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Naked Pantomime in the Dark

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Clint Barton had been enrolled in 12 schools in the last 16 years. He'd done the math once, trying to see how his credits would work out in the end, and he figured that if he was lucky, he would turn 18 and get his GED and move the fuck on. (And yeah, he could drop out now and get it over with, but somehow every time he started to ask someone for the signature he would need, he froze up and ended up changing his mind, so he would wait until he was old enough to vote, he guessed.)

But the fact remained: Clint went to a lot of schools. It wasn't because his parents moved or he was an army brat. No, it was because Clint's parents were dead and Clint was In The System. He'd been bounced from foster home to foster home, all over the state and back again, watching the chances of being adopted dwindle to zero with every year he aged.

At first people had been happy to keep him with his brother, Barney, but as Barney got older, he was less inclined to stay anywhere at all, until he woke Clint up one night, three years after their parents had died, when Clint was 9 and Barney was 14.

"I'm leaving," Barney had told him, showing Clint the duffel bag he was carrying. "You coming?"

It was three in the morning, and this wasn't the first time Barney had run away. Clint rolled over and muttered something about seeing his brother in the morning.

He never saw his brother again.

Tragic backstory and multiple homes and schools aside, Clint wasn't a terrible kid. He was sullen, maybe, and withdrawn, and he made some stupid decisions, but no more than any other kid who didn't have a stable base might be.

So it was no wonder that he wasn't fitting in at G.W. Carver High School, either.

He stared at the worksheet in front of him. They'd thrown him into a sadistic math creation they called Al2Trig, basically an advanced class for people who were too smart for their own good, so they'd be able to take advanced calculus when the time came. Clint, for all he understood about trajectories and bows and arrows, was hopelessly lost with the Algebra part of it.

Luckily, before Ms. Hill could call on him to embarrass himself in front of the class - she had a way of knowing when he was lost - the bell rang, freeing them all for Clint's best subject - Lunch.

"Problem set is on the board," Ms Hill said, as bags were rescued from under desks and books were closed. "And Barton, hang back a second?"

Here it was. The weekly, "You Have So Much Potential" talk. Clint was used to it, used to having his flaws explained to him in the guise of helping.

He slunk up to her desk.

"Barton, you've been with us six weeks. How are you fitting in?"

He stared. That wasn't how this talk went. This talk usually opened with his lack of concentration.

"Ms. Hill?"

She smiled, and he noticed for the first time that she had a kind face. "We try to get people involved here, Clint. Mr. Fury must have told you?"

Mr. Fury had said a lot of things on Clint's first day, but in Clint's defense, he hadn't been listening because Mr. Fury also wore a very distracting eye patch and Clint had been preoccupied making up ways that he might have obtained it.

"Um, yeah. I guess he did."

"Well," what are you passionate about, Clint?" He stared blankly. "Running, hurdles, wrestling? Painting? What do you like to do?"

"I like- uh- I'm good at climbing trees?"

Thank god, Ms. Hill didn't laugh. She studied Clint for a moment before making a thoughtful noise. "So, you're not afraid of heights?"

"Love ‘em," Clint said, trying to sound casual.

"Then I know just the place for you."


The room across from the cafeteria was known by most of the students as 131, because, well, they weren't terribly creative and that was the number above the door. But to a select few students, it was C's room.

And 131 was where Ms. Hill took Clint.

The teacher who inhabited the room was a small, balding man named Coulson who, as far as Clint could tell, taught Theatre and maybe an English class, and had a small group of students who liked to pretend he hung the fucking moon.

The room itself was weird; it was L-shaped, with three long tables on one side with chairs around them, but for the lunch period, the tables were mostly abandoned, a few groups of kids dressed mostly in black (and Clint recognized Tony Stark there, and the redheaded girl from his French class and the kid he had sworn was the quarterback) sat in circles on the floor, pink styrofoam trays in front of them, and a boombox (how 1999) in front of the boy with the long blond hair.

"Listen," the redhead was saying, "you can wax about Mamet all day, Steve, but the fact remains that raw theatre is the purest form of any expression."

"You're wrong! Wrong!" That was Stark, of course, who was always right. "It all comes down to language! Tom Stoppard! Invention of Love? The Latin! Genius!"

Clint was in over his head, but he was used to that. Ms. Hill led him to the side where Mr. Coulson was sitting poking at an ancient computer.

"Phil?"

Coulson jolted as though Hill had touched him, and then looked up sheepishly. Clint noticed that the kids had stopped their debate, though he still heard Stark muttering about boys loving dogs and dogs loving boys, but he was pretty sure, from the six weeks of experience he had, that was just par for the Stark Course.

"Maria, hi. Who's this?"

Clint froze. He wasn't sure if it was because Mr. Coulson reminded him of a foster dad he'd had, or if it had more to do with the idea of Ms. Hill having a first name (and it being, of all things, Maria) but this situation was alarming, and he couldn't speak.

"This is Clinton Barton," Ms. Hill said, giving him a gentle shove. "He's new here and needs an activity."

"Clint," he said, offering his hand to Coulson. He had to get it together.

"I was remembering you saying you were short staffed for your light crew, and you needed someone in the catwalk?"

Coulson smiled. "You know a lot about theatre, Clint?"

"No," Clint said, staring at his shoes. This was the part where Coulson would tell him to get lost. "I like heights and Ms. Hill-"

Coulson looked past him. "Steve," he said, and made a gesture to call the blond, not-quarterback over.

"Hi," Steve said, appearing at Clint's side. "Steve Rogers, stage manager. You are?"

"This is Clint," Coulson said. "He's new here, gonna help up with hang. Think you and Tash can show him the ropes?"

Steve smiled at Clint, which was kinda blinding in the toothpaste-commercial intensity of it, and nodded. "Sure thing."

He looped an arm over Clint's shoulder and turned them around, steering them back towards the circle of kids on the floor.

"Hey," Steve grinned. "Everyone, this is Clint. Clint, everyone."

Clint raised a nervous hand. "Hi."

Steve pointed to the kids in turn. "This is Stark, he's our TD. You need anything built, you go to him. That's Bruce, he's sound; he's Thor, ASM and ATD - that's like, if Tony and I can't fulfill our duties, Thor does; I'm SM, that's Stage Manager-"

"Oh captain, our captain!" Tony called, giving a sassy salute. The others giggled.

"And this," Steve gestured toward the redhead. "Is Tash. She's lights, you'll be working with her."

"Hi," Clint offered again, weakly.

"Can you stay after today?" Steve asked. "I can give you a ride home, if you don't drive?"

Clint shrugged. "Sure, I just need to call Mr. and- my parents."

Steve nodded. "You can use C's phone after school. Just dial nine first."

"You sitting with us?" Stark asked, nudging Thor to move over, so there was space in their circle.

Clint shrugged. "Sure? I mean, I don't-- yes. I'd like that," he stuttered before he decided that he should probably give up on talking amd slid into the space between Stark and Thor.

"So," Tash said, picking a gummi bear up from the tray in front of her - and Clint realized that they had all pooled their lunches, all shared what they had, a mess of sandwiches and chips and cookies and candies they were all picking at - "Clint, what do you think of Sondheim?"

"Who?"

The group gave a loud groan, and Thor grabbed the boombox, his loud voice thundering across the room. "Listen, then, to Bobby and Jackie and Jack!"

Clint smiled. God help him, he might like these kids. He pulled out his own lunch as Thor cued up the music, and put half of his peanut butter and honey sandwich in the pile. Yeah, that felt right.


