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"Don't," Kate snaps, the word practically choking her. "Just, fuck, stop saying that." This isn't how she'd wanted this conversation to go--she's screwing it up, she knows that--but she's been swallowing it all down for too long, hoping he'd get tired of the oh, this is Kate, she's perfect line without her having to push the issue. That was apparently too much to hope for, though, and if she'd been more honest with herself, she would have realized that key fact and maybe planned something accordingly.

Or, y'know, being real, probably not. Planning has never really been a Hawkeye strength after all.

At least it's just the two of them in Clint's apartment (three if you count Lucky, who's probably just as clued in as either one of them even if he is a dog and down one eye.) It'd started out to be just a normal day-after-assembly day, one of the ones where Kate had been too tired to make it to her place and they'd ended up crashed out on the couch with the TV flickering through the night, but now Clint's staring at her like she just slapped him, which okay, maybe isn't all that much of a stretch, and Kate's hands are shaking hard enough that she has to put her coffee down before it sloshes over the side of the chipped mug and burns her.

(It's bad, Kate thinks. She's putting her coffee down, that's how bad it is.)

"Katie--"

"No," Kate says. "Just-- Don't." There's no way this isn't going to suck, but she's already fucked up and lost her grip, so she's just going to have to see it through. She owes Clint that much, even if she did just blow their relationship to hell and back. "Look, I get that you mean it as a compliment, that, hey, I'm great, but, it's not, that's not what you're really doing, not all of it. I know it and you know it."

"Oh, I know it?" Clint's eyes are narrowed, and that's good, Kate thinks, anger is good, better than the guilt she knows is under it all. She can deal with anger, even if it still sucks. "Just what is it that I know that I'm doing?"

Kate looks at him, really looks, past the tired eyes and the three days of scruff, past the butterfly holding the cut along his cheekbone together, the worn and faded jeans barely hanging on his hips (he's lost his belt again) and the hole in his sock. She looks at him and sees all the things that have never gotten said but never really go away, and decides that yeah, it is time this thing comes out in the open.

"You tell everyone I'm 'pretty much perfect--'" Kate doesn't think she's ever reached this level of sarcasm in her air quotes, which is probably not good, but it's too late now-- "so you can tell yourself you can't get near me."

She's not sure what kind of a response she expected, but whatever it'd been, it isn't for him to stand and look right back at her for an endless few seconds before he shuffles over to get more coffee, every step slow and painful-looking. Kate knows he'd taken a beating on this last call-out, but she's not sure that's all that's going on.

"So what if I am?" Clint asks in this really flat tone. Lucky whines softly at him, unnerved by his voice even from across the room. "'S nothin' but the truth."

"Really?" Kate snaps. "Because it sounds like more of your chickenshit rationalizations to me, especially since we both know I'm really fucking not perfect." She's practically shouting by the end, but hearing him say shit like that about himself always flips a switch in her brain and getting to be the reason for it doubles-down on everything. Before she knows it, she's stalking across the loft, grim and determined, heading right for him. He watches her come, and she's giving him plenty of time to get out of her way, to tell her to stop, but he doesn't move and he doesn't say a word, not even when she's pressed up close against him and going up on her toes so she can kiss him for real.

And the thing is, he's kissing her back. Also for real, one hundred percent, totally involved, nothing but his mouth on hers, his hands in her hair, and they might not have ever done this before, but there is no way he hasn't been thinking about it, not with how right he gets it all of it, right up until he stops, until his hands drop to her hips and he sets her back. His breathing is as quick as hers, but eyes are dark and shuttered and Kate doesn't see any way past the stuff that's tripping him up.

"Okay," Kate says, and wills her voice to be steady and even. "I get it." She motions to the foot of space he's gotten between them. "I mean, I don't get why, not really, but--" She sighs. "Okay."

"Katie--"

"Clint." Kate knows what's coming--his face tells her everything--and cuts him off quick, while her voice is still steady, before she won't be able to stop from screaming. Or crying. "I'm not-- I can't be Katie-Kate, or your girlie, or, or anything but Hawkeye."

