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By the Book

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1.

 

A wise woman once said, We are a library, holding the stories of our life. 

Okay, that’s bullshit. The wise woman part, anyway. It’s actually Kate herself who said that, or thought about it, and really only just now, and mostly because it’s kind of a cool metaphor.

“You know, Clint,” she says, “If people are like a library that holds the stories of their lives, you are definitely a second-hand bookstore.”

“Huh?”

Clint looks up briefly but returns to fletching arrows, feet unmoving on the coffee table, ready for an explanation. (He’s learning.) 

“A second-hand bookstore, full of stuff that you’ve actually read, not put on the shelves so you’d look smart, so everything’s a little dog-eared." Kate is beginning to warm up to her topic. "There’s a fairly large selection of murder mysteries, adventures and SciFi, a good stock in travel and restaurant guides, and some exercise tapes. Like Rockin’ Abs in 30 Days.”

“Plus a coffee shop and a dog,” he says, this time without looking up. “All bookstores have ‘em these days. Muffins, too.” 

Fine, point. Kate inspects the coffee pot for lip smudges, decides she doesn’t care, and pours what is left of its contents into a mug. It’s probably half tar by now, but there’s always milk. She points the empty pot at him like an accusing finger. 

“But you know what’s missing in that bookstore of your life?” 

Clint emits that here-it-comes-again sigh, a blend between boredom and exasperation. Lucky’s ear twitches.

“Dystopian YA? Oh, it’s there, trust me. Right behind the door that says Beware Of The Leopard. Beside the celebrity bios.”

People don’t give Clint enough credit sometimes.

“No, dummy. You’re missing a self-help section, one of those collections of useful advice on how to have successful relationships with women. And no, the porn shelves don’t count. Especially not the porn shelves.”

Kate glowers at him, hoping he’ll get the message. She likes Clint, she really does; she wouldn’t keep coming back to his place all the time if she didn’t. (And no, it’s not Lucky, because him she can take home.) But seriously. That latest fling of his, that redhead he picked up in a bar or wherever? The one he’d slept with, for no other apparent reason than that she was a carbon-based life form, present, and willing? 

While he was still officially – sort of, mostly – dating Jessica?

Kate had walked in on them in the shower. Wet. Very wet. Not even toweled off yet. (And she wasn’t really a redhead, either.) 

Now, Kate isn’t one to judge other women; sex has its place in the universe and it’s perfectly healthy, provided you use protection. Blah blah blah. But that had been minutes before Jessica had arrived for the happy post-mission super hero reunion, in an instant of timing utterly unworthy of the term “World’s Greatest Marksman.” And surely the woman had noticed all that conditioner in the shower? 

Kate shudders at the memory.

Clint must have sensed a disturbance in the Force, because he stops fletching, swings his feet off the coffee table (again with those abs…!) and sighs theatrically once more.

“Why don’t you just quit the code speak, and say what you’ve gotta say. It’s Pile-On-Clint-Barton Day anyway, so just get it over with.”

He runs a hand through his hair, making it into even more of a bird’s nest than usual, then bends down to scratch Lucky behind the ears. His hand digs into the dog’s fur a little as he speaks. 

Car crash. Train wreck. Fuckwit. Heard it all this morning. So you just hit me with your best shot, Hawkeye, and I’ll try not to bleed all over the rug.”

He picks up a loose arrowhead and throws it at the coffee machine, where it hits the off switch. Lucky follows the trajectory with mild interest.

Kate finds herself irrationally incensed. Someone got to Clint before she did? Not on. Besides, harsh.

“Who said that? That was …” well, not untrue per se, but … “Not nice.”

Clint now inspects his latest arrow, while Lucky puts his head back on his paws and resumes dozing.

“Bobbi. Although I believe Jess sic’d her on me, so she can claim superior orders, in addition to ex-wife immunity.” 

Right.

Kate had never believed for a second that Spiderwoman’s designs on Clint had been anything other than temporary and hormonal, a celebration of sexual athleticism over common sense. And in hindsight, Jess had seemed rather relieved when she saw that red triple-D bra on the curtain rod -- a perfect excuse to walk out when the walking was good. 

But something she’d said to Kate had struck a chord. 

“Clint is a fun guy to hang out with,” she’d said, as she was packing up her toothbrush and that t-shirt from the Montreal Insectarium. “And the sex is amazing. But he’s only ever half there, you know? Like he’s thinking of someone else, and can’t wait for you to leave in the morning.” 

And then Jessica had given Kate a calculating look. 

“I’m not sure why he keeps you around as much as he does. I mean, you practically live here. You sure he’s not secretly pining for you?” 

Eww. Kate recoils at the thought. 

Clint Barton has quite possibly the greatest arms on the planet, and those abs? Plus, he’s not much of a hardship on the eyes in other respects. (Purely objectively speaking.) But Kate has fallen asleep on him several times now, during movies or after a bad guy hunt, and it’s always been like cuddling a big brother. Or Lucky. Or a particularly warm pillow. So… No. 

Anyway. 

She focuses back on Clint, who has been continuing his story of being called on the carpet by the fairer sex, as Thor would call it. 

“She called it an intervention, Bobbi did. I stopped listening after the first five minutes or so, but I think I got the gist.” 

