Shawarma Palace is miraculously open. Walsh has only a vague idea of what time it is (daylight) or hell, even what day it is (is it still May?). But he knows he's hungry and exhausted and he's off shift for three days straight and he's going to do nothing but eat and sleep for at least the first day.
And if Allison manages to free herself from NYPD bureaucracy, he can add having sex to his agenda.
He pushes the door open, noting absently that the little bells aren't hanging from it any more, looks around and sees that that's just the beginning. The place was obviously damaged in the disaster, but it's been swept and cleaned and repaired enough for them to do business.
"Hey," he says, going up to the counter, and Alia comes out of the back room and smiles when she sees him.
"Walsh!" she says. "Good to see you. The usual?"
"Double the usual," he yawns. "I'm going home to recover."
"So where were you when the you-know-what hit the fan?" she asks while making up his order.
"Work," he says succinctly. "Haven't had more than eight hours of sleep since then, trying to round up looters and looky-loos and the usual suspects. I'm glad I don't work for the Health Department, or Public Works."
"We had a front row seat, for some of it," she says. "Papa saw it coming and hauled us all out the back and down into the warehouse before we could really see what it was."
"One of those flying gila monster things? Damn." Walsh takes the bag she hands him. "Smart Papa. You're lucky this block is only partly wrecked. I saw what happened to Grand Central."
"That's not the weirdest, though," says Alia. "After, like that night, a bunch of men came in asking if there was any chance of something to eat. I thought they'd escaped from a costume party or a comedy revue, all capes and black spy gear and stuff."
Walsh stares, comprehending.
"They were very nice," she goes on with exaggerated casualness. "The cooker was knocked out, but we gave them everything we had on standby. One of them was called Steve - he said he'd come by and pay for it soon, but Papa told him to forget it, it was the least he could do. And *then* - " She pauses and smirks, enjoying the moment. "The next day I saw a couple of them on the news and I figured out who they were. They're called the Avengers, and they live in that Tower built by Tony Stark, and they saved us from an alien invasion. Can you believe that? I can hardly believe it. And they ate our shawarma and the one guy, who must have been Stark, said he'd be back because it was the best shawarma he'd ever had."
Walsh shakes his head. He's seen the footage, too, and he can almost guess what her next comment will be, so he turns to go.
"Actually, you know, one of them looks just like you, Walsh."
Clint Barton sits like a model for a gargoyle, on a building across the street, three stories up and one address over, from the Palace. He's in street clothes and without a bow, though he does have a couple of knives and a garrote secreted on his person.
He's squatting patiently, arms on his knees, chin on his hands, mulling over a conversation he had with Stark.
"The lady behind the counter, her name is Alia," Tony had said, "she says she knows a cop who could be your twin. He comes in a couple of times a month, she said. Last time was just a couple days after the Chitauri stopped by. Weird, huh?"
Clint had shrugged. "Not so weird. There are those who say you kind of remind them of Robert Downey Jr."
"A handsome devil, Mr. Downey," Tony smirked.
"She only saw us once. I have that kind of face."
"Not just your face, my friend. She referred to you, and I quote, as 'the guy with the arms, the archer guy'."
Clint wanted to ask Tony whether she'd given a name, but he didn't want to seem that interested and so he dropped the subject.
Now he sits and watches the door of the Palace on an irregular basis, at odd moments when he has some free time and a desire to be alone with his thoughts.
Today he's rewarded with his first glimpse of his target. The man is wearing a suit and an NYPD windbreaker, right height, build, and hair, and if he'd just turn, Clint could get a look at his face, but no dice. The guy goes in, comes out with a bag, strides purposefully onward, his back still toward Clint's position.
Clint shrugs to himself. He's nothing if not patient.
After that, he takes a spot on a building further up the street; if Detective Doppelganger repeats his last routine, he should be facing this way when he leaves the shop. It takes several random stakeouts over a couple of weeks before Clint spots him again.
This time, there's no windbreaker and no suit; the man is in a black t-shirt and jeans and a pair of well-worn boots, and he loiters outside for a bit. When Clint catches sight of his face he feels his pulse jump a tiny bit and his mind starts to kick into high gear.
While he's thinking rapidly, a woman comes up to the man, red v-neck, boobs out to here, long black hair and a full mouth. Latina, he guesses. The next moment she kisses the guy and he gives her ass a little squeeze and they go inside.
They're there for half an hour, and when they come out they're not holding hands, but they look like they could be any moment now, walking close and talking; he's making her laugh. Clint's eyes follow them far up the street, until they turn a corner.
Next time he's out and about he picks a position on a lower level, on that corner, and waits.
Walsh is getting tired of two things.
First, the 2-2 has declared this month Make Walsh Lose His Shit Month. Eddie Alvarez came in the day after the attacks complaining about the press and how they're not paying enough attention to the NYPD and too much to the so-called Avengers.
Any time Alvarez misses a chance to be on camera he gets pissy, but this went past princess behavior and well into diva territory. Walsh succumbed to temptation and said that if Alvarez had a cape and/or tights, he should wear them on duty, then maybe the press would be more interested in him, and Alvarez snorted, "Look who's talking."
"We shouldn't be thinking about appearances," admonished Cole. "We should be praying for those poor souls who were killed in the attack."
"Right," Beaumont chimed in, but Alvarez was not to be diverted.
"You never mentioned that you had a superhero in the family, Walsh," he went on. "Is it supposed to be a secret, or are you ashamed of it?"
He came over to actually lean over Walsh's desk to deliver the next line. "Oh, wait, was that *you* up there, Walsh? Is this your secret identity?"
The room went silent. Walsh blinked, then said evenly, "At least I have an identity, Alvarez."
He stood, picking up a stack of mail and a letter opener. Alvarez shied away as though he thought Walsh was going to use it on him, but the latter just walked out of the room without a backward look.
The rest of the squad broke into applause. Alvarez looked around beaming, but when he realized the applause wasn't for him, his face fell and he went grumbling to his desk.
Apart from Alvarez' overt needling, though, there was still a lot of teasing from everyone else.
"Hey Walsh, where's your bow and arrow?"
"Going up on the roof for some target practice?"
The second thing he's getting tired of is the looks he gets from random people. Alia, at the Shawarma Palace. The newsstand guy a block from the diner. A couple of suspects he interviews.
"Is it just me or am I getting a lot of double-takes lately?" he sighs one night after he and Allison have escaped to the luxurious Walsh domicile. He's so preoccupied that he doesn't register what she's doing; he sits with his shoes off and shirt unbuttoned, staring at nothing, going over the day in his head and wondering.
Then a pair of luscious - bare - breasts appear inches from his face, a pair of warm hands grab his shirt and start pulling it over his head, and he laughs at himself because when Al is naked and he's not, it means she has a head start on him.
Nat comes to sit next to Clint at the bar. They play this game sometimes; one of them gets a head start from the Tower, and the other has to find them. It's like hide and seek - except that the playing field is the entire island of Manhattan.
Nat found Clint this time, so he's buying the drinks. She orders something called an Aqua Velva, he orders Jack Daniels, and when the drinks arrive he can't help staring at hers.
