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A Trickster's Guide To Wooing A Hawk

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A Trickster’s Guide To Wooing A Hawk
By: stop-the-fading

BLAME CHESH

Day One: Fatal Attraction II: Electric Boogaloo

’ - you’re not hopeless or helpless/ and I hate to sound cold/ but you don’t know what love is/ you just do as you’re told/ I can see-‘

Clint groaned, slapping at the clock radio until The White Stripes went away. In the muddled haze between sleep and waking, where the concept of linear time was somewhat askew and you could almost comprehend the time-space continuum as seen by Time Lords (which was very unfair, as it coincided with a marked inability to write down your perceptions intelligibly), he tried to work out why he’d set his alarm at all. He always got up at six so he could get to the training rooms before Steve or Thor, since their sparring bouts were usually noisy and tended to leave gaping holes in things, and he preferred the echoing silence of an empty arena to wake up in.

He didn’t need his alarm for that, though, since his internal clock tended to wake him up just minutes before six, whether he liked it or not. The only times he ever needed his alarm were-

Nausea rolled through him as he moved to sit up, followed by blinding pain behind his eyes and a suspicious ache between his shoulder blades that he imagined was radiating from the perfect imprint of Black Widow’s boot.

Right. Drunken party the night before. Hence the alarm. Clint wasn’t exactly ancient, but neither was he young enough to hop out of bed after a night of inebriated brawling with gods, heroes, and Natasha as though nothing had happened.

Hunching over, Clint breathed through his nose, trying to swallow against the bile that rose in his throat and grimacing at the sticky, wooly feel of his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Through the pounding heat of his migraine, he marveled that he’d been able to set his alarm at all - he hadn’t woken up this bad off since he was a lightweight kid.

”I set it for you,” a soft voice murmured from the corner.

”Urghlmphhhrm,” he mumbled, not even phased by the shady outline of Natasha perched on the corner of his desk, flipping through a five-year-old Newsweek idly. It wasn’t the first time she’d slipped into his room to make him suffer for drunken antics the night before, and it wouldn’t be the last.

He wished she’d at least wait until he’d put on pants, though.

”Don’t you ‘urglumphhrm’ me, Clint Barton,” she retorted, tossing the magazine aside. It hit the desktop with a slap that resounded agonizingly in the archer’s tormented skull. “I told you the jaegerbombs were a bad idea, but no, you just couldn’t resist trying to keep up with Stark. He’s a professional partier, Clint, what the hell were you thinking going up against him?”

Groaning manfully, Clint fumbled at his bedside drawer and managed to scoop out the bottle of aspirin. “He dared me,” he rasped, dry-swallowing two and trying not to blow chunks at the same time.

He could feel his best friend rolling her eyes from across the room. “I swear to God, Clint, sometimes I think you’re all sixteen.”

”I’m not the one who kicked a drunk man in the back, ‘Tasha,” he replied sullenly, sliding off the bed to sit on the floor. Leaning sideways against the bedside table, he ignored the feeling of the drawer knob pressing into his temple and groped behind himself blindly until his fingers closed around a rumpled pair of jeans under the bed. Tugging them on laboriously, he swore as his stomach roiled violently and he lost his balance, nearly faceplanting on the floor as he tried to pull the pants up over his ass without moving anything but his arms.

”You were trying to taser people while hanging upside-down from a ceiling fan, Clint. If I hadn’t taken you down, you would have fallen on your own and taken the fan with you.

That, and Bruce really wasn’t appreciating you trying to electrocute his balls.”

”Oh, God,” Clint whimpered, his migraine doubling. “Remind me again why we were drinking?”

”Forgotten what day it is already,” she snorted, throwing a mostly-clean shirt she’d found hanging on his desk lamp in his face.

Realization dawned, and Clint whimpered again. “Fucking Valentine’s Day.”

”Your favorite day of all,” she remarked snidely, hopping to her feet and brushing her hands together as though she’d just completed a dirty task. “You really don’t like conversation hearts, do you?”

”Chalk shit,” he griped. “They always give me fucking conversation hearts.”

They made their way down the stairs to the kitchen, squabbling along the way. “Well, there was the rookie two years ago, the one who gave you homemade chocolates. She was nice.”

“They were laced with booze.”

“They were supposed to be, they were chocolate liquors.”

”I still say she was trying to seduce me.”

Snorting, the lady assassin tossed her flame-colored curls and rolled her eyes again. “Right, because every woman wants in your grungy jeans.”

”The ones that give me spiked candy almost certainly do, ‘Tash.”

”Who’s spiking who’s candy,” a curious voice piped up behind them.

Clint pouted (in a masculine manner) at Tony, who was leaning against the kitchen doorway, looking clean and immaculate and not at all hungover, the bastard. In return, Tony toasted him with his cup of heavenly-scented coffee. Shoving past the billionaire none-too-gently, Clint grabbed his own mug from the shelf and poured a small mound of sugar into it before adding his coffee.

Natasha gagged. “Want to try some coffee with your sugar, Hawk?”

”Not really, thanks.”

Leaning against the counter, Clint sipped at the steaming drink and reveled in the feel of being nearly human again. Tony moved to lean beside him while Natasha poked through the freezer for the Eggos.

”So, what’s all this about spiked candy?”

”Just Valentine’s Day woes,” he responded grumpily.

”Clint has bad luck with his admirers,” Natasha added. “The kind of bad luck that ends in restraining orders and broken noses.”

”Just the one broken nose,” Clint corrected, rubbing the bridge of said nose. “Hurt like a bitch, too.”

”Really,” Tony drawled, looking far too tickled about it. “Didn’t think you put yourself in the public eye enough for rabid fangirls, Robin Hood.”

”Really, Stark? Robin Hood? That’s the best you’ve got?”

Natasha snorted as Tony smirked, unperturbed. “He doesn’t - they’re almost always new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits.”

”Don’t you guys do any kind of psych evals or anything? I mean, this doesn’t exactly make me feel safe in my bed.”

”I seem to attract a certain type,” Clint explained reluctantly, swirling his coffee. “The type that manages to slip past our hiring process and seem completely normal until they get it into their heads that I’m in desperate need of some hot lovin’.”

”Well, you are,” Tony replied blandly.

”Excuse me?”

”Come on, if you were wound any tighter your ass-cheeks would meld together into a unibutt.”

Clint raised one eyebrow as Natasha choked on her Eggo. “…What does that even mean?”

Waving one hand and setting his mug in the sink, Tony elected not to answer that directly. “You should get out more, Barton. Hit the bars, pick up a nice groupie, hire an escort, kidnap a goat, whatever knocks your socks off. Just trust me on this, before your man-bits shrivel into raisins.”

”Taking into account your friendly assessment of the impending doom of my man-bits,” Clint said tersely, dumping the rest of his coffee back into the pot and ignoring Natasha’s irritated huff at this action, “I still think I’ll take my chances.”

”Are you sure, because there’s a nice petting zoo not too far from here that has a couple of good-looking goats. I could probably swing an evening with a nanny if you-“

”I’m going back to bed,” Clint grumbled, ignoring Natasha’s newest choking fit. “Wake me up when it’s February fifteenth.”