There’s a bit of a challenge in his eyes now. Okay, a lot of challenge. His hand is twitching, as if he’s getting ready to take his hearing aids out and end this conversation as well. (Obviously he hasn’t a clue, yet, that she’d spent the time she’d been dog sitting perfecting her ASL, and could continue pissing him off with her fingers.) 

“So don’t you start down that same road, Katie-Kate, or I’ll tell Lucky he’s not allowed to warm your feet anymore.” 

Biological warfare. Not fair.

“Fine.”

She actually means it; the poor guy has probably had enough for one day and deserves a break. Plus, three weeks in Central America, and just after that thing with his hearing? Peace in our times. 

But then Kate’s eyes fall on a sea of envelopes in the hallway, swept aside by the door when it opened, and ignored. She wanders over to gather them up and give them the once-over, to check for death threats, kidnap notices, or discount offers for BandAids. 

So much for her good intentions. 

“Emm, Clint?” 

He sighs, again. 

“Now what?” 

“Do you ever open your mail?” 

He shrugs.

“Sure. Subscriptions to Playboy, Jane’s Defence Weekly and Guns & Ammo. All for the articles, of course.” He adds, as an afterthought, “Especially now that Hefner’s gone off adult, and into adulting.”

Kate is unimpressed (although, nice save.) 

“Letters, you idiot. Triage? When they’re from the gas or electricity people and say ‘FINAL NOTICE!’ in screaming caps, you might want to consider taking a look.” 

Clint frowns, and Kate presses her advantage. 

“You wouldn’t want Simone and the kids to be without juice or heat now, do you? Or the gas to Grills’ barbecue get shut off? You’re a responsible landlord now, Hawkeye, so get with the program. And that means paying attention to bills.”

She seems to have finally touched a nerve, and nods with grim satisfaction. Clint may not give a shit about himself, but mention the welfare of his tenants …

He gets back on his feet and walks over to where Kate brandishes the latest evidence of his shortcomings. Lucky follows, his nails making a little scritching sound on the linoleum – likely in the mistaken belief that manila envelopes are a new form of thin-crust pizza. 

“Lemme have a look. Those must have come while I was in Managua.”

She can just imagine Hawkeye, limping into his apartment after whatever that latest mission of his was, with Lucky doing his Happy Dance Of Welcome. That puddle of paper under the mail slot never stood a chance. 

Clint rips open the first of the envelopes Kate hands him; he frowns at the contents but says nothing. 

“So, is the city ready to bring out the guys with the baseball bats yet?”

He glares at her. (That would be a yes, then.)

“Guess I better go pay that shit, huh.”

Kate can’t believe her ears. Duh. But… 

Go pay? Have you never heard of online banking? Hello? Twenty-first century, paging Clint Barton?” 

He cocks an eyebrow at her. 

“Last time I entrusted bits of my personal life to a database, I ended up with a six-month hangover courtesy of HYDRA. Ask Natasha about that some day.” 

Clint gives a little whistle, and Lucky’s ears unflop. 

“C’mon boy, let’s go for a walk.” He looks at Kate. “Put on a fresh pot of coffee, will ya? Be right back.”

Well. Score one for an unexpected fast-forward into adulthood. Hawkeye is going to the bank. 

“Don’t forget the plastic bag!” she hollers after him.

 

2.

 

Kate rinses out the coffee pot and replaces the filter. Six spoons, or seven? On second thought, better make it eight. No caffeine wusses in this joint. 

She waits for the machine to burp water over the grounds. Time to get a new one. Maybe one of those fancy-shmancy Nespresso pod things? Lord knows Clint can afford it; he’s so loaded, he doesn’t even bother to deposit Simone’s rent half the time. When he does, it’s so her pride isn’t hurt, and he makes Kate do it. Plus, the only thing he ever spends money on, as far as she can tell, is pizza, dog food -- which are more or less the same thing -- and fletching supplies. 

Oh, and freshly roasted, fairly traded, organic coffee. Colombian, half dark and half medium roast, ground fine for drip. When it comes to coffee, Clint takes no prisoners.

The aroma of fresh Santa Martha Single Estate, organic and direct-trade coffee starts to fill the small apartment while Kate examines one of the arrowheads. The latest Stark Special? Judging by the fletching, this one might actually hook a curve without benefit of wind. Cool. 

Kate picks up the little indoor practice bow, points it at the target that passes for artwork on Clint’s wall, and lets her rip. Sure enough, the arrow ends up in the curtains. How the hell do you calculate the trajectory on that baby? Hmm. 

Clint may have his failings, but there’s still a fair bit he can teach her. She pauses for a moment, and stares at nothing in particular as she contemplates the man whose coffee and couch she prefers above anyone else’s:

Second-best marksman known to man. Good guy, even if he won’t admit it. Not afraid of strong women. Best friend she could have hoped for. And… Human car crash.

The ball is really in his court, if he wants to turn his life around in the human relations department. Sure, that whole hearing loss thing was a setback, but why numb your pain by shooting yourself in the foot?

Kate would, of course, be happy to help (what friends are for), but then again, Clint is a Big Boy. Maybe she should let him spend his life flitting from nameless redhead to nameless redhead to Spiderwoman, and from Spiderwoman to yet another nameless redhead… 

Wait a minute. 

A parade of redheads … Spiderwoman … Another redhead … 

He’s only ever half there, you know? Like he’s thinking of someone else.” 

Suddenly it all falls into place. It’s like that saying in one of those historical romances (which Kate has never touched, of course, except maybe that time when she was stuck at Reagan International during Snowmageddon): Clint Barton is secretly carrying the torch for a woman! 

