It feels good, standing there, side-by-side, bows rising and falling in synch, the thwack-thwack of two arrows hitting the same target.
“You’re late with the release,” Clint says after they’ve fired some two dozen shots. “Out of practice?”
“Am not,” Kate frowns as she reaches for another arrow. “If I were, how’d I be matching each and every one of your shots?”
“That’s the problem,” he replies. “You’re matching. Mine goes first, then yours. There should be one thwack, not two.”
He frowns, weighing the matter.
“Maybe your shoulder is a little tight? Relax a bit, and hello, extra split second.”
She casts a quick look at him, new arrow nocked, waiting for him to raise his bow. He’s just as bashed up, beaten and bandaged as she is -- but he’s still here, driving arrow after arrow into the targets he’d set up on the fire escape.
“You didn’t even look at my shoulder.”
“Don’t have to,” he shrugs, and lets fly. Her arrow follows his, both vying for the same spot at the center of the target. His does seem to get there first, hers thudding into the bulls eye right beside it. A nanosecond later.
“Futz you, Barton.”
That new earpiece Stark made for him is sure doing its thing, if Clint can hear two thwacks instead of one. (Stark may be a douche, but he makes good shit. Probably didn’t even let Clint pay for it; Stark does like racking up those anti-douche points for the times when he goes completely off the rails.) The implication of Hawkeye becoming Hawkear though, on the basis of some technological marvel, is something Kate will have to consider carefully.
She rotates and relaxes her shoulders a little, nocks, lets fly when Clint does and dammit if there isn’t a single thwack this time. Huh. Maybe she shouldn’t have been picturing her father’s face in the middle of the target?
Clint seems to sense that her enthusiasm for practice has gone a little south. He drops his bow, letting it dangle from his hand, and raises an eyebrow.
“You know it.”
Kate follows him back into the staircase, counting her blessings that he’s traded that backless hospital gown for his usual jeans and t-shirt. Clint Barton, specimen, has a very fine ass, but seeing it uncovered in all its golden-haired glory was … No.
Getting back into Clint’s apartment from the roof requires more navigational skill than usual, thanks to bits of the Great Barricade that haven’t quite made it out of the stairway yet. There’s a pile of chairs that nobody’s bothered to claim; a tattered yellow crime-scene-tape-turned-trip-wire where a body used to be; and some glossy fliers that may as well be banana peels. The overall visuals are a lot more casual dump than Les Misérables (but arguably a lot more effective).
Lucky gives the two Hawkeyes a passionate welcome, bouncing from one to the other with canine enthusiasm. Clint bends down to scratch the floppier of Lucky’s ears and whispers something that Kate doesn’t quite catch; it could be anything from “Glad you’re home, boy,” to “So you like me again, traitor?” The scratching is what Lucky can understand, which is probably just as well.
She hangs her bow from one of the coat hooks and is heading straight for the cupboard where Clint keeps the coffee, when a glimpse of something stops her dead in her tracks.
“Hunh?” Clint, engaged in a full-on dog cuddle, is not exactly articulate.
“Do you know where the washer is in this building?”
Lucky lets out an indignant whine when the affection suddenly stops.
“’Course I do. Why?”
Kate rolls her eyes. So much for subtlety; she’ll have to spell it out for him.
“Because there’s a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. From your bedroom right out into the hall. And a lot of it seems to have dried blood on it. Do you even have any clean stuff left?”
“Yep. Good thing about working for S.H.I.E.L.D. -- endless supply of free t-shirts. If you like Under Armour. Which I do.”
Not the right answer, although it explains the size of the pile on the floor.
“You’re a slob, Barton. And in case you forgot, the laundry’s in the basement. Unless the track suit dudes went after appliances, too?”
Clint gets his puppy dog look on, the one he uses to get out of doing the dishes.
“Katie-Kate. I don’t suppose you could …”
“Ha. Not gonna work, Hawkeye. I’m an archer, not a housemaid. And you’re a responsible adult …”
“… with several broken ribs and a damaged spleen, who ‘s not supposed to do any heavy lifting for a week. Which rules out laundry baskets. Doctor’s orders.” He sounds disgustingly triumphant. “Not allowed to use a vacuum for four weeks, either. Wanna see the bruises?”
Clint starts to lift his t-shirt to deliver proof, but Kate raises her hand. One encounter with bare Barton flesh in a day is enough. Besides.
“Seriously? You just handled a recurve with a hundred-pound draw weight like Knopfler plucking a guitar, and you’re afraid of laundry? ‘Basket case’ doesn’t even begin to describe you, Clint Barton.”
