Actions

Work Header

Looking For My Heart

Work Text:

Part I

 

A Dark World Aches For A Splash Of The Sun

 

She can’t remember her name or how old she is, but she knows it has been 72 days since she last saw her daemon. The room has no windows, but she has counted every heartbeat and thus kept count that way.

Your name is Natasha Romanoff, they tell her. Your daemon is Adrastos.

She nods, and knows that whatever their names are, those are not them.

--

“Up,” Lolo whispers to him, and his legs burn from running too hard and too fast. “Hide somewhere high.” Clint doesn’t have the energy to nod, but he knows she’s right. People don’t look up. He’ll be safe if he’s high up. And then Jacques will calm down. And then Jacques will go back to smiling at him and telling him you have talent.

He just needs to hide until then.

“Here,” she hisses, and flutters by a ventilation shaft. She’s a bird today, a peregrine falcon. She hasn’t been anything without wings for months now. But now she drops to the ground as a bear, and smacks the vent open with one huge paw. She lifts him gently, and then stuffs him not-so-gently inside. “Keep your stupid mouth shut for five minutes,” she hisses, and transforms back into a falcon.

He crawls backwards into the vent. Clint can feel it pressing in against him on all sides, the scrape of it against his skin as he moves. He knows he should be panicking, feeling trapped, but instead he feels safe. If he can barely fit, then Jacques certainly can’t. He presses his cheek against the coolness of the metal floor and remembers how his mother used to wrap him up in blankets whenever he was sick. You have to sweat a fever out, she used to say, and then she’d nearly smother him in blankets. Being in the vent feels like that all over again. He wonders if being in the womb feels like this.

Lolo shrieks softly, her claws scraping against the metal. He tucks her against his chest, but the vent is too small for proper cuddling.

“You need to be smaller,” he whispers, spitting out a feather.

“Why don’t you?” She snaps back, but transforms into a glittering dragonfly. He giggles helplessly as she crawls inside his clothes.

“You suck! Stop it!”

“Never.” She flutters over his stomach, and he has to bite his lip to keep from laughing outright.

They both freeze as they hear Jacques’ footsteps.

“Where the fuck are you, kid?”

Clint holds himself very, very still. He counts his heartbeat, and feels it slowing down. He takes in one slow breath, and then another. Just like shooting, he thinks. Just slow down. He imagines the smooth wood between his fingers, and relaxes until he’s flat against the metal floor. He could shoot like this, he thinks idly, if he had a small enough bow. No one would know he was there. It would be like magic.

Loquis crawls out of his collar. She flies silently to the mouth of the vent.

Clint closes his eyes, and watches Jacques prowl below them. Jacques won’t find them. People like him never look up. He’s safe, actually safe. It’s a giddy feeling, like falling, like getting a bulls-eye first shot.

“You’re not going to change again are you?” He whispers as soon as Jacques leaves, his snarling cheetah daemon leading the way.

Loquis flies back to him, alighting on his carotid. “Why would I want to change? I can see better than your pathetic eyes ever could, and I can fly.” And she’s small, Clint thinks. She can hide anywhere. You can’t hurt what you can’t find. “Best birthday present ever.”

Clint starts to ask if she would have been something else if he hadn’t crawled inside the vent, but then she promptly uses her new size to crawl inside his clothes and give him nine birthday bites, plus one for luck. “Bitch,” he hisses instead, and swats at her. Laughing, she dodges him easily, weaving between his fingers as she dances.

“Can’t catch me,” She taunts, but her voice is so light with happiness that it makes an answering smile break out over his face, “No one can catch us now.”

--

She completes her first assignment on May 2. The only reason she knows this is because they congratulate her, tell her that it is her birthday. She has been born anew, they tell her. Natasha Romanoff, they say, today is the day that you were truly born.

She knows that birth involves blood and screaming and tears (she can’t remember why she knows that, and that should bother her but it’s so hard to feel anything beyond the ache for her daemon) so it seems fitting.

It has been 215 days since she last saw her daemon.

“Let me see him.”

It’s the first thing she’s said in 215 days. Her voice comes out creaky, like without her daemon she is just a machine long since rusted.

They pause in between congratulating her.

You have been a good girl. They say finally. You will get to see your daemon soon.

“When is soon?” She asks. She should be afraid to speak to speak like this, and she is afraid, but it has been 215 since she has seen her daemon and they promised her that if she completed her mission to satisfaction she could see him. She doesn’t care that she’s afraid. And maybe, she thinks, that’s the point.

She can still smell the blood, but she doesn’t regret it. She would do it again.

She already knows she will do it again.

She must be inoculated first. They say to each other. Put her in the Red Room. Give her the serum.

She knows she should be afraid, should want to know why she has to be inoculated against her own daemon. But she isn’t. Not anymore. She gazes up at them and can’t feel anything but the desperate ache for her daemon. Hope tastes bitter and heavy in her mouth like a bruise.

Will you be brave? They ask her. Will you do what is right for your country?

“Yes,” she says. “Yes,” she says again, and holds out her wrists for them to shackle.

It has been 215 days since she last saw her daemon.

--

“Don’t be scared.” Loquis whispers in his ear. Her voice is almost low, reverberating through her into him until he can feel it in his bones.

“I’m not,” he says automatically.

It’s a sign of how bad it is that she doesn’t call him on his bullshit. He gets wave after wave of love echoing out from her tiny, tiny body. She shouldn’t be able to contain it all.

“It’s just like hitting a target,” she promises. It’s the first time she’s ever lied to him, and he can taste the bile in her throat from it.

“Okay,” he says, because there isn’t anything else either of them can say. He fires one perfect arrow.

It finds its target in the soft flesh of a man’s throat.

Clint is too far away to hear the man’s death rattle, but Loquis can see the agony on his face perfectly. She can see the split second of shock on the coyote’s face before she explodes into a delicate shower of golden Dust.

Clint closes his eyes, but they can’t stop seeing.

The man gasps once, flecks of blood flying like spittle. Then he stops.

“The first is always the hardest,” Jacque says, and his voice is almost soft. Jacque’s hand is heavy on Clint’s shoulder, and he slumps under the weight, leans in toward the inescapable gravity of Jacques. “You did well.”

“Thanks,” Clint says softly, and squeezes his eyes until all he can see is sparks.

--

They bring him to her room in a cage, lift him out with thick falconer’s gloves. They say, his name is Adrastos, and then they leave.

They regard each other from opposite ends of the room. Neither of them move to touch the other.

She wonders if they were training him while they were training her. She wonders if he is wondering the same thing about her.

“That is not my name.” He says finally. She feels proud of her daemon for being so strong, stronger than her. It is the first real thing she has felt in 215 days.

“It is not mine either.”

She holds out her fist. He cocks his head, regarding her. She doesn’t blink.

She barely sees him move, a flash of feathers and then her fist rocks with his weight. His talons dig into her flesh and she glories in the pain, the proof that this is real. She takes a deep, shuddering breath that she can feel down to her bones and breaks.

She sobs, clutching her daemon to her chest and breathing in his smell. He smells like feathers and smoke. She can smell blood too, but she’s not sure if that’s from him or from her. Maybe it’s from both of them. She’s already sure they are both soaked in it.

His beak presses against her pulse point as he burrows against her, trying to meld himself into her body so no one can ever take them apart again.

She is not Natasha Romanoff, but for the first time in 215 days, she is herself.

 

Part II

 

These Zombies In The Park, They’re Looking For My Heart

 

He hears the things they whisper, sees the way they smother a grin when they see her jewel bright wings like a crest on his body armor.

A dragonfly really isn’t going to be much good in a hand-to-hand battle against some of the guys he goes up against who have bears and hyenas and goddamn tigers.

“What use is she in a fight?” They smirk “What kind of fighter is he?”

Not one at all. He’s a goddamn sniper. He can hold his own, but that’s not what he does. If he has to fight those guys up close and personal then he’s doing it wrong. If it comes to that, he’s seriously fucked something up.

Loquis makes sure he never fucks up. He sees through her eyes, her perfect eyes, and never misses.

--

“He’s not here.” She tilts her head slightly as she says it, very aware of the inhuman impression the movement gives.

“W-What?” His fingers curl around the gun. His bat daemon is frantically swerving around in the air, looking for a soul to fight. She almost pities the daemon.

“My daemon.”

“You’re lying!” The bat shrieks, and it is only years of training that keep her from wincing at the glass shattering pitch.

“I’m not,” she says, and lets him read the truth there. “I don’t know where he is.”

“You- you’re a monster.” The gun falls from his suddenly numb fingers, and he turns to flee, half-mad with terror. He’s dead before he can finish the turn, crackling gently as his body cooks from her Widow’s Bite.

She doesn’t loiter. Once she’s outside, a flash drive topples from the air in front of her. Her daemon silently regards her, his dappled white coat blending into the snow. Neither of them need to bother wasting the words to ask about their separate missions. They’re both alive. That’s all that matters. She sees blood on his wing. The distance he is keeping means she’s not sure whether it is his, or whether his assignment involved direct assault, or if he was taken by surprise. But he is alive. She doesn’t need to know anything other than that. She’s never sure, when they go out, that she would be able to feel it if he did die. She hopes she would die too. She’s not sure though. But then, neither are any of her enemies.

The flash drive is so cold it burns her fingertips when she picks it up.

--

Loquis gives him the name Hawkeye, calls him that as she buzzes around his head in that way that lets him know she thinks she’s just the shit.

Natasha is the only one that understands. Her daemon isn’t a black widow either.

“Names have power,” she’d murmured the first time they met, an empty space the only thing by her side. She had knives where her cheekbones should be, and eyes that made him want to sit up and beg. “Best not give any away.”

He’d wanted to ask if she meant names or power, or both, but she’d been looking at him appraisingly. She looked at him like he was a weapon she was sizing up for use. Not a person, not a carnie, not a stupid kid, not a potential fuck up with a useless daemon, but another weapon in her arsenal.

(But not just a weapon. He lives by his bow, he knows what a weapon means to the one who wields it. It’s your life, your sword and your shield all at once. It’s the balancing beam to keep you on that razor edge between life and death, sanity and madness. Not that he could ever be classified as sane really)

He’d never felt freer.