And the one he’s picked? True to Clint’s competence fetish, she is none other than the most lethal woman on Earth. Oh, boy. Of course, he probably hasn’t even figured it out himself, and in true Clint Barton fashion, is busy deflecting in every possible direction at once. 

The man clearly is in over his head, and just as clearly needs her help.

A mission. That’s what this is. A mission of mercy. Nay, a Noble Quest! Because Kate realizes, with absolute clarity, that what the bookshop of Clint’s life needs is not a self-help tome on Dating For Dummies, but an epic romance. Twelve stanzas of the purest poetry: Hawkeye and The Black Widow, to be composed by none other than Hawkeye herself. 

And it will be Glorious.

Kate pours herself a well-deserved coffee, and rummages through Clint’s junk drawer for post-it notes and pens. After all, every epic romance needs a proper outline, with objectives and obstacles, angles of attack, reluctant heroes, Oxford commas, and thwarting villains.

The central theme, the thing that everything revolves around, is of course a red heart with an arrow in it. Because epics have tropes, and clichés are cool. So the heart is what she draws first, and sticks on the fridge. 

But, the best laid plans, and all that jazz. 

Kate has just started on an initial cast list of possible allies, neutrals, and douchebags-to-be-avoided-at-all-cost (Tony Stark tops that list), when the sound of police sirens echoes in the streets below.

 

 

3.

 

Clint watches as Lucky inspects a particularly fragrant corner of their building, one where several of the track suit bros had met their timely end in the Battle of Brooklyn. A couple of chalk outlines, now weathered and faint, can still be seen on the sidewalk; no one in the neighbourhood has felt the need to scrub them off. 

“Atta boy,” Clint approves, when Lucky lifts his leg. “You show those bastards what happens to people who mess with us.”

There’s the usual honking on the street, and snatches of rap music stuttering through an open window. A whiff of tar cuts through the smell of car exhaust and Chinese food; city maintenance crews are finally fixing the potholes left by an unusually cold winter. The sounds and smells of home -- so different from Managua, and yet not really. People cook and fix roads and listen to music everywhere.

Clint takes a deep breath and crosses the street towards the bank, with Lucky padding happily by his side, leash-free as a proper dog should be. He sniffs the occasional lamppost or mailbox, lifting his leg on the ones he particularly likes or objects to – only he knows the difference. The outcome is the same. 

Kate’s (and Bobbi’s) words echo in Clint’s ears, against his better judgment. And yeah, he’s not exactly the poster child for defensible life choices, is he? Anything good, he futzes up in the typical Barton manner: Come in roaring like a tiger, and end up a rug on someone’s floor. 

Take Bobbi. Amazing in all respects -- gorgeous, athletic, sexy as hell. And smart? Out of the park. Way too amazing for Clint Barton, all things considered; he’d run from all that amazingness before she could figure that out, and before he’d gone completely bonkers trying to measure up.

And Kate. Fierce, smart and wonderful, even if she’s, like, only nine. But the moment he’s got nothing left to teach her, she’ll probably be gone.  She should be; she could do so much better than Clint ‘The Shlep’ Barton. 

Natasha…?

He tries to banish the thought of her as soon as it pops up; by now he’s got practice, so it shouldn’t be as hard as it is.  Besides, now that his hearing is gone, she’ll have forgotten all about that kiss, the one they’d shared that time when he’d patched her up. 

The memory sears. 

“You’re my best friend, too,” he’d managed to say, just before, and what kind of comment was that, when she was right there, ready to melt into his arms?

Well, no point wallowing. Life goes on, the Black Widow is his best friend, and there’s the corner where he needs to cross the street. 

One half of the gay couple that runs the local Laundromat-and-coffee shop exits just as Clint steps on the sidewalk. He’s carrying a canvas bag that sounds like it contains way more coins than anyone should ever want to count, and if he’s trying to be subtle about it, it’s not working.   Patrick, the guy’s name is. 

“Shouldn’t carry bags full of money down a New York sidewalk in broad daylight, you know,” Clint tells him. 

“Hey, man,” Patrick grins in response. “Better than doing it at night. Haven’t seen you around for a while. Busy avenging, or something?” 

Clint shrugs. He’s still not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing that he’s been outed as a part-time hero when Natasha dumped all those data on the net, but most of the people in the neighbourhood seem cool with it. And if they are, then he is too. 

“Or something. What’s with the dough?” 

He points his chin at the jingling bag. Patrick shrugs. 

“There’s been a spate of hold-ups around here lately, so we’ve started dropping off our receipts twice a day, in case, instead of just once. Rent’s going up again, and we can’t afford to hand our entire take to some asshole exercising his right to bear arms. Glad to have an escort, though!” 

Clint makes sympathetic noises. You’d have thought the area had improved when they’d cleared out the tracksuit gang -- but no such luck, apparently.

The bank is one of those local branches that are forever on Head Office’s to-be-closed list. The building dates back to the late 19th century, with ceilings so high you could fly a kite; heating bills must be through the roof. But the paint is peeling, the windows are practically opaque, and it’s only a question of time before the clerks will be replaced by an ATM and the building sold to Starbucks. 

It’s even worse on the inside. Whoever associated financial integrity with marble columns can’t have considered the counter-productive impact of falling plaster. There’s scaffolding up between several of the columns, probably mostly to stop bits from falling on customers’ heads and to keep liability insurance premiums down. 