For a half-second, she thinks he's going to press on with the explanations, but then his face smoothes out and he nods. "Okay, Hawkeye," he says, and lets her turn around and pick up her quiver without any more drama. Lucky climbs down from the couch and comes over to nose at her hands, angling for some head scritches and making sure she isn't bogarting any treats.

"Bye, buddy." Kate plays it as cool as she can, but it's Lucky. He kept her sane during all the stuff in L.A. and now she's leaving and she doesn't know how to make him understand.

"You want him to go with you?" Clint asks. He means it, Kate knows--it's everything good and bad about Clint, all right there in a simple question. He can't let himself say anything about what's really going on between them, but he'll send his best friend with her if she needs him.

"No," Kate answers with one last rub behind Lucky's ears. "No, you take care of him."

Clint nods, and Kate leaves, and that's that.

x - x - x

Life goes on, like life does. It's not horrible, only seeing Clint whenever there's a call to assemble instead of all the time, but it's not all that great either. They still kick ass together, and only Natasha notices anything off about them (at least for the first month or so.) There are a couple of times that Clint's off somewhere with SHIELD when a call comes through and Kate covers the high ground by herself, but that's happened before, so it's not a big deal either.

Or at least it isn't until an email from a blocked sender shows up in her inbox, saying u r trending twitter/youtube, watch yr draw, balance is off /cfb and it's enough to send her stomping out of the bedroom at the Mansion that she's been crashing in. It doesn't help that Natasha (and her proximity to Clint) is the first person she comes across. It's like Kate can't ever get away from him.

On the other hand, Kate doesn't have to explain her mood beyond handing over her phone with the email on it for Natasha to understand. Of course, all she does is shrug and give it back to Kate.

"Seriously?" Kate snaps. "He doesn't even fucking look at youtube. Does he have a goddamn alert set up for me?"

"It wouldn't surprise me," Natasha answers, calm as always.

"Peachy," Kate mutters. Natasha is setting up the bar, setting out shakers and mixers, eying the liquor levels in various bottles, which means the rest of the team is going to show up sooner or later, and Kate really isn't in the mood.

She spins on her heel and goes back to her room to change and yank a comb through her hair. She slaps a minimal amount of make-up on and goes back out to find the gang's already started the post-Assemble assemble, which just solidifies her need to be somewhere else.

"Plans tonight, Kate-niss?" Tony asks even though Kate has her phone out and is trying to decide how close to the Mansion is too close to call for an Uber.

She shrugs. "It's a toss-up between Tinder and Noh-Varr."

Natasha snorts. "The ex is never the right call."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind," Kate says on her way to the door.

Tony arches an eyebrow at her and Cap gives her one of his no-expression once-overs. On a normal day, Kate would take that to mean she's tripping his Team-Leader concern button and might need to think about what she's doing, but nothing's been normal lately and she isn't about to listen to one of his pep talks, so she just keeps right on walking.

There are a couple of guys Kate's been 'talking' to on Tinder, but Noh-Varr gets back to her first. It's not all that big of a surprise. Kate hadn't exactly texted 'hey, wanna fuck?' to him but it was pretty damn close, and to the surprise of no one, 'Let's be friends,' is folding hard and fast in the face of a no-strings-attached offer.

"The ex it is," Kate mutters and gets her Uber three blocks away from the Mansion.

x - x - x

Natasha's right, dammit.

x - x - x

So, yeah, orgasms all around, whoo-fucking-hoo, but holy shit, Kate is finally in a place to realize just how big a bullet she'd dodged when Noh-Varr had walked on her. The guy has his good side and all, but is so not her type, and she can't get out of his bed fast enough now.

She starts making a list of how she needs to get her shit together before she even gets back to her apartment that night. She has her team, and Clint's team. She has friends and a purpose and she kinda shares custody of the most kick-ass dog in the world. Her life is what she makes of it and goddamn if she isn't going to make it awesome.

For the first time in the history of forever, the bad-guys of the world/universe/galaxy manage to take a couple of weeks off at the right time. Kate makes the most of every single second. She gets her place to the point where it feels like someplace she can live, not just somewhere to crash. Eli meets her almost every day at the warehouse and they manage to lay out plans for the Young Avengers in between all the arguments. And she trains every single day, because Barton had been right (fuck her life, but yeah, he's right), her balance is off and she's going to end up dead if she doesn't fix it. Worse, she'll take whatever team she's working with down with her, too.

