

"You need to get naked," says Bucky. "Hold still while Natasha takes off your pants."

Bucky moves his hand to the back of Clint's neck, and squeezes as Natasha starts undoing Clint's belt. Clint tries to help, but whenever he moves his hands, Bucky gives his neck a little shake. Finally Clint just relaxes into it, lets them do whatever they want. Take off his jeans, his shirt, his underwear. He's drifting when the snap of a latex glove wakes him back up.

"You sure about this?" asks Bucky.

"So fucking sure," says Clint. He feels like his whole body is lighting up. That hand needs to be in him ASAP. "Let's go, come on."

Natasha chuckles and pushes Clint down onto his back.

Fisting is a slow and delicate process, and Clint's only ever done it four or five times before. But it's so good, and Bucky's heavy metal fingers inside of him are a slick-sweet unyielding burn. Natasha is smoothing the way with a calming hand-job, and Clint can't arch up into her touch or push down onto Bucky's hand because both Bucky and Natasha have their free hands pinning him down.

"Look at his face," says Bucky.

"I told you," says Natasha. "Like a religious experience."

"If religion was like that, no one would ever leave church," mutters Bucky.

Clint gets the feeling that they're making fun of him, but he can't bring himself to care. Instead he just breathes shallowly and comes as soon as Bucky tucks his thumb into him.

"Don't stop." Clint shifts, trying to get more of Bucky, and Natasha's palm smears the come on his stomach as she presses him back. "Come on, green."

Bucky grins and slowly turns his hand.

Afterward Clint lies at the foot of the bed, feeling sweat dry on his skin while Natasha and Bucky fuck at the head.

"That was awesome," says Clint. "A-plus."

"Glad it—fuck—satisfied," grits out Bucky.

Natasha swears at them both in Russian. Clint's been learning, and he's pretty good with swearwords, but it turns out that he's shit at second languages when he's still feeling pleasantly hollow.

"Flick her clit with your fingernail," says Clint. "Not hard, just—"

"Yeah," says Bucky, and Natasha's swearing intensifies.

"I am so fucking relaxed." Clint stretches, feels his back pop. "Wow."

"You're too relaxed," Natasha grits out. "Get over here and help Bucky get me off."

"Yes, Ma'am," says Clint, and rolls over to join them. He kisses Natasha, pinches her nipples, and flicks her clit again. The orgasm rolls through her in a wave.

"Wow," says Bucky, slowing down for a second. "How long have you guys been together, again?"

"Forever," says Clint, at the same time as Natasha says "more than twenty years."

"What?" Clint shakes his head. "Did you start counting from when we met? Because I was seventeen, and you definitely didn't rob that cradle—"

"He asked how long we'd been together," says Natasha. "Not how long we'd been fucking."

"The fucking thing was implied," says Clint. "Bucky was trying to be a gentleman."

"Be less gentle," Natasha tells Bucky. "Seriously, go harder, I can come at least two more times."

Bucky grins and goes harder.

Chapter Text

It takes about two, three weeks for Clint to stop staring at Bucky's shoulders and hands whenever they see each other. Bucky, fortunately, thinks it's hilarious instead of creepy.

Week four, they're working together in the Secret Empire's underground base. Clint's really glad he's recovered from the hand-obsession by then, because the foot soldiers of the Secret Empire are observant, cunning, and super gossipy.

Bucky is sitting at a desk, watching about fifty different camera feeds. Clint is studying his nails, because he's muscle on this job and there's no one to muscle at.

Clint doesn't like working for the Secret Empire. They're always dealing in fucked-up politics, and the robes are freaky as shit, and most of their devious plans seem like they're going to end with the world blowing up. But Bucky likes doing security for the Empire, for some reason. Clint's pretty sure it's one of the things Bucky does specifically to make Captain America mad.

God, this place is as terrible as Maine. Clint considers cleaning his bow again, but he'll probably wear through the bolt with the polishing rag at this point. And you can't play poker with the foot soldiers of the Secret Empire. They cheat.

Clint wishes Natasha was here. Or that he could text her. His last text message conversation (ten minutes ago) went like this:

Clint: soooo boooored

Natasha: im working dont bother me

Clint: im working too! my job is boring hows urs

Natasha: when i get back im uninstalling whatsapp from your phone

Natasha: i know you dont have international messaging. i went to france to escape

Clint: u went to france to asasinate ppl

Natasha: :/

Natasha: whatsapp is not secure dont say that

Natasha: also thats not how you spell assassinate

Clint: i kno but its super hard to type

Clint: anyway hows it going??

Clint: natasha

Clint: nat

Clint: nat

Clint: did u turn ur phone off???

Yeah, Clint still hasn't gotten a response. And Kate just sent him another picture of her and Lucky on the beach, which is tremendously unfair because Clint can't get a tan underground.

Clint starts whistling through his teeth.

"Stop that." Bucky doesn't look up from his feeds.

Clint whistles the national anthem. His whistle always cracks on the high notes, but he's determined to do it right this time.

Bucky leans back in his chair and raises an eyebrow. "You trying to rile me?"

"No," says Clint. "Hey, how often do you take a job just to make Captain America mad? Is this one of those jobs?"

Bucky's lips thin and he starts to say something, but then he catches himself and smiles instead. And reaches out to grab Clint's arm and haul him off balance.

Clint squawks and tips backwards into Bucky's lap. He really doesn't fit, and his legs hang awkwardly over the side of the chair, but he kind of likes how solid Bucky feels. For a second Clint worries about what the foot soldiers of the Secret Empire will think, but you know what, fuck them. Clint's a bad guy, he can totally stab anyone who starts giggling at him.

"You always start doing weird shit when you're bored," says Bucky. "You need something to shoot at?"

Yeah, obviously, but Clint doesn't want to be 'just that guy who needs to shoot things.' So he doesn't say anything this time, just starts whistling again. America the Beautiful, this time.

Bucky laughs at him. "All right, wise guy, how do you whistle and grin at the same time?"

"You make kind of a circle with your tongue," says Clint. "And, uh, press it to the roof of your mouth, like—"

Clint demonstrates, and Bucky leans in to look, and Clint wonders if sleeping with the same woman and having a threesome that one time means that they can make out in this chair right now, because that would be awesome. Bucky's really hot when he's concentrating, and his mouth is right there—

Bucky glances over Clint's head and frowns. "Hello. How did she get into the tunnels?"

Clint twists to look, and almost falls out of Bucky's lap. "Oh, hey, it's Carol!" The video screens are night-vision green, but Carol's build and costume and the way she moves are all unmistakable.

"Yeah." Bucky sounds thoughtful.

"You want me to shoot at her?" Clint goes to get up, but Bucky's left hand tightens on Clint's thigh, keeping him down.

"Should I?" says Bucky. "You haven't had a lot of successes with your friend Carol. You keep getting injured and she keeps ruining plans."

"Come on, that's just bad luck," says Clint. "And I totally won the last one, did Barney tell you?"

"Kate says you bought her lunch." Bucky raises his eyebrows. "Is that a win, or a date?"

"I got this," says Clint, stubbornly. "You can trust me."

"I do trust you," says Bucky. "I just want to make sure you're not pulling punches 'cause you think she's hot."

Clint narrows his eyes. "I can take people out regardless of how hot they are, Barnes. You want me to headbutt you to prove it?"

Bucky grins and shoves Clint out of his lap. Clint has his bow and his quiver and is out the door in thirty seconds, glaring at any foot soldier who looks like they might have something to say.

---

The tunnels leading to the Secret Empire's base are dark, echo-y, and full of weird twists and corners.

It's perfect for sneaking up on people. Not so good for comm reception, but Clint doesn't need Bucky's commentary today anyway.

It looks like Carol's on her own, but Clint keeps glancing behind himself as he follows her, just in case. Capes, especially Avengers, tend to run in packs. When he's sure it's just the two of them, he pulls an electro arrow from his quiver.

The arrow bounces off three walls on its way to Carol, and then there's a very satisfying 'fzzt' noise and a gasp. And a thump.

Clint pads around the corner to investigate.

Carol is lying on the ground, with her eyes closed. Clint's pretty sure she's had a haircut recently. It looks good. Clint leans in.

Carol raises herself up one elbow, and her hand is glowing.

"Watch the head!" yelps Clint. "I'm recovering from a fucking concussion!"

Carol shoots her weird energy blast at Clint's stomach instead. See, Clint knew she cared.

Clint flies back and hits the wall, and he feels like he's had the wind knocked out of him. He still manages to reach his quiver and fire two regular arrows, an exploding arrow, and one of those fucking sonic arrows that still make him nervous and he keeps around anyway.

Clint doesn't miss. Clint never misses. Carol is just very good at dodging.

The exploding arrow hits a wall, and the brickwork rattles. Dust shakes from the ceiling. Carol smiles like she's just got an idea, and raises her hands.

Three hours later, Bucky digs Clint out from the rubble.

"It's just bad luck," mumbles Clint.

"Your crush-girl is really fucking sharp," says Bucky. "I'm glad I got paid for this job in advance, before she crushed the Secret Empire."

"You're hilarious," says Clint, checking to make sure nothing's broken. "I bet Carol looked hot as hell doing it."

Bucky watches him, and his expression is very—very complicated. Clint tries to raise one eyebrow, but he's always been shit at that so he probably just makes a dumb face instead.

"Look," says Bucky, "this doesn't seem healthy. That cape just nearly killed you, and you still want to get with her."

"Carol didn't try to kill me," says Clint.

"She brought a tunnel network down on your head," says Bucky. "The whole fucking tunnel network. Does she know how long that took to build?"

"She doesn't know her own strength," says Clint. "Or she doesn't know mine. You guys are shit at thinking about the regular people doing this job. It's okay. I understand."

"'You guys?'"

"Super-powers, super-muscles, and a backstory." Clint holds out a hand. "I've got a type. Help me up."