Clint and Patrick are barely five feet into the place, when a security dude in one of those mandatory, confidence-inspiring light-blue shirts challenges Lucky’s right to exist. Clint points to his hearing aids and keeps right on walking. 

“Hearing ear dog, man. Wouldn’t want to deprive a poor, disabled citizen of his faithful canine companion, would you? Just think of the law suit.” 

The guy stares at him with his mouth open, but lets him pass. Patrick suppresses a snort, claps Clint on the shoulder and heads to the line-up for the counter marked ‘Deposits’, while Clint tries to figure out just where he should be going. Not deposits, that’s for sure. 

Maybe Kate is right, and he should try that whole internet banking thing? At least when you don’t know which button to press, no one can see you.

Well, here goes nothing. Pick a teller, Barton, and hope for the best. He glances up at the mug shots of the branch’s “valued employees”, eleven females and one guy (the manager, natch). One of them is an elderly female, in a far corner. 

Clint does a quick calculation. If he gets the boyish grin just right, chances are she’ll be charmed rather than appalled by his ignorance, and do whatever needs to be done for him, instead of making him pay those fucking bills himself. 

And so it happens that Clint finds himself behind one of the scaffolded columns, remarking on the unexpectedly lovely weather and the very select parentage of the rare Asgardian terrier by his side, when three armed guys with balaclavas on their heads burst in. 

None of that discreet slipping of a note to a teller, no. These guys, by way of introduction, demand that everyone get down, because, quote, this is a fucking hold-up, motherfuckers, and don’t anyone even think of hitting the panic button or you die unquote. 

Of course, Security Dude is not about to have his authority challenged for a second time inside five minutes. He actually pulls his piece, takes aim at the dude in the front, and what has already been a pretty shitty week in the life of Clint Barton gets a whole lot shittier.

 

 

4.

 

The sirens are getting closer, stopping somewhere near the end of the block. Right near the bank, where Clint should have arrived by now. Since there are no shots being fired at the moment, Kate pokes her head out the window and looks down the block. 

Not much to be seen, certainly no Clint. She grabs her phone and hits the Hawkeye speed dial, only to hear the opening chords of Springsteen’s I’m on Fire coming from the kitchen. Shit. He must have set down his phone to grab the doggie bag, and promptly left it behind. 

His phone is a StarkPhone, of course, with loads of snazzy features hers doesn’t have. (Hooray for Clint being an Avenger, access to top-notch gear for free even if Ironman himself is a douche.) Of course, it would be more useful if he actually took it with him sometimes …

Oh well. Lemons, lemonade. Kate grabs the phone and taps on the app for the NYPD comms channel. For once, the chirpy ‘Second Squad, this is Dispatch’ that Clint programmed into the app fails to make her smile. 

Sure enough, there it is: “Bank robbery in progress at the CitiBank on Quincey -- several shots fired.” 

And the pièce de la résistance, “Up to a dozen hostages.” 

Kate does a quick calculation: Three pee stops and maybe a poop for Lucky; chatting up a neighbour, maybe two; complete ignorance of the basic principles of banking leading to protracted flirtation with teller; full-on display of Barton charm mesmerizing same into extending the conversation… 

Double shit.

Chances are, Clint is still inside the bank. And based on how what she knows, he didn’t bring anything with him that could remotely qualify as a weapon. (Lucky doesn’t count.)

Chances are, he’ll tell himself that he is a weapon and will try something stupidly heroic, and then there’ll be more doctors, more police interviews, and more paperwork. Lots of paperwork, which he’ll expect Kate to do for him. 

They are so futzed. 

Kate’s first impulse is to grab her bow and charge down to the bank to take out whoever is holed up in there, before Clint goes into his manly I’ve got this routine.

But here’s the thing: Based on the sirens alone, half the NYPD is down there by now, and while Kate is reasonably certain they won’t just go and shoot a white female, she also knows that they sure as futz aren’t going to let her waltz into that bank without putting up a fight.

What she needs is an Avenger. Okay, another Avenger.

This is when it hits her. Appropriately enough, it’s something Clint has always drilled into her when in mentoring mode: Why shoot just one arrow, when you can hit two targets at the same time? 

And isn’t it a fact, well-established in movies (across the world, not just Hollywood, and therefore independently corroborated) that romance always blossoms most reliably when the hero rescues the maiden in distress?

So maybe Clint isn’t exactly a maiden, or even necessarily in distress, but hey, principle. This particular book practically writes itself. 

Kate reaches for Clint’s phone again.

 

 

5.

 

The only shot the guard gets off goes into the ceiling; the three fired at him, by contrast, all hit the target. He’s wearing Kevlar but Clint knows from experience that such close range, the effect on one’s diaphragm can be pretty brutal. Plus, one of the shots hit the guy’s shoulder and there’s blood everywhere. As he goes down, plaster dust comes raining down in clouds of white powder, and settles on his body like a shroud. 

Futzing idiot hero.  

Clint may have had his differences with the man, but no one just doing the job they’re paid to do deserves this. Right then and there, he swears to make his response. And maybe get the medics to the guy in time? He ducks behind one of the columns. 

An argument develops among the robbers, with one of the masked types shouting to ‘finish him off already!’ and the third discovering his conscience: “Are you fucking nuts? We said no killin’! 

