The checkout girl stared at him.
"You can take more than the one bag," she said, "we don't charge for them."
"I like it in one bag. I didn't get that much."
"Your honey's not gonna' be happy you get home with the orange juice crushing the bread. Won't matter you got the groceries in the first place."
"There's no 'honey,' and, well, it's just misshapen bread. I've made my peace with the situation."
"Whatever. Twenty-two fifty."
Tim paid and picked up the bag.
"See? One's just fine."
She rolled her eyes and gave him his change.
Rachel, buttering a bagel by the coffee machine that morning, had asked why he didn't just drive up early on Friday, clearly ignoring the fact that the whole point of a long weekend is not getting up early and driving. Or putting on pants.
And besides, he knew if he didn't get well out of the radius from which he could reasonably be called back for an emergency, it'd be five or six drinks in three hours of weekend and then Raylan on the phone apologizing, saying Get sober. Bring bullets.
"Art and Raylan don't know about your secret country house?"
"Country house - everything outside Lexington's country. And no one knows about it. I mean, you do, but I expect I'll live to regret that."
By the time he parked in front of the house, it was nearly eleven, and he was exhausted.
He stopped short just inside the front door and sighed, locking it behind him. He set the groceries and beer down, dropped his duffel bag, and pulled his weapon.
"Attention ... whoever. I am a deputy U.S. Marshal, and this is my house." He stepped forward, glancing around. "I have had a long day, and I in no way feel like calling out the local law to explain why there's a dipshit bleeding out in my kitchen. If you'd be so kind as to show yourself, I can skip the shooting you part, and escort you out."
He took another silent step forward.
"All right - count of three, that sound good? One-"
Something creaked, just overhead. He leaned way back and aimed up: a pair of legs wrapped around a ceiling beam, a forearm, and the tip of an arrow, matte black and nearly invisible in the low light.
"Hey, honey. I was wondering when you'd get home."
Tim racked his focus from the arrowhead to the face behind it: upside down, a bit flushed, and smirking annoyingly.
"What if I'd shot you, Clint?"
"No way you'd shoot me."
"I'm pretty tired, so-"
"You got a guy hanging off of your ceiling aiming an arrow at you. I don't care if you're sleepwalking, I'm pretty sure you figured it was me. You'd never shoot first. And even if you'd tried, I'm aiming at your gun."
"Awful big gamble, since I'm aiming at your face."
Clint re-sheathed the arrow and crossed his arms around his bow. Tim lowered his gun.
"You want to come on down?"
Clint swung up and slapped the beam between his palms, unhooking his legs and dropping down into a crouch on the floor. He stood and collapsed his bow, hooked it to the quiver and tossed the whole thing onto an armchair.
Tim held out his hand and Clint took it, pulling him into a hug.
Clint squeezed the back of Tim's neck as he let go.
"Hi. Everything ok?" Tim furrowed his brow.
"Just glad to see you."
Tim retrieved the groceries and the beer, and moved towards the kitchen.
"So you're tired?" Clint called out.
"Not that tired. Did you eat?"
"You want a beer?"
Tim opened one for himself and leaned in the doorway.
"You wanna' watch some TV?"
"Not really, no."
"You want to fuck?"
"Unless you're tired."
"I'm not that tired."
Clint always leapt up to get dressed about a minute and a half after they finished. It never bothered Tim. He understood not wanting to get caught out, wanting to - literally - minimize exposure. Besides, Clint always came back to bed, and was amenable to his clothes coming off again.
"So, before I shifted on the beam to get your attention-" Clint emerged from the bathroom, buttoning his jeans.
"Oh I see, it was a tactical shift on the beam."
"Hey, I had to get you to look up - had to have the standoff. I know what gets you going."
"Unfairly, at this point."
"Please, like you're any better. You know all my things."
"You don't have ‘things.'
"I got plenty of things."
"From what I can tell, what turns you on is sex being imminent."
"Hey. I take great pride in the efficiency of my libido, but you make me sound like some kinda' sex robot." Clint picked two shirts off the floor, squinting in the darkened room to figure out which was his. "So before my tactical squeak - how'd you know someone was in the house?"