Bucky holds out his right hand and drags Clint to his feet. Clint wobbles, but stays standing.

"I'm fine." Clint grins. "We're on opposite sides, you know? Carol was actually pretty careful. Captain America would'a probably hit me in the throat with his fucking shield."

"Yeah, but you don't want to fuck Captain America," says Bucky.

"Everyone wants to fuck Captain America," says Clint.

Bucky finally cracks a grin. "Your nose is bleeding."

"It's the dust." It's not, Clint's nose is seriously fucked up (not broken, but, like, shit). Clint doesn't care. Clint needs the victory of being mostly okay this time.

"Actually, it's the job," says Clint, when Bucky's hauled him over to a semi-intact men's bathroom and stuffed a wad of toilet paper up one nostril. "You want an abusive relationship? It's not me and Carol, it's me and this fucking job."

Bucky grunts in a way that Clint's pretty sure is agreement. "What are you going to do?" asks Bucky. "Run away to the circus?"

Clint looks in the mirror. He's covered in dust and tunnel-debris, there are big circles under his eyes, his nose is red and swollen. Blood is drying on his chin, and he'll have impressive bruises wherever he got hit with bits of falling tunnel. His hair's a mess. Bucky's reflection is looking at him too.

"Nah." Clint pulls the toilet paper out of his nose and starts washing his face. "This is a lot more fun than the circus."

"Just a different kind of freakshow," says Bucky.

Clint shakes his head, clearing it. "You want a circus job? I've still got connections. Come see the amazing Winter Soldier! A marvel of Cold War technology! The pinnacle of mankind's ability to spray-paint red stars on random things!"

"Shut up." Bucky grabs the back of Clint's head and, whoa, apparently making out is totally on the table. Clint tries not to bleed on him too much.

Bucky gives Clint a ride home, and thankfully doesn't say anything else about how Clint's always getting injured and this Carol thing is actually unhealthy and maybe Clint should invest in body-armor. Although Clint does think a lot about the body-armor thing. The spandex is obviously not cutting it.

Clint's apartment is empty, because Kate took Lucky on a roadtrip and Natasha's in Europe.

"I'm going to Texas." Bucky leans on the doorframe, watching Clint weave his way toward bed. "I gotta catch up with the rest of this Secret Empire operation. Are you going to be okay on your own?"

"I'll be fine," says Clint. "I can handle my shit. I'll just sit around and watch TV and pull some jewel heists."

Bucky snorts and waves and shuts the door. Clint's asleep as soon as he hits the sheets.

---

Dream-Carol is wearing clothes this time. Well, lingerie. Clint's not sure if it's an improvement or not.

"I'm going to bend you over the kitchen table and fuck you with a strap-on," she says. "And you'll just open up and take it, won't you?"

"Yes," moans Clint.

"Also," says Dream-Carol, "we need to discuss whether treating me as an occupational hazard is a reasonable characterization of the situation, or if it's a defensive reaction to the factually accurate statement that I have caused you injury several times. Are you attracted to me because I have hurt you? At what point does safe, sane, and consensual masochism become twisted into a permanently damaging obsession with pain?"

"Shit," moans Clint, and wakes up.

Someone's pounding on the door, hard enough that it's shaking the walls and loud enough that Clint can just barely hear it. Clint groans, and hopes they'll give up if he pretends that he's dead. He feels dead. His stomach aches like it's going to collapse in on itself.

Clint glances at his alarm clock. 5 AM. Who wants to talk to him at 5 AM?

The pounding keeps happening. Clint grabs his hearing aids from the nightstand and fumbles them into his ears, somehow almost poking himself in the eye in the process. Jesus, that takes skill. He switches them on, and winces as the wall-vibrations turn into incredibly loud knocks. Finally ready to face the day, Clint rolls out of bed and then peels himself up from the floor. He puts on some pants and pulls on a clean-ish shirt.

The pounding intensifies. Clint stumbles over and opens the door.

Sergei the building manager looks Clint up and down. "Bro, what happened to you?"

"It's just bruising," says Clint. His whole left arm is yellow-purple, and the worst of it is still covered by Clint's t-shirt. "Work-related injury. What's up?"

"Want my money," says Sergei.

Clint blinks and tries to think. "For the fucking card game? I paid that months ago."

"No, bro, for the rent." Sergei digs a piece of paper out of his pocket, and Clint recognizes his rent check. "This is not enough."

"It's what I always pay," says Clint.

"That's the problem," says Sergei, apologetically. "Rent went up."

"Since when?"

"This month." Sergei smiles. "New rent is five thousand dollars."

Clint actually physically staggers. "The fuck? You gotta give me notice, five thousand dollars?"

"Bro," says Sergei. "Bro. I told you about the rent increase."

Clint thinks back. He remembers... something. Maybe. He was busy. "I didn't think it would be so much. Nobody here can pay five thousand a month."

Sergei shrugs. "Then they leave. Most people have left already."

"You're clearing the building." Clint narrows his eyes. "This shit's illegal, or it should be. I've got rights."

"It is our building," says Sergei. "You want to complain, you get a lawyer."

And that's the problem, right? Clint lives in a building owned by the Russian mob because no one else would rent to him. He can't pass a background check, he can't talk to a lawyer. He couldn't set foot in a court room without getting arrested.

Occupational fucking hazard.

"Five thousand by tonight," says Sergei. "Or you leave."

Clint glares at him. Sergei laughs. Clint flips him off. Sergei keeps laughing. Clint punches Sergei in the fucking face. Sergei stops laughing. Sergei gets angry. Sergei calls for his friends to come upstairs.

Clint has made a huge mistake.

Twenty minutes later, Clint has shot two Russian mobsters in the knees, a third in the shoulder, and he's dodged the other five. He's hiding in an alley, catching his breath. He is going to get a bullet in the back and die.

Clint needs to lie low somewhere. He needs a friend.

Recap: Kate took Lucky to California, Natasha is in France (probably assassinating people), and Bucky is working in Texas. All of Clint's other friends are too untrustworthy or too in the FBI or too human to be any help.

Clint told Bucky that he could handle his own shit, but haha nope. Nope. Damn.

Clint can hear someone shouting in Russian, getting close. Clint makes a decision.

---

Clint has his hands up when Carol opens her apartment door.

"I surrender!"

"Holy shit!"

It's actually pretty amazing that Carol doesn't drop her groceries at the sight of Clint on her couch. The bread does look like it's getting crushed a little though.

It's a pretty weird situation. On the one hand, Clint broke into Carol's apartment at two and hung out for over twelve hours, so it's two thirty at night and Carol just got home to find a surprise criminal. On the other hand, Carol apparently buys her groceries in the middle of the night, so is Clint really the weird one here?

From what Clint can see, Carol's groceries are evenly split between veggies and power bars. So that answers one pressing question—either Carol can actually cook, or she's on some kind of raw food diet.

"Are you on a raw food diet?" asks Clint.

"What the hell are you doing in my apartment?" shrieks Carol.

"It's a really long story that does not involve me trying to hurt you in any way." Clint's hands are still up. "I just want to emphasize that last part."

Carol sets her bags down on the counter. Her hands are glowing.

"My landlord tried to jack up the rent and I told him to fuck off and now he's trying to kill me and I don't know where else to go," says Clint. "Hey, that wasn't such a long story after all."

"You're a supervillain!" Carol says it more offended than anything else, and her hands are powering down.

"That's a little strong," says Clint. "I realize I'm not just any minion, but I wouldn't put myself on Doctor von Doom's level. Is supercriminal a thing?"

"I don't want a terminology debate," says Carol. "What I mean is, you're a supercriminal, and your landlord's just a landlord! Why aren't you shooting him instead of breaking into my apartment?"

"He's not just a landlord." Clint risks lowering his hands a little, they're starting to get tired. "'He' is kind of the entire Russian mob."

"'Kind of?'"

"I was trying to soften it," says Clint. "I guess that made things confusing."

"You're hiding in my apartment from the Russian mob," says Carol.

"If that's cool with you?" Clint drops his hands altogether and smiles, hopefully. "Just until the heat dies down."

Carol considers him. It's the first moment of calm since she walked in, so Clint takes the time to appreciate her black pencil skirt (cut just above the knee) and her blue button-down blouse (first three buttons undone, sleeves rolled up). It's a very casual/dressy look. Clint likes how the blue of the shirt sets off Carol's hair and eyes.

"Get the fuck out of my place!" snaps Carol, abruptly, and Clint groans.

"Come on, they're going to kill me!"

Carol stomps over to the armchair that faces the couch and slumps down into it. She's wearing low platform heels that accentuate the strength of her ankles. Jesus, Clint has it bad.

"Did they give you those bruises?" asks Carol.

Clint glances down at his left arm. After a half-day of hard use, it looks incredibly worse. "Uh. No. That was all you."

"That's right," says Carol, slowly. "We were trying to kill each other yesterday."

"I spent a lot of time convincing my friend-slash-boss-slash-dude I make out with sometimes that you're not trying to kill me," says Clint. "Don't ruin all my hard work now."

Carols stares at Clint. Clint stares back at Carol.

"What?" he says.

"I thought your thing was with the Black Widow," says Carol.

"Yeah, I thought we went over this." Clint shrugs. "We have an open relationship. Very open and welcoming. Oh, shit, did you know that I'm bi? Did I just come out to you by accident?"

"It's in your file." Carol looks like she's trying not to smile. Is that a good sign? Probably.

"Great," says Clint. "I'm glad the government is invested in my dating habits. Were you trying to kill me?"

"I was trying to incapacitate you," says Carol, grudgingly. "But you were definitely trying to kill me."

"Was not."

"You shot an exploding arrow at my head!"

"I was aiming for the wall." Clint shrugs. "You were supposed to get taken out by the shockwave."

Carol tilts her head, like she's trying to figure out the angle at which Clint starts making sense. "How do you know where I live?"