So he’d just smirked at her, and Loquis had flown over to perch in her hair like a hairpin. She hadn’t even blinked at the broken taboo. She didn’t hold much truck with them, except for how she could manipulate those people who did.

She’d been like an electric current under his skin, for all that Loquis had been hanging to only a single strand of her hair with one pair of tiny legs. She’d felt a like a newborn star, white hot and so full of raw power that it made his eyes water. She’d lifted up one delicate finger and Loquis had crawled onto it like she did it all the time. It was like drowning and burning up and flying all at once. He hadn’t moved, just locked his knees and raised his eyebrow at her.

She’d raised one right back.

“My name’s Clint,” he’d said, because what the hell. In for a penny and all that. According to what she’d just said, he was giving her power over himself. But then again, she kind of already had plenty. His grin had tasted like lightning, the way the air went heavy with electricity right before it struck. He’d kept his arrow trained perfectly on one beautiful green eye though. Clint Barton is a lot of things, but he wasn’t suicidally stupid. (Not that Tasha would agree, based on certain cases. This among them.)

“Clint.” The tip of her tongue had darted out to taste the word on her lips, and if Clint hadn’t already been slowing his heartbeat down the way he always did on a mission it would have faltered at the sight.

“So what do you say?” He’d asked. That one green eye had been magnified a hundred fold by the telescopic sights of his bow, and he could see the miniscule widening as he asked.

A voice behind him, heavy with an accent the Black Widow doesn’t share, had said, “Ve haff got red in our ledger.”

“I’ve got some fantastic accountants back home,” Clint had very determinedly not jumped at the feel of bird claws biting into the leather on his shoulder. “And if that fails we can always try throwing a little blue in there, see if we can get that red to go purple.” Maybe he should have wondered if it was a bad thing that he wanted to impress the person he was assigned to kill, but he’d just tapped his communicator and sing-songed, “Please Daddy, can we keep her?”

(Nowadays though, he uses the name ‘cause he likes fucking with people. “I’m Hawkeye,” he’ll introduce himself, grinning with too much teeth.

“And I’m Hawk,” she’ll finish, making sure to get right up in the other daemon’s face. “What, you never heard of a daemon having a code name too?”)

--

“Why did you make that call?” She asks him, 193 days after they first met. She knows everything about him except this, and he knows everything about her except the words Red Room and her real name. But, to be fair, she doesn’t know it either.

She thinks if she were less broken, then maybe she would be in love with him. That maybe she is, and is just too broken to tell. She doesn’t really care either way. She is broken, she knows, but then so is everyone in their business. There’s a certain pride in it, to have broken glass where your bones should be. That way you can wrench them out and use them as weapons. She doesn’t regret what she is. Even if she did, there would be no point to it. She is what she is, and there’s no going back.

Besides, love is for children. She doesn’t have faith in such an intangible, fickle thing. She has seen enough of the world to know that love is far more changeable, and dangerous, than any other emotion. It’s a useful tool, but only in the way an unpinned grenade is. She prefers to owe Clint a debt. After their third mission, when she broke her own arm in three places and forever burned her bridges to the KGB in order to save him, he owed her. Their relationship is made up of debts and favors that neither of them will ever be able to fully repay. Clint likes to tell her that they’ll just have to spend the rest of their lives trying. She’s not stupid enough to think that anything will last that long, not even her, but it’s… a nice thought.

She doesn’t have to clarify. He chuckles, and traces the naked line of her hip. She idly catalogues all the ways she could kill him using only her hands and thighs. She does not count ‘death by orgasm’ like Clint did that one time she shared her post-coital thoughts.

“You had no daemon Tasha.” The nickname is still new enough to make her skin shiver. It feels far more like a name than it should. He grins at her knowingly, poking her daemon in the stomach. He nips Clint’s fingers, but doesn’t break the skin. Anyone else would be missing a finger right now. Then again, anyone else would never have seen him at all. “How cool is that?”

She rolls her eyes and swats Loquis away from her ear. She forgets sometimes, how much of a frat boy is hiding underneath that S.H.I.E.L.D. assassin.

“Besides,” he asks, “why did you?”

“Hmm?” She toys with his ear and calculates the amount of force she’d have to use to rip it off.

“Why did you decide not to kill me as soon as you realized I was giving you a chance?”

“You would have killed me if I tried,” she says, because it’s true. He nods his head in acknowledgement, but Loquis nudges her temple to encourage her to continue. She traces Russian lullabies that she had to look up to know onto his chest. “Because I decided to,” she says finally. She shrugs eloquently, “it seemed the best option at the time for continued survival.” He’d given her a choice. It had been her first since she was asked if she would be brave. And that had been no choice at all.

“Plus you thought I was hot, right?” Loquis waggles her tail in time with Clint’s eyebrows.

Natasha doesn’t have many happy moments, but sometimes when things get hard she remembers the way Loquis had squealed as Natasha flicked her across the room, and lets herself have a quiet chuckle.

--

Clint breaks into Coulson’s files after a month. He’s bored and skittish and a little bit confused why this guy hasn’t thrown up his hands in despair. The last guy SHIELD had assigned to be his handler had had a nervous breakdown after he caught Clint sitting on his fridge at home, watching him eat cheerios.

What? He was practicing his stealth. Guy should’ve been proud. Besides, if that’s all it took to get him raving then SHIELD should really be thanking him for weeding out the riff raff. Dude would not have been able to handle the whole aliens are real and they want to fuck shit up thing.

His own analysis is boring as fuck, the typical spiel about backtalk and going against orders and shit about his broken home and the circus or whatever. But Loquis has never had anything written about her besides maybe something couched in political correctness that boils down to: he’s shit out of luck if he gets into a fight.

This time though, it’s something different.

 

 

Agent Barton has a dragonfly (Anax imperator) designated Loquis as a daemon.

The dragonfly, possibly the most formidable aerial hunter among insects, also has some of the most amazing eyes in the animal world. They are so big that they cover almost the entire head, giving it a helmeted appearance, and a full 360 degree field of vision. These eyes are made up of 30,000 visual units called ommatidia, each one containing a lens and a series of light sensitive cells. Their eyesight is superb; they can detect colors and polarized light, and are particularly sensitive to movement, allowing them to quickly discover any potential prey or enemy.

Some dragonfly species that hunt at dusk can see perfectly in low light conditions, when humans can barely see anything. Not only that; dragonflies also have three smaller eyes named ocelli which can detect movement faster than the huge compound eyes can; these ocelli quickly send visual information to the dragonflies’ motor centers, allowing it to react in a fraction of a second and perhaps explaining the insect’s formidable acrobatic skills. Although dragonflies are not the only insects with ocelli (some wasps and flies have them too), they do have the most developed ones.

In particular, the Anax imperator, more commonly known as the Emperor or Blue Emperor, is the largest and most powerful species of dragonfly. They frequently fly up to great heights in order to search for and surprise their prey, which can be even larger than itself.

Subnote A: Daemon Loquis often hides on Agent Barton’s body, out of sight. This gives Barton the element of fear in hand-to-hand as he appears to have no daemon. It confuses his opponent’s daemon as well, leaving Barton the upper hand psychologically.

Subnote B: Handler Coulson recommends SHIELD seek out possible agents with dragonfly daemons for covert missions.

Clint doesn’t bother replacing it. Coulson probably already knows he’s in here.

“He’s it.” Loquis tells him in no uncertain terms. “If you drive him off I’ll kill you myself.” She doesn’t need to though. He’s horrified to realize that he’s kind of choked up. Coulson had used the word amazing. About Loquis.

He stomps off to something like shoot arrows and drink beers, at the same time, to kill the gentle flutter of his heart.

(“Did you find what you were looking for?” Coulson’s voice in his ear, never wavering from its politely disinterested flatness.

“Yes,” he murmurs. Loquis perches on his neck and he can feel the vibrations of the word echo through her back into him. “I did.”

He closes his eyes, looks through hers, and fires one perfect arrow)

--

“Agent Romanoff.”

She nods at Coulson, ignores the dog (Australian Cattle Dog, “red heeler”, Canis Lupus Familiaris. Domestic/Dingo mix) by his side. It’s her way of being polite. It’s a kind of Agent code of conduct, to pretend that you don’t read a person’s daemon the second they second the step into the room. It’s why she keeps hers hidden.

From everyone but Clint, he reminds her.

Coulson handed her a slim file. “Your next assignment.”

She doesn’t open it at first, but the way he’s passively standing there tells her he’s not leaving until she does. Finally, she flips it open. Her daemon is in the vents with Clint, teaching him an accipiter’s tricks for navigating tiny passages for his prey.

“Black ops, you’ll have to make up a new daemon.” Coulson’s voice is decidedly calm, as if he hasn’t just told her to pluck a soul out of the ether and shape it to Fury’s needs. “A goshawk will stand out too much,” he adds, almost casually.

She wants to bristle, because he should never have seen her soul. Instead she purposefully relaxes into fighting stance. For one frantic, bloodless moment she thinks Clint has betrayed her. Her fingers are already curling around the knife keeps on her at all times when Coulson adds, “It’s my job to know everything Agent Romanoff.” He twists her name in his mouth like it tastes rancid, and suddenly she’s sure that he knows her real one.

She doesn’t even know her real one.

Carefully unfolding her fingers from the knife, she nods. She’s already spent hours painstakingly picking out the perfect daemon to keep hidden in her pocket for missions (black garden ant, Lasius niger) that would label her as both unremarkable enough to ignore and yet hardworking enough to rely on, for just such an occasion. She’s been ready for this moment. But it still burns.

“When do I need to be there?” She asks.

Coulson checks his watch, and smiles. “About five minutes ago.”

She curses his horrible sense of humor in a way that would make a sailor weep with pride. She only barely resists kicking Amalthea’s stupid lolling smile right off her face as she races past them to the loading dock.

--

Clint tosses a ball at Amalthea. She flicks an ear toward it, but otherwise doesn’t react. “When’s Tasha getting back?”