He gives a ‘that’s totally different’ shrug. It’s not even a full shrug, just one shoulder.
“Need to practice for the next wave. And I still have three t-shirts and a pair of jeans. Plus, that hospital gown. Should last me to Sunday, by which time I’ll figure something out. Do they have take-out laundry in this town?”
He limps over to the cupboard, obviously having decided (correctly) that coffee won’t happen until he makes it himself. Kate watches him wince as he reaches for the canister, and quickly catch himself before he drops it. He gives her the quickest of side-eyed glances to check whether she’d noticed, and straightens as if nothing has happened.
Idiot. She rolls her eyes.
“Fine. I’ll do your futzing laundry. But I want foamed milk in my coffee, if you have any?”
He shakes his head, sadly. Damn. Well, anyway.
“And no more target practice until you stop the internal hemorrhaging, ‘mkay? If they do come back, we’ll call the Avengers.”
She grabs a garbage bag from the kitchen and starts to stuff it full with the unmentionables on the floor when the pain hits her in the side. Oh yes. Someone’d been playing Kick The Hawkeye with her, too…
Clint watches Kate catch her breath as she bends down, and lets his hand pause over the coffee grinder.
“Hey. You okay?”
“Better than you,” she says, a little huffy, through gritted teeth, and continues with her mission. “My thugs were a lot gentler than your thugs. California weather makes ‘em soft.”
But whatever she’s trying to do with the laundry, it isn’t happening. The bag in Kate’s left hand keeps closing up on her as she tries to fill it with her right, and she suppresses a curse.
He’s by her side in three quick strides (five, if you count side-stepping Lucky). And maybe not all that quick.
“Bet the only reason you haven’t been told not to pick things off the floor is because you haven’t talked to a doctor.”
“Don’t need to. I’m fine, really.”
She shoots him her Angry Toddler look, and he hesitates for a moment. So, she thinks that he is the one who refuses to accept help? Pot, meet my friend, Katie Kettle.
“Tell you what. We do it together, while the water heats up. I hold, you stuff.”
“What’s it with you always ending up holding the bag?”
Clint tests the words for venom, but there isn’t any, just a little sparkle in her eyes. Okay, then. He grins back, and she starts filling the bag. Dammit, some of that stuff stinks. Maybe she has a point?
She watches him twist the bag shut by spinning it round and round.
“Let’s take it down together,” she orders, and Clint doesn’t even bother to pretend that he isn’t relieved not to have to hold all of the weight anymore. They head down the stairs, him first, the black bag between them, past Gil’s door and down.
“Gil’s Dad still living here?” Kate asks as they pass. Clint nods and turns down the next flight of stairs.
“Yep. Federal disaster relief is a… What do you call it when a word contradicts itself? Like military intelligence?”
“Oxymoron,” she says. Kate knows everything. Like Bobbi. Walking dictionaries, those two. Handy.
“Yeah, that's it. Heavy on the ‘moron.’ Hurricane Sandy took his house like, six months ago, and he hasn’t seen a red cent from his insurance, the Feds, or anyone. Total shit show. Least I could do is offer him a place to stay.”
“Makes sense.” She sounds inexplicably pleased. “I don’t suppose you charge him rent.”
It’s not phrased as a question and so Clint doesn’t bother to explain how he couldn’t possibly; Kate knows. Debts are debts. They’re in the laundry room by then anyway, and she finds a new thing to focus on.
“Hey. What happened to all those bags that were down here?”
This time, she is asking.
“Barney,” he says. “Barney happened.”
He lifts the washer door with his free hand. Together, they heave the bag on top and he shakes it a bit to get the contents out. Ouch. That hurt.
“Barney,” Kate says, ripping the plastic bag out of his hand and crumpling it up, ready to spit fire. “That no-good, rat-faced…”
Can’t really argue with that, can you? Nonetheless, Clint finds himself holding up a hand to ward her off.
“No, it’s okay, really. Don’t worry about it.”
“Clint.” Kate sounds pissed. “He stole -- how much was in those futzing bags? And don’t think I didn’t know there was money in them. Must have been millions. You could’ve used it to fix up this joint, give it a coat of paint maybe. Or an elevator. Gotten Lucky his shots.”
She stops for breath, but only for a moment.
“Point is, what kind of creep does that to family?”
Well, Clint has been asking himself that, but there’s only ever one answer he can come up with -- and for a moment he’s back there, pain like a knife in the skull, fogging his brain with blood. Racing up to the roof, finding his brother’s seemingly lifeless body beside his wheelchair. There, because of him. How much is that worth?
“He stayed, when he didn’t have to.”
Kate gestures at the empty floor.