That's harder than she expects, because it's a little subtle thing that's crept into her stance and her muscles just want to do it now. Hawkeyes don't quit, though (at least not on stuff like this) so she keeps at it, day after day after fucking day, and she's at the range when Cap shows up toward the end of the second month. He says it's because he wants to coordinate better between teams, but she knows if that were really it, he'd be bugging Eli, not her.

He has a couple of valid talking points, she'll give him that, and she gets a few ideas across herself, but then he sits back and just looks at her, and she sighs. "Look, just spit it out."

"All right," he says. "It's about you and Clint--"

"Have we once missed a call?"

"No," Cap says. "But--"

"Have we once not coordinated as well as or better than the rest of your bunch of misfits?"

"Not at all," Cap answered. "But that's not why I'm here."

"Like I said, spit it out."

"You gonna let me finish a sentence?" Cap says with that little sarcastic quirk of his mouth, the one that all the Avengers know and love (for values of 'love' that equal 'want to smack it off his face') and that the rest of the world refuses to believe in. Kate rolls her eyes at him, but nods, because it is possible that he has a point.

"All right," Cap says. "I came to talk to you because I wanted to be sure you knew that if you have an… issue working with Clint, to let me know and we'll try to work around it."

Kate blinks.

Cap isn't quite smirking at her, but it's close. She always forgets how much he likes to yank people's chains. Then he gets serious again, saying, "I've told Clint the same thing. I appreciate the two of you working through whatever it is that's going on—I don't need to know--but don't take it to extremes. If you need a little break from things, I'll see what I can do."

"I—uh, thanks?" Kate manages to talk this time.

"You're a valuable part of the team," Cap says in that I!Am!Captain!America! voice. "You both are." He looks at her, firm and utterly immoveable. "We take care of our team."

Kate stutters out another round of thank-you's and he leaves without saying anything much more.

"Okay, Universe," Kate mutters as she puts up her gear. "The weirdness can end anytime now."

x - x - x

Of course, the universe takes that as a challenge.

Of course it does.

x - x - x

Two days after Cap's little heart-to-heart, Kate steps out of her apartment building to a fucking mob of paparazzi, all of them shouting questions about how she feels about her father being arrested on federal racketeering charges.

Luckily, America's right there next to Kate and strong-arms her into a cab before she can jump anyone and get charged with assault. It's a near thing, though, and Kate has the finger-shaped bruises on her arms to prove it.

Seeing Derek all over the news is just as weird as Captain America being thoughtful to her, but this time, Kate keeps her mouth shut and doesn't tempt the Fates any further. It's even less fun than she thought, and she suddenly finds herself really, seriously missing Clint and how he'd just know how shitty it all was without having to talk to her about it like every single other person she knows, which, just fuck her life. Just fuck it.

x - x - x

The wheels of justice are supposed to grind slowly, but they were apparently making an exception for good old Derek because he's arraigned and denied bail (too much of a risk of flight, which Kate totally agrees with) and has a court date set before Kate's sister can do much more than throw her warm-up daddy's-little-princess-is-sad fit.

The Young Avengers rally around Kate, which is nice and all (really, it is—God knows Kate's blood family has been severely unappreciative since her mom died, and it's a good feeling to know somebody has her back) but they can't really show up in the courtroom without risking blowing their covers. Kate isn't sure she wants them there anyway. It's really fucking weird, thinking about her father being on trial. She doesn't know if she can handle the concern everyone's projecting at her, too. She's pretty crappy at handling stuff like that even in the good times.

She changes her mind about going to the courthouse at least fifty times, but the morning that the preliminary hearings start, she gets out of bed and finds her most serious suit. She does her make-up carefully, and just like Natasha told her, it's like putting on a different person. She's not the debutante or Hawkeye looking like this, but a daughter who will bear witness to her father's sins against the world.

The courtroom is closed, but the bailiff lets her in after she shows him her driver's license. The Kate in the picture looks impossibly young--Kate feels like she's ten times that age now. The bailiff is professional enough not to pity her, though, at least not where Kate can see. She steels herself and walks in with her head high, not looking left or right as the whispers and murmurs ripple out around her. Her sister is down front, holding down a prime position behind the defense table, in full view of everyone, the better to perform her daughterly anguish.