“When she’s completed her assignment,” Coulson says patiently. Clint watches him move a file from one box to other.

“I think I can feel my brain cells dying just watching this,” he says in a stage whisper to Loquis.

“No shit,” she stage-whispers right back. “I thought ACDs were supposed to get all antsy if they didn’t have shit to do. We were trying to help.” Her voice positively drips with sincerity.

“I am doing something,” Thea says wryly, “I’m watching you.”

Coulson taps his paperwork with his pen meaningfully.

“What, you scared I’ll run off?” Clint challenges. “Join the circus maybe?” He can feel his heart rate rising despite himself, and he wishes for his bow. It’s on his back, but he wants it in his hands, for him to hold onto and count his breathing by. He doesn’t reach for it though, just watches the muscles of Coulson’s shoulders move as he writes. Loquis picks her way through his hair to try and soothe him. It tickles, and he smiles a little toothier than he means to at the feel.

“I’d find you if you tried,” Coulson says lightly, “We are not in the habit of letting top operatives leave.” There’s a threat there, underneath all the bland, and it warms Clint in a way that lets him know he’s pretty messed up. Nothing new there.

“Always nice to be needed,” Clint says cheekily, and laughs as Loquis attaches herself to Thea’s tail. Thea wags it in long swings that send Clint’s stomach flying in a giddy swoop. He closes his eyes, and watches the tiny half smile on Coulson’s lips from Loquis’s. He can see it a lot clearer that way.

--

“Are you scared?” Clint teases, his voice a warm murmur through the earpiece. She rolls her eyes.

“I’ve taken care of men like him before.”

“Not of him, stupid, of the paperwork. Because, man, that’s really the scary thing about this job. You should get yourself a Coulson to do it for you.”

“Yeah,” she murmurs, “That’s why you have Coulson.”

“Just what are you implying?”

“I’m not implying anything,” her daemon tears the guard’s throat out before his Doberman daemon even realizes he’s there. “I’m saying that you need a babysitter.”

“I resent that! I am totally capable of taking care of myself.”

“Last week I had to stop you from sticking your metal arrow into the toaster.”

“Hey, that toaster burned my cinnamon bagel. I would totally have been within my rights to stab it right in its black, electronic heart.”

She twists beneath the men’s grasping hands, kicking with just enough force to dislocate their jaws. “And the toaster would have been well within its rights to electrocute you to death. Self-defense.”

Clint’s sputters are framed by Loquis’s buzzing glee. It drowns out the slight gasp a man makes as she breaks his neck before he can break hers.

“I’ll be back soon,” she promises. “Try not to electrocute yourself before I get back.”

“Better hurry,” Loquis chirps, “he’s getting hungry!”

“Bitch, I’m always hungry. I’m eating for two after all.”

“Oh don’t you blame me for this!”

Their bickering is the white noise in the back of her head that lets her concentrate on breaking open the safe.

He’s there to greet her on the helicopter, waving a perfectly toasted cinnamon bagel with a smirk. “Saved you some, Tasha.”

She just rolls her eyes and goes to debrief. She snags the bagel as she goes past him though, and pretends not to hear his muffled snort.

--

“You have heart,” the man said. (Only he wasn’t a man, Loquis whispered, because where was his daemon? It wasn’t gone like Addy’d been gone from Tasha, or even like Thor’s side had been achingly empty. It was a ragged sort of gone, like something’d been torn away and left the edges hanging broken)

He pressed his staff to Clint’s chest, while Loquis screamed at him to move.

Clint just has time to think, ‘that’s not my heart’ and then he knows nothing.

 

Part III

 

Losing My Mind, Losing Control

 

“Natasha, Barton’s been compromised.”

For the first time in a very, very long time (1,206 days) she wishes her daemon were there to protect her.

“Let me put you on hold.”

But he’s not, so she breaks a dog daemon’s neck with a twist of her wrist and hangs the other man by his broken leg, and then picks up her heels. No sense in losing a good pair of shoes.

Her daemon meets her at the entrance. She doesn’t know where he was, and he doesn’t tell her.

“We’re going after the big guy,” she says, and bends down to slip on her heels.

“We’re going after Clint.” He alights on her shoulder, just long enough to dig his talons into the skin there.

She straightens. “That’s what I said.”

--

Loki smiles at him. “Do you know what they call dragonflies, Barton?”

Barton shakes his head.

Loki laughs, and runs a finger down his daemon’s body. She’s coiled around him like a necklace, her forked tongue continually tasting the air. “In Welsh, they are called the ‘adder’s servant’. In this pathetic country, they are deemed ‘snake doctor’.” He laughs, and it sounds like glass being shattered. “An instrument of evil, the devil’s darning needles, the eye-snatcher!”

Loki reaches out and strokes the dragonfly on Barton’s shoulder. The dragonfly quivers, but doesn’t move beyond one sluggish wave of its wings.

“You were always meant to serve me, just as all your kind were meant to be ruled.”

Barton nods.

--

Even through the crackle of her headset, Loki’s voice is like broken shards of ice. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

‘Not to you,’ she thinks viciously. Her daemon watches from the opposite angle, tucked into the shadows of the museum’s eaves. The mottled black and white blends in perfectly with the stone. He was never meant to be a prince’s bird.

She hits the release button with her thumb and watches Captain America dive through the air.

--

Barton watches as his master (his liberator) is taken.

His eyes find the speckled dot of a goshawk, almost invisible against the ancient grey arches. His calluses protect him from the pain as he stretches back the thin wire, a pure iron arrowhead notched there A simple arrow, for a simple bird. He’s just a cook’s bird, he thinks disdainfully. Not meant to serve nobility. Loki will have no use for him.

After one tense moment, he lowers it. He’s got his target. It’s not the bird.

He folds up his bow with one move, and leaves to find his target.

--

She can see Rogers stare at her out of the corner of his eye, can see his mongoose looking around for her daemon. She finally takes pity on him and touches her pocket as if out of habit, the way she did when she was Tony Stark’s babysitter and telling him how “he doesn’t like the light.”

Her daemon is actually miles away, watching a tiny jewel of a soul lie lifelessly against her human. Loquis looks like a broach, not a daemon. She doesn’t move from Clint’s shoulder, no matter how long her daemon watches. For the first time, she thinks she understands why people are afraid when they see her alone and soulless.

She walks out of the meeting, leaves them flexing their muscles and growling at each other like feral dogs trying to out piss each other, and goes to see Loki.

She knows why the rest of them are there, and it’s why they won’t get what they need from Loki. But she will.

They are there to save the world, these great men. They fight for good.

She bites back a laugh as she pulls herself into a vent, slithering in just the way Clint taught her.

Bruce might understand, she thinks, as she winds her way through the entrails of the hellicarrier. He knows what it means to make yourself small, make yourself weak, in order to be even more dangerous. But in the end, he is one of them too. A good man.

She drops into Loki’s cell without a sound. He has no daemon, and she smiles despite herself. She’ll leave the men to their games. It’s time to get answers, one monster to another.

The world can burn, for all she cares. She’s just got a debt to repay.

--

Barton unfolds his bow with a single fluid movement. He closes his eyes instinctively, but opens them again a second later to aim.

He has his target.

--

She can see the muscles rippling in Bruce’s back, see his skin turning green, and oh god she has never been so scared in her life.

She’s going to die.

She’s going to die alone, without her daemon beside her. It feels like she’s drowning, once more too small and terrified to know how to fight Their hands as they drag her heart from her hands.

She chokes down a sob, because what if the Hulk hears her and comes back? The Hulk isn’t something she can manipulate, or trick, or persuade. The Hulk is something that she has to run as far away from as her oh-so-breakable body can take her.

She claws at the pipe holding her down. She can’t die here. She can’t die alone like this. She’ll die someday, someday soon most likely. People in her line of work don’t exactly end up collecting their pensions. But she won’t die like this. Not alone and trapped in the dark, and so alone.

She reaches for her daemon, feels the bond that nothing has ever managed to break. He’s still there. He’s so close.

She pulls her leg out from the pipe at almost the same moment her daemon flies in, half mad with fear. He hits her so hard it’s painful, his cruelly sharp beak gashing her cheek. But she just wraps her arms around him and lets herself sob, once, before standing back up. Her daemon settles against her shoulder, grounding her.

Sucking in one quick breath, drawing in the musky smell of his feathers, she pushes him off her. She can’t break down, not now. She has a job to do.

“Where is Clint?” If her daemon is here, Clint has to be here too.

He flies ahead of her, and shows her the way.

--

Clint can feel Loquis’s tiny feet dig into the skin at his temple, and grounds himself in the sensation.

“Where’s Coulson?” Loquis asks, because he can’t quite speak yet. “Is Thea gonna try and bite me in half for causing their precious SHIELD property damage or some shit? You just know that’s what she’ll be focusing on, instead of the whole mind control thing. Fucker. Not that she could.” She adds quickly, and she’s talking too fast. Clint doesn’t know why his hands won’t stop shaking but he wishes, viciously, for his bow. He never shakes when he has his bow. “Dumb bitch never could catch me.”

Natasha closes her eyes for one quick second. It’s barely a flicker, but it’s enough. “Shit. No. No.” He grips the bed frame so tight he can hear the wood creak. “Did I?” His voice cracks.

She touches his face, her thumb right below his eye. He knows that if he cries, she’ll catch the tears before they have a chance to stain his face. No one will ever know. Except her. “It was Loki.”

“Where is he,” Loquis says, voice tight and thready. It’s not a question. It’s a demand.

“Lolo.” Clint murmurs, the childhood nickname clumsy on his lips.

“No. No, this isn’t okay.” She rockets around the room, searching for a way out, and Clint gasps in pain as she struggles against the limit of their bond. Natasha catches him as he tries to tumble out of bed to follow her, and he hides his face in her hair. All he can see is red.

“Bring him back!” Loquis rages. Clint doesn’t know if she means Loki or Coulson. “Bring him back!”