Clint followed Tash up the long stairway, tucked into the corner of the auditorium ("It's a theatre, Barton, with an -re. Get it right.") his every footstep ringing like a gong on the open metal mesh of the stair. Tash, of course, moved soundlessly.

"This," Tash told him, jimmying open a solid wooden door with what looked like a credit card, "is what we call the cove. You get C's keys, it's the one with the yellow topper. Duck."

Clint just barely stopped before his forehead collided with the bar in his path, which had been helpfully wrapped in yellow tape that someone had written on.

"Next time, don't walk into me," Clint read, and he heard a soft laugh from Tash in front of him. "Did you write that?" he asked.

"Me? No, hell no. Listen, Barton, the theatre- nothing new in here, okay? Nothing without a story. My wrench, that gel, a bar wrapped in spike tape. It's all got a person behind it. Someday I'll take you to the Bat Cave, you'll see."

"The... Bat Cave?"

"I'll tell you when you're older."

It was dark up in the ceiling, lit mostly by lights covered in blue film, and Tash talked him around the corner, until they were standing in a little, well, alcove, in the ceiling, facing the stage.

"Voila," Tash said, a knowing smile in her face. "The Cove. Let's talk lights."

It took half an hour for her to explain, in hushed tones ("There is a rehearsal down there, jeez!") what lekos and pars were and how to change a lamp and why it was a lamp and not a bulb and dear god, Barton, don't touch it and this is a gel and this is a gobo and stop giggling about the word gobo, and this is a top hat, a barn door, a gel frame, this is an extension and this is a twofer and this is an orgybox.

Clint liked the quiet way she worked, her slim fingers playing over the different knobs and screws ("And this is the Jesus bolt, Barton, pay attention, because when you break it you'll yell JESUS like we all do, don't feel bad") and the basics of a hang and cabling.

"You know a lot," he said, feeling stupid for saying it. "Are you like, a senior?" And yes, he was very, very stupid and he could just step off the edge and die now.

"No, I'm a sophomore," she smiled. "I wouldn't be in French 2 with you if I was a senior. Our old LD, Bucky, he was- uh, Steve's friend, he kinda, you know, took me under his wing, gave me the rundown. Bucky was good. I'm mediocre."

"Oh."

Clint hated that he had no idea what to say to this girl. He had never met someone he wanted to talk to but couldn't before. It was weird and upsetting.

"So," Tash said, sitting on the floor of the cove, her back against a box that Clint was sure was full of magical theatre accessories. "Tell me about yourself."

"Nothing to tell, really," he tried to shrug nonchalantly as he sat and somehow ended up bumping his head on something blunt and metal. "Ow. I, uh, I just moved to the area, and apparently I needed an extra curricular activity."

Tash leaned back on her arms. "Right, sure. You're staying near Steve, right? The house on the corner, the old people?"

Clint felt his face flush red, but he hoped she wouldn't be able to tell in the blue light. "How did you- I mean, yeah. The Wilkenses. I'm, uh, I guess I'm a foster kid. Does Steve live near them?"

Tash stared at him. "Huh."

"It's not a big deal," Clint said, wishing that the floor would open up and swallow him whole. "My parents died when I was little and I guess no one-" he took a deep breath. Telling someone you just met that ‘no one ever wanted me' was a stupid, stupid move, no matter how hot she was. "I never got a new family. I've moved around a lot."

Tash smiled. "And now you're at Carver. Sorry about that."

Clint laughed, feeling the blood recede a little from his neck. "Don't tell the others, okay? I just - Steve seems the pitying type."

"He is," Tash said. "But he'd also understand. He lives with his grandmother."

"Still."

She nodded and offered her pinky, which he hooked his into. "Still," she repeated. "I won't tell."

"Thanks," he smiled and pointed to the actors below, who were on a break. "So, uh, what play are we doing?"

"It's called The Pillowman," she smiled. "And as far as we can tell it is C's giant middle finger to the school board, because it's about a writer - that's Loki, there, Thor's brother - who gets tortured because his stories resemble some child murders."

"Oh," Clint frowned. "That's... cheery."

"We're not much into happy here," she laughed. "You should have seen Shockheaded Peter."

Clint watched Loki, who looked nothing like his brother, pace the stage, gesturing and muttering. He wanted to tell Tash that he could read lips, that he understood what lines they were practicing, but that seemed like a freakish thing to do, so he sat, in companionable silence with a beautiful and fucking skilled girl, and tried not to screw it up.

After a few minutes of silence, she stood and brushed herself off.

"Come on," she said. "Let's get a Cherry Coke."

"Yeah, okay."

He led the way down the stairs and onto the stage, where the rehearsal was staring up again. Steve sat in the front row, diligently taking notes as Mr. Coulson said words like "objective" and "upstage" and "dialect" which Clint was sure meant something.

Tash touched his arm, which made him aware he was staring, and gestured with her head towards the backstage hallway.

"We keep a stash," she whispered.

She led him to the tiny fridge in a room full of lumber that she called, imaginatively, the wood room, where Stark and Bruce were sitting on an old couch, arguing gently about, from what Clint would tell, the benefits of Hollywood and traditional flats. He didn't ask what the crap they were on about, he just kinda assumed they were talking about shoes, accepted the soda Tash handed him, and said his hellos.

"Our Widow treating you well?" Stark asked, his posture so relaxed that the word insouciant wandered into Clint's mind, though he wasn't sure it was the right word or what it actually meant.

"Widow?" he asked, and Tash shook her head. "Yeah, she's- it's all great."

"Well, you ever need anything, car repairs, a new desk, a date, you come see me and Hulk here, we'll hook you up."

"Hulk?"

Tash rolled her eyes so hard that Clint was pretty sure he heard them. "Don't sweat the nicknames, Newbie, you'll get one soon enough. Bruce is Hulk because he's deceptively strong. I'm Black Widow because Tony is pretty sure my bite is poisonous-"

"And you climb webs, don't forget!" Tony laughed. Clint tried to exchange a look with Bruce, but the other boy seemed mostly content to listen to his friends bicker.

Tash continued like Tony hadn't interrupted. "Steve is Captain, sometimes Captain America when Tony is being petulant. Thor doesn't need a nickname, because, well, Thor and Loki's real name is Luke, but Loki bugs him so we use it. And Tony is--"

"Iron Man!" Tony called out, striking the most relaxed and loose-limbed heroic pose of all time. Clint couldn't help himself; he laughed.

"Tony," Tash had a cruel smile. "Is the Old Gray Mare," but that is a story involving a lot of alcohol, his boxers, and a shop vac that was never quite the same."

"Iron Man," Tony said again, like he could make it stick.

"He also answers to Mrs. Captain," Bruce offered, and Tony gave him the most wounded and betrayed of looks. "But only when I say it."

Clint nodded. "Got it. Stark is the Gray Mare."

Tony flicked him off, and Bruce laughed into his hand. "I like you, Newbie," Bruce said, nodding. "You gonna stick with us?"

Clint shrugged. "I-- I move a lot. But while I'm here, sure."

Tash put a hand on his arm. "I'm gonna show Newbie the booth. You two be-- I would say good, but well. You two don't get caught."

Tony gave her a thumbs up, and she led Clint back into the theatre, sodas in hand, and up the the back, where there was a small, black room with windows built into it.

"The booth," she said, with a grand gesture. "My kingdom. Green on C's keys, if you need it, but it's only locked when we shouldn't be in here."