There’s screaming from the civilians, of course and some loud sobbing, followed by a lot more swearing on the part of the perps. Like, what did they futzing expect? Amateurs.   

Lucky, street-smart canine that he is, doesn’t even yelp. He presses himself into the corner, tucks his tail in and watches for what happens next.

From his vantage point behind the column, Clint sees Patrick going down on the floor, as demanded by the robbers. Here’s hoping the guy doesn’t expect immediate Avenger rescue, because that’s not gonna happen quite yet. Not without weapons, and three guys with guns.

He does lock eyes with him for a second, though, and shakes his head – Don’t tell them about me… Patrick gives a tiny nod, and hugs the floor. Good man.

Clint manages to swing himself up on the scaffolding, careful to stay out of sight. Working assumption: if they tell you to get down, they sure as hell don’t expect you to go up. Besides, he needs some height for a proper tactical assessment, and if there is any ammo to be had in this joint, chances are it’ll come off that ceiling. 

Once he gets halfway up the scaffolding, it’s pretty obvious that the scene is your pretty standard amateur bank heist: Minimal planning, maximum testosterone, total reliance on the power of the gun instead of the brain, no knowledge of the terrain. 

That’s what makes it dangerous though, too, because amateurs don’t know when they’re fucked and tend to over-react. And the last thing Clint wants to see is a shootout, not with people from his own neighbourhood in the line of fire.

He does a quick headcount. Three males, armed with semi-automatic handguns -- Berettas, looks like, can’t tell the model while they’re clutching the fucking things in both hands (probably to stop them from shaking). Enough ammo in those magazines to do serious damage, even in the hands of incompetents. 

Right now the gang is arguing loudly with each other, trying to figure out just how they’re going to get their loot with all the tellers now flat on the floor. Shouldn’t one of them be packing the bags with wads of notes? Brilliant planning, guys. 

Good news (or maybe not) is that one of the employees must have managed to punch a panic button despite the order not to, because there are police sirens approaching. More swearing. What did they think, these morons, that firing shots inside a bank would bring a welcome wagon with rose petals, and not the NYPD? 

By now Clint has pulled himself to the top of the scaffolding, where a terrified worker is … well … plastered flat to the board, trying his best to stay invisible. So there was some work starting to happen here after all? Surprise, surprise. 

Clint puts his finger on his lips in the universal sign for don’t you even think about mentioning to anyone that I’m up here, bro, and Plaster Guy nods frantically. Enlightened self-interest should keep him shutting the futz up. 

Down on the floor, what passes for the gang’s leader is starting to herd the civilians into a group in the middle of the lobby. Things seem to be settling in for a good, old-fashioned siege.

Or so these assholes would like to think. 

The board that makes the top platform is a solid sheet of plywood, four by eight feet; should be pretty stable if the scaffolding it sits on has been put together properly. Not a bad basis for operations. Clint starts looking for things that could qualify as ordnance. There are bits of plaster on the wood, some tools used to knock things loose … 

He almost starts to hum. This one should go pretty much by the book. With any luck, Kate is keeping the heat under the coffee.

 

 

6.

 

How does one call an Avenger? 

Knowing how one of them would contact the others, that’s how. That, or unleashing some bio-engineered abomination on Queens, which Kate has seen working pretty well too, but is not appropriate under the circumstances. 

Breaking into Clint’s encrypted address book is easy. The password is ‘lucky’, no caps. Superspy that he is, he hasn’t changed it in eight months. It takes Kate a further three seconds to find the speed dial for “Nat”.

The Black Widow answers immediately. Special ring tone for Clint, maybe? Hmm. Kate files that information away for future reference. 

“Hey,” Natasha says by way of greeting. “Hawkeye. Woman trouble again? Try calling Stark for a change. He’s got way more experience with this stuff.”

Kate stares at the phone for a second. 

“Emm, no?” she manages to not quite squeak. The woman at the other end comes audibly to attention.

“Who is this?” she snaps. (“And why aren’t you dead already if you have Clint’s phone?” is the un-voiced implication.) 

“Emm,” Kate finds herself inexplicably tongue-tied. Who knew StarkPhones were capable of transmitting waves of icy menace? But then she remembers who she is, and rallies. “Hi. This is Kate Bishop? The other Hawkeye?” 

Probably unnecessarily, she adds, “On Clint’s phone.” 

Natasha changes gears with amazing speed. 

“So what’s with Clint?” she asks crisply. “Is he okay?” 

“I’m not sure.” 

Given what Clint has let slip about Natasha Romanoff’s interrogation skills, the truth is probably the best approach. 

“But I think he’s caught up in a bank robbery, at the CitiBank on Quincy. The NYPD wire says something about hostages.” 

Natasha is less than sympathetic. 

“Did someone think to warn the robbers?” 

Kate waffles for a moment, before the urgency of her mission reasserts itself. 

“He’s not armed,” she says. “Plus, and he’d never say this himself of course, but I think he’s still not used to the hearing loss. Tactical disadvantage. It’s probably why he got so banged up in Managua.” 

There is silence at the other end of the phone, indicating that she has found her audience at last. Kate decides to play her trump card. 

“Lucky is with him. You know how he gets when he thinks he’s got to protect the dog.” 

Apparently, Natasha does. There’s a deep intake of breath on the other end of the line. 