"Don't tell me you've started drinking window cleaner," he says.
Nat smirks. "Vodka, gin, and Blue Curacao." She ditches the little pink umbrella that came with it and takes a sip, then sighs contentedly. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
"So, have you figured out yet who he is?" she asks, after a companionable silence.
Clint shakes his head. He's told Nat a little about his off-duty surveillance, what little he knows.
"I have some theories," he says. "Haven't followed up on any yet. Intel isn't my best area, as you know. As far as I can tell, the dude is NYPD, lives in back of a diner that is rarely open, has a Latina girlfriend, drives an unmarked car, but only when necessary, and is a Yankees fan. And his partner is a redhead."
"You know, you could just walk into the Palace and ask for his name," she suggests. "Without all the pussyfooting around. You could just walk into his diner, for that matter."
"But you know how much I *love* pussyfooting," he grins.
Nat doesn't smile.
"Why are you doing this, Clint?" she asks quietly. "Are you trying to stay away from the rest of them?"
He notices that she doesn't say "us" but "them".
"Not specifically," he tells her, reluctant to try to express the main reason he's scoping out this man, but of course, Nat knows, or guesses.
"You think he's connected to you in some way," she says. "You're looking for something to connect to besides SHIELD, besides the Avenger Initiative."
Besides the people I betrayed, he thinks, then shoves that back into the dark pit of his memories.
"He has to be. Have you seen him, Nat? We could be twins."
"I don't suppose you've actually looked for information on that. I know, I know, intel, not your area." She's smiling, though, as she squeezes his arm and finishes her blue drink. "I'll work on it, if you'll give me the few crumbs you have already."
He rolls his eyes at her, but the next day he gives her the crumbs.
Shraeger knows there's something bugging her partner. She also knows he doesn't respond well to interrogation, so she waits until the bar is full and Beaumont is sitting on the other side of him and says, "So. What's crawled up your ass, these days?"
He barely avoids spitting out his beer, just glares at her, gulps, and while Beaumont laughs he retorts, "Can you be more specific? Because you said you didn't want to know what goes on between me and Beaumont, and last I checked you were only supposed to be covering my ass in a figurative sense, so..."
"To be specific," Shraeger says. "You're twitchy, and you're never twitchy. You look over your shoulder a lot, which you used to be a lot better at hiding. You've been spending more time at Beaumont's place than at your own. And you keep re-reading stuff on the Internet about the Avengers."
"It's all over the place," he replies, addressing the last statement. "Can't help seeing it."
"No, I don't mean the battle, or the aftermath," she corrects. "I mean, the Avengers, the people themselves."
Walsh stares at her with something like dismay, and she smirks.
"I'm a trained detective," she remarks; it's one of his lines and he starts to smile.
"Okay, Detective," he says. "I know when I'm being followed, but whoever's doing it is part ninja because I can't spot him, and it bugs me. Beaumont's place is nicer than the back of the diner - "
" - And more defensible," Beaumont says quietly, watching him.
" - and as for the Avengers, well, don't tell Alvarez, but I think I figured out why I remind him of one of 'em."
He goes back to drinking his beer and refuses to answer further questions, saying that until he knows anything for certain he isn't going to speculate, and just for that game of twenty questions Shraeger gets to buy the next round.
They don't have to tell him that information about his not-evil twin is probably all over the media. But he knows not to trust the media, and he's looking for a reliable source. Not a human, because Walsh has secrets that go beyond having played for the Yankees, secrets he's never even told Allison about.
That creepy feeling of having his steps dogged pursues him out the door and all the way to Allison's place. He's had enough of it, so after a couple of hours of enjoying each other's company, he kisses his sleeping lover, gets dressed, and heads out to walk back to his diner.
It's about ten blocks and it's past midnight; Walsh is no fool, so of course his firearm is tucked into the back of his belt under his jacket and his ears are cocked for any odd sounds. He could have taken the subway, but he has the feeling his watcher doesn't follow him underground.
Two blocks from the diner, Walsh is walking quickly with his hands in his pockets, head down as if distracted, but his eyes flick back and forth, searching. He hears a soft tap-tap of sneakers behind him and as soon as the person gets hold of Walsh's collar, Walsh spins and puts an elbow in the guy's gut, then his face. When he pulls his gun out to train it on the mugger, the latter gets in a lucky kick, sending the gun flying out of reach.
Walsh throws himself at the guy, trying to slam him against the brick wall nearby, but the tables are turned and Walsh is the one with his back toward the wall when the thug, whose face is covered with a ski mask, yells out a curse and lets go of his victim. He falls to his knees on the sidewalk, groaning, then forward onto his hands, and Walsh sees the hilt of the knife that stopped him.
First things first: Walsh retrieves his weapon, gets the guy face down on the sidewalk with one hand on his head - he can't move his other arm, as the knife has impaled him in a spot that renders it useless - then plants a knee on the guy's back while using his cell to call for backup. He bends down to examine the knife hilt, which doesn't tell him anything. He pulls the ski mask off the mugger's head and uses it to apply pressure to the wound around the entry point.
Once the beat cops and the ambulance have come and gone, Walsh finishes his walk home, head up this time, and when he gets to the diner he unlocks it and then turns under the streetlight, looks up, and salutes his unseen defender.
"Thanks," he says quietly, in case anyone can hear, and goes inside.
"You're never getting that knife back," says Natasha over breakfast the next morning.
"I know," says Clint. "It wasn't one of my favorites anyway. I save the good stuff for real missions."
He downs the rest of his coffee and leans back in the booth, in a diner a couple of blocks from the docks where they'd come ashore from the helicarrier.
"You know, if I had to get a cover job I'd work around here," says Clint thoughtfully. "Not all that different from the circus."
"Yeah, smelly, dirty, same refined vocabulary," Nat snorts. "Same pay scale too."
"Nah, they got unions now, on the docks. A lot of circuses have 'em too...not that I've ever had that luxury."
"Why are you talking about getting a job?" she asks over the last bite of toast. "Clint, do not tell me that you're considering leaving SHIELD."
"If I were, you'd be the first to know," he tells her. "No, I was thinking about asking for a long-term gig, around here. I'm tired of traveling. I want to have a place of my own, quit living in everybody else's places."
Nat still looks concerned. Clint goes on, "Don't you ever want to take a break, drop anchor for a while?"
She just gives him a "oh, really?" look and he shakes his head.
"Musta forgotten who I was talking to," he says.
"More coffee," suggests Nat.
"More coffee?" Walsh asks his customers, of which there are only two at the moment.
"Who made it, you or Allison?" is Casey's question.
"I did," says Allison, sitting next to her. They're all off duty for a change and Casey has stopped in before girding her loins for a visit to her mother.
Walsh sticks his tongue out at Allison, but he pours the coffee and slouches against the counter.
"Why do you go there if you hate it so much?" he asks his partner.
"Because I have to."
"You told me you didn't depend on them for money."
"I don't. I keep it that way on purpose - we don't share any accounts or investments. That I know of."
Allison says, "It isn't the money, is it? It's the power of Mom."
