I woke up with an ache in my shoulder and the feel of cold metal on both my wrists. My thoughts were foggy but when I closed my eyes, I got a pretty good idea of where the vapor trail went and what it amounted to even if it didn't make a whole lot of sense.
I'd been talking to a pretty reasonable if very grief-stricken Thor Odinson when his snake oil salesman of a brother shot me. I have, on occasion, been told I have a charming personality. I just couldn't imagine that being an incentive for Loki to patch me up let alone chain me to a bed after telling me how well and truly sick he was of me trying to poach his brother out from under him.
On his own, I suspected Thor might have taken me up on my offer. He was a big enough dope to maybe consider doing the right thing what with his brain being a bit rattled from too much boxing and the recent death of his father. But not with Loki there. Not when I didn't want Loki without five hundred miles of the project I was in charge of.
I opened my eyes and considered my location. I was in a dressing room, the kind you'd find backstage at a theater. The room looked worn down with wallpaper peeling off the wall on my right. There was a closet full of dust-covered costumes to my right. Next to it was a dresser. The large mirror on top had cracked bulbs and faded pictures tucked around its edges.
I considered myself next. My three-piece suit had lost a lot of pieces, but not enough to make me uncomfortable. The badge was gone. Gun too.
There were bandages around my shoulder so whoever had taken such a keen interest in my well-being had at least been thorough. Then I leaned my head back against the baseboard and looked up at the bare bulb that was keeping me company until sleep claimed me.
I woke up again to metal chair legs scraping over a dusty wooden floor. What I found when I opened my eyes was a little better than what I had been expecting, but not by much.
I grimaced at my new friend as he took a seat. He was about my height, which meant he was on the short side. He was definitely more muscle-bound and used to action than Stark or Banner yet not as ready for it as Rogers.
I wasn't sure how I felt about his get-up since it made him look a bit like the bastard child of Pocahontas and Robin Hood. Prompted up next to the door were a massive bow and a quiver full of arrows so I guessed that might have been what he was going for.
I didn’t mind his bare arms, not one bit. The purple fabric he’d chosen clung to his chest and I didn’t mind that either. He pulled off the skirt or whatever it was well enough. And the pink thread and trimming was sort of adorable. His blue eyes glittered with amusement, daring me to say something about his costume.
I didn’t say anything. Neither did he so I continued looking him over. I had nothing else to do, and he was the most interesting thing in the room.
He had short brown hair and I wasn’t sure if he was my age or much younger. He had a young face. I could see most of it since the mask he had on only covered the skin around his eyes and the bridge of his nose. It was a look most vigilantes seemed to favor outside of Frank Castle who really didn't care who knew what he was. Not that it mattered. The Punisher only stayed in town long enough to blow up a gang or a bridge before disappearing again.
The look, in my mind, was a dumb one. Because it seemed to me that anyone who knew the person behind the mask would be able to put two and two together pretty quickly. What killed me was that no one ever did. In fact, the only hero who got any attention was Tony Stark who had been as bold as brass in declaring himself to be the city’s champion. But the headlines he made on a regular basis had nothing to do with his abilities and everything to do with his lack of moral fiber.
The world demanded heroes, but it didn’t look after them. I've watched things go south for far too many of them. I've seen the way their hearts break when they panic and decide they can't fix anything. I'd been trying to do something about it through the Avengers Initiative. The idea was hard sell since most of the heroes I found were pretty jaded. I’d managed to recruit three to my organization before attempting to sign Thor up. One of them was Tony Stark so I wasn't sure how much progress I was actually making, but my mission remained the same.
It seemed like my captor was waiting for me to strike up a rapport.
"You must be new," I said.
He smirked. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. You'd have to be green to help me out. Or confused."
"I know about you," he said. "And I don't care what's on your badge."
"Give it a week or two. You'll care. Give it four and you'll be just as crooked as anyone else."
"You're not crooked."
I smiled. “Me? I’m nobody.”
“I’ve seen you in action,” he said. “You do all right.”
“Thanks. You have a name?"
"It's The Purple Arrow."
I tried not to laugh, but I couldn't help myself. “No it’s not.”
He grinned. "No. It’s Hawkeye."
"Do you have a real name?"
"Let's wait and see if we become friends first."
I held out a hand and he took it. "I'm Phil Coulson. Which you knew already."
"I probably did," he admitted. He let go of my hand and got to his feet. "You hungry, Phil Coulson?"