“So he decides to pay himself? For doing the decent thing? Gil’s Dad didn’t, and neither did any of the others.”
Neither had Kate herself. She’d just … come back. Without asking for a thing.
Clint shrugs; she has a point, of course; Kate usually does. But there’s also the hearing thing, both in the hospital and after, when Kate hadn’t been there and Barney was, remembering and reminding his little brother that he could be okay. That’s worth something, too. Worth a lot, actually.
But yeah, it’s still stealing. He hadn’t owed Barney that much money. Guy could have left him one bag, at least.
“So Barney’s a shit and a low life. Runs in the family.”
She has her hands on her hips now, and is glaring at him. Clint shrugs.
“It’s complicated, me and my brother. You know, family stuff.”
She holds his eyes with hers for a moment, like she’s looking for something, but then moves them away to look for a box of soap. There is one in the corner, only slightly rumpled, but whole. Apparently Brooklyn rats -- the ones Lucky is currently sniffing for -- don’t chew up cardboard.
Kate’s voice sounds odd when she speaks again.
“Yeah. Family stuff sucks.”
Now Clint isn’t the most perceptive of guys (“emotionally stunted,” Bobbi always called him), but when Kate shakes soap over the pile in the washer with the ferocity of someone tossing anthrax into an IRS building, he gets the sense that maybe that comment isn’t about Barney anymore. And that maybe the new, improved Clint Barton should be asking her about it?
Besides, it gets the conversation off Barney, and shit he really doesn’t feel like talking about. He clears his throat.
“Talk about family. You been seeing your dad lately? When you were … out West?”
(Out West, he says. Not, ‘away.’ Because he isn’t really angry about her leaving, she came back, and words matter.)
Wrong thing to say anyway, apparently. The lid to the washer comes down with enough of a bang to cause Lucky to give an outraged woof.
“Not seen him. Talked to him, though. And for the last time, until they call me to testify, or I got an arrow pointing at his throat.”
Clint doesn’t really know how to respond to that, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the immediate implications.
“Well,” he says, “if it’s like that? Simone’s apartment is yours if you want. You’re over here all the time anyway. Unless…”
Unless coming back here is just a visit? There’s been so much shit going down these last few weeks, it’s hard to know what was then, what is now, and how things are going to be.
The hug takes him by surprise. It hurts, too (cracked rib!) but in a good way.
Simone’s place is still full of furniture, threadbare but functional; the only thing she seems to have taken are clothes, and the boys’ stuffies and sports gear. The bedding will have to be cleaned, of course, which means another trip to the basement. (In due course.) It’ll do, though, until Kate can figure out what should come next.
Her inspection also nets a couple cartons of still-usable milk in the clunky old fridge – bonus. Kate grabs one and heads back up to Clint’s apartment. His couch may have come from a street corner in Queens, but it’s still the most comfortable place to sit on that she knows, so what’s the point staying down here?
Lucky, of course, pretends he hasn’t seen her in months; Clint, busy slow-dripping water over his favourite single-estate Colombian, doesn’t even turn around when she walks in. The smell of the coffee produces a warm feeling of anticipation in Kate’s gut. (Surely, a freshly brewed latte beats body swapping for rejuvenating effect?)
Talk about latte.
“Hey, Hawkeye. Remember you owe me some foamed milk for the laundry service? Guess what -- I just found the mother lode. Now all you need is find that fancy frothing thing Jess left here, and we’re good.”
He doesn’t respond.
Kate is just about to say something snarky when she spots the hearing aids on the coffee table, between the usual collection of arrowheads.
Right. Deaf. It’s … real. All real.
With a sudden hot stab of rage, Kate wants nothing so much as to have another go at those thugs and that jerk with the shitty make-up job, and every other creep and criminal who’s been swarming her and Clint’s life lately. But they’re mostly dead and locked up already, and she’s not really in any shape to go after them.
In the meantime, Clint is making coffee.
Kate takes a deep breath and considers how to get Clint’s attention – grabbing a Hawkeye by the arm when he doesn’t know you’re coming probably isn’t the best idea, even if he’s at quarter capacity. Fortunately, Lucky’s antics capture his peripheral vision, and he turns.
For a second, Clint seems ready to lunge for one of the kitchen knives, but he relaxes just as fast when he sees that the extra body that has appeared in the room is Kate.
“Didn’t hear you coming,” he says, rather unnecessarily. He points to his ears. “Futzing gadgets itch like hell. Think I should get Stark to make ‘em smaller, or something.”
There’s something in his voice that she can’t quite identify, a tone that wasn’t there before. Maybe it’s because he can’t hear himself speak? Hopefully, that’s all it is.