”They have sheep, too,” Tony called after him. “Keep your options open, right?”

He didn’t go to bed, though. Instead, he wound his way to the gym, waving off Steve’s concerned ‘are you feeling okay?’ and grunting hello to Bruce as the other man shuffled past, still half-asleep.

Thor was already in the gym, and was excited to spar. He looked so enthusiastic, Clint didn’t have the heart to turn him down, despite still being a big ball of ouch with a tetchy stomach. It wasn’t long, however, before Thor noticed that Clint’s heart wasn’t in the workout.

”My friend, you are not well,” Thor boomed, and Clint had to shut his eyes against the wave of pain that blossomed in his head.

”Just a little hungover,” he said quietly, rubbing his forehead and moving towards the small archery range that Tony had set up for him. “We mere mortals don’t hold our drink as well as you mighty gods.”

Thor chuckled and moved to thump Clint on the shoulder. The archer winced. “Worry not, Hawkeye - we will soon have you drinking like an Asgardian!”

’Oh, God, I hope not,’ Clint thought and he shouldered a quiver of arrows. He pulled one out in a graceful motion, and was about to position it when he noticed there was a roll of paper tied to the shaft.

Rolling his eyes heavenward, Clint tore it from the arrow and unfurled it.

’My Hawk,
Your grace and skill are unparalleled. Your existence had pierced me as that of none other has. Will you be mine?
Yours,
A Secret Admirer’

Groaning, Hawkeye crumpled it and lobbed it over his shoulder. “In my fucking quiver,” he muttered, raising his chosen weapon again and firing the arrow with grim accuracy at the bulls-eye. “That’s just creepy.”

It wasn’t the last such note he found, either.

’I have long admired your fierce loyalty to those you love,’ he found underneath his water bottle. ‘Might I gain a place amongst those lucky souls?’

’You care not that your teammates’ abilities surpass your own,’ was the wretchedly backhanded compliment he discovered in his medicine cabinet, ‘and you are ten times the warrior for it.’

The last straw was the page he’d discovered tucked away in the toilet paper roll. ‘I find that you plague my thoughts at the most inconvenient of times,’ was the oddly appropriate message. ‘I can only hope you feel the same.’

Flushing the note, Clint washed up and splashed water on his face. Then he poked his head into the kitchen, informed his bewildered teammates that they weren’t allowed to wake him up until tomorrow, and trudged back to his quarters.

Slipping into the cool shadows of his darkened room, Clint closed the door and leaned back against it with a sigh.

”I fucking hate Valentine’s Day,” he groaned.

Stumbling forward, the chilled floor feeling too real against his bare feet, he let his momentum carry him into the bed, his knees hitting the edge and tumbling him forward into the pillows with a heavy ‘flump’.

It wasn’t like he was anti-Valentine’s Day. Clint was a big believer in romance and love and all the shmoopy crap that went along with it. Heck, at one point, he’d considered it himself - dating and marriage and kids and all of that. Not anymore, of course, because no matter how hard they tried, people like him didn’t get that kind of life. Having people close to you like that was just asking for trouble. It wasn’t just a weakness, it could get the innocent parties killed. Clint had enemies, a lot of enemies, and he knew that there wasn’t a single one that wouldn’t use a lover or child against him.

So, no, he appreciated the thought behind Valentine’s Day, but it always brought the freaks out of the woodwork for him, and he was too achy and too grumpy and too old to be dealing with it.

He rolled over, and the feel of paper crumpling against his face brought him out of his moping. Rolling back, he swept the crinkled page up off his pillow and lay back, eyes scanning the page curiously.

It was thick paper, good quality, and the writing on it was fluid and elegant, and looked to have been done with a fountain pen. It was nicer, more formal-looking than the previous notes, but the handwriting bore enough of a resemblance that Clint knew they were from the same person.

’My Dear Hawk,
I know that today is a day for courtship and romance, and so I thought it would be the best day upon which to state my intentions to woo you. I confess that I find myself quite enamored, despite my best efforts to avoid such sentimentality. You have slipped past my defenses, and though I should be working to remove you, I find myself wishing you would stay.
Meet me for a meal by The Pool in Central Park at seven o’ clock tonight.
Foolishly yours,
A Secret Admirer’

Blinking, Clint turned the paper over, then back again. He flipped it upside-down, sideways, and tilted it backwards to look at it lengthwise. Then, shaking his head, he balled it up and tossed it into the corner. Then, defiantly, he turned on his side and buried his face in his pillow.

He was going to sleep, and when he woke up, the whole psychotic day was going to have passed, and he’d have a whole three-hundred-sixty-four days before he had to deal with it again.

He must have slept soundly, because it felt like mere moments later that he was jerking awake once more.

’ - you’re not hopeless or helpless/ and I hate to sound cold/ but you don’t know what love is/ you just do as-‘

Jerking upright, Clint slammed his hand down on the alarm clock and frowned. He had turned that off earlier, hadn’t he? So why-

”I set it for you,” Natasha said softly, perched on the corner of his desk and flipping through the same Newsweek. “Although, I have to say, for as much as you drank last night, I’m surprised you don’t look worse.”

”What?”

Rolling her eyes, Natasha tossed the magazine away. “Well, now I know you haven’t escaped the effects of your frat party binge entirely. Remember? Last night? Jaegerbombs and climbing the walls and trying to taser Bruce in the testicles?”

”Uh…no,” Clint said gently, wondering when Natasha had lost her mind. And he knew he’d fallen asleep fully clothed, so why was he only in his boxers? “That was the night before, wasn’t it? The night before Valentine’s Day.”

Natasha raised one eyebrow at him. “Oh, Clint, you’re not so lucky that you slept through it - today is Valentine’s Day.”

Snorting, Clint grabbed the shirt she’d lobbed at him easily and pulled it on. “Not funny, ‘Tasha,” he growled, easing out of bed and rubbing his face roughly with is hands.

Then he caught sight of the date on the digital clock face and frowned. That was weird.

It still read Tuesday, February fourteenth.

She must have reset the clock, he told himself. It wasn’t like her to pull pranks like this. It wasn’t really like her to pull pranks at all, honestly, but that had to be what this was, because otherwise it was…

No, Stark must have…but that couldn’t be it. They had been on the same team for nearly a year now, and he still wasn’t comfortable enough with the genius for the man to be able to get close enough to reset his alarm clock without waking him.

Some primal instinct at the very core of Clint’s being told him that something very bad was happening.

”Should have stayed in bed,” he whispered.

Natasha snickered. “Yeah, yeah. Happy Valentine’s Day, Clint.”

Chapter Text

A Trickster’s Guide To Wooing A Hawk
By: stop-the-fading

BLAME CHESH

Day Two: Reality Pants

 

"You know you're out of your mind, right," Bruce inquired blandly, tugging on his earlobe as he surveyed the distraught archer stalking up the corridor beside him. Their teammates meandered behind, muttering several theories regarding Clint's recent lapse in sanity and watching him in various stages of dismayed exasperation. It made his fingers itch for a bow and quiver and the time to shoot each of them in their respective left feet.

