The existence of Agent Clint Barton, age 16, and Agent Natasha Romanoff, age 17, is the most well-kept secret in SHIELD. The only ones who know of them were those with level 7 clearance, and even then it is such a tight-lipped secret that not even a whisper of a rumor makes its way around SHIELD.
Sure, there is that hot Agent Natalie Rushman, who’s obviously a new recruit with her baby face and all. But she rarely takes any missions (everyone assumes it’s because she’s a junior agent, I mean she looks so young!), and when she does she’s always given Phil Coulson as her handler (and everyone knows how professional he is about everything). Usually, when she’s in the office, it’s to babysit Coulson’s little boy. No one really knows who Mrs. Coulson is or if she’s even alive anymore, because the boy hangs out at the office more often than he should be in school. But no one dares to question Coulson on raising his child (to be truthful, few agents even thinks that the kid might not be Coulson’s). No one really knows what the kid’s name is, but sometimes one can overhear a muffled yell of, “Barton!” on the other side of Coulson’s thick office doors.
But if there is something that SHIELD agents knows of, it’s that the best two operatives of SHIELD are only known by their codenames. There is Hawkeye, the best sniper in known existence, and then there is Black Widow, the best spy. You know exactly when Hawkeye is involved on a mission (usually solo ones), because he leaves a clean body for the rest of the agents to clean up. As for the Widow, it’s all guesswork, because she’s that good and no one’s quite sure if she’s ever involved in any missions. Or if she exists. But the missions reports (if you’ve got high enough clearance) all states that Widow was involved in some top level case, so she must exist somewhere!
Of course, it’s not just SHIELD that knows of Hawkeye and Black Widow. And according to the rumors, the two has been around for a long time, so they must be really good and potentially looking for retirement. Unless they’re some kind of mutants or something. Hey, they work with SHIELD! It’s possible.
And the identity of the two elusive agents would have stayed a secret if it wasn’t for a small incident in New York.
The first field mission Phil Coulson ever went on with SHIELD is indeed a memorable one.
He had been wet behind the years than. Brand new to the way SHIELD did things, much too naïve about the world at large. It is what encouraged Fury to do what he did.
“This is exciting,” Phil tells his senior partner, trying to contain a giggle.
His senior partner, Agent Maria Hill, gives him a sharp glare. Phil quickly schools his face into a more acceptable agent-face.
“We’re not here on a field trip, Coulson,” Hill says sharply.
Although she’s correct in saying so, Phil thinks that they have time to relax a little. After all, this is a low level case (which might be the reason why Hill’s so upset; she probably hadn’t expected to babysit a junior recruit on a boring watch mission), and they’re really not doing anything but stalk this guy named Jacques Duquesne who goes by Swordsman when he’s under the spotlight of the circus. Their intel claims that Duquesne is doing shady dealings with Hydra, but there’s no real proof of this. Thus, here Phil sits on his very first case ever, watching Duquesne train a blonde boy.
“He’s pretty good,” Phil notices as the little boy holds his own against Duquesne in a sword fight.
The boy moves with fluidity and energy that only little children (or highly trained agents) have. It’s rather amusing to watch, especially the way the boy so easily knocked out Duquesne’s katana out of his hands. Then the boy lunges forward, sword pointing at Duquesne’s throat. The boy grins. The older man must have said something that made him happy. Then the two wrap up, and the boy bounces over to a make-shift range and changes mentor from Swordsman to Trickshot (real name: Buck Chisholm, who may or may not be part of the Hydra dealings).
“How old do you think he is?” Phil asks, fascinated by the way the small kid so easily hit the bull’s-eye over and over again with his bow and arrow.
Hill glances over, looking bored and slightly annoyed. “Look, stop it with the chat-”
When she stops in mid-sentence, Phil glances over at what she’s looking at too. And for the first time, he gets evidence that maybe, the boy down there with the two mentors might not be happy. The boy has taken off his shirt (most likely because sleeves are the enemy to all archers), and his back and arms are riddled with scars and bruises. Few look fresh, perhaps only a few hours old. More looks like it’s been there for a while.
The junior agent hears gritting of teeth and looks at Hill in shock. But she just gives him a raised eyebrow, and he realizes with embarrassment that it’s coming from him. For the first time, her eyes soften when she looks at Phil in the eye.
“Don’t get involved,” she says. “We’re members of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, not the social services. We’re here to investigate alleged rumors that Duquesne is involved with Hydra. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Phil nods slowly.
Neither of them realizes, however, how tangled they’ll be with that boy’s fate.
When they realize that something’s wrong, it’s too late. Duquesne’s trailer is empty and his katana is gone. Hill curses and Phil wonders maybe, just maybe, the intel is right and this mission is about to be bumped up a few clearance levels. If he isn’t panicked by the fact that they’ve just lost their target, he would be cheering at his lucky break.
They run outside, looking at potential places the target (and more importantly the Hydra goons) could be. Hill calls in backup, and it’s only when they start looking through the forest that Phil finds what’s left of Duquesne. The man is on the ground, the hole in his chest oozing with blood. Around him, there are Hydra goons scattered about, clearly dead. There are over ten bodies, all obviously Hydra agents, and blood splatters everywhere. But perhaps what’s the scariest thing of all is the boy that stands in the middle of the bloodbath, holding Duquesne’s katana.
It’s the blonde boy from before, the one with the scars and bruises, the one that Duquesne and Chisholm were training earlier. He’s standing there, covered in blood of his victims. When he notices Phil, he raises the katana that’s dripping with blood, ready for a fight. He stares at Phil and the way that the agent holds his gun. The agent understands right away that the kid might not understand that he’s not an enemy. He quickly puts the gun down to the ground and hold up his hand to make himself look as harmless as he can.
“Hey,” Phil says softly. “Calm down. I’m not going to hurt you. It’s going to be okay.”
The boy looks at him with blank eyes, but he slowly put down the katana. He then looks at Phil, again with that blank look on his face, and holds out his arms.
“Arrest me then,” says the boy.
When Director Fury receives the phone call from Maria Hill, he gives them one order: “Do not let anyone know that the kid did it.” Then with a brief, “I’ll be there soon,” the director hangs up.
The boy is watching Phil and Maria like a hawk and it’s a little unnerving. They’ve contacted the local law enforcers and reported the massacre. They pass it off as if Duquesne killed those people and then was hit by an accidental shot that went off by a dead body’s twitch. Chisholm is nowhere to be found, and all they have as a lead is the silent boy. No one is happy with this situation, but Phil and Maria are on strict orders and they’re not going to let anyone know what really went down in the forest… No that they themselves knows what happened, that is.
Currently, the three are waiting in Duquesne’s empty trailer, fidgeting slightly. The silence is awkward and the boy’s stares are not helping to ebb it.
“So… what’s your name?” Phil breaks first. He can’t handle this whole case (all those dead body and the blood) just feels like a nightmare. He wonders how he’s managed to snag the one mission that went to hell so quickly. He also wonders how the boy can be so calm.
“Clint,” the boy answers softly. “Am I in trouble?”
“That depends,” Maria says, finally playing along. She shoots Phil a warning glance. “We have a few questions, sweetie, and we need you to answer them as honestly as you can. Can you do that for me?”
The boy – Clint, Phil corrects- nods. “Okay.”
“Did you… kill those people?”
Clint nods again. “Yeah. Just like I was taught.” The boy pauses a little, and his shoulders slump. “But he wasn’t supposed to die.”
The SHIELD agents exchange a quick glance. “For how long have you been taught?” Phil asks. He can’t stop the feeling of horror slipping into his voice.
“Since Swordsman took me in,” Clint says. “He said that I had potential.”
“For what?” Phil presses.
“For things like this. You know, when his deals go wrong.”
“Do you know what the deal this time was?”
Clint tilts his head as if to say, ‘How the hell would I know?’ Of course, Phil figures that the young boy probably wouldn’t use those words exactly… Then again, who knows what kids on the streets used these days?
“Do you know who they were?”
Maria pulls Phil out of the discussion. “He doesn’t know anything,” she says. “But he jumped in to kill over ten Hydra agents because that’s what he was trained to do? That’s dangerous.”
Phil agrees. Because he’s seen killers with blank eyes before, and children shouldn’t have eyes like those.
Fury listens to their analysis of the situation with a frown. “So he’s a child soldier,” he mumbles to himself softly. He turns back to them, stone faced. “How bad do you think the conditioning is?”
“Given therapy and enough time, he should be okay,” Maria reports with confidence. “He’s young, he’ll be fine.”
Phil disagrees, but he doesn’t voice it. He thinks that Clint’s case might not work out so well.
“Alright,” Fury says. “Agent Coulson, I want you in charge of the boy. Get him to therapy sessions, get him enrolled in public school, get him to be a normal boy. Then dump that kid back into the system to be a normal citizen. Hill, find out where Chisholm went. Dismissed.”
Clint is perhaps the furthest thing away from a normal boy. He is quiet, reserved, and he doesn’t get along with anyone at all. He doesn’t like talking with the therapist (Not that he talks to anyone unless asked a direct question, and even then sometimes Clint just shrugs and never opens his mouth). He stares at his classmates (Phil’s already gotten a phone call from a disturbed teacher whose exact words were, “Clint’s scaring the other kids,” which translates in Phil’s brain to: Clint’s scaring me. And this is after just one day of school). But perhaps what’s the strangest thing about the kid is that he doesn’t ask for anything. Not even lunch money or sweats or toys or weapons. Absolutely nothing.
The two live in Phil’s dinky little apartment. It’s small and filled with Captain America collector’s items, but the kid doesn’t even look twice at them. He doesn’t even try to play with the toys or try to read the comics or watch the movies. He just stands around quietly, looking off into space. Anything that the kid could potentially want will be funded by SHIELD and the government, but that doesn’t mean anything if the kid doesn’t ask for it.
And perhaps the worst of all is that Phil’s been put on hold for any new missions until he can get this kid to fit in to normal society. Sure, he still go into the office and do some paperwork (he hires a babysitter to take care of Clint when the boy’s not in school), but Director Fury has made it clear that Phil wouldn’t be receiving any new missions until he can drop Clint back into normal society. How the hell is Phil supposed to do that when he can barely take care of the kid?
So Phil gives up asking if Clint wants anything. He just gives the kid what he thinks best. For breakfast, he makes Clint pancakes. For lunch, he packs him small sandwiches and various fruits. For dinner, it really depends, because Phil’s usually working and lets the babysitter take care of that. And when he returns from work, Phil makes sure to sit Clint down and ask him how his day went. Clint always looks at him with that blank look and shrugs. Clint never speaks, just stares.
It’s kind of worrying Phil.
“You’re going to have to start interacting with humans again,” Phil tells him one night. It’s been three days since Clint’s come to live with him, and the boy isn’t cooperating. “You can’t stay shut off from the world forever.”
Clint doesn’t reply. His stormy gray eyes just stare at Phil in a way that makes Phil uncomfortable. And yeah, he can’t help but to agree with the teacher’s sentiment that this is kind of scary.
“Clint,” Phil tries again. “You can at least start talking again.”
It’s only then that Clint’s eyes light up and his mouth opens. “If I behave, would you let me see my brother?”
And fuck, because Phil hasn’t even realized that the kid has a brother.
“Why wasn’t I told of his family?” Phil demands to Maria, who’s giving him a raised eyebrow.
Phil nods but then pulls that aside, because this is more important. “Why haven’t we contacted his family?”
“Because he was at a circus when we picked him up, and they aren’t exactly known for their information network. All data we have of him is what he tells us, which is pretty much nothing at this moment in time,” Fury tells them as he walks into the private room. “He’s looking for his brother, you said?”
Phil nods. “Yessir.”
Fury nods to Maria. She lets out a sigh that sounds more like she’s annoyed by this than anything else and speaks. “When Chisholm left the circus, he took a boy with him.”
“The brother,” Phil guesses.
The two superior agents nod. “I think it might be for the best if we keep the boy hidden within SHIELD.”
Fury considers this for a few seconds and then nods. “Alright. Coulson, pull him out of school. You’ll be homeschooling him from now on. You’ll be given a new office. If the kid wants to come to SHIELD, he’s limited to your office, the caf, and bathroom. When you’re given a mission, Hill will take care of him.”
Hill looks like she’s going to protest, but Fury cuts her off. “Our top priority is to make sure that kid doesn’t become a target to Chisholm or the Hydra. After that, it’s keeping that boy quiet. No one knows that he’s with SHIELD, no one knows who he is. Got it?”
The two agents nod. Fury stares them both down with his one eye. Then he lets out a puff of breath and declares, “Dismissed.”
The second mission that Phil ever gets is an op of cleaning up a mad scientist’s lab. The scientist had already been caught by more experienced field agents, and junior recruits like Phil are forced to clean up the mess. There’s really nothing terrible to take care of, just lots of mysterious gunk and funny smell. Or so they all thought right until a giant armadillo-like creature began mauling them.
Few of the frightened agents run off the minute they see the creature. But Phil isn’t a coward. He drops to one knee and begin to empty his round on the monster. Sitwell, who at first started to run, stops and returns to Phil’s side, firing his gun as well. Unfortunately, the monster’s leather-like skin is acting like Kevlar and protecting it from the bullets.
“Damn! I’m out, Coulson!” Sitwell shouts, panic obvious on his face.
And it sucks because Phil’s out as well. The two agents glance at each other and then at the monster that’s looming over them.
“Nice serving with you,” Phil says, his military background taking over.
Sitwell pales. “Damn,” he whispers. “Thought I’d go down cooler, you know?”