Clint nodded, and listened politely as she spoke over his head about channels and dimmers and boards and cues.

After a fifteen minute monologue, Tash stopped. "You didn't get any of that, did you?"

"Not a word," Clint agreed, and she smiled.

"Don't worry, you'll get it. And, by the way, keep the Mrs. Captain stuff about Stark under wraps, yeah? Bruce shouldn't have--"

"No problem," Clint cut in. "Steve doesn't know?"

"No," Tash slid into the chair behind the lighting board and gestured for Clint to take the one behind the sound board, which he did. "Steve is well aware that he and Tony are dating. Most of the school isn't, though and neither is Tony's dad, and that could cause, you know, problems."

Clint nodded. He hadn't heard that one, but that wasn't a surprise. It was hard to hear news and gossip when you didn't have any friends.

"So why did Bruce say something to me if it's a big secret?"

Tash shrugged. "Not a secret, per se. Just, Bruce sometimes gets anxious and talks too much. We clean up as best we can."

Clint nodded and followed her gaze through the large glass windows in front of them to the stage, where rehearsal was still going on. He was only vaguely aware of time passing as they sat there, but he supposed it must have, because before long it was time for another break and the clock was hitting five pm.

"You're in the right place, you know," Tash said, not looking up from the script she had opened at some point.

"What do you mean?"

"Theatre kids," she laughed. "We're not, you know, orphans, most of us, but we're here cause it's better than home. You know?"

Clint did know, he knew really well. He actually liked his current foster parents a little; they seemed the decent types who actually bought him shoes and the occasional double cheeseburger and didn't need to knock him around, but he knew all too well what it was to sneak out of the house at 4am because it was safer than being there when someone woke up.

"Yeah," he said. "I know."


Steve gave Clint and Tash both rides home in his minivan. It fit, Steve driving a minivan - it was a 1987 Dodge Caravan, Steve said, and he had named it "the Howling Commando" for the noises it made any time he turned on the radio. Clint liked the car, despite himself. It was somehow appropriate, it felt right for Steve.

Tash lived only a few miles from school, in a part of town she called "Little Moscow"- apparently there was a flourishing Russian community in town, and Tash promised to bring Clint something called Pelmani, which Steve pronounced "delicious," so Clint guessed it was a food.

She hopped out with a fair amount of energy, telling them she'd see them both tomorrow and yelling something at Steve about a CD he had promised her.

Steve smiled as they drove away, and Clint was oddly happy to be in this guy's van.

"Tash likes you," Steve said, giving him the side eye at a traffic light.

"I like her, too?"

Steve gave him a jab in the arm. "Just be good to her, okay? Bucky didn't do right by her."

Clint was putting pieces together now. Bucky, he had figured, graduated last year and he had been some kind of friend to Steve, and either dated or spurned Tash, all while being the old lighting guy. It wasn't easy, but Clint was trying to put some kind of history together in his brain, piece these people into humans to him, make them real.

"You said you were at 321 West Wood?"

Clint shook his head and then nodded. "Yeah- I mean, yes, that's where I'm staying."

"With Clara and James Wilkins?"

Clint furrowed his brow. "Are you all stalking me?"

"No," Steve laughed. "I cut their grass in the summer, and sometimes do odd chores for them. Gram won't let me keep a real job during the school months, so I do odd ones."

"Oh." Clint had never heard of a family forbidding a kid to work before, he was more used to kids being required to work.

"She wants me to go to college," Steve said. "An actual art school, so she pressed me to stay in theatre when I was gonna leave."

"Because your mom died?" Clint bit his tongue. Stupid, stupid stupid.

"Yeah," Steve shrugged. "Gram isn't young, and I hated the idea of her working, but she said that was her blessing, and I know better than to fight. She can still whoop me."

Clint studied Steve for a moment; the guy was probably 6'3" and a solid wall of muscle. There was no way any old lady could take him.

"So why theatre?" Clint asked. "You look like you'd kick ass at football."

"Ugh," Steve made a face. "Have you seen our football team?"

Clint shook his head, and Steve laughed.

"Don't worry, no one has. They suck. And even if they didn't, I'm not a fan. I like to watch college ball, when I can, but playing? No thanks."

Clint nodded. "Oh."

"What about you? We gonna lose you to basketball or track in the spring?"

Clint laughed. "I'm not much of a teams person. I- you know, I move around a lot. You might lose me to that first."

"Am I supposed to pretend I don't know you're a foster kid?" Steve asked, and Clint choked on his own spit.

"What?"

"James and Clara told me you were coming. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to."

"Not even Tony?" Clint asked, and then considered throwing himself out of the van because how could he be that stupid.

"No," Steve smiled. "Not even Tony, though he'll find out, the sneaky little brat."

"But I thought you two were-- you know--"

"Gay fag homos together?" Steve tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but it still crept along the edges, and the slurs sounded all too familiar in his mouth. "Yeah, we are."

"I didn't mean-- I'm sorry-- I just--"

Steve laughed, the bitterness still coloring his voice. "I'm not mad at you, I'm sorry. I was just-- we get some shit at school, and I would really like to be able to hold Tony's hand somewhere other than C's room or backstage or in our houses and not worry that we're gonna get, you know, hate crimed."

"Tash said his dad wasn't a fan of-- you?"

Steve shrugged. "What about you, Clint? What do you think of our merry band?"

"Uh. I like them? Bruce seems interesting."

"He is," Steve said, as he drove up to Clint's house - well, not his he thought, it was never going to be his. "By the way, how are you getting to school?"

"Bus?"

Steve pointed down the street. "I live about three blocks over and one up. I'll pick you up tomorrow at six thirty, okay?"

"Are you-- really?"

"Yeah," Steve turned that toothpaste smile on. "I'll show you early morning tech, you can help me paint a door."

"Sounds riveting?"

"Have a good night," Steve said, offering his hand. Clint clasped it, and reached back to fish his bag from the back seat.

"Thanks, man. You too."

Steve gave a lazy salute that was almost a carbon copy of the one Tony had given him at lunch, and Clint hopped out of the minivan and went inside.



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That was the beginning of good things in Clint's life; no longer being forced to bear the loud stifling bus, Clint was almost happy when he got to school, and he got to spend an hour before classes working shoulder-to-shoulder with Steve and Thor and Tony, as well as a group of absolutely brilliant girls; Jane, Darcy and Pepper, who were on build crew. Tash sat next to him in French on blue days, passing him notes about Mme. Renard's hair and outfit choices that he wasn't quite clever enough to respond to. And even Tony Stark, who it turned out was phenomenally rich and related to the guy who made all the weapons, gave him a hand with his Algebra at lunch.

He went to school with them on Saturdays to build sets and talk and generally grow to like people. C turned out to be really deceptively cool and little badass; he bought them lunch every week, and would tell stories of his time in the Navy

It was all turning out, well, actually okay. Clint was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And somehow, it didn't, for the first month. He'd officially been at a school for ten whole weeks - a whole semester! - and made actual friends. He even went to a few parties with them, which, while they involved a modicum of beer, seemed to mostly center around watching a movie in Tony's gigantic home theatre and then fighting about it.

He kinda enjoyed that, too, even if he never knew what to say to claims like "They ripped the plot from Hamlet, straight from it, who do you think Scar is? He's Claudius, you dolt!" when they had just watched The Lion King and Bruce was getting angry about it.

