Clint and Kate had already passed three other archers, a middle-aged man wielding a broadsword, and a small bulldog with a size-appropriate plastic axe strapped to its back, and they hadn't even left the parking lot yet.
"That guy over there? You know his sword isn't historically accurate."
"I know, Clint."
"It's made out of papier-maché."
"I know, Clint."
"And dogs can't hold axes. You know why? They don't have thumbs. Also, those three archers? Their quivers were empty...no arrows. What's the point of an empty quiver?"
Kate tugged on Clint's arm and the two of them fell into step behind a family of four heading toward a sign saying 'This way to the Fairgrounds!'
"The point, Clint, is fun. You remember fun, don't you?"
"I remember sleeping in late on Saturdays being fun. Sleeping's fun. Somebody waking me up at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday to drive them to Tuxedo, New York to go to the Renaissance Faire is a fun killer."
Kate sighed. "Okay, look at that tiny little Queen Elizabeth running up the hill next to the tiny little dragon. Aren't they cute?"
"They're cute. And you're still a fun killer."
"I brought you coffee. I served you coffee in bed."
"I was in bed because I was asleep," Clint said.
"I laid out clothes for you."
Clint looked down at what he was wearing and shook his head. "Puffy sleeves, Kate. You made me wear a shirt with bows and ties and puffy sleeves!"
Kate snorted. "Yeah, but those purple boots you're wearing came right out of your closet. Anyway...you aren't seriously complaining about having to wear a stupid costume, are you, because you know I've seen that poster of you in your circus gear."
"Yeah, well...that was a long time ago," he mumbled. "And this shirt is itchy."
"Oh, you are the biggest baby," Kate huffed, then reached over to scratch between Clint's shoulder blades. "Anyway, you owe me, Clint Barton. After Madripoor, you said you'd take me somewhere nice, and this is what I want. Just a nice day out like normal people."
A trio of teenagers, inexplicably dressed as mimes ran past, and Clint laughed. "Yeah, I'm not sure I see a whole lot of normal here, but...nah, I'm being a jerk, Katie. I know this is a thing for you, and I promise I'll behave."
Three hours later, and the day was turning out to be not quite as painful as Clint had thought it was going to be, even though Kate seemed hell-bent on reliving every single memory from her childhood outings.
He wondered briefly who'd been responsible for taking wee!Kate to the fair - hard to believe her father'd had anything to do with it. It was probably some well-meaning au pair, but Clint knew better than to ask; Kate had lived most of her young life in the glare of the media spotlight, and she'd learned to be almost as close-mouthed as Clint when it came to keeping her private life private. She'd talk when she wanted to, and that was fine with him.
They spent most of the morning checking out the market stalls, wagering on turtle races, attending a 'Pirate Spectacular' (which, honestly, wasn't all that spectacular, although the lead pirate bore an uncanny resemblance to Nick Fury), and watching a raptor exhibition put on by a local conservation group (afterwards, Clint and Kate both ended up giving sizable donations to the group because...hawks!)
It was 1:00 p.m. before they started to head back to the food stalls to get something to eat, but halfway there, Kate stopped in her tracks.
"Hey," she said. "Isn't that Josh over at the archery range?"
He looked over where she was pointing and saw a small boy who couldn't be more than eight or nine years old holding a bow that was almost too big for him to handle. He was pushing his shaggy brown curls off his face and listening intently to instructions from some Robin Hood wannabe.
"Yeah, that's him," Clint said. "Hey, how do you know Josh? He's my next door neighbor."
"Yeah, and he's outside playing stoopball just about every time I come over. Anyway, I saw him last week. He's the one who reminded me that the Renaissance Faire was going on."
"Huh. You want to go over and say hi?"
They walked over behind Josh, mindful not to say anything as he carefully pulled back on the bow string and released. His arrow didn't hit the bullseye, of course, but it did hit the edge of the bale of hay that the target had been painted on, and both Clint and Kate applauded.
Josh spun around and laughed out loud. "Hey you guys! Did you see that?"
"Sure did, buddy," said Clint. "That was awesome...keep it up."
"Looks like you might have to watch out in a few years," Kate said to Clint with a grin. "He might end up being the world's greatest marksman."