But the monster never strikes them. Instead, the monster lets out a sound between a gag and a whine, and collapses to the ground. Sitwell and Phil exchange nervous glances. They peer closely at the monster and realize with a start that there’s an arrow sticking out of the monster’s eye.
“What just happened…?”
“Looked like you needed help,” someone calls to them. After a small pause, the person adds, “Sirs.”
Phil doesn’t have to look to recognize the voice. Sitwell, who has never heard the voice before, turns to look. But there’s no one there, almost as if a ghost has saved them.
“It was amazing!” Sitwell bragged to the other recruits who had run out of danger the minute they saw the creature. “Right when Phil and I thought we were screwed, someone fired an arrow. A fucking arrow!”
“Yeah, yeah,” someone answers back, clearly annoyed. Other than Sitwell and Phil, everyone else was punished severely for running off. Sitwell hasn’t made it easy on others, what with his repeated bragging of the story of what happened. “So you’ve said. Did your savior say anything?”
“Yeah. And I know it’s a beautiful girl, because guys don’t have voice like that,” Sitwell swoons. “High pitched and calm. With a bit of spunk, you know? Gods, I bet she’s beautiful! But damn! Can you imagine how much arm strength it’d take to fire a fucking arrow into the eye of that monster? She must have trained a long time, you know?”
Disturbed by the fact that his colleague seems to have an unhealthy crush on his young charge, Phil left the room and made his way to the office. There, Clint is lying on the couch, a bow and a quiver filled with arrows by his side. The boy’s stormy gray eyes track Phil as the older man makes his way slowly to his desk.
“You were supposed to be here,” Phil tells him. “Not on the field.”
“Saved your life, sir,” Clint says clearly.
“You’re a kid, Clint. You shouldn’t be saving anyone’s lives.”
The boy becomes quiet again. Then suddenly, he looks up, anger flashing in his eyes. “Then get better backup or learn how to shoot properly.”
Clint doesn’t speak to Phil for the rest of the day.
After the fifth time of Clint sneaking into the field and saving someone’s ass or the mission itself (in Phil’s defense, he would like to state that no normal human could have made that shot), Phil gives up trying to lecture the kid. He does give the boy disapproving looks, but that’s all he can do. Phil’s not sure how the kid’s getting to the field as it is, and thus doesn’t know how to stop him.
“I see you’re using Clint as an asset,” Fury says. His one eye reflects concern and Phil can’t help but to wonder if he’s going to get the axe for this. “I seem to remember telling you to keep him a secret.”
“I am, sir,” Phil says drily. “He just sneaks into the field.”
“Few agents are whispering about an angel keeping them safe,” Fury adds, looking disgruntled. “I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
“Maybe you should just promote me.”
There’s a slight pause as the two adults scan the room to see where the voice just came from. Then the ceiling tile moves and Clint jumps down with grace of an acrobat. He dusts himself a little and looks at both Fury and Phil with those sharp eyes.
“Make me an agent of SHIELD,” Clint declares.
Fury taps his chin, looking at the boy thoughtfully.
“Sir, you can’t serious be consider-” Phil’s rant is cut off by the director.
“They say that your shots are always kill-shots,” Fury says, the question unspoken but still clearly there.
Clint just grins cockily in a manner that’s much more fitting of a boy his age. “Hawkeye never miss.”
The name sticks.
Chapter 3: Off the Key of Reason (Part 3)
The two live together for two years and fall into a nice pattern. When Phil has missions, Clint appears magically (Phil never really finds out how he does that) and saves lives or saves the mission (It’s always a miracle shot. No one else can make the shot but Clint). When Phil isn’t working, he takes Clint to various places such as the nearby parks, museums, and other children-appropriate places. When they’re not going to places, Phil does paperwork and gets Clint various workbooks to fill out (The boy isn’t stupid, and Phil is a determined, if not patient, teacher).
Clint starts speaking to Phil, joking and fooling around like a kid should. But always, when there’s a mission (or if Clint is feeling uncomfortable), the soldier from the forest returns and Phil is forced to admit that yeah, this version of Clint still scares him. Maria Hill shoots him angry glares from time to time (probably annoyed that he’s gotten a kid involved in government mess), but even she has to admit that Clint’s good. And Phil’s spotted her more than once sneaking small candies to the kid.
It’s a comfortable existence. No one else knows who Clint is. Just that there appears to be a little boy from time to time around Coulson, and Fury doesn’t seem to care. No one knows who Hawkeye is either. Just that there appears to be a guardian angel of sorts watching over SHIELD operatives that Jasper (Sitwell gave permission to use his first name to Phil after their third mission together) insists is his one true love. The said angel hasn’t spoken a word since the first op, so no one can say for sure whether he’s insane or not. But they can all agree that the angel is a remarkable marksman (“Markswoman!” Jasper always corrects whenever someone uses that word to describe his angel).
Those two years are quickly dashed by the appearance of one Natasha Romanoff. The relationship between Phil and Clint, as well as the relationship between Agent Hawkeye and SHIELD, is changed forever.
Phil Coulson is on the base when it happens. Some high-level agents have busted a deal between Hydra and Red Room, arrested (but mainly killed) those involved, and brought back the identical suitcases the two groups were exchanging. Both bags are currently being transported over to the open arms of eager scientists who want to know exactly what Hydra and Red Room are keeping secret.
“What do you think is inside?” Jasper asks, obviously curios.
Phil shrugs. “Who knows? Maybe it’s drugs or some new kind of weapon. What else would fit in a suitcase?”
“I have intel that says that whatever it is, it’s called the Black Widow!” Jasper says, looking gleeful.
Phil gives him a bland smile. “That’s nice.”
To be truthful, Phil isn’t all that interested. Clint has picked up a terrible habit of setting up pranks all over SHIELD (some of the agents are starting to believe that the base is haunted by a ghost), and Phil’s been trying to find the kid. The way the kid can stay out of sight is a little unnerving (made worse by the time when Maria had called Phil with a panicked, “He’s gone!” when Phil had been on away on a mission. It turned out that Clint had, yet again, sneaked his way onto Phil’s op and helped take out the bad guy. But the point of the story was that even Maria Hill had trouble keeping the kid in eyesight).
The two aren’t anywhere near the transport room or the labs when it happens.
Someone comes on the open comms and scream, “Help us! Help us! Hel-” Then the commission is cut off abruptly.
Jasper and Phil give each other brief glance before both bolting towards the transport, their hands on their guns. By the time they arrive, they see that both suitcases are open. One contains ridiculously large amount of money. The other is completely empty. All around the suitcases are the bodies of those overseeing the transport and the scientists. Few have been shot, few have been stabbed, few have what appear to be broken necks, and most of them have a various combination of the three. All are dead.
“Holy hell!” Jasper hisses, looking around the room in horror. “What happened here?”
It reminds him too much of the time two years ago when Phil walked into a forest and found a bloodbath. The agent squares his shoulder and orders for Jasper to alert Fury and the security. After setting up a perimeter, he runs off to his office, worried about his charge. If this is something that Clint did…
Phil holds the gun close to himself before kicking open the office door, fully prepared to shoot first. He slowly inches forward into the empty room. Frowning, he’s about to turn around when someone slams the door close. The agent doesn’t even get a chance to shoot, however. Instead, something knocks the gun out of his hand and within seconds, Phil finds himself on the ground, his once fallen gun now pointed at his head.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Phil hears Clint’s voice say.
The agent is about to tell the kid that No, this is not alright. This kind of pranks are not funny at all, when Clint continues talking.
“That’s just Phil. He’s like my mom.”
… Who is Clint talking to? And why the hell is Phil Coulson the mom?
Let us rewind the time a little to the point when the scientists open the suitcases, so that we can fully understand the situation.
“Can you believe this shit?” one of the agents shouts, laughing delightedly. “These are hundred dollar bills!”
Few of the others gather around, shocked at the amount of the money in one of the suitcases. But as they’re distracted by the money, the few who’re opening the other suitcase scream.
“What?” someone shouts. “What is it?!”
The people crowding around the second suitcase falls over, and others start laughing, thinking it’s a joke. They’re still laughing when a flash of red shoots them or snaps their necks. By the time they realize that this isn’t a joke, someone runs to report it on the comms. They don’t say very much. Just repeats the same phrase, “Help us!” over and over until the scientist is silenced with a simple stab to the heart.
It takes the total of ninety seconds.
By the end of it, there are bodies all over the room and only one person is alive. This person is actually a little girl with vibrant red hair. She holds a dagger loosely in one hand and a hand gun in another. Sitting down near a corpse, she wipes her dagger clean and sheaths it and the gun. She glances around, smirks and declares, “What noobs.”
And that’s when Clint walks into the room. His eyes meet hers, and to her surprise, he smiles brightly. “Oh sweet! A playmate!”
The girl frowns and a small wrinkle appears on her forehead. She’s clearly displeased by Clint’s description as well as the lack of response from the boy about the dead bodies. Aren’t normal kids supposed to be freaked out by things like these…? For a few seconds, the confusion grants Clint enough time to come close to her. But then her training kicks in.
She throws a punch that he dodges easily. Ah, so that’s why he didn’t look shocked by the corpses. He’s someone like her. She pulls out her dagger and she begins a calculated attack against the clearly unarmed boy. He’s grinning throughout the whole ordeal, dodging with ease and grace of someone who’s as flexible as herself. She can’t help but to match his grin with her own.
Then Clint turns the tables around by switching to offensive. This time, the girl shows exactly what it means to be flexible. She twists and bends, dodging his blows and throwing her own in from time to time. They’re both laughing delighted as they continue this strange dance. Then Clint strikes out and grabs her by the neck. She retaliates by pointing her dagger at his eye.
Green eyes meet gray, and a mutual understanding passes between them.
Clint lets go first. The girl slowly moves the dagger away and back into the sheath. With a smile, Clint holds out his hand to her.
“Name’s Clint Barton,” he tells her. “Nice to meet you.”
She considers the hand for a bit, her training and her stubborn thoughts combating one another for a second before she shrugs a little and reaches forth to grab his hand. “Natasha Romanoff. Pleasure.”
“Now let’s get out of here before people start coming in to investigate the mess,” Clint says. He points to an air vent. “C’mon, I know the route to some place safe.”
Phil, who has been permitted to sit up on the ground, stares at the two children in disbelief. Natasha still holds the gun and she’s no longer pointing it at the older man, but she’s examining it in a manner that makes Phil a little uncomfortable because little girls should not be holding guns like that. Then again, little girls should not be in suitcases, sold to the highest bidder as a child assassin. Gods, what is wrong with the world?
“So you brought her here?” The usually calm agent asks, slight hysteria filling his voice. “In my office?”
Clint shrugs, perhaps the only one who isn’t affected by this. “Hey, you should be honored that I consider this spot to be safe,” is his only defense.
Honored? Maybe. But there’s a slight important fact that Clint seems to be overlooking. The fact that, you know, the girl in the room just murdered bunch of good agents and scientists. Phil rubs his temples. “Alright,” he says. “Okay. I’m going to call Director Fury and Agent Hill. We’ll go from there.”
At the mention of more people, Natasha tenses visibly and points the gun back at Phil. Clint chuckles a little at the reaction and waves his hand to try calming her down. “Don’t worry, Nat; they’re actually pretty chill people. Director Fury’s the creepy uncle who likes to pretend that he doesn’t like you. And Maria…? Well… If Phil’s the mom, then Maria’s the dad.”
Phil really wishes he hadn’t been the one to be stuck with babysitting duty.
Fury stares at the three with a rather flat look. “So what exactly are you asking for, Coulson? Because I have good men and women down there who died at this little girl’s hands. You want me to wave a magic wand and make their deaths disappear?”
“No, sir,” Phil says. He takes a step forward and lets the children be shielded behind his legs. “But I believe she deserves a second chance.”
The director of SHIELD looks at Phil then at the children who are staring at him from behind the protection of Phil’s legs. Fury runs through the pros and cons of this decision that he’s about to make here and now. He looks back at Phil’s determined eyes, and he makes a decisions.
“Alright, here’s the deal. Natasha will be given the same treatment as Clint.”
Clint lets out a loud, “Yes!” and high-fives Natasha, who’s beginning to look a little pleased with herself.
“But here’s the catch,” Fury says, glaring at the two kids who, in turn, glare back, their happy mood dashed. “Coulson, you take care of both of them. As in, anything they do, it’ll be on your head.”
Phil’s mouth dropped in pure horror. Surely the director wouldn’t be so cruel as to assign him not one but both children?!
“Ah, I suppose you’ll need a promotion as well,” Fury says offhandedly. “You’re going to need higher clearance level… and a bigger apartment.”
Holy hell, the agent thinks. I’m actually going to die.
Then the door to Phil’s office opens and Maria Hill rushes in, closing the door behind her. She pauses for the briefest second, her eyes trained on Natasha. For a second, Phil’s worried that Maria might do something to trigger the little girl. What happens instead is that Agent Hill opens her mouth and lets out an uncharacteristic groan of:
Chapter 4: Off the Key of Reason (Part 4)
Clint and Natasha may be SHIELD's best assassins, but in the end, they were just kids.
It turns out that Maria was right to fear.
Within a month of moving in, Natasha slid into SHIELD life as Clint’s partner in crime of terrorizing the base. Phil’s starting to get sick and tired of the rumors of a ghost hunting the base. Who knew all the agents were so superstitious?
“What are you wearing, Agent Woo?” Phil asks. He’s rather proud of how bland he’s getting his voice to sound, as well as how empty he can make his face be. It turns out raising two hyperactive assassins can do that to you.