“Fine. I’ll be right over. I’ll get Tony to drop me off. He just came in, and is still in his suit.” 

Wait. Tony? As in, Ironman?

The line goes dead, and Kate figures she better get out there quickly, to make sure that Hawkeye and the Black Widow don’t futz up their pre-ordained happy ending.

She grabs her bow, shoots a regretful look at the barely-touched coffee, and closes the door behind her.

 

 

7.

 

Plaster guy, with whom Clint is sharing his perch on the scaffold, is shaking pretty badly, but at least he has the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Clint finds himself periodically grabbing one of the man’s appendages to provide some voiceless reassurance, even as he grubs quietly through his tool bag. 

The results are not encouraging. ACME Plaster Removal seems heavily into made-in-China-for-a-dime crap. There’s a mallet that would be far more useful if the head weren’t wobbly, because trajectory; a small handful of chisels, as dull as one of Maria Hill’s lectures on the merits of expense claims; and half a dozen or so pieces of hardened plaster his plankmate has been chipping off. They’re light, and throwing them with any authority will be a challenge, but they have nice sharp edges and could do damage in the right spot. 

Down on the floor the robbers have assembled their hostages, away from the security guard who is unconscious and bleeding, but still breathing. Patrick, to his credit, is keeping his mouth shut about the missing Avenger, despite the fact that Thing One, the shooter, is taking great pleasure in waving his gun around and saying things like “You twitch, I pull the trigger.” 

Thing Two, Mr. Conscience, is riffling through drawers that have been opened for him by a terrified young clerk, and stuffing bills into a bag he’s making her hold for him. Clint mentally adds the fact that the bag is made of plastic to the guy’s crimes. (If he didn’t, Kate would.) 

Both men are within clear shot of whatever projectile Clint might decide to deploy, but Thing Three, the guy who tried to give the kill order, has taken up position right under the scaffold -- out of sight and out of range. 

Shit. 

Too many civilians in front of too many guns, to leave one of them in a spot where he can’t be reached. Clint is good, but not that good. 

He grits his teeth at the thought of the security guard beneath, sends a mournful thought in the direction of the cooling coffee in his apartment, and settles in to wait until he gets a decent shot.

 

 

8.

 

The street is blocked off by NYPD cruisers flashing their lights, and several dozen of New York’s finest are milling about in search of a game plan. Kate is impressed by the manpower they’ve mustered in such a short time. Crime must be slow in Brooklyn today. 

“Move along, young lady,” one of them warns her. “This place is dangerous. Bank robbery in progress. There’s been shooting, and there could be more.” 

He doesn’t seem to notice the bow on her back or the quiver by her side; they’re probably so out there that they don’t process them as weapons. Kate puts on her best panic face. 

“My brother is in that bank!” she sobs dramatically. 

This statement earns her some undeserved compassion, a there, there clutch of the shoulder, and permission to stick around provided she stays out of the way -- behind the cars and the yellow tape someone’s just strung up. 

Kate joins the gathering crowd; the prospect of a good shootout always seems to attract the gawkers, go figure. 

Ironman, of course, ignores that yellow tape as if it were meant for mere mortals. He lands in the middle of the fray, his aptly-named repulsors making a weird whooshing sound. His human cargo, by contrast, leaps gracefully and silently out of his arms. 

Natasha Romanoff, as always, is resplendent in full tactical kit. (Does she wear that 24/7, or is she one of those disgusting people who can dress in seconds and look like a million bucks?) Looking at those lines of shiny leather and neoprene, Kate can sure understand why Clint might be pining for her. Seriously, wowza. 

“It’s the Avengers!” someone gasps beside Kate, and there’s an immediate, swelling sense of pride among the gawkers that a mere Brooklyn corner bank robbery would attract such top-notch talent. Cell phones are being whipped out of pockets, and someone calls for Ironman to come over for a selfie. 

Kate uses the commotion to cross the yellow tape and join the two arrivals, over shouts of ‘get back, young lady!” from one of the cops. 

“Hi, I’m Kate,” she introduces herself to Stark. Natasha, of course, will remember her, even if they’ve only met a couple of times. “The one who called? Thanks for coming so quickly.” 

The Black Widow scans her with a look that reminds Kate of the laser beam that guy Syndrome used to search for Mr. Incredible; alas, there’s no pile of bones to hide behind here. 

“You look totally worried, Bishop,” Natasha states. “Close to freaking out, in fact. What makes you think Clint can’t handle this, again?” 

Kate takes careful umbrage. No way will this unravel now, now that she’s got her protagonists thisclose together. 

“He’s been in that bank for over twenty minutes now,” she says. “So there must be a problem.” 

“Not like Barton to be in the same place with a bunch of thugs and not cause an explosion,” Stark chimes in helpfully. For a second, he moves out of the douchebags-to-be-avoided-at-all-cost category, but then he flips up his faceplate, smiles at the admiring throng, and says, “Maybe he was hit in that shootout.” 

Now, truth be told, Kate hadn’t actually considered that possibility, and Stark’s words hit her in an unexpected place. For a moment, her lungs refuse to fill with air. 

Romanoff, too, seems struck. She strides over to the cop who’s been shouting the loudest without actually doing anything – presumably the boss -- and takes charge. 

“This is Avengers business,” she informs him coolly. “One of our own has been targeted. I trust we have no issues with jurisdiction. If you do, send a note to Congressman Wilson. He can add it to the list.” 

