Of all the things Clint expected this summer to entail, spending a lot of his free time in parks with Jess Drew was not one of them.
They get most of the heavy shit dealt with within the first week or so – mainly at Clint’s – and through mutual agreement immediately move on to trying to rebuild their friendship. There are rough patches for sure – they don’t really discuss relationships and Clint tries not to mention Natasha too much, which in all honesty he finds rather difficult – but they’re slowly building between them something strong enough to weather the likely event of Clint putting his foot in it again. It mostly involves them talking about their childhood, which Clint isn’t thrilled about, but it’s getting easier. And he’s by no means telling her everything.
“So, do you have any plans for the rest of the summer?” Jess asks the evening before she’s due to visit Carol in Alabama. She’ll probably manage to squeeze in a visit to Monica in New Orleans too, before she has to go back to London. Clint misses Carol and Monica.
“Well, Em, Kate, and Nat all get back the last Saturday of August and Kate will throw her usual End of Summer Party. You can come if you’re still around, Kate’d like to say hi. And then,” Clint scrubs the back of his neck, “then I’m going to visit Barney. In – in Detroit.”
Jess stares at him for a moment. “You mean, in – ?”
Prison. Because Barney’s in prison. Stupid fucking idiot.
“Wow,” she says after a beat. “Wow, that’s… do you go often?”
“Once a year since I found out three years ago.”
“Fucking awful. But, y’know. Family and all that.”
Jess starts ripping up the grass by her knee. Jailed family members don’t make for good conversation and Clint desperately wants to change the subject, he just can’t think of anything suitable.
“Awful how?” Jess asks eventually, tentatively.
And, Jesus fuck, Jess, of all the fucking questions. He’s not getting into it. It’s bad enough Kate giving him sad eyes every time they go – because of course Kate drives him, she wouldn’t let him go any other way. He doesn’t want to explain it to someone else only to get the same reaction. He knows it’s dumb. He knows it’s pointless. He knows it doesn’t do him any good. But he’s lost everyone else; if he’s gonna lose Barney too it’s not going to be through something he does or doesn’t do.
“Never mind,” she says when he doesn’t answer. “I’d… I’d like to come to your party though, if that’s alright.”
“Yeah,” he says with effort, “yeah, sure.” The uncomfortable feeling is passing with the switch in subject and thank Christ, because he doesn’t want to think about it until he absolutely has to. “You can meet Em and – and Nat.” Though maybe that’s a terrible idea.
Jess holds his gaze for a little while and Clint can’t read her expression at all. He’d forgotten how inscrutable she can be if she wants and he can’t say he’s missed that particular personality trait.
“Yeah,” she says eventually, a small smile on her face. “I’d like that.”
On those evenings when he’s not hanging out in parks with his ex-girlfriend, Clint spends hours on the phone with Natasha like some terrible 80s rom-com cliché. He’d care, but at the same time it’s Natasha; if there’s anyone worth being a cliché over, it’s her. So he updates her on Bucky’s tattoo woes and the ‘bionic arm’ design Steve has been pressganged into creating for him. He tells her about the weird customers he’s dealt with recently (and seriously – there was this one guy that was just bizarre) and the Snapchats Kate’s been sending him of the various enormous sombreros she refuses to buy him. And in return Natasha informs him of the inner workings of the French Embassy and enforces his view that there are some people who have too much money and not enough sense.
“…and then,” Natasha says, frustration evident in her tone, “I had a fancy dinner with my boss and some French someone-or-other who wasn’t particularly subtle when staring at my breasts and I was just tired enough to think a really cutting remark was a good idea. Luckily his wife – who was right there – thought that was très courageuse and that she wouldn’t have had the confidence to stand up to people like that when she was my age, which makes me wonder why it was she married him in the first place.”
Clint hasn’t really had a chance to get a word in edgeways since he picked up the phone tonight but as Natasha’s summer has, on the whole, been way more interesting that his, he’s content to wait her out. Plus, he’ll never tire of listening to Natasha. He could listen to her read the phone book and he’d still think she was the best thing ever.
“It’s just… this is a great opportunity and most of the time it’s really interesting, but I’m so tired and I miss you and lounging around and… you know, dumb stuff. Like swearing. I sort of really miss swearing.”
Clint snorts out a laugh.
“The French don’t swear?”
“Oh, I’m sure they do, it’s just we’re terribly polite and professional. It gets a little boring after a while. Plus,” she says derisively, “nice girls don’t swear.”
Yeah, ‘nice girls’ don’t swear and ‘nice girls’ just stand around and are expected to be happy that a guy pays them any attention at all. Clint sometimes wants to punch the world.
Speaking of ‘nice girls’…
“Hey” – don’t be a coward, Barton – “did I ever tell you about Jess?”
“You are incredibly skilled at changing the subject.”
“It’s my super power.”
Natasha laughs, sounding weirdly breathy down the phone.
“Unless this is an expansion on ‘Jess my ex-girlfriend’, yes, you have told me about Jess,” she says.
“This is an expansion.”
“Oh, okay. Shoot.”
“Um, well, she came over last week and we…um, sorted stuff out.”
Clint suddenly realises what that sounds like.
“Talked!” he amends quickly. “We talked. Jesus, Barton.”
“Oh,” Natasha says. “Good. You had me worried then.”
Clint makes an aborted attempt to run his hand through his hair, and then remembers Natasha can’t see him being weird and neurotic so does it anyway.
“Is Jess the ex with whom you broke up because you slept with someone else?” Natasha asks after a moment.
Clint’s heart sinks. He’d forgotten he’d told her that.
“Um, there were other things as well,” Clint says, “but essentially: yes.”
“Okay,” Natasha says. She’s quiet for a while and then asks, “So, you’re good now? Can be friends and all that?”
“Yeah, yeah. I think so.”
“Good,” she replies distractedly, “that’s good.”
There’s another pause.
“Are you okay?” Clint forces himself to ask eventually.
“Yes! Yes, God, sorry. You just threw me for a loop for a second.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m glad you and Jess have worked stuff out. Talking is always good.”