“It’s a charm,” Woo explains as he rubs his pendant nervously. “Scares away ghosts, you know?”
If it’s just the charm that Woo was wearing, then Phil would have gladly looked it over. Unfortunately, Woo has found it necessary to wear what looked to Phil like… ceremonial kimono, combined with a strange hat that Woo has stuck all of his hair under.
“I meant the whole getup, Agent,” Phil says, surprised at how bland his voice comes out as.
“Huh? Oh. It’s my exorcising clothes,” Woo say with a bright smile. “This has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. It’ll protect me from the evil spirits haunting the base.”
In the next twenty minutes, the horrified screams of Woo fill the whole base. At the end of it all, Woo is dripping from a combination of tomato juice, grapefruit pulp, and tears. He never wears anything other than standard SHIELD uniforms afterwards. Woo also become terrified of any tomatoes or grapefruits, and that’s not even beginning to describe the feelings he has of supernatural beings. Suffice to say, he’s a little skittish around the base.
But it’s not just Woo who gets surprised by the ‘ghost.’
One day, Quartermain runs out of the bathroom, chased by a swarm of bees. It appears that when he flushed the toilet, something gooey and sticky fell out of the ceiling and all over him. A quick sniff and taste-test assured him that it was just honey. If that had been all, that would have been fine. However, a giant beehive had fallen out of the ceiling as well, and well… Let’s just say that that was that.
Sometimes, it’s a harmless prank. Such as the rubber ducky that appeared everywhere. It didn’t harm anyone, but it did drive everyone crazy with its random appearance all over the base. Another harmless prank is the disappearance of all the dessert in the cafeteria. Phil spent the rest of that night, trying to calm down Natasha and Clint from their sugar highs.
Other times, the pranks went a little too far. For instance, when one agent went out of his way to make Phil’s life miserable (something about things not being fair that Phil got so many promotions in such short time he had been at SHIELD), that agent found paper clips, sheep blood, and gun powder all over his things. When that didn’t seem to do the trick, random paper clips and pens would come flying out of nowhere, often pinning the agent to the wall. Nothing else happened afterwards, but Fury had blamed Phil for not controlling his ‘rascals’ better. Then something else dramatic must have happened, because suddenly, the agent was asking for a transfer to Siberia and was never seen again.
Phil sort of hopes that Clint and Natasha didn’t kill him.
All in all, base life goes on. No one notices the extra edition of Natasha to the family, at least not at the base. At home, however, is a different story.
The first night they spend in the new apartment is a little uncomfortable. The apartment is roomy compared to Phil’s old one, and SHIELD had been so kind to help move everything in for the three. All three of their rooms are identical in the sense that there’s a bed, a window, a desk and a closet filled with clothes that SHIELD must’ve bought because Phil didn’t have those suits before. But in the one that Phil assumes is his contains his boxes of Captain America items. He wonders if anyone thought he was a dork for having them.
There’s a living room with a flat screen TV that SHIELD must have added to the collection. There are shelves filled with boxes of Phil’s Captain America DVD collections and other movies that SHIELD must have deemed children-appropriate. There are also shelves filled with children’s books, but Phil gets an inkling suspicion that the kids might not appreciate those as much. There’s a long couch and a love-seat, both facing towards the TV. In the middle of the room is a low table, perfect for TV-dinner nights.
The kitchen is much nicer than the one that Phil had. And if Phil could cook, he would be more impressed. The pantries and the fridge are stocked with food, both healthy and few sweets for the kids, and Phil is grateful because he doesn’t feel like shopping. They end up eating takeout for dinner.
Natasha doesn’t speak to Phil. It reminds him so much of the time when Clint first moved in, so Phil doesn’t comment. He’s going to give her time as he did with Clint. However, she doesn’t stare like Clint did. Instead, she speaks lowly to Clint, who ends up giggling most of the time.
When did those two become so close? Phil can already imagine all the problems the two might cause together.
That night, Phil wakes up, a little disoriented. When he remembers what happened, he sighs a little and decides to check on the kids. He creaks open Clint’s door first, because he doesn’t want to seem too creepy.
The bed is empty.
Suddenly more awake and alarmed, he does a quick scan of the room and the living room. All empty of Clint. Then…?
He opens Natasha’s room and lets out a breath of relief. There, Clint’s curled up next to Natasha, both holding each other tightly. Natasha’s bright green eyes look up, alert and ready to kill. Phil just smiles pleasantly at her.
“Good night,” he tells her.
She gives him a scrutinizing look. She glances down quickly at Clint’s sleeping face and back up at Phil. She must’ve come to a decision, because she nods slowly.
Phil leaves the room.
Phil’s life slowly returns to the pattern of doing paperwork, talking to Jasper, and taking care of the kids. When he’s doing paperwork, he gives both kids worksheets to fill out. Clint’s surprisingly good with pattern recognition and Natasha’s a genius with languages. Phil’s a little proud of them both. During the weekends, he takes them both to ‘child-appropriate’ places. Clint doesn’t mind revisiting the places they’ve already been to, and takes great pleasure in giving Natasha tours.
Their favorite place to go is the Bronx Zoo. Natasha’s favorite to visit is the Snow Leopard. Clint’s fond of the lemurs. Phil’s just glad that they’re so amused by seeing bunch of animals locked up. Or so he thought until one day.
Someone had broken into the zoo and freed all the animals. From the way the Snow Leopard lounged happily on the sofa and the way the other animals chilled around the apartment, Phil could make a guess as to who did this.
Luckily, they were able to return all the animals to the zoo with no major damages, no one the wiser. Fury had not been pleased and Phil was benched for a week.
It had been a normal day in the life of Phil Coulson.
The very first time that Natasha was used in a mission wasn’t even intentional. One day, she was there, chatting lowly with Clint so that no one else would overhear, and then for three days, she was gone.
When she returned, it was with top secret files from AIM that SHIELD had been trying to get their hands on for a while. It turned out that Natasha had seen the mission briefing files on Phil’s desk, read it, and then decided that it was the perfect mission for her, especially since Phil had made a note on the file that said, “This mission might be too much for our operatives.”
Since then, Natasha, codenamed Black Widow, is trusted and given top level intel-stealing missions that normal agents can’t pull off. Every time she disappears, Phil’s whole body tenses. It’s not until she’s back to giving him the cold shoulder that he can breathe easily. It’s different with Clint, who he always knows has his back on missions. Natasha just cuts off all contact until her objective is achieved. Then she returns with the files with a smug smile on her face, running to Clint’s side without prompting.
Thinking back on it, Phil really should have seen this coming.
Natasha’s away on another mission, leaving Phil and Clint to come up with a new place to go on the weekend. Clint’s not helping, because he’s looking down at all the pamphlets that Phil’s gotten with sad eyes.
Phil sighs. “Clint, I know you’re upset that Natasha’s not here, but-”
“When do you want me gone?”
There’s the briefest pause as Phil stares at Clint in disbelief. “What?” he asks, his usual cool agent mask slipping away completely. “Clint, what are you talking about?”
“You have Tasha now,” Clint says. He doesn’t sound angry, just broken. Just sad. “You don’t need me. Tasha’s good at your worksheets. She’s actually given official missions. She’s useful. You don’t need me now. When are you getting rid of me?”
“Oh Clint,” Phil sighs. He pulls the kid into a tight embrace. “I’m not getting rid of anyone. I’m going to take care of both of you, alright? You are both very important to me.”
“But you’re only watching over us because it’s a mission,” the boy reminds the agent.
“Even if I hadn’t gotten the mission, I would have done my best to take care of you,” Phil says. “We may have met because of the mission, I won’t deny that. But we’ve become a family here, don’t you think? The three of us together, we’re a family.”
Clint is quiet, and for a second Phil’s scared that he might revert back to being the cold soldier. Then the moment passes and Clint hugs back. “Oh,” he whispers shyly. He doesn’t say anything more, but Phil knows that the kid understands.
If, looking back, anyone asked whether Phil’s heart broke a little at Clint’s soft voice, he would have replied without hesitation.
When Natasha returns, she gives Phil a stink eye and holds Clint tightly. They don’t talk.
Phil marks the day that Natasha first speaks to him, nearly a year after she’s come to live with him and Clint.
It’s a quiet morning, and Phil had been planning on taking the children to a bookstore for once. No, this has nothing to do with the fact that a new Captain America comic had hit the bookshelves. He just wanted the kids to have something fun to read.
He’s in the kitchen, pulling out leftover pizzas from last night, because he can’t cook to save his life. He doesn’t hear her approach, because it’s Natasha. But he knows that she’s there when she tugs a little on his sleeves and says, “Hi.”
Phil blinks. Then he turns to her. He hasn’t heard her voice unless she’s whispering to Clint, and now that he’s actually heard it, he can’t help but to think that it sounds beautiful. He smiles at her.
“Hi,” he says. Because this means that she trusts him, right?
Natasha doesn’t say anything else for a while. The only inkling that something’s wrong is the way her hand clenches tightly around Phil’s sleeve. Phil frowns. It’s kind of scary how no emotion crosses her face.
“I… I’m bleeding,” she says finally, her voice in a low whisper.
For an awful pause, Phil fears the worse and he begin a quick scan of her. Her clothes are dry and there doesn’t appear to be blood drops anywhere. Just where is she…?
“I’m bleeding down there,” she clarifies.
Horror strikes Phil and he puts a slightly panicked hand on Natasha’s shoulders. “Stay right here,” he tells her. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to go through this safely, alright? Just… stay right here.”
He runs to grab his phone in his room and dial Maria. She answers with a cranky, “What?”
“I need backup,” Phil says, horror from before bleeding straight into his voice. “I can’t do this myself. Gods, Hill, get over here.”
Maria gets there in record’s time. She doesn’t knock or ring the doorbell. She just bursts through the door, destroying the lock and parts of the door in process. She rushes in, gun up, ready to shoot. When she realizes that there’s no danger and there’s just Phil standing next to Natasha, she relaxes a little.
“What’s the problem?” she demands.
“Ah… It’s… Natasha,” Phil says, trying not to fumble too much. “She’s uh… bleeding.”
Maria raises a brow. “Then give her first aid. Are you telling me you forgot how to do such a basic thing, Agent?”
Even Maria pauses, looking just stunned. Then she rubs her temples and puts her gun away. She motions for Natasha to follow her.
“Don’t disturb us,” Maria snaps at Phil as she leads Natasha to the bathroom.
It’s only after all of this has settled that Clint comes out of Natasha’s room, rubbing his eyes sleepily. “What’s going on?” he asks.
Phil really doesn’t know how to answer that.
Two weeks later, both children are sat down in Phil’s office with a pamphlet and handout. Phil stands in front of them with a powerpoint presentation. Taking a deep breath, the agent, his face beet red, proceeds to give them both “the Talk.”
The three agree to never do anything like that again.
Phil knows that Natasha’s starting to accept him, because she starts talking to him. At first, it’s just little “Hey” or “Okay.” Then it slowly builds up to “I don’t like anchovies,” and “That tie is hideous.”
He takes it to mean that she’s accepted him as family.
He knows for a fact that he’s accepted by both of them one night. Phil wakes by the sound of the bedroom door creaking open. He looks and sees both children at the doorway.
Clint’s tugging his Robin Hood blanket behind him and Natasha’s arms are tightly around a pillow. They both look at Phil, uncertain of what to do next.
Phil doesn’t say anything. He just holds his arms up, giving them permission. They run into his arms. They spend the rest of the night cuddled together on the bed. Phil doesn’t mention it and they don’t bring it up.
But they always return to Phil’s bed when a nightmare gets bad.
It’s a tiresome boring day at work. Phil’s done nothing but paperwork and drinking coffee, and is pleasantly surprised by the lack of destruction caused by the base’s ‘ghost.’
Or so he thinks until a junior agent rush in, face pale and sweating bullets. “D… Director Fury, sir…” the agent stutters, fidgeting nervously. “I… er… That is…”
“Yes?” Fury asks, giving the agent with a sharp look. “What is it?”
“It… It’s the Quinjet, sir. It’s… er… It’s flying, sir. Doing the loop-de-loop and everything.”
“… Isn’t a Quinjet’s function to fly?”
“… without a pilot?”
Fury turns his angry eye at Phil. “Fix. This. Now,” he snaps.
Phil’s already out the room, making his way towards the control tower. He arrives at record time to the sight of frightened agents praying or chanting or whatever it is that people do when they think something is haunted. He ignores them all and demands a comm unit to talk to the ‘empty’ Quinjet.
“This is Agent Coulson,” Phil states calmly. “I’m here to give just one warning. If you do not land that Quinjet, I will personally shoot you down from the sky.”
The other agents all look at Phil as if he’s lost his mind. But really, who’re they kidding? They’re the ones praying and offering sacrifices when they should be acting like sensible SHIELD agents and just calmly ordering the plane to land.
There’s the smallest static on the comm and Phil hears the soft voice of Clint that says, “One problem. I don’t really know how to land.”
Phil asks for a pilot and someone brings her from the game room. She’s complaining about having her break time cut short when she’s briefed of the situation. Then, she’s completely serious and tells Phil exactly how to land the Quinjet. Clint maneuvers it perfectly, impressing the pilot and everyone watching.
This, oddly enough, is the beginning of the “Phil Coulson the Agent” legends.
One day, Phil walks into his office to find Natasha and Clint on his computer, watching something. At first, he’s a little worried, because those two hadn’t pulled a prank in a few days, and the whole base is holding its breath, waiting. Sighing softly, he makes his way over behind them, to see over their shoulders.