"I only get up here four, five times a year, but - it's my house, I know it pretty well, and it doesn't usually smell like cologne."
"So you thought a particularly fragrant meth-head was ransacking the joint?"
"Is that any less likely than your stealthy ass forgetting he shouldn't wear cologne?"
Clint tried to purse his lips out of a smile.
"Ok, well, it's not like that'd happen in the field."
"So: you're sayin' the ninja prom date move isn't S.H.I.E.L.D.-approved?"
"Nah, that's all me."
"How long were you waiting?"
"About six hours."
"Not ... hanging - " Tim gestured upwards.
"No, hell no; I got into position when I heard your truck."
"I was going to say - no one's thighs are that strong."
"My thighs are plenty strong." He hopped back onto the bed, jostling Tim on impact.
"That is a fact," Tim mumbled into his pillow, "a very true fact."
Clint, on his back, crossed his arms and sighed.
"You doing ok over there?" Tim raised an eyebrow at him.
"It's been a while, seeing you."
"Did you miss me, Agent Barton?"
"Fuck you, Deputy Gutterson."
"Maybe in the morning." Tim pulled the sheets up around his shoulders. "How long can you stay?"
"As long as I want. As long as you can put up with me."
"So just tomorrow?"
"One, look at the clock, it's 'tomorrow' right now, and two, I shoulda' shot you when I had the chance."
"Since when do you get open-ended leave? What happened?
"Oh, we never ... don't do the 'catching up' thing."
"Well, then you are not gonna' like all the other questions I have about you saving the world, one New York city block at a time."
"You saw that, huh?"
"We have TV down here in Kentucky, you know. Fella' at work's even got one of them phones has the internet in it."
"Don't do the yokel voice, it's terrifying. And there was just more footage of that on the news than most of us were ok with."
"‘Most' meaning ... everyone but Stark?"
"Stark loved it. What were your other questions?"
"Nah, I won't press you. It's a relief to me-" Tim pulled an arm out from beneath the sheets and rested the back of his hand on Clint's arm "-not catching up with you. Does me a world of good."
"I guess our ‘how was work today?' is bloodier than most."
Clint traced the outline of the tattoo on Tim's wrist with his thumb.
"Especially when it's ‘how was work this year?'"
"Has it been a year?"
"Almost two." Tim took Clint's hand. "Look, I know as a rule, we don't say this, but if there's something you want to talk-"
"Almost two years holds a lot of blood."
"I'll let you know." Clint closed his eyes and exhaled hard through his nose. "I will."
"You sleeping in jeans or just waiting until I drift off to escape?"
"I'm not going anywhere. I do think I'll stay up a while longer, though."
"Mkay," Tim said, "if you wanna' watch the magic picture box, the remote's on the mantle."
"Seriously, don't do the yokel voice." Clint leaned over and threaded his fingers through Tim's hair. "I got just room enough for more blood on my hands."
"That's what washing ‘em's for," Tim said, yawning. "There's always more room."
Clint sat up straight on Tim's very comfortable couch. He assessed each channel available on Tim's cable package before settling on the monotonous drone of the overnight weather report. He slouched, leaning against the arm of the couch, and wondered if a forecast for storms expected in twelve hours in a city an hour from there was actually useful information at all. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, leaned his head on his hand and looked over at the armchair where he'd thrown his gear before. It looked much less comfortable.
He slept deeply and well, sitting in the chair with his arrows tucked behind one shoulder and his bow on his lap.
Two and a half hours later, the sun rose and Clint woke, blinking around for the half-second it took to remember. Middle of Nowhere, KY. Tim. Everything's fine.
He got up and changed, grabbed an apple from Tim's refrigerator and stuck it in his jacket pocket to take the chill off. Tim was still asleep, unmoved from when Clint left the room in the middle of the night.