Clint smothers a gasp into Natasha’s hair as her hawk dives out of nowhere to snatch Loquis out of the air. He alights onto Clint’s bare shoulder, his talons digging in and almost drawing blood. Clint nearly drowns in the borrowed love and grief, sparks going off behind his eyes as Loquis burrows into the feathers of the hawk’s back until she’s completely surrounded by him.

“We have a mission to do,” Natasha’s voice is soft in his ear. “We need to stop Loki.”

“We need to kill him,” Clint says, and he means we need to hurt him, we need to torture him until he doesn’t even know his own name. He has a close and intimate relationship with pain. He knows it the same way he knows his daemon.

Natasha doesn’t respond to that. A part of him selfishly wants to shove her away, because she didn’t know Coulson as long as he did, didn’t care about him the way Clint did. She probably knows that Coulson had had a golden retriever growing up but she didn’t know the way his face softened ever so slightly when he saw one. She’d never bought a doggie calendar for Coulson’s your-file-is-totally-locked-down-like-seriously-were-you-grown-in-one-of-SHIELD-labs-or-something? not birthday. Her daemon had never ridden on Amalthea’s back and watched Coulson smile at the tickle.

Clint brushes a strand of red hair out of his eyes, and carefully freezes those memories. He has to complete his mission. He takes a deep breath, and then another. Natasha releases him.

“Can you handle this?” She watches him closely, and he can feel Adrastos rubbing the very tip of his wings over Loquis’ tiny body. He knows that if she decides that he can’t, she’ll have no problem just knocking them both out and stashing them somewhere until the battle is done and Loki is long gone.

This isn’t a revenge mission. This is a rescue mission. Loki must be stopped, but the priority is saving New York.

He locks down the grief, drags a tight lid over the pit of despair and rage in his belly. It won’t hold long, but it’ll do. Long enough to complete the mission, and that’s all he needs.

Clint brushes his fingertips over the pulse in Tasha’s neck. Loquis burrows a little deeper into Adrastos’s feathers. They’re so warm.

“I can do this,” he says, and he’s a little surprised by how much he means it. “I need to do this.”

She watches him for a second more, and he’s just steeling himself for another bang on the head when she nods. “Go clean up,” she orders him. “You look like shit.”

He’s in the bathroom when he hears Captain America’s voice. A dispassionate part of him notes that Coulson must have met him before he died, if he’s aboard the hellicarrier. Coulson must have been so happy.

“Can you fly one of those jets?”

Clint steps out of the bathroom, even though he knows that Natasha can fly anything with a steering wheel. And even if she couldn’t she certainly knows enough to set auto-pilot. “I can.”

He sees the tiny nod Tasha gives Captain America. Clint tenses, but the man seems to be willing to take her word for it. To trust them both.

Walking out, Loquis is a burning hot mark on his chest, riding his heart. He doesn’t see the Captain’s daemon, and wonders if he’s like Tasha. Wonders why the man’s even trusting them in the first place.

But then again, Captain America knows what it’s like to wake up to find his whole world changed.

His fingers tighten around his bow, and he promises himself that when this is all over, he’ll go take the Captain (Steve Rogers, a ghost whispers in his ear) and really test the limits of his super soldier ability to metabolize alcohol.

 

Part IV

These Fishes In The Sea They’re Staring at Me, Oh Oh

 

That’s your daemon?” Clint regrets it the second he hears it, but in his defense, she’s, like, a fucking weasel or something.

“Yes,” Steve’s eyes narrow, and shit there’s the capital-C-Captain back again. “She is my daemon.”

Clint opens his mouth to apologize, because he’s an asshole but he’s not that much of an asshole, when Tony fucking Stark has to shove his fat head in to drop his two cents. Or like, two million knowing him.

“Well Cap, you gotta admit, she’s pretty small.” He waggles his eyebrows. “You know what they say about men with small daemons.”

Aria is around Aster’s neck in a flash of brown fur and sleek muscle. “What do they say,” she asks softly. Her teeth are white against Aster’s black hair, and Clint remembers that mongooses are famous for killing and eating poisonous snakes. He hopes viciously that Loki knew that.

Aster laughs, huge sharp teeth bared. “That big things come in little packages, duh.” Aria squeaks as Aster ruffles her fur. “So sensitive.”

“Ahh the Napolean complex,” Tony’s tone is teasing, but there are lines of weariness around his eyes that Clint knows hadn’t been there before. Tony nudges his daemon. “Come on, give ‘er back. We’ve still got half a shwarma left.”

“You shouldn’t have ordered so damn much.” Aster grumbles. She slowly untangles her fingers from Aria’s fur, dragging her fingertips along the hard chords of muscle underneath. Aria lets out a breathy gasp that makes Clint’s eyebrows shoot up. No one else shows any sign of having noticed however, although Nat definitely did.

“Hey, if there’s any time to indulge it’s when you’ve just stopped The End of The World. Caps intended. It’s like Christmas, the carbs don’t count now. What,” teases Tony, the tip of his tongue poking out in a way that makes Clint think he might not be as bad as Tasha always bitches. Or really, just as bad, which is why Clint finds himself liking the guy despite himself. “You worried about your girlish figure?”

“More like worried about Pepper dumping your fat ass after you gain ten pounds in shwarma.”

Tony squawks as Aster slaps his ass, her gauntlets echoing off the metal in a ringing clang that mixes with Bruce’s burst of laughter, bright as the sun after the rain.

Steve almost blushes as Aria wraps herself around his neck like an amulet, his fingers going up seemingly unconsciously to trace the same pattern Aster had made. But he meets Clint’s eyes without hesitating, cold and flinty in a way that says son, I have seen far worse than you.

And punched it in the face, Clint’s inner voice adds, because he can’t help but compare himself to Hitler, jesus fuck does he have issues.

“I just –“ Clint says lamely. He swallows. “In the comic you have a bald eagle daemon.”

“Propaganda,” Steve says flatly. “Not my idea.”

“To protect our identity,” Aria’s voice is a knife in the gut, disdainful and cold. Loquis’ tiny feet scratch Clint’s chest, and he can’t even imagine what it must be like to have to pretend like that. Tasha does it all the time, enough that she shrugged it off whenever the file landed in her lap, but he sees the way her eyes tighten every time she has to pet her pocket and say he’s a little shy.

Clint swallows again, his throat swollen and painful. He doesn’t answer properly, can’t quite articulate what it means that Captain America has a daemon so small. Coulson knew, Clint’s sure. Clint’s still riding the adrenaline from the mission, can feel the dull ache of despair and pain starting to claw its way up from his belly. He swallows again harshly, grips his bow and pretends he’s not clinging to an edge.

Loquis crawls out of his shirt to hover gently in front of Aria. Her wings glitter under the florescent lights. “I’m not weak.” She says fiercely, and she looks so ethereal that Clint almost snatches her back before the filthy tendrils of the world can reach out and destroy her too. Natasha touches his arm without looking at him.

Aria leans out under her nose touches Loquis, until she wears Clint’s heart like a crown. “Neither am I.” She says, and she looks like a painting, bold chestnut brushstrokes that stand out clear and strong against the dingy background of the shwarma shop. She looks small, but in the way that Natasha is small. In a way that promises so much more than you can see. Clint licks his dry lips, and thinks that this, this is why Coulson loved this man so much. He understands now. “None of us are.”

--

“Be careful,” she says.

Steve jumps, but she manages to school the smile off her face by the time he turns around. “Hello Agent Romanoff,” he says, taking his hat off. It’s oddly touching, and she feels charmed in a way that immediately puts her on guard. “I, uh, didn’t hear you come in.”

She shrugs, saying, “I know.”

She gets a smile from that. It shocks her with its warmth. She’d rather suspected he’d dislike her based on he association with Fury, and with the SHIELD agency that dragged him back to life.

She shifts her stance into military, and watches as he relaxes into mirroring her. It’s not much, but she finds herself wanting to put him at ease. It’s a strange power he has, one that world leaders and martyrs all share. He could run for president, she’d vote for him and she doesn’t even vote. Doesn’t, not can’t. She doesn’t believe in democracy. She just doesn’t believe in any kind of regime as a rule.

Aria is looking right at her, not staring around for her missing daemon. She’d decided to leave him with Clint. She won’t hide who she is. Not if they’re to be a team. Not if she has to trust him.

“I’ll be back,” Steve says, “but I have to, well-”

“You have to figure out who you are,” she completes, “you need to figure out how to remake yourself.” She wonders if she should have made a trip through Russia, tried to find her old home and old name. Her old world.

It’s immaterial now, her daemon reminds her. She agrees. No use crying over the past. Tonight though maybe she’ll make borscht and force it down Clint’s burger swilling throat. Bruce would probably like it, she thinks, and is a little surprised at herself for it.

“You understand.” It’s not a question, but she nods anyway.

“I think everyone on this team should do what you’re doing.” She says frankly. She’s the one who writes up their psych reports for Fury. They’re the most fucked up bunch of people that never should have worked. Every single one of them could use serious therapy. (She goes every Friday. Clint brings her donuts for after her meeting, and she brings him donut holes after his appointments on Monday.) And a sabbatical to figure themselves out, try to come back a little less psychotically insane.

Although you could argue that this is Thor’s.

He grins, ducking his head almost shyly. “It says something when the most well-balanced guy on the team was frozen in ice for 90 years huh?”

“Maybe we should try freezing Stark for 90 years, see if it balances him out.” Fury would approve that plan, she’s sure. He’d probably want to drop Stark into the Arctic himself. He’d have to battle half of SHIELD to do it though, not to mention most females over the age of 18.

“No matter when he woke up, I think Tony would still be the smartest guy in the room. And he’d still make sure everyone knew it.”

She raises an eyebrow at the Tony, at the fond exasperation in his voice. It’s warm in a way that reminds her of the way Clint whispers to her daemon. She’d obviously missed something since the last time she saw them, when they were snapping at each other like wolves, snarling their own Alpha status. She feels her daemon’s amusement at her disgruntlement, and she vows to pinch off a few feathers when she gets back.

“We’ll be keeping an eye on you,” she says, because it’s the truth and he deserves to know it. He looks weary, but nods. “Make sure you don’t do anything that’ll mean I have to come get you.”