Casey grimaces. "I guess. I love my mom, she drives me nuts, but if I don't drop in for a visit at least once a month she drives me more nuts. Don't even ask about my dad."
She sips her coffee, then asks Walsh, "What about your family? I never hear about them."
"Neither do I," he says with a shrug. "We're what you call these days a 'blended family'. After Mom died I didn't have any reason to stay in touch, and my steps didn't bother to try."
"Harsh," says Casey, but he shakes his head. Allison speaks up.
"At least they all got along while they were together," she says. "My family are close, but we squabble all the time. It's impossible to tell who's not speaking to whom and who made up with whom, from week to week."
"Family," says Walsh, lifting his glass of orange juice, and they all toast.
"So, that knife they took out of your mugger," Allison says.
"And thanks, by the way, for letting me find out about that from the roundup," Casey interjects, glaring at Walsh over her coffee.
"Random mugging, no harm done," Walsh shrugs. "What about the knife?"
"Not your average blade," says Allison. "Well used, hilt a bit chipped, sharper than a razor. Maker's mark puts it as a German product."
"Thrown from above, across the street," Walsh adds. "About a block away. Maybe from the old Woolworth's, it's not very tall."
"The perp is lucky the thrower missed his lung," Allison says, but Walsh frowns.
"I don't think the thrower missed at all," he says. "I think he wanted to stop the guy, not kill him."
"And why that guy?" Casey wonders. "Who is he, that somebody with a wicked knife and even more wicked aim wants to put a hole in him?"
Walsh doesn't say anything. He's relying on the naturally neutral face he was born with, but he knows he can't fool these two, not for long. Sure enough, Allison gives him a calculating look.
"Not that guy," she says. "This guy. He wasn't after the perp. He was rescuing Walsh."
"How do you know he doesn't want me dead too?" asks Walsh, but somehow he doesn't believe it.
"If he's the shadow that's been following you, he's had lots of opportunities already," says Casey. "Is that why you were slinking down the street alone in the middle of the night in a deserted part of town? Hoping to draw his fire?"
"I was hoping to give him a chance to contact me without anyone around," Walsh replies. "Since he seems unwilling to show his face."
"Sounds like you've gone from a hunch to a certainty," Allison comments.
It's almost a relief to get called out on an ordinary hostage situation - no aliens, mass destruction, or inter-agency "cooperation" involved. Shraeger and Walsh are hunkered down behind a convenient civilian vehicle parked (illegally) at the entrance to an alley, across from the bar which was supposed to have closed peacefully an hour ago, but which is now full of customers in various states of sobriety, two bartenders, the night manager, and two women with unverified weaponry, one of whom claims to have enough C4 to blow up the building.
"Haven't we had enough urban demolition lately?" Shraeger whispers to her partner. "Are they demanding anything?"
Walsh shakes his head. The person doing the negotiations in the street across from the bar entrance, talking with one of the suspects. Shouting, really, but they can't hear the suspect very well, only the negotiator.
Then Walsh hears Delahoy on the comm.
"What the - Walsh is in there, how did he get in there?"
There's a mishmash of chatter, through which the incident commander cuts with a barked order, then he asks, "Walsh, your 20?"
"Alley at Lincoln and Mass," Walsh murmurs into his pickup. "Whoever he saw wasn't me."
He clamps a lid on his own intuition as to who it might be and re-focuses on the task, which is to train his weapon on the one window of the bar and wait for the order and opportunity to fire.
The situation ends with a whimper, not a bang; apparently the woman with the alleged explosive material gets taken down with one of the little grubby table lamps. As a bonus it was on fire when it landed on the back of her head, which made her hair blaze, which made her drop the supposed C4 and run and scream, at which point a couple of the bar patrons and an employee decked her, ambushed the woman at the door, and disarmed them both.
The obligatory ambulance is called for the one with the burned scalp, the C4 is found to be nothing but SIlly Putty in a convincing container, and everyone stands down and gets ready to debrief.
Delahoy comes out of the bar, where he and some others have been interviewing witnesses, and goes straight over to Walsh, looking him up and down. Then he shakes his head.
"Don't tell Alvarez," he says. "But I think one of the witnesses is that Avenger guy, the archer, your not-so-evil twin."
Walsh shrugs. "I have that kind of face."
"No, really. It's uncanny. You wanna have a look?"
"The guy has enough fanboys and gawkers," says Walsh. "He doesn't need to get it on his night off."
What he really means is that if and when he and his double ever meet, he'd rather it wasn't in a crowd at a crime scene with an audience. Still, he lurks in the alley until all the civilians have left and notices that there was no one among them who looked at all like himself, not that come out the front door, anyway.
Guess he's not the only one who wants to stay in the shadows, he thinks approvingly.
"Good shot, Sitwell," says Natasha as they stroll down the back streets, back to the carrier. "As usual, your unassuming demeanor saved the day."
Sitwell just smiles. He's more chatty than Phil, and his sense of humor is more evident and good-natured than Phil's, but he'll be glad when his partner is back in the saddle. He doesn't want to be handler for the Avengers on his own.
"Please tell me we don't have to file a report on this," Clint grumbles.
"I'll get a copy of the police report, in case anyone at SHIELD asks about it," says Sitwell. "That should keep most of the brass off our backs. It's not as though any of us were acting in an official capacity."
"Whatever that means," she says. "Were you two interviewed by the big guy with the black moustache?"
"Nope," says Clint. "Short guy, Banks I think his name was. He kept looking over at the big guy like he didn't know what to do next."
"I don't think that's why he was looking," she says. "The big guy kept looking over at you, too."
"Maybe he thought you were making eyes at his partner," says Sitwell.
"Nah, he likes redheads, don'tcha Clint?" Natasha grins.
A couple of days later Beaumont drops a report on Walsh's desk, the one from the bar incident, and says, "Check out Banks' notes on the witnesses."
Walsh takes a look through the few pages, scans the witnesses' names. Nothing familiar there, but then he doesn't spend his time off in that part of town. He flips to the notes and recognizes Banks' tiny, tidy handwriting, several paragraphs of it. He then scans Delahoy's notes and makes a minor connection: three of the witnesses gave their address as a government building downtown, not a residence.
"Hey Leo," he says across the desks. "These witnesses who said they live at - " he recites the address.
"Yeah," says Banks. "I mentioned to one of them that that wasn't residential and he just kind of stared at me, like, so what? And when I saw his I.D. it had the address on it, so I let it go."
"Which guy was that?"
Banks gives him an odd look and then says, "The one who looks like you. Barton."
Sergeant Brown sticks his head out of his office and yells, "Walsh, Shraeger, in my office."
When they get in, Brown shuts the door and says, "That hostage scene at the Mimosa. Notice anything unusual about it?"
"No," says Shraeger. "Pretty typical, as far as I could tell. Walsh?"
"Nope," he concurs. "Apart from Delahoy thinking I had materialized inside the bar at one point."
Brown points at Walsh with his pen. "That's what I'm talking about. Delahoy says the guy was the spitting image of you, Walsh, and he's got a pretty good eye."
Walsh just sits there, and finally Shraeger says, "And?"