"The VA needs better network security," says Clint. "I'll only need to stay for 48 hours, max. Maybe 51, it depends on how traffic looks."

Carol narrows her eyes. "Don't you have any friends? Why are you here?"

"Everyone's out of town." Clint sighs. "Believe me, if I had a better option I would be exploring it."

"I can't believe my arch-nemesis is on the run because his landlord raised the rent."

"I'm your arch-nemesis?" Clint can't help his grin. "Really?"

"That's not the important part of that sentence," says Carol. "Apparently your arch-nemesis is normal adult finances."

"Hey, they raised the rent like, a lot. Thousands of dollars a lot."

"That's definitely illegal," says Carol. "You have tenants’ rights and shit."

"Do you know a good lawyer?" asks Clint.

"You'd be surprised." Carol actually smiles.

"One that would take on the Russian mob in housing court?" presses Clint. "With me as the client?"

Carol's smile slips. "Well, no."

"Yeah, I didn't think so." Clint sighs. "Hiding out in your apartment is really the only option. I don't mind sleeping on the couch."

"You're not sleeping on my couch," growls Carol. "You're leaving."

"I'll die on the streets," says Clint. "You'll see me in the papers tomorrow. 'Beloved rogue archer dies too young, the victim of gang violence and about a million bullets.' Maybe the mob will send you one of my ears to remember me by."

"That's disgusting," says Carol.

"I know," says Clint. "Good thing I won't be around to see it."

"Forget this." Carol stands up again, hands on her hips. "I'm arresting you. You'll be safe in custody."

"Will I?" Clint tries to look Carol in the eye, but she keeps tilting her eyes away. "I don't think I will."

"Come on, Barton," says Carol. "You're blowing this way out of proportion. You think the mob is going to bust into SHIELD headquarters over a housing dispute?"

"I also shot a couple guys," admits Clint.

"You shot—"

"Non-fatally," says Clint. "One of them may be maimed a little."

Carol opens her mouth, and it's either a good or a bad thing that someone decides to shoot out the windows right then.

Clint grabs his bow case as he rolls off the couch and onto the ground. Little bits of glass fly through the air and cut like bug bites. He snaps open the collapsible bow, and somebody outside laughs. Really loudly. In an annoyingly familiar way.

Carol is kicking off her heels.

"What the fuck are you doing, Bullseye?" calls Clint.

"Somebody ticked off the Russian mob!" shouts Bullseye. "Guess who they asked to do something about that?"

Clint fumbles with his backpack, pulls his quiver out. Carol cracks her knuckles and does a fucking magical girl transformation into her costume.

"I don't know," says Clint, to the window. "Probably you?"

Carol glances at Clint, Clint nods, and then they vault the couch and go out the window.

Carol lives on the second floor, so it's not far to the ground, but Carol grabs Clint's arm to slow him down anyway. And swing him into the tree that Bullseye is sitting in, apparently. Clint ignores the burn in his shoulder and tries to clothesline Bullseye on his way in.

Bullseye tucks his chin down, but whatever, an arm to the nose hurts like shit too. They topple out of the tree together, bow and Bullseye and gun and Clint and quiver and probably about a dozen of Bullseye's knives. Clint lands on his back and groans, because that's how his life works. Bullseye lands on his feet, because he's an asshole.

Then Carol blasts Bullseye with her energy shit, because she's the best.

Clint takes the opportunity to fire an arrow at Bullseye's head, but the guy recovers and throws a knife, and shit. This is why Clint isn't a fan of fighting other marksmen. The arrow falls to the ground, with an adamantium knife embedded in the steel head.
Carol is still floating ominously overhead. Bullseye grins at them both and takes off running.

Clint chases, which is pretty much a terrible idea. It's hard to shoot a bow while running, and it's easy (okay, hard, but easier) to throw a knife while running, and Bullseye wants to fucking kill him. But he's also getting away, so, you know. Clint runs.

People scatter out of their way—it's New York, there are always people, even at 3 AM. Clint jumps over a dog, twists around a smoker, and dodges a lady with a stroller. Bullseye just runs headlong at bystanders until they realize they're playing chicken with a psycho and get the fuck out of the way. Oh, except for the man with the cane. The man with the cane Bullseye grabs and chucks back at Clint.

Clint catches the man's arm and steadies him. Bullseye ducks around a corner, into an alley that Clint knows ends in a fence.

"What the hell is this!" screams the old man, clutching at Clint's shoulders. "What is this? You Spiderman?"

"What? No!" Clint tries to disentangle himself. "Look, I'm kind of in the middle of something—"

"Yeah, sure." The old man shoves Clint toward the alley. "Go get him, Daredevil."

"Also not Daredevil," says Clint, but he goes.

No one is screaming in the alley, so Clint is pretty sure that Bullseye is alone. That's enough justification to fire an arrow with a small explosive charge in there.

It explodes. More silence. Clint steps in.

The alley has a tall slatted fence in the back and some new burn-marks on the ground and adjoining buildings. It has a couple dumpsters. It has a complete absence of Bullseye.

Clint turns, another arrow already nocked and ready. He can hear Carol on the street outside, talking to some concerned citizens.

Nothing suspicious. Maybe Bullseye climbed over the fence. Clint starts to lower the bow.

A dumpster lid hits him in the head.

Clint falls to one knee, harder than he would have before that damn concussion or that broken leg. The arrow drops from his bow. Bullseye climbs out of the dumpster, completely covered in trash. It would be hilarious except for the knife in his hands and the grin on his lips.

Clint still has his bow but he knows, just knows that he'll have that knife in his throat before he can do a fucking thing.

So Clint's going to die. Awesome.

"How much did it cost the mob to hire you?" asks Clint. He's curious to know how much his life is worth.

"Not much," says Bullseye. There are sirens in the distance. "I'd've done it for free."

Clint gives up and goes for the arrow he dropped, Bullseye's wrist flicks back, and Carol drops from the sky down between them. Clint starts to shout something, he doesn't even know what, and Bullseye throws the knife.

It bounces off of Carol's forehead.

"What?" says Clint.

"Fucking capes," says Bullseye, right before Carol blasts him directly in the face.

He drops, and twitches some. Clint has never been attracted to anyone in his life as much as he's attracted to Carol right now.

"Right." Carol rubs her head with the back of her hand. "Right. You're both under arrest."

"Why aren't you dead?" asks Clint.

"Super-durability," says Carol. "Bullets bounce too."

"Shit," says Clint. "I forgot about that. Why do freeze arrows and tranquilizer gas and stuff work on you?"

"It's inconsistent." Carol shrugs. "Blame shoddy alien DNA splicing. Did you miss the part where I said you're under arrest?"

"I'll do anything if you blast Bullseye again," says Clint. "I could kiss you for that. Can I kiss you?"

"No," says Carol, but she smiles at him until SHIELD shows up to collect their prisoners.

Chapter Text

Being in custody objectively sucks. Being in SHIELD custody is even worse than normal custody. Clint's handcuffed and chained to a table in an interrogation room. No one's read his Miranda rights, he isn't allowed to call a lawyer, and an hour ago someone came in to beat the snot out of him and demand Bucky and Natasha's whereabouts.

Clint spat blood and thought about telling Kate that SHIELD didn't care about her yet. She'd throw one of her baby criminal tantrums.

Clint figures he's being treated as an enemy combatant. He's pretty sure that's illegal, since he's an American citizen, but SHIELD's never cared much about legality. A few hours in, they take away his hearing aids, probably because he babbled so much to Carol last time that happened. Clint clams and tries to ignore the humming. Eventually they give the hearing aids back since they've only got two agents who can sign and neither of them are very good at this torture shit.

Clint would watch a movie about a deaf spy who interrogated her enemies with a pair of pliers in one hand and the other hand free to sign. Maybe Clint can make that movie. The indie movie he's starring in right now sucks, because they're flashing lights at him and asking about Natasha's travel habits. The deaf sexy spy movie would be way cooler and the only torture scenes would be silly and non-graphic. It could be called The Sign for Death. A Clint Barton movie, directed by Clint Barton, starring Clint Barton in a wig. Maybe not a wig. Maybe the heroine could just have short hair. Jesus, these flashing lights are annoying.

Clint falls asleep for an hour, because he can fall asleep anywhere. Or maybe he just passes out, which is less impressive. The point is, he has this dream where Barney shows up with his FBI credentials, demanding that Clint be transferred into his custody. Clint starts to call his name, then wakes up and bites his lip so hard that he draws blood. There are three SHIELD agents standing over him, pencils poised to note down anything he says.

It's a good thing Clint didn't have one of those naked psychoanalyst Carol dreams. That would have been totally inappropriate. And hilarious. But Carol would have been mad.

Clint spends some time thinking about naked psychoanalyst Carol. She has a lot of things to say about this whole shit-show.

"Are you listening to me?" screams some dude. White dude. Introduced himself, super WASP-y name. Clint doesn't give a shit.

"No," says Clint. "Not really."

Agent Wasp slaps him. Clint moves with the blow, makes it hurt less. Still hurts.

Clint can't see how this will end well for him.

"Just talk," says Agent Wasp. "We don't care about you, you're small fry. We want the Widow. We want the Winter Soldier."

"We all want things," says Clint.

Agent Wasp actually hits him with a phonebook for that. Who has a phonebook nowadays?

It's not that Clint doesn't talk. He talks a lot. He asks how Bullseye's doing, and asks for his lawyer, and calls the SHIELD agents rude names, and asks for his lawyer, and recites his name, rank, and serial number, and asks for his fucking lawyer, he has rights, stop fucking asking about Natasha!

His hands are still chained to the table and his bow is in a locker room somewhere. They strip-searched Clint and found all his knives. The agents look at Clint without sympathy, and Clint wants to burn this whole place down.

After a while, they leave him alone. A while after that, Carol opens the door.