Clint learned a lot about theatre just by being there, like Steve taught him what a flat was and how to make one and Thor explained stage left and stage right and Tony showed him how, if you lay on your back and dangled your head off the edge of the stage, you could watch people walk on the ceiling. (The last one was a popular game among the techies; they called it "Upsidedown World" and though Clint was pretty sure there was no way to WIN the game, he still enjoyed playing it with them.)

Saturday tech was actually fun - the week it went bad, while Steve and Tash and C were on the ground directing, they put Clint on their rolling scaffolding with Thor (they called it "flying" like, "Clint and Thor are flying stage right, watch your butts!") and he spent the day working harder than he had in a long time, hefting lights and tightening bolts and running cables. It was satisfying, even if his shoulders and neck ached.

Thor was hilarious and kind. He loved talking about Jane, who it turned out he was dating, and how he and Loki spent summers in Norway with their grandfather and the time Thor had gotten lost in Lillehammer. Clint was content to listen, to enjoy the chatter when they weren't being directed to hang this or focus that, and he was almost disappointed when C called time and he and Thor had to get down to make way for the actor rehearsal that was due to begin.

Tash handed him a can of Pepsi and a bag of animal crackers.

"Thanks for helping out, Clint."

"Yeah, no problem. Thanks for-- this," he said, pulling open the bag of cookies. He meant more, wanted to say more, but she still tied his tongue in knots.

She laughed. "Just, don't call them animal crackers around Tony. He has a thing."

"A... thing?"

"Yeah, like, he heard some comedian once go on about how you put cheese on crackers and it upset him or something, so call them Animal Cookies around him, if you don't want a three-hour lecture."

"Then again," Steve said as he popped up behind them and grabbed for Clint's cookies, ignoring Tash's evil glare. "Tony has a thing about a lot of things. You should hear him on jumbo shrimp."

"They can't be both big and small!" Thor chimed in, appearing on Clint's other side and stealing his own share of cookies. "Things can only be one size unless we finagle the hoobajoob on the whatsit and change the laws of physics!"

"You two are terrible," Tash laughed, "You're not even doing the facial hair!" She demonstrated, pulling a lock of her hair over her mouth in mimicry of Tony's goatee.

"At least," a jovial voice said behind them, "I have the good sense to know when something is stupid."

Clint felt his face flush, and he turned to see Tony standing behind them, leaning against a door jamb, looking like he had just heard a great joke.

"Then why are you dating Steve?" Tash asked.

Clint shifted his weight. He got it, they were friends. They teased each other. It was fun, sure. But it was too- he couldn't stay, he had to go. Quietly, so they might not notice him, he backed out of the circle of joking friends, abandoned the food and drink in a seat, and left.


He walked back to the Wilkins' house, ignoring the calls on his cell phone - first Tash, then Steve twice, and then Tash again and Tony. Finally, standing in front of the front door of his temporary house, he texted Tash.

I'm fine, just needed air.

The response came a moment later: We were worried.

He didn't know how to answer that - people didn't usually worry about him. He stared at his phone until a second text came in. Party at Casa del Stark tonight. In?

Clint thought about it, smiled to himself, and answered. Can't. Guardians have a thing.

We'll miss you, she wrote back, and Clint shoved his phone in his pocket. No they wouldn't.

Clint opened the door to the house, calling out as he entered "Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins?"

Mr. Wilkins popped his head around the corner that lead to the living room. "Hey, son, we're in here."

Clint swallowed hard, opened his mouth and closed it again. He wasn't this man's son and he had no right to call him that.

"Right, uh, I'm home."

"We're watching the Aggies lose," Mr. Wilkins said, as Clint moved towards the stairs. "Wanna join us?"

"Uh, no thanks, Mr. Wilkins," Clint shrugged. "I've got, uh, you know. Reading. For school. The Scarlet Letter. It's, you know, about a lady. Named Scarlet."

Mr. Wilkins raised an eyebrow. "Alright, well. Dinner at 6."

Clint nodded and started his retreat.

"And Clint?"

He paused on the fifth stair, dying to get to his bedroom. "Yeah?"

"It's been three months, son. You can call me James. And Mrs. Wilkins is Clara."

Clint shook his head. "No thanks, Mr. Wilkins. And uh- you know, I'm not your son."

Mr. Wilkins might have responded, but Clint didn't wait to hear. He beat a retreat to his room, closing the door behind him, locking it and wedging a chair under the handle. He didn't trust locks, not after his time with the Thomases when he was thirteen.

Clint knelt by his bed and reached under it for the one case he had always managed to keep with him. It wasn't big, just large enough to hold a bow and arrows - a gift from the family that had kept him and Barney until they had their own kids, from when he was six til he was 8. It was too small for him now, too easy to draw and too easy for him to break, but Clint held it to his chest, kneeling on the floor, and tried not to lose himself in self pity.

When Mrs. Wilkins knocked on his door for dinner, Clint didn't answer. He wasn't hungry.



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Clint turned off his phone on the Sunday after his walkout, declining to join his foster parents at Church, like he had every other week he'd been with them, and spent the morning bumming around the house and eating whatever came to his hand.

He heard their car pull into the garage and beat a retreat back up to his room, where he turned his phone on to find a voicemail from Tash, thirteen drunk text messages from Thor (all in the vein of boisterous demands for libations) and a single text from Steve that said "Ride tomorrow?"

He texted Steve back in the affirmative and ignored the others in favor of a semblance of homework.


Clint's plan was simple: he would pretend Saturday hadn't happened, and if anyone said anything different, he would pretend not to know what they were talking about. He was pretty sure it was flawless.

Steve seemed to sense Clint's reluctance to talk, which he played off as being tired from a long weekend of Family Activities. (Not his family, the people he was staying with. People were more comfortable when Clint pretended they were something other than landlords to him.) The normal morning build crew was there when Clint and Steve walked in, but other than a poisonous look from Pepper ("Ignore her, she's protective of Tash," Jane had muttered, and Clint stuck with the innocent act) no one seemed to want to acknowledge that anything had happened.

It worked until lunch, when Tash cornered him outside of C's room, her eyes flashing.

"What the hell was Saturday?" she demanded. Clint swallowed hard.

"No idea what you're--"

"Don't lie to me, Barton. You ran away from tech and then ignored everyone. What's up?"

Clint felt his brow furrow. "Can we not do this?"

"Do what? Hold you accountable?"

He tried to brush past her, but she grabbed his collar and hauled him back - she was strong for a girl, he thought, but of course she was, she was always hauling around lights and whatnot.

"Clint, I know, I get it. You're dark and brooding and dangerous. Mysterious past. We're all really impressed, I promise. But it's not cool to just walk out on us."

Clint tried to suppress his sneer, and only partly succeeded. "Do you want me to apologize?"

"I want you to tell me what's up."

Clint sighed. "Look, Tash, it's great, okay, getting to know you all, but this isn't permanent for me. The Wilkinses are going to get rid of me in a few months like everyone else does, and you know, after twelve families in sixteen years - thirteen if you could my dead parents - I try not to get attached anymore, okay?"

He didn't wait for her reply, just brushed past her and stalked into the cafeteria, where he sat at a table in the corner and hauled a book out of his bag.

Five minutes before lunch ended, Clint looked up from the book - it was an ancient copy of Doctor Doolittle that Barney had left behind - to find that Bruce had, at some point come to sit with him.

"Hey," Bruce offered.

"Hi," Clint returned, and he flipped a page in his book.

"Look, you don't have to make fun of Stark or call Steve "Captain" or date Tash if you don't want to," Bruce said. "But eat lunch with us. You're actually fun to talk to."