He rolls his eyes. “I’ll try to keep out of trouble, Ma’am.”

She’s honestly impressed at how much sass he can fit into such a seemingly innocuous statement. Sometimes she forgets he’s a born and bred New Yorker. She makes a mental note to introduce him to Monty Python when he gets back. Clint loves it too. Together they’ll probably be so obnoxiously happy it’ll be painful to be around. It’ll even be worth putting up with Loquis shrieking NI in her ear every five minutes. She makes a mental note to maybe spend more time with Bruce after introducing them. He has enviable amounts of control; he might even be able to stop her from squishing the bug after a week’s worth of NI.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Aria promises, “You do too. Sometimes the idiot forgets that I’m the better half.”

She blinks, opens her mouth, and for the first time in so long (1,209 days) she has no idea what to say. Steve asks her to give his respects to her daemon and to apologize for not being able to say goodbye in person. Then he climbs onto the bike that Howard Stark had kept, and then Tony Stark had kept, and drives away.

Her daemon is watching them, his eyes following them much longer than hers ever could. She knows that. And so does Steve.

She thinks she understands now why, almost a century later, people still know and love the name Captain America.

--

“Do you remember it?” Clint asks her, after everything. He can’t look at her, but he knows she’s looking at him. Dragonflies can’t close their eyes. She can never look away. He’d never thought of that as a bad thing until today.

“All of it,” she says fiercely, because she’s far too strong to lie to make him feel better. It wouldn’t, anyway. “He took you away from me.”

Clint can still remember the sharp angles of Loki’s smile as he said you have heart as he touched the staff to his chest.

In the split second before everything went bright and cold, Clint had thought that’s not my heart. He hopes he managed to say it, spit it in Loki’s face before the staff stole him away.

He doesn’t know though, can’t really remember anything. He remembers the purity, the bone-deep sense of rightness. Everything else is a jerky mish-mash of moments. The clearest is Loki, smiling almost proudly as he calls Clint his. Clint scratches his chest, a habit he knows he’s picked up but can’t quite bear to stop.

Even after he’s been banished, Loki still managed to create yet another rift between him and his daemon. Clint wants to kill him, to rip him apart atom from atom and then set those atoms on fire.

Eye snatcher, Loki had laughed as he stroked Clint’s hair right before Germany, like Clint was his pet. Clint clenches his fists impotently, and imagines plucking out those too bright blue eyes and shoving them down Loki’s throat.

Loquis crawls under his shirt to bite savagely at the spot where Loki’s spear had touched them.

He doesn’t press a hand against her, because he’s never been quite so aware of how very vulnerable she is before. She’s so small. He’d known that, had prized it as the ultimate spy tool. It’s the first time that it bothers him. Scares him.

He finds new depths to his hatred for Loki.

Loki had picked apart everything that made him Clint Barton and just left a man with his memories. Loki had stolen his daemon away.

And the worst part was that he had made Clint not care.

He can remember that. He’d been happy.

He hadn’t cared that he’d been so alone.

The memory tastes like vomit and blood. Spitting doesn’t make it better. Neither does his old friend Jameson. He used to just have nightmares of all the times he’d been captured to be tortured, he thinks bitterly.

“We’re still us,” she buzzes, and he can taste the vibrations like a battery on his tongue. “We’re still connected. He tried to unmake us, but he couldn’t take us apart.” She doesn’t say the word, but Clint can picture a gleaming silver knife just fine without it.

--

She lays each coin down like a flower. One for Coulson, whose blood still stains the helicarrier. One for her parents, who gave her life and nothing else. One for the KGB, who gave her the tools to save the world. One for everyone she couldn’t save. One for everyone she had to kill. And one for a nameless girl who’d sat in a cell for 215 days without her daemon. Six coins. Six seems to be a big number for her lately. She’s just glad it isn’t seven. She shudders at the thought of being that much of a cliché.

She chants the laments, throws them into the wind like knives. The ancient words are like rust in her mouth, heavy with age and weariness. Her voice cracks when she goes too high, but there’s no one around to hear it. Her heart is with her team, watching them while she cannot.

She sprinkles a handful of dirt on the empty grave she dug herself, on top of the crisp paper crown and gold coins laying on the bottom. She doesn’t remember ever doing this. She actually had to look up traditional Russian funeral rites to figure out what to do. But the words echo through her throat into her bones, and the slow sway of her hand as the dirt falls feels almost like it could be familiar. The muted patter of it hitting the coins sounds like absolution.

She grips the shovel and starts filling in the hole, turning it into a grave. She doesn’t leave a marker, no name to pray for. It’s not necessary. They’ve been put to rest. They don’t need any more than that. The dead, after all, don’t actually need anything. It’s the living that need the rites. They’re the ones who truly need to move on at the end.

(Clint says her name sleepily when she crawls into his bed, grave dirt still cold under fingernails. “Tasha?” he mumbles. She knows that if anyone else were to enter the room, he would be awake, alert, and armed within seconds. She kisses him, and tastes her name on his lips)

--

Natasha’s daemon dives beneath the fox’s belly, seizing the fragile belly with her claws and gutting it in one quick move. The animal dies with a horrifying scream, and her human topples over soundlessly, one hand clawing towards his heart.

“Thanks Addy,” he grins, wiping a spray of blood off his forehead. He’s not sure whether it’s his or someone else’s. “Where’d you come from?” The accusation I didn’t see you hangs between them unsaid.

“I vas in the neighborhood,” he says. He speaks slowly, every word carefully chosen. He sounds so much more foreign than Tasha does, who can pass as native anywhere she goes. She can speak, like, a bajillion different language without so much of a hint of an accent. Clint has a nagging suspicion that Adrastos spends a lot less time in the ol’ US of A than Nat does though. Or anywhere. He’s not a balloon with a chord the way most daemons are. He’s a satellite. The whole point of them is to never stay anywhere longer than it takes to get a reading.

Loquis barks out a fierce, bloody laugh. “We don’t need you to keep tabs on us,” She circles the bird like she was a raptor herself. “We’re fine. Just because someone got us once, doesn’t mean we’re a liability.” She laughs again, sharp as broken glass. “Not many other Loki’s walking round right? ‘Cause I’m gonna have to have serious words with Thor if he neglected to mention Loki’s got an eviler twin just walkin’ around. That’s the kinda thing that should come up in conversation you know? Just by the way,” she mimics, voice swooping low to try and match Thor’s rumble “might wanna keep an eye out.” Her voice cracks on eye.

Addy cocks her head in the way birds do, regards him with one red eye, and doesn’t say anything.

Clint sighs. He’s never been able to see either of them if they don’t want him too, even with Loquis. He hears the wood of his bow creaking in his hand, and has to concentrate of loosening his joints before he breaks it.

“Is this ‘cause I ditched Helmson? ‘Cause that guy’s a total idiot, the mission went better without him jabbering in my ear.”

“Obviously.”

“That’s impressive you know,” Loquis says, morbidly fascinated, “How you can put so much sarcasm in a monotone.”

“It’s a gift.”

“I hope you kept the receipt.”

Clint rubs his temples, and pretends that he doesn’t still hear Coulson chiding them to keep radio silence, the ache in his ear where he tore out his communicator after that bastard had said Coulson obviously gave you too much of a free reign.

He is an asshole, Clint will admit that with pride. But Helmson is going to die, die bloody, for disparaging his partner. Coulson was the best agent SHIELD ever knew. Is still the best man Clint knows. And he knows Captain America now. He thinks, a little wryly, that if Coulson had ever heard Clint put him before his idol – in anything – Clint would be scrubbing latrines with his teeth.

“We’re leaving,” he says, and breaks the dead man’s fingers to get the flash drive out. He holds out a finger for Loquis.

“We don’t need you to protect us,” Loquis hisses, and Clint aches because he knows that’s not what any of them mean. But he’s never been able to say I’m sorry, much less, help me oh god please help me.

“Coulson did not die because of you,” Adrastos says, “Do not demean his sacrifice thus.”

Clint’s mouth twists. “Give him the dignity of his choice?” Coulson had fucking loved spouting off random Cap facts, stuff that, really, no one should have ever known. He looks at Adrastos through narrowed eyes. “You’re so full of shit, you know that right?”

The bird bristles indignantly. It’s actually adorable.

Loquis is almost gentle as she alights on the bird’s beak to look him in the eye. “Are you afraid?”

Adrastos brushes Loquis with the very tip of his wing. “My kind protects their nests.”

“Yeah,” Clint remembers a mission in a forest in Portugal, where a whole flock of non-daemon goshawk came out of nowhere to claw the shit out of his scalp. Apparently he’d accidently settled into their nesting site. “And you come out of nowhere to do it.” He strokes down the daemon’s smoothly feathered head with one finger. The frisson of energy is close as he can come to giving life to words that he can’t even bring himself to think properly, much less say. “You’re such a creeper Addy,” he says fondly.

He bites the finger. “Idiot.”

“Asshole,” Loquis laughs, and for the first time Clint really smiles. He hates himself for it a moment later. He shouldn’t be okay. And he isn’t. But he will be, one day. The thought is like bile in his mouth.

Loquis crawls under his collar and lies on his heart. She rides the shallow rise of each breath, and he feels the blood pumping through his veins and keeping him alive with almost painful clarity. Clint breathes awkwardly, hyper aware of each motion.

“The mission’s not done yet,” Loquis whispers.

“The mission will never be done,” Adrastos says quietly.

“Good,” He shakes out his bow with one smooth movement. They still have to get outside. He still has a target to take out. He still has a job to do. “Let’s go.”

--

Stark corners her shortly after she’s forced to move in to what the media has labeled Avengers Mansion by a combination of Clint’s puppy eyes and Fury’s not-quite-orders. She allows it with only a little elusion, just to keep him on his toes. She does owe him, after taking an unprofessional level of joy in stabbing him in the neck. Besides, she is living in what is technically his house.

“So what is he really?” He throws the question at her like a weapon, like one of his Starkbombs that he’s not quite sure how it’ll react in the world outside his pretty simulations.