“What a bitch,” Natasha grumbles as her eyes stay glued to the screen. Phil thinks that that’s a sign of her trust in him.
“She just wants to find love,” Clint argues back.
Phil smothers a laugh that’s fighting to rise up. Because Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton, the two deadliest assassins at SHIELD, are watching Little Mermaid.
He sneaks in few more Disney classics for the two to watch in the office.
“What’s this?” Phil asks as he stares at the small box on his desk.
Clint grins widely and Natasha gives the barest of all smiles. “You’ll see,” they both say.
Smiling wirily, Phil pulls the box open. Then pauses. There’s a coffee mug in there. He pulls it out and looks at it.
“Number 1 Mom,” the mug reads.
He raises a cool brow at the two. “Really?” he asks them. But on the inside, his heart feels warm that the two has gone out of their way to do this for him.
They both giggle, and Phil drops his mask for a bit for them to see his true smile. He puts the mug back in the box and puts the box away, but they catch him drinking out of the mug from time to time.
It’s been four years since the three has started living together when it happens.
Maria’s the one who notices first, because she’s the one who catches sight of them, walking together, hands intertwined. She pulls Phil aside and says, “Are they a couple now?”
Phil doesn’t believe this at first. Then he begins to notice the signs. He notice the way the two walk closer together, the way the two stare deeply into each other’s eyes. It’s not until he walks in on them making out heavily in Clint’s room that he finally pulls them apart to ask them.
“Do you love each other?”
They don’t hesitate. “Of course.”
“And... do you want to have sex?”
This time, they do. Clint looks at Natasha and she looks back at him. Emotions flashes on their faces at too quick a rate to be read, but Phil understands how much they trust him for them to show him this.
“I’m not sure,” Clint admits.
“I love you, but…” Natasha agrees.
Phil sighs, relived. “Oh good. And here I was worried I might have to make another powerpoint for safe sex.”
The kids both groan at that. And they understand how much it means for Phil to show himself like this to them.
“Why did you guys start dating anyways?” Phil asks after a few minutes of joking about the powerpoint presentation that he hopefully won’t have to make for a long, long time.
“You’re always telling us to be normal,” Clint says with a shrug.
“And teenagers are always dating on those terrible shows you make us watch,” Natasha adds, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
Phil jokes along with them, protesting that his taste in TV shows aren’t bad at all. But on the inside, he’s realizing with a start that Clint and Natasha are no longer children he met once upon a time.
They’re growing up.
Chapter 5: Off the Key of Reason (Part 5)
It’s the first mission that he’s ever gone on without Clint acting as a guardian angel. Clint and Natasha are both on a mission in Budapest (their first partnered mission together without Phil watching over them), and the apartment feels strangely empty.
When Phil tries to deal with Tony Stark, he understands right away why Fury assigned him to this role. He doesn’t groan, doesn’t whine. He just smooth out his suit and go to face his doom with his agent mask on. Thank goodness he already knows how to deal with children.
“The Avengers Initiative?” Phil asks.
It’s a secret meeting between Fury, Phil, and Maria after the Ironman fiasco. Fury hands them a folder labeled “Avengers Initiative” with a look that says that he’s going to begin cackle any second now. Maria flips through the files with a look of disbelief.
“A group of superheroes,” Fury clarifies, “who’ll be the last defense should SHIELD ever be taken down.”
“Sir, this is a fool’s dream at best,” Maria says. “There’s no way for us to get any of these… ‘superheroes’ to aid us, let alone join this initiative. On top of that, who’ll keep them in line?”
Fury turns to stare at Phil. And it’s then that Phil finally understands the full consequence of taking in the two children assassins for SHIELD.
“Oh no,” Phil says. “Sir, I can’t be responsible for a team filled with mutants, various strangers, and Tony Stark! I already have two children to care for.”
“They’ll of course join once they become old enough,” Fury assures Phil as if that’s what the agent has been worried about. “Besides, we’ll be narrowing down the list of potential members as we go. It’ll be fine.”
Fury doesn’t mention that the list can grow longer, however.
Phil stretches a little before making his way out of the meeting room. It’s taken them a good portion of three hours to argue and narrow the list down to about fifteen potential members, and he’s not sure if he’s looking forward to babysitting this team. It’s hard enough taking care of Clint and Natasha, who always refuses medical treatment once they return from whatever mission.
Imagine Phil’s surprise when he walks into his office, expecting to see both Clint and Natasha, refusing medical treatment, there’s only Clint, cradling his left arm.
“Where’s Natasha?” Phil asks. He’s secretly hoping that she willingly sought out medical, but then he stops when he realizes that that might mean that she’s seriously injured.
“New mission,” Clint says with a pout. “We found it on your desk and we thought that we’ll take care of it. But then she got all funny after she read it and called it before I could. Isn’t she mean?”
Worry gnaws at Phil’s soul as he squeezes out the next question. “Clint, which mission was this?”
“The one about meeting Ironman and determining whether he’s good enough for the Avengers Initiative.”
Phil’s ready to blow when what Clint says sinks in. “How do you know about the Av-”
The teen gives him a cheeky grin. “We overheard you guys talking.”
The agent sighs and rubs his temples. “Meaning you guys snuck into the meeting and listened to it.”
“I can’t believe I get to be a superhero!” Clint exclaims, his eyes bright with happiness.
But Phil can’t quite forgive what has happened. “Why did Natasha take that mission? It was supposed to have been mine.”
“You’re no fun either,” Clint replies sullenly. “She didn’t really explain anything. She just took the files from my hands and walked off. I think she doesn’t like the fact that I think Mr. Stark’s pretty cool.”
“Alright. I’ll call her later then. But before that, Clint, what’s wrong with your hand?”
Natasha answers the phone call with an angry hiss of, “I’m working!”
It’s a miracle because she used to never answer her cellphone while on missions. Phil thinks that she makes exceptions for him and Clint.
“Care to explain to me why you’ve decided to disguise yourself as Natalie Rushman for undercover work to analyze Tony Stark?”
“It seemed a good idea-”
“Natasha,” Phil says. And he feels a little bad because he’s never cut her off so viciously before. “You went to Tony fucking Stark. You know that he’s a womanizer. He’s going to try to-”
“I think he might like me, actually,” she shoots back. “He couldn’t stop staring at me.”
“Natasha, you’re 17.” No, that’s not horror in his system because his little girl met Tony Stark who’s well over 30’s who’s giving her the bedroom eyes.
“Natalie is 20,” is the childish retort.
“Just… Just why?” Phil asks, rubbing his temples.
There’s a silence for two minutes before Natasha takes a deep breath and explains herself. “Clint likes Ironman the way you like Captain America.”
“He’ll be disappointed if he actually met the real man,” she whispers softly.
Ah. So she’s noticed that Tony Stark is exactly like the media had described: arrogant, selfish…
Wait. Did she say…?
Phil covers his mouth, unable to form the words. Natasha wants to preserve Clint’s dreams. Natasha wants to keep Clint safe, innocent. Or as innocent as a child assassin can be.
“Besides,” she adds hastily, “Stark’s been known to go after guys, too. You think it’s bad with me here, but how do you think Clint would fare?”
Phil doesn’t mention that Natasha looks older by far than Clint, who looks like he has yet hit puberty, and that Stark might be an idiot, but he wouldn’t hit on someone as young looking as Clint. Instead, he just lets out a soft sigh.
“Promise me you’ll be careful?”
“Aren’t I always?”
They hang up.
When Phil gets called down to New Mexico, he makes sure that Hill is watching Clint so that the teen can rest his left hand (a light sprain, the medical had assured Phil. But you can never be safe with Clint). The car that he chooses to drive doesn’t have any surprise guests; Phil makes sure to check even the trunk. When he’s satisfied that Clint isn’t trying to ride along with him, he drives down towards New Mexico.
Phil returns from a successful donut hunt from the gas station store and is shocked to see that he has a new passenger.
Clint is giving him a knowing grin, looking much too proud. Crap. So he must have seen what Phil just did.
“Not bad for an old man,” Clint tells him as he reaches for one of the donuts. “I’m surprised that I didn’t have to jump in to protect you.”
Phil rolls his eyes and gets in the car. He throws the chocolate donut at Clint because he doesn’t think the teen can eat the powdered donut without getting sugar everywhere. “How did you even manage to sneak on?” he asks instead.
Clint shrugs. “Trade secret.”
New Mexico ends in a big headache. Clint’s still making fun of him, saying something about how Phil’s still the junior agent from long ago. At least Jasper didn’t see Clint in action, or Phil’s ear would be filled with Jasper’s non-stop chatter about his angel.
Thank goodness for the small treats in life.
“… What?” Phil asks, staring at Fury in disbelief.
“We found Captain America,” the man replies with coolness. But Phil can see the cackle, pushing to make its way to the public. “He was frozen, but we’re thawing him out as we speak.”
“Is he… alive?”
Fury grins. “Of course.”
As a punishment for escaping the base, Maria assigns Clint to guard duty on a different base. When he hears this, he makes a kicked puppy face that makes Phil sigh softly.
“I’ll go with you,” he assures the teen. “Think of it as a vacation.”
He knows that that would mean that he wouldn’t get to meet the Captain. He knows that it means he won’t be the one to show the Captain around New York like planned. He thinks that Clint understands, too, because the teen’s eyes are staring at him with awe, shame, and gratitude.
Natasha’s already packed and ready to leave by the time Phil and Clint return to the apartment.
The three hang out at the new base with relative comfort. They’re continuing their cycle of keeping Clint and Natasha a secret when Black Widow is called to action. With an apologetic smile at Clint, she goes off to Russia. Clint makes another puppy face and stares at the working scientists.
“Worst. Vacation. Ever,” he groans in a very teenager-like manner.
If it wasn’t annoying, Phil would be beaming at the fact that Clint just acted his age.
When the Tesseract starts to misbehave, Phil begins evacuations and calls Fury. He’s certain that Clint following him around, hidden, so he doesn’t worry about the teen.
It’s his mistakes.
Loki deflects the bullets with ease. He waves his staff and cuts down few agents that dare stand in his way. The God of Mischief laughs gleefully and continues his merry way.
Then a small boy picks up a fallen gun and opens fire at Loki.
Now this here is indeed a surprise. What’s such a young child doing at a scientific research facility such as this? And how can he fire the weapon so well? Loki dodges the bullets and grabs the kid’s hand. Instead of fear, there’s nothing but determination that shines through the boy’s eyes.
“You have heart,” Loki realizes with delight.
He presses the tip of the staff at the boy’s heart and pushes with his magic. When the boy’s eyes slowly turn blue, Loki knows that he has the boy. Well, looks like someone’s going to be heartbroken by the loss of their kid.
The god giggles.
Natasha takes the phone call with annoyance. “I’m working,” she tells Phil, the same words that she used before.
“I’m in a middle of interrogation. This moron’s giving me everything,” she continues.
The Russian men look at each other, startled. She just raises a brow at them. Because really, who were they kidding?
“Look, you can’t pull me out of this right now.”
“Natasha,” says Phil’s voice. And she hears him gulp a little. Whatever he’s about to say, she knows that she’s not going to like it. “Barton’s been compromised.”
She’s silent for a moment. Because her brain’s flying through the world, trying to piece Phil’s fear in his voice and the fact that Clint’s been…
“Let me put you on hold.”
She’s not supposed to be in India. She’s supposed to be making her way back to New York so that she can stay ‘safe’ in their apartment, wondering when the grownups will be finished with saving the world. But no grownups have ever saved her. That had been Clint. Clint and his bright eyes and happy laugh. Clint and his simple statement that’s filled with as much longing for companionship as she had been.
And now they were telling her to stand down?
Natasha tracks down the SHIELD team easily to the outskirts of town. She knows that they’re there, because there’s an army surrounding a small hut with guns. She tells them that she’s an agent and makes her way towards the entrance.
“Wait, Doctor Banner, please listen!” begs a random agent who had been assigned to recruit the doctor for SHIELD. Natasha thinks that this lady doesn’t know what she’s doing.
Banner must agree with that train of thought, because he walks out of the hut, grimacing slightly. His exit is stopped not because of the army of SHIELD agents with guns, but because there’s a young lady with a gun pointing at his head.
“Er… hello?” Banner says. “Aren’t you a little young to be an agent?”
“You’ll come and help us,” Natasha tells him, ignoring his question.
He raises an eyebrow. “Right… because if I don’t, you’ll shoot me dead?”
She rolls her eyes and flicks her wrists so that the doctor can see that it’s not a normal gun in her hands. She points it back at Banner.
“I don’t think you understand, Doctor. This isn’t loaded with bullets. It’s loaded with a tranquillizer. If you don’t willingly come and help us out, then I’ll kidnap you and force you to help us out.”
Banner pales a little at that, and the other agent inside the hut is ordering Natasha down. She ignores her, because Natasha’s the Black Widow and she knows how to convince people to work for her.
“Why’s this so important to you? Want to look good in front of your superiors or something? You want a promotion?”
Natasha doesn’t scowl. That’d be too childish. Instead, she looks straight into Bruce’s brown eyes and tells him the truth.
“They have my brother.”
Bruce Banner agrees to help out.
Loki’s taken back at the kid’s ability. Within minutes, he’d located them a safe house and workers to help Selvig as well as do grunt work. After sending Selvig and few other scientists to work, the kid sits down the ‘muscles.’
“Hello everyone,” Clint says with a charming smile. “I’ll be your General from here on out.”
There’s disbelief and general outrage. “Go back home to your mommy, kid,” someone shouts. “Or you’ll end up hurt.”