"Hey," says Clint. His voice sounds cracked, and he winces. "Time for the good cop?"

"The slightly more reasonable cop." Carol shuts the door.

Clint winces again when she steps right into his space. She's wearing her work clothes, spandex and shine, and Clint feels inadequate in ripped jeans and blood. Carol brushes a hand against Clint's face, where Clint can't see a bruise but he can definitely feel it. It's a light touch, the kind Clint hates, but he turns into it instead of pulling away, makes Carol press against the bruise until Clint starts to feel alive again.

"I'm not giving up my friends," he mumbles.

"This isn't what I meant to happen," says Carol.

"You can do whatever you want," says Clint. "I'm not betraying nobody."

"It was simple when you were just some goony villain," says Carol. "Instead of a cheesy, dumbass, kind of hot villain."

"You can't soften me up," says Clint.

"Like, normally when criminals flirt with me, it's creepy," says Carol. "And with you, it's—do you even know that you've been flirting with me?"

"What?" Clint blinks, which hurts because one of his eyes is almost swelled shut. "Uh. Yes?"

"Everybody talks to me about you." Carol rubs her thumb along Clint's cheekbone. "Other heroes, I mean. They see us talking in the field, they go 'oh, Carol's got a pet supervillain.'"

"Supercriminal," says Clint.

"Wolverine told me that you sent Jubilee a fruit basket after she beat you up." Carol shakes her head. "Wolverine also told me you seemed like an okay guy. I mean, what? Wolverine doesn't like anybody much. And you shot him in the eyeball, and he thinks you're an okay guy."

"I sent Jubilee a fruit basket for beating Bullseye up," says Clint. "She's the sparkly vampire, right? Um. Wait."

"And you broke into my house," says Carol. "I feel like I should be mad, but I'm just flattered that you came to me for help."

"Did you call me kind of hot?" asks Clint.

Carol frowns. "You're fucking with my head."

"I have no idea what's going on in this conversation," says Clint. "So I guess that makes two of us."

"Let me lay it out for you," says Carol. "You remember when I took out Bullseye and you asked if you could kiss me?"

"Yeah?"

"I've been thinking about that all day," says Carol.

For a whole five seconds, Clint is speechless. Then he grins.

Carol's left hand is still on his face. She reaches out with her glowing right hand, and zaps the security camera into a molten hunk of plastic. Then she zaps the lock on the door into a useless lump of metal.

"Is that going to get you in trouble?" asks Clint.

"SHIELD thinks I'm using my alien superpowers to get you to talk," says Carol. "They won't do anything."

"And what are we really going to do?" asks Clint.

Carol brushes a thumb across Clint's lower lip, and, shit, he doesn't have any impulse control. He sucks her thumb into his mouth and curls his tongue around it, looks up at Carol from under his lashes.

Carol's eyes are glowing now.

"It actually makes me kind of angry," she says. "None of this is how it's supposed to go."

"This is the weirdest interrogation ever," says Clint, but it's pretty garbled because he still has Carol's thumb in his mouth.

Carol pulls her hand away, and then grabs him by the back of the neck and kisses him. Full on, tongues and everything. Clint strains up into it as much as the chain will let him, and it rattles and clanks until Carol snarls and snaps it off with one hand.
Clint isn't sure if he's more turned on by the chain snapping or the snarling into his mouth thing.

Now that he's free (still wearing handcuffs, but not tethered), Carol picks Clint up out of his chair and shoves him hard against the wall. He gasps as all of his pain flips abruptly from 'fuck, it hurts so bad' to 'fuck, it hurts so good.' Carol kisses Clint again, hard like she's swallowing his air, and his hands are cuffed and pressed between their bodies. It's the kinkiest first (second, whatever) kiss he's ever had. It's awesome.

"Christ," he mumbles, when Carol breaks away. "Hold on, listen, I have a question."

Carol raises an eyebrow. Clint really wishes he knew how to do that.

"Would you say—" Clint pauses, trying to figure out how to phrase this. "Would you say that we're rushing into sexual intimacy in order to avoid confronting the fact that our respective positions and the present circumstance mean that we can never reach the level of emotional intimacy that we crave as a balm for our tragic pasts?"

"What?" says Carol. "No."

"Great," Clint relaxes into Carol's grasp. "Just wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming."

Carol eyes him, like she's just realized this might be a bad idea. "Is this okay? Should I keep going?"

Clint rolls this over in his head. He's in SHIELD custody, wearing handcuffs, making out with the cape who arrested him. Carol's admitted that she's angry and doesn't know what she's doing. Clint has no idea what will happen after they do whatever they're going to do. This is like seven levels of not okay. It's also super fucking hot.

"Green," he says, before he remembers that he hasn't had the safewords discussion with Carol. They should probably have the safewords discussion. They should probably take a breath and think about this carefully, and—

Carol sticks her hand down Clint's pants. Clint's brain short-circuits.

It's not the best handjob Clint's ever had, but it's definitely the best handjob he's ever had from Carol (in SHIELD HQ!!). He's still pressed against the wall, and his feet aren't touching the ground, which is kind of impressive given that he's at least four inches taller than Carol. Clint looks down and realizes that Carol's feet aren't touching the ground either.

"Fucking flying," he mutters.

"Shut up and pay attention to the sex," says Carol.

She's holding Clint up against the wall by his shoulder with her free hand, and suddenly Carol squeezes one of the big bruises there. That rockets this handjob from 'mediocre' to 'actually pretty good, God, can I kiss you?'

"Knock yourself out," says Carol, and Clint kisses her mouth and throat and collarbone and comes all over her hand.

Carol breathes in and out and pulls herself away.

There's a sink in the corner, probably for unspeakable purposes. Carol washes her hands and pats her hair back into shape.

Clint zips his fly back up, looks around at the room. The table chain is in pieces, the chair is knocked over, and there's an actual dent in the wall where Clint slammed into it. Plus, the fried monitoring camera and the destroyed lock.

"Can I, uh—" Clint hesitates. "Get you off?"

Carol shakes her head. "Not here. Next time."

Clint grins at 'next time,' and keeps grinning as he glances over the damage again. "How are you going to explain all this to the higher-ups?"

"You know," says Carol, "I have no fucking cl—"

"Red alert," says a recorded voice, and the lights start flashing red to match. "Intruders. Red alert."

"Great," says Carol. She looks at Clint, looks at the lights, and apparently makes a decision because then she half-pulls the door off its hinges to get out. She leaves it open as she runs down the hall, and for a second Clint thinks about making a break for it. Then two armed guards lean in to make sure he's still there, and Clint decides that he would get shot about three seconds into his escape attempt. He rights the chair and sits down instead, because his legs feel like jelly.

Then one of the guards keels over. The other guard raises her gun, and Natasha punches her in the face.

"My hero," says Clint, sincerely.

The guard is clutching her nose, but her gun is still steady. Natasha looks poised to spring.

An arrow knocks the gun out of the guard's hand. Natasha kicks the guard in the stomach while the guard is still gaping with surprise.

"My heroes," says Clint. Kate runs in and drags him out of the room.

Kate and Natasha really would like to run, and Clint does his best, but aggressive limping is about as much as he can do. He broke his leg months ago, but new pain recalls old pain and also he was never good for much after an orgasm. If Clint had known that his friends were planning a rescue attempt, he would have asked Carol for a raincheck. (No, wait, that's a complete lie. But it's the thought that counts.)

A bunch of SHIELD agents are blocking the exit corridor. Kate props Clint up against a wall and hands him a sheaf of throwing knives before she readies her bow. Natasha tosses her hair over her shoulder.

The SHIELD agents don't last very long. Clint is mildly smug about the fact that he can still incapacitate four people immediately after getting beat up and a handjob.

Natasha got six, and Kate got five. Clint is fine with being in last place. Neither of them got a handjob, so Clint has to be magnanimous.

God, it's been such a weird day. Clint can't stop thinking about sex with Carol. Sex! With Carol! And they're going to do it again, probably!

That Jeep Cherokee Clint thought they had ditched forever ago is waiting outside, and Kate shoves Clint into the backseat while Natasha starts the engine. Kate jumps into shotgun, and Natasha screeches away.

Someone starts taking potshots at the car as they pull out of distance. Clint slumps low in his seat as bullets dent the rear window.

"Glad you're okay," says Natasha.

"He's so not okay," says Kate. "Have you seen him? One of his eyes is swelled shut!"

"He's had worse." Natasha swerves left. "He's alive."

"I am so much better than okay," says Clint, with conviction. He glances back at the one, two, three cars following them. "I am incredible."

There's a silence. Or as much of a silence as there can be while Natasha tries to coax the Jeep past ninety and people shoot at them.

"He was only in there for two days," says Kate, slowly. "Is that too soon for Stockholm syndrome?"

"Yes." Natasha spins the wheel and pulls the handbrake, snapping the Jeep into a U-turn. The SHIELD cars swerve to avoid them. The roads are empty, they're in the middle of nowhere, maybe Pennsylvania. There's room for ridiculous maneuvers.

"I don't have Stockholm syndrome," says Clint. "Getting beat up sucked."

Natasha glanced in the rearview mirror. "That would be more convincing if you weren't smiling, Barton."

"Yeah," says Kate. "It's creepy."

There's another crack of gunfire. Clint glances back, and one of the SHIELD agents is actually steering with one hand and firing a pistol at them with the other hand. Good luck hitting anything like that, bozo.

"Listen," says Clint. "Let me tell you my secrets."

Natasha and Kate glance at each other. Natasha shakes her head. Kate rolls her eyes.

Clint would scowl at them, but he still can't stop smiling. "Guess who got laid."

"Barbara Streisand," says Natasha, and takes a turn onto a road that may or may not be an actual road. It's made of dirt.

"Barbara Streisand is like a million years old," says Kate.

"She's foxy." Natasha doesn't look away from the 'road.' "She's probably got a harem of younger men."