“Do you need to know?” She shoots back.

“Hey, I just wanna say hi to the guy,” Aster grins up at her in a traditional ape threat. The daemon makes a great show of sleeking down the black hairs on her body as if in preparation to meet a guest.

“He’s not here,” she says bluntly. The nice thing, she reflects, about Stark having a bonobo for a soul, besides all the horrible sex jokes Clint insists on making, is how she’s too human to be able to hide a wince behind a snout or feelers.

“That’s not possible,” Aster insists, voice high and tight, at the exact same moment Stark asks her, “Are you a witch?”

“Afraid I’ll turn you into a toad?” She deadpans.

“Gross,” Stark makes a face.

“Where is he?” Aster sounds half-mad with the need to know, her gnarled black fingers unconsciously scratching at her arms in horror.

She sighs, because she’s living in his home now. She could always leave, but she’s already decided to follow Steve, to become an Avenger. It’s almost strange how quickly she’s fallen into place. She doesn’t want to have to leave. “I don’t know.”

“How can you not know?” Aster’s voice rises into an overwhelmed shriek.

She tenses automatically. It’s always the daemons that react the hardest to her. Perhaps it’s like staring into an abyss, to see their own absence reaching back for them. Perhaps they’re afraid of the abyss gazing back.

“He’s on a mission. I don’t know where. He doesn’t always know where I am. It means I can do twice as many missions.” It means she can be in two places at once, it means she’s safer and more dangerous and more feared than anyone as human as her has a right to be.

“Of course,” Stark says.

She can recognize Stark’s dangerous tone by now, the smoothly seductive one that tells you to just come a little closer, warm yourself by the hearth, before he sets you on fire. She half wants to slap him and tell him that she knows all about the habits of the bonobo, pan paniscus, and she will not be fucked into a more obliging state.

“I mean, Aster’s shape is a real blessing. Another pair of hands in the shop is invaluable, I’m tellin’ ya.”

She wonders if he’s remembering Afghanistan, whether he would have been able to make it out without that extra pair of hands. Doubtful, she’d run the odds. But then, the odds against him escaping at all had been nil. Tony Stark had a way of changing those odds in his favor. She was sure that if he was ever asked about it though, he’d just grin along with his daemon and say something about seducing Lady Luck and bagging all three sisters of Fate at once. It made her a little annoyed at how easily she could imagine his responses. She really needed to meet some people outside this group of insanity and daddy issues.

“He’s a hawk.” She says finally, because for god’s sake she’s living here. She can’t be on guard all the time. Even she needs to sleep, to eat, to relax enough to sit around in her sweats and watch old black and white Marx Brothers movies with her daemon on the other side of the couch, just close enough to remind them both that they are still one.

“A… hawk?” The corner of Stark’s mouth twitches. She sighs and steels herself. “Oh my god, are you and Clint just a matching set then? That’s adorable.”

She slides past him, and somehow manages to keep herself from ‘accidentally’ catching him around the ankle to send him to the floor in the motion.

“No really, should I make you two matching outfits? I have a tailor on speed dial, I can make this happen.”

She walks out, to a chorus of innuendo and barely muffled laughter, and feels oddly light. She taps the tips of her fingers to her face to feel the smile, and reflects that, really, she should maybe start calling him Tony.

--

“Friend Clint!” Thor booms. There’s really no other word for it. The dude does not do things quietly. Clint can respect that.

“Hey big guy,” Clint nods, flicking another 5 grains of salt into Tony’s coffee on the other side of the room with the tip of his cereal spoon. His record is 70. Yesterday had been a bad day, only 25 before Steve had caught him and made him run laps. Laps. This time Loquis is keeping a careful eye out for any brown furry streaks of pure grumpiness. Little shit could sneak up on you anywhere. It made Clint burst with pride, for all that he had absolutely jackshit to do with teaching the mongoose any of his tricks.

There’s something comforting though, even so much later, in knowing that Coulson was so fucking right to love Cap that much. The dude is so much more than the blonde wall of chiseled muscle that Clint had always pictured that it makes Clint swell with second hand pride. It’s not often your heroes turn out to be actual, well, heroes. He should know.

“May I ask you something?”

“Shoo- go for it,” Clint corrects himself hurriedly. Thor isn’t always totally up on pop culture. His left arm gives a painful twinge as he remembers the last time he’d absent-mindedly told Thor to ‘hit me’.

“Did my brother have an animal with him such as you and your fellow Midguardians do? A companion to his heart?” He taps his chest in a gesture terrifyingly reminiscent of the movement Loki had made with his staff.

 The spoon snaps beneath Clint’s fingers. He watches the round bowl of it bounce against the marble counter top. It should make a sound, he thinks vaguely. But he can’t hear anything above the roar of blood pounding in his ears, of you were always meant to serve.

“I ask because,” Thor hesitates, “he did not have one growing up. I believe our father cut it away from him, to ensure he was taken as an Aesir by all in our realm.”

Clint stares at him. Finally, it’s Loquis who breaks the silence. “He… took your brother’s daemon?”

Thor nods.

Clint knew Thor was from another world, knew he had no daemon even. But he’d never thought of him as a monster until now. Even Loki, broken and scarred and evil as he is, is more human. It’s repulsive, and the realization that he feels sorry for Loki is like a staff point to the heart all over again.

He stands up, and walks out. He knows it’s not fair. Not fair to Thor, not fair to himself, not fair even to Loki, for whom there’s a tiny grain of pity in his stomach that he hates himself for. Probably not even fair to Odin, who never had a daemon to lose.

“He knew,” Loquis shakes with anger, because she has always been better at rage than him, who always just wants to curl up and die to escape it. “He knew what it was like, and he still took you from me.”

Clint closes his eyes so he can see himself through hers. She crawls over his face, her tiny feet prickling his skin. It feels vaguely like when a limb wakes up, a tickling sort of sting. She itches, and he almost wants to scratch her off.

“We’re still together,” he reminds her. Reminds himself.

“Clint,” she breathes, and she’s so close he fancies he can feel the warm gust of it on his skin.

“Lolo,” he murmurs back, and feels the bond between them flow with a swell of love that brings tears to his eyes. It’s still there. They’re still one.

--

Everyone gives Thor a bit of a wide berth. Even Tony tends to circle him like a satellite, never quite coming in for a landing. She can’t really blame him though, not since Thor tried to clap Aster on the back after “a valiant battle, my friend!”

Thor’s still learning what it means to be human. She can sympathize.

So Thor usually spars with her, even though he’d be better off with Steve or even Tony in his suit. But she’s the one who goes, because Thor doesn’t understand why he can’t just attack a person’s daemon. She has a sneaking suspicion that the reason he’s never asked to change sparring partners is because Thor sees flashes of his brother in her green eyes, and the way she fights with her fists only when she’s forced to. She sees it in the way he watches her smile for the reporters, and the way his hands are soft and heavy with guilt when he touches her outside of practice. It makes her skin crawl, but she’s not above exploiting it.

“It seems a great folly,” he confides in her during one session, “to ignore a potential attacker, one whom it take one mere blow of my hand to knock aside and thus cripple both foes at once.”

She teaches him how to ignore the feints and distractions of a daemon, “You can’t touch a daemon, but they won’t touch you either. It’s a matter of honor.” It’s almost painful for her to watch how obsessed with honor he is, (honor won’t keep you alive, honor won’t get the job done) but she’s grateful for it now.

But Thor’s innocent, not stupid. “But Lady Natasha, I have seen you touch daemons before,” he points out as his fist glances off her ribs. Even a glancing blow from Thor is no laughing matter though, so she rolls to get as far away as she can to recover.

“Clint is different,” she winces, and wonders how the hell she’s supposed to explain them.

“Nay, twas a villain’s daemon you grasped.” His blue eyes are sharp, and she remembers with a cold rush that he is a king. “Explain yourself.” His huge hands clamp down on her shoulder, thumbs pressed warningly against her delicate clavicle. “Please.”

She says, “I take every advantage I can,” and demonstrates by high kicking him in the testicles. It serves its purpose beautifully, and Thor spends the rest of the afternoon whimpering.

Thor is, to put it bluntly, the exact opposite of subtle. People would notice if their hero broke the taboo. He’s already an alien, but he can’t be a freak. Not if the Avengers are supposed to function in the public eye. He has to be a good man for all that he is not a man; he’s the representative of his entire race.

Luckily, she has no such obligation. She can go where he cannot. There’s no shame in it. She can’t fly or shoot lightning bolts, but she can do the dirty, unspoken work that Thor never could.

She knows what the world says about her. That she is a monster; that she sold her daemon to Satan for demonic superpowers; that she is a witch; that her daemon is a tapeworm eating her alive from the inside out; that she killed her own daemon so she would have no weaknesses. She’s particularly fond of that one. There’s a poetry to the sense of death magic there that she finds appealing.

She wraps ice in a towel for Thor, and braids his hair until he stops whimpering. They’re a team. They take care of each other.

--

“That equation is off.” Clint says, polishing his bow. “It should be 2.867 not 2.865.”

“Excuse me?” Tony clutches his math to this chest, hiding it from Loquis’s prying eyes. “Are you insinuating that I, Tony Stark Genius-Extraordinaire-and-Holder-of-Three-Doctorates-and-who-has-patented-more-inventions-than-you-can-shake-a-stick-at-and-you-can-use-a-really-big-stick, did math wrong? Did one of your arrows finally blow up in your face and rattle your brains? Not one of my arrows of course, because those would only blow up when you wanted them to. Or when I wanted them to. So actually if it blew up in your face it could be one of my arrows.”

“Christ you never shut up do you?” Clint snorts. But the corners of his mouth turn up anyway. Tony sounds impressed despite himself. It’s always nice to disprove the whole brawns over brain thing. People seemed to forget how much fucking physics is in archery, even if a lot of it is instinct by this point. Even with Loquis’ eyes, he still has to calculate distance and wind and a million other tiny things that could all fuck up his shot. And Clint never fucks up his shot.