It was a cool morning, humid with a smell on the wind that suggested those storms would be heading their way after all. Clint stretched out, taking the roll call of his body's familiar protestations: the click of his ankles and knees, the deep hollow pop of his hip at the end of a lunge, that ever present bag-of-glass grind up and down the length of his spine. The new hurts were smaller, a bruise on his bicep from where Tim had dug his fingertips in too hard, a mottled red hickey in a frame of teeth-marks on his thigh. He took a bite of apple, jumped in place a few times on the porch and then leapt down the steps, sprinting up the dirt path that snaked a mile through overhanging woods, connecting Tim's house to the road.
On his second lap, a black car slowed at the juncture of the dirt path and the road just as Clint approached it. He slowed down to a jog long enough to make the vehicle and driver, before turning back towards the house. He chucked the apple core deep into the thick of the trees and picked up his pace.
His weapon on the armchair. At least one gun in the bedroom. The bathroom light was on, so Tim had finally woken up. Clint had his hand on the doorknob when he heard the car pull up next to Tim's truck.
"Hey - good morning - I'm sorry to bother you-"
Clint took a breath and turned with a smile to the driver, who'd opened his door and was standing behind it, right hand in the shadow of the vehicle. Some kind of lawman.
"I'm looking for Tim Gutterson's place - I thought this was it, but I can't help noticing you're not him."
"Well, you're right on both counts - this is it, and I'm not him." Clint strode over, "He's just inside. Clint Barton, freeloading friend."
He held out his hand without breaking eye contact. The man pulled his right hand out from inside the car and used it to set a tall tan hat on his head before shaking Clint's hand.
"Aaand you're Raylan Givens. Your reputation precedes you."
"That's rarely good." Raylan scrunched up his nose.
"I say ‘reputation,' I mainly mean the hat."
"That I can live with." Raylan took a step towards the house and picked up a baseball that was lying in the shadow of the porch. "You look very familiar. You're not with the Marshals-"
"Just a friend of Tim's."
"Right, like you said."
"I'm pretty sure he just got up - he'll probably be out in a minute." Clint gestured over his shoulder. "I can get him-"
"No rush." Raylan tossed the baseball from hand to hand. "He won't like what I'm here for; may as well let him have some peace before I ruin his day."
Clint leaned on the end of the railing at the foot of the steps.
"You ever play baseball, Clint?"
"I've watched some. Never really my sport."
Raylan grinned, taking a few steps back. He held up the ball and flexed his wrist forward a few times.
"Are we ... going to play catch now?" Clint took a few steps back, too.
"I played ball in high school. It was my life in high school. Which was dumb, I know." He threw the ball, wobbly and off to Clint's right. Clint leaned over and snatched it out of the air. "I don't get to throw the ball around any more ... ever."
"Mr. Givens, I think that's one reason people have kids."
"I suppose." Raylan sighed and held up his hand.
Clint sent a fastball dinging dead center into his palm. Raylan recoiled and cradled his hand.
"Jesus, Barton, what was your sport?"
"Archery, I guess."
"You don't say." He wound up and threw again, closer to target. "Archery."
They pitched back and forth, in silence save the steady thok. thok. thok. of the ball.
"Clint, please tell me you're not shootin' up my trees-" Tim stepped out onto the porch, his boots unlaced, a mug of coffee in his hand.
"Tim, you got a guest."
"Son of a bitch." Raylan pushed his hat back further on his head. "That's why you look familiar."
Tim furrowed his brow at Clint, who just barely shook his head in return.
"It's ok." Clint smiled. "You help fend off one tiny alien menace, everyone knows your face."
Raylan tossed the baseball onto the porch and re-shook Clint's hand.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know Tim had -- superhero friends."
"Remain calm, Raylan." Tim sat heavily on the top step, drawing his flannel shirt closer around his chest.
"Oh, no, I am ... in no way a superhero." Clint held up his hands. "Some of the others have some powers, I'm ... useful. I do a thing, I just - do it better than anyone else."
"Yeah, I got a guy like that," Raylan said, looking at Tim out of the corner of his eye. "They never said your name - do you have a - like a -"
"Hawkeye." Tim volunteered.
"Shit. That is cool."
"Thanks, Tim." Clint made his way up the front steps. "I'm going to head inside ... let you two talk. Pleasure to meet you, Raylan."
"You, too. Really."
Clint nudged Tim in the back with his knee and went into the house.