Sadly, he did not have the time to do so, as he was on a vital mission to figure out what the fuck was going on with his life.

Bruce continued at risk to life and limb. "I mean, I get not really liking Valentine's Day; plenty of people are less than thrilled about it, but this is kind of cra-"

"I'm not crazy," he snarled, wheeling around and nearly causing a pile-up in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters' main corridor. Several confused agents had to awkwardly side-hop out of the way and stumble around them. Clint ignored them, focusing his laser glower on his teammates. After several tense moments, he whirled back around and continued on his way. It took a befuddled moment for the rest of the procession to kick themselves into gear and follow him.

"Look, today is Valentine's Day," he explained patiently, "but yesterday was Valentine's Day, too!"

"Yeah, you're totally balanced," Tony sniped, pausing to peer into a shadowy room curiously as they passed. "That's why you're the only person who experiences this alleged time-space fuckery. Are they seriously doing matter effects studies? This is what I'm paying all those taxes for?"

"That's the boiler room, Stark," Natasha said flatly.

"That's what S.H.I.E.L.D. wants us to think," retorted the genius.

"Right," Steve snorted. "It's a spy network, so of course their boiler room is a big conspiracy."

"Of course."

"Like when you said Starbucks was a secret government organization whose mission was to disperse mind-controlling substances in their biscotti."

Tony raised an eyebrow at the blonde, who was shaking his head in disgust. "Only the chocolate biscotti."

"Or the time you planned to kidnap that shoe salesman and interrogate him under suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud by selling you a pair of shoes that weren't as comfortable as he claimed."

"Hey, that guy was a legitimate crook!"

"Or-"

"Oh, dear God," Natasha cut in, "am I the only one who bothered to put on her reality pants this morning?"

Thor appeared to be genuinely concerned. "I was unaware that such a thing was required, Miss Natasha. I shall be sure to procure this garment with all haste-"

"Can we maybe focus on the facts here," Clint snapped, taking a left turn a bit too sharply and bouncing sideways off the corner. He hissed out a vulgar word or two, rubbing his shoulder, and pretended not to notice the sidelong glances that were shared freely amongst his housemates.

Bruce cleared his throat. "What facts are you wanting to focus on, Clint?"

"The fact that today is supposed to be February fifteenth but isn't kinda stands out," he replied, coming to a halt outside Nick Fury's office and banging on the door violently.

Thor, who had been taking in the entire debacle with a bemused grin, daringly stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on Clint's shoulder. "My friend, surely you can understand that we are simply concerned for you. You are not yourself..." he trailed off, dismay flashing behind his eyes when Clint tensed up.

It had been eleven months since he had been made to serve the god's psychotic brother, and Clint was still battling the aftereffects. It pissed him off that even now, after nearly a year, the raven-haired Asgardian could still get under his skin, and he didn't even have to be present. It got better over time - there were weeks on end that he didn't feel slightly wrong-shaped inside, like whatever had been shoved into his head had warped the jelly mold of his being, and now the jelly that was Clint Barton was still trying to ooze back into all the right corners. It didn't help that every one of his teammates seemed to know how badly the experience had affected him, and wee constantly tiptoeing around it. It was hard to get to normal again when everyone was hell-bent on reminding you that you were fucked up. The reason behind his fucked-up-ed-ness was no help there, either.

In the months following Loki's escape from Asgard (for which Thor continued to feel guilty, for reasons he had not divulged to his teammates), the trickster had made it his mission to torment the Avengers, popping up at least once a week at first, then less and less frequently. They actually hadn't seen him in a few months actually, which Clint found highly suspicious. It didn't seem right; Loki had no shortage of infuriatingly clever schemes to fall back on, so whatever he was plotting this time, it was guaranteed to be a pain in the ass.

Could he be...

But no. That would just be...no.

Clint shuddered. Somehow, the thought of Loki being behind this latest attempt to drive him off the deep end was more terrifying than any theory that he'd managed to come up with. Still, for all that Loki had been a major player in the struggle to maintain peace on Earth (or something like it), he hadn't targeted Clint at all, not since the initial brainwashing. In fact, the god tended to completely ignore Clint's existence, which would be a bit insulting if he hadn't been so thankful. No, no matter how he looked at it, he couldn't come up with a plausible reason for Loki to be playing such a twisted game with him, despite the obvious benefit to the psychopath should Clint follow through with his desire to shoot holes in his companions.

"Director Fury is in a meeting," a mild voice piped up, breaking him out of his horrified contemplation. He glanced at Agent Hill over his shoulder and sighed.

"Yeah. Of course he is." Clint rubbed his forehead. "Of course he is," he repeated absently, staring into space. There was a slight pause before he shook himself nearly imperceptibly, making a sharp about-face. Fully prepared to slink away with his tail between his legs, he was somewhat startled when Maria flicked an envelope at his head.

Snatching it out of the air, he regarded the curling lines of his name sprawling across the front with all of the intensely negative emotions of a Red Sox fan who has suddenly found himself trapped on a New York subway with a Yankees fan club.

"Someone left a valentine for you on Fury's desk," Maria explained, turning away to go about doing whatever it was she did when she wasn't busy kicking ass. Clint was never too certain what that might be, but he suspected it involved secretly running S.H.I.E.L.D. behind Fury's back.

"Way to go, Don Juan," Tony chirped, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. "Open it, open it, let's see what's-"

"No," Clint replied, his voice oddly hollow. He now had a sneaking (overwhelming) suspicion that the letters and the weird time-reset were connected, and he didn't really like where that took his thoughts. Anyone who would alter the very nature of linear time to seduce him was far beyond the usual 'psychotic'. They would have to be...well, Clint didn't really know what the word for 'several meals of human eyeballs beyond psychotic' was, but his brain absently filled the slot with 'Tony Stark raving mad'. Reaching into his pocket, he fished out his lighter and in seconds, the letter was nothing more than a scattering of hot ash. There was a long silence.

"Wow," his anachronistic teammate spoke up eventually. "You really don't like Valentine's Day, do you?"

Choking back a hysterical giggle, Clint pushed past the team and stomped in a not-at-all-childish manner back the way they'd come.

It wasn't that he was insanely upset about the current goings-on. He was an assassin, for crying out loud - freaking out when things went pear-shaped wasn't really allowed.

And yes, the fact that it was Valentine's Day and that his secret admirer apparently had trouble taking 'no' for an answer to a ridiculous degree, but that wasn't the issue.

No one was taking this seriously. Even Natasha seemed to be tickled by this turn of events. She seemed to think he was still drunk (he imagined that theory was shared by the rest of the team), which didn't only annoy him, it hurt. Hadn't they known each other long enough for her to know when he was being serious?

The only one who seemed to be at all upset about this was Steve. He kept frowning darkly at Clint, his eyes narrowing into deadly slits of star-spangled homicide, as though Clint had crashed his wedding or something. It shouldn't have been comforting at all, really, since the captain could easily break his neck (provided he could catch him), but the thought that at least one member of the team wasn't constantly five second away from giggling at him soothed his ruffled feathers somewhat. Maybe, he thought, by the time they got home, reality would have righted itself.