Clint continues to smile. “I don’t think you quite understand. I don’t exactly have a home or a mom.”
“What? You want us to pity you or something?”
“No, I want you to obey me,” Clint says. “Because I’m going to come up with the plans to help Loki take over the world.”
“And who are you to order us around?”
“Why, don’t you know? I’m Hawkeye.”
This name must mean something to the mortals, because most of them tense suddenly at the name. There’s a thick silence before someone hisses, “Bullshit.”
Clint’s smile doesn’t falter. Instead, there’s a loud gunshot and the one who called bullshit is now lying dead with a bullet through his forehead. Everyone turns back to stare at Clint, who now has a gun in his hands.
“I’m afraid this isn’t a joke,” the boy says with a soft giggle. “But you’re welcome to question me if you’d like. I can always find more soldiers.”
No one else speak up.
Chapter 6: Off the Key of Reason (Part 6)
“You’re not going to be part of this,” Phil states, staring down Natasha.
She doesn’t back down. She straightens her back and glares back at Phil. “You can’t seriously be benching me, Coulson! Not now.”
“I am,” he says calmly. “You’re too close to this emotionally.”
“So are you.”
He doesn’t acknowledge it. Just points her away from the main conference room.
Loki’s taking a walk around the small base after talking with the stupid Chitauri. He needs to clear his head to achieve the objective and thinking of the alien is making his ice blood boil. So he forces himself to calm down and look around. The base that Clint’s acquired for them is small but still impressive, especially since the kid’s gotten it in manner of minutes.
He’s still rather impressed by the kid’s abilities in general. Just what exactly did that kid do to become this way? Loki’s looking forward to finding out. Especially if what that kid said is true and he’s one of SHIELD’s best (Of course, having a kid as the best of an organization says rather a lot about it as well).
He is slowly recovering his good mood when he spots them. And all of his good mood is dashed.
There are few goons around, taking turns to kick down someone. Loki is planning to walk away until he sots the dirty blonde hair and the small stature of the body. The goons are taking turns to beat down Loki’s self-proclaimed General.
“What’s going on here?” he snaps.
It’s enough to send the goons scrambling away and for Clint to pull himself up from the ground. The boy holds his nose, which is spewing blood everywhere. His other hand holds his torso, protectively. It reminds Loki of a time long ago back on Asgard, when Thor and the Warrior Three wanted to teach Loki how to fight without magic. He can still feel the bruises and cuts that have longed healed itch under his armor.
“Sir,” the kid acknowledges Loki as if this is one of the everyday normal things that happen in life.
“Barton, pray tell me why they were beating up my ‘General’ while you weren’t fighting back.”
“They needed an outlet, sir,” Clint answers with a small shrug. Loki doesn’t miss the smallest flinch at the movement. “I’ve killed a lot of people that were important to them. They wanted closure. It’s the least I can grant them if I want them to work for me.”
It’s a screwed up logic but Loki can see the sense in it. This is a ploy to make the others obey Loki better. It’s well calculated and it’s not like Clint is important to the big picture. Then why is the God of Mischief hesitating to agree that this is a good plan? Why is Loki trembling a little at the thought of this little child being beaten by those who seek revenge?
“Never allow them to touch you again,” Loki snaps.
He grabs the boy none too gently. With a simple mutter of a spell, he heals Clint’s nose and any other injuries the boy might have gotten.
“If they try again, you come to me,” he continues. He forces the kid to look into his eyes. “Don’t let anyone hurt you like this, do you understand?”
Clint lets out a soft chuckle and looks at Loki with a fond smile. “You remind me of my brother, sir.”
Loki’s grip around the kid tightens, and sharp blue eyes catch the way anger flare in the god. Then Loki takes a deep breath in and holds it. With a soft puff of exhale, he’s back to being the trickster god. He smirks down at Clint.
“Now then, tell me everything about SHIELD.”
“I’ll take the Doctor to his lab,” Natasha volunteers.
Fury barely gives her a second look before nodding. Phil shoots her a warning look that she ignores. Bruce frowns but follows her, his unspoken question in the air between them.
Natasha doesn’t answer him.
“And that’s the plan,” Clint announces to everyone.
There are still goons who look at Clint with mistrust, but no one can argue that it’s a sound plan. Loki’s not looking forward to being SHIELD prisoner, but Clint insists that this is the best way to bring down SHIELD as well as destroy their hopes. There isn’t an ounce of emotion on the boy’s face when he says this. Instead, his face is stone cold, a perfect child soldier without remorse. It scares Loki a little, especially since he won’t be around to protect the kid from any other attacks the other goons might surprise Clint with.
“Alright,” Loki says reluctantly. “Let’s get to it.”
“Get me that eye, sir,” Clint tells him with a mock of a smirk. “And I’ll deliver this world on a silver platter for you.”
Loki believes him.
“I don’t care how you speak. Loki’s beyond reason but he’s of Asgard. And he’s my brother,” Thor states, glaring down Bruce.
Bruce gives him a sort of an apologetic shrug and Steve sighs softly. Phil fixes Thor a flat look and states, “He killed 80 people in two days.” There’s something else in his voice that states that there’s more to this than what he just said, but no one asks about it.
As the group begins to brainstorm on what exactly Loki might want, Tony Stark walks in with Natasha by his side. Phil automatically frowns.
“Agent Romanoff, I believe your orders were clear?” Phil’s voice leaves for no argument but Natasha doesn’t budge from the room.
“I’m not staying benched, Coulson,” she answers. Her voice is cold, her eyes deadly. “Not for this.”
“Hey, give the girl a break, Agent!” Tony adds in. He pats Natasha on the shoulder, missing the way Phil’s shoulder tenses at the touch. “She’s capable. I’ve seen he security footage of her beating down trained professionals with her thighs. I think she’s well versed for this.”
“I also don’t think that you should bench her,” Bruce says softly. Natasha shakes off Tony’s hand and throws Bruce a grateful smile.
Phil’s teeth clank with an audible “snap!” Everyone turn to look at him, who’s giving everyone the same Agent Coulson look that he’s had on from the start.
“Am I to understand that all of you are fine with assigning a 17 year old to be part of a potential war?” Phil asks, his voice growing cold and dark with each passing words.
“17?! Tony exclaims. He points an accusing finger at Natasha. “You told me you were 20!”
Steve and Bruce both add in their two cents, mentioning that indeed, she’s too young for what they’ll be facing (Bruce doesn’t miss the angry glance that Natasha throws at him for the betrayal). Thor argues back with everyone, saying that on Asgard, young children are thrusted into battle so that they’ll grow to be strong warriors. Natasha glares at Phil accusingly throughout the whole commotion.
“I mean,” Tony continues his rant, “I even had wet dreams about you!”
All commotions die as everyone turn to give Tony a scandalized look. Natasha’s face betrays her agent training and clearly shows her disgust at the thought. Phil takes out his taser and aims it at Tony.
“Er… But now that I know that you’re underaged, I won’t make any move or whatever. I‘m not a pedophile, you know.”
“You forgot something when you made your little plan, birdboy.”
Clint pauses and turns to face the goons surrounding him. A quick glance around informs him that they’ve taken care of the exits and he’s stuck with fighting them if he wants to get out of here. Loki’s probably on the Helicarrier as a prisoner, and Clint really dislike the idea of his boss suffering under any kind of torture SHIELD might dish out. There are two jets that people should be getting ready to board: one headed to Stark Tower in New York and another to the Helicarrier to rescue Loki and cripple SHIELD.
If they delay here by beating him (or worse, if he beats all of them up), the timing of the plan will be thrown off (or worse, he’ll have to find new soldiers). And this plan has to work.
There’s really only one option in his mind. Loki may have told him to not allow something like this to happen again, but the god isn’t here right now. Clint isn’t stupid to think that he’s worth more than this mission, more than any mission. The end goal, after all, justifies the means.
The archer puts down his bow and arrows. He faces the goons with a cocky smile.
“Do your worst.”
“I’m not standing down,” Natasha glares at the adults in the room. “I can hold off on my own far better than any of you.”
“Miss Romanoff,” Steve says finally. “I don’t think you should be part of this at all. Please refrain from getting involved in this.”
“Is that what you did when Bucky died? Stand by and do nothing? Because I seem to remember reading about an attack on the last Hydra base that you led after he fell.”
The words are filled with no malice. It’s just a statement. Almost as if she’s making a comment about dinner. But Natasha isn’t done talking. She turns to point at Tony Stark.
“And if people told you to stand down after Pepper or Rhodey gets taken, is that what you’d do?” She turns to Bruce. “If Betty was taken?” She turns to Thor, but she knows that he’s already on her side. “If Jane?”
Finally, her eyes meet Phil’s. “Don’t tell me to do something that none of you would do.”
There’s silence for good three minutes. Then Tony and Bruce begins to brainstorm what Loki might possibly be doing, Steve stands to give Natasha’s shoulders a reassuring squeeze, and Fury turns back to face the rest of the agents, ordering them around. Phil just stares at her with an unreadable look. Then he motions for her to follow him.
“Walk with me, Agent.”
There’s something unsporting about beating an opponent that doesn’t fight back. Especially when said opponent has the face of a thirteen year old who hasn’t even begun to shave yet. It all works to Clint’s advantage, because they don’t break any bones this time. One of them, however, takes out a dagger.
“I don’t care why you’re working for Loki now,” he says.
Clint vaguely recognizes the man from a mission a while back. He had been the right hand of a drug-dealing mob boss that Hawkeye took out. His name was something like… Alfeo Buonarroti. Yeah. That sounds about right. He had more hair back then. And less scars on his face. That must have happened after the mob fell apart thanks to Hawkeye. Ah well, this guy’s probably got lot of pent up anger.
“But if you really are Hawkeye, then you deserve worse than this.”
The man stabs Clint’s stomach. He doesn’t twist it, which is actually what the boy had thought he would do. Instead, the man pulls it out and drops the dagger in front of Clint. Stormy gray eyes stare at the dagger before moving up to look at Buonarroti. He tells himself not to move. To just take the beating because that’s the only way for the rest of the plan to be on time. He can’t fight against this. Not with the plan and potential torture of their boss looming in the horizon. He just needs to take his mind back in the day, back when these kinds of things were common.
Buonarroti lifts his feet and steps down hard on Clint’s head. Clint hisses in pain but doesn’t move. His will is stronger than his body’s capacity for pain. He can’t react. Can’t allow his agent training to kick in. Besides, it’s not like they need him alive for this plan to be completed. He is just a small blip on the scale of the big picture.
“Hey man, he’s still just a kid,” someone else says.
Buonarroti presses down harder for few more seconds. Then he releases pressure. Just when Clint thinks that it’s all over and that it’s okay for him to slowly stand up, Buonarroti returns to bash Clint’s head down to the ground. There’s flash of black and Clint wonders if this is what it feels like to be blinded. The man pulls Clint’s head back up.
“Seriously man! Stop that! He’s obviously lying about being Hawkeye. Just let it go.”
Buonarroti does so reluctantly.
“Look, if you’re just going to snap at me for what I did back there-”
Natasha never gets to finish her thought because Phil suddenly wraps his arms tightly around her. It’s the first time that he’s held her without her giving him expressive permission. It’s the first time that he’s held her willingly without Clint by her side (That one might have to do more with the fact that Clint’s always by Natasha’s side, and when he isn’t, she doesn’t allow anyone near her).
“I’m sorry, Natasha,” Phil says finally. He doesn’t let go of her. “I’m sorry that I forced you to do that. It’s just… I can’t take losing you as well.”
His voice cracks a little when he speaks, and Natasha understands what it’s causing for the agent to show himself like this. He’s making himself vulnerable as a sign of trust. Just as she had done long ago, just as she has continued doing. She’s touched by it all, and she knows that there’s only one thing to do as a thank you. Her hands are shaking as she slowly pulls them up. Does she dare? She moves her hands slowly, but by the end of it all, she’s hugging Phil back.
“You’re not going to lose me,” she promises. “And we haven’t lost him yet. Clint’s an idiot but he’s a durable idiot.”
They don’t pull away from the hug for a while.
There’s smell of iron in the air. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out and that scares him a little. What had he been doing before he lost conscious? He vaguely remembers being assigned to a base as punishment and…
Clint’s eyes snap open, only to be blinded by something red. He closes his eyes tightly and tries to wipe the liquid from his eyes with his hands. The smell of iron is overwhelming. Why does his head pound so much and why is it so hard to think? He gingerly opens his eyes and glances around. He’s on the ground somewhere that he’s never been before. Despite that, this place feels familiar, almost as if he’s been hanging out here in a dream. He pushes himself up and curses.
There’s a wound on his stomach that he didn’t notice before. There’s a dagger a few feet away from him and he figures that’s what caused it. The problem here is why he can’t remember what happened and why he had been stabbed. He crawls towards the dagger and pick it up. There’s small carvings on the blade with the initials AB. It’s familiar but Clint can’t put his finger on it.
Well, first thing’s first, he needs to stop the blood from gushing out of his stomach wound. He puts the dagger in his boot and uses a nearby table to help himself up. It’s excruciatingly painful and slow process, but he has to keep moving. From the look of the floor, he’s been lying here for a while, bleeding.
He wonders where Phil and Natasha are and if they’re okay.
A quick glance around assures him that he’s in a base somewhere. It’s slightly alarming because he’s never seen this place before, but it all feels familiar. He lets his feet take him to where his brain doesn’t really remember. He walks in front of a cabinet that his brain insists on showing pictures of himself putting first aid kits there. But when he opens them, they’re all empty.