"And what can I do for you, Raylan?" Tim squinted up at him.
"Don't you want to know how I found you?"
"No, I know exactly how you found me, and she's gonna' owe me coffee from the fancy place for like a week. So: what can I do for you, Raylan?"
"You remember the Wheeler twins?"
"Dumbass kids robbed that pharmacy and then went back in an hour later tryin' to buy stuff to make meth?"
"Forgot to take their masks all the way off, just pushed ‘em up on their foreheads, yeah, that's them. They've got an ugly little operation set up in Lawrenceburg these days, and it looks like one of them's taken to killing folks. We're going to go in and bust it up tonight - I'd appreciate having you there."
"Yeah, it's abou-"
"It's halfway between Lexington and right the hell here, Raylan."
"Oh, is it? Funny how that works out."
Tim swore into his coffee.
"I'll get you right back here tonight. I'm just borrowing you on account of we need you. You're our guy does a thing better than anyone else."
"You know, Raylan, I always end up doing what you ask. Always. I certainly don't need to be pandered to."
Tim stood and dumped the remainder of his coffee over the side of the stairs.
"I really am sorry to dent your weekend. Rachel's bringing your tac bag in the van. Take your time getting ready; I'll wait." Raylan kicked some dirt over the rivulets of coffee pooling near his boot. "I'll keep an eye out in case Superman shows up."
"Superman ain't real, Raylan."
The screen door slammed shut behind Tim.
They stopped for coffee outside Lawrenceburg.
"Art said they're twenty minutes out," Tim said, leaning back on the trunk.
"That all he said?"
"He also said if later I accidentally shot you in a way that proved non-lethal, he wouldn't make a fuss."
"Everyone go on ahead and bond over maybe putting some extra holes in me."
Raylan drank his coffee and flipped through a file folder. Tim ate a packet of crackers with cheese, and an apple, and a bag of cashews.
"Clint going to be bored?" Raylan didn't look up from the fifth page of Archie Wheeler's rap sheet.
"There's TV, there's books, and he's a grown man, so - I suspect he'll be all right."
"Came with the house."
"So, you know Clint from ... the war?"
"It is strange. As soon as I realized who he was ... I remembered that day in the office. When New York was on the TV."
Tim cracked open a can of Coke. Raylan continued.
"Mostly, though, I remember you on that day. Everyone else jockeying for a good position around you in front of the screen because you just would not move for anything..."
"You'll have to retroactively forgive me for being a bit engaged in the whole thing where there were all of a sudden aliens."
"Art asked you to shove over and you very nearly punched him."
"Look, I don't know what he is to you, or what he means to you, and it's none of my business anyhow. But it is very clear to me he means something, and I'm sorry I took you away from that. If I'd known you had a guest-"
"It's not like I was expecting him."
"Oh. Well ... still. It's good to know you have folks in your life you like."
"There are lots of people I like, Raylan. Even you and I have had mirthful times."
"Never once have you been in a state of mirth in my presence. You look like you hate me, most of the time, and the rest of the time you look like you're actively plotting my demise."
"I'm usually enjoying that, though. That second one."
In the time it took Tim and three guys from the local PD to secure the YMCA a few buildings up from the warehouse, and for Tim to get up on the roof in position, the rain had begun to fall.
He turned his hat back around the right way to keep the rain out of his eyes. The storm was coming in from the west, fast. The rain wasn't a problem, but the lightning wasn't going to do anyone any favors, least of all the guy on the roof with the rifle.
"Hey, Tim," Art said, from the comfort of the van, "Raylan's heading in now. We have men on the ground around the warehouse, but you're our eyes."
"Give me a couple of minutes to draw one or both of ‘em out to the street - if it's just one, keep an eye out for the other." Raylan pushed away the jacket Rachel held out to him. "That is a poncho, Rachel, and I am not wearing it. Any rate, Tim, you see a weapon in anyone's hand ain't also wearing a badge, you take your shot."
"Can you tell the difference between Archie Wheeler and Bill Wheeler?"
Art raised his eyebrows at Raylan. Rachel stifled a laugh.