Aster lets out a blood-curdling shriek as Loquis bites her right behind the ear. Tony falls out of his chair, screaming more out of shock than any pain, and landing on his ass just in time for Steve to see as he runs in brandishing his shield and daemon and nothing else. Clint lets himself ogle. Every man, no matter their sexuality, has to go gay for Cap right out of the shower, dripping water and righteousness. It’s like, a patriotic duty.

“What happened?” Steve demands. “Who’s been hurt?”

“HALT VILLAIN!”

Tony winces at the sound of his (probably very expensive) floor-to-ceiling windows being smashed to bits. “Those open you know!” he shouted above the din of wind and thunder that heralded Thor’s arrival.

“SHOW YOURSELF AND FACE MY MIGHT!”

“Jesus fuck!” Tony shouts, because Aster is still trying to bite Loquis in half. “Everything’s fine! Clint’s just being a dick, and Loquis bit Aster.”

“I resent that term!” Clint shouts back. “I prefer asshole.”

“THIS CANNOT BE.” Thor booms. “I HEARD THE CRY OF A YOUNG FEMALE CHILD IN PAIN.”

“Stark screams like a girl.” Clint smirks. He knows Tasha will definitely get him for it later, but it’s totally worth it to see the twin veins in Aster and Tony’s forehead pulse.

“I do not!” Tony fumes. “That was Aster! Aster is a female and she screamed, big deal.”

“SHE WAS THE SECOND TO SCREAM, YES?”

“Oh fuck you.” Tony mutters bitterly as Clint nearly doubles over with laughter. “Fuck you, I do not scream like a girl.”

“Yes.”

Tony whirls around to see Natasha lounging against the table right behind him where she had definitely not been five seconds ago. Even Clint, used to her appearing like a fucking ghost, is a little freaked out. She’s totally been using Tony’s unfamiliarity with her evil, ninja ways to get her kicks. Clint knows the sadist hiding behind that bland face. He kind of loves it.

“You scream more like a scared little boy.”

Clint nearly falls off the fridge at the look on Tony’s face, like he’s not sure whether to snark back or try to hide behind Steve. Aster hides under the table. Loquis follows her to buzz in her ear and make her hit her head on the bottom. Clint really does fall off the fridge laughing at the shriek this time. Steve leaves, muttering about idiotic geniuses. He doesn't bother trying to cover up his exit, soldier that he is. Everyone in the room pauses their shouting to appreciate that fact. Aria glares at them both around his neck. It’s less terrifying than it is usually, since she still kind of looks half-drowned. Loquis waggles her abdomen at her cheekily in a way that pretty much guarantees them extra laps during the next training session, but it’s worth it.

The next day though, Clint’s shower turns him bright pink. Even Loquis has somehow become a lurid cherry color.

When they run out of the shower, like a pair of flamboyant ghosts, Tony and Aster greet them at the door with a bucket of glitter and a camera. Natasha casually trips Clint when he chases the fuckers, and they flee, cackling like hyenas.

“Bitch,” Loquis screams after them, trailing glitter like Tinkerbell.

“Whore!” Aster shouts back.

“I was a whore!” Loquis shoots right back. “Professionally! And way above your pay grade buster! So up your ante!”

There’s a minuscule pause before “ASSBUTT” and then a furious volley of pop culture heavy insults before Pepper and Basil come to herd Tony away properly.

Natasha gives them the hairy eyeball and calls him idiot like it’s a pet name. He’s pretty sure it is. “I will never understand your friendship.”

He struggles from where she’s managed to immobilize him with one casual foot to the back. “Well apparently you two get along just fine.”

“Traitor.” Loquis says affectionately. She lands in Tasha’s hair, and he shivers at the feel.

He smiles against the carpet when her foot leaves his back, and she settles down next to him in a crouch. Something dangles in front of him, and he nearly goes cross-eyed trying to see it.

“Is that film?” Loquis asks hopefully. She’s practically pooping glitter. Clint doesn’t even want to think about how the hell he’s going to get the stuff out of her wings without leaving her totally drenched and flightless.

“Indeed.” Adrastos says. His voice is grave, but Clint knows that’s his version of laughing hysterically. He flips the bird off without looking.

“Not of you.” Natasha says, dashing his hopes like the evil, evil woman she is.

“Not even our sex tape, baby doll?” He squeals as Adrastos rakes a claw over his ass, love and pain searing through him in a way that leaves him a little confused as to whether or not to he should be concerned over how aroused it makes him.

“It’s of Stark.”

“Boner killer,” he says, even though it’s kind of not. “Is it him and Cap? You know, Aria and Aster are way too friendly during their fights. You just know they’re boffing like bunnies.” He doesn’t even joke about it being Tony and Pepper. He’d honestly feared for Tony’s life after that break up, even though it had been Pepper crying about can’t take being afraid all the time anymore and Tony not-crying in a way that felt uncomfortably familiar.

The pause it takes for Natasha to answer makes him prop himself up on his elbows. “What, really?”

“No,” she says, but the far off gaze tells him she’s thinking about it.

“Hot,” Loquis says. They exchange looks. If Nat thinks it’s sexy, then a) Clint will be getting laid soon and b) she will make it happen. Clint really hopes that Steve is gay, or bi more likely, because dude won’t really have a choice in the matter soon.

“So what’s it of?” He asks, because the ground is a little uncomfortable and he’d like to move this party to his bedroom. Or at least the couch. He fantasizes for a moment about leaving horrible, horrible stains on Tony’s favorite chair.

“Stark singing.” Loquis’s wings still. “Justin Bieber.” Clint’s eyes widen. “And dancing.”

“Marry me,” he says fervently, and cradles the film as he would his firstborn.

“Budapest,” she reminds him, and he winces.

“Have lots of you are the most amazing and fabulous creature in all creation sex with me before posting this everywhere in the Internet?” He offers instead. He’s pretty sure SHIELD would help make sure not even Tony could burn all the videos from existence.

She tastes like laughter when he kisses her, and he suddenly realizes that he’s happy. Truly, deeply happy. Guilt and rage claw at his stomach like hellhounds, but he just turns the kiss into a biting, savage thing. She lets him.

“We got him,” she breathes against lips, “We won.”

He closes his eyes and lets himself believe.

--

“A goshawk?” Bruce grins a little awkwardly at her. She gauges his reaction carefully. He seems a little surprised, but not scared or angry. Good. She’s a little surprised at the flutter of relief in her stomach. Considering his own… issues with disappearing daemons, if anyone would be fine with it, it would be Bruce. But still. She grips her tea up a little tighter to keep her hands from trembling with the sudden loss of a tension that she hadn’t even realized was there.

“I would have pegged you for a peregrine falcon, personally.” Kali’s great golden eyes watch the bird with the calculating eyes of a hunter sizing up a formidable opponent, her spotted tail swishing slightly.

“Oh really?” She says, smiling ever so slightly, “Why is that?”

“Well, you work for Fury, and peregrines are traditionally the hunting birds of royalty.”

“Don’t tell Fury you think he’s a King, you’ll give him an even bigger head.”

“Any bigger and you could use it like a bowling ball, just stick your fingers in that empty eye socket and roll.” Clint’s voice echoes out of the vents. Kali hisses at the sound, but lets Bruce pet her fur back down.

“Thank goodness he’s not a peregrine,” Natasha says, flicking a piece of granola through the gaps in the vent to hit Clint in the eye, “I’d never get anything done if I had to serve royalty.” She smiles at Clint’s curses. “I hunt for people, not regimes.” They tended to fall with dreary dependency.

“So whom do you hunt for now?” Bruce asks. He smiles, as if it doesn’t matter. Even his daemon doesn’t twitch, her tail swaying serenely. She’s impressed despite herself. She knows most people hail it as a miracle (actually, most people probably think it’s some kind of divine punishment) that Bruce not only survived the radiation but also survived as The Hulk, but she thinks that it only makes sense. Kali yawns, fangs glinting under the lights to remind everyone that she only looks like a cat. Her daemon bobs his head in a nod and gnashes his razor sharp beak. Like recognizes like. Birds of a feather and all that. Bruce didn’t need the Hulk to be dangerous.

She allows herself one smooth, luxurious stroke of her daemon’s feathers. They’re so soft they nearly swallow her. “Why, the common man of course. Those who cannot fight for themselves. Everyone,” she smirks at the pained howl of laughter ricocheting off the vent walls.

Kali chuckles. “For a given value of everyone of course.”

Her daemon alights on the couch’s chair, touches Kali’s cloud soft fur with one wingtip. “Of course.”

--

“So you’re the jolly green giant,” Clint’s mouth hurts from smiling too wide, but he ignores it.

Bruce gives him a pained smile.

“I like you,” Loquis decides, after she buzzes in Kali’s ear. The ocelot doesn’t react, except to put on a long-suffering face. “Careful, your face might freeze like that.”

“I don’t think I can stand any more people liking me,” Kali remarks. “Between you and Aster, I think all my fur might turn grey in a week.”

“It’d make you look distinguished,” Bruce says, at the same time that Loquis tells her that they could always “dye it green to match!” and Clint offers to “gank the bonobo bitch, if she’s bothering you.”

He shrugs at Bruce’s raised eyebrows, “No biggie. Tasha would totally help me hide the body.”

“Nahhh, she’d be pissed at you for not letting her kill Stark herself,” Loquis buzzes, “You know she called dibs.” Every member of the Avengers has a contingency plan in place for how to kill them, just in case. He knows that Natasha loves Stark, as much as she can’t stand him. Which seems to be the default for anyone who hangs around Stark too long, come to think of it. It’s like some kind of infectious disease. Stark-it is. Even Natasha’s not immune. She wouldn’t let anyone else take him out anyway. He wonders if it’s weird that he kind of hopes Natasha will be the one to kill him. Even if she wasn’t assigned, and she wouldn’t be, she wouldn’t let someone else do it. Old age would be nice, sure, but he’s not stupid. He knows what his job is. Best he can really hope for is to go out with a bang.

“Do you often offer to kill your teammates?” His voice is light, but Clint can hear the hint of green steel behind the question. He knows that he should proceed with caution, should gently reassure Bruce that no one is going to hurt him. There’s a whole handbook that SHIELD gave everybody with scripts for pretty much every occasion. He can see the big black type in his mind’s eye.