There’s a slightly awkward silence,
“It was an accident,” Clint says eventually, even though he’s fairly sure he’s told her this before. “I don’t… I wouldn’t… I don’t do that. It’s just…”
“You don’t have to expl – “
“We didn’t talk,” Clint interrupts. “We – I thought we’d split up. But… we hadn’t. I… don’t. I wouldn’t do that. To you.”
There’s a long silence again, and Clint is dreading the rather obvious rejoinder of the ‘but you did it to Jess’ variety that he’s sure is coming. But instead Natasha just says, “Thank you.”
What? Clint doesn’t really know what to do with that… acceptance? Whatever that is. He doesn’t quite understand Natasha’s ability to… let go of stuff? Get what he means, not what he’s actually saying? And he can admit to himself that it makes him wary. He can’t tell if it’s genuine, even though he has no reason to believe that she’s lying to him. But… Jess would have harped on about it; tried to find motives and assurances and reasons. Kate would tell him he was a douche and never to do that again, which is true, but never makes him feel better. America would probably say something about motives and promises.
But Natasha just says ‘thank you’ like she trusts him, and he doesn’t understand why.
Over the phone, Natasha sighs.
“I wish I was with you.”
“Why?” Clint blurts out before he can stop himself. She’s in DC. Why would she want to be stuck in a boring college town with him?
“Because I can practically hear you stressing down the phone, солнышко,” she says. “Don’t worry. I am definitely the kind of person to tell you if something was bothering me. Promise. Also, I miss you. With your dumb laugh and your stupid hair and your awesome friends and your smile.”
Clint makes guppy faces he’s really glad she can’t see. He feels like something large, heavy, and immovable has taken up residence in his chest and all he can think is what the fuck did he ever do to deserve someone like Natasha Romanov?
“And you know what else?”
“What?” Clint says, probably sounding less together than he’d like.
“I’m really glad you locked yourself out of your house that day.”
[Got you a really big piñata] Kate texts a couple of nights before she’s due back.
[But I want a sombrero] Clint replies, because he can be whiney when he’s tired and Jesus, when that Parker kid wrecks his bike he goes all out.
[Oh sure, turn down candy.]
[If I grow a moustache, will you get me a sombrero?]
[If you grow a moustache, I will disown you as a friend.]
Clint laughs at that.
[Acceptable. I’ll take the piñata then.]
[Damn right you will.]
Thing is, when Kate had texted ‘really big piñata’, Clint had imagined something maybe a meter tall at the most. This though, this is ridiculous.
“It’s fucking huge.”
“Yeah, I said it was.”
“Yeah but…” Clint squints at it a little more. “It’s really, really big. How did you even get it here?”
The piñata is sitting menacingly in the corner of their front room. Its head nearly brushes the ceiling.
“Tied it to the roof of the car,” Kate says.
“You flew,” Clint says. “Also, you can’t drive from New Mexico to Virginia with a papier-mâché eagle on the roof of your car.”
“No,” she says, not helping at all. “You can’t.”
Clint stares at it for a little while more. They must have smuggled it in when he went out to buy snacks. They definitely didn’t have it with them when they arrived back. Where the fuck were they even keeping it?
“No seriously,” Clint says again, after another moment of stunned silence.
Clint glares at her. “What fucking trade?”
“Drugs trade,” Em cuts in as she hip-checks the front door, her arms full of party lights. “There’s Grade A cocaine inside that. Sorry chico.” She rearranges her grip on the lights so she can pat him on the head. “You’ve been duped.”
“Well,” Clint says decisively, hands on his hips, “then I’m taking you down with me.”
Em laughs, because she’s awful. “Yeah, chico. You just try that.”
Clint looks at it some more. “Is it… is it wearing glasses?”
“Of course,” Kate says like it’s obvious. “He’s a Hawkeye.”
Clint looks at her like she’s gone mad.
“Also,” she says, before putting something on his head.
“Oh my God.”
“We got you a damn sombrero.”
It’s huge, Clint can tell. He rushes into Kate’s room to check himself out in her full length mirror and almost gets stuck in the doorway.
“You look like an idiot,” Em says, smiling, and Clint laughs, because yeah. He kind of really does.
“Now,” Kate calls. “Get the fuck out of my room. I’ve got hard liquor to hide.”
“You’re the best,” Clint says as he passes Kate and then, on a whim, he gives her a horrible sloppy kiss on the cheek and she can’t bat him away because her arms are full of tequila.
Kate scrunches her nose up and Clint laughs loud enough to almost drown out the knock at the door.
“Gringo gets the door!” Em calls from where she’s hanging up the lights and Clint flips her the bird. God but he’s missed these two.
“Hey,” he says, making sure the sombrero is sat properly on his head. “Someone get some string or something. We’re going to string that sucker up and beat the crap out of it before people turn up tonight. Who wants candy?” He wrenches the door open, still looking over his shoulder at Em, who’s now rummaging around in what Kate calls the toolbox, but is actually a packing crate full of shit. “Or Grade A cocaine?”
“What’s this about cocaine, Barton?”
Clint’s head snaps round quick enough that the sombrero gets caught on the door and falls off. Natasha laughs, because of course it’s Natasha.
“Здравствуйте, солнышко,” she says, leaning in to give him a lingering kiss.
“Um, hi,” Clint says dumbly. “What…? I mean, I thought you were coming over later.”
“I was. But now I’m here.”
Clint can hear weird frantic scrambling behind him.
“You – when did you get back from DC?”
Natasha looks at her watch – because she is totally the type of person to have a watch rather than use her phone to tell the time. “About five minutes ago,” she says.
“I – “
“We’re going to Em’s, have fun, bye!” Kate suddenly says, dragging Em past Clint and Natasha and out the door. “Don’t have sex where Hawkeye can see you!”
Clint’s brain scrambles at the absurdity of that statement.
“You named it Hawkeye?” he calls after her.
Clint blinks stupidly before coming back to himself and looking over at where Natasha is smirking at him with an odd, soft expression in her eyes.
“So who is Hawkeye and why can’t we have sex when they’re around?”
There is a very brief moment where Clint just stares at her like he has no idea what she’s talking about.
“Oh, um. It’s a piñata?”
Clint gestures for her to come in, and then points to where the giant papier-mâché eagle is sat in the corner.