Such a surprise, Kate thinks as Susan pulls out an actual handkerchief. Or, y'know, not.

Kate slips into a seat halfway back and ignores everything that isn't a lawyer or the judge talking. She doesn't understand a lot of it, but she gets the general gist of how it is not going well for dear old Derek, especially since she can feel everyone's gaze getting heavier and heavier on her with every Motion denied. She refuses to give them anything to see--Susan is walking the fine line between trolling for an Oscar as the Sad, Brave Daughter and getting kicked out for making too much noise; everyone will just have to be content with that.

They break for the day, and Kate gets caught in the flood of people making their way out of the courtroom. She has no idea why a semi-successful publisher getting nailed on racketeering charges is so interesting. She sure as hell wouldn't be here if she weren't related to the jackass. By the time she makes it out into the hall, her jaw is aching from how hard she's had it clenched all day, and her eyes feel like they're going to pound out of her head. She thinks it'd be better if people would stop pretending like they're not staring at her, but there's nothing she can do about that.

She's tempted to duck into the nearest restroom to get away from the press of people—not to mention the freaking noise from the hard surfaces of walls and tiled floors bouncing the noise from however many people needing to comment on everyfreakingthing—but is saved from such a cowardly action because the line is out the door.

"Right," she mutters to herself. "Get a grip." She's just pulled out her phone to call for a ride when somebody grabs her by the arm and she whirls around to deck them.

"Easy," Clint's saying. "It's just me."

"And that's supposed to make me less likely to want to throw a punch?" Kate demands, her heart pounding from the adrenaline rush. She manages to get a reasonable level of sarcasm into her voice even though there's a stubborn, traitorous part of her that really is happy to see him.

"Eh, probably not, but I'm getting tired of taking shots for shit that isn't my fault," Clint says. He finally lets go of her arm, but since he's clearing a path and getting them out of the courthouse, Kate decides she's okay with sticking with him.

"You got a ride?" Clint nods to her phone as they finally break free of the crowd.

"Yeah." Kate taps to accept the driver. "Four minutes."

It's raw and cold out on the sidewalk, a dreary, gray winter day in New York, but at least Kate isn't breathing the stuffy, overly warm air of the courthouse now. Plus, the number of people looking at her is back down to almost normal. She'll take that over cold hands (she forgot gloves) any day. She tucks her phone (and hands) back into her pocket and stares thoughtfully at Clint. He's doing his best to pretend like he's not actually there, which Kate should probably just play along with, if only for her sanity's sake, but it's not like her day is going to get any much worse if she doesn't.

"Why are you here?" It's not exactly subtle, but then that's never been their style. "I didn't tell anyone I was coming."

Clint shoots her a look over his shoulder, like he's checking to see if she really wants an answer or if she's just trying to pick a fight, which, to be fair, has been the case more than once. She's not doing that this time, but until he sighs and shrugs she's not sure he won't play stupid and start one anyway.

"Didn't figure you wouldn't be here," he finally says. "It's not a good place to be alone."

"My sister's here," Kate points out. "I'm not technically alone."

It's not the stupidest thing she's ever said to him, but only because she's had a few times on the job when she's stretched the definition of uninjured to cover things that don't need more than a dozen stitches to fix.

"Yeah, I can see that," Clint mutters. The car pulls up just then, cutting off further 'discussion' before her idiotic pride can really tie itself up in knots and get that fight started despite her best intentions. Clint waits while she gets herself in the car, and is just leaning down to say something when there's a shout and she sees the first of the guys with the big lens-cameras setting up to start snapping shots.

"Get in," she tells him, tugging at his sleeve while she turns to tell the driver to go. For a wonder, he doesn't argue with her, but he doesn't look particularly happy to be sitting next to her either. It's already been a disaster of a day, though, so she just ignores the glower and leans her head back against the seat. With her eyes closed—and as long as she's not thinking about anything--it's almost peaceful.

"Is that happening a lot?" Clint asks after a bit.