His shirt is beginning to cling to his body with the excessive blood and he’s beginning to feel a little woozy. He takes two more steps when his sharp eyes catch sight of something that can potentially save him in this situation.
Duct tape and super glue.
There’s no pause to consider whether this is a bad idea or not. He wobbles towards it and takes off his shirt. He grabs the super glue and does his best to put the split flesh back together. He ignores the burning sensation of the glue on his skin, because there are more important things to do. Taking his shirt, he does his best to rip out a small not-so-bloody section to put it over the wound. He uses the duct tape to tape his shirt into place.
Next is figuring out why his head is pounding and where the hell he is.
Clint stumbles forth, kind of glad that he’s regaining his sense of balance. With one wound taken care of, he feels that he’s ready to take on the world. He glances around the base, looking for anything that can give him a hint. There’s a glassed off lab over to the side, and he can faintly see a reflection of himself in it. Squinting, he realizes the reason why his head hurts so much.
“Fuck,” he mumbles to himself.
He’s about to take the rest of the shirt and wrap it around his head when he notices something interesting on the table. It’s a blueprint of sorts and a close inspection chills his blood stream. It’s a blueprint of the Helicarrier that he’s seen lying around in Phil’s office from time to time. There had been rumors about moving the SHIELD base to the sky and Natasha and he had been looking for fun hiding places. But why is this here?
Clint grins as he faces the rest of the group, the blueprint laid out in front of everyone. “This here is SHIELD’s newest base of operations. Most likely, this is where they’ll go now that one of their land bases has been compromised.”
“A flying base? You expect us to believe this shit?”
“SHIELD’s known for their above and beyond thinking. Don’t tell me you don’t see their vision?” Clint’s still grinning but there’s sharpness in his voice that carries a warning.
Everyone shuts up. Clint takes that as a cue to continue the plans.
Bile rises in the back of his throat, and he can barely keep down the curses that he’s screaming in his head. It was him. He had betrayed SHIELD, the only comfortable home he’s ever had, even if they didn’t realize that he existed. He had given away everything he could about the Helicarrier, about the agents, about everything and everyone. He had just sold out his family. Hot shame flushes his cheek and he can barely hold back the tears.
But there’s no time for this.
If he’s correct, then he might have been on the ground for ages. Who knows how far along the plan that the goons and Loki had gotten? He has to pull himself together, because there still might be a chance that things can be salvaged.
In a shelf somewhere, he finds Loki’s spare scarves the god has gotten on a whim. He grabs the softest one and wraps it securely around his head. He looks ridiculous, but there are more important things than looks right now. He finds his weapons where he left them as well as a black vest. He takes them both. Then comes the fun part.
When the plans hadn’t been set yet and he had been just gathering muscles and scientists, Clint had asked for extra jets. Unfortunately, the people that he had gathered weren’t much of fliers and it was decided to only use two jets for the plan, so the rest of the jets were just lying around, gathering dust.
Well, good thing Clint had once upon a time stolen a Quinjet with Natasha by his side.
“Is this love, Romanoff?”
“Love is for children,” Natasha says calmly. “And I owe him a debt.”
Loki gives her a baffled look. “I know how old you are, and I’d say that you are a child.”
“Age didn’t bug you when you took Barton.”
There’s a tense silence between them. Then Loki makes a motion with his hand and walks away from Natasha. If he hadn’t been in the cage, she could so easily slit his throat…
“Tell me about this debt of yours.”
She glares at Loki. ”You don’t have to tell him anything,” Phil whispers to her through the comm. Natasha knows that. She knows it and she hesitates because what she’s about to do is strange even for her. She sits down on a chair and turns to face Loki, who’s now sitting on a bench.
“I have a very specific skillset. Before SHIELD, it didn’t matter what I used it for or whom I used it on. Barton found me after a massacre. He… saved my life.”
There’s fascination on his face as he listens to this tale. Natasha really wishes that she can just slit his throat, because this game is tiresome. She just wants Clint back in her arms, back in her life.
“What’s in it for me to help you?”
“I’m not going to free you.”
“Oh, but I like it here.” Loki grins, looking much too manic for Natasha’s liking. She worries what Clint must have been subjugated to while under that man’s control.
“Damn, Romanoff is scary,” Tony notes as he stares at the surveillance camera that he’s managed to hack. The virus that he’s implanted is taking its time, but as it’s working, it’s giving him small advantages such as the view from the Helicarrier’s cameras.
Bruce makes a soft, “Hm,” sound as he pokes at Loki’s staff.
”But can you wipe off that much red?” Loki asks in the tape.
Tony frowns. He remembers the way Natasha had handled herself against Hammer’s hired help. He remembers how easily everyone believed Natasha to be Agent Rushman. And with what Loki’s saying…
“Hey Bruce? I think Romanoff might have been a SHIELD assassin.”
Chapter 7: Off the Key of Reason (Part 7)
“See that red lever? It’ll slow the rotors down long enough for me to get out. Stand by it and wait for my word,” Tony tells Steve.
It all sounds easy. Just wait around until Tony says, “Go!” and pull the lever. Even a monkey can do this job. At least, a monkey could if it knew how to dodge bullets while hanging for its life on a thick wire.
Steve grits his teeth as he tries to hang tightly onto the wire. If that guy wasn’t firing at him, this would be so much easier. His grip slips a little and he bites his lips in worry. What now? Could he potentially try to swing himself back up? Climb up the wire?
He’s so lost in his own thoughts that he almost misses the arrival of the jet. When he turns to look, the back of the jet opens and a boy jumps out of there, somersaults, and land on top of the guy who was firing at Steve earlier. There’s a loud ‘crack’ sound of the kid snapping the guy’s neck. Steve can only gape.
The kid turns his face a little and Steve can see how young the boy looks. He gives Steve a mock salute before running off, down the hall. And… was that a scarf wrapped around his head?
“Cap, pull the lever.”
“I need a minute!” Steve shouts as he quickly climbs up the wire. He’ll ask about the kid later.
There’s no hesitation as Clint fires his arrows at the goons that he’s hired to work for Loki. There’s no amount of greater satisfaction than seeing the betrayal and rage in their eyes before his arrows find their throats or eye. It’s gruesome and violent, but it gets the point across. The whole Helicarrier shudders and suddenly levels out, which means that someone had come up with a way to undo part of his plan.
“So you’re alive, brat.”
Clint turns to face the man with a grin. He collapses his bow away and pulls out the dagger in his boot. “You left your dagger,” he tells the older man. “I thought I’ll be kind and return it to you.”
The man lunges, seemingly unaware that Clint actually is Hawkeye and unwilling to lose. Clint side steps the man and stabs him from the back. Buonarroti roars and reaches behind him to grab Clint. The archer pulls the dagger out and spins away, delighted by how easy this prey is. The man turns around, an ugly sneer on his face, and Clint just throws the dagger at the man’s shoulder. Buonarroti growls and pull the dagger out. With a manic smirk, he advances towards the young boy.
Buonarroti never sees it coming.
He never sees it coming because Clint hadn’t expected it. Someone blows out the man’s left knee. Even without looking, Clint knows the work of his partner when he sees it. So instead, he revels in the fact that he’s home and approaches the man.
Yanking the dagger out from the man’s shoulder, Clint stabs the man’s stomach with the dagger.
“You know what you should have done when you had the chance?” the boy asks. He twists the dagger. “You should have made sure that I was dead.”
Pulling the dagger out, Clint looks up to see that Natasha has a gun pressed against Buonarroti’s head. No wonder he didn’t make any move to stop Clint. The two partners share a grin. Then they work together to toss the man in an isolated room with a lock. Clint throws the dagger in there after him.
“I’m not too cruel of a person,” he tells the older man. “So I’ll leave you with this choice. Slow death by blood loss or quick one using your own dagger.”
The archer locks the door. And with all the destruction in the Helicarrier, he doubts that anyone would notice the locked room until Buonarroti’s long dead.
Gray eyes meet green, and for a second, they’re quiet. They just stare into each other’s eyes and speak silently to one another. Then the second passes, and Natasha pulls Clint into a hug.
“This is new,” he tells her, smiling into her hair.
“Nice fashion statement, jerk.”
“How’re you holding up?”
“I’ve been through worse.”
Natasha pulls away suddenly; she’s not smiling, which tells Clint all he needs to know. He grabs his bow, and the two are running down the hallway, Natasha leading the way to where she’s guessing Phil is.
There’s a hole in the wall, which tells the two assassins what they need to know. They both rush in and freeze at the sight before them. Phil’s sitting against the wall, a giant gun in his hand. Loki is standing nearby, his staff bloody, and he looks up at the two when they enter.
“I see you broke Barton out,” Loki says. No, that’s not displeasure at the thought of losing the kid. The kid was obnoxious and annoying, even if he could be a tad bit genius at times. Loki doesn’t need Clint to complete the rest of the plan. Clint is just a tool. Just a tool…
Then why are his hands aching to heal whatever wounds Clint might be hiding under the ridiculous scarf wrapped around his head? Why is his heart aching to run to the kid and protect him from all of the violence?
“Phil?” Clint’s voice sound broken. Upset. No, Loki doesn’t want to hug the kid and promise to make everything better once the world is his! That’s not like the God of Lies at all!
Natasha’s kneeling by Phil’s side, and they’re whispering softly to each other. But stormy gray eyes are locked onto Loki, holding him prisoner in guilt that he should not be feeling. That guy deserved to be stabbed, damn it! And Loki’s been shot at, so he’s sure that that evens things out. But Clint won’t look away and the intense stare from his once General is wearing down his nerves.
“Please.” It’s not the word he thought would leave Clint’s mouth. “I know you can do it. Please… Won’t you please heal him?”
Loki can say no. Loki can trick them into thinking he did. Loki can do many things that aren’t part of the request. And it isn’t guilt that’s surging him on, because he’s never felt guilty for anything that he’s done before. But he really dislike the way Clint’s eyes are watering, the way the kid’s lips tremble, the way the kid looks like he’s going to break. It’s a look that Loki’s intensely familiar with, and he doesn’t want to see it on this kid’s face.
The God of Mischief doesn’t answer. He just takes few steps towards Phil, ignores the glares Natasha’s shooting him, and mutters the healing spell. It’s a weak one, and he knows that it won’t completely reverse the damage. But it’ll keep the man alive, which is what Clint’s asking for.
“He’ll live,” he says once the spell is finished. “But he’s going to need medical attention soon.”
Phil’s staring at him with too blue of eyes, pitying and knowing. Loki ignores him and the way Natasha looks ready to tear his throat out. He’s about to turn around when a small body presses against his own, and two thin arms wrap around his torso.
“Oh thank you,” Clint whispers into the armor. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Loki pries the kid off and begins to make his way out of the room. He’s wasted enough time here, and world domination waits.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” Clint calls after him. “You can stay with us.”
Natasha gives her partner a sharp look, but the archer is staring at Loki’s back. The God of Mischief considers the proposition. It sounds kind of nice, oddly enough. Someone’s asking him to stay.
“Why did you say that?” Natasha asks, looking at Clint with an unreadable expression on her face.
“Because everyone deserves a second chance.”
Gray meets green, and she looks a little unwilling, but she nods slowly. “He did heal Phil afterwards…”
“I can hear you just fine, you know,” Phil mummers, catching their attention.
“Phil!” Clint throws himself at the agent, wrapping his arms tightly around him. “I told you to get better backup! Or learn how to shoot properly!”
A dry laugh leaves the agent’s mouth. “I did shoot properly,” he protests softly. He pulls Natasha into a group hug. “Not my fault that he’s a god.”
They hold each other tightly, because damn it, the last time they held one another was after Clint and Natasha had some bad nightmares and they had all crawled into Phil’s bed for comfort. There’s relief in the way they breathe, love in the way they hold each other, and happiness in the way they relax.
“By the way, Clint, is that your new fashion statement?”
Fury and the medical staff find them curled up in one another. Natasha and Clint take reluctant steps away, allowing the medical staff to get to work with Phil. They give a short report to Fury, abridging things that no one else had any business to overhear.
“We have to go and stop Loki, sir,” Clint tells Fury.
“Do you know where he’s put the Tesseract?”
Clint’s eyes become hooded and a dark look passes on his face. “No sir. I wasn’t important enough to know.”
Fury sighs. “Go get medical attention and some rest, both of you. I’ll come get you.”
But both assassins can hear the unspoken “once the war is over,” in Fury’s sentence. They share a look and a plan. They head towards the exit, walking in sync as if they’ve always been together.
Neither Fury nor the medical staff notices Clint taking a shot of adrenaline.
“I’m serious, Stark! A kid with a scarf wrapped around his head took out that guy with the gun,” Steve protests as he helps Tony back to the main room with the round table. “He had a bow and arrows, but he never used it.”
“Right, because in this century, children jump out of jets randomly to save Super Soldiers every day, especially if said children are archers.”
“… Do they?”
“What? No! That was sarcasm!”
They stop speaking at the sight of Natasha walking briskly towards them. By her is a boy with a scarf wrapped around his head. He carries a quiver filled with arrows on his back.
“See! He exists!” Steve shouts excitedly.
Tony rolls his eyes. “So he does. I still don’t think he jumped out of a jet, though.”
“Stark,” Natasha snaps, “Rogers, this is Barton, codenamed Hawkeye. We’re going after Loki. Are you in?”
“Whoa, wait right there,” Tony says, raising his hands as if in protest. “Loki escaped?”
“Wouldn’t you?” the boy asks, looking at the two men with a gaze that clearly says that he’s not impressed. “Aren’t you supposed to be a genius?”
Tony raises his eyebrow and looks at Natasha. “I like this kid. Where’d you pick him up?”