"And - I want you two to hand deliver this." He hands Walsh a sealed manila envelope with all kinds of official NYPD warnings on it, as well as the address of the government building Banks was just mentioning. "The commish says they want hard copy, not email or fax."
Walsh reads the address on the envelope.
"Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division," he says. "That's a mouthful. Any idea what they want hard copy of?"
"Yes, but if I told you I'd have to kill you - and then Beaumont would kill me, so. The commish asked me to handle it personally, so I'm handing it off to you. Personally."
"Got it," says Walsh, and he and Shraeger make tracks.
They get downtown around lunchtime, have a hot dog from one of the carts, and then drop in at their destination. After they get through security, Walsh goes up to the reception desk and says, "I have a delivery for - " he reads the name on the label - "Phillip Coulson, SHIELD offices."
"That's on the third floor, sir. Go on up."
They go up. The office looks just like any other office, from the outside; inside there's a desk that's too empty to belong to anyone, a phone sitting on it, and a couch along one wall. Two other doors lead out of the room behind the desk.
Walsh goes up to the desk and is about to call out when a man emerges from one of the other doors.
"Can I help you, Detectives?" he asks. He's about Walsh's height, bald by choice, glasses, brown eyes. His name badge says SITWELL, J. and there's an insignia on it that matches the one on the envelope.
"We're looking for Mr. Coulson," says Shraeger as they both show their badges.
"Agent Coulson is on a conference call," says the man. "Is there something I can do for you? Or would you like to wait?"
His eye falls on the envelope in Walsh's hand.
"Our instructions are to deliver this personally," says Walsh. "We'll wait, thanks."
J. Sitwell nods and disappears into the back again. Their wait is so short that Walsh suspects there was no conference call, just the usual government habit of stalling for time.
The man who comes out the door this time wears a suit that's superficially similar to Sitwell's, but finer quality, and his step isn't as brisk as the other man's either. He goes over to them and shakes their hands and says, "I'm Agent Phil Coulson."
"Detective Walsh, and Shraeger," says Walsh. "Second Precinct. We have something from Sergeant Brown, by order of the Police Commissioner, to be hand delivered to you."
Coulson holds out his hand, but Shraeger says, "May we see some identification, please."
To his credit, Coulson doesn't even blink, but pulls off his lapel I.D. and hands it over. The other two look it over briefly and hand it back, along with the big envelope.
"I appreciate your caution," says Coulson. He doesn't even look at the envelope.
"I'd appreciate an explanation," Shraeger replies evenly. "Can you tell us why this had to be hand delivered by two NYPD detectives who have a lot of other things to do besides running clerical errands for the Commish?"
Walsh doesn't say anything; he knows Shraeger has a point, and that she won't leave until she makes it. He also knows a testy government official when he sees one, and Coulson does not fit that description.
The man seems to have sized them up already. He opens the door he came out of and says, "If you have a moment, please come this way and my colleague and I will explain."
Clint is standing by the window, looking out and wondering why Coulson wanted to see him so urgently, when the door opens. The snark he was about to deliver dies on his lips when he sees Coulson followed by Sitwell and two cops, both of whom he recognizes.
"Barton," says Coulson, unperturbed. "Do you know anything about this?"
"Bout what, sir?" For once, Clint isn't faking innocence.
"We haven't met, not officially," says the man with his face - his face as he knew it maybe ten years ago, not so weary or beat up. "Jason Walsh, NYPD. My partner, Casey Shraeger."
Clint catches himself noting the man's pitch and diction, like he might need to imitate it later, an old habit.
"Clint Barton," Clint replies in his own voice. "It's good to meet you."
"Weird," says Shraeger. "No offense," she adds.
"No problem," says Clint, smiling. She's got a no-nonsense presence, and in spite of her soft mouth and round, shining eyes, he has no doubt she packs a wallop. With or without a sidearm.
"You haven't answered my question, Barton," says Coulson.
"I was told you wanted to see me right away," Clint replies. "Got it from Hill."
True to standard procedure, he's not referring to anyone's rank or location. Sitwell and Coulson both look mildly puzzled.
"Why don't we sit down," says Sitwell, so they all do, except for Clint, who doesn't like being stuck behind a piece of furniture unless he's using it as a shield.
"Detective Walsh, can you enlighten us as to your original assignment?" Coulson asks.
"This morning our sergeant gave us this envelope, with orders to deliver it personally," Walsh explains. "We were told it was a request from the Commissioner."
"Can you enlighten us as to the contents of the envelope?" asks Shraeger with an admirable hint of Coulson's tone.
Coulson looks at Sitwell, then produces his Swiss Army knife from his pocket and slices the envelope open, pulling out the papers inside and glancing through them.
"It's a police report," he says. "From an incident last week, at a place called the Mimosa on - "
Clint and Sitwell studiously avoid looking at each other; Coulson reads rapidly to himself and then drops the report on the table with a grimace.
"You didn't know about it," says Walsh.
Coulson just looks at him. Clint can tell he doesn't want to admit anything in front of these strangers, so he steps up, but only so far.
"Guess I never filed the paperwork," he says unrepentantly. His discretion is not rewarded, however.
"Neither did Agent Sitwell," says Coulson sternly. "Or the third person whose name I recognize on this report."
Sitwell's poker face isn't as good as Clint's, but he makes a valiant effort. The brief suspense is broken when Shraeger speaks up.
"What does that have to do with us?" she says. "We were there. You were - allegedly - there," she indicates Clint and Sitwell. "Other than that, what's the connection?"
"The elephant," says Clint, unable to resist. "The big elephant in the room."
"Watch who you're calling an elephant, pal," Walsh says, but there's an ironic grin starting at the corner of his mouth.
"The fact that you two are carbon copies - " says Coulson.
"Not really," says Walsh.
"Close enough," says Clint.
"It's enough to make someone look twice," says Sitwell.
"Like Delahoy," Shraeger says, and her partner nods. She continues, "It could certainly be used to slow down an opponent. Or as an alibi."
"No more late-night mystery movies for you, Shraeger."
She rolls her eyes and then looks from Clint to Walsh and back.
"I'd say you guys came from the same gene pool," she observes. "No signs of cosmetic surgery, you're the same build, hair color, eye color - hell, he even has the same cowlick as you, Walsh."
"I don't have a cowlick."
"Sure you don't," she snorts. Clint is amused at the "I'll get you later for that" look Walsh gives her - it's probably close to the expression Nat gets from him almost daily.
"Okay, so we have a crime scene and a striking resemblance," says Coulson. "Neither of which seems to be a surprise to either of you."
"One of our detectives mentioned that one of the witnesses looked like me," Walsh offers. "And I've seen Agent Barton on some of the publicity for the Avengers. So I knew about the resemblance."
"Barton," Coulson prompts. Clint shrugs.
"The detective who interviewed me kept staring," he says. "I thought he was going to ask me out or something. Figured he knew I was on the team."
Shraeger seems to be suppressing laughter and he gives her a sly look.
"As for the resemblance," he says, "I've never met Detective Walsh. Although according to Stark there's a guy who frequents that shawarma joint who looks like me. Allegedly."