The man opens and closes his mouth in a most unflattering way, but by the time he manages to vibrate his vocal chords, Natasha has already turned away. 

She snaps an order at Ironman, “Keep an eye on the exits for me, will you?” and another at Kate, “You as good with that bow as Clint claims? Show me.” 

Slightly flattered by the idea that Clint has been bragging about her to his lethal friend, Kate nods and takes the bow off her shoulder. She flashes a grin at Stark, who doesn’t seem at all bothered by being relegated to the back row. Maybe he’s not that much of a douche after all? 

He takes off to hover somewhere and Kate scrambles after the Black Widow, who wastes no time marching up to the Bank. There are no obstacles in her way, since the cops have circled their wagons a fair distance away. 

Natasha turns when she gets to the building, careful not to be within the sightlines of the glass door, and faces Kate. 

“Since you’ve spent time with Barton, you must know Rule One of the Avengers’ playbook: Never waste time sneaking in the back, when you can come crashing through the front door. Clint calls it The Element Of Surprise.” 

Kate nods. Yep, that sounds familiar. Might as well get this over with quickly, and move on to the denouement. 

“Ready when you are.”

 

  

9.

 

The banging noise has stopped and Lucky can lift his head up from his paws now and sniff the room. 

It smells of people fear – acrid, bitter – and a bit of people pee. People blood, too. 

And that yellow smell that always follows the noise from the shiny things, like when The Boss and The Girl fought with the men who’d kicked Lucky. (“Bro’, bro’, bro’,” they’d said, like they were trying to bark but it didn’t say anything Lucky understood.) And then there’d been flying sticks and rocks and Lucky had bitten legs and there was more noise and then the Bro people lay on the ground and smelled of blood more than they did of the yellow smell. And the Boss had stayed home for a while on the couch, and Lucky got much pizza and his ears scratched. 

There’s another smell, too, the one he smells when the Boss gives someone at the door flappy pieces of paper for a box of pizza. The smell of the flappy paper is strong, very strong. 

Enough smelly flappy paper for lots and lots of pizza for Lucky. 

The Boss is gone but Lucky smells his trail, up the high thing he can’t climb. The Boss is here, and Lucky feels good about that. It’s nice when he’s here. He hasn’t been here for several whiles. 

The fear smell eddies and whirls around the people who are holding the shiny things that make the smelly noise; one of the shiny things is smoking. It’s where the smells are strongest. 

Lucky doesn’t like that smell or that man, and he doesn’t like the smell he produces in the other people. People smell better without fear smell. 

The Boss doesn’t like the man either, or the other men; Lucky is sure of that. It’s why he went up high. The Boss likes being up high, and to make the fear smell go away. The Boss is good and gives Lucky pizza. 

Maybe if Lucky chases the men the Boss will come down and give him a reward. Tickle his ears and get Lucky pizza from all that smelly flappy paper in the room.

Lucky knows what to do.

 

 

10.

 

Clint wiggles his shoulders a little to loosen them up and weighs the mallet in his hand. A little – okay, a mighty -- twist had served to tighten the head a bit, so now it should fly true. 

Plaster-man is still shivering, but still quiet. And so it is that Clint’s Stark-designed hearing aids are able to pick up the scritch-scritch-scritch of paws on a smooth floor. 

Lucky? Oh, shit. No, boy, no … 

“Hey! Where’d that fucking dog come from?” 

Thing One yelps and curses, as Lucky goes straight for his leg with a feral growl. 

“Get him off me!” 

He points his gun at Lucky, who by now is firmly attached to his hamstring. But self-preservation works even in low-rent criminals, and since he probably doesn’t want to shoot himself in the foot, he doesn’t actually fire. 

Of course, the people on the floor start screaming again at the sight of the gun being waved around. Except Patrick, who shouts, “Lucky!” by way of a warning, or just automatically, who knows. 

At the sound of his name Lucky stops chewing the guy's leg and drops to the floor, allowing Thing One to kick him a couple of feet away from his body. Thing Two tries to get a bead on Lucky from behind the counter, and of course Clint can’t let that happen. He jumps up to stand on the scaffold, and winds up to hurl the mallet. 

And a few things happen at once. 

Plaster Guy does a panicky twitch, hisses something that amounts to “Don’t! They’ll find out we’re up here!” and lunges for Clint’s leg, just as he lets fly the mallet. 

Now that’s a whole lot of sudden movement all at once, what with Clint having just jumped up, and as it turns out ACME scaffolding is as shitty as their tools: The board shudders out of the rungs where it rests on the scaffolding, there’s a slide and a drop, and down comes the platform, Hawkeye and all. 

Meanwhile, across the other side of the bank, the front door crashes open, followed by two quick shots that Clint, even in mid-air, recognizes as coming from a Glock. 

The shots and the thud of mallet-on-knucklehead coincide with the familiar whoosh of an arrow. Those hearing aids pick up everything… 

By the time Clint’s finished marveling about that he’s almost through his descent, and it’s a bit late to finish the flip that usually helps him not to land on his head. Plus, that sheet of plywood he’d been using as a perch is coming at him like a giant flyswatter, and he has to roll out of the way even as he is trying to stick his landing. 

Clint can feel his knee pop as he goes down, and just to cap things off, his hearing aids fall out when his head hits the floor -- it may not be marble, but that sucker is hard

And the world becomes utterly silent. 