“Shit that’s big,” Natasha says quietly. “And it’s full of sweets?”
“Streamers and glitter is more likely. Or cocaine, if Em is to be believed.”
Natasha considers the eagle for a moment before picking Clint’s sombrero off the floor and putting it on its head. She then smirks at him, a tiny little thing that causes all Clint’s blood to rush south so fast he feels dizzy, and tips the sombrero so it covers the eagle’s glasses.
“There,” she says lowly, turning to face him fully. “Now he can’t see anything.”
Technically Clint and Kate have a rule about not having sex on the couch. Technically. But, well, there’s still time to relocate. It’s just… Natasha is very distracting. And Clint hasn’t seen her in two months. But there’s still – they can –
Natasha sticks her hand down his pants.
“You like that?”
Natasha smirks at him looking rumpled and delicious and holy fuck. She’s going to kill him.
“Bedroom,” Clint pants and he tugs her hand out of his pants, which – oh my god – is awful and terrible and why did he do that?
Clint whines at the loss of contact.
“What’s wrong with the couch?” Natasha asks. But then she kisses him so he can’t answer.
“Rules,” he manages when she pulls away slightly. And then “Kate rules,” the next time he’s got breath enough to speak. “Jesus fuck, Tash.”
He wrenches their mouths apart only long enough for him to tug her top off. “Fucking – ”
Natasha moans into his mouth and sticks a hand back down his pants.
“Bedroom,” Clint says between kisses, mostly as a reminder rather than an instruction. “Bedroom, bedroom, bedroom.”
But then his pants have gone and her shirt has gone and there are hands and mouths seemingly everywhere and this all deteriorated very, very quickly.
They do make it to Clint’s bedroom, but only just. Natasha laughs when he trips over a stray shoe and then again when Clint tries to get her jeans off without removing her boots first. She bites his ass when he leans over to grab a condom and Clint gets revenge by tickling her. It’s hot – both in temperature and, y’know, hotness, because Natasha is wearing a fantastic set of matching lingerie because it’s almost like she knows him – and Clint is breathless from laughing and kisses by the end; sticky and spent and so damn happy.
He tries to move away to avoid actually melting into Natasha from the heat, but she suddenly laughs, loud and delighted, and wraps herself around him so tight he can hardly move.
“Ты-самое лучшее, что когда-либо случалось со мной.”
Someday, he thinks as her breath tickles over his shoulder, he’s going to have to learn Russian.
“You called me Tash.”
Natasha turns her head just enough to look him in the face. She doesn’t loosen her hold though.
“Um – ”
“I like it,” she says smiling.
Natasha’s proper smiles, the big, carefree ones when she’s actually happy, look slightly out of place on her face. Not because they don’t suit her or anything bullshit like that, but because it seems too big. She always gives off this calm, cool, collected persona; someone whose smiles are professional and who is competent and in control. And she is, of course she’s that person, but she’s also the person who owns fuzzy penguin pyjama bottoms and a myriad of joke linguistics t-shirts. She’s also the person who dates – sees? Fuck’s sake, Barton, dates. Dates – losers like Clint Barton.
When she smiles like that he’s suddenly hit with the force of just how much joy her compact, professional self can contain. Clint thinks it’s a bit like looking at the sun.
“I missed you so much,” she says.
Clint opens his mouth to say something, but can’t think of what so snaps it shut again. His phone goes off in the other room, the generic tone that means it’s not Kate, Em, or Logan and therefore can be ignored.
Natasha’s smile gets, if possible, wider.
“Shower, then food,” she says, untangling herself and getting off the bed, and Clint just lies there because he’s an idiot, but also because naked Natasha Romanov is goddamn glorious. The sheets are tangled at his feet – or, more accurately, mostly on the floor – and he’s suddenly exposed to Natasha’s hungry gaze.
“Addendum,” she says, after raking her gaze over his body. “Shower, shower sex, then food.”
And Clint can’t help but grin at that because goddamn. But also:
“Did you just use ‘addendum’ in reference to our sex lives?” he says incredulously, his hand out as a silent request for Natasha to haul him out of bed, which she does, right into her personal space.
“Yup,” comes the cheery reply. “Look at all the interesting things you learn from a language degree.”
“I dunno. I’m not sure I want caveats.”
“Did you learn that from your fancy degree, Doc?”
“Naw,” Clint says, laying the Midwestern on thick and pulling her into the bathroom. Thank God no one else is in right now or they’d get an eye-full. “Doctors don’ speak proper good.”
Natasha laughs as he pulls her against him, which turns to a moan as he slides his hand between her legs.
“We’re very good at anatomy though.”
They’ve relocated to the couch when Clint’s phone rings again, hours later, this time with Kate’s obnoxious ringtone. It’s still hotter than strictly necessary for seven in the evening, so Clint’s just in some ratty sweatpants, while Natasha turned his room over to find the t-shirt he lent her all those months ago to wear with her very pretty panties. They could get more dressed, but where would the fun be in that? Besides, Natasha’s thighs are wonderfully soft.
“There’s a car outside,” Kate says as soon as Clint picks up.
“Get in it if you want to live?” Clint says and Natasha looks at him strangely, her hands continuing to card through his hair.
“No.” Clint can hear her eye roll. “It’s just weird.”
“You rang to tell me that?”
“Nope, I rang to remind you that we’re having a party tonight and it was your idea, so you better not be having sex on the couch.”
“If I were having sex, I wouldn’t have picked up the phone.”
“Good,” Kate says and then Clint hears the door open and Kate and Em come in, with Em’s flatmates and a bunch of their other friends. And Jess.
“We bumped into Jess walking over,” Em supplies before Kate buts in with, “Natasha! Introductions: Billy, Teddy, Anya, Kamala, David, Jubilee, Ganke, Eli, Jess. You already know Miles. Guys, this is Natasha, my Russian tutor and Clint’s SO.”
There’s a beat of silence. Clint wants to mention that Kate has actually dropped Russian in favour of learning Spanish for – fairly obvious – reasons, but maybe now is not the time.
“I’m going to put pants on,” Natasha says, forcing Clint to sit up before leaving the room with more grace and dignity than someone in a t-shirt and panties should possess.