Clint shrugged, still not looking up from his book. Bruce sighed and got up, shouldering his bag. He paused at Clint's shoulder.

"No tech this afternoon," he said. "You want a ride home?"

Clint looked up at Bruce, knowing that there was all kinds of emotion showing on his face, which was kinda gross for a boy.

"Why are you so nice to me?"

Bruce smiled. "You- okay. So you know Steve's mom died and he lives with his grandma?"

Clint nodded and Bruce slid back into his chair. "Steve's got a grandma, Tash lives with her Aunt and Uncle, my dad died when I was ten, Tony might have both his parents but he was mostly raised by an actualfacts authentic English butler named Jarvis, and Thor.. well, Thor has two parents but his dad has this thing where he sleeps for like, months at a time. We get it. Maybe we're not foster kids, but we get the whole family thing. So we want you to come and join us. We'll even give you a nickname. But you gotta try."

Clint stared at Bruce. "How did you-" but of course Bruce knew. Clint was pretty sure his whole foster kid thing was the worst kept secret in the school, right after Steve and Tony dating. "Okay, yeah. Thanks Bruce. I'll - Senior lot, after seventh?"

Bruce stood again and clapped him on the shoulder. "Yeah. And Clint?"

"Yeah?"

"Apologize to Tash. You won't like her when she's angry."

Clint didn't say anything in response, didn't say anything about being his dad's punching bag, about losing his brother, about the families he'd been shuffled between and the shitty things he had found there. He chose not to mention the crappy hand his life had dealt him, because what was the point? He just gave Bruce a lopsided grin, the one that always charmed him out of trouble when he needed it, and shrugged. Bruce turned to leave again, but Clint had to say something, couldn't let him have the last word.

"Hey, Bruce?"

"Yeah?"

"Give me a year," he said, the smile widening. "And I bet I'll be the best damn stage manager this school has ever seen."

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Thor's next in line."

"Yeah, and then he graduates, and you know Tash doesn't have the patience and Darcy doesn't want it. Give me time and give me a shot."

"I thought you were leaving."

"Give me time," Clint repeated. "And give me a shot. I never miss."

The bell rang, giving them five minutes to scramble to their classes, but Clint stuck his hand out, and Bruce clasped it, pulling him to his feet with that legendary "Hulk" strength.

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Bruce said, smiling down at Clint.

"Do," Clint said, and he gave one of those lazy salutes he'd picked up from Tony and Steve as he sauntered out of the cafeteria.



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Clint Barton is sorry.
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Apologizing to Tash was hard- not just because she was Tash and tended to make Clint forget everything he had ever learned about words and how to form them, but because he wasn't sure how to make it up to her. So he waited, he let her have some space, and he asked Steve for advice the next morning.

"Dude," Steve laughed. "I'm dating Tony Stark. He usually does the apologizing."

Clint tried not to look annoyed, opting instead to fiddle with the vent on the Howling Commando.

"Okay, it's like this," Steve said, after a moment. "You tell her you were wrong, tell her why you were wrong, and then you say you're sorry. Also you should probably kiss her."

Well, if Steve wasn't going to take this seriously, Clint wasn't going to listen to him at all.


He gave her the note in French.

Tash,

I'm sorry you were upset on Saturday. I should have said something before I left, so you didn't worry.

-Clint

She glared at him. "Tu es completement debile," she whispered, balling up his note and throwing it at his forehead.

He had to look most of that up. And yeah, he thought she was right. He was a moron.

Still, she didn't glare at him for the rest of the period, and when they gathered up their books as the bell rang, she turned to him.

"I'm angry because you still don't trust me, and I haven't given you any reason not to," she said, sighing heavily. "I know that's hard for you to get, but try, okay?"

She shouldered her bag and stalked into the hall. He tried to follow, but she had already met Pepper, and the two of them were walking away, heads bent together. No way he was getting in the middle of that.



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Steve Rogers I'm opening my last fall play at Carver on FRIDAY NIGHT at SEVEN PM. Be there or feel really guilty for letting me down.
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Tash might not have totally forgiven him, but they were into what Tony called hell week, and they didn't have a lot of time to fight about things. Clint was the spot op, which wasn't as hard as they made it sound because he had what Steve called a sniper-like ability to always hit the right actor, and he got to wear a bitchin headset, so that was pretty cool.

His days were full- school and rehearsal and even an occasional stab at homework. But mostly he talked to Bruce and Steve and Tony, and tried to get through the hours.

And when opening night came, and the curtain parted on their completely depressing, totally brilliant show, Clint couldn't help but feel like he was flying, and he said as much into his headset.

"Calm down, Eagle Eyes," Steve responded, from backstage. "Show runs two and a half hours."

He heard Tash's laughter in his ears, followed by Bruce's sigh. "He's not an eagle," Bruce said. "He's too little."

"Fine," Steve huffed. "Hawk Eyes, I don't care. Standby light cues seven through 13, sound H."

"Lights," Natasha said, overlapping with Bruce's response of "Sound", and Clint took a deep breath. This was it.


After the show they headed to an all-night diner, where they all ordered milkshakes and appetizers and somehow Steve and Tony ended up in a fight about whether calamari should be tentaclely (Tony) or round rings (Steve). Clint didn't stop laughing the whole time.

When Bruce got up to use the bathroom, Tash slid into the booth next to Clint and leaned over him, taking a large sip of his milkshake before making a face.

"Strawberry, Hawkeye, really?"

"What did you - wait, Hawkeye?"

She grinned. "Cookies and cream is better, and Bruce was right, you're too little to be an eagle."

"But Hawkeye? It sounds like a Canadian pop-punk band."

Tash laughed, and Clint laughed, and then she did the most insane thing Clint had ever seen her do - she leaned into him further and then she kissed him on the mouth. She tasted like strawberries, sweet and gentle and just -Tash. If he wasn't in a diner at midnight and surrounded by people, Clint thought he might actually moan, or something. Instead he reached a tentative hand up and touched her cheek before cracking open an eye. She kissed with her eyes open, watching his every move, and the fact of that made Clint so hard that he thought his dick might actually break off.

Across the table, Tony whooped, and Clint blushed red.

"Tash, I-" he stammered, as she pulled back.

Tony was collecting money from the assembled techies and handing it to Darcy, who was crowing, "Opening night! I told you bitches!"

Tash laughed. "I think we should make out," she said, and Clint felt like he was lost.

"I thought you were mad at me?"

Tash rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, you- I don't know, you weren't pushy about me forgiving you and-" she sighed. "Just shut up."

He leaned into the kiss this time, and when they surfaced, Clint couldn't help but laugh at a dejected Bruce, handing Darcy ten bucks.



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Clint Barton is in a relationship with Tash Romanoff
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There was no logical reason, absolutely none, that Clint's life should suddenly be this good.

He had foster parents that actually liked him and provided for him and he didn't totally hate. He liked that part a lot. But better than that, he had a group of friends and a girlfriend and an actual hobby that was more respectable than any of the other ones he had cultivated, in his less well-to-do stops along the way.

And he and Tash talked. About everything. He told her about his parents, how they died, and she told him about her family being back in Russia, having sent her here to have a better life. He only kept one secret, the only one he couldn't bear to tell her, and that was where his old scars had come from. She liked them, liked to trace the ones she could see with her fingers or her mouth, but Clint didn't ever want to see the look that would be on her face if she knew.