"I'd eat something." I held up my hands. The chains on my shackles clinked against the wooden bed frame. "Any chance of the jewelry coming off?"
He gave me a calculating look that turned into something else as he stared at me. "I think they suit you."
"Might suit you better," I said.
"Might do," he admitted. He snatched up the bow and arrows before he left.
Hawkeye came back pretty quickly with food. It might have been from an automat or it could have been from a diner. It didn’t make any real difference.
“I see you didn’t use your gear.”
Hawkeye laughed. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
"If we were friends, would you hunt for my food?"
He shrugged one shoulder, dragging his chair closer to the bed. "Sure. Next time I'll make squab."
I eyeballed him, accessing what little I’d seen and the shape he was in. "You might do all right."
"Should. There’s plenty of pigeons."
“You might do all right at the superhero gig if you keep the sense of humor."
His look went from flirty to stony, which made me feel bad somehow. Like it was my fault. Like I'd rubbed salt in a pretty deep wound. "It's what I've got," he said.
"Keep it. It's a good thing," I was a little perplexed when he seemed pleased with the reassurance, but then I hadn't need to offer any to Rogers or Stark. And there wasn't much I could do for Banner that helped in even a small way. "What weapons do you use?”
“The bow and arrow. And guns. And knives. I don’t have powers.”
I nodded my approval. He seemed to like that, which was confusing too. Still, the smile came back and it was genuine. That was good enough for me. “Got good aim?"
"Training and skill. How else?"
"The road.” He gave me a shy, hesitant look then added: “The circus."
That explained the outfit although Hawkeye’s ensemble was less flashy than it could have been in light of his origins. "How long have you been here?"
"Months. Almost a year. I figured maybe you’d notice. Guess not."
I raised an eyebrow. I knew the Director tended to focus his eye and his resources on high-powered types, but I wasn’t going to be thanking him for that later if this kid was holding a grudge.
“I haven’t and it’s a shame,” I told him. I held a hand out and Hawkeye gave me a cardboard cup of coffee. “What have you been up to?"
"I set up a network for information-gathering and I killed a few bad people. Lately I've been following you around."
My eyebrow remained where it was as I sipped my drink. "How bad were the bad people?"
"Middle of the road. Goons and thugs so far. A few of them are still kicking. They owe me in a big way."
"And you just... shoot well?"
His smile was bright so I guessed my prying hadn’t offended him yet. "I do a lot well. In the circus, you perform or you don't eat."
"So you juggled?"
"Among other things. I was an acrobat. Did the trapeze. Tight-rope walker..." He shrugged. "Bottom line, Phil, is that I'm flexible and versatile."
"I bet you are," I muttered. "Got a day job, Hawkeye?"
"On and off. I like keeping a low profile." He got up and worked off the bandages on my shoulder. Then he studied my wound before applying some kind of ointment to the stitches.
"How's it look?"
"Seeing as I'm injured and all, maybe you could take the cuffs off."
"Seeing you in action and all,” Hawkeye said, “I'm pretty sure the cuffs are the only thing that will keep you from doing something worse to yourself.”
“Is that so.”
“You know who shot you. I bet you want to return the favor."
"I just might. Couldn't see your way to killing him for me?"
He got that closed-off look again but it went away. "Not the time," he said in a very low tone. A bit louder, he added: “Besides, I figured you’d want a crack at him yourself. Or to see what happens to him.”
"Very thoughtful of you.”
“I’m thoughtful most of the time.”
“Why play the role of silent shadow?” I asked. “Are you gunning for me?”
He shook his head. “I’d have gotten rid of you by now if I had been.”
“Then what?" I smiled. "Have you got the hots for me, honey?”
"You've got a pretty healthy amount of confidence."
"I've needed it. If you've followed me around, you've seen what I deal with on a daily basis."
"It was a test at first. To see if you'd notice. Then it was to see what kind of guy you were."
"How'd I do?"
Clint shrugged. "You didn't see me, but you would have noticed me if I'd tried anything. You've got a pretty unhealthy amount of paranoia."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah." He gently cut the bandages away and replaced them with a fresh set.
“What about the other test?”
"You aced it,” Hawkeye said. “You’re one of the few good guys around.”
“So good that you’re keeping me locked up for my own protection?”
I wasn’t sure what to make of his sad expression when he answered with: “I'll let you go in a few days. When you're better."