Kate shrugs and answers without opening her eyes. "They've been around, off and on."

"Yeah?" Clint asks. "You got a plan for getting through them back at your place?" He sounds less like the not-happy-to-be-sharing-the-back-seat grump and more like Hawkeye-up-high-assessing-the-damage, but any satisfaction Kate might take in that change is wiped away by his words. "Because I'm thinking they're gonna be really On today."

"Fuck," Kate swears, her eyes flying open, because he's not wrong at all and she should have been thinking about that right from the start. She wishes she could blame her brain dysfunction on someone else (Hi, Dad), but really, it's all on her. "Fuck."

Clint starts to say something, but shuts up as soon as Kate holds up her hand. "Hey, uh--" she glances at her phone for the driver's name, "Can you drop us a couple blocks south of the original address?"

She taps a nail against her phone, trying to decide if it'd be better to crash with America (who won't ask any questions but who has the world's most uncomfortable couch) or with Billy and Teddy (actual decent food and furniture, but she isn't sure she can deal with their wanting to help.) Clint stays quiet while she tries to talk her way through the decision, at least until they're out of the car and trying to stay out of sight of the crowd in front of her building. Her brain is still off-kilter, running in circles, not slowing down long enough for any one decision to stick.

"Look," Clint finally says, "I get you wanting to be with your team, but seriously? You need to get to the Mansion." He whistles through his teeth once, short and sharp, and a cab slows to a stop in front of them. "Nobody gets within a block of that place, you can go in and out without anyone seeing you, and as much as your guys want to help, Jarvis still wins for having all the good stuff in the kitchen."

Kate automatically starts to argue, just because, but it's cold and the clouds are looking like snow, and for once in their lives, she can maybe admit that Clint has a valid point. She lets him bundle her into the back of the cab and give the driver an address about a block away from the back entrance, and is somehow not surprised when he doesn't make any move to join her. He gives her a quick wave and then turns away, flipping up the collar of his suit jacket against the wind. Her brain (finally coming back online) points out that not only did he show up in the courtroom, he apparently got the bullet holes and bloodstains taken care of and wore his one and only suit to blend into the crowd.

That doesn't mean she's just letting him disappear on her, though; her call is ringing before the cabbie even makes the first turn. (Nobody needs to know Clint's still first on the list of her contacts.)

"Hawkeye," he says, picking up on the first ring.

"Ditto," she answers. She can hear muted street noise in the background, so he still must be walking even if she's far enough away that she can't see him out of the back window. "Yeah, so, thanks."

"You're welcome," Clint answers, and then does the completely predictable thing by adding, "I didn't really do any--"

"Shut up," Kate sighs. "You came, okay?"

"Okay."

The taxi is creeping along, trundling slowly uptown toward the Mansion, nothing but an endless view of red brake lights in the darkening evening. Kate can hear Clint breathing, and even though neither one of them is talking, the silence is kind of… companionable? It's weird, but then, Kate thinks, what about the Hawkeyes isn't?

"I'm heading down to the train," Clint finally says. "I'll prob'ly lose you."

He uses the cheapest, shittiest phones for non-Avengering times, so Kate doesn't think he's blowing her off, just says, "'K. Bye, Clint."

"Bye, Kate," he answers, and for the rest of the ride she thinks about how that's the first time he's called her by her name since she blew up on him eight months ago.

x - x - x

He's there in court the next day.

And the day after that.

x - x - x

On the fourth day of the hearing, Susan is even more wound up than usual and the lawyers all spend a lot of time talking with the judge. No one has told Kate anything (which she guesses is fair, given that she'd told Derek she'd bring him down after all the crap in LA), so she's not exactly sure what's going on, but when they break for yet one more in-my-chambers discussion with the judge, Clint manages to get up behind her (yes, he's there again, and his suit is still blood- and bullet-hole free. It's some kind of miracle.)

"Hey," he says, his voice very low. "Do you want me to see if this lawyer I know can maybe give you some idea of what might be going on?"

It's a pretty nice thing to offer, so of course Kate's mouth goes off on its own and snarks, "I'm not sure I should believe any lawyer that's actually friends with you."

"If I told you I met him through Nat, would that help?"