Retreating the the Avengers' base didn't do him much good, unfortunately. They each went their separate ways instead of banding together to figure out what was happening, leaving Clint standing somewhat awkwardly in the foyer and wondering if it was too late to join the Fantastic Four.

Things went from bad to worse. Whoever was toying with him had left a few little booby traps around their mansion, and it wasn't long before Tony came across a box of expensive chocolates in his toolbox, accompanied by a note. He had managed to read it out in it's entirety before Clint had caught up to him in the backyard and flying-tackled him into a rhododendron.

'My Hawk,
It pains me that you do not understand my intentions. Would that you could give me a chance to prove that my heart is true. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Yours,
A Secret Admirer'

His torturer had bypassed giving Clint the notes directly, instead opting to leave them where his fellow Avengers could find them. Clint suspected that the perpetrator was hoping that they would all do as Tony had done, making it impossible for Clint to ignore them.

Thor had been kind enough to destroy the note he found pinned under his dumbbells without opening it, even going to far as to consume the four chocolate oranges that came with them. So selfless, Clint thought with a wry grin. Trust the big man to take one for the team.

Natasha had not been so kind, handing out over-sized conversation hearts found in her laptop case to the team as she read out the note, which was a somewhat embarrassing appraisal of his more desirable physical attributes. Tony subsequently dubbed him Ass-Man and threatened to design him a uniform to go with the new moniker. Hearing the phrase 'ass-less chaps', Clint had promptly chased him outside and shoved him back into the shrubbery.

The note Bruce found must have been something, because even though he put it down the garbage disposal without letting everyone else read it, as well, the quiet scientist couldn't quite look Clint in the eye, even as he offered up the giant chocolate rose for inspection.

Steve's note, tucked into the pages of his sketchbook, was really the final straw. The soldier hadn't read it, in fact, but he was not keen on the idea of the perpetrator going through his personal things, and it didn't take a genius to figure out who he believed that perpetrator to be.

"Okay, Stark, you've had your fun, now cut it out," he growled, tossing a battered box of cherry cordials onto the kitchen table as they were all sitting down for supper.

For his part, the brunette billionaire looked genuinely surprised. "I'm sorry, what am I being accused of this time? Because I can say with ninety-seven-point-four-two percent certainty that I didn't do it."

"This childish game you're playing with Clint," Steve snapped, slamming his hands down on the tabletop. "It's not funny and it's not cute, so just cut it out."

"Woah, hold it a second, there, Cappy. I'm not doing this."

"Oh, please," Natasha snorted. "Like any of the rest of us would pull something this juvenile."

"Wait, you mean to tell me you'e all been assuming that Stark's behind this," Clint queried disbelievingly. "You really think he's discovered how to reorder time, and decided the best way to test it was to pretend to woo me in a never-ending loop of confectionery misery?"

Thor coughed, embarrassed. "I must confess that I did not truly believe that such perversions to the passage of time had occurred."

"Wait, hold it, everyone just shut up for a second," Tony bellowed, waving his arms for silence. When he got it, he leaned back in his chair and pinned Steve with a glare. "First of all, I have had nothing to do with any of this. Second of all, if I was going to woo anyone via sneaky notes and the bending of time and space, it wouldn't be Clint." Here, he paused. "No offense, buddy."

Clint just grunted, his face pressed against the table, wishing he had just stuck with his first instinct and stayed in bed.

"Third, it has to be one of us, because there's no way in hell some crackpot got into this tower without me knowing."

"Well, obviously your security systems could use a little work," Steve growled, fingers flexing against his biceps as he crossed his arms, "because aside from you, I can't think of any member of the team who would do something this stupid."

"Well, if we're not doing it," Bruce put in pragmatically, "then who is?"

There was a long, uncomfortable moment where the realization that someone who thought reenacting Groundhog Day was the perfect method of courting someone had been wandering around their home without their knowledge set it. Everyone shifted uneasily.

After a moment, Steve pressed his lips together. "Okay. Okay. So we get to work. We figure out what's going on and how to stop it." He glanced at Clint, who was now thumping his forehead against the tabletop repeatedly. "I'm sorry. We should have taken you more seriously. I promise, we'll fix this."

"God, I hope so."

When they'd finished eating and making various plans involving recon and research and probably grappling hooks (Clint wasn't to sure about anything by that point, his brain having disengaged sometime between Fury's office and ass-less chaps, and had taken to smiling in a slightly worrying manner and nodding jerkily whenever someone spoke to him), the punch-drunk archer dragged himself wearily to his room and collapsed on the bed.

He was disgustingly weary. Thoughts flitted through his head like smoky moths, blurred and intangible. The today that should have been yesterday (which he'd taken to referring to as 'yestoday', and no one had been willing to poke at his metaphorical wound by being amused by it) seemed like a distant memory at this point, and for a split second he honestly wondered if perhaps he'd only dreamt that yesterday had been today.

The sound of something fluttering in the air and the soft brush of paper against his cheek brought him back to what passed for reality nowadays.

This paper didn't come in an envelope, and his gaze was inadvertently drawn to the sweeping script.

'My Beloved Hawk,
I regret the confusion and frustration my attempts to court you have caused - I truly mean you no harm, but I fear that unless I continue to follow my current course of action, you will never truly comprehend what it is I am trying to communicate. Therefore, I feel it only fair to warn you that I shall not falter from my chosen path, nor relent until you understand. You will see my heart for what it truly is, and I can only hope that you will not break it.
Forever Yours,
A Secret Admirer'

Clint whimpered, flinging the page away from himself as best he could. It drifted lazily to the floor, seeming entirely unperturbed by his agony, much like the original author seemed to be.

Rolling over, Clint sighed deeply. He had explained the previous day to the team in as much detail as he could, and they had agreed that, until they figured out what was going on, he was to avoid falling asleep at all costs. They couldn't know for sure, of course, but they hoped that keeping him awake would help them avoid another reset.

Grumbling, Clint sat up and made to exit the tempting warmth of his mattress. He was tired as fuck, and he really just wanted to pass out and not wake up until sanity had returned, but no. He didn't even get the comfort of unconsciousness.

When he found whoever was responsible for this black hole of insanity, they were going to get a damned good kicking.

' - you’re not hopeless or helpless/ and I hate to sound cold/ but you don’t-'

Clint's eyes snapped open, and he swiped his alarm off the bedside table in one smooth motion. The sound of it breaking into several pieces against the far wall did nothing to soothe him.

"You know what, Natasha," he said conversationally, pressing he heels of his hands against his eyelids and watching the non-colors explode under the pressure, "I'm starting to think I really am crazy."

The assassin peered at him over the top of her ancient Newsweek. "I could have told you that years ago."

"Haha."

"Happy Val-"

"Shut up."

Chapter Text

A Trickster’s Guide To Wooing A Hawk
By: stop-the-fading

BLAME CHESH

Day Three: Psych!

"I don't care if you just got a marriage proposal from Satan, Agent Barton, Director Fury is in a very important meeting, and he cannot be disturbed for anything short of the end of the world," Agent Hill said calmly, hands planted firmly on her hips as she glared at him from her position behind Fury's desk.