“I tried to convince Kate that more warning might be nice,” Em says before Kate barrels over her again with a smug, “You forgot didn’t you?” while everyone else studiously looks anywhere but the couch.
Em snorts. “Go get dressed, chico.”
Clint waves awkwardly at Jess just before leaving the room and gets a half smile in return.
Natasha is sat on his bed when he walks in, back to looking perfectly made up in that way only Natasha can. She’s smiling slightly.
“We sort of messed up there, didn’t we?”
Clint smiles in return as he pulls on his jeans. “You’re distracting.”
“Oh, so this is my fault?” she says impishly.
Clint shrugs and pulls on his t-shirt. “Be less distracting.”
“You be less distracting.”
“I’m not distracting.”
“You,” Natasha says, leaning forward to grab his belt loops and drag him between her thighs, “are distracting. This,” – she sweeps her hands up and under his t-shirt – “is very distracting. You are a distracting, distracting man, Clint Barton.”
“Distracting doesn’t sound like a word anymore now,” Clint complains.
Natasha pokes him in the stomach. “Distracting.”
“Masterfully. Also, necessary,” Clint says. “I have guests now.”
As if on cue, there’s a knock at Clint’s door and Kate’s voice comes through saying, “Beefcake and Patrick are here!”
Natasha frowns in confusion and Clint grins, pulling away from Natasha’s hands and heading towards the door.
“Steve and Bucky,” he clarifies as he drags her into the front room and Natasha laughs.
For a party at which his current girlfriend is meeting his ex-girlfriend for the first time – something Clint can admit he was nervous about – everything goes fantastically well. Jess is slightly wary of Natasha for about five minutes, but then Natasha mentions that she’s been to London on several occasions and they end up talking about clubs and bars and museums Clint has no idea about, so he leaves them to it. Instead he gets into a convoluted conversation with Bucky about how it is he lives in such a nice place – convoluted because Kate’s dad owns it and Clint doesn’t pay rent, which he sort of doesn’t want to tell anyone. The shit he owes Kate Bishop, honestly – and then with Kate’s friends Ganke and Kamala, who are both math and computer nerds which leaves Clint floundering. But then Kamala mentions comics and Bucky homes in on her like a bloodhound and Clint ends up with Miles, the ‘really attractive guy’ from Kate’s old Russian class, sat out in the garden by the back wall.
“Apparently you’re the ‘really attractive guy’ in Katie-Kate’s Russian class,” Clint tells him, because he’s tired, warm, has had a beer and is feeling floaty.
“Um, yeah,” Miles flushes and looks awkward for a moment. “She said.”
“Oh, okay then.”
Clint squints at him slightly.
“Hey, do you know what sol-nysh-ka means?”
“Sol-nysh-ka. I don’t really know. Something,” he waves his hand vaguely. “Something like that.”
“What’s the context?” Miles asks.
“Yeah, like I’m sol-nysh-ka.”
Miles looks at him blankly. “Something to do with the sun?” He frowns slightly. “Sorry man, I have no idea.”
Clint shrugs vaguely. “Eh, never mind then.”
And then Natasha drops into his lap and the lawn chair Clint’s sat in creaks ominously. Miles takes one look at the two of them and goes from slightly awkward to super fucking awkward in about three seconds flat.
“Billy and Teddy are making out on the couch inside, Steve, Bucky, and Kamala are talking comics on the patio, Jess, Kate, Jubilee, Ganke, David, and Eli are talking about police brutality under the tree, and America and Anya are in the kitchen discussing telenovelas en Español, so I thought I’d come over and bother you.” Natasha pats Clint absentmindedly on the head, looking slightly flushed. “Hi Miles.”
It comes out in almost a whisper. Clint wonders if Miles has a crush on Natasha, not that he’d blame him. Everyone has a crush on Natasha. Teddy and Billy probably have a crush on Natasha and Teddy and Billy are the gayest guys Clint has ever met.
Or maybe it’s because Miles saw Natasha in her underwear only four hours ago.
Clint frowns. Okay, no, that wasn’t cool.
“But I’ve just sat down,” Natasha says, whining more that she probably would without the aid of alcohol.
“Need to talk to Katie,” Clint says, shoving gently at her thigh.
“It’s like you don’t want to talk to me,” Natasha says playfully, getting out of his lap so Clint can stand up. He kisses her in answer and Miles shifts uncomfortably. Someone should probably just let him go, poor guy.
“Hey Miles,” Clint says, giving him an out, “you don’t need to be polite, you can just leave.”
“Nuh-uh,” Natasha says. “I want to talk to you about a language journal I think you’ll be interested in.”
Clint looks between the two of them. Some of Miles awkwardness has drained out of his body already, just at the mention of languages.
“Okay, then,” Clint says, shuffling slightly awkwardly. Maybe it was him making Miles uncomfortable. The thought makes Clint hunch his shoulders a bit. “I’ll just…” he waves vaguely towards where Kate is sitting. “Sorry for… y’know. Awkward.”
Miles looks surprised.
“No!” He says, looking somehow earnest and uncomfortable at the same time. “It’s… alright. I’m… well, it’s – it’s alright.”
“Okay.” Clint says.
Clint shifts slightly again, giving Natasha’s ridiculously fond expression one last look before heading off towards where Kate has camped out under the tree. It’s practically blazing with fairy lights, making everyone underneath look slightly otherworldly; a nice counter point to the current conversation topic.
“Can I talk to you for a moment?” he asks, as soon as he’s close enough.
“Hawkeye!” Kate exclaims, clearly a little worse for wear. She stands up and wobbles slightly before glomping him. Clint always forgets she’s heavier than she looks; all that archery muscle.
“Hey, Katie-Kate. I just wanna…” He pulls her out of the hearing range of everyone still sat under the tree.
“What’s up?” she says, leaning into him.
“I think you should apologise to Natasha.”
“What? Why?” Kate is frowning at him, her eyes ever so slightly out of focus.
She’s sliding out of his grip and Clint hauls her back up, getting his shoulder under her arm. “You introduced her to all your friends and my ex-girlfriend while she was in her panties and a t-shirt. Like,” Clint waves his hand vaguely, making Kate slide back down and Clint has to haul her up again. She’s just being annoying now. “We’re… that’s fine when it’s just you and me, y’know? Or Em. But like… she’s. She’s never met Jess. Or, like, half these people before.”