"Ideally we bring them both in, Tim. Now, are you ready?"
"Waitin' on you."
Tim watched through his scope as Raylan exited the van and walked towards the warehouse. Raylan used his middle finger to push up the back of his hat.
"You too, buddy." Tim grinned.
Raylan disappeared into the warehouse.
"Well, while we've got a minute, Tim, how's your weekend going?"
"Trying to focus up here, Art."
"Sorry I gave up your location," Rachel said over Art's shoulder.
"Art, tell her I'm not talking to her."
"Hold up, boss, it doesn't look like things have quite gone Raylan's way. Shockingly."
Raylan, as if being rewound, walked backwards out of the warehouse, with about two feet between him and the end of a Wheeler twin's sawed-off. Archie Wheeler's sawed-off, in fact. Tim could tell, mainly, by the giant "A" tattooed on the side of his neck. Bill, he'd noticed in the mugshots, had a "B."
"Yeah, I got him."
Bill Wheeler followed with a shotgun of his own. The rain was picking up.
Bill was right up behind Archie, shouting at Raylan, who - it was evident even through a scope - was losing his patience. Tim took a deep breath and shifted. Two quick shots. Archie, who hadn't taken his eyes or gun off Raylan once, first, and then Bill, who was acting high as hell and wouldn't even notice he was shot ‘til he hit concrete.
Before he could pull the trigger, Bill lurched forward onto Archie's back, and a red stain blossomed on the front of Archie's undershirt. Raylan drew, the men on the ground advanced to clear the Wheelers' weapons, and Art and Rachel came pouring out onto the street. Tim scanned the area through his scope, but couldn't make the shooter.
Raylan turned towards the YMCA and angrily made a "come here" gesture with his fingers in the general direction of the roof.
"Shit." Tim gathered his bag and shouldered his rifle, and ran down to the street.
Rachel and Art were staring down at the Wheelers, moaning in a pile on the street. Raylan was facing Tim, nostrils flaring, as he ran up.
"Tim, your gun still shoot bullets?" Art waved the ambulance over.
"Far as I know-" Tim looked down and saw the arrow pinning the twins together by the shoulders.
"Someone collated our perps." Rachel crouched next to them. "And I do think it's the strangest thing I have ever seen."
"Really? You got ‘Huh' here?" Raylan hissed at him. Tim shrugged.
"You know, I think there's a Boy Scout camp just over the ridge," Rachel said.
Raylan turned his wild eyes towards her. "So, some Webelos thought they'd help the US Marshals Service out? In the rain, from afar, with no sight line?"
"You got a better idea?" Tim stared at him coolly.
"If there's someone running around shooting people with arrows, we should be a bit more concerned than I feel deciding it's the work of some eleven-year olds earning their Vigilante Justice badges suggests we are."
"Honestly, I could be a lot more concerned - this shooter made our lives much easier, in a way far less bloody than it could have been. But hey - we've got teams canvassing." Art put a hand on Raylan's elbow. "If they turn up anything in the way of a rogue marksman, I promise to be very stern with him. Or her."
"Hey, boss," Tim said, "you need me?"
"Raylan, get him home, if you would."
Raylan stalked off towards the car.
"Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Tim." Rachel smiled.
"Large coffee, black, from Salo's. And a bearclaw. For a week."
"If I do that, do I get to hear about your friend?"
Raylan seethed silently the whole ride back. Tim sat smirking out the window, the cat who ate the canary. Or the cat whose buddy showed up to snipe the hell out of the canary, sparing him the extensive paperwork that inevitably follows canary-murder.
The storm stuck with them for the length of the drive. The car rolled slowly down the road, turned to mud, up to Tim's place.
Raylan threw the car into park and glared straight ahead.
"You cranky because your hat got all rained on?" Tim asked.
"I don't like people going around shooting folks."
"I feel all right thinking that sounds somewhat insincere ... coming from you."
"And I don't like that you're fine with it."
"I shoot people, Raylan. It's kind of my whole thing. Art wasn't wrong - whatever happened out there-"
"‘Whatever happened-' bullshit, Tim-"
"Whatever happened, that one shot did what my two were going to, but faster, and cleaner, and better. Those shotguns were aimed at you, so..."