"Me!" says Clint, happily. "I got laid!"

Kate raises her eyebrows. "In SHIELD custody? Did you blow Nick Fury? Director Hill?"

"We understand," says Natasha, about four-fifths sarcasm and one-fifth concern. "You did what you had to do. You don't have to pretend to be okay."

"Carol came to visit." Clint beams. "And then one thing led to another, and—"

"Yes!" Kate fist-pumps. Clint's glad that she's so happy for him.

Natasha rummages in her belt pouch and produces a fifty, which she passes to Kate. The Jeep thumps through a pothole.

Okay, whatever. Clint's glad that Kate apparently bet that he and Carol would eventually fuck. Hawkeyes always pick the winning team. (Blatant lie, Clint has won exactly zero bets in his entire life, if you exclude bets that involve the phrase 'I bet I can hit this thing with this other thing.')

"I think we're far enough away from the HQ," says Natasha. "Can you get rid of these cars, Kate?"

"Exploding arrow, coming right up." Kate starts rolling down her window.

"Wait, can I do it?" asks Clint.

Kate frowns.

"I mean," says Clint, "they did beat me up, and I wouldn't mind getting some revenge."

"This is our rescue," says Kate, firmly. "Be quiet and swoon like a good damsel."

"Just let him do it." Natasha stomps the accelerator. "It'll be good for him."

"I don't like it when you use my bow," grumbles Kate. "You always overdraw it and mess up the string."

Clint holds out his hands. Kate shoves her bow and the arrow at him.

It's actually really hard to fire a bow from a moving car, especially when you have to lean out of the small square windows of a Jeep. The explosion is very satisfying and totally worth it, though. It even has the bit where one wheel rolls out of the smoldering wreckage.

"Feel better?" asks Natasha.

"Give me my bow back," says Kate.

"This is the best rescue ever," says Clint.

---

They hide out in Pennsylvania for a week, and then come back to New York when it's clear that no one traced them. Bucky's back from Texas, and he found Clint a new apartment in Ridgewood, not far from where Clint used to live. It's a nice place. It's owned by the Polish mob. Bucky says he's pretty sure they're chill about rent.

The apartment's empty when Clint moves in, because the Russian mob wouldn't return Clint's furniture. Kate and Clint hit up curbs and Craigslist for all the free shit they can carry. Clint's kitchen has three mismatched bar stools, and two of them have uneven legs. The standing lamp in the bathroom has a garish, hand-painted lion on the lampshade. The couch is the only thing that's new; Bucky drove over to Ikea Brooklyn and bought it with his own money, because "I'm not sitting on any couch that you find on Craigslist, Clint, it'll be full of semen and bedbugs. Or cat hair."

Everyone comes over for Clint's housewarming, which mostly involves drinking beer on the couch and watching Dog Cops.

"Is this the only show you watch?" asks Natasha.

"No," says Clint.

"Yes," calls Kate from the kitchen.

"Shut up." Bucky leans forward. "I can't hear Mr. Whiskers."

Clint leans against Natasha's side, feels himself shake. He hasn't settled down since he was caught, even though it didn't seem like a big deal at the time. His bruises are still healing. There are faint lines on his wrists from the handcuffs. The government really is out to get him. And his friends. Shit.

Clint goes to take a drink of his beer and nearly spills it all over himself.

Bucky and Natasha glance over his head, and then Bucky slings an arm over the back of the couch and moves closer to Clint's right side. Natasha presses in from the left.

"I'm okay," says Clint. "You don't need to squash me."

"I know that." Bucky drops his arm from the back of the couch and onto Clint's shoulders. The metal is cool and heavy, weighing Clint down. "I don't need to do lots of things."

Natasha is warm and solid and her hand is squeezing Clint's thigh. "Color?" she asks.

Clint thinks about pulling away. But he doesn't feel trapped, he feels secure. No one can get at him with Bucky and Natasha right here. No one can get at Bucky or Natasha with Clint right here. It's fine. "Green."

Kate walks in with four more beers, then pauses when she sees the Clint sandwich taking place in the living room. Finally, Kate clambers up to sit on the top of the couch. Clint's not sure how this is going to work, logistically speaking, but Kate just swings her legs over him, knees bracketing Clint's head.

He's literally surrounded by his friends.

Clint doesn't stop shaking, but he feels better. He knows where everyone is. They're not going anywhere. He's not going anywhere.

"I didn't tell," he mumbles. "I didn't tell them anything."

Kate hands down a beer. "We know. Thanks."

"Yeah, well." Clint pulls together a smile. "They didn't actually ask about you. The Man doesn't think you're all that."

Kate tries to kick Clint in the stomach, Natasha laughs, and Bucky sighs and turns up the volume on the TV. Also Lucky decides this is a great time to climb into Clint's lap.

For the record, it's never a good time for Lucky to climb into Clint's lap. He's way too big. He doesn't fit, and he almost knocks over everyone's beers and Bucky gets a tail to the face and Natasha is still laughing and Kate grabs Clint's head with both hands to keep from falling off the couch.

Then Barney opens the door with the Chinese take-out.

"What the fuck," he says. "What is this supposed to be?"

"Uh." Clint pushes Lucky down because he can't talk with fur in his mouth. "We're watching TV."

"Did you get fried rice?" asks Bucky.

"It's a cuddle pile," says Kate. "Take off your shoes before joining."

"You're not getting me in a cuddle pile," says Barney. But he takes off his shoes anyway.

Natasha is still laughing, quietly. Clint closes his eyes and listens to her until his shakes turn to shudders turn to shivers turn to nothing.

"Where's my sesame chicken?" asks Clint.

Barney drops the carton on top of him, followed by some chopsticks.

Clint manages to eat about half of it, despite Lucky's best efforts.

---

Natasha stays over that night. Maybe because she wants to keep an eye on Clint, maybe because she thinks he needs the comfort. Clint appreciates the thought, but he builds a pillow barrier between them anyway. Natasha tends to cling in her sleep, and Clint tends to kick.

They lie there, in the dark, and Clint can't get his brain to shut off. He sighs, and puts his hearing aids back in.

"Hey," says Clint. "Is it weird that you don't have a cape? Or is it weird that we do?"

"That didn't make any sense," says Natasha. "I don't live in your brain."

"Sorry, sorry." Clint waves a hand and tries to figure out how to make sense. "It's just—I have this thing with Carol, right? And it's a little out there, but I enjoy it. It's like a furtive workplace romance, but on steroids."

"Sure," says Natasha. "Without the impotence, I'm guessing."

"And I think it would be weirder, except Kate is crushing on Miss America, and Bucky has some kind of love/hate/fuck/destroy relationship with Captain America. We all have a thing for heroes. Except for you."

"Mhm."

Clint rolls on his side, looks over the pillow barrier. Natasha is lying on her back, hands crossed on her chest, eyes half-open. She looks almost distressingly beautiful.

"So," says Clint. "Are we the weird ones, or are you?"

Natasha uncrosses her arms, stretches until Clint hears her neck pop once, twice, three times.

"They're pretty," she says. "The heroes. I don't blame you for getting caught up in the muscles and power and purity. Just don't get hurt."

Clint smiles a wry little smile. "Too late."

"Emotionally, I meant." Natasha looks over at Clint. "Anyway, I'm not immune either."

Clint raises his eyebrows.

"Everyone," says Natasha, "wants to fuck Captain America."

"I knew it!" crows Clint, and thumps back down on his side of the bed.

He doesn't fall asleep right away—Natasha ends up pulling down the pillow barrier and having her way with him first, while Clint does a terrible Captain America impersonation and Natasha stifles her laughter by biting his shoulder. But when Clint does fall asleep, it's deep and dreamless. It's the best sleep he's had in months.

Except for the part where Natasha tries to spoon him and Clint accidentally elbows her in the stomach, but that happens whenever they sleep in the same bed, so.

Chapter Text

Ever since Carol got Clint arrested, and then apparently felt guilty about it, and then gave Clint a handjob to go with his traumatic experience, Clint's been trying to be chill about the whole thing. He doesn't seek Carol out. He's not going to be the creepy guy who calls fifty times after the first date. In fact, he's going to be the socially awkward, nervous guy, who never calls and instead spends all his time checking his cell phone in case someone's trying to call him.

"Stop telling me about this," says Kate. "One, it makes you sound like a dweeb. Two, I'm messaging America and you're distracting me."

"You're messaging America?" asks Clint. "Like, the whole country?"

"Miss America." Kate sighs in a way that's probably supposed to sound annoyed, but actually just sounds happy. "Turns out her first name actually is America."

"So much for a secret identity," says Clint. "I guess she'd be hard to google. You'd be surprised at how few Carol Danvers there are in the world. I only had to break into three VA offices before I—"

He stops, because Kate started ignoring him as soon as her computer made the new message beep.

The thing is, Clint still lives in New York. And this is the weird thing about New York: it's a big city, a humongous city, it has the population of a reasonably-sized country. On the other hand, sometimes New York seems like a really small place. Like when Clint reaches for a jar of honey at the Ridgewood farmer's market, and Carol's already got her hand on it.

"Hey," says Clint, cautiously. He has no idea where they are in their antagonism/acquaintance/relationship. There was supposed to be a next time. Is that still going to happen? Is it time for the next time yet?

"Hey." Carol looks Clint up and down. "You were wearing those jeans the last time I saw you in civvies."

Clint shrugs. "They're my favorite pair."

"Mine too," says Carol, and pays for the honey.

So, yeah, apparently that's where they are. Clint takes it as permission to smile at Carol and look approvingly at her new short hair (fauxhawk, very sharp), long legs (short, dark-blue skirt with gold hem), and bare shoulders (cream halter top, Clint loves summer). Carol smiles back.

They get coffee and kolachies, size each other up. Clint's bruises are fading. Carol's eyes look tired.

"Did you get in trouble over the escape?" asks Clint.