Clint groaned. "How many of you am I going to have to worry about?"
"He's going to be a great archer," the instructor agreed cheerfully, then his brows knit in confusion. "Wait...you're not the parents, are you?"
"Of course we are," Kate said. "I gave birth to Josh when I was ten years old."
Josh giggled. "They're not my parents. Mom and Dad went to get us drinks. Hey," he said, turning back to Clint and Kate. "You guys should take a turn."
"I don't know, Josh," said Clint. "It looks pretty hard."
The archer in green smiled smugly. "I am certain we can see to it that your Lordship does not shame himself unduly in front of his Lady."
"I wouldn't bet on that," Kate said, her expression dubious. "He's not the most coordinated of guys."
Clint narrowed his eyes. "Okay, now my...um...my honor's been besmirched or something."
"Besmirched?" said Kate, laughing.
"Whatever," he muttered. "Somebody hand me a bow. This is on."
Clint patiently suffered through almost five minutes of completely unnecessary instruction as his unconventional stance was repeatedly 'corrected' by Robin Hood and two of his Merrie Band of Co-Workers, and he had to snatch Kate's phone out of her hand before she could record the archery lesson and upload it to YouTube. But when Clint finally started shooting, all ten arrows ended up at the very center of the bullseye in fewer than ten seconds, each arrow driving straight through the one that came before.
"Ah, bro," moaned the archery instructor, dropping all attempt to stay in character as he stared in disbelief at the target. "My arrows."
"Yeah, sorry," said Clint, before reaching into his pocket. He pulled out two fifty dollar bills and handed them to the guy.
"Oh, hey man, um, I mean...My Lord, you needn't...um...watching your Lordship's expertise was...."
"Nah, seriously, just keep the money," said Clint, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "Arrows are expensive, and, really, I was being kind of an asshole."
"Hey," Kate said, jabbing Clint in the ribs with her elbow. "Kid here. Mind your mouth."
"A jerk, I meant," said Clint. "Anyway, if you're feeling weird about keeping the money, give my boy Josh here a few more turns until his folks come back."
"We can do that."
"Cool. Josh, you going to be good here if Kate and me go off to get something to eat?" Josh nodded, and Clint ruffled his hair. "Okay then. Watch out for him, yeah?"
"Will do," said the archer. "And really, that was some pretty amazing shooting. You should think about doing it professionally or something."
Clint nodded as Kate and Josh tried not to laugh. "Yeah, I'll give that some thought. Come on, Katie...it's time for food, and now that I'm out of cash, you're totally buying. See you later, Josh."
After standing in line to get their food, Clint and Kate sat down at the end of one of the picnic tables and started in on their turkey legs, corn, and lemonade. The sun was shining brightly, and a gentle breeze was blowing which kept it from feeling too hot. All in all, it was a pretty perfect late summer day, until Kate decided it was time, once again, to interrogate Clint about his non-existent love-life.
"So. How did Thursday night go?"
Clint groaned. If he were here with one of the Avengers, even Natasha (especially Natasha, to be honest), the only thing most of them would want to know was whether he'd 'hooked up lately,' and until recently, the answer was probably going to be "Of course." But Kate...somehow she'd got it into her head that he wanted to be dating - that he was looking for some kind of long-term relationship, which, okay, he might have mentioned wanting something like that once or twice (or maybe closer to a dozen times), and now he couldn't get her to shut up about it. He supposed there was a slight possibility that he could deflect Kate from her line of questioning for a little while, like if an invasion of Skrull happened in the next five seconds.
Five, four, three, two, one...ah hell, no Skrull.
"It was fine."
"Fine isn't a good enough answer, Clint. I want details."
"Seriously, there's nothing to tell. We went out, dinner was good, we saw a movie. It was nice."
"Which one what?"
"Which movie did you take her to?"
"Um...some Disney movie?"
"Seriously? Are you nine years old?"
"Hey, she said she wanted to see it."
"Anyway, the movie was fine, and then when it was over, I walked her home, and, you know...it was nice."
Kate shook her head. "Yeah, nice for the 1940s. Really, Clint, are you channeling Steve?"