The next day was relatively the same as the first but with more meals. Hawkeye was gone most of the time. I had no idea where, but I was positive it was a more interesting place than the dressing room he was keeping me in.
In the evening, and after forcing me to take a nap, Hawkeye offered to show me what he could do. His lips curved up slyly as he added: “With and without a bow.”
I had thought about all the ways I could incapacitate him as he led me down steps and all the way into a dim theater. There were a lot of options, lethal and otherwise. I knew plenty of moves. I could have pinned him down and figured out a way to switch the manacles from my wrists to his. I could have dragged him home with me or to SHIELD. I could have pried his name and his secrets out of him.
But there was something about the way Hawkeye could go from completely open to completely closed-off that suggested I had one shot at getting him to trust me and like me. If I blew it, there wouldn’t be a second chance.
I wanted him to trust me. I wanted him to like me. I knew nothing about the kid outside of the fact that his smile was one of the best I’d seen, but it seemed like that was the only incentive I needed. So I behaved myself and I let him shackle me to a chair.
Even before he did a trick with three arrows, it was a good act. And he was right. He had the best aim. I could see him looking at me from the corner of his eyes at first, hoping for approval in a way that had nothing to do with me being a captive audience. So, of course I gave my approval to him in spades.
Hawkeye smiled at me, shooting at targets without looking at them. There wasn't much I wouldn't do for smiles like his. Hell. By then end of his show? If my hands hadn’t been a bit restricted? I’d have given the him more than just my applause and undivided attention.
“You’re something else,” I said when he finished gathering up the arrows and escorting me back to the room.
He smiled shyly as he put me back where he wanted me. So to speak.
I wondered if he was lonely. I knew I was. I wondered why it felt like making the first move would be me taking advantage of him. I wondered if he had any thoughts on the subject. Instead I went with: “If you want to join SHIELD…”
He shook his head.
“We’d be lucky to have someone like you.”
“Someday you can ask me. Not today.”
“Fair enough,” I said, grabbing his arm before he could leave. “Wait. You need to come up with something for me to do.”
“Rest,” Hawkeye pointed out.
“You got a book or something?”
He shook his hand with a smile. I reluctantly let go. A few minutes later, he came back with a pile of dusty books.
“Did you get your outfit here too?” I asked him before shifting through the books.
He huffed as he watched me. “It’s slim pickings around here. I made my outfit.”
“Adorable,” I said.
Hawkeye rolled his eyes.
I patted the mattress. He watched me and hesitated. I patted the mattress again. “I won’t bite if you don’t want me to.”
Finally, he wandered over to me. He slid the books out of the way and began unlacing his boots once he was sitting on the end of my bed. “Which one are you going to read?”
“Tell you what. Pick one and I’ll read it to you.”
“I can read.”
“I’m sure you can,” I said, “ but this way you’ll stick around.”
“Or you could ask me to stick around.”
“Someday,” I murmured with a smirk. “Not today. Sit down.”
He fell asleep around the third chapter of some dopey book called Shasta of the Wolves. I was sitting upright against the headboard. Hawkeye was a nice warm weight against my side.
Alternatives to remaining in the bed occurred to me. I ignored them. I brushed my fingers through his hair. I touched the edge of his mask then stroked his cheek. I wasn’t going to recognize Hawkeye’s face anyway so there was no sense upsetting him or trying anything.
He stirred slightly, giving me a sleepy, warning look. Then he buried his head against my leg.
I wanted him. Not just for SHIELD but in a way that was personal, selfish, and more than slightly unprofessional. That thought had been in the back of my mind and it had been slowly simmering ever since I’d first laid eyes on him.
I ran my hand over his chest and along one hip before curling up next to him. I was tempted to do something bolder, but I didn’t.
Hawkeye was quiet most of the time when we were together. He showed me more trick shots and flashed me more smiles, but he was quiet and he seemed to enjoy watching me an awful lot. When he wasn’t out patrolling, he sat in a corner or just outside of the door watching me. Sometimes, I could coax him to me and into the bed. Other times we walked over the divide between us.
At night he would sleep by me if I read or if he was exhausted. If I was asleep when he came back, he slept on the floor next to the bed and disappeared before I woke up.
“Are we friends?” I asked him on the fifth day when I managed to coerce him into joining me for the nap he insisted I take. I was petting him and he was allowing it and I was thinking about how I wanted to take him home with me. “I think we should be friends.”