"What's this one?" she asked, running a finger along a bare white patch, a few centimeters long, on the back of his head. He figured that two weeks into their relationship wasn't exactly the right time to say "That's where Mr. Yates threw me against the bookshelf," so he changed the subject.

"I have a brother," he said. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, their two-week anniversary, and they were at the park, sitting on top of the monkey bars. Clint was whipping stones at a spot on the slide, hitting every time. He had always been proud of his aim.

"Where is he?" Tash asked. She was fiddling with something she'd pulled out of her pocket- a moment's glance revealed it to be her Leatherman. Clint kinda loved that she always carried it, like she might need to built a set or hang a light at a moment's notice.

"I don't know," Clint said. "He ran away, after our parents died. He'd be nineteen now."

Tash stared at him.

"What?"

"You miss him," she said, and Clint shrugged.

"I guess I thought when he turned eighteen he would, you know, forgive me for not going with him, and come find me. I guess I thought we could live together or something."

Tash put a hand on his arm, and he threw the next rock harder than he needed to.

"I mean, he could be my guardian, you know?"

She nodded. "I- yeah."

He knew what she wasn't thinking, all the shit his caseworker had said, about maybe Barney went to college and wouldn't it be a hard thing, for an 18-year-old to care for his little brother and did Clint really want that?

He jumped off the monkey bars, relishing the moment of freedom when he was suspended in air. "Wanna go somewhere?"

She dismounted, too, but she didn't answer, opting instead to flip open her leatherman, and walk over to a rather burly-looking tree.

He followed her and watched as she cut away a piece of bark and began to carve their initials into it. NR+CB, neatly encased in a heart.

"There," she said, when she was done, closing her leatherman and shoving it back into her pocket. "Now we're permanent."

"With this tree, you we wed?"

"No," she laughed. "Even if we're just hormonally charged idiots who spend too much time inhaling sawdust, this is here. Natalia Romanoff and Clinton Barton."

Clint made a face. "Your name is Natalia? Since when?"

She rolled her eyes, but she was laughing too, and she turned into him, looping her arms around his neck. "You're such an idiot," she said before she kissed him.



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They went on occasional double- or triple-dates with Steve and Tony or Thor and Jane, and he learned to play mini golf (he was great at that) and swear in Russian (not so great) and, one memorable day when Tony was busy having more money than sense, they all got to go out on his father's yacht and Clint got to learn about sea sickness and that vomiting in front of your girlfriend, it turned out, was humiliating.

But all in all, he was happy. So why did he feel like it was all going to be taken away at a moment's notice?

The winter one-act came and went and somehow C still had a job despite doing a show called The Suicide. Clint agreed with Tash's early assessment; C was absolutely daring the school board to fire him with every passing show, but they didn't because he was so damn good at his job, and so important to them as a teacher and, fuck, Clint even thought that if he had a father who was a decent human being, he would want him to be like C.

The spring musical was, of all the stupid things Clint had ever heard, something called Urinetown and in a surprise move, Jane auditioned for, and got, the romantic lead - Hope. Playing opposite Loki's Bobby.

Thor was actually giddy about it, not only because his two "favorite people" got what they wanted, but because he anticipated them all becoming better friends for it.

No one had the heart to tell him he was crazy.



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Tony "Iron Man" Stark MIT BABY I'M GONNA BUILD FUCKIGN ROBOTS
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The week before spring break was a hectic one - they'd all be around school for builds and rehearsals, but still, Tony got into MIT on Monday, Bruce got rejected from Cornell and accepted into UVA on Wednesday, and Tash passed Clint a note in French on Thursday that said, "Do you want to have sex with me? (check one)" and Clint almost choked to death reading it, before passing it back with "WHAT? scrawled across her words.

They didn't talk about it after, but that was mostly because every time Tash said "sex" Clint got all red and stammery and had to go.

Clint climbed into the Howling Commando Friday morning to find Steve dangling a letter from CalArts in his face. Clint read it quickly- "Dear Mr. Rogers, We are pleased to offer you..." and Clint let out a triumphant yell. "STEVE!"

"Yeah, yeah. Go me, straight to Pixar or whatever, yay. Gram is over the moon."

Clint furrowed his brow. "You don't seem to be too excited?"

"I am," Steve sighed, but as the pulled up to the stop sign at the end of Clint's street, Steve stopped the van, turned in his seat, and punched the window.

"Fucking ow!" he yelled. The window was unimpressed.

"Jesus!" Clint freed himself from his belt and made a grab for the emergency brake, and then Steve's hand. "What the fuck are you doing!"

"Tony is going to goddamned MIT!" Steve growled. "As in Massachusetts. As in 3000 miles from California."

"So you'll do the long-distance--"

Steve rolled his eyes and snorted. "Yeah, because that has ever worked? Because I want to be Tony's best man when he marries Pepper? Fuck."

They sat in silence for a moment, Clint trying to figure out what to say. "Did you two, uh, break up, then?"

"No," Steve sighed. "I didn't tell him yet. I'm-- I'm gonna talk to C. I could still get into Ithaca, that's closer, or MICA, and so long as I hit the lottery I'll be able to pay for it. and--" his voice broke, and Steve swallowed hard.

"Hey," Clint wasn't sure what guys did when they were gonna cry in front of each other. "Hey, Steve." He reached out for Steve's shoulder, and Steve leaned into him. Before he was even sure what was happening, they were hugging, Clint's first benign hug from a guy since Barney had left. He took a shuddering breath of his own.

"You know what I think we need?" Clint asked, as Steve pulled back and rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand.

"What?"

"I think we need to skip tech, skip first, and go get waffles."

"Waffles?"

"Yeah," Clint smiled. "Like pancakes, but with syrup holders."

"I know what waffles are, you little shit."

Clint laughed. "You have cussed more in the past two minutes than in the last six months I've known you."

Steve shrugged and put the car in gear. "I try to save it for important times. The bedroom, you know, finding out you're gonna have to leave the man you love--"

"You love him?" Clint's voice was low, and Steve nodded almost imperceptibly.

"I really do," he said. "He's annoying and bratty and spoiled, but he's also sweet and brilliant and he-- he always makes me laugh. When my mom was dying, Tony was the one who sat with me all night, at her bedside. He was the one who made sure Gram and I ate. You know? He wants to take care of people, he's just really and truly bad at it."

Clint smiled. "If it helps, Tash wants to have sex. With me."

Steve raised an eyebrow. "How the fuck is that supposed to help?"

"I don't know, take your mind off it?"

"Are you--" Steve glanced at Clint. "Okay, so I have to say this because Tash is like my little sister, but-- do you need me to buy you condoms?"

Clint coughed. "What-- I-- That-- I-- No?"

"Well, just make sure you're safe."

"I-- Why aren't you telling me that sixteen is too young and it's a sin and to respect her?"

Steve shrugged. "Tash can take care of herself. If you hurt her, she'll destroy you before I can. And I mean, sixteen is young and it is a sin according to my beliefs, but I'm a gay Christian so. I'm lenient about sin, I guess." He sighed. "Just don't do anything you don't want to."

"That's kinda the thing-" Clint rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I want to have sex, yeah. I just--" he ran a hand through his hair, which was long enough to verge on mulletty and he should really get cut. "I'm pretty sure-- I move around a lot, you know? She might get all attached and stuff."

Steve didn't say anything for a long moment, turning the Howling Commando into the school parking lot - so much for waffles - and pulling into his space.