Not that he was going to tell her, but Clint was weirdly happy to have been compared to Captain America, even if it was just where his loser dating moves were concerned.
"Okay," Kate said. "Did you at least kiss her goodnight?"
Clint gave her a look, which he intended to mean "None of your business," but which he was pretty sure said "Oh hell, was I supposed to kiss her goodnight?" instead, and Kate sighed. "You are such a disappointment to me. You know that, don't you?"
The words, especially spoken by somebody who was little more than a kid, were kind of insulting, but there was a fondness there too, and Clint was ready to just let it pass until Kate had to go and ruin things by talking again.
"So what about that guy you've been having breakfast dates with?"
Clint blinked. "Huh? I haven't been having breakfast dates with anybody."
"You have, too. The guy with the suits."
"Oh, no, he's just...nah. We've just both been at the same diner a couple times, that's all."
"A couple times a week for the past month," Kate said archly.
"Whatever. Look...he's probably married anyway, not that they're dates and not that I even want to be dating anybody."
Kate's eyes took on a dangerous glint, the way they always did when she had a target in her sights. She leaned forward. "Why do you think he's married?"
Clint slurped the last of his lemonade, then placed the cup down on the table and frowned. "Well, for one thing, when I met him, he was wearing a ring."
He knew better than to think Kate would let this go, and Clint was just about to clam up entirely in self-defense, but then he thought maybe her question wasn't such a bad one.
"Was, yeah," he said slowly. "I guess I haven't seen a ring on him in weeks, and there's no tan line, so...okay, maybe he's not really married?"
"Ooh, the plot thickens!" she said with a grin. "Maybe he was undercover as a married guy? What does he do for a living? Is he a cop or something?"
"No, he's...huh, okay, you know what? I don't really know what he does. For all I know, he's a high school principal or something. He dresses sort of like one."
"As if you'd know what one looks like, Mr 'Didn't even go to High School.'"
"Hey, I watch t.v.; I've seen principals. Anyway, what did the principal look like in your fancy-pants Academy? Oh wait, I bet you had some snooty headmistress, didn't you? Did she wear a tiara?"
Kate smacked him on the arm. "We had a headmaster, and he generally wore charcoal grey pinstripe suits."
"See, that's what I mean. My guy's probably a principal or something."
"Hah! You said your guy!"
Clint looked away. "Oh hey, look over there."
Kate laughed. "That was the most pathetic example of someone trying to subtly change the subject that I've ever seen. Are you sure you're an Avenger?"
"First of all, when have you ever known any of the Avengers to be subtle? But no, it's just...there's Josh again, over by the jousting course, and he's with...I guess he's with his mom and dad this time?"
"What, those two blond giants standing on either side of him who look like the secret fraternal love twins of Steve Rogers and Thor?"
Trying hard not to spend too much time thinking about that image, Clint shrugged. "I guess? I've never met them."
"Huh. Well," Kate said, "No time like the present."
She whistled - loudly - and Josh (plus half the kids in the vicinity) turned around. As soon as the boy spotted them, he pulled at his parents' arms and brought them over to meet Clint and Kate.
It was obvious from the sparkle in his dark brown eyes that Josh was excited about finally getting the chance to introduce his folks to the two of them, but while his parents seemed polite enough, Clint could see that their smiles were a little forced - and he knew Kate hadn't missed the worried looks Mr. and Mrs. Sorenson exchanged when they thought Kate and Clint weren't paying attention.
Josh, though, clearly didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. He yammered excitedly about what a great day he'd had so far, and about the wooden castle his parents said they'd buy for him at the end of the afternoon, and how he was going to be starting fourth grade the following week and his mom and dad were taking him to Target for new school supplies.
"I'm going to get a Captain America backpack, right mom?"
"If they have one, honey."
"You're not going to get a Hawkeye backpack?" Kate asked slyly.
Josh's dad grinned for the first time. "Oh, Josh already has one of those. Actually, he has two of those, don't you champ?"
"Da-ad," Josh said, blushing a little. "You weren't supposed to say."
Kate laughed and gave Josh a one-armed hug, and Clint...well, it might be that he was preening, just the slightest bit, but he was pretty sure nobody noticed.