"No," says Carol. "I got in trouble over threatening to go to the press over SHIELD's violation of human rights and use of illegal torture techniques."

Clint sips his coffee. He has no idea how to respond to that.

"SHIELD doesn't own the Avengers." Carol leans back in her chair. "They can't really do anything to me. But the threat's more effective than actually going public. There's not a lot of sympathy for supervillains, you know?"

"I should start an advocacy organization," says Clint. "Villains United, something like that. Fighting for people's fundamental right to steal shit, wear spandex, and try to blow up the world."

"Pretty sure none of those are in the constitution," says Carol.

"Yeah, well." Clint shrugs. "If I just wanted to fight for my right not to be beaten up by jackbooted thugs, I'd donate to the ACLU. Or quit my job."

Carol nods. She looks, shit, what's the word—pensive, like she's trying to decide whether to jump off a cliff or just give up and go home. Clint takes another sip of coffee.

"You remember when we were, uh," says Carol.

"Yeah," says Clint. "The 'uh' definitely stuck in my mind."

"Right," says Carol. "And you asked if you could, um, help me out, and I said next time?"

Clint nods and drinks the rest of his coffee.

"What I'm trying to say is," Carol shoves the last of her kolachi in her mouth and mumbles around it, "you want to go back to my place and fuck?"

Clint tries not to choke, while nodding frantically and also pulling money out of his wallet for the tip. It's a miracle that he survives.

---

When Carol shoves Clint back against the closed door of her apartment and starts molesting his neck, Clint remembers that this time they should probably have a serious discussion before getting very far. Then he forgets again, because Carol is molesting his neck. And his pants. And, and, Jesus

"Give a dude a second to breathe," manages Clint.

Carol backs off just a little, still close and solid enough that Clint's happy. "What's up?" she says.

"What are we doing here?" asks Clint. Carol freezes, and her eyes go hard. "Not, shit," says Clint. "Not like a philosophical or angsty question. Not 'why are we here, man, why are people,' okay? I'm just looking for a quick, practical game plan."

Carol takes another step back, and Clint slides down the wall a couple inches. He hadn't even noticed that Carol was holding him up.

"What are you interested in?" Carol picks up a foot and starts unbuckling her platform sandal. Clint follows every movement as she frees one foot, and then the other. It's surprisingly erotic.

"You want a list?" Clint shrugs. "I'm pretty easy. I just like knowing what I'm in for."

Carol fiddles with the hem of her top, and Clint realizes that she's as nervous about this as he is. That this thing between them is messed up and is going to fuck with their work lives and she's going to have to arrest him again and Clint is going to have to bust out again and then they'll probably be bitter mortal enemies and have to make do with hate sex instead of frenemy sex. Hate sex is hot, though. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

"Earth to Clint," says Carol.

"I'm paying attention," says Clint.

Carol pulls her shirt off. She's wearing a Captain Marvel-themed bra. Where do you even get one of those?

"Okay," says Clint. "Now I'm definitely paying attention."

"I'm going to push you down onto my bed and ride you," says Carol. "Until you're screaming. And I'm screaming. Everyone will be screaming. Sound good?"

"Sounds terrifying," says Clint. "I'm into that."

"Yeah, I figured you would be." Carol smirks. "What else are you into? I actually do want a list."

"Uh." Clint starts ticking off fingers. "Manhandling, kissing, rough sex—like, face-slapping, hair-pulling, all that shit. Light and unexpected touches make me kind of nervous. Nothing that I'd have to take my hearing aids out for unless you've suddenly learned ASL."

"I asked Echo some questions," says Carol. "I'm not any good yet, but it seemed like I should learn."

"You going to bust my hearing aids again?" Clint tilts his head. "Or do you have sexy plans?"

"I'm prepared for any eventuality." Carol leans in. "The touching thing. This isn't okay?" She brushes the back of her hand across Clint's cheek. Clint doesn't try to suppress his flinch.

"Not really."

"But slapping is?" Carol raises her hand and Clint gives her a nod.

The palm of Carol's hand makes a lot of noise, and it doesn't hurt at all. Carol's not using even a tenth of her strength (a tenth of her strength would probably break Clint's jaw, so, good). It's absolutely perfect. Clint's face tingles and his heart stutters and his dick starts getting really interested.

"Slapping," says Clint, "is completely okay."

Carol actually picks Clint up and puts him over her shoulder to take him to bed. She's great at this whole manhandling thing. Clint pinches her butt since he's in the right place for it, and gets slapped on the ass.

"That's not really a disincentive," he says.

Carol snorts. She's not even breathing hard, carrying Clint around. Superpowers are super (ha) hot.

"Hey," says Clint, as they pass through the living room. "You fixed your window."

"My landlord fixed my window," says Carol. "And asked some uncomfortable questions about why a highly-paid assassin was out to get me."

"This whole place is run by the Chilean mob," says Clint. He has no idea, really, but he's gotten used to the idea that every landlord is part of some mob. "They should be used to that kind of shit."

Carol kicks open her bedroom door and tosses Clint on the bed. Clint bounces a little on the mattress, and then Carol's on top of him. She strips him out of his jeans, he unclasps her bra, she pulls off his shirt, he unbuttons her skirt, she rolls the condom on, he closes his eyes and savors the moment.

"Yay, teamwork," says Clint, shakily, as Carol sinks down on him. They're both mostly naked, both still wearing socks. Clint doesn't give a shit. The only thing he cares about is his hands on Carol's hips, and Carol moving around and over him, and Carol's smile as she holds up a hand and raises her eyebrows.

"Go for it," says Clint.

Carol slaps him, and Clint jerks up into her, which makes them both moan. So of course Carol does it again.

It really doesn't take very long before they're both screaming. Clint hopes Carol has understanding neighbors. Then Clint decides he doesn't give a shit about Carol's neighbors, he's a supercriminal, this is part of his evil plan. Suck it, Carol's neighbors. Vengeance!

"Fuck," moans Carol. "Did you just say 'vengeance?'"

"Uh," says Clint. "No?" God, he's terrible at keeping his internal monologue strictly internal. Especially with Carol grinning at him, doing that thing with her hips.

"You are so weird," says Carol, and slaps Clint before he can reply. That's cool, because Clint is shit at witty retorts when he's getting sexed up. His face is pleasantly sore, and Carol is holding hard onto his shoulders as she works through an orgasm, and Clint feels like his world is narrowing down to the fine hair on Carol's arms and her melting fauxhawk and the glitter of her teeth as she bares them. He thrusts once, pinned down by Carol, surrounded by Carol, and comes.

"Christ," says Carol, and rolls off of him.

After a second, Clint pulls himself together enough to tie off the condom and toss it into a trash can a good fifty feet away. Best marksman in the world strikes again. Carol has her fingers inside of herself, chasing aftershocks or something. Clint props himself up on his side to watch.

"Okay," says Carol, when she's done. "That was good. Was that good?"

"Yeah." Clint stretches, popping one shoulder. "That was great."

"Okay." Carol looks over at him, and then at the ceiling. There's sweat glistening between her breasts, it's kind of mesmerizing. "Nobody can know about this. Nobody."

"Um," says Clint.

Carol's lips thin and her eyes narrow. "'Um' is not a good response, here."

"Okay." Clint runs a hand through his hair. "How do you feel about 'whoops?'"

"Who did you tell?" God, Carol looks hot when she's annoyed. That's probably a shitty thing to think. Clint can't help it, though—Carol's still flushed from sex, and Clint kind of has a thing for her cold, serious, heroic face—"Clint!" Carol snaps her fingers. "This is important, come on."

"My best friend and my partner." Clint chews on his lip, thinking. "My partner's best friend probably knows too, because he knows everything. I think I mentioned something to my brother when I was drunk last week, but I don't remember that very well. I didn't go into detail. Miss America might know? She's been messaging with the other Hawkeye a lot, and Hawkeyes are pretty bad at keeping secrets."

"Yeah, I noticed." Carol rubs the bridge of her nose. "My whole secret affair plan didn't account for you being a gossipy little shit."

"Sorry," says Clint. "I didn't know it was supposed to be secret?"

"We need a new plan," says Carol. "If we're going to keep fucking—"

"Are we going to keep fucking?" asks Clint. It seems like that's where they're going with this, but he wants to be sure.

"If you want to," says Carol, abruptly uncertain. "I want to. It was pretty hot."

Clint gives her a thumbs-up. "Cool, keep talking."

"Right. Damage control." Carol waves a hand. "The most important thing is to keep this from getting in the way of work. I'll ask Cap or somebody to wrangle you instead of me in the future, okay?"

"Cap as in Captain America?" Clint grins. "He can wrangle me any time."

Carol raises an eyebrow. "You don't want to fuck Captain America."

"Do I have to have this conversation with everyone?" asks Clint. "I'm a red-blooded United States citizen. Of course I want to fuck Captain America. I have done a survey. Everyone wants to fuck Captain America."

"No, seriously," says Carol. "I'm trying to warn you. Cap's a great guy, almost too great. If you asked him to slap you, he'd take you aside and ask why you feel like you deserve to be hurt. Then he'd recommend caring and self-affirming missionary sex."

"I think you'd be surprised." Clint taps the side of his nose. "I bet Cap gives great spankings."

Carol laughs at him, and then stops and frowns.

"What?" asks Clint. "Too far?"

"I like you," says Carol. "You're smart, and funny, and you're actually a pretty good lay."

"Thank you?" Clint waits for the other shoe to drop.

"It's just—" Carol sighs. "This would be so much easier if you would try being a good guy."

"I am a good guy," says Clint. "I'm respectful, I listen to you, and I definitely just apologized for telling my friends about the prison handjob thing."

"No, I mean," Carol shoves him, hard enough that it makes Clint's skin buzz instead of itch, "stop shooting people and stealing shit."

"Yeah, and what would I do instead?" Clint mimes shooting an arrow. "We've talked about transferable skills before."