Coulson looks doubtful. Sitwell looks thoughtful.
"At any rate, did you or did you not request hard copy of that report, Agent Coulson?" asks Walsh briskly.
"I did not," says the agent. "Any information we need from NYPD we get electronically. And through official channels that don't involve the Commissioner of Police."
"I though that smelled a bit fishy," Walsh admits.
"So why did you deliver it?" Sitwell asks.
"I didn't know what was in the envelope, I just knew it was an unusual request. And as one of the people on scene at the Mimosa, I'd read the report and recognized the names. Barton and Rushman." Walsh shrugs. "Whose residence was listed at the same address as SHIELD. I was curious."
"Fair enough," says Clint. "Sir, can I go back to work now? I have to check in with Hill about the veracity of that message."
He's pretty sure, though, who set him up.
"Seriously, Walsh, slow down. I don't think they're sending a posse after us."
Shraeger is almost skipping to keep up with her partner, whose stride is longer and faster than usual as he heads for the car in the underground parking garage. He shakes his head and slows slightly, and as they get in the car he checks the mirrors a couple of times.
He doesn't think Coulson would have him followed (and if he did, he'd send the best and Walsh would never know), but he does wonder if Barton might make contact. He's not going to linger, though, so he proceeds to drive back to the precinct, his mind in a whirl.
Shraeger startles him by saying, "Is this one of those secrets you're not going to explain?"
"What, Barton? Or SHIELD?"
"Well, I assume *not* SHIELD," she says. "I don't think you're moonlighting for them. I mean Clint Barton. The resemblance is too strong to be coincidental."
"What gave it away, the cowlick? The one I don't have?"
"No, Delahoy. Sarge is right, he's got a good eye, remember how he nailed that guy with the apple on the run?"
"Good arm, too," says Walsh.
"Don't try to redirect," Shraeger says.
"It's anecdotal at best," Walsh replies. "Sure, Delahoy's got an eye, and sure, Barton looks kind of like me. Maybe he's a long lost cousin or something. Without DNA there's no way to tell."
"I don't suppose you - "
"Nope," says Walsh. "No way. Doesn't matter if we're related, however distantly; obviously he wants to keep his distance, because he sure didn't call that meeting himself. And just as obviously we both want to be left to do our jobs."
"Got it." Shraeger shrugs.
Walsh almost reminds her of his belief that people are who their secrets say they are. Clint Barton isn't the only person in this equation who has secrets.
Clint goes to the dockside diner late in the day, after working out and spending an unusual amount of time in the common office on the carrier, actually doing paperwork. He doesn't think Nat will show up in either the gym or the office; if she's smart (if?) she'll make herself scarce for a while and then show up to gloat.
Sure enough, as soon as he's sitting in a public place she materializes.
"So, how was your day?" she asks brightly, snagging the pickle off his plate.
"Busy," he replies. "You?"
"The usual. Spy stuff, you know."
"Yeah, I do. Reconnaissance, G2, systems infiltration." He takes a swig of coffee. "So you finally broke into the command code on the carrier."
He's landed a hit from an oblique angle and he sees her blink rapidly a couple of times, her usual tell when she's actually surprised. Otherwise, her face is impassive and she asks, "Where'd you hear that?"
"Didn't hear it." He finishes his burger, pointedly not making further comment until he's ready to go. When he stands and drops a tip on the table, Nat scowls up at him and says, "You're no fun any more."
"Like you would know," he smirks.
"Where are you going?"
"You're a spy, you figure it out."
Clint walks out without a backward look, but he knows she'll follow. He's right - after all this time, of course he's right! - and she shoves her hands in her jacket pockets and matches his stride, her nose in the air.
"You didn't out me to Hill, did you," she says finally.
"You know I didn't. I might need to use the same trick someday. I'd rather they didn't plug whatever hole you used to get in."
"JARVIS," she admits. "He wouldn't reveal how he got into the system, but he promised he wouldn't tell anyone about my unauthorized access."
"You believe him? He works for Stark, after all."
"Yeah, and he keeps Stark's secrets, so I have faith he'll keep mine as well." She smiles to herself. Clint would have liked to be a fly on the wall for her conversation with Stark's A.I.
"So how did you manage Walsh?"
"Walsh? What do you mean?" She stops and he does as well, turning to face her as they stand on the sidewalk.
"Detective Walsh. The guy with my face."
"I didn't do anything to Walsh. Why?"
Clint turns and starts walking again, thinking fast. If Natasha didn't do anything to involve Jason Walsh, why hack into SHIELD's command system? Was there someone else he should worry about, manipulating him and his double into that meeting?
"What happened?" Nat persists.
"He was there," says Clint. "At the land office. He and his partner delivered the report personally. To Coulson."
"Personally," she repeats. "While you were in the building."
"In the *room*, Nat," Clint tells her. Now he's feeling more amused than puzzled; he's willing to chalk Walsh's presence up to human curiosity.
"Holy merde," she mutters, but she's grinning. "Okay, I'll come clean. All I did was arrange for Coulson to get a hard copy of the report and for you to be in the building. I figured he'd go looking for you to harangue you about the unfiled report, but - damn, that must have been priceless."
"It was," says Clint. "Sitwell was there, you can ask him. So you were just trying to get me in trouble with Coulson?"
She shrugs. "I gotta get my laughs somehow. So, are you finally going to go see him?"
Clint know she isn't referring to Coulson or Sitwell.
Walsh is back at the Shawarma Palace, sitting in a corner eating lunch and waiting for Shraeger, when a man comes in looking like a construction worker and talking like - well, like somebody who's not from around here, by a long shot.
"Good afternoon," says the guy to Alia. "I've come to collect an order for Mr. Stark."
"Sure," she says. "That was fast. Gimme a minute, I'll put in some extra and some more pita bread."
It sounds like this isn't his first visit here. The customer stands looking around, hands in the pockets of his jeans, and catches Walsh's eye. Walsh doesn't look away, just puts on his pleasant "harmless guy eating his lunch" face, and the guy grins and comes over to him.
"Barton," he begins, then frowns. "I beg your pardon. I mistook you for a comrade of mine."
"The name's Walsh," says Walsh, extending a hand, which the big man shakes. "Detective Jason Walsh, NYPD."
"I am Thor Odinsson, of Asgard." At Walsh's gesture, he sits down and studies Walsh with unabashed curiosity. "Truly, this is an uncanny resemblance. Have you a brother with the same face?"
"Not that I know of," says Walsh easily. "Where do you know this Barton fellow from?"
He knows exactly who this guy is and how he knows Barton; he wants to see what Thor will have to say.
"We fought together," says Thor. "Against the Chitauri, in the battle over the city. You have lived here some time, yes?"
"Yes, I have. I was on duty that day. Not fighting, mostly trying to keep order."
"For which I admire your police," says his new friend. "However necessary or noble, battles have always what Stark calls collateral damage."
You can say that again, Walsh thinks. Just then Thor's order comes up and he stands, shaking Walsh's hand once more.
"Perhaps you would like to come dine with us, at the Tower," he says cordially.