“Enough, Stark,” Steve warns. “Romanoff, Barton, I really don’t think you guys should be a part of this. Not to mention we don’t know where Loki might be.”
“That’s why we’re starting now,” Natasha says. She speaks slowly as if she’s talking to a rather slow-witted child. Steve isn’t sure whether to be insulted or baffled.
“Loki’s forces almost brought the Helicarrier down from the sky, which by the way, should have been literally impossible to find, and killed a whole lot of people. My suit is out of power, the Cap needs a shower, and Barton looks like he desperately needs fashion advice. And you want to go after Loki now?” Tony asks.
Clint and Natasha share a look. Then the boy lets out a sigh of disappointment. “You’re right, Tash,” he says in a stage whisper that everyone nearby could hear clearly. “He’s a worse drama queen than Loki.”
Tony doesn’t take the bait. Of course not! He’s a grown man, and he will not be baited by some punk kid who doesn’t even look old enough to shave. “Oh like I’ll fall for…” His voice falters and a new thought strikes him. “Wait… What did you say?”
”Oh you know, just that you’re an imbecile and-”
“A drama queen…” Tony mutters. The rest of the group can see the gears churn and they quickly shut up for the genius to get himself together. “Loki’s a drama queen. A diva, if you will. He wants flowers, screaming fans, the whole sh-bang. He’s going to want flashing lights with his names on buildings and…
“Sonovabitch. He’s at the Stark Tower!”
“Then that’s where we’ll go,” Natasha declares.
“No,” Steve tells her. “Tony and I will take care of it.”
“Actually, I don’t think I’ll have enough power to fly you with me, Cap. You’re going to have to ask some SHIELD agent to take you on a jet or something.” Tony gives Steve an apologetic look, which the assassins know right away that it’s fake. Ironman’s helping them, they realize with a start.
“Alright, then I’ll take you to your room,” Steve says. “And then I’ll go and find someone to fly me to Stark Tower.”
“We know a really good pilot who can help you out,” Natasha says innocently.
“We’ll have everything ready on the deck. Come find us when you’re ready, Cap,” Clint adds.
They don’t miss the wink Tony gives them as Steve drags him away.
Steve finds Natasha by a Quinjet, waiting for him. He doesn’t comment on the fact that she’s dressed up in what appears to be SHIELD battle gear, and is carrying lethal looking weapons.
“Follow me,” Natasha says and she motions him in.
As soon as they walk into the Quinjet, the entrance closes and it begins to move forward.
“Wait, I thought I told you to stay here,” Steve says.
“Can’t,” she says with a shrug. “The pilot’s suffering from a mild concussion and needs a co-pilot.”
Then she makes her way towards the front of the plane and takes her seat at the co-pilot seat. Steve can only gape, because the pilot? That’s Clint.
Clint’s changed into SHIELD gear since the last time Steve’s seen him. The boy doesn’t have a scarf wrapped around his head anymore. Instead, there’s carefully wrapped bandages from someone who’s clearly had medical training or experience. From the dried blood splatter on Natasha’s gear, Steve can guess who.
“You’re telling me that Barton’s piloting this plane? How old is he? Can he even legally do this? And what’s this about a concussion? ” Steve’s voice hits a high pitch that’s never left his mouth before. But this is serious business. There’s a kid who looks barely old enough to drive a car, let alone a Quinjet, who has a frigging concussion, driving the Qunijet.
“Hey, I’ll have you know that I’m 16 years old!” Clint snaps as he smoothly maneuvers the Quinjet into the air. “And don’t worry, I’ve done this before. I’m rather good at it.”
He grins widely at Steve, who can’t help but to pause. He’s never seen the kid look so excited. Before, when they had met briefly, the kid had a cold soldier’s face. There’s a soft clanking sound and Steve notices that there are few empty syringes rolling around. There’s a label on them that reads, ‘adrenaline.’ Steve looks back up and takes note of the way Clint is giggling happily and tapping the flight controls with slight jitters.
“I’m going to be fighting alongside Ironman!” the boy is singing.
Natasha gives her partner a dirty look, but rolls her eyes fondly. Then she turns to Steve, fiddling with a comm unit in her hand.
“I’ll give you a choice here and now. You can choose to accept us and let us fight alongside you and Stark. Or you can be a jerk and refuse us that right. If the latter, we’ll have no choice but to drop you in the middle of the ocean in an effort to preserve our lives for Captain America went mad and decided to attack us.”
“But I’m not-”
Natasha presses on. “But you have to understand, Captain. We’re letting you stand in this Quinjet with us because we trust you.”
From the quick glances that Clint keeps throwing back at Steve and Natasha at those words, the Captain understands that this isn’t something that happens every day. Maybe these kids are just misunderstood and need a firm hand to guide them. Maybe these kids just need an adult figure they can look up to. Well, he is just a guy from Brooklyn, but he’s also Captain America. He thinks that he can be a role model for two kids.
“Alright,” Steve says finally. “Let’s fight together.”
Natasha smiles gratefully and she offers the comm unit in her hand. “This was Coulson’s,” she says almost shyly. “He would have wanted you to have it.”
What? That doesn’t sound right.
“Did something happen to Coulson?” Steve asks, suddenly alarmed. Steve and Tony had rushed to get out to find Loki that they hadn’t asked for the casualty list. He’s sorely regretting that decision.
“They’re not sure if he’ll make it,” Natasha says, lowering her face so that her eyes are hooded. “He was like a father to us.”
Steve takes the comm and place a reassuring hand on Natasha’s shoulder. “Thank you for your trust.”
He misses the way Clint rolls his eyes and mutter, “Widow: 1. Captain: 0.”
There’s a soft giggle over the comms. Steve pauses after he catches his shield and glances around. Natasha has a dry look on her face, but she doesn’t react to the giggle. She just continues to fire down the aliens.
“… Hawkeye?” Steve asks uncertainly over the comm.
“He called me Legolas!” comes the excited whisper over the comm.
Steve wisely decides not to comment.
The battle seems to last forever, but it’s now over. Everything is over.
Clint and Natasha stands in front of Fury, Clint has a look of defiance on his face and Natasha’s face is a cold stone. Fury rubs his temples.
“What do you not understand about being secrets of SHIELD?” The director asks.
“With all due respect, sir,” Natasha says coldly. “There’s no time to be SHIELD’s dirty laundry in the middle of a war zone.”
“You should have obeyed orders and stayed on the Helicarrier,” Maria adds with a disapproving frown. “This isn’t just about the fact that you guys are supposed to be secrets. This is about the fact that two of SHIELD’s best decided to disobey direct orders and endanger lives. Especially yours.”
“Then what were we supposed to do? Sit around the failing base that was more focused at the time to keep itself flying rather than saving people’s lives? Wait for someone else to save us because we’re just kids? You guys can’t be serious! We’ve killed more people than most of the agents on this base, and we’re just teenagers. We know how to handle ourselves!” Clint’s breathing hard by the end of his rant, and Natasha puts a worried hand on his shoulder. He shrugs it off. “Besides, we helped save the world. Shouldn’t we get a thank you instead of a lecture?”
Fury sighs loudly. “Either way, you both disobeyed and kidnapped Captain America off the Helicarrier. Since Coulson’s in the medical, Agent Hill will take care of you. Dismissed.”
It’s not that Maria is bad with children, per se. She’s tried really hard to help Coulson with the kids in the past. When Phil went on a mission, she tried to look after them. It’s not her fault that Clint has a habit of disappearing and Natasha’s as elusive as a ghost. And right now, with the repair of the Helicarrier and arranging the funeral for the dead agents on her shoulders, she really can’t deal with them right now.
So she does the most natural thing.
She calls Quartermain over and orders him to take care of the children. She becomes too busy to check on them often, but Quartermain keeps promising her that things are okay, so she doesn’t question it.
Maria comes to regret this later.
“Hi kids,” Quartermain says, smiling awkwardly at them. “I guess I’m your babysitter.”
Natasha and Clint share an unimpressed look between them. Then they share a silent language, using only small movements (such as flickering of the eye, raising of the eyebrow, and quirking of the lips). Suddenly, they turn back to Quartermain with wide innocent eyes.
“Our favorite game to play is hide and seek,” Clint tells him. “Can we please play?”
Quartermain always knew he was good with children! He smiles widely at them and tells them okay. He doesn’t realize that the kids that he’s babysitting are actually the best assassins in SHIELD. Instead, he tells them that he’ll go hide.
There are many isolated rooms in the Helicarrier. Quartermain just picks one and walks in. He doesn’t realize that he’s locked in there, stranded, until much, much later. He also doesn’t realize that the two assassins text Maria with periodic ‘updates’ on how the children are doing as him. Instead, he spends many days stuck in the isolated room until someone walking by hear his frantic pounding at the door.
Maria docks his pay and reassigns him to guard prisoners.
“Where are we going to go, Tasha?” Clint asks looking at Natasha with curious eyes.
She smiles charmingly at him. “We’re going to visit our teammates.”
Chapter 8: Off the Key of Reason (Part 8)
Out of the many destroyed buildings in New York, the Stark Tower is perhaps the only one that still stands with power. This mainly has to do with the clean energy source that Tony wired the place on, but he gladly took Steve’s shock and Bruce’s appreciation with much pride. Until all the mess with SHIELD and Loki is figured out, Tony has opened his tower up for Steve (whose apartment was destroyed in the war), Bruce (who wasn’t keen on returning to the Helicarrier), Thor (where else was he going to go?), and Loki (they had to prison him somewhere!).
Since the upper levels were destroyed, everyone was given the lower levels as sleeping area. There’s a giant kitchen as well as a bar in the commons area, which also contains a giant plasma TV with the most comfortable couches in the world. This level is right below the one where they found Loki, and it’s above everyone else’s living quarters.
So at 9 AM in the morning (really, it should be a crime to be up this early), Tony Stark makes his way up the stairs to the kitchen. He yawns loudly and scratches the back of his head, waiting for the elevator door to open up (Yes, he just rode an elevator to go up one floor. So what? He’s lazy but he’s rich. He can afford it).
The doors open and Tony freezes at the sight in front of him.
Steve is wearing an apron and making pancakes. Loki is standing near the stove, mixing the batter. On the dining counter, Bruce is solving crossword puzzle in today’s paper. Thor is happily munching on poptarts as he waits for the pancakes. JARVIS has a soothing jazz song on in the background, and it provides the kitchen with a warm fuzzy feeling of a family.
The above image, however, is not the reason for Tony’s sudden lack of motor skills. It’s the two assassins that are sitting with the team that makes him stare like a brainless dolt.
Natasha is sitting next to Thor, arguing heatedly about the best way to… skin someone? Okay, Tony updates his mental note to NEVER mess with Natasha EVER. Clint’s standing next to Loki, throwing in ingredients to be mixed into the batter. He’s giggling excitedly as he talks a mile a minute. But perhaps the strangest part is seeing Loki smile down at the kid and actively listen.
“Okay, did I somehow transfer myself to an alternate universe or something?” Tony asks as he slowly approaches Bruce. “Since when did Loki learn how to make pancake batter and where the hell did the munchkins come from?”
“If by ‘munchikins’ you mean the two deadly assassins, it would be some time last night,” Clint informs Tony with a grin. Then he turns to Loki with a curious look. “And actually, that’s a good question. Where did you learn how to make pancake batter?”
Loki gives the kid a grin. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he teases.
“… Two? You’re both assassins?” Steve asks, freezing as he delivers the first batch of pancakes over.
“What else did you think we were, Cap? Abandoned puppies that SHIELD took in out of the goodness of their hearts?” Clint asks, looking at the Captain with a confused expression.
“As if SHIELD would take in puppies that aren’t trained to kill,” Natasha mumbles under her breath.
When everyone else gives her incredulous look, she looks them all innocently as if to say, “What? I didn’t say anything.”
“You do know that they would have just dumped us in an orphanage if we were normal, right?” Clint adds as if to help Natasha. “Both of us were too screwed up to ever be able to enter human society.”
Thor takes the pancakes a little distractedly and begins to dish it out for everyone. Tony sits down wordlessly and pours maple syrup on his pancake. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Loki tell Clint to wash his hands first before he goes to eat. Clint rolls his eyes but relents. It’s almost like watching a protective older brother taking care of his younger bro. Thor tenses by Tony’s side. Great. Brother drama.
Clint comes to sit next to Natasha, and oddly enough, they share a plate. The fact that Natasha’s right-handed and Clint’s left-handed really helps with that. They sit so close that it makes Tony wonder if maybe they’re fucking. Well, they are teenagers and they probably do get horny so…
“So what brings you two here anyways?” Tony asks as he stuffs his mouth with syrupy pancake.
There’s a slight pause before Clint looks thoughtfully at that. Natasha’s the one who answers it, however. “The apartment’s too empty without Coulson.”
Tony coughs, trying not to choke on the pancake. “You guys lived with Agent?!”
Steves shoots Tony a warning glance. Tony knows what he’s trying to say. The good old Captain had told him earlier, pulled the whole team aside and said, “Coulson’s in an unknown medical condition currently. Fury said he’ll contact us if his condition changes.” Of course, everyone knows that that’s translation for: “Agent’s not going to make it, so you might as well as prepare your black suits and lamenting face.”
Oh gods. These assassins -these kids- lived with Coulson. Coulson’s probably not going to make it.
“You can stay here as long as you want,” Steve promises the two kids.
Tony can’t work up the feelings to muster even a protest.