Clint remembers Miles awkwardness. Even if that wasn’t why he was awkward, it’s still not cool.
“She’s yours and Miles’ teacher,” he says.
“I – ”
Kate doesn’t say anything for a moment before she shakes her head and takes her own weight, moving a little way away from Clint and scrubbing her hand over her face.
“Em said it was dumb.”
“Em’s a smart lady. ‘S why you’re dating her.”
Kate lapses back into silence.
“Yeah,” she says quietly. “That was pretty shitty of me. Though,” she squints up at Clint, her eyes glittering in the low light, “took you a while to notice.”
“Yeah well, I’m used to you barging in when I’m not dressed. Also, stop deflecting.”
Kate glares half-heartedly before sighing. “Okay.” She runs her hand through her hair and then grimaces when her fingers get snarled in a knot.
“Okay,” she says again. “You stay here. Talk to Eli and David and shit. I’ll…” She gestures towards where Natasha and Miles are sitting, happily chatting away about language journals or whatever.
Clint grins at her. Dick, he signs, his hands quick in the dark.
Kate wrinkles her nose, before grinning and punching him on the arm.
Bitch, she signs back before heading towards Natasha.
Clint watches long enough to see Kate reach Natasha and lean in to say something in her ear, before he turns and sits down on the grass next to Jess just in time to hear, “…fucked up ideas of what ‘for all’ means,” from Eli.
Well, this’ll be interesting; police brutality as a fun party conversation.
The first thing Clint sees when he untangles himself from Natasha and emerges from his room the next morning is the broad back of Steve Rogers as he sleeps sprawled out on their couch. A quick scan of the room reveals Bucky curled up between the coffee table and the TV, face mashed into the cushion Kate’s aunt gave her – the one with the ugly horse on it – and piñata streamers caught in his hair. Clint snorts inelegantly and shuffles on to the kitchen, where Kate looks almost asleep in her coffee while America throws balled up bits of an old grocery receipt at her.
“Coffee’s in the pot,” Em says, taking aim again. “Drink from it and die.”
“Cups are for the weak,” Clint mumbles, but he finds himself one anyway, because Em will kill him. “Also, here.” He takes a little receipt ball from Em, squints a little, and lands it directly in Kate’s coffee. Em laughs and Kate mumbles fucker before flicking coffee all over the table trying to get it out.
“David texted to say ‘the statistic is 1 every 28 hours’,” Em says after a while.
“What statistic?” Kate mumbles.
“I dunno. The statistic.”
“Weird boy,” Kate mumbles into her cup. “Like a walking Wikipedia.”
“That car’s still outside, by the way.”
“Huh?” Kate is really not with it this morning. Clint grins into his coffee.
“The car,” Em says patiently, “just outside the house. The one that isn’t yours.”
“Huh,” Kate says, apparently falling back asleep. “Weird.”
“What’s weird?” Natasha says, coming into the room. She’d insisted Clint find her some pyjama pants this time, which was probably a good thing considering Steve and Bucky stayed over. He doesn’t have any with penguins on them, but he has ones with bull’s-eyes, because Kate thinks she’s hilarious. Natasha’s still wearing his worn thin t-shirt too. She looks fucking perfect. Clint grins and hands her a coffee, before frowning as he remembers she prefers tea in the morning.
Natasha kisses him on the cheek. “It’s fine, don’t worry,” she says quietly before turning back to Em.
“So what’s weird?”
“The car outside that isn’t Kate’s. It’s been here for ages.”
“It’s my car.”
Em frowns. “Why is your car outside Kate’s?”
Natasha looks at Em like she’s a little slow. “Because Clint lives here too?”
“But why the car?”
“‘Cause I drove here from DC.”
Clint blinks, his brain working at about half its normal capacity. “Wait, so when you said you’d arrived from DC five minutes ago, you actually meant five minutes? Like, you didn’t go home first?”
Natasha has the kind of expression on her face that implies she’s suddenly found herself surround by morons. Apart from Kate. Clint thinks Kate has fallen asleep at the table.
“Yes. I thought that was obvious.”
Clint stares at her. Something in the vicinity of his chest is twisting, almost painfully but not quite. Natasha came to his house as soon as she came back from DC. She didn’t even go home. She came straight to his house, to him. Holy shit.
Natasha is blushing slightly, looking embarrassed but also like she’s trying not to smile.
“Yelena isn’t back until Thursday, so…”
Clint can feel the grin bloom across his face, wide and uncontrolled. He laughs, loud and disbelieving, and dumps his coffee on the side before sweeping Natasha into a tight hug, feeling as though something somewhere went wrong. Something got mixed up to let him have this and probably someone in an official uniform is going to turn up one day and demand he swap back, but, until then, he’s going to hold on as hard as he can, so he can look back and remember that at one point he was good enough to be the kind of person Natasha Romanov would drive straight from DC to.
“Dios,” he hears Em mutter. “There’s too much sunshine and sparkles all of a sudden. Take it outside guys.”
Natasha laughs into his shoulder as he kisses the where her neck and shoulder meets.
“Shut up,” he says, his eyes meeting Em’s through the halo of Natasha’s hair. “I know you. You love the sparkles; I’ve seen how you look at Katie. You haven’t got a leg to stand on, Ms America Chavez.”
Natasha shifts in his arms, tucking herself under his chin. He can feel her breath tickle over his collarbone, can feel her smile against his neck, and when he looks up again he can see Kate’s eyes glitter through where her hair has fallen over her face. She’s smiling at him, and he can’t help but grin back.
The next few days are spent catching up. And by ‘catching up’ Clint means lounging around in as few clothes as possible, chatting interspersed with make-outs and about as much sex as might be expected for two people who haven’t seen each other for over two months. So it’s a good thing Kate kindly left to stay at Em’s. Both because she probably doesn’t want to see as much of Clint as has been on display for the past couple of days and also because he and Natasha might have had sex in the kitchen and Kate really, really doesn’t need to know that, because she might have had a lengthy rant about the last time she found out that it’d happened. But what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her and the fact that Clint’s bruised arm and Natasha’s bruised leg come from falling into the kitchen cupboard door falls into that category.