By the time Kate decided she was actually ready to leave the fair, she'd made Clint go to the finals of the jousting tournament, watch the coronation of the King and Queen, see an aerial acrobatics display (twice), and eat a Hulk-sized ice cream sundae.
Or maybe Clint was the one who decided to get the Hulk-sized ice cream sundae without any input from Kate...he couldn't really remember.
Either way, between their late departure, a detour into Manhattan to drop Kate off at her own apartment, and the Brooklyn Bridge traffic practically at a standstill since all but a single lane was closed due to roadwork, Clint didn't get home until close to 10:00 p.m., a little too late to go to the archery range. Putting off his regular practice until the following morning was the only reason Clint was awake at 7:15 a.m. on a Sunday, drinking a second cup of coffee and waxing his bow string as he sat on the window sill and looked down into the street where Josh and two of the other neighborhood kids were already playing stoopball.
Clint grinned as Josh's first ball bounced against the third step and flew back over the heads of his two friends, landing in an open trash can on the other side of the street. Clint opened the window to cheer Josh on, but before he could say anything, a navy blue van stopped in front of Josh's apartment building, and a man in a green track suit opened the back passenger side door and called the boy over to ask him for directions.
Josh was a smart kid, and there was no way a nine year old New Yorker hadn't been warned repeatedly about talking to strangers, but Josh was also a helpful kid, and since his friends were still on the other side of the street trying to find the ball, he turned around and took a few steps towards the van.
In the time it took a worried Clint to put his coffee cup down on the floor, the man in the green track suit had stepped out onto the sidewalk and was pushing Josh into the van's back seat.
Clint slipped his quiver over his shoulders and stepped through the window, bow in hand, onto the fire escape as one of Josh's friends yelled "Let him go!" from across the road. The van started to pull away from the curb, but Clint made a one-handed grab for the heavy duty outdoor extension cord that had been hooked up since the previous winter and sailed out over the sidewalk, landing on the van's roof, before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell phone.
"Catch!" he yelled to the older of the two boys, throwing the phone straight at him. "Press Star One, and tell whoever answers that Clint says to look for a navy blue metallic 1995 Dodge Ram Van 3500 with Jersey plates. Got that?"
Clint could only hope the boy did, because before the kid had a chance to answer, both the van and Clint - who was clinging onto the roof by his fingertips - were a block away and picking up speed.
The trouble, Clint thought as he slowly maneuvered himself into a more secure position, was that he had a very limited number of options. Ordinarily, he'd just try to kick in the driver's side window and hope that was enough of a distraction to make the driver temporarily lose his grip on the wheel. Under ordinary circumstances, that would give Clint a good chance of wresting the wheel out of the driver's control completely and steering them into the most conveniently placed brick wall, but with Josh being held in the van...no, Clint couldn't take the risk. To be honest, almost anything Clint could think of trying to do would be too dangerous with Josh in the van. He was pretty sure that neither of the two men were carrying guns, since neither of them had reached up to take a shot at him yet, but if he was wrong, he could end up being responsible for Josh being seriously hurt...or worse.
In the end, figuring out what to do next was taken out of Clint's hands when three black cars, all clearly recognizable to him as belonging to S.H.I.E.L.D., converged on the van from three different directions, which he guessed meant Josh's friend had come through. The van's driver slammed on the brakes - Clint barely holding on - and threw open his door.
"...not paying us enough for this shit!" Clint heard the man shout.
"No fucking kidding," yelled the man in the green track suit, before kicking open the passenger side door and jumping out of the van.
If the men had run in two separate directions, Clint's job would have been much more difficult, but Tracksuit Guy ran around the back of the van before heading down an alley after the driver. Clint got up on his knees, took aim, and once Tracksuit Guy was within arm's length of his 'colleague,' Clint fired a single tangling rope arrow  and took both men down.
As soon as Clint saw a pair of agents heading into the alley to collect the two would-be kidnappers, he jumped off the top of the van and climbed inside. On the floor of the back seat, duct tape over his mouth and a nasty looking gash in his left side, was the boy.
"Aw, Josh...what'd those guys do to you?" Clint removed his quiver, then pulled his t-shirt off and covered Josh's side with the shirt, trying to stop the bleeding. Still pressing his hand against the wound, Clint leaned out of the van and called out for somebody to get an ambulance.