"Okay," he said, throwing the car into park. "That's legit, that you're not sure you'll be around. But if you want to tell her that, make it about you, and not wanting to have to leave her or something mushy. She doesn't want to be protected, you know."

"Yeah," Clint sighed. "I just-- yeah, that makes sense. Thanks."

"Hey," Steve grinned. "Giving you sex advice is just one of the many perks we offer here are Rogers Chauffeur Services."

"You know what you're gonna tell Tony?"

"That," Steve made a face, grabbing his bag from the back, "Is not a perk. Come on, we have plungers to spray paint."

Clint's life was so very strange, and just a little perfect. He followed Steve into the school.


It was a short day, it turned out, because apparently every year, on the Friday before Spring Break, Fury tried to put the fear of God into his students by bringing in a speaker, someone who would tell them how, if they drank or had sex or drove or looked at a cigarette, they would die.

Clint thought it was pretty stupid, but trooped to the theatre with the rest of the school, and he slid into a seat in the back, next to Thor and Jane.

They were laughing about the whole idea of the presentation, like it would stop the idiots who drove drunk anyway, when the lights dimmed and Fury took the stage.

"Who's working this?" Clint whispered, as Fury began a talk about how this was a privilege and he was looking out for them, and previous experience had made him very desperate
to never lose a student again.

"Bruce," Thor responded, and Clint craned his neck to look around. That meant Tash was somewhere, probably looking for him.

He stopped looking when Fury finished his speech and their speaker wheeled himself onto stage.

"Folks, please listen carefully to this young man, he has a lot to tell you. Charles?"

Clint was frozen in his seat as the speaker took the mic. He was- it couldn't be.

"Hi ladies and gentlemen," the speaker said. "My name is Charles Bernard Barton."

Thoir nudged Clint with his elbow, a smile on his face. "Any relation, Hawkeye? Your long-lost twin?"

"No," Clint breathed. "My brother."

Thor said something else, but Clint didn't hear him. He didn't hear anything, not what Barney was saying, nothing but the pounding of his own heart.

He broke into a sweat, despite the cold air of the theatre, and his hands began to tremble. "Barney," he whispered again, and Thor gave him another nudge.

"Hawkeye? Clint? Are you--"

He had to go. He had to get out. He sprang to his feet and ran, ignorant of the two thousand people who watched him go.


When Fury and Coulson found him, Clint was sitting out in the parking lot, on the hood of a car he was pretty sure was either Bruce's or not. Those seemed to be two solid choices, and Clint was craving solid choices at the moment.

"Mr. Barton!" Fury thundered from across the parking lot, and Clint looked at him without really seeing him. "You're not cleared to leave school property. Come back in the building."

Clint flicked him off.

He heard Coulson and Fury arguing, hushed voices that they hoped wouldn't carry, but totally did, until they decided that Coulson could go out to Clint and talk him back in.

"Hey," Coulson called as he approached the car. "Clint."

Clint stared through him. "Got a cigarette?"

"Not on school grounds I don't."

"Oh."

"I figured we'd find you in a tree."

Clint shrugged.

"You wanna tell me what's up?"

"Not really."

Coulson nodded. "Here's what I'm thinking - you're related to the speaker? Someone you thought was long gone?"

"Yeah."

"Someone who hurt you?"

"No," Clint laughed bitterly. "My dad was-- the first time my dad hit me, C, I was two years old, and I had knocked over his beer. The last time my dad hit me was the night he died, when I was begging my mother not to get in the car with him while he was drunk. I was six."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Clint."

"Yeah well, if that idiot in there is my brother - and he is, he's Barney - then he--" Clint laughed bitterly. "Dad would be so proud."

Coulson sat next to him on the hood. "You know, when you become a teacher, they give you a lot of books and guidelines on what to do when a kid tells you the things you just told me. And I can't remember a single one of them right now, except I have to report this to the authorities."

Clint laughed, this time with some actual happiness behind it. "My caseworker will be just thrilled to hear I opened up to someone."

"Will you come back in the building?" Coulson asked. "You don't have to go to the assembly, you can chill in my room or the wood room, whatever."

Clint nodded. "Yeah, okay. And don't say chill, C, you're way too old."

"I know," Coulson said, making old man noises as he climbed down from the hood and extending a hand to Clint.

"Can I talk to him?" Clint asked, and was horrified to hear himself ask it, but fuck it, he'd come this far. "After the talk? Can I see him?"

Coulson nodded. "Sure. I mean, we have to ask him, but it's fine with me, and I doubt Fury will care so long as you come inside."

Clint felt like he was six again, walking next to Mr. Coulson on their way back into the building, and he resisted the urge to reach out and take his teacher's hand or suck his thumb, opting instead to try and think of what the fuck he was going to say to Barney.


"Hey."

Clint looked up from where he'd been staring for the past thirty minutes. He was sitting on the dilapidated couch in the woodroom, staring at a spot on the wall where someone had written "Peter Parker wants to put it in Gwen Stacy".

Steve was leaning against the doorjamb, his posture straight as always, but his eyes red-rimmed and puffy.

"Hey," Clint replied, and scooted over, letting Steve fall onto the couch next to him. "What are you doing back here?"

Steve held up a set of keys, all color-coded by the rubber toppers. "C gave me his keys."

"Oh."

"What are you doing back here?"

Clint shrugged. "Apparently my brother is in a wheelchair and gives don't-drink-and-drive talks to high schools. And when he's done with that I'm going to talk to him for the first time in seven years."

"Oh."

"Are you okay?"

Steve shrugged. "Tony and I-- I told him about CalArts."

"And he dumped you?"

"No," Steve collapsed back against the couch. "He offered to pay."

"And then you cried?" Clint was confused, but at least he wasn't thinking about Barney for a minute.

"I-- We fought. Kinda publicly."

Clint could imagine it all too well, the same simmering fight Tony and Steve were always having - Steve was too proud to take any of Tony's money, Tony was too insistent on paying for things, they were both obstinate bastards.

"How are you going to pay for it? College, I mean?"

Steve shrugged. "I was thinking of deferring a year and working, or maybe I'll enlist in the Army and reapply when I get out. My dad was in the Army."

Clint nodded. He had never seriously thought about college; he had always figured he'd work it out when the time came.

"What are you going to say to your brother?" Steve asked.

Clint shrugged. "I'll let you know when I see him."

Steve didn't respond, and they sat in silence until the sound of applause filtered in from the theatre - maybe fifteen minutes, maybe fifty, Clint didn't know and didn't care.

"I should go," Steve said, hauling himself off the couch.

"I-- Would you stay?" Clint wasn't sure why he was asking, but the words fell out of his mouth anyway.

Steve sat.

It was another ten minutes until they heard Coulson's measured step - two feet five inches in every stride- along with two other sets of feet and the sound of wheels heading towards them. Clint thought he might vomit, but he sat stock still next to Steve, diligently not reacting as Barney wheeled himself into the room.

"Hey, little brother."

Barney was flanked by two policemen, men wearing blue uniforms and carrying guns.

Clint opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

Coulson stepped forward. "Clint, Barney only has five minutes," he said. "Do you want us to wait outside?"

Clint still couldn't talk, but Barney nodded. "Do you mind?"

The officers stepped out of the room with Coulson, and Steve looked at Clint in askance.

"I'll be fine," Clint whispered, and hated that he felt fucking weak in the face of his brother.

Steve stood, gave Clint a squeeze on his shoulder, and followed Couson and the cops into the hall.