Speaking of things that people don’t need to know; Clint now knows way more about the internal workings of the French Embassy, and the diplomatic system, than he ever wanted. It’s pretty interesting, but it also rubs up against a lot of politics he’d rather not know just because it makes him despair at the world. Clint already has a low opinion of the world; he was kind of hoping it wouldn’t get lower. But Christ, some of the people Natasha talks about. Rich, entitled dicks.
“Okay, enough of these depressing stories about important people. Did I tell you about the weird guy at work?”
He can, however, counter with the weirdos he gets at work, of which there are many. Most of them aren’t rage-inducing either, so that’s a plus.
Natasha laughs. “They’re not all bad, but go on.”
Clint’s upside down on the couch in his boxers, because it’s hot and Kate’s not there to tell him no.
“I was finishing up the paperwork for this paint job Logan had done and the guy comes in to pick up the bike. Ducati. Black and red.” He waves his hand vaguely, and Natasha leans against his knee. “Pretty cool actually. So I get him to sign everything and take him to the back so he can get the bike and everything’s normal until he leaves, when he turns to me and goes, ‘Did you hear about the explosion in the cheese factory?’”
She quirks an eyebrow at him.
“Exactly! So I just looked confused or whatever and he goes, ‘It was terrible. Nothing left but debris.’”
“I don’t – ” Natasha starts, but then it clicks. “Oh my god.”
Clint laughs hysterically. It’s still funny, even now.
“I know right? What the fuck?”
Clint’s glad of these days. It’s fucking brilliant to have Natasha around again. She’s just – wonderful; funny and sarcastic and smart and just… brilliant. He feels like the luckiest guy in the world just watching her eat cereal, let alone every other thing she does. She’d gotten him some early Russian sci-fi books he’d never heard of before and replica First Nation arrowheads from the American Indian Museum in DC. All he’d managed was an oversized t-shirt he’d found that said Spell Czech on it. He’d felt kind of lame giving it to her after her epic presents, but she’d laughed delightedly and immediately stripped off to put in on. It was enormous, falling off one shoulder, but she’d grinned like it was the best thing ever. He’d felt less lame after that.
But these few days have just been stopgap, and now he’s pulling up to the curb outside the Detroit Reentry Center – not the parking lot, never the parking lot, because Kate never clears her car out so it can’t be searched for fear of random bottles of tequila stashed in the trunk – to see his brother and Kate’s knuckles are almost white on the steering wheel because they always are. Because she hates this, hates his brother, and tries so hard not to say so every time they come here.
She’s never come in with him. She says it’s because she’d probably punch Barney if she actually saw him, which is probably true, but he also thinks it scares her and he doesn’t blame her. Clint could have happily gone his whole life without having to set foot in a prison. The first time he came up here, almost as soon as he found out where Barney was and filled with a tentative – and very naïve – idea that somehow he could fix things, he’d almost bottled it as soon as he’d come within sight of the high, razor-topped fences.
“I wish you wouldn’t – ”
“I know, Katie.”
Kate sighs and kills the engine, and for a moment neither of them move.
“You know,” she says eventually, “every now and then, I contemplate refusing to bring you here.”
“Katie – ”
“But I know you’d just blow a load more cash to come here by yourself and I can’t have that on my conscience.”
Clint doesn’t say anything to that. He pays for the entire trip himself – the food and motel and gas and everything, because no one else should pay for Barney’s stupidity – but it would be considerably more expensive without Kate. She is right though; he’d do it regardless. He doesn’t want her to feel guilty about it though.
Kate looks up at him from where she’s leaning her temple against the steering wheel.
“I hate him.”
“I know you do.” He runs his thumb along the edge of his seat.
“I don’t think you do, Clint.”
He doesn’t need this, not now. Visiting Barney is always a trial; anxiety and stress at war with memories of better times. But it’s more than that. Clint still loves his brother. And while that proves to him that love can sometimes be really fucking stupid, it doesn’t make it untrue. He also hates him – for leaving, for selling meth, for getting caught, for ending up in prison. For becoming everything their father said he would. For proving the old bastard right when everything Clint’s tried to do since he was fifteen has been an effort to prove him wrong.
He doesn’t need Kate’s simplified ‘hate’.
“You never let me say this,” she says, sitting up, and Clint sighs.
“Will saying it make this easier?”
“Not doing this would make this easier, but you do it anyway.”
Clint rolls his eyes.
“I don’t want to argue with you,” she continues, “not today, but I still want to say this before you go in there.”
Kate pushes her hair out of her face, composing herself.
“I remember Barney from when we were younger. I remember how he’d talk, and how you’d talk, and how you’d talk about each other. I didn’t really like him then, but more because he was a bit of a dick rather than anything specific.” She fiddles with the car keys, flicking the little Darth Vader flashlight on and off again. “And, like, he was there.” She waves her hand vaguely. “He was around, and he could be a dick but he’d help you out and get you where you needed. Sometimes. And then he left.”
She looks over at him then, like that would get some kind of extra reaction out of him. Like that’s not something Clint’s had to come to terms with fucking ages ago.
“And… and I dunno what he said to you – if he promised you anything, before or generally – but I know what happened after.”
She reaches across and squeezes his hand. “Clint, I don’t hate Barney because he’s a dick, or because he’s in prison, or because he made really fucking bad life choices. I hate him because he tossed you aside and left you believing that you weren’t worth sticking around for. I hate him because he solidified your belief that you aren’t worth shit. He made you doubt yourself, doubt me, and doubt every single person who has ever been nice or kind or decent to you, up to and including Logan, Jess, Bruce, and Natasha.”
Her voice is firm, brooking no argument. Clipped sentences and bitten off words that make him think of razor edges and sharp drops. This is the Kate that yells at her dad, the Kate who explains privilege to people who should know better, and argues with professors in front of their class. This is the Kate that only surfaces occasionally, the Kate who attended etiquette classes and was born with more money than God.
This is the Kate who doesn’t take no for an answer and will use everything she has to get what she wants.
“You are so much better than he believes you to be.”