"I don't know." Carol hesitates, then says, "The Avengers could use a marksman."

Clint raises his eyebrows. "You're trying to seduce me to the side of good."

"I'm not."

"Damn right you're not." Clint pushes himself up until he's sitting on the bed instead of being sprawled on it. "I've seen a lot of movies, and I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be seducing you. To, like, evil."

Carol eyes him. "You're supposed to be evil?"

"Moderately villainous?" suggests Clint. "Morally challenged. Antiheroic!"

"You're definitely not an antihero." Carol smirks. "And if you're going to be a seductive villain, you should wear more leather."

"Uh." Clint's brain stopped working as soon as Carol said 'leather,' because her tongue slid around it in a way that made Clint remember that she's still naked. Clint tries to drag his eyes up from Carol's chest. "What?"

"Fingerless leather gloves," says Carol. "Big leather jacket, with a tank-top underneath that's about two sizes too small. Tight leather pants." She drags a finger down Clint's thigh. Clint isn't really ready to go again, but Jesus.

"Maybe I should look into changing my costume," manages Clint. "Will you bring back the thigh-highs if I do?"

"Get back to me on that when you've tried fighting in heels," says Carol. She's shifting on the bed, spreading her legs, Christ.

"Can I eat you out?" asks Clint. God, he can't control his mouth when he's horny. "I know we're doing the serious talk thing, and that's totally cool, I'm a very serious person, but maybe if we took another sex break—"

"Yeah, serious talk postponed, do it." Carol shoves him down.

No one gets seduced to either side, but they spend a lot of time working on it.

---

Clint: Can u walk Lucky??

Kate: I guess. Why can't you?

Clint: Busy B)

Kate: Wtf

Kate: Is that a euphemism?

Kate: Your dumb sunglasses guy makes it look like a euphemism

Kate: Who are you fucking?

Clint: u have a durty mind

Kate: Whatever. Say hi to Carol for me

Clint: she says hi back

Kate: OMG I WAS JOKING

Chapter Text

Clint is supposed to be stealing this thing called the Serpent Crown for some snake chick (surprise). He and Kate are running point to get the crown, while Bucky and Natasha take care of the guards that are chasing them through the Lemurian temple.

It's actually pretty fun, even if Clint is remembering that running with a bow sucks.

Kate fires a grappling arrow, and they swing over a giant pit of spikes together. The next room is where the crown is kept. The sound of fighting is getting closer as Bucky and Natasha pull in the rear-guard.

"Ready?" asks Clint.

Kate kicks the door to the crown-room down. Or tries to kick it. It's surprisingly sturdy, and Kate grimaces and clutches her foot. Clint just turns the doorknob, because it's unlocked. Kate gives him the finger, and Clint grins.

Carol is in there with a bunch of Avengers, because of course she is.

"Hey, babe," says Clint.

"Don't call me that," says Carol, easily.

Clint already has an arrow nocked, and he keeps it trained on Carol as he looks around. The Serpent Crown is on a podium, guarded by Captain America, Miss America, Echo, Carol, and some new lady with a white costume and excellent dreadlocks. Clint hears a thump and a grunt as Natasha and Bucky hit this side of the spike-pit. The gang's all here.

"You're out-numbered," says Captain America. "Give up now, and it'll be a lot easier."

Bucky snorts. Clint's with him—it's been really hard to take Captain America seriously ever since he imagined his secret spanking fetish.

"This crown could do a lot of damage," says Miss America. "You guys don't know what you're doing."

"Maybe you don't know what you're doing!" snaps Kate. "Did you ever think of that?"

"That isn't really responding to my concerns, princess," says Miss America.

"Your face isn't responding to my concerns!" says Kate.

"Oh my god," says Natasha, and pulls a knife.

"Anything else to say before we get this party started?" asks Clint. Shit, now he'll have that song stuck in his head for the rest of the day.

"Just one thing," says Carol. "Have you met my friend Captain Marvel?"

That's all the warning Clint gets before dreadlock-lady/apparently other Captain Marvel turns into a fucking beam of light and tries to clobber him. And Bucky is going for Carol's throat and Kate is firing and Natasha is doing this really cool spin kick thing at Echo's head, and wow, it's really hard to tell what's going on during a brawl.

Also, that fucking song. Iiii'm coming out, da nah na...

Clint fires an arrow at other Captain Marvel, because that's what he's good at. Other Captain Marvel zips around it, but she doesn't quite make it past the explosion (all of Clint's best arrows explode). The shockwave knocks her solid again, which is pretty cool.

Echo turns up out of nowhere and tries to punch Clint in the face. He turns with the direction of the blow and almost catches her with an elbow. They dance briefly, not quite hitting each other, getting closer and closer to bloody knuckles and broken noses, and then Kate shoots an electric arrow at the back of Echo's neck. Echo drops, twitching. Clint gives Kate a thumbs-up, and then yelps when other Captain Marvel nearly takes his thumb off with some kind of x-ray blast.

Clint's pretty sure that Carol's designated Clint-wrangling to other Captain Marvel. He'd love to know how that conversation went.

Clint fires a normal arrow at the Serpent Crown itself, and knocks it off the podium. Captain America dives for it, Natasha dives after him, and they end up on the floor, tussling over the crown. Bucky is circling with Carol, fists up. Echo is recovering. Kate is, okay, wow, Clint is pretty sure she's kissing Miss America. Way to be inappropriate, Katie-kate.

Clint starts pulling arrows out of his quiver. Other Captain Marvel is—where is other Captain Marvel?

"Miss me?" she says, and shit, okay, right in front of him.

Clint fires all five of his arrows at once (two exploding, two sonic, one boomerang). Other Captain Marvel dodges them and looks proud for five seconds before the boomerang arrow hits her in the side and knocks her into Bucky. They go down in an angry, swearing heap.

"Sorry!" calls Clint and flashes the cheesy 'I love you' sign at Carol, since everyone else is apparently busy.

Carol scrunches her whole face up, and then carefully signs something back. Her form is shit, but 'you suck and I don't know why I like you' is pretty unmistakable. Clint can't help but laugh.

He wonders if Carol had to ask Echo how to sign that, and what Echo thought of it all, and whether she taught Carol anything else. Clint's still chuckling when other Captain Marvel tackles him from behind and lifts him into the air.

Clint twists and tries to punch her in the jaw while she's still solid. Now Carol's busy trying to pull Bucky's arm off. Natasha is kicking Captain America in the face while Echo sneaks up on her from behind. Kate and Miss America have progressed from kissing to something more like, uh, heavy petting. With Kate in a headlock, and a knife at Miss America's throat.

"Why the hell are you laughing?" demands other Captain Marvel.

"I just love my job," says Clint, without a trace of sarcasm.

Other Captain Marvel squawks as something hits her from behind, and she goes sprawling away towards a wall, dropping Clint. When he hits the ground, he pretty much lands on top of the Snake Crown. It makes a very squashed hissing noise.

Truly, Clint is living life to the fullest.

If this were the blockbuster thriller of Bucky or Natasha's life, the ending would have to be full of explosions and black-and-white morality and people dying. If it were the quirky romcom of Kate's life, the ending would be full of makeouts and happy endings (Kate already has the makeout part down). But since it's the indie movie of Clint's life, it's okay if the ending is kind of ambiguous and nobody's learned anything. It's all about the journey, right? The journey, and the overpriced tickets to the film festival.

Clint feels like this metaphor's getting away from him.

"Hey, babe," says Carol, and pulls the Serpent Crown out from under him.

"Hey," says Clint. "I haven't learned anything."

"Go figure." Carol turns the crown over and peers at it. "What's the point of this thing? Who would ever want it on their head?"

"I don't know," says Clint, and then rolls out of the way of Natasha and Captain America, who are still trying to strangle each other. Where's Bucky? Trying to shoot other Captain Marvel, okay. Cool.

"Your Clint-wrangling plan didn't really work," says Clint, and looks up. Carol is lowering the crown on her head, and her eyes are glowing and—"Wow, that is a terrible idea."

"I AM SET'S ACOLYTE," intones Carol.

Everyone in the room groans. Except Kate and Miss America. That's probably moaning, over there.

Clint stands up.

"Be calm, sweetheart." He holds up his hands. "You still in there, Carol?"

"DO NOT CALL ME SWEETHEART," says Carol.

"Cool," says Clint, and lunges for her head.

Yeah, so this is exactly how the movie of Clint's life would end. With Clint trying to pry a goddamn crown of snakes off of his frenemy/booty-caller/definitely-not-girlfriend's head, his closest friends and enemies staring at the spectacle. And Kate and Miss America getting to second base in the background.

"This is so dumb," says Clint.

Carol claps her hands to Clint's ears and tries to fry him with her alien powers. But it doesn't hurt, like she missed him, or hit something else—

"Well, shit." Clint pulls harder and shakes his head. "There go the hearing aids again."

Carol intones something else, but even her shouty possessed voice isn't loud enough for Clint to get the gist.

"Love you too," he says, and pulls the fucking snake hat free.

The snakes try to bite Clint's hand. Carol collapses to the ground. Everyone else in the room is staring at Clint.

"What?" says Clint.

Captain America, on his stomach with one arm pinned between Natasha's thighs, says something. Which obviously Clint can't hear. He glances over at Echo.

She makes the 'I love you' sign and raises her eyebrows. Clint groans.

"Did I say that really loudly?" Clint searches through his belt-pouch with his free hand, because he actually did learn at least one lesson in the last couple months. Always carry a spare set of hearing aids. "I have no sense of volume when my ears are out."

Clint fumbles with the hearing aids, since he's still trying to both hold and not be eaten by the hat-snakes. He looks around the room in the meantime, trying to gauge reactions. Everyone's stopped fighting. Captain America looks disappointed, and Bucky is lying on his back with his hands over his face. Natasha, Echo, and other Captain Marvel all look amused. Clint really hopes they don't bond over this. He doesn't think he could take it if there was a cross-morality 'Seriously, Clint?' alliance.