"Already taken care of, Mr Barton," said one of the agents, approaching the van. "It's on the way."
"Good," Clint said, turning to look at the man in the suit - the man in the extremely familiar looking suit.
"Phil? What are you doing here?"
"I don't suppose you'd believe me if I said I just happened to be in the neighborhood?" Phil asked sheepishly.
Clint shook his head. "Not really, no. S.H.I.E.L.D., huh?"
Phil nodded. "I haven't been at headquarters much recently. I've been...on assignment."
"Hunh," Clint said, moving out of the way as a pair of EMTs slid into the van to assess the seriousness of the wound. The younger of the two handed Clint his blood-stained t-shirt and placed a section of sterile gauze over the wound site, then both of them prepared to transfer Josh to a stretcher and move him to the ambulance.
"Hey, what's your name?" Clint asked the lead medical technician.
"Okay, Sandra, if it's okay with you, I'm going to go in the ambulance with Josh here," Clint said.
She nodded as she and her partner strapped Josh securely onto the stretcher. "That's good, right Josh? You'll have someone you know with you on the way to the hospital?"
"Uh huh," Josh said, his voice trembling a little "Can I call my mom?"
"I can do that for you, Josh," said Clint, taking the boy's phone from the pocket his fingers had been clutching at. "Do you want me to have your folks meet us at the hospital?"
Josh nodded, then screwed his eyes closed, probably, Clint thought, to keep from crying.
"Where are we headed?" Clint asked Sandra.
"New York Methodist," she replied. "You're going to try to reach the parents?"
"Yeah, as soon as we're underway. Phil, I'll...talk to you later this week?"
"Sooner than that," he said. "I'll be joining you at the hospital in less than half an hour."
"Yeah, okay, so...I'll see you then?" Clint said, unable to keep a slight hint of suspicion out of his voice, because really, this wasn't the sort of thing S.H.I.E.L.D. ever involved itself in. In fact, Clint was surprised they hadn't handed the whole case off to the cops by now, and maybe he would have mentioned that fact, except just then Phil's tongue darted out to wet his lower lip, and there was no way Clint was going to say anything that might get in the way of his spending more time with the man.
Damn Kate Bishop for being right. It looked like there was a pretty good chance that he and Phil had been dating all along, even though Clint had never noticed it.
As the ambulance pulled away, he wondered whether Phil had known they'd been dating?
The rest of the morning was a clusterfuck of mammoth proportions.
It should have gone down in the books as a win. The two would-be kidnappers had been taken into custody, The EMTs got Josh to New York Methodist in record time, and both of Josh's parents were already waiting with the doctor when the ambulance arrived, which let the boy relax for the first time since he'd been abducted.
Then the doctor ordered a blood transfusion for Josh, and when she turned to the Sorensons, they both backed away from their son as if they'd been scalded.
"I...no, we can't!" Josh's mother said, with an unmistakable note of terror in her voice. "We can't give blood. Neither of us!"
The doctor frowned. "Actually, I was just going to ask if you knew his blood type, but that can wait." She turned to her nurse to order a unit of O negative, and as soon as she did, both of Josh's parents started walking swiftly down the corridor away from their son and towards the emergency exit.
"Mommy!" Josh cried. "Daddy! Come back."
Standing beside Josh, Clint held the boy's hand in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. "Hey, your folks probably just went to get a drink or something. Don't worry, kiddo."
"No," Josh moaned plaintively. "I want my mommy."
Clint was torn between wanting to stay to comfort Josh and wanting to go after his parents to find out what the fuck they thought they were doing. Maybe they were hemophobic or something? Except it would have to be pretty bad for them to ditch their son like that, and for both of them to be reacting so strongly to just the idea of giving blood, well...it was pretty hard to believe.
Then just before they reached the exit, the doors opened and in walked Phil, flanked by two police officers and accompanied by a dark-haired couple that Clint was absolutely positive he'd seen at one of Tony Stark's parties.
The Sorensons froze.
From the end of the long corridor, Phil met Clint's gaze and nodded once in the direction of the boy. It was almost as if the two of them had been working together for years, him and Phil. Without a word being spoken, Clint took two steps to the left and blocked Josh's view of the police forcibly removing the Sorensons from the hospital.