Clint’s not too sure what to say to that, so he just sits, awkwardly fiddling with a loose thread in his t-shirt hem until Kate sighs and punches him lightly on the shoulder, her tone softening.
“Go,” she says quietly. “The sooner you go the sooner we can get ice cream. I’ll be here.”
Clint smiles weakly at her and gets out of the car, but, just as he’s about to close the door, Kate speaks again.
“For the record,” she says, leaning across the passenger seat, “I’m proud of you for doing this.”
Clint grins crookedly at her and scrubs a hand through his hair. “You think I’m an idiot.”
“I think you’re a noble idiot,” she replies gently. “And I think you’re braver than I ever would be in your position. Now go. I’m gonna get coffee, but I’ll be in the usual place when you come out. Give Barney a ‘fuck you’ from me.”
Clint snorts out a laugh and shuts the door.
The Detroit Reentry Center is about as welcoming as you’d expect a prison to be. The guards are kind of scowl-y and act like they don’t want to be here, but then who does? He shows his ID to the guard at reception and dumps all his shit in one of the lockers before he has his usual pat down and body scan. The woman doing the scan is the same one as last time. She probably doesn’t remember him, but he smiles at her anyway because hey, why not. She gives him a raised eyebrow in return. Clint thinks she did that last time too.
He fills out his paperwork – Clint thinks the fact that he has to do paperwork despite not being the one who’s done anything wrong is particularly sadistic – and gets his UV hand stamp, and is escorted down what feels like miles of corridors, being checked through heavy locking doors every twenty feet or so, before being scrutinised by yet another guard and let into a long, clinically bare room filled with tables set out at ‘safe distances’ from each other.
Just like usual, Clint chooses one of the tables closest to the exit. And, just like usual, he’s surrounded by people much more eager to be here than he is.
Barney is one of the last to be led in. He’s not sure if that’s just luck or if the entire prison can sense how awkward these encounters are and endeavour to keep contact to a minimum. All around them families are happily reuniting, settling in for two hours of catching up and board games and whatever else it is people do in prisons with family members and friends they actually want to see. In contrast Barney sits down heavily at Clint’s table, staring at him in silence which Clint maintains simply because he has nothing to say either.
The first time Clint came here, he’d tried. He’d tried so, so hard. He’d asked what it was like, if Barney was okay, if he’d made friend and was eating okay. He’d offered help, even to get cigarettes if Barney wanted them. Barney had just stared at him like he was a particularly useless dog and didn’t answer, instead asking how the hell did you find me? and did your girlfriend help?
Kate might not like Barney, but Barney actively loathes Kate.
Barney looks decent enough for a guy in prison, though his maroon prison overalls are deeply unflattering. His hair – darker than Clint’s – is neat and his nails are cut short and Clint wonders why he’s noticing these things until he concedes it’s only so he doesn’t have to look at Barney’s face.
They don’t say hello. They don’t shake hands or really acknowledge each other in anyway. Not for the first time, Clint wonders why the hell he does this to himself.
“Your girlfriend cart you here?” Barney asks eventually and, because Clint is a fucking moron, for a split second he forgets that when Barney says ‘girlfriend’ he means Kate.
“No,” Clint says, confused. “She’s in Virginia.”
It’s only when Barney suddenly looks interested that Clint realises his mistake.
“And you meant Kate,” he sighs, rubbing his hand over his face. Fuck. Barney does not need to know about Natasha.
“Francis has a girlfriend,” Barney singsongs in the most obnoxious way and, just like always, Clint wants to punch him for using his middle name. “Is she hot?”
Clint gives him a withering glare. Natasha’s fucking gorgeous but there’s way more to her than that. Barney’s enough like their dad for that not to matter though.
“I’ll take that as a no then,” Barney smirks. “Figures. For all his smarts, college-boy can’t even get a hot girlfriend.”
“Might get a smart one though,” Clint points out.
Barney snorts. “Like that matters.”
Clint rolls his eyes.
He wants to feel smug that he’s got all this stuff Barney’s missing; that he has friends, a girlfriend, a future hopefully better than what he’s left behind. That he’s got laid in the past four years. But mostly he just feels depressed.
Clint watches Barney out of the corner of his eye. Barney’s looking around the room, tapping his fingers against the table. He seems slightly fixated on a family two tables over. A mom and two boys, their dad looking so pleased to see them. The family looks nothing like Clint’s, but he guesses they don’t have to.
Clint doesn’t have many photos of his parents and those he does have tend to be only of his mother, taken by Kate on the old disposables she was so obsessed with when she was eight, but sometimes he looks at them and wonders how much of Barney and himself can be found in them.
Both he and Barney have their dad’s nose. Clint has his mom’s colouring while Barney looks more like their dad. Barney’s stockier, Clint more athletic, though that could have as much to do with their lives now as it has to do with their parents. But it’s not really the physical similarities and differences that occupy Clint, though those are always the easiest to spot.
In his favourite photo of his mom she’s sat on the arm of their overstuffed and ratty armchair. She looks happy, but also like she wishes Kate would point the camera somewhere else. She’s wearing jeans and a lilac t-shirt, and her dirty blonde hair is pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. Clint’s clambering up her back, grinning like a loon, and on her arm, almost hidden by her t-shirt sleeve, is a dark purple bruise.
In the only photo he has of his dad he’s sat scowling at the kitchen table, a tumbler of whiskey held loosely in his hand. He’s wearing a plaid shirt half buttoned and ratty jeans. The photo is actually of Clint, stood to the left of his dad and proudly showing off the pancakes he’d managed to make all by himself. There’s wariness underneath his proud expression though and with good reason; his dad had started yelling shortly after the photo was taken and Clint had taken the pancakes out onto the front step, he and Kate passing a fork between them as they finished them off in tense silence.
Clint sees more of himself in his dad than he does in his mom, though he’s never really been able to explain why. It just feels like his dad sank into his bones, much like the smell of whiskey sank into every corner of his childhood home until it was part of the furniture, his mom not enough to stop either of these things happening.