Steve cleared his throat. "No offense, but I think the Devil's attempts to infiltrate a team of superheroes would qualify as 'the end of the world'."

"Would Director Fury not prefer to be alerted prior to the end of the world, so that we may put a stop to it," Thor mused, mostly to himself.

"Besides," Bruce piped up, "Clint's not really Tony's type."

There was a brief pause during which Clint could practically hear everyone working out that seeming non-sequitur, before Tony smirked and held out his opened package of pineapple chips for his science buddy to share. "Cheers, Beelzebruce."

 "Look," the archer said tightly, "just drag him away from his soap operas so I can talk to him for ten minutes, okay? Just ten minutes. If you catch him on a commercial break, he won't even miss much."

"Not soap operas," Natasha reminded him with a wicked smirk, "telenovelas. Remember, Maria? He had that seriously creepy 'La Madrastra' phase where he couldn't look you in the eye and sidled around you sideways if he had to pass you in the hall?"

Agent Hill's lips twitched despite her best efforts to maintain her business face. "Yes, I remember. Unfortunately. Look, he's not watching The Shows right now," here Clint rolled his eyes at the audible capital letters, "he's in a serious meeting with the Council."

"The who?"

"The Council kind of tries to run S.H.I.E.L.D.," Natasha explained off of her teammates' confused looks.

"'Tries to'?" Tony offered her the pineapple chips, shrugging when she simply arched an eyebrow at him.

"Well, after the nuclear incident last year, they're not exactly under the impression they're succeeding," Agent Hill filled in. "But it doesn't stop them pretending to-"

"That's nice," Clint spoke over her, ignoring how everyone shifted a bit away from him when Agent Hill's unimpressed gaze flitted to him, "but this is vital. Can you do me a huge favor and go pry his dick out of their collective mouth so I can explain to him why I might be blowing things up very, very soon if something isn't done about the situation we're in?"

"I'd penalize you for that dick remark, Barton, if it wasn't so pathetically accurate," a sharp voice spoke up behind them.

Clint turned on his heel and crossed his arms, talking over Tony's muffled 'penalize' and brief snicker. "At this point, sir, I'm kind of desperate."

His promised ten minutes and a few rounds of sniping later, the other seven people in the office were gaping at him disbelievingly. Even Agent Hill, who had a damned good poker face, was staring at him as though he'd just built a nest out of Thor's hair and laid an egg. It wasn't a nice look.

"I'm not-"

"-crazy," Natasha finished, cocking her head and staring at him in that creepy, penetrating way that told him she could see right down to the twisted core of his brain and knew exactly how unhinged he really was.

That was the problem with the Black Widow. She knew him better than anyone else, saw more of his rotting insides than any human alive, and instead of judging him, she just kept right on being there for him, unasked, unrepentant, propping him up when he felt like he was falling out of the sky. Most people wouldn't think that was a problem, but Clint didn't like it, because he knew he needed it. Even the most hardcore hermits needed something to lean on - faith, bitterness, inner peace, whatever. It was just his rotten luck that his thing wasn't a thing, but a person.

People, no matter how tough, how badass, how trustworthy, always let you down. They left, they betrayed, they changed, they died. It was a human inevitability, and Clint hated, absolutely hated, waiting for the day when the one person he would ever let himself trust left a gaping, Nat-shaped hole in him.

They had been so close, once upon a time, to something messier and stupider than their current...well, friendship was a trite and pathetic word for it, but it would have to do.

They had teetered on the brink, staring into a soul-sucking abyss of needwanthave. It had been tempting, at first, the idea of having someone you could hold on to, an anchor to keep you grounded when Hurricane Crazy-Ass-Life tore through. It might have even been good, if they had been willing to change, but they hadn't.

Natasha wasn't about being anchored - it was too close to being chained, and those wounds might never be scarred over enough. She'd had enough of her entire existence being dependent on another, and Clint knew that, and understood. The ties they shared now worried her enough without adding love to that. Even without that aversion, there was still the issue of Natasha not knowing who Natasha really was, down at the center of things. It had taken a long time for her to feel confident in the knowledge that the 'her' that she was, was really her, and by then, all thoughts of a less platonic relationship had fallen by the wayside.

And Clint, well...he'd never been fond of the idea of trusting in someone enough to bare everything to them. There had been the idea that getting that close to someone meant letting them in all the way, showing them parts of yourself that were ugly and wrong, and knowing they would accept you anyway. For all that Natasha saw of him, all that she knew, there were some things that he just couldn't share. He didn't think she'd be so hypocritical as to reject him for his past, because she was far too practical for that, but just the act of opening up made him feel panicky and raw.

All-in-all, it wouldn't have been a good idea - how does it work when one of you may or may not be really herself, and the other would never let himself show? It would be less than one-sided, it would be mostly-no-sided, and probably would have destroyed them both.

So there was an overwhelming sense of 'no way in hell' for both of them, and they gently guided each other back from that brink. They were comrades, slightly uncomfortable for the wondering and the hypotheticals between them. Then they were friends, after a fashion, sharing similar pasts and similar presents and similar senses of humor. They were a team, not only in the field, but against the world, working together to carve themselves out of the lifeless marble their makers had first fashioned them from. They became people together, became more than they were intended to be, and it was good.

Terrifying knowledge that it could end at any second aside, Clint couldn't regret any of his relationship with Natasha. It wasn't a constant sense of missed opportunities - there was no bitterness, no tension. They knew each other's issues, understood and accepted them. Other people would look at them and see two people orbiting each other, never coming together, constantly missing, but not them. They knew that what they had was what they were always meant to have, and that it was good just the way it was.

At the moment, though, he wasn't really concerned about their friendship. He was mostly contemplating how very far off he wished she would fuck, and if she would kindly take the rest of the stupid team with her.

"You do realize-"

"I'm not out of my mind," Clint hissed at Bruce, who held up his hands defensively.

"If you say so."

"Agent Barton," Fury began, his hand resting lightly on his sidearm. Klaxons went off in Clint's consciousness. "I think that, before we go any further with this, you should accompany me to the infirmary so that we can do a quick evaluation."

There was a tense silence.

"You want to test me for crazy," Clint said flatly. "Yeah, I'm thinking no."

Tony rolled his eyes. "And I'm thinking that testing any of us for loose screws is just going to end up with our files covered with big, red 'unhinged' stamps."

"You say that like they aren't already," Fury put in tightly. "Be that as it may, it can't be denied that Agent Barton isn't behaving rationally at the moment. His mannerisms aren't entirely normal for him, and we need to be sure he's fit for duty."

"You've got to be fucking kidding me."

"Agent Barton," the director snapped, "we do not have the luxury of offering our people the benefit of the doubt. There is too much at stake for the world for us to allow an unfit superhero to enter the field. You, of all people, should realize the severity of the situation."

"You-"

"I am not saying that I don't believe you," Fury offered up in unforgiving steel tones. "But until we can determine whether or not you are under some sort of internal stress, I can't in good conscience take an investigation any further. Now, you will report to the infirmary for a brief psych eval immediately, or you will be taken off-duty and confined to your quarters under suspicion of being compromised. Do you understand me?"