Which is probably just as well, because Plaster Guy – who must have hung on to a rung for a bit -- is coming down now, too, in a cloud of white dust, probably screeching as he goes, followed by much of the scaffolding. The civilians are all screaming at once and it’s a fair cop that Lucky isn’t quiet, either.

Maybe silence isn’t such a bad thing. 

Plaster Guy lands on the board that had come down on Thing Three, who’d been standing right underneath. There is an arrow -- or is it two? Clint’s vision is getting fuzzy -- sticking out of the thug’s eye socket; it’s a fair assumption he won’t be getting up. Thing One has two bullet holes in his chest, and Thing Two is staggering around like a drunk from the impact of the mallet, before finally falling down. 

There’s more commotion now as the room starts to fill up with cops. Through eyes that are getting heavy, Clint sees Patrick, still clutching his bag of change from the Laundromat, and Katie-Kate, arguing with a cop about something.

A black shadow bends over Clint, and he feels something – someone -- touching his shoulder. 

“Are you okay?” 

Clint doesn’t hear the words but he can see them, formed in slow motion by Natasha’s lips. They’re much prettier that way, he decides, and nods enthusiastically. (Ouch.) His eyes stay focused on her mouth, just in case it does something else wonderful. 

She is by far the best thing that’s happened to him on this pig fucker of an afternoon, and he says so. Her mouth twitches rather appealingly, and Clint is starting to see some dancing stars. He decides to just lie back and enjoy the view for a while, especially since getting up doesn’t seem to be in the cards for a bit. 

Next thing he knows, his head is in a soft lap, and his face is being slobbered on by a dog. Clint likes Lucky, but couldn’t that be Natasha’s tongue? It would feel so much nicer… And her breath is probably better, too… 

A metallic-feeling hand shoves something in his ear. 

“…. located your hearing aids, Barton. To help you know when to shut up.” 

Ironman? The fuck?

He’d been right about the noise, though. There are way too many people talking at once now that it’s making his head hurt even more. Lucky is barking in his I-want-a-reward-and-it-better-be-pizza voice, and somewhere an ambulance is howling. To top things off, Clint hears the words “formal report” through the thickening fog inside his head; maybe losing consciousness right now wouldn’t be the worst option. 

The last thing he feels is a hand, travelling up his cheek into his hair.

 

 

11.

 

Now the rescue didn’t go down perhaps quite as epically as Kate had hoped, but judging by the way Natasha is currently packing Clint’s knee in ice and telling him to shut up and lie still so he doesn’t damage what remains of his brain, the outcome is even better than she’d hoped for. 

Lucky is blissing out over some cold pizza, which he is devouring with all the enthusiasm of someone who has earned a reward and intends to enjoy it. 

Kate looks over at Ironman, who has peeled off the top part of that red-and-gold crust of his, and is sniffing at the coffee. Surprisingly, it’s still somewhat warm. 

“Glad to learn that Barton has decent taste in something,” he approves and pours himself a cup before turning back to Kate. “Nice work, Kathy, or whatever your name is." 

Okay, so he may have provided the airlift that got Clint back to his apartment and on his couch, but he’s still a douche. 

“Thanks for the patronage, Mr. Lannister,” she says with as much acerbity as she can muster, not caring whether he gets the reference. “I positively thrive on male approval of my marksmanship.” 

Stark swishes the coffee around in his mouth with the air of the unperturbed connoisseur, and swallows. 

“Oh, I’m not talking about that medieval weapon of yours. I’m talking about that.” 

Stark uses his thumb to point over to the couch, where Natasha has settled down in the small space beside Clint’s hip, her hand massaging his scalp with minimal complaints on his part. His arm snakes around her waist, without provoking any visible lethal response. 

“Your little plan to get Romanoff to come to the rescue won me ten bucks from Rogers. Good call. We’ve been trying to engineer something like this for weeks.” 

Kate’s heart swells a little at the sight of what’s happening on the couch, but then she registers Stark’s words.

Wait. What? Surely it wasn’t that obvious. But … 

“Ten bucks?” 

It’s an insult, really. That plan was good. Worth at least a Franklin.  

Stark gives her that look of infinite patience that always makes her want to shove an arrow up people’s nostril. 

“Rogers never bets more than ten. And before you ask, yes, it was pretty obvious. Seriously. A bank robbery? Although Barton won’t have a clue, and Romanoff doesn’t seem to mind.” He sets down his cup, stretches out his arms, and waits for his suit to click back on. “Well, I’m on my way. Suggest you be, too, before those two get any hotter and heavier. Barton doesn’t strike me as being particularly inhibited, even when he’s concussed. Especially not when he’s concussed.”

Stark waves at Clint and Natasha, who seem welded to the couch (and each other) now and pretty much indifferent to his existence. 

“You assassin people go live happily ever after! Or at least until the weekend, when I can get my tenner from Cap.” 

And with that, he’s off, and Kate lets out a huffing breath of relief. 

But maybe Ironman is right, and she should get out while the getting is good. She already knows way more about Clint Barton’s sex life than she needs to, and Natasha’s hand is starting to wander under his t-shirt.

Kate finishes her own coffee, now almost cold, and scratches Lucky’s ears until he flattens them to his head in bliss.  She pets him fondly on the back and gets up, grabs her bow, and heads for the door without looking back. 

It’s been a good day, all things considered; time to relax with a trashy book. Maybe even a romance.