"Another time, maybe," says Walsh. "I'm on duty now, as a matter of fact. Just waiting for my - there she is."
Shraeger comes barreling into the shop, her eyes on her cell phone, and literally runs into the man from Asgard. She looks up and grimaces.
"Sorry, my fault," she mutters. "We got a call from Sandy in Dispatch," she says to Walsh. "She has a fax she thinks you should look at."
"Detective Casey Shraeger," says Walsh, standing up, "meet Thor Odinsson. Thor, my partner, Detective Shraeger."
"Pleased," says Thor, bowing over her hand. She looks at Walsh, who shrugs.
"I see that your fair city is protected by the fairest of its citizens." Thor smiles.
"Thanks," says Shraeger. She's used to crazy people in this line of work, but they're usually not so well-spoken. "That's - very kind."
Thor nods to each of them and goes to get his order and depart. Shraeger turns back to Walsh and says, "Was he trying to pick up on me? I'm a little out of practice."
Walsh snorts. "Maybe he was trying to pick up on me, didja ever think of that?"
Clint spends less time on what Nat calls "Walsh-watch", just because it doesn't seem fair to be spying on someone he's now met. Besides, he's not ready to figure out how he and Walsh are connected, no matter what Nat says about wanting a family.
He does a little PR for the Avengers - not for SHIELD, as the public are carefully not informed of its existence. They're under the impression that the team came together of their own volition, which is rich considering the effort and sacrifice it took. He, Nat, Cap, and Tony are usually the members assigned to appear at various functions or ceremonies.
Cap stands in the front row when the President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Tony attends the Kennedy Center Awards. Nat goes to diplomatic soirees, keeps her ears open for both news and rumors, and insists that her evening wear be suitable for hiding weaponry.
Clint doesn't appear much; he's convinced it's because of his role as patsy to Loki, which SHIELD is bent on downplaying or burying altogether. When he does show up, it's usually someplace with kids or sports events, which he likes because kids tend not to either recall or judge him, and the sports gigs are more focused on skill than gossip.
Tonight, alas, he has been tapped for a gig that had been assigned to Coulson originally. Coulson has come down with some kind of nasty bronchial thing, and as his system was still healing the medics had strong-armed him into a bed in the infirmary.
"It's a walk in the park," Coulson tells Clint. "Show up, shake hands with the Mayor, it'll go a long way toward positive spin on your part."
Spin, Clint thinks as he gets into the penguin suit. I didn't sign up for spin, I see better at a distance, this glad-handing is not my style.
"I don't know how you do it," he grumbles to Nat, who's watching him fuss in front of the mirror.
"You said it yourself," she replies. "I'm a spy, not a soldier. Espionage requires a high degree of subtlety and patience."
She stands and comes over to tie his bowtie.
"Patience I got," he says. "Subtlety...not so much. As you know."
She grins. "You'll do fine. Just smile and look mysterious. That always works for me."
"You've got cleavage. That's an unfair advantage."
Nat laughs. "Clint, you have advantages of your own. Now get out of here."
She gives him a smack on the backside as he goes out the door.
It isn't so bad, actually. He picks up a drink right away and nurses it for an hour, keeps moving and smiling and nodding, sidles up to the mayor for a handshake and a photo opp, applauds politely when the speeches are made.
He's about to sneak out when someone takes hold of his sleeve and hisses in his ear, "Hide me, quick. She's headed this way."
To his credit, he doesn't deliver the usual elbow to the solar plexus, but turns his head enough to see the speaker out of the corner of his eye. Enough to know that he has no idea who it is.
Clint turns, drink in hand, and smiles at the guy, saying, "Who the hell are you?"
"Very funny," says the man, slightly taller than Clint, with a receding hairline and a mustache that's probably meant to look debonair. He's wearing a tuxedo, like nearly every man in the room, and he keeps glancing nervously over Clint's shoulder.
"I'm not laughing," says Clint. "Who the hell are you?"
The man finally makes eye contact and frowns.
"The mayor's wife is headed over here, and if she corners me again I will never get away from her and my wife will sulk for days. Don't forget, you owe me, Walsh."
Clint decides to make himself perfectly clear. He extends his hand to the man and says, "Name's Barton. Clint Barton. And you?"
The color drains from the man's face. Clint has seen that look before - the look of someone who's made a fatal error - but just then a woman's voice from behind him says, "Edward, where have you been? There are some people I would love you to meet..."
Clint slips out from between the two, leaving Edward to his fate and disappearing into the shadow of a potted palm, downing the rest of his drink.
"I know, right?" says a different woman's voice from the other side of the palm. "There's not enough alcohol in this place to give me that kind of schmooze ability."
Startled, he leans forward, catching the eye of a young lady peering around at him. She's wearing a tastefully low-cut little black dress and tastefully flashy earrings; her hair is dark chestnut, loose over white shoulders. She looks - familiar.
It only takes him a second; he snaps his fingers and says, "Shraeger, right? Casey Shraeger. Walsh's partner."
She nods briskly and shakes his hand. "Agent Barton. Good to see you again."
"You can drop the 'Agent'," he says. "Good to see you, too. Who was that guy, do you know?"
"Oh, yeah," says Casey. "Eddie Alvarez. Detective in our precinct. Kind of a brown-noser, but otherwise all right."
"He thought I was Walsh," Clint explains. "Wanted me to protect him from the mayor's wife."
Casey smirks. "She'll talk his ear off and drag him around to meet people. You'd think that was his idea of a good time, but his wife is here and the mayor's wife always cuts her cold, so that means Eddie can't dance attendance on his own wife."
"Over which, apparently, Mrs. Alvarez sulks for days," Clint says, smirking back. "Poor Eddie."
He glances around and spots another woman headed their way, not making a beeline but being discreet, eventually coming to stand beside Casey. Clint figures she's friend rather than foe, as Casey doesn't seem to be alarmed.
"Hey," Casey says to her. "Where's Walsh?"
"At the bar," says the other lady. She's in a red strapless, dark hair piled on her head, a sardonic smile on those red lips. Clint recognizes her, all right.
"We haven't met," he says, holding out a hand, which she shakes. "Clint Barton."
"Barton," says the siren. "Allison Beaumont. You probably already knew that, though."
"Nope," says Clint. "Didn't dig that far. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Beaumont."
"How far did you dig?" asks Casey. Clint grins at her, recognizing a kindred spirit; she's never entirely off duty, like himself.
"Not that far. I'm only interested in the mystery of the guy with my face. Everyone else is safe from my snooping."
"Good," says Beaumont, "because we'd have to kill you."
Clint is about to make a crack as to how she's welcome to try, when he looks up to see the very face he's talking about. This is only the second time he's seen Walsh up close and he studies the man quickly and thoroughly before he saunters up to the group.
"Agent Barton," says Walsh. He's not in a tux, just a black tailored suit and dark tie, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a glass of wine, which he hands to Beaumont.
"Detective Walsh," says Clint. The two women are looking from one man to the other, sizing them up.
"I feel like I'm in a lineup," Walsh comments.
"Are they playing spot the differences?" says Clint.