"You're right. I should be grateful your friend got bored, bypassed our protocol, and shot some guys under orders from no one. If only he hadn't disappeared into the night, I'd have gotten his autograph!"
"It is infuriating to you that someone else got to buck the rules and be the hero."
"We didn't need his help."
"Yeah, but: it was pretty cool."
"Get out of my car."
Tim pulled off his muddy boots on the porch and went inside.
Clint looked up from the book in his hands.
"Agent. What're you up to?"
"Pretending to read this book. How was your sting operation?"
"Interesting. Get off my couch." Tim fought his smile. "You're soaking wet."
Clint got up and walked around to where Tim stood.
"You're not mad."
"Naw." Tim peeled off his jacket and threw it towards the front door. "That's the closest we'll ever get to working together. Take off your clothes."
"Ohhh, you don't want to work with me." Clint rubbed a hand through his wet hair."Was Raylan mad?"
"Always. He'll get over it." He started unbuttoning his shirt. "Just ... please tell me you didn't get teleported or hover-carrier-ed over to Lawrenceburg and back?"
"You left your car keys behind."
"Huh. I guess I did. Take your clothes off."
"Mr. Gutterson, I feel like you're trying to get me naked."
"Like a hawk, this one." Tim shrugged his shirt off and threw it on the heap. He crossed his arms over his damp undershirt. "You're wet. Take off your clothes."
Clint pulled off his jacket and t- shirt, and added them to the pile.
"You remember San Antonio?" Tim leaned in and kissed him.
Clint brought both hands up to Tim's neck, his thumbs set in the notches behind his jaw.
"Fondly. We went to that Spurs game."
"We did. I was coming off that stakeout, you were just back from India." Tim rested his fingertips on Clint's belt buckle. "I liked San Antonio."
"You saying you want to put some basketball on the TV, make out for two hours, and then fall asleep?"
"Maybe just the middle part."
"You want to start there?"
"Why don't we start there."
"Chicago." Tim looked up.
Clint, pulling on a sweatshirt borrowed from Tim's bag, stopped with the shirt halfway up his arms, and bent at the waist with laughter.
"I bet we are still very much banned from that museum."
"That poor woman." Clint pushed the hood back off his head. "She had no idea..."
"We had no idea!"
"We had some idea."
"So banned." Tim covered his face.
"Atlanta." Clint sat facing Tim on the bed. "The flight from Atlanta to D.C."
"Hmm." Clint smiled. He moved closer to Tim and took his hand. "Hey, you remember Boston?"
"I called and said I was there - you said you could be there in an hour."
"You remember what happened in the morning?"
"The guy in the suit - the very apologetic guy in a suit who came to pick you up-"
"Yeah, that. That was Agent Coulson."
A silence fell, in which Clint clenched his jaw and fought to keep his eyes focused on Tim.
"Before. Leading up to."
"He was nice." Tim squeezed his hand. "I was half-asleep and a little confused about there being another guy in the room, but - he seemed real nice."
"He was." Clint said with a fleeting smile. "We were friends. And it was kind of my fault."
"It goes that way, sometimes."
The rain had gone. They sat in the dark, and the only sound was the wind shaking the water from the trees. Then Clint's voice again, just above a whisper:
"I don't know what to do about it."
"Yeah. That's all right, too."
"Anyway, that's me washing my hands." Clint shrugged. "Making more room."
"You going to be all right?"
Clint closed his eyes.
"You'll be all right."
"I always am."
Tim covered their hands with his other hand.
"You look tired."
"I'm not that tired." Clint winked at him.
"Stay the rest of the weekend."
"You hungry? I'm starving."
"You are never not starving."
Tim swung his legs over the side of the bed and grabbed the pants he'd slept in the night before.
"I'm going to go stare at the inside of the fridge --" He clapped his hands together "-- and then make a bunch of eggs and toast, because that's really all I know how to make."
"Almost two years was too long." Clint stood. "I don't want to do that again."
"Ok. We won't." Tim punched him on the shoulder. "Come on. Come make fun of my cooking."