What Clint wanted to say was, 'No, fuck you, Agent Eyepatch. I may well be under internal stress, but being wooed by a temporally-gifted person with no respect for personal boundaries is a little stressful, okay? And if you can't understand that, then maybe you should try it! I guarantee you, NOBODY likes the White Stripes that much! And also, fuck you again, you and your fucking arrogant eyepatch made of arrogance and fucking secrets! I hope wasps lay eggs in it while you sleep!'

Sensing that this wouldn't help his 'I'm not insane, really' argument, what he actually said was, "Yes, sir."

The evaluation was not fun. And, predictably, he came out of it off-duty and confined to his quarters anyway, because apparently, 'a Time Lord wants to marry me and I think 'You Don't Know What Love Is' is our song' is not an acceptable answer to, 'What seems to be bothering you today?'

Fucking figured.

"I believe you, you know," Natasha said as she (and several armed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents) escorted him to his room. Tony and Steve had elected to tag along, Tony whistling 'They're Coming To Take Me Away' like the douchenozzle he was. Steve was grumbling under his breath, shooting Clint apologetic looks and looking five seconds away from shoving their billionaire housemate through a wall.

At the very least, Fury had agreed to allow Clint to return to Avengers Tower, provided he kept to his room. Steve had been uncomfortable with this, stating that it smacked of wrongful imprisonment, and that Clint had done nothing wrong...yet.

The 'yet' was what Fury was concerned about, though, and so he was effectively grounded. The armed guards were even going to confiscate the weapons from his room, which really chafed. Still, he'd gotten something out of the agreement - Fury had promised that their first priority would be to figure out what was going on.

Another thing was lifting Clint's spirits - there hadn't been a single note, gift, or sweet all day. He knew better than to think the culprit had given up entirely, but he was holding out hope that perhaps the person felt bad enough about his current situation to lay off for a while.

Hope had never been good to him.

The smell hit him even before the door was opened.

There were flowers in his room. Everywhere. Vases on ever surface, littering the floor even, petals strewn about, exotic, flowering vines actually growing up his walls. The bath was full of scented water, red rose petals scattered over the surface, and a small potted tree stood in one corner, as though added as an afterthought for good measure.

Clint took one step into the room, stubbed his toe on a heavy crystal tumbler filled with lilies, and saw red.

"Oh, my-"

Shutting the door on Natasha's aborted exclamation, he knew he had to work quickly. He dove for the bed, hauling out his lock-box. The quiver was shouldered, his bow following to keep it out of the way. Then he swept up the collection of tiny grenades.

They were meant to go in arrowheads, triggered by a key-code he could input using his bow. It was a brilliant piece of tech (not that anyone commented on it, what with fucking Iron Man standing next to him, being all flashy and genius), and he was loathe to lose his entire stash, but desperate times and all of that.

He pulled the pins one-by-one, dropping each into a vase. He buried a few in the tree's soil, and even tossed a couple into the bath for good measure.

Then, calmly, he opened the door, neatly dodging Natasha's fist as it tried to bang on a surface that was no longer there. Sliding the door shut behind him, he keyed in the sequence.

The muffled explosion was the most gratifying sound he'd heard all day, up to and including the sound of Tony choking on pineapple chips several times during his psych eval.

Those in the hallway gaped at him, that 'Christ almighty you are out of your fucking mind' look that he was getting so used to.

"Uh...Clint," Natasha began as the rest of the Avengers pelted towards them full-tilt.

"'Tasha, I'm really not in the mood for discussion right now," he interrupted pleasantly.

"I don't really think you have a choice here."

"Clint Barton," Thor bellowed, skidding to a halt and thrusting a hand forward. "We heard the sounds of battle and are prepared to defend you!"

"Gee. Thanks."

Steve blinked. "Sorry, what?"

"Turns out, Clint is telling the truth," Bruce said wryly, gesturing towards the item Thor held before him. "Here, we have a note."

"Let me see it," Natasha snapped.

Before she could reach it, though, Clint swiped it from the large man's hand and drew out an arrow. Everyone stumbled backwards.

"Oh, relax," he said jovially. "I'm not gonna hurt anyone."

Anyone present, he amended mentally as he speared the thick envelope on the shaft and fired it into the wall.

As soon as it struck, the incendiary arrowhead did it's job, reducing the letter to a smoldering pile. Unfortunately, it had also pinned Thor's cape, and did a nice job of setting the fabric alight, as well.

As everyone else rushed forward, Clint sighed and fell back to lean against the wall.

' - you're not hopeless or helpless-'

Slamming his hand down on the clock, Clint sighed and stared at the wall. He went to turn his head to stare at the ceiling,but several sharp pinpricks to his forehead and scalp stopped him. He didn't really care to know, though, so he closed his eyes again and prepared to fall back asleep.

"Not today, Barton," Natasha said. "Wakey-wakey, Sunshine."

"Fuck off."

"I'm going to pretend that's the hangover talking."

"Fuck really, really far off."

The sound of a magazine hitting the desktop was his only reply for a while.

Then...

"Where'd you get the cat?"

"What?"

Eyes snapping open, Clint surged upwards, more pinpricks (that he now suspected were claws) digging into his face and head as the kitten moved from his forehead to the top of his head, it's tiny tail waving down between his eyes. Claws dug in even more forcefully for a moment, a warning should he think to try such a foolish move again.

"I didn't even know you liked cats," Natasha murmured.

Clint blinked at her, then crossed his eyes to peer at the blurry appendage tickling his nose.

"I don-" Claws again, and Clint bit his tongue. "I...guess they're okay," he amended wisely.

"Well, she's adorable," his friend observed, hopping off the desk. "Now put some pants on, the coffee's already on. Oh, and Clint? Happ-"

"Just...just don't."

A tiny 'mew' from the top of his head sounded, to him, like agreement.

Chapter Text

A Trickster’s Guide To Wooing A Hawk
By: stop-the-fading

BLAME CHESH

Day Four: Your Kitten, Should You Choose To Accept It...

"You know, if I take you with me, people are going to be trying to cuddle you all day," Clint remarked as his new friend stared up at him from her perch on his thigh, all floof and innocence and malevolent golden eyes. "They might even do that creepy baby-talk thing."

The kitten mewed her displeasure, her teeny tail flicking pointedly.

"Oh, they so would."

She levered herself up to plant her front paws on his bare chest, stretching as far as she could to nearly headbutt him on the chin. She was a bit too short to reach, but he dutifully kissed her between the ears anyway, trying to ignore the sudden sharp pain of two claws digging into the flesh of his thigh.

"You have some freakishly long claws there, sweetheart."

Delicate ears twitched at the endearment, her evil eyes narrowing slightly.

"Well, I'm not about to name you," he defended as she continued to stare him down. "If I name you, I have to keep you."

Hopping off his leg (and digging those infernal claws in perhaps a bit more than necessary), the kitten sat with her back to him and proceeded to ignore him vehemently.