"He your boyfriend?" Barney asked, and Clint thought very seriously about punching him in his smirking face.

"What did you do?"

"What," Barney grinned, "you don't like my ride?"

"You asshole."

"Clint, come on-"

"Fuck you, Barney. Fuck you! I thought- You left me!"

"I asked you to come and you didn't."

Clint didn't care, or notice really, that there were tears in his eyes. "I was nine years old. I thought you'd come back."

"Yeah, well, I didn't."

"Clearly."

Barney took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. "You look good," he said. "You got a family?"

"No," Clint said shaking his head. "Been to every corner of the state for rejection. You?"

"Yeah, kinda."

"What?"

Barney shrugged. "I met some guys, we do some jobs. You know. Not a family, but the next best thing."

Clint stood up and began to pace, though he wasn't totally sure why. He just needed to move. "And you-- how did you do that?"

"I was stupid. I killed three people."

"When?"

"A year ago. Just in time to be an adult."

"And how long are you--?"

"In jail?" Barney sighed again. "Twenty. Ten if I'm good. Coming here counts as good."

"You never called."

"I never knew how to find you."

"Did you ever try?"

Barney looked at his hands. "I was gonna, Clint, really. When I had some money and a place."

"Really?"

"Of course."

Clint thought about hugging his brother, but before he could move, Coulson stuck his head into the room. "Guys? It's time."

Clint nodded, and then grabbed a sharpie from the cup next to the couch. "Give me your hand."

Barney obeyed, and Clint scrawled ten numbers onto his wrist.

"That's my cell," Clint said, capping the sharpie. "I'll accept the charges."

"Okay," Barney said, as he turned the wheelchair around to leave the room. "I'll call."

Clint nodded. He wouldn't, but it was nice of him to pretend.



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Tony "Iron Man" Stark is in a complicated relationship with Steve Rogers. (limited profile)
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Steve Rogers Urinetown opens TONIGHT and you're all coming to see it or I will make Thor cry.
Jane theBrain Foster, Clint Barton and 16 others like this.


The musical opened, and then it closed.

The cast party was at Stark Manor, as always, and halfway through the night, sometime after Steve got thrown in the pool but before Thor started swinging Tony's dad's golf clubs around and breaking lamps, Clint found himself in the guest bedroom, divested of his shirt, a lap full of Tash and a bed underneath them.

"I want you," she panted against his mouth, and Clint froze. Yes, he was touching a beautiful, smart, dangerous girl. Yes, he very very badly wanted to screw her everloving brains out. But he couldn't move.

"Clint?" She pulled back. "Hawkeye? You okay?"

"I can't," he said, trying to shift her off his lap. She didn't budge.

"Did I do something wrong? Clint?"

"No!" he started to stand, and she scrambled off of him. "I just- fuck, Tash. Fuck!"

"Well, yes, that's the general idea."

"I'm not going to be here forever," he growled, suddenly angry. "What are you going to do when I leave?"

"What did I do when Bucky left? I moved the fuck on."

Clint stopped, though he hadn't been aware he was moving. "You had sex with Bucky?"

Tash rolled her eyes. "No, I popped into being the first time you noticed me. I never had a life before you."

"I-- You would--" Clint cursed softly. "I've-- Tash, the foster system-- There are people out there who-- Fuck. I don't want to have sex, okay?"

"What are you-- did someone, uh," Tash was stuttering, unsure of herself for the first time Clint could remember. "Did someone hurt you?"

He shrugged. "Yeah."

"Clint, I'm sorry. I--"

"Don't do that!" He didn't mean to yell, she didn't deserve to be shouted at. "Don't feel sorry for me! It's the way it is, okay? Life sucks."

She didn't say anything, just turned her back to him, sitting on the far side of the bed. He sat, too, his back to her, and stared at the wall.

"My dad used to throw me around because he could," he said, silently deciding to get this out, finally. "And then he and mom died and Barney and I were together and it wasn't okay, but we were together, you know? And then Barney left me. And I started being that kid, the kid who skips school and pals around with-- well. I was that kid, the kid you think of when you hear foster kid. And every time someone hurt me, every time a grownup hit me or a kid took my shoes or whatever, I hurt someone else. Someone smaller. And I kept hurting people because it was easy.

"And the place I was before I came here, I got busted for some stupid shit. A stem and a seed. Nothing illegal, but I'm-- they told me to get it together or it was juvie. So this is me, getting it together. I like you, Tash, but-- I could be that kid again, really easily. And I don't want to hurt you. And I don't-- I don't want you to hurt me. So can we-- can we not?"

He listened to Tash breathe, his anxiety mounting with every beat of his heart.

"Tash?"

"Yeah?"

"Say something?"

"I-- I don't know what to say that won't sound like I feel sorry for you."

"Do you? Feel sorry for me?"

He felt her turn, and imagined her reaching a hand out to touch him, to trace one of his stupid scars that she knew the story behind now, that she could pour her pity into.

"I'm sorry that it happened, and I don't think you-- No. I don't feel sorry for you. I feel-- sad? I think?"

"You don't know?"

She laughed softly. "No. It's not every day someone tells me, you know, that kind of stuff. It's-- It takes some processing."

"I get that," he said, turning to face her, and holding out an arm. She ducked under it, cuddling up to his side. "You still my girl?"

"Ew, no. I was never your girl. That's creepy. I might still date you, though."

He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I'd like that."

"Yeah," she grinned up at him, "me too."



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Bruce Banner Prom sucked, finals sucked, this school sucks, and I don't want to leave it except I really do. How is it already senior week?
Tony "Iron Man" Stark If you would just stop going to school like the rest of us, it would be easier to leave.

By the time Clint had blinked, during the tedium that was the last month of school without a show to work on, the seniors had all made their college plans- Jane to Culver University, Tony to MIT, Bruce to Stanford and Steve to the Maryland Institute College of Art with an ROTC scholarship.

Jane and Thor swore to make it work, swore that they'd be forever faithful and probably adorable into the afterlife.

Tony and Steve agreed to date through the summer - and actually date, everyone else could go fuck themselves - and see what happened when they left. It broke just about everyone's heart, but at least they would be on the same coast, and it wasn't like Tony would have any trouble getting the money together to visit Maryland.

Bruce and Jane shared the distinction of valedictorian, giving a joint speech at graduation that, for no reason Clint could discern, quoted almost the entirety of a French book about a boy on a planet that he had never quite understood the point of.

And they graduated, and Thor cried, and when they met up after the ceremony, Tony took off his mortarboard, gave a huge grin, and grabbed Steve's hand.

"You know what we should do, to celebrate?"

No one knew. No one ever knew what Tony was thinking.

"Lets go find out what schawarma is. We graduated. I say we've earned a day off."



George Washington Carver Newspaper
Senior Wills

Bruce Banner - To DL, my board; to PP, the ability to shut Tony up; to CB, whatever strength he needs; to NR, kisses and bulgogi; to TO, libations and the knowledge that he's gonna be fine.

Jane Foster - To PP, early mornings and paint fumes; to NR, "put it in reverse"; to LO, the heart in the sky; to DL, a taser, but not a real one; to TO all my love for ever and ever amen.

Steve Rogers - To TO, my theatre which he better take care of; to NR, the bat cave; to PP, a smile, a wink, and a muzzle; to CB, early mornings, late nights, and the Howling Commando; to TS, even if he won't be here, love; to C, thanks for making me the man I am today

Tony Stark - I leave this school the way I came; naked and screaming. You all get nothing.