So instead he flutters his eyelashes and retorts, “Only the ones that piss me off big boy, so you might wanna stay on my good side.”

Kali sounds as surprised as anyone by her burst of laughter.

“You’ll fit in just fine around here I think,” Clint grins. Bruce had an ocelot inside him long before he had a Hulk. He’s always had teeth; people were just too stupid to realize that the pretty kitty could bite. Bruce Banner is not a cat. He’s a fucking leopard. A leopard with a history of being hunted, slaughtered for its skin, at that. Clint licks his lips and wonders again about the fucking mystery that is settling.

stop trying to figure it out, Loquis whispers, you’ll break your brain if you try any of that thinking stuff, dumbass.

“Oh really?” Bruce asks, raising an eyebrow. The corner of his mouth twitches as he tries to shush his hiccupping daemon. “Somehow I don’t think people will much like the idea of their superheroes working with a monster.”

Loquis lands on Clint’s nose, and spreads her wings like a gossamer mask.

“Oh baby,” she laughs, “we’re all monsters here.”

 

EPILOGUE

Life’s Too Short To Even Care At All, Oh

 

“Do you wish you were Clint’s daemon?” She whispers softly. The Russian feels heavy on her tongue. It’s somehow different from when she speaks it on jobs, when she threatens and bribes and seduces in the harsh sounds of her first language. With him it feels private, the walls to their own secret world that neither of them fully know. She has seen too much of the world to disregard all the ways magic sneaks into it, can feel the spell she weaves around them with their mother tongue.

Her daemon lies on her chest, head tucked under her chin. The feathers tickle her skin, sends her skin prickling and makes her shiver. It’s nice, sometimes, to remind them both that they’re still one.

“I am your daemon,” he says simply. He doesn’t talk much, even to her. She sees him laugh with Clint though, nip his ears and sit on his shoulders like two halves of a soul.

And they are. Just not each other’s.

She smooths down an errant feather. It’s a struggle to keep her eyes open and her senses alert. She knows that Avengers Towers is as safe as any place that isn’t SHIELD can be, but, as she’s learned plenty of times, neither of them are really all that safe. This is the problem with connecting with her daemon. It’s like chloroform. The sense of him and them and wholeness fills up all her senses until there’s nothing left but love. Contentment.

It’s dangerous to be too happy in her profession. It’s dangerous to be comfortable. Being comfortable means you relax. Being relaxed means you make mistakes. The things you love can always be taken away from you. She knows that better than most. You need to keep them close enough to give you a reason to fight, but not close enough that you drown in them. It’s a tightrope, but one that she relishes. She does love being good at her job.

Her daemon flies away from her. She doesn’t know if he’s sensed she needs to stop, or if he needed to stop as much as he did. She thinks that other people would know. She knows it should bother her that she doesn’t know.

It doesn’t.

He soars ahead of her as they walk out her door, straight as an arrow to Clint, who was pretending not to wait on the balcony for her. He fires an arrow into the street.

“Not even a flicker?” He teases, pulling back the arrow by the rope at the end of it, a rat speared on the tip.

“You’ll have to do better than that to shock me,” she says, rolling her eyes. Her daemon perches on Clint’s hands and begins eating the rat. She thinks if she were less well trained she would blush at how obvious her soul is. But she can feel the electricity running down her spine, the sharp awareness that’s like a knife in her chest.

She pinches Loquis out from behind Clint’s ear. The dragonfly grumbles about the rough treatment and bites her fingers, but settles into the hollow of her collarbone like they had been made to fit together.

She has been set on fire, electrocuted, and gripped ice so cold it ripped her skin away when she let go. It’s like that, and so much more because this isn’t her body, this is her soul. It’s the most wonderful kind of torture; it’s being so alive you burn with it.

Her skin feels too small for everything inside her; she can feel the edges of herself scraping against it as she glories in all the different glittering pieces of herself. Adrastos looks at her with one red eye. Luckily it doesn’t need to hold everything she is.

She takes a slow breath in through her nose, and settles in to watch the horizon.

--

“Do you wish I could protect you?”

Clint fires an arrow with his eyes closed, watching through her perfect eyes. “You do.” He reels in the dead rat, and throws it in the bucket next to him. It’s already half full. Pest control, that’s them.

“You should put them in Steve’s room,” Loquis buzzes mischievously, “Tell him it’s a courting gift for Aria.”

“Do mongeese eat rats?”

“Tell him that’s what people do in the 21st century. Like how cats give their owners mice.”

“We’d have to give it to Fury then.” He thinks that, before, he would have given them to Coulson.

Loquis laughs, a little too hysterically. “Even better! Ol’ kingy can swallow them whole.”

“You still don’t know her name yet, do ya Lon Qui Qui?” He teases, taking aim. This time he uses his own eyes. It’s too easy with hers. He spears a rat through the eye perfectly, even though she bites his earlobe in revenge as he fires. She hates that name.

“You think Fury is his real name?” She snorts. He can feel her quivering and he tenses automatically. “You think either Phil or Coulson were his real names?”

Clint misses the rat, and his arrow embeds itself in the brick. “Fuck,” He rubs a hand through his hair. That’ll be a bitch to get out.

It’s the first time either of them have mentioned Coulson by name, not since they’d sat in a destroyed shwarma shop and Clint had shaken off Natasha’s hands to say someone needs to write the case file. Coulson would roll over in his grave if we ever let paperwork go unfiled. He hadn’t even realized how much technical jargon Loquis knew until then. She’d sat in his ear, hidden from sight as she whispered to him. Tasha’s daemon had been on his other shoulder, and he’d felt weirdly like Odin, with his messengers of Thought and Memory on either side. The fact that Odin’s actual son was sitting at the table was probably a factor in that too.

It’s strange to hear the name out loud after so long. It’s not as heavy as it sounds inside his head.

He murmurs it under his breath, and it burns sweetly in his mouth like over sugared coffee. Coulson had always put at least three cubes in, four when he knew Clint was going to steal it, which was whenever they were in the same country.

“His name was Coulson,” Clint says, because that’s the only thing he’d ever called him. He honestly doesn’t know if Phil was the name he was born with, but he knows how much those things are worth. Answer: nadda.

As if in answer to that thought, Nat’s daemon settles on his shoulder.

“Hey Addy,” Clint names him, and chucks him under the beak. He bites Clint’s fingers affectionately, and it’s like being electrocuted and sitting in a warm bath all at once. Like shooting in the rain.

He fires into the street, without turning around. “Not even a flicker?” He teases, because he enjoys seeing how eloquent she can be with just an eye roll. She manages to fit in disdain and affection and I have seen so much worse than the worst you could ever do.

Loquis watches Natasha sit down, a casual sprawl that makes him grin. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get over the glow of pride at seeing the Black Widow at her ease like this. Only thing better is when she’s just in a sports bra and sweats and munching cereal out of the box. “You’ll have to do better than that to shock me.”

When she picks up Loquis, it’s like a circuit connecting. Love, grief, memory and thought, all zapping through them in a never-ending circle.

He wants Coulson, wants Amalthea, and he can’t tell whether that thought’s from Loquis or the daemon on his shoulder. Hell, it could be from him. He remembers the last time they’d been all together in one room. It didn’t happen often, but every time was the same. He’d walk in, and Natasha would be cleaning her guns in the corner, her back to the wall. Coulson would have his papers spread out on the table, all in hardcopy because computers could always be traced.

“Fuckers started without me?” Loquis would shriek, scandalized, right before she dived into the huddle of fur and feathers that were Coulson and Natasha’a souls. She’d laugh and laugh, and burrow so far down that none of them knew where they ended and another began.

Clint would go to sit by the window without saying anything, and watch the horizon. You never knew what could be coming, not in their line of work.

Clint takes a slow breath in through his nose, and soaks in the warmth of the last rays of the setting sun as he fires one perfect arrow.

--

No one else is awake but them. But soon, Steve will be up and running through Manhattan. He likes going out when the city is still waking up, running through the bones of his former home and trying to learn it all again, Aria coiled around his neck like a rosary. The sunrise softens the sharp new edges, and Aria can remind him that someday he’ll be able to call this place home without a bitter taste in his mouth.

Bruce will wake up from where he fell asleep bent over a desk, and Kali will shepherd him towards his teakettle like she’s a collie, instead of a leopard that could rip your face off.

Thor will get out of bed like he does everything. Loudly. And with great enthusiasm. He’ll eat poptarts by the caseload, and smother them in loganberry jam sprinkled with brown sugar on top because they weren’t quite sweet enough without. He’ll offer them to everyone, but only Loquis will accept, and even then only to suck on a sprinkle. Even Steve’s super stomach has its limits after all.

Aster will be the last up, and she’ll drag Tony out of bed by his goatee. They’ll team up to bully Steve into making them coffee while Aria tries, as she does every morning, to convince Aster how beautiful the sun looks coming up over the East River while the ape protests that “that’s what google image is for.” Steve will make the coffee on the stove, because he says it tastes better that way, and pretend not to notice when Tony can’t decide whether to roll his eyes or smile helplessly and settles on doing both. For his part, Tony will watch the quick, efficient movements of Steve’s hands as he makes the coffee like it’s a piece of coding he can’t quite figure out, even though he sees it every morning. Perhaps because he sees it every morning.

Clint will flick bits of oatmeal at all of them, and hit dead center in their foreheads every time of course. Tony will retaliate with his frosted flakes, and Steve will have to put a stop to it with his Captain America Voice. Thor will laugh, because you humans are such fun! Like beckenlargs during spring and then try to explain why beckenlargs in spring are particularly fun.

Natasha will watch them all over the rim of her antique teacup, and trade murmured witticisms with Kali. Adrastos may be there, silently judging them all and stealing food out of Clint’s hands. He may not be. He may be there and no one, not even Natasha, will know it.

Bruce will eat his mohinga silently and just watch them all, marveling.

But that’s later.

For now, they sit with each other’s daemons and watch the sun rise over their city.