"And there are differences," says Casey to Beaumont, ignoring the subjects of their scrutiny. "Skin tone."
"Uh-huh," says Beaumont. "Posture."
"Same cowlick," Casey points out; she and Beaumont laugh and Walsh rolls his eyes.
"Again with the freaking cowlick," he grumbles. "I don't have a cowlick, do you?"
Clint shakes his head, grinning. It's not quite like looking in a mirror, more like seeing himself dressed for undercover, looking just different enough to make people wonder whether he's really Clint Barton.
"Tattoos?" he asks.
"One," says Walsh. "Left upper arm. I'm guessing you don't, because it'd make it too easy to ID you."
"Correct," says Clint, impressed.
"I'm a trained detective," Walsh says with a sly look at Beaumont, who laughs again and takes his arm.
"Inside joke," says Casey. "Can you detect how badly I want to get the hell out of here, Walsh?"
"Nobody's stopping you," he replies. "Oh, wait, your dad's here, isn't he? Is that why you're hiding over here?"
"I'm not hiding," she says.
"Is your mom here too?" asks Beaumont, looking around.
"I haven't spotted her yet," says Casey. "It's not like her to lurk, though. Maybe she's in the ladies' room."
Clint figures her parents must be well-connected, to be in attendance here, and he doesn't know why Casey wants to avoid them, but he knows a lot of ways to do just that.
"How did you get here?" he asks. "Car, cab, subway?"
"Walsh gave me a ride."
"Perfect," says Clint. "You want to go right now?"
"Maybe," she replies cautiously. She glances over at Walsh and Beaumont; the latter shrugs and grins, and Walsh just says, "You're a big girl. You can kick his ass if he gets fresh."
"I'm not worried about that," she scoffs. Turning back to Clint, she says, "What's your plan?"
Clint puts on his most smarmy smile and holds out an arm, which she takes.
"Sometimes the best way, in or out, is right under their noses," he says and starts walking, straight for the front door.
Casey's hand tightens on his arm and she hisses, "Right there, that's my mom, the one in the - "
Clint doesn't listen to the rest, just keeps walking, not too fast, managing to make it look like Casey's leading. He doesn't smile and nod like most of the guests; he's never been good at that fake cordiality and he guesses it's not Casey's style either.
He pays no heed to the voice, stepping up to open the door for his companion, who sails through it without looking back. On the sidewalk, she gives him a quizzical look.
"No getaway car?" she says.
Clint grins and flags down a valet, tosses him some keys, and they have a little hang time while the nondescript SHIELD sedan is brought around.
"Shit, here she comes," Casey mutters, glancing over Clint's shoulder, so he uses the oldest trick in the spy book. He puts his arm around her waist and pulls her in for a kiss. Not too deep, not too hard, suitable for witnesses of all ages, a casual kiss.
Casey melts into it and he lets his lips linger; all too soon the car arrives and Clint hands her in, tips the valet, and drives off.
"Where to, ma'am?"
Allison Beaumont saunters into the bullpen the next morning, winks at Walsh, who smirks back at her, and comes over to Casey's desk.
"Hey, thanks," she says, setting down a small paper bag. "They were a big hit."
"No problem," says Casey. She frowns as she peeks into the bag, then smiles. "Wow, and donuts, too."
Upending the bag, she dumps not one, but two donuts out on her blotter, along with a smaller plastic bag containing something sparkly. Characteristically, she shoves the sparkly stuff in her pocket and falls on the donuts with gusto.
"So, how was Secret Agent Man?" Beaumont asks, going over to sit at her own desk.
"Preliminary findings are promising," Casey replies. "Further study is indicated."
Casey leans over and lowers her voice. "First base, in the car. By the time he saw me to my door my panties were a total loss."
She fist-bumps Allison and they both laugh, just as Eddie Alvarez walks in.
"What are they laughing about?" he asks Walsh in what's supposed to be a whisper. He looks annoyed, as well he might, as he's frequently the unintentional cause of the merriment.
"Shraeger's panties," Walsh says succinctly in a normal tone of voice. "I think."
"Hmph," says Alvarez. "Hardly a suitable topic for the workplace."
The two women rise together, and as they leave the room Allison says loudly, "We're just going for coffee. In the break room. So if you got a problem with mention of unmentionables, steer clear."
Walsh smiles to himself. He's pretty sure the sparkly items Casey pocketed were the earrings and pendant she loaned to Allison for last night's soiree. He lets his mind wander for a change, over the memory of Allison, in her bedroom, wearing nothing but the jewelry and her heels...
"Some of us need to focus on our job," he hears Alvarez mutter. "Not loiter around drinking coffee and talk about last night's debauchery."
"Was there debauchery, last night?" says Walsh with his best I-know-nothing expression. "Damn, guess I missed it."
"You saw Shraeger sashay out the door with that doppelganger of yours," Alvarez replies. "Intent to debauch, anyway."
"None of my business," says Walsh, thinking, wow, guess Eddie didn't get laid last night.
"Doesn't it bother you, though?" Alvarex lowers his voice. "Your partner, lusting after a guy who looks just like you? Something Freudian about that, don't you think?"
Walsh drops the innocent expression and goes quickly to the you-don't-go-there expression.
"And that's none of *your* business," he says pointedly. As usual, Alvarez misses the point.
"Maybe you should - "
He never hears what Alvarez thinks he should, because just then Casey comes into the room and snaps, "Maybe you should shut your mouth and forget you ever mentioned my *lust*. Eddie."
"Hardly a suitable topic for the workplace," Walsh says under his breath.
"Hey, so, I need to ask you something," Clint says to his handler, who has been released from the infirmary but restricted to light duty. They're in Coulson's office; Clint is taking pieces of paper off Coulson's "recycle" pile and making paper airplanes out of them, which he launches toward the shredder, most of them bouncing off and littering the floor.
"Must you?" Coulson murmurs, scribbling his signature on something routine. He doesn't bother trying to tell Clint not to mess up his office, or to shoo him out. If Clint is parked in his office, it's for a reason; Coulson can wait, and he's not easily distracted by the airplanes.
"I must," grins his visitor. "What's a good first date in New York?"
"Why ask me?"
"You've spent more time onshore than I have," Clint returns.
"In that case, you should be asking Stark."
"Riiiiight...because I want my dating status to be public knowledge."
"Thought you liked to live dangerously," Phil retorts.
"It's with a civilian."
"Casey Shraeger," Phil states confidently.
Even knowing Phil this long, Clint still doesn't know how he can speed-read a person like that. Phil catches his annoyed expression and grins.
"Redhead, average height," says Phil, for once showing his cards. "No-nonsense, can take care of herself. Not the star-struck groupie type."
"Packs her own heat," Clint points out. "And probably won't freak out if I get called to action in the middle of dinner."
"She'll probably want to go along."
Fortunately, Phil seems to think that's a good thing; he recommends a couple of places and Clint chooses one and calls Casey. At the precinct, since he doesn't officially know her home phone.
"Casey, how are you? This is Clint Barton."
"I'm good," she replies, sounding brighter. "Hey, thanks again for the save last night."
"No problem. It was my pleasure. So was delivering you to your doorstep."