What the hell was going on? Why had Josh's parents been taken into custody, and why did it look like Phil was trying to keep the two strangers from going after them? Somebody had better come up with some answers pretty damned soon, Clint thought.
The doctor glanced over her shoulder at the commotion being raised at the end of the hall, then looked back at Clint. "I think it would probably be best if we moved Josh to a private room, at least for the time being."
"Can I give you a hand?" Clint asked.
The doctor nodded, and Clint knelt down to release the brakes on the emergency stretcher's wheels. When he rose, another unfamiliar woman was standing beside Josh, a folder in her hands, marked with the distinctive logo of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
The woman smiled down at the boy. "Hi Josh," she said. "I'm Evelyn Washington, and I've going to be looking out for you for a little while."
"I want my mom."
She glanced over her shoulder and took a look at the couple standing with Phil, then turned back to Josh. "I know you do, sweetie, and we'll try to get everything sorted out as quickly as possible so you can see your folks again. For now though, I think the doctor needs to finish examining you and then...maybe some ice cream? Do you like ice cream, Josh?
Josh nodded a little. "I like mint chocolate chip."
"Hey, that's one of my favorite flavors too," said Evelyn, smiling kindly, and Josh offered a tentative smile in return. Before Clint knew what had happened, Evelyn had taken his place and she was holding Josh's hand. "Okay Josh. Now we're going to go somewhere a little more quiet with Doctor Austin."
She glanced up at Clint. "I think we can take it from here, Mr. Barton. Don't worry...we'll take good care of your young friend."
"Uh...yeah, okay," Clint said. "Good meeting you."
"Nice meeting you as well," said Evelyn, and with that, the case worker appeared to dismiss Clint from her consciousness.
"So, hey...Josh," said Clint, laying the palm of his hand on the boy's sweaty forehead. "I'm going to need to get out of the doctor's way right now, but I'll try to get back to you in a little while."
"You be brave now, okay?"
Josh tried to nod. "I'll try to be brave like Hawkeye."
Aw hell, why did he have to go and say that? Because really, Clint wasn't feeling all that brave at the moment. "You do that, buddy," he said, squeezing Josh's shoulder before stepping back from the stretcher.
As the case worker and Doctor Austin wheeled Josh into a room just past the nurse's station, Clint headed down the hall to where Phil was still engaged in what looked to be a particularly fraught conversation.
"Clint," Phil said with an almost undetectable note of relief in his voice. "Glad you could join us. Mr. and Mrs. Demetrios, this is my associate, Clint Barton. Clint, Simon and Catherine Demetrios."
Clint extended his hand, and Simon Demetrios shook it, but not without pausing first to take in Clint's faded jeans and reclaimed (and now bloody) t-shirt, and the bow and arrow he had slung over one shoulder.
Catherine Demetrios, her arms crossed over her chest, simply nodded at Clint and said, "A pleasure," in a tone that indicated it was anything but.
"If you'll excuse us for a moment, Clint and I have a few matters to discuss."
"Not a problem," Simon Demetrios said. "Take all the time you need. We'll be right here, waiting to speak with our attorney."
Phil, wearing his blandest expression, nodded at the couple, then he and Clint walked down the corridor until Simon and Catherine Demetrios were no longer in earshot.
"What the hell, Phil?" hissed Clint. "Did Josh's parents just get arrested? And who are these two, apart from Mr. and Mrs. Omicron Industries?"
"You know them?"
"Know of them. Tony Stark's New Year's Eve parties have pretty extensive guest lists. Which...is so not the point. What the hell's going on here?"
"I'll start with the most pertinent point, which is that the Sorensons aren't Josh's parents."
"They were his kidnappers...six years ago. They worked for the Demetrios family; Erik Sorenson was their driver and his wife Nora was Josh's nanny. Both of them were on record as having reported...let's just call it irregularities where the treatment of the children - Josh and his two older brothers - were concerned."
"You mean the kids were getting smacked around."
Phil nodded. "The medical records show more than seventeen broken bones between the three boys, and a half dozen concussions, and these are just the things that were reported. Of course, there were explanations for each incident."