Kate and Miss America are rapidly shedding body armor. Clint's glad they have their priorities straight.

Clint finally gets his spare hearing aids in and turns them on.

"What the hell did you say that for?" says Carol, at his feet. Clint looks down, and immediately regrets it. Carol's hair is tangled from the crown (hot), her costume is a little torn from the fighting (also hot), and her expression is murderous (still hot, but Clint recognizes that it's probably not a good sign).

"Uh." Clint chews the inside of his cheek. "I was... being sarcastic?"

"Yeah, that's not going to fly." Natasha is smirking. "You sounded way too sincere."

"I'm deadpan," says Clint. "Right? Deadpan. Funny deadpan guy."

Everyone looks skeptical. One of the snakes tries to bite Clint again, so he stuffs them in his quiver, where they can teeth on arrow shafts.

"Captain Marvel," says Captain America, slowly. "Are you involved with, uh. This man?"

"This Hawkeye," says Clint, helpfully.

Captain America nods at him. "Sure. Captain Marvel, are you involved with this Hawkeye?"

Carol shoves herself up into a sitting position and rubs her face with both hands. "I plead the fifth."

Captain America frowns.

"We're definitely not involved," says Clint. "Haha. I can't believe you'd think that. A superhero like her, with a guy like me? Ha. No way. Nope. I'm much too threatened by strong, intelligent women to even be a little attracted to Carol."

"Carol?" Captain America's frown gets deeper.

It takes Clint a few seconds to realize his mistake. Then he actually does laugh. "Okay, that one is totally innocent. You remember when that AIM building caught on fire, way back when? Carol carried me out of the building, because she's nice like that and also she'd broken my leg, but I said I needed to know her name before she did any damsel rescuing, and—"

"Clint," says Carol. "You're not helping."

"Also," Clint belatedly remembers the simpler explanation. "She's got a public identity. I know how to use google."

Carol stands up. Captain America tries to stand up too, then realizes he can't because Natasha still has his arm pinned. He and Natasha have some kind of complicated silent conversation involving raised eyebrows and minute hand gestures, and finally Natasha shrugs and releases him. Captain America stands up.

"I'm involved with Clint," says Carol. "Sort of. It's not very serious."

"Aw," says Clint, feeling foolishly disappointed.

Carol rolls her eyes at him. "Clint," she whispers. "We've been out together once, and you have another partner. Nobody's picking out rings yet."

"We've been out at least three times," whispers Clint. "Gyros, prison sex, farmer's market."

"Gyros and prison sex don't count," whispers Carol. "Those weren't dates. Dates don't involve law enforcement."

"You haven't been on the right kind of dates," whispers Clint. "Also, what do you think about amethysts in the engagement ring?"

"Hey," says Bucky. His hands are still over his face. "I don't want ruin anybody's fun, but at least three people in this room have enhanced super-hearing. Just a friendly reminder."

Clint winces, and the color drains from Carol's face.

"Prison sex?" asks Captain America, accusingly. Clint's pretty sure that exact phrase is on Carol's list of 'things I never want to hear Captain America say accusingly at me.'

To her credit, Carol's reaction is to draw herself up to her full height and glare at Cap. "I'm not comfortable with you inquiring into my sex life."

"I wasn't—" begins Captain America, but Carol runs right over him.

"I'm not compromised," says Carol. "I can do my job."

"I didn't mean to imply—" tries Captain America.

"And if we're going to have a discussion about appropriate 'workplace' relationships," says Carol, "are we really going to start with me and Clint?"

Everyone glances at Kate and Miss America, necking on the dirty floor of an ancient serpentine temple. Everyone except Echo, who's having trouble following the conversation since Captain America has his back turned toward her. Clint signs a quick summary, and then points. Echo looks over her shoulder at Kate and Miss America, and makes a startled noise.

Kate isn't put off by the attention at all, but Miss America slowly seems to realize that something's going on. She peels herself away from Kate and growls "What?"

"America's young," says Captain America, doubtfully. "She's still making mistakes and learning from them."

"What?" says Miss America again, sounding offended.

"Am I the mistake in this context?" asks Kate. "I think I'm okay with that. It's kind of hot to have Captain America's disapproval."

"But, Carol." Captain America turns back to look at her and Clint. "You should really know better."

"I should know better?" Carol fumes. "Really? Let's have a show of hands. Who here has never been attracted to someone on the other side? I mean never. Not even a little."

Clint is still translating for Echo, and when he's done with Carol's question, Echo just shakes her head, smiling wryly. Her hand doesn't go up.

It's like that all the way around the room. Natasha keeps both her hands down, and Kate and Miss America obviously aren't going to claim lack of attraction. The other Captain Marvel half-raises her hand, lowers it again, and looks thoughtful. Finally, she asks "What about anti-heroes?"

"Use your own judgment," says Carol.

Other Captain Marvel makes a face and keeps her hands at her sides. "I guess Aaron was pretty villain-y, at times. Most of the time. There were some rare exceptions."

Captain America hasn't raised his hand either, and he's gradually turning bright red. At least, the bits of his face that Clint can see under his mask (mostly chin) are turning red. He's carefully not looking at Bucky. Bucky, who's taking his hands away from his face and not raising them either.

"Christ," says Bucky. "Seriously, Steve?"

"I knew it!" says Clint. "Everyone wants to— mmf!"

Carol keeps her hand firmly over Clint's mouth. Clint licks her palm, and she glares, but doesn't let go.

Captain America clears his throat. "Carol," he says. "It's true that we all experience attraction to, uh, unsuitable people. But—"

Clint can recognize this as the beginning of a long argument about what is and is not appropriate between heroes and villains. If he was a good fuckbuddy, he would stand here and support Carol, even though she doesn't need him to defend her. Yeah. A good guy would be strong and silent rock for Carol to lean on.

But Clint's a bad guy, and, come on, he's got a job to do.

He raises his eyebrows at Natasha, who gives him a fraction of a nod. She gets up, quietly, and nudges Bucky with one foot. Clint slowly starts to peel Carol's hand away from his face.

She doesn't really notice. The argument with Captain America is getting pretty heated.

"I'm just saying," says Captain America. "Where would we be today if Eisenhower had decided to canoodle with Hitler?"

"Are you serious right now?" demands Carol. "Are you really comparing some petty criminal with a bow to Hitler?"

Captain America has the grace to look embarrassed, but he doesn't give up. "The basic principle is the same."

"Hey," says other Captain Marvel. "I hate to interrupt, but I'm pretty sure the bad guys are trying to escape."

If Clint was an amateur, he would freeze right now. But he's an experienced professional, so he breaks into a run instead.

Clint grabs Kate by the back of her costume, pulling her up and out from under America as he skids out the door. Natasha and Bucky bring up the rear, both firing their guns wildly to discourage pursuit.

Pursuit is not very discouraged. Clint tries to run faster.

"Call me!" Kate screams to Miss America. There are kiss-prints on Kate's nose, her cheeks, even her left eyebrow. Miss America gives her a double-thumbs up.

Maybe Clint has the genre of his weird movie metaphor wrong. Maybe this is a heist film. It kind of feels like a heist film. Does the leading guy get the girl(s) (and occasional boy) in heist films? Clint's only seen The Italian Job, and he doesn't want to fall off a cliff.

Clint almost falls into the spike pit because he wasn't paying attention. Kate hauls him back from the edge.

"Grappling arrow," gasps Clint.

"No time," says Bucky, and that's all the warning Clint gets before Bucky picks him up and tosses him across the gap. Clint manages to roll to his feet and start running again almost immediately. He hears a shriek as Bucky does the same thing to Kate and then the light thumps as Natasha and Bucky jump over.

Clint glances over his shoulder. Carol and other Captain Marvel are flying the rest of their superhero team over the spike pit, because flying sucks.

Carol catches him looking, grins at him. "I'm taking you down, Barton!"

"Gotta catch me first!" yells Clint, and he can hear Natasha snort, and Kate giggle. He imagines Bucky rolling his eyes.

Clint puts his head down and runs, even though it's awkward with a bow in one hand and a quiver full of snakes that hiss louder whenever he jostles them. When he starts to flag, Kate catches his hand and pulls him on. Bucky and Natasha keep firing at the capes behind them, and when Bucky's gun clicks on empty, he throws it at Captain America's head.

"мудак," says Natasha, fondly. "Throwing away your guns."

"I think I knocked off one of his stupid head-wings," says Bucky.

Clint puts one foot in front of the other, breathing in gasps as they get closer to escape. He can't keep the smile off his face.

It's true, you know? What Clint said to Captain Marvel. Forget the injuries, the legal issues, the awkward conversations with Captain America. Put all of that to one side and remember the good times. The revealing costumes, the sex, seeing Bullseye get beat up. Absolutely great times, in fact. Just thinking about that stuff leads to one simple, inevitable conclusion:

Clint really does love this fucking job.

Oh, yeah, and Carol. Even though she's currently trying to zap Clint's head before he can make it to the exit. Carol's cool too.

"Is it hard to giggle and run?" asks Kate. "Weirdo."

"You've got lipstick all over your face," mumbles Clint. "America needs to work on her aim." Okay, he is a little out of breath. Just a little.

Bucky and Natasha make identical exasperated noises as they shove Clint and Kate into the fresh air. Clint's quiver hisses again, and then there's a weird floomping noise, like the snakes gnawed open a netting arrow. There's more hissing now, much more annoyed hissing, but it's pretty muffled. So, net positive (haha).

They keep running, the four of them, with Carol and the Avengers at their heels and a get-away Land Rover with a bazooka just a few yards in front. They keep running, and don't look back.

Okay, small lie, Clint totally does look back. But only to wink at Carol, see her wink back, and watch Captain America's face go absolutely appalled.