Kate waits until Clint finishes frothing the milk and reinserts his hearing aids before letting him have it.
“So. You really think it’s a good idea taking those things out and leaving the door open? I could have been anyone, coming in here,” she informs him tartly. “You sure all the bros are gone?”
“Figure they need at least a week to regroup,” he shrugs. “Besides, you and Lucky are here and have my back, no?”
He’s got that stupid lopsided grin on, as he hands her a slightly cracked mug. Archers Do It With A Recurve, it says; it’s one of his favourites. (Hers, too.) The foam is nice and thick; all that’s missing is one of those little heart shapes. It smells divine, and Kate inhales deeply before taking a sip and sinking into the couch.
Clint hesitates a bit, but then he joins her there, puts his feet on the coffee table and reaches for the remote. Out of habit, Kate parks her feet across his thighs. Lucky appears from nowhere, hops into the space between her legs and the back of the couch, and puts his head on her legs in turn. The whole tangle probably looks like a funky version of Mikado from the outside, but Kate doesn’t care. Warm.
The news is awful as usual, and no one seems to be doing anything except offer “thoughts and prayers.” (As if.) Kate may have spent weeks on the West Coast, without a TV, but nothing’s really changed while she was gone.
Well, almost nothing. When Trump’s face pops up, Clint switches channels with a curse about futzing real estate hogs. Sore spot, clearly.
Kate sympathizes, totally. And why’s the guy orange, anyway? Least he could do is keep the goggles off when he spray-tans; those white eye holes make him look like an inverted raccoon. A worse douche than Stark, by a country mile; at least Ironman speaks in complete sentences and does useful stuff on occasion.
Clint’s zapping lands them with a cooking show; if there’s one thing that can hold his attention as long as a new episode of Dog Cops, it’s the sight of food. And this one has a Japanese guy who handles knives almost as well as Natasha Romanoff, so that’s a bonus.
He slices, he dices, all sorts of bits of fish fly in the air, and …
Clint must have felt her feet twitch on his thighs, and stares at her. Kate swallows; the grin she shoots him feels -- and probably looks-- fake.
“Yuck,” she says, by way of an explanation that strikes her as feeble even as she says it. “Raw fish.”
“You used to like the stuff,” he says, not buying. “What happened? OD’d on the West Coast?”
Kate shakes her head. To her relief, Clint has already switched the channel. Tattoo competition: Some hairless dude with a nose ring gets told that his line work sucks, and that he doesn’t have what it takes to be an Inkmaster, whatever that is. Guy looks ready to cry; waiting to see whether he does buys her a minute.
But Clint is a patient man; he knows she’ll crack sooner or later. Might as well make it sooner -- and so she tells him just how she got into Madam Masque’s place.
His reaction is … predictable, and its vehemence causes Lucky to yelp.
“You’re telling me that there are fat, old, rich, white dudes who like eating sushi off naked girls? And you let them?”
Clint is up and pacing now, like a caged lion – broken ribs be damned.
“It was the only way in, Clint.”
He’s not impressed.
“Maybe. But… Jesus. Kate."
Clint doesn’t usually invoke higher powers, and there’s so much … feeling in his tone now that it almost doesn’t sound like him.
“ After what happened to you in the park? Promise you won’t do that again? Because …”
He runs out of words, or else he knows that he's getting into we're-never-talking-about-this-ever-again territory, and she really wants to say something about being a grown-up, who doesn't need a big brother to watch over her. But then she sees his hands clenching into fists, and opening again slowly, and somehow it doesn’t seem right. Besides...
“I promise, Clint.”
He lets out a breath and nods, but it doesn’t look very sincere. Heading back over to the coffee table, Clint stares at his arrow hoard.
“Maybe Stark could build us a tip that makes a guy's dick fall off?”
She cuffs him on the arm as he sits down. Last thing they need right now is Hawkeye, covered in bandaids, on a crusade to eradicate the more sordid bits of LA takeout culture.
“Don’t you even think about going out there, Barton.”
“Who said anything about going out there? If they have that sort of thing in LA, they’ll have it in Manhattan. So I could just …”
Kate just puts her feet back on Clint’s legs and waits for Lucky to settle in.
“Stay, boy,” she says with a tone meant to encompass them both. Clint shoots her an inscrutable look and humphs.
Minutes later, both he and Lucky are snoring softly, and Kate finds herself drifting off, too. The laundry is probably ready for the dryer, but so what if Clint’s t-shirts come out wrinkled? He won’t care, and neither does she.
A nap, on the other hand, sounds just about perfect right now.