"You don't keep cats," a soft voice spoke up from the doorway, which, Clint remembered with some chagrin, Natasha had left open when she'd stomped out earlier.

"Oh?" Clint raised his eyebrow at Bruce, who was watching the interaction with an obscene amount of amusement.

"You haven't had a cat before, have you?"

"No," the archer answered shortly, reaching out to pet the kitten cautiously and left awkwardly patting the bedspread when she skittered away and ran straight off the edge of the mattress.

Bruce crouched down, sliding the door shut so she couldn't escape, and held out one hand for her to sniff. As she did so, he glanced back up at Clint, who tried his best to keep his hurt from showing. He must not have succeeded fully, because Bruce grinned apologetically.

"I have. They're very proud, even as kittens, you know. More dignity than most humans, which isn't all that surprising, when you think about the state of humanity in general. You don't keep them; they keep you."

Clint leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. "I'm not really into being kept."

"That's not really an option," the quiet scientist replied. "One way or another, they own you. Real cat people, though, they don't mind it. They love it, even."

"Not me."

"Well, maybe you're not a cat person."

Clint shrugged. "Guess not. I wouldn't know. It's...been a while. Since I've had a pet, I mean," he explained, eyes shadowed with things he didn't want to think about.

"They were worshiped once upon a time." The kitten clambered up Bruce's leg, clawing her way up to his shoulder and pressing her nose to his ear curiously. Gently, Bruce reached up to stroke her along the spine. "They're pushier than dogs - you pet them when they want to be pet, play with them when they want to play, feed them what they want to eat. People think dogs are more high-maintenance, or that they're more loyal, but cats are fiercely dedicated to the people they've adopted. Their human is theirs, and they don't like sharing. Not like dogs, anyway, which are more pack-oriented, and do better in large groups."

Clint could hear the kitten purring from across the room and frowned at her. "Well, she seems to like you more than me; maybe you should keep her."

As though on cue, both Bruce and the kitten looked up at him in exasperation. "You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?"

"I heard proud, worship, pushy, high-maintenance, and something about being owned."

Rubbing her cheek against Bruce's jaw, the kitten leapt somewhat flailingly to the floor and padded over to inspect an interesting bit of lint.

"She's not my cat," Bruce said simply. "And I already have a proud, pushy, high-maintenance creature trying to own me."

Clint snorted. "Tony can be pretty possessive of his science boyfriends."

"Yep."

The kitten batted at the bit of lint, springing backwards when it drifted towards her and landing, splay-legged, a good two feet back. She then pelted across the room and skidded into the bathroom, sliding across the floor and knocking over the trash can before making a valiant effort to scale the shower curtain.

"Oh, for..." Clint rubbed his eyes tiredly. "It's a piece of fluff, Shire!"

"Shire?"

Pausing guiltily in the process of entering the bathroom to retrieve the little ball of energy before she tore the plastic curtain from its rings, Clint narrowed his eyes at Bruce, daring him to laugh.

"Like...the Cheshire Cat, y'know?"

"I figured," Bruce said quietly, not laughing at all, but smiling as though something very pleasing had just happened. "I won't say it's really original, but at least it's not 'Fluffy' or 'Mittens'."

"I will never, ever name any living creature 'Mittens'," Clint spat disgustedly. "What kind of bastard do you think I am?"

Shrugging, Bruce stood up, dusting off his pants unnecessarily. The sudden motion caused Shire to let go of the curtain and slip down to the floor, making a bee-line for Clint and scaling him instead. When she was safely perched in his hair (and he was probably bleeding in several spots, being that he was still wearing only his boxers), she peered at Bruce, daring him to make a wrong move.

The doctor only smiled, slipping out the door and vanishing down the corridor.

Clint stared after him for a moment.

"Sometimes," he said mildly, reaching up to wiggle his fingers at Shire playfully, "that guy scares me more than the Hulk."

Shire grabbed hold of his fingers, nibbling at the tip of his pinky in response.

She refused to get down so he could dress, forcing him to wear his only button-down shirt so he didn't run the risk of getting trapped in a pull-over with an angry animal with claws. When he bent down to pull on his trainers, though, she opted to descend to his shoulder, peering over at his laces with deadly intent.

"Just try to stay out of trouble, okay," he pleaded as he made for the door.

He had decided, between sullenly ordering (begging) Natasha to leave him alone and actually sitting up in bed (which took a hell of a lot of willpower), that he wasn't going to tell anyone what was going on this time. He wasn't about to go through another day of evaluations and teasing and creepy stares. He was going to figure this fuckery out by himself, if it took him the rest of his life.

His first stop was Tony's lab, because a lot of the weirdness that went on in his life seemed to originate there. He crept along the corridor stealthily - or, as stealthily as a grown man wearing a Hawaiian-print shirt and tiptoeing down a hallway with a kitten perched on his shoulder as he hummed the Mission: Impossible theme could creep. A man had to enjoy life once in a while, right? So what if he looked like a senile pirate? It would only be recorded for all to see on the security footage, right?

As he neared the lab, the sounds of a tense argument could be heard.

"...ever consider going back into showbiz? Because you have stripper-thighs."

"That's obscene, Stark."

"No, my recurring dream about the Human Torch is obscene. Your thighs are just an observation."

"Do you ever just not talk?"

"Not if I can help it."

Humming curiously to himself, Clint peeked around the open doorway and peered into Tony's lab.

It was, as ever, a disaster area. Half-finished projects were left here and there, wires and bits spilling out like some much intestine. There were three coffeemakers stationed about, and all three were running, churning out the nectar of the gods. Tools, blueprints, and empty coffee cups littered the place, and in the center of it all was Stark, sitting cross-legged on the floor, covered head-to-toe in grime and elbows-deep in something deadly-looking. The machine, cradled in his lap, had jagged bits of paneling spearing outwards, and clanked ominously every few seconds. There was an acrid smell in the air, like smoldering hair, and Clint couldn't stop himself from cringing away for a moment.
Steve towered over the genius, arms crossed, looking torn between being concerned and being furious, settling on a sort of nervous frustration. He was bare-chested and barefoot, and seemed to have just wandered over from the training room.

"Fine, whatever," he was saying. "I just wanted to make sure it was nothing serious-"

"A minor technical difficulty," Stark muttered, seemingly paying little attention to the superhero fretting over his safety. Clint noticed the tiny smile tugging at one corner of his mouth, though, and gnawed on the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning, as well. Stark liked that the captain was worried for him. This was an interesting development, indeed.

"There was smoke-"

"Dummy had it handled, for once."

"-lights were flashing, alarms-"

"Jarvis is a worrywart. Look, Stephanie," the genius continued, cutting off whatever Steve had intended to say next, "I know you think I'm a little unhinged-"

"Way to understate."

"-but believe it or not, I know what I'm doing. Or do you think everything I've ever successfully invented was a fluke?"

Steve hesitated, frowning deeply. He appeared to be upset by the insinuation that he didn't respect Tony's abilities. And idea of an idea was blooming in Clint's observant mind. "You know I don't think that, Tony. That doesn't mean accidents can't happen, though."