If this was any normal day, Tony would have gladly made his way back down to the lab to come up with a plan to fix the tower. But this wasn’t a normal day and he isn’t going to let the kids hang out in the rubble of New York.
“We’re going on a field trip,” Tony declares. “Did Agent ever take you guys anywhere?”
“Oh, I really liked going to the zoo!” Clint says with a bright smile. Natasha looks pleased at the idea as well.
“Done. We’re going to go to the Bronx zoo!”
Tony doesn’t know how it happens, but the group ends up splitting up. Thor had seen a black bear and declared that he needed to wrestle it. Luckily, Steve ran off to prevent Thor from destroying the zoo with his enthusiasm. Then Clint had declared that he wanted to see the lemurs and dragged Bruce away. It left Tony with Natasha, who’s giving him a cold look, and Loki, who’s drawing attention from everyone due to the fact that he’s handcuffed and gagged (It’s the only arrangement they could agree on for taking Loki out in the public).
“You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?” Tony asks Natasha.
She doesn’t even glare at him, but he feels like she’s going to press a dagger in his private parts any second now. “You’re annoying.”
“Then why didn’t you go with your boyfriend?”
“Barton isn’t my boyfriend,” Natasha answers calmly. “And I’m here to make sure you interact with him as little as possible.”
Tony raises his eyebrow at that. “I’m not going to hurt him. In fact, doesn’t it make more sense that he’ll kill me, seeing that, you know, he’s an assassin and all?”
She stares at him, face completely blank. Tony’s not sure if this means that she’s going to explain herself or if she’s going to shoot him. He’s sort of hoping for the first one.
Then she takes a small breathe in and slowly exhales. “Barton… really likes Ironman,” she admits reluctantly. She looks a little unsure, as if she doesn’t know if this is a good idea or not.
“Does he now?” He can’t stop the self-satisfied grin from stretching across his face, because damn. An assassin looked up to him.
From the way that she suddenly cuts off all emotion on her face, Tony knows that that’s the wrong reaction. She turns away from him and begins to briskly walk away, grabbing Loki’s handcuffs and yanking him after her.
Well, Tony may be a jackass at times, but he’s not about to destroy two children’s dreams, even if those children are SHIELD’s best assassins.
Everyone gathers back together for lunch. Clint’s talking excitedly to Natasha, his eyes lit up with contentment. It’s a good look on the kid. Much better than the cold soldier that Steve was first introduced to. Natasha is nodding along, communicating with Clint silently through small twitches. Thor is sitting next to Loki, alternating from looking at his brother sullenly and glancing at Clint and Natasha with jealousy. Bruce looks a little nervous but not tense. It really appears that the doctor has his anger mostly controlled. Tony’s on the phone, talking fast with someone that Steve didn’t really catch.
Steve thinks it’s the best meal he’s had since waking up in the 21st century.
The rest of the day is spent together at the zoo, this time no one goes off by themselves. Clint and Natasha stay side-by-side and allow no one else to get close to them. Steve wonders if they did something wrong.
They all arrive back at the tower tired. After saying respective goodnights, they all go their separate ways. Tony gives Clint and Natasha a floor all to themselves, but Bruce thinks that that’s not really all that of a good idea. But the two kids look excited about that, so Bruce doesn’t comment. Instead, he makes his way to his bed.
It’s 2 AM and he can’t seem to fall asleep.
Figuring that just waiting in his bed isn’t going to do any good, Bruce makes his way up to the common room (It’s really more of commons floor). Maybe he’ll make himself some hot tea and go to the lab or something. Tony had said it was fine to use the lab, and Bruce hadn’t played with science in a very long time.
The elevator door opens and Bruce walks into the kitchen and stops. Turning around, he spots the abnormality on the couch. Clint’s curled in on himself, arms wrapped tightly around his legs. There’s no sobbing sound, no shaking of the shoulder. But just because someone doesn’t look like they’re crying doesn’t necessary mean they aren’t suffering.
“Hey Clint, are you alright?” Bruce asks softly as he approaches the couch as slowly as he can.
The boy’s head snaps up, and the fear is obvious in his eyes. Bruce freezes because he knows he can’t walk into this willy-nilly. He’s been through things like this before. He knows what he needs in this kind of situation, but he doesn’t know what Clint needs.
“Clint?” Bruce calls, “Is it okay if I come towards you?”
There’s no answer but Clint’s staring at him with unreadable expression. Bruce takes a small step forward. Clint doesn’t move, just watches. The doctor slowly makes his way towards the kid, making sure to telegraph his movement before he moves. Clint doesn’t move, doesn’t acknowledge him at all; it’s a little frightening.
When Bruce stands right next to the kid, he takes a deep breath. Because getting here was hard, but it’s going to get harder from here.
“I’m going to sit next to you. Is that okay?”
Clint doesn’t move for a few minutes. Then with the smallest of nods, he gives Bruce permission. Letting out a small puff of breath, the doctor slowly sits down next to Clint. They sit together in silence for a while. Bruce lets Clint watch him; those sharp gray eyes trail every movement, however small. Then there’s a small sigh, and the boy speaks.
“What do you do, doc, when you hurt the ones you love?”
Bruce tenses because this is a topic that he desperately doesn’t want to talk about. But Clint’s looking at him with those blank eyes and Bruce also desperately doesn’t want that look to last in the boy’s eyes. He wants the boy from this afternoon back. The boy who laughed loudly and joked around, excited about seeing lemurs. So Bruce takes a deep breath.
“I apologize,” he says. “I apologize to them and hope that I never do it again.”
Clint stares blankly at Bruce for few more seconds. Then the young boy from today returns and he looks at the doctor with surprisingly vulnerable eyes.
“Can I have a hug, please?”
How can Bruce say no to that?
He jerks awake and realizes that he’s nodded off to sleep on the couch. Bruce finds Clint curled up on his lap, sound asleep. He smiles down at the kid. When asleep, he looks happier, much innocent. It’s a strange look on an assassin.
“He had trouble sleeping,” someone says.
Bruce looks up to see that Natasha is watching him from the loveseat across the couch. She doesn’t let any emotion cross her face, which makes it hard to read her. He doesn’t know if that means that he needs to be more careful or not.
“Did you help him?” she asks.
He doesn’t need to glance down to see Clint’s sleeping face to know. He nods firmly. “Yes.”
“Thank you,” she says. She looks down at her lap and Bruce realizes that she’s allowing him to see her this vulnerable.
And he remembers, although any memory of his time as Hulk is always hazy, the frightened look in her eyes as he chased her around the Helicarrier. Bruce gulps.
“Uh… I want to apologize,” he says, taking the advice he gave to Clint to heart. “For when I… Hulked out. I’m sorry for-” He almost says ‘scaring you’ but then thinks better of it. “-hurting you.”
She looks up, her green eyes glowing in the dark. She seems to consider what Bruce has said seriously. Then she nods slowly. “Okay,” she says. She doesn’t mention that she caught his almost slip. She just hopes that her gratitude isn’t too obvious.
Bruce hesitates for a beat before he opens his other arm. “You’re allowed to join us.”
“This is too cute for words,” Tony says as he stares at the sight in front of him. Steve hushes him quickly.
Bruce looks at them with groggy eyes. Clint and Natasha are both curled up by his side, much content by this position. There’s a faint smile on his lips and he surveys the room. No danger. He relaxes into the couch.
Thor and Loki are both in the kitchen, staying out of this. But Bruce doesn’t miss the way that the two share regretful glances. He thinks that maybe the two assassins are a positive influence on them all.
“Today, we’re going to have a movie marathon!” Tony declares as he pulls all of them into the commons room. “Nonstop movie from morning until insane hour of the night!”
“What about meals?” Steve asks, looking scandalized.
“We’ll order takeouts or something!” Tony says, waving his hand.
“That’s not healthy,” Steve fights back. “I’ll cook.”
“I can help,” Bruce adds.
“We should watch The Little Mermaid!” Clint shouts with excitement. “Natasha hates that one!”
She throws a pillow at him, and Clint howls with laughter. Bruce thinks that it’s nice to see them act like little children.
Everyone drifts to sleep in the middle of the third movie. Everyone except for Natasha and Clint. They’re sitting curled up next to each other. They’ve stopped watching the movie a while back. Instead, they’ve watched the Avengers, taking into account where they are and how they’ve gotten here.
“You know,” Clint says softly, “I think I rather like them.”
Natasha lets out a soft puff of breath and Clint knows that she agrees.
The archer turns to face his partner. “Tash… There’s something I have to say.”
There’s alarm in her eyes, tension in her body. She stares at Clint, fearing what he might say next. What he does however, surprises her. He pulls her into a hug and buries his face in her red hair.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers to her. “I’m so sorry.”
She doesn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around him, securing him. “I know,” she tells him. “I know.”
It’s 3 PM before everyone decides that they’re hungry enough to eat. After much badgering on Tony’s part, they all decide to order pizza.
They’re all enjoying their hot pizza when Clint suddenly speaks up.
“Do you think they’ll let us see Coulson?”
Steve is the first to react. “Of course,” he says. “Why don’t we go after lunch?”
The two assassins seem cheered by this.
They’re both quiet when they see Phil. The doctors assure the Avengers that Phil will get better; he just needs more time. But the two doesn’t say anything. Instead, they pull away, and ask to go back to the Tower.
Tony doesn’t expect to be left alone with Clint. He thought that Natasha was working to prevent that? But there Clint is in his lab, sitting cross-legged and looking at Tony with a thoughtful look on his face.
“How come Tasha hates you so much?” he asks.
“Something about me being a playboy,” Tony lies.
“Know what’ll make her happy?” Clint leans forward as if he’s about to whisper a secret.
Tony follows the kid’s lead and lean in. “What?”
“Make her a new weapon.”
Then Clint’s gone, jumping up through the vents as if he was never there.
“JARVIS, get a cleaning bot in the vents and clean them out. Jeesh, you’d think he was a rat or something.”
Natasha’s watching Thor and Clint play a melee brawl on a random game console. Oh she knows what they are playing and what game console it is, but she figures it’s not that important. What is important is that she’s sitting next to Loki, who’s staring at Thor with hurt eyes. It’s pathetic, really.
And it’s starting to tick her off.
“Just talk to him, already,” she tells him.
Loki snorts. “Don’t be silly. I tried to destroy Earth. I almost destroyed Asgard, too. What can I possibly say to him?”
He glares at her. “Right, because gagging me and handcuffing me in public isn’t enough, you have to mentally torment me as well?”
“You deserve worse,” she replies back. “You deserve a lot worse.”
Then she stands and leaves and Loki can’t help but to think that maybe she’s right.
When the Doombots attack, it’s sudden and unexpected, and supervillians really need to pick somewhere that isn’t New York to trash. The Avengers assemble to fight the Doombots and as much as Steve hates to admit it, having Hawkeye as the eyes for the group and having Natasha’s ability to destroy with ease really helped save the day.
It’s with these thought in mind that he does what he feels is right. He goes to battle Nick Fury for the right to keep the two assassins.
“No,” Fury says. “Captain, I know you have good intentions, but they’re just teenagers.”
“And I can keep better watch over them like this! I don’t know what SHIELD’s up to, but you’re the one who dumped them in my care first.”
Fury gives Maria a side glare. “I believe I assigned you to the job?”
To her credit, she doesn’t blush. She just bristles and clenches her fists. “I apologize.” She doesn’t make excuses and she doesn’t beat around the bush.
Fury shakes his head and turn back to Steve. “Can you keep them in line?”
There’s no hesitation in the Captain’s voice. Fury decides that if the Captain can take care of the Avengers, then he can probably take care of the two assassins as well. Well, they were going to end up in his care in the future anyways. What’s a few years in the grand scheme of things?
“Alright,” Fury says finally. “But keep them safe, Cap. I don’t want to be the one explaining to Coulson what happened to his charges.”
Thor puts down his controller with a loud sigh. “How do you do it, Brother Hawk?” he asks Clint, who turns to look at him with a frown on his face after he paused the game.
“Well, I think it has to do with all the time I spent spying on the Galaga dude,” Clint says. His frown quickly turns into an easy grin. “He played it all the frigging time and I was bored, you know.”
“No, I mean with my brother.”
The teen cocks his head to the side like a confused bird. “What do you mean?”
“You get along so well with him. How?”
“Uh… have you tried talking to him?”
Thor sighs again. “He won’t listen.”
Clint rolls his eyes. “No, dude. You’re not listening. He’s screaming for you to come help him. Trust me, I know. I have an older brother, too, you know.”
“Do you really think this will work?”
“Trust me, Goldilocks, it’ll be fine.”
When Phil Coulson is out of the hospital, he’s greeted by twin hugs from Natasha and Clint. Behind them, the rest of the Avengers and Loki (gagged and handcuffed) stand.
Phil looks at his children and then at the superhero (and Loki). The good agent gives them all a bland smile.
“Is New York still standing?” he asks.
“Do you even have to ask?” is Natasha’s confident answer.
“Amazing what a little backup can do, isn’t it?” Clint winks.
“And just when I became a great shot, too,” is Phil’s reply.
They’re not perfect, and they’ll probably never be perfect. But for now, they’re family. And that is enough.
Chapter 9: Just Some Art
The above image actually never takes place in the story, but I thought it'd be cute to have it here. Natasha's saying, "Clint, you don't need to wipe your bow, so hand over the wiper." And I fail with Coulson.
In chapter 3, there's a moment when Clint and Natasha comes to Coulson's bedroom due to a nightmare. Technically, Clint's supposed to have a Robin Hood blanket, but it didn't work out. And yes, the kids do not dress themselves (Please ignore that Ironman probably didn't exist yet).