Kate says that’s bullshit. She says Clint is the best versions of both his parents; that the best thing he got from his dad is his stubbornness because, with everything he’s got from his mom, it means he’ll never end up like his dad. She says Barney got his dad’s anger and his mom’s fear and that’s how he ended up here. She says Clint got his dad’s fear and it took a long while for Clint to accept that his dad could have been scared of anything.
“Ten years,” Clint says suddenly, because these cycling thoughts aren’t really helping the situation. Ten years since they died; he forgets, sometimes. The only one he’s likely to remember is when he turns twenty-five; more years with his parents dead than alive.
Barney’s gaze snaps back to his, his expression unreadable. Then he grunts. Clint’s not sure he knows what he’s talking about: years without parents or the length of his sentence.
It’ll be thirty-three, for his brother.
Barney opens his mouth as if to say something and Clint’s eyes meet his. But something in Barney’s gaze shifts, hardens, and he snaps his mouth closed again.
“You bring smokes?” Barney asks instead.
“You didn’t ask me to.”
Barney scowls. “What’s the point of you visiting if you don’t bring smokes?”
Barney’s never asked for cigarettes before. Clint’s not even sure he smokes. They could be used for bargaining, he guesses, but then it’s not like he’d know.
“I can bring some next time,” he says instead.
Kate will not be impressed.
“I need ‘em now.”
“Then you should have asked.”
They both know Barney will never ask.
Silence descends between them and Clint watches the families around them rather than looking at his brother. He thinks this year is worse than the last, but every year is bad for one reason or another so it doesn’t make it anything special.
Clint sighs and stands up. He usually tries to stay for at least a full hour, but sometimes it’s just too much like hard work. He’s made it forty-five minutes today. That’ll have to do.
“Look after yourself, Barney,” he says, looking down at his brother as guards approach to escort them both away. He’s the first visitor to leave, as usual.
“Oh, and I have a message from Kate.”
Barney’s standing now and he looks at Clint with an expectant expression; he can guess what’s coming.
On the one hand, they’re surrounded by kids.
“She says ‘fuck you’.”
On the other hand, they’re in a prison.
The first smile Clint sees on his brother’s face in almost a year is downright malicious.
“Tell that rich bitch fuck you right back.”
The guard that escorts him back is also familiar; a woman with cornrows and thick wrists. She’s about a foot shorter than him and glares at people like she’s daring them to fuck with her. She probably doesn’t recognise him either, but this time he’s in no mood to smile regardless.
They’re almost at the last door when she speaks.
“Why do you bother?”
There’s no particular inflection to her voice, and she’s not looking at him, but he gets the impression that she’s curious rather than judging.
“I have no fucking idea,” he says, rubbing his hand over his face. He feels like he’s done a full night shift in the ER rather than talked to his brother for under an hour.
The guard lets out a quiet, “Huh.”
She takes him back to the reception where he picks up his stuff from the locker, all the while fighting the urge just to run straight out of the building. He’s almost at the door when the sound of her voice stops him.
“You want to know something you won’t believe?” she says.
“Not really,” Clint says heavily, but he turns to face her nonetheless.
“He your brother?”
“I think he’s proud of you.”
Clint stares at her, completely poleaxed, with his hand still on the door handle. He stares at her for so long that he almost falls over when someone pulls on the door from the outside.
“If you plan on stopping,” she says sternly, once the other person has passed, “you let that boy know, alright?”
Clint nods quickly and all but bolts before she can fuck with his head any more.
Kate doesn’t even bother taking him home, opting instead to drop him off at Natasha's, for which he is incredibly grateful. She’s been great for the four days they’ve been in Detroit, not pushing too much and going along with whatever Clint suggests, just like the other times. But it’s exhausting, and he’s fairly sure that she’s relieved to have someone else to fob him off on when his issues and family shit become a little too suffocating.
He orders her favourite take out, to turn up at their place almost as soon as he’s out of the car. Kate deserves all the nice things. Clint is always a little disappointed in himself when he can’t get them for her.
Natasha welcomes him with warm hugs, the news that Yelena still isn’t back – she suspects a new boytoy – and amazing gourmet pizza from a place on West Liberty Avenue that Clint is ashamed to find he’s never heard of before. She then manhandles him into bed and wraps herself around him without once asking about anything more important than what Detroit attraction he visited this time. He’s fairly sure he hasn’t been so grateful for her existence for the entire duration of their relationship.
Jess flies back to London the day after Clint gets back from Detroit. He doesn’t really want to extract himself from Natasha's embrace, but he still goes to see her off at the bus terminal at ass-crack in the morning. She’s already said he doesn’t need to come but they’ve finally got to a place where they can talk and not feel awkward and he doesn’t quite want it to end. Jess gives him a hug and says she’ll be in touch, and then Clint stands on the sidewalk with Jess’ friends James and Jacques and watches as the bus takes her back towards DC.
That evening, back at his place, Clint picks up his ringing phone without looking and is surprised to find Carol on the other end, asking him if she can finally get back to being his friend now all their bullshit is sorted. Clint laughs, because that’s such a Carol greeting, and they spend a couple of hours chatting about Clint’s degree and Carol’s Air Force training and all the hot men on base.
“No, ‘cause seriously. There’s this one guy, Sam. He’s from DC, went to UDC. Hot as fuck and flies like a dream. And then, and then, my SO is this guy James Rhodes, and oh my God. I want to ride him like a pony.”
Clint cracks up laughing.
“I fear you’re insensitive to my problems, Barton.” Carol says, and he can hear her grin down the phone.
“Nah, I’m just confused why people are forever telling me about the hot guys they meet.”
“Oh there are hot girls too,” she says, “I’m there, remember?”
And Clint cracks up laughing again.
So now Clint can call Carol whenever he wants without her feeling like she has to cut him off, admitting that she was Jess’ friend first and therefore automatically on her side. Which is fantastic because, apart from the fact that Carol drinks too much and Clint ‘not enough’, they’re both just the right level of loud, inappropriate and shambolic to get on like a house on fire.
Which means he’s got Carol back as a friend as well as Jess, to go along with his growing friendship with Steve and Bucky, and the ability to finally call Natasha his girlfriend – in the privacy of his own mind if not out loud. And on top of that, he’s not starting in the ER right off the bat once lectures have finished. Everything’s good.
So of course something throws a spanner into the works.