"Aw, you do care," Tony jibed, pursing his lips for a moment before yanking something silvery and sharp out of the bowels of the...thing in his lap. "I'm touched."

"In the head," Steve muttered, stalking out.

Clint leaned against the wall casually, not even trying to hide, as Steve marched past him, a walking cloud of confusion and irritation. Once he'd rounded the corner, the assassin entered the room.

"So."

"You coming to babysit me, too, Artemis? And can we talk about the tourist look for a second?"

"No. Wasn't Artemis a chick?"

"Your point being?"

Rolling his eyes, Clint hoisted himself up onto a mostly-cleared worktable and pried Shire off of his shoulder, scratching her behind the ears as he watched Tony critically.

"I didn't actually have you pegged as Freedomette."

There was a loud clang and a muffled curse as Tony wrenched his hand from inside the mechanical carcass, shaking it out a bit. "A what?"

"You know, a Captain America fangirl."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Right. And you weren't just flirting shamelessly with poor Steve."

"Of course not."

"And you weren't watching his ass as he left."

"Why would I?"

"So you wouldn't mind if Natasha went ahead and had him for the night."

Tony's head jerked up, a genuinely alarmed look plastered across his face, and Clint almost felt bad. "I didn't think he was her type," Tony hedged, sounding as though he was talking to himself.

"Oh, he's not, but you know how it is when you haven't gotten any in a while."

"No, actually, I don't," Tony drawled smugly, turning his concentration back to whatever cannibalizing he had been doing.

"Great. I'll let her know-"

"Okay," Tony cut in. "Okay. Say, hypothetically, I was flirting with Captain Clean-Cut."

"Why don't we say, literally, you were flirting with Cap...with Steve," Clint offered.

Rolling his eyes, Tony tossed a wrench over his shoulder and reached for something pointier that put Clint in mind of a dentist's drill. "Sure. Fine. Whatever. I was totally flirting with Steve. Why is it your business?"

That shouldn't have hurt, but it did. He had forgotten for a moment that, for all they were supposed to be a team, and despite everyone else feeling perfectly at home and having their little slumber parties and movie nights and what-have-you, Clint just wasn't part of that circle. He was the anti-social one, who didn't have science-y things to giggle about or Earth 2012 to experience for the first time. He had Natasha, and that was fine.

Lone wolf, he reminded himself, rubbing Shire's chin and allowing his usual aloof armor to click into place. He imagined it would look a lot like Tony's armor, whirring and clinking with cold, metallic precision. He wasn't pack-oriented, not like this rag-tag bunch of scruffy mutts. He was alone, which was how he liked it.

"Not my business at all. Just an...observation," he replied, lifting Shire back to his shoulder with one hand, using the other to salute Tony lazily. "But, just so you know, he thinks you're making fun of him. The guy got bullied enough before he became a superhero, I don't think knocking his books down and kicking over his block tower is going to make him like you."

Striding from the room before Tony could come up with an appropriately snarky reply, Clint grumbled to himself. He hadn't even managed to poke around for clues. What, was he Cupid all of a sudden? Why was he even bothering to stick his nose into these things?

The rest of the day was similarly unproductive. Thor, who had not seemed to like Shire, going so far as to back up a little when she hissed at him, had seen or heard nothing unusual in the past few days (the days he could remember, Clint reminded himself), but promised to remain vigilant and alert his teammate, should anything arise.

Natasha was no help whatsoever. Granted, he had to be very careful around her, because despite his continued annoyance over her disbelieving him the last few yestodays, he knew she was frighteningly in-tune with his ways and moods, and he was not keen on having to talk to Dr. Pierce again. The man was infuriatingly glib, to the point where Clint was sure he was somehow related to Stark.

The idea of approaching Steve while he was pounding the ever-loving crap out of a sandbag did not appeal to Clint, but he did so anyway, and even managed to slip in a bit of reassurance that none of the team were out to pick on him.

"I talked to Tony earlier," he had said blandly, pretending he hadn't noticed Steve tensing up, "he seemed to be wound pretty tight today. Too much coffee, I guess. I think all the caffeine's melted his brain-to-mouth circuits."

Steve had huffed a laugh at that, relaxing minutely, and Clint had mentally patted himself on the back. Agent Cupid's work there was momentarily done.

Clint hadn't really thought about it before, but in retrospect, Tony had done little but flirt with Steve after their first calamitous mission as a team. Whatever weirdness remained (and Clint suspected it had a lot to do with Tony's daddy issues and Steve's nineteen-forties sensibilities), it was slowly being eaten away by...whatever this was. He wasn't such an asshole that he'd try to force it, or meddle any more than he already had, but he hoped, for their sake, that they worked it out, one way or another.

His last stop was to see Bruce, who took one look at Clint and had to bury his face in his hands to muffle his snorts of sheer glee. If nothing else, it was heartwarming to see the restrained doctor looking so relaxed.

"I'm sorry, is there something funny here?"

"N-no. S-s-sorry, just..."

He let the man laugh, shaking his head bemusedly, and skillfully drew him into a casual conversation about litter pans and catnip, worming out what information his could about the last few days (and making mental notes, because whoever thought cats weren't needy were out of their minds). Unfortunately, kitty trivia aside, his investigation turned up zilch.

Trudging back to his room, Clint picked up the expected envelope on his pillow, curling up on the floor with Shire (who soon took to gnawing on his shoelaces) and inspecting the note inside.

'My Dear Hawk,

Your ordeal the day before was not intended, but you can be so very difficult, so very stubborn. You rage against me like a wild creature, ever defiant, refusing to be tamed. What you do not realize is that I have no desire to tame you. I love you as you are, and wish only that you could return my honest feelings.
Please meet me at The Pool at 7 o' clock tonight.

Ever Yours,

A Secret Admirer

P.S. - She is a very special creature, your new pet. She will surely love you as I do, for we are very much alike. Please do not reject her, as you have rejected all other tokens.'

Rolling his eyes, Clint stared down at Shire. "You wouldn't happen to know who dropped you off here, would you?"

She ignored him, because clearly the little frayed ends of stitching that held his shoes together were much more fascinating than any of his pointless human troubles.

Sitting up, Clint rifled through his bedside table and fished out a pen.

'I like Shire just fine,' he scribbled on the back of the letter, 'but you're really starting to piss me off. Never Yours, Hawkeye'

"Think this crackpot'll get the message," he murmured, grinning when Shire mewled at him in her tiny kitten voice. He curled back up on his side, his grin melting into a soft smile as she nuzzled his chin, her whiskers tickling his jaw.

' -you're not hopeless or helpless/ and I hate to sound cold/ but y-'

Sighing, Clint lazily reached up and nudged the clock onto the floor. "I guess he got the message," he muttered.

"Who got what message," Natasha's voice greeted him from across the room.

Clint snorted. "Oh...no one."

"Right."

"Don't."

Blinking, Natasha cocked her head at him. "I'm sorry?"

"If you wish me a happy Valentine's Day, I will shoot you."

She raised one eyebrow, setting down her magazine and hopping off the desk. "You've really got to work on that aggression, Clint," she suggested as she sashayed out of the room.

Pulling his pillow up over his face, Clint laughed.