"Likewise," Casey says. He figures she's surrounded by people, but he resists the urge to say something suggestive just to get her flustered. It probably wouldn't work anyway. Which is one reason why he's asking her out in the first place.
"I called to ask if you want to have dinner," Clint says. "Maybe Friday?"
"Friday I'm off. How about Thursday night after my shift?"
"That's fine," he says. It isn't like he has an actual schedule. "What time, and where should I pick you up?"
"Six, my place," she says promptly. "Nothing too fancy, okay?"
"Roger that," Clint replies. "If you need to change plans - "
"I have the number of your alleged residence," Casey finishes dryly. "Thanks."
"See you Thursday."
It's a slow week for heroes, so Clint spends some time talking to Stark and Thor about weaponry, getting some ideas for future acquisitions. Stark is all about the tech, but Clint argues that if he has to depend on a weapon that requires a power source other than his arm, it's no good to him.
("Not everything runs on batteries, Stark," he says, and he's a little alarmed when Stark bursts out laughing.
"Inside joke," says the man, waving Clint away.)
Thor totally gets Clint's preference, though.
"I can always rely on Mjolnir," he says. "But as my friends can attest, there are times when one needs less might and, shall we say, more stealth?"
"Exactly," says Clint. They're having drinks in an Irish bar a block or two from the tower, more comfortable and well-worn than Tony's eyrie. "I'm sure *you* could sneak up on somebody with the hammer, but I like to travel a lot lighter."
"You have a most cunning bow. I myself prefer hand to hand combat, though our archers are the envy of the Nine Realms. It would be interesting to see what they think of your design."
Clint grins. "Maybe I should come visit, one of these days."
Thor grins back. Then his expression sobers a bit and he says, "We've seen very little of you since the great battle."
"Yeah, well," says Clint, mildly embarrassed. "You're not missing anything. I'm kind of a loner, anyway."
"I may not understand the need for solitude," Thor says. "It's not my nature. But I do know that even the most aloof need company in order to remain whole. Even Stark, who claims that he needs no one, has given generously of his time and resources to keep our team together."
"Stark's a law unto himself," Clint says. This is skating too close to his heart, so he speaks lightly, but Thor gives him a knowing look.
"Let me speak plainly, Barton. Your colleagues give the impression that you were not so aloof before your enslavement by my brother. Certainly there are many who would harbor anger over the actions of you and the rest of Loki's victims."
"You got that right," says Clint bitterly. He downs the rest of his whiskey and holds his glass up for another.
"Without judging whether that anger is deserved or not," Thor continues, "I submit to you that it would be more easily borne with the support of your comrades. Keeping your presence from us does neither you nor our team any good."
"I don't see how it does any harm, though," Clint replies. He also doesn't see why Thor should be concerned with Clint's well-being, beyond being battle ready when called, but it turns out the big man's more perceptive than Clint thought.
Thor speaks quietly but firmly. "Allow me to point out two ways it could cause harm. One, if you are seen to be well among your friends and colleagues, there will be less suspicion that you are not well, that you are damaged beyond repair...that you cannot be trusted. Two - you need us as much as we need you. Not as an archer or even a stout comrade at our backs, but as yourself. We are your family, Barton. Like it or not."
Clint stares for a minute, then says, "And most people think you're the dumb muscle of the team."
Thor throws his head back and roars with laughter; they knock their drinks back and Thor shouts, "Another!"
While the bartender refills their glasses, Clint says, "At least you don't smash 'em any more."
"Ah, but Darcy has played that incident up far too well," the Norseman grins. "It was only once. My destruction pales in comparison to Erik Selvig's performance with a beer glass."
He fills Clint in on the circumstances of the event and Clint laughs as well, then notices a shadow crossing his friend's face.
"What's going on with Selvig, these days?" he asks cautiously.
"I haven't seen him since the day I took Loki back to Asgard," Thor says. "Jane took him to Tromso, to the research station. I believe he is - recovering. Time is the greatest healer, my mother always says."
It strikes Clint that he and Selvig have something significant in common. Clint, however unwillingly, was the instrument of betrayal to SHIELD and the people who died as a result. Selvig was the tool that enabled Loki to open the portal to the aliens who wreaked further destruction on his world.
"I should buy him a drink," Clint mutters.
Casey has put everyone on notice that she will not spring for drinks for the whole bar more than once a month, and anyone who tells the bartender otherwise is immediately cut off for the night. Tonight she has sprung, so of course everyone orders their most expensive favorite, but at least they toast her enthusiastically.
"So, Shraeger," says Delahoy, on the next bar stool over. "When's your date with Hawkeye?"
"What do you know about it?" Casey replies, amiably enough.
"Nothing whatsoever," says Delahoy promptly. "Which is why I ask."
"Really," she says. "I hear there's a pool."
Delahoy's about to make an unconvincing protest when Walsh slides onto the stool on his other side and orders two beers. He looks at his partner and says, "Date, time, location, duration, and where each of you spends the night. Beaumont said she'd break heads if anyone laid odds on - other details."
"And how does anyone expect to verify their results?" says Casey.
"We were kind of hoping you'd pass us some intel on that," Delahoy says to Walsh. The latter chuckles, takes his beers and goes back to the table where Beaumont is sitting.
Casey laughs, but the sound falls too clearly, as the bar has gone suddenly quiet. Like a scene from a spaghetti western, everyone has turned to look at the man who just entered and is making his way to the bar. He's obviously aware of their scrutiny but also completely unfazed by it.
He sidles up next to Casey, smiles at her and orders something from the bartender. Conversation resumes, more quietly, and Casey grins at him and says, "Hey, Barton."
"Hey, Shraeger. Can I buy you a drink?"
"Maybe later. Hey, Delahoy, you remember Clint Barton, don't you? The Mimosa?"
"Pleasure," says Delahoy, shaking Clint's hand. "Agent Barton, isn't it?"
"Sometimes. Not tonight. Cop bar, huh?"
"What gave it away, the badge bling?" says Casey.
"The way the holster breaks the line of the suit?" says Delahoy.
"Just my spidey sense," Clint says, shrugging.
"Remind me to tell you about the time some doofus decided to try robbing the place." Casey slides off her stool. "Come and say hi to Walsh and Beaumont."
Clint follows her to the table and shakes hands with the others.
"Alvarez has been asking about you," says Allison slyly.
"Alvarez? Oh, the mustache, from the gala?" Clint smirks back at her. "I knew an Alvarez once, Carlos Alvarez, Army sniper. I don't think he's from around here, though."
"Where are you from, by the way?" Walsh asks point blank. "Generally."
"Iowa, somewhere," Clint replies. "So they tell me."
"I was born in Waverly," says Walsh. "Small world."
Clint gazes at Walsh for a minute and then says, "We should talk about that, some time."
"Stop by the diner whenever you like," Walsh offers. "You know by now how to tell when I'm there."
"Good seeing you again," he says to Walsh and Allison. "Ready?" he says to Casey, who stands and walks with him out the door of the bar, ignoring the furtive glances and cat calls from her colleagues.
"Looks like I won that pool," says Walsh.