"Yeah," Clint said, trying hard not to think about his own childhood. "There always are."
"Anyway, when the Demetrioses found out about the reports, they fired the Sorensons immediately, and when the Sorensons left, it was with an extra passenger in their car."
"Nobody stopped them?"
"By the time the Demetrioses noticed their youngest son was missing, enough time had passed for the Sorensons to sell their car for cash and get a start on forging new identities, which ought to give you some idea about how much attention they paid to their children."
"Jesus Christ," Clint said with disgust. "So what about Tracksuit Guy and his driver pal?"
"They were the boy's kidnappers today, hired by the Demetrioses."
"Aw...I can't believe that Simon and Catherine Demetrios are Josh's birth parents. I mean, he looks just like them, and he obviously doesn't have the same blood type as the Sorensons, if the way they freaked out when they thought they were going to have to donate blood means anything, but man, I just met the Demetrioses, and I hate them already. Tony said that even Justin Hammer thought these two were assholes, and if Hammer thinks somebody's an ass...god. So, are the Demetrioses getting run through the system too? Is that why Child Protective Services are here?"
Phil shook his head. "No, the Demetrioses are probably going to be released as soon as their attorney arrives."
"Are you kidding me?" Clint said. "They abuse their kids, they hire kidnappers, and they get to just waltz out of here as if nothing happened?"
"I don't like it any more than you do, but it turns out that Omicron Industries has a close relationship with the World Security Council, and the WSC is invested in smoothing the way for its friends. That's why S.H.I.E.L.D. has been monitoring this situation so closely."
"And was I part of that monitoring?" Clint asked tonelessly.
"Absolutely not," Phil said immediately. "I'm...I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I didn't even know you were Hawkeye."
"You didn't?" Clint smiled, his mood suddenly brighter than it had been just a moment earlier.
"No. I told you I've been on assignment recently. I've been kind of...out of the loop."
"Oh yeah? What have they had you doing?" Clint wasn't sure what he'd been expecting Phil to say, but he was pretty sure "high school budget and staffing reports" hadn't even been on the short list.
"There are some kids at this particular school that...you know, secret identities, weird powers, ridiculous costumes. S.H.I.E.L.D. needed somebody to oversee their training, and apparently I looked the most like a high school principal of all our...."
Clint laughed, despite himself. "Aw, this is great. You're actually a principal? That is seriously the best thing I've heard in this whole shitty day."
"Oh, is it?" Phil asked wryly. "You like principals, do you?"
"Oh yeah," Clint said, gazing intently at his erstwhile breakfast companion. "I think I'm developing a high school principal fetish."
The tips of Phil's ears were turning pink, and that was the best thing Clint had seen all day.
"Kind of a recent thing, actually," Clint said. "Just started this past month."
"Ah, I...see." Phil smiled. "Actually, on a related subject, I was wondering if you had time to meet later this evening to discuss the case."
"Mmm," Phil said. "Something like that."
"I think I can find an opening in my schedule."
When Clint and Phil rejoined the Demetrioses, they learned that despite the best efforts of the couple's attorney, neither Simon nor Catherine Demetrios would be granted permission to speak with Josh until the boy had been through a state-mandated psychological evaluation and the Office of Children and Family Services was able to perform a full-scale investigation of the Demetrios' home.
"This is absurd," Catherine Demetrios said angrily.
"I apologize for the inconvenience," Phil replied. "But apparently some old allegations have come to light and...I'm sure you agree that for your son's sake, it's better to be safe than sorry."
"Absolutely absurd," Catherine Demetrios muttered under her breath, but her husband just nodded tersely, and said they were more than happy to cooperate with the authorities if it meant getting their child back.
When the detective assigned to the kidnapping case arrived at the hospital, he, Phil, Evelyn Washington, and the Demetrios family's attorney borrowed an empty office to finalize the preliminary arrangements, which left Clint alone with Simon and Catherine.
"So," Clint said. "I kind of understand why your staff stole your kid away from you."
Catherine Demetrios glared at him. "What makes you think either one of us have any interest in hearing your ill-formed thoughts on the matter? Is this part of a new S.H.I.E.L.D. policy?"