He yawned, glancing up. “I think we’re probably going to be more than that what with the heavy petting and sleeping together.”
“I think we should do more than that.”
He didn’t disagree but he didn’t seem as keen on the idea as I was. I didn’t feel discouraged, not really. If anything the uncertain look on his face just made me wonder how young he was, which made me remember that I knew hardly anything about him.
“Do you have a real name?” I asked him.
He rubbed his forehead, debating. “You won’t recognize it from anything.”
“I want to call you by your name.”
“Then… It’s Clint Barton,” he said.
“Not bad,” I said.
“How is this going to work, Clint?”
He looked confused.
“You and me. How is this going to work when these chains come off?”
“I’ll let you go. I said I would.”
“I know,” I said, “and I believe you. I just want to know what happens after that. I like to plan ahead.”
“Letting me go doesn’t mean we’re done just like that. Not if you don’t want to be.”
“Meaning you can stick around. Come with me if you want.”
“I was thinking more in terms of you decorating my bed for awhile,” I admitted. “But before you fret, I’d like to point out that I prefer fewer chains and more pillows.”
“SHIELD doesn’t need you to—”
“SHIELD isn’t really weighing all that heavily on my mind. Not when I look at you.”
He sighed a little then smiled hesitantly. “I’d like to go with you. But I have to go back out.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Clint sat up. After pulling a key seemingly out of nowhere, he undid my chains and handcuffs. “It won’t take long.”
“I’ll be here.”
“Just in case, your badge and gun—”
“That’s awful sweet, but don’t tell me,” I said. “Just come back.”
He came back in sorry condition. I was pretty sure the other guys looked a lot worse. Some of them probably looked a lot dead.
He had black eye, a dark angry bruise on one bicep, and a small cut over his nose. The mask, useless and dopey thing that it was, was sliding off so I tugged it off as he leaned against me.
I hauled him a bit closer, letting him nuzzle at my neck. I gently brushed my thumb the bruise on his arm. “Next time you tell me where the gun is. Then you let me go with you.”
“As a SHIELD agent or a gun for hire or a friend or…?”
I slid my hands over his sides and kissed his hair. “As whatever we end up being to each other.”
“A lot of things,” Clint decided. “I want to be a lot of things to you.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Okay?” he repeated. He wrapped his arms around me, staring at the wall behind my shoulder. “I don’t know if it is, Phil. I don’t think it’s ever been okay.”
“I don’t mind if it’s not,” I assured him.
“I have to tell you some things. They’re not good.”
“Tell me whenever you want, sweetheart. Or don’t tell me. I don’t think it matters.”
“No. I’ve done plenty of not good things myself.”
“Then I have to bring someone with me if I go. For SHIELD. Not you. I’m getting you.”
I laughed. “You can have me with no muss and probably a minimal fuss. I’m up for grabs.”
“You were. You’re not now.”
“I guess I’m not,” I agreed. “Who’s the someone?”
“The Black Widow.”
I might not have heard of Hawkeye, but I’d heard of his friend. I’d seen her list of victims too. I wasn’t sure if Fury would approve given her reputation and Clint’s lack of one, but SHIELD’s motto often resembled that old adage about beggars and choosers. The look on Director’s face when the Avengers Initiative went from three would-be heroes to five would be amusing if nothing else.
“You definitely have some not good things to tell me.”
“Probably. Nat’s like me though. Just more trouble.”
“You’re no trouble, but she can come along too.”
He gave me a relieved look. Then he gave me a kiss.
I kissed back. I let him be the first to break away before resting my forehead against his. He tangled our fingers together and stared at them instead of at me.
I wasn’t sure what the not good things were and I still didn’t care. But I wasn’t going to push too hard too soon. I could take things slow on the off-chance one of the not good things I didn’t know or care about was the reason for Clint deciding the best way to win someone over was to stalk and eventually keep them chained to a bed for a week.
Sure, it had worked out, but I was all for avoiding a repeat performance. I’d meant what I said about wanting him in my bed. I wanted him there and I wanted that badly. I also wanted him in my apartment away from the dusty nothingness he was calling home. I wanted to see him in action. More importantly, I wanted to see him when he saw me in action.
“You’re still going to try for Thor?” Clint asked.
“Eventually. I got five people now and five is good, but six is a better number for a team.”
“I can go with you. As back up.”
“Sure, but I’m not in a big hurry.”
“Yeah. Right now, I think I’m all set.”