"Oh no," Clint said. "This has nothing to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. I'm speaking in my capacity as...."
"Catherine!" her husband snapped. "Enough."
"For God's sake, Simon. I can't believe you're letting him speak to us this way. Just look at him, dressed like he's some sort of homeless man and carrying around an archery set. He's utterly...."
"He's an Avenger."
"He's an Avenger, like Stark in his ridiculous red and gold space suit. This one - Eagle Man or whatever he calls himself - uses a bow and arrow."
"Good observational skills there, Simon," Clint said. "So here's the deal: in a roundabout way, I suppose I'm responsible for Josh having to go back to the two of you, and that means I'm responsible for his well-being. Period. And I've heard about your other kids now, and so I'm responsible for them too."
"And what do you plan to do with this newly acquired, self-designated responsibility, Mr. Barton? Are you talking about monitoring us? Social services is already going to be seeing to that, thanks to your agency's despicable insinuations, which I'll have you know are based on nothing but unfounded rumors from a decade ago."
Clint laughed. "You think I'm talking about those once-a-month, pre-planned social worker visits? Nah, I'm talking surveillance you'll never see. I'm talking the least little splinter-in-the-finger that Josh or your other kids get, looked at through a fucking microscope. The instant we suspect neglect, we take them from you."
"If you do that," said Mr Demetrios, "They'll be sent to foster homes. How is that better? We have money; we can give our kids everything. Do you have any idea how horrible foster homes and foster parents can be?"
"Trust me," Clint said. "I've seen your kind first-hand, back when I was the same height as Josh. A foster home? I'd've killed to get a decent foster home and decent foster parents back when I was a kid. Money can't buy everything."
Catherine Demetrios sniffed. "You do realize that none of this ridiculous conversation matters in the slightest. We love our children, Mr Barton, and we would never harm them."
"Then you have nothing to worry about."
When Phil and the others returned, Clint and the Demetrioses were sitting silently, their arms folded over their chests.
"Everything okay here?" Phil asked worriedly.
Clint took one long look at Simon and Catherine, then turned back to Phil. "Everything's just fine."
"...and so that's how the rest of my weekend went, Katie. I'll bet you're glad you asked."
"God, Clint...what a rotten day. Poor Josh."
"Yeah." Clint sighed. "I didn't even get to say goodbye to him. The case worker from Child Protective Services thought it would be less traumatic that way. On the other hand, she's keeping the birth parents away for the time being, so...there's that. I mean, Josh is going to have to meet them sometime soon, but this probably wasn't the best day to be introduced to a new set of parents, especially when they're such complete dicks."
Kate nodded. "I went to school with George Demetrios, their oldest kid. He was...a couple years behind me, I think."
"Were you guys friends?"
"Not friends. Just...it was a small school, you know? Sort of like living in a small town must be, I guess; we all knew each other's business." Kate sighed, then leaned forward and slid one looped end of Clint's bow stringer over the end of his recurve. "Everybody knew that somebody was hitting George Demetrios regularly, and since it wasn't any of the kids at school, well...you do the math."
"Did anybody say anything?"
"Nope. Not the kids and not any of the teachers. You know how it is."
And Clint did, only too well.
"I don't know, Kate...I can't help wishing that Josh could have stayed with the Sorensons or whatever their real names were, which...that's weird, right? I mean, they kidnapped him. They're the bad guys."
"Yeah, except things are never that simple, Clint."
"No," he said with a sigh. "They're really not."
For a long moment, neither of them said anything, but then Kate set Clint's recurve bow on the coffee table and curled up on the couch next to Lucky, her legs tucked beneath her.
"Anyway, Clint...look at it this way: Josh wasn't hurt too badly, he's going to get a chance to know his birth parents again - even if they are dicks - and you're going to make sure he and his brothers are safe. I guess that's not the worst ending to a story."
"No," said Clint. "I guess not."
"Plus," said Kate, grinning widely. "It looks like now you've progressed to having dinner dates with Suit Guy, which is totally a step in the right direction."
"They're still not dates, Katie."
"Seriously, they're not dates."
"Yeah," she said, patting Clint on the knee. "You just keep telling yourself that."
 Yes, I said a tangling rope arrow.