"Yeeess?" Kate chews thoughtfully on her lip. "Or maybe no. I mean, I'll give you the competency for that, but I'm almost scared to see what kind of a shark hangs out with the Black Widow."

"Not arguing with you," Clint says, "but that's probably not a bad thing for a lawyer." He shoots a quick glance toward the closed courtroom doors. "Especially not in this particular case."

"I don't know," Kate says, her breath coming out on a sigh. "I don't know if I care enough."

A fair number of people Kate knows would have taken exception to that, but Clint only shrugs. "Offer's open 'til whenever, okay?"

"Thanks," Kate tells him. "Again."

He looks like he wants to brush her off (again) but he manages not to. It's pretty amusing, watching him trying to take a compliment on something that isn't being an Avenger. Kate's almost smiling, but then the bailiff comes out and opens the doors and everyone starts rushing back in to see what's happening next. Clint tries to do the fade-away, but Kate grabs onto his forearm and he lets her drag him with her, back to the seats on the aisle, halfway down, where she's spent the duration.

The whole sitting-in-a-courtroom-watching-her-father-pretend-like-there's-been-a-mistake thing has been freaky, so it's not all that big of a surprise when watching the guy plead guilty to what she assumes are lesser charges dips right over into the surreal and then finding herself in Dali-land when one of the team of lawyers comes back to say that Derek would like to talk with her before he's taken away.

She boggles at the guy long enough that Clint steps up behind her, and she can feel the weight of how he's glaring over her shoulder. The lawyer shifts uncomfortably and gets this look in his eye like he's ready to start shouting for security.

Kate actually doesn't have anything she wanted to say, and she's pretty sure she isn't looking for any kind of closure or expecting an apology for the BS with Madame Masque in LA… but she's honestly curious about what Derek could want to say to her.

"Sure," she tells the lawyer. "I'll talk to him." Clint shifts restlessly behind her, but he doesn't say anything or try to talk her out of it. She appreciates that, even if she thinks he might be right and walking off with the lawyer is a stupid idea.

They leave the courtroom using a door off to the side of the empty jury box. Kate finds herself wondering just how much of a shitshow they'd just avoided by settling before the whole mess went to trial. She suspects the answer is somewhere between 'gigantic' and 'mind-blowing', so it's just as well she isn't going to have to find out. The door leads out to a utilitarian hallway, and the junior partner dude leads her to a small, plainly-furnished conference room, telling her it will be a few minutes before her father will be brought up, and then leaving her to cool her heels.

"Fabulous," Kate mutters, and pulls out her phone. She isn't in the mood for the usual social media blitz (though she checks Stark's accounts just because you never know when he's in a mood to fuck with the world and that always turns into an entertaining read), but her father has that predictable, Boomer hatred of mobile devices (personally, Kate thinks it's because they haven't gotten over the fact that they're no longer the cool kids and are just having a good, old-fashioned tantrum about it) and she wants to be sure she's flicking through one feed or another when they bring him in.

Yeah, so it's petty. She's not the one who just pled guilty to about fifty counts of money-laundering or whatever.

It's also effective: she doesn't even have to look up when he walks in to know he's got that look in his eyes.

"Katherine," he says, all cool and distant.

"Derek," Kate answers, because if he can't be bothered to call her by the name she's used for almost twenty years, she doesn't need to pretend they're in the running for the Father-Daughter Relationship gold medal. She'll leave that game to Susan. Besides, she can see his jaw tighten, and she likes that game much better.

He goes right into his standard attack, though: sitting there, watching her with one eyebrow ever so faintly arched, waiting her out to to make her be the one to talk first. She gives him the same shit right back. Even if she doesn't count how he's the one who just admitted criminal activity, he's still the one that asked to talk, so she's fine waiting until he does just that.

Finally, he says, "You should be more… discriminating in choosing your friends."

Kate almost gets caught up in the exact mindset he wants her in, but manages not to defend her choices and instead say, "So should you." She's actually pretty proud of the bored, superior tone (Clint would call it snotty, and he wouldn't be wrong) she says it in, and even more proud when dear old Dad can't hide the annoyance that flickers in his eyes.

"Don't play games with me, young lady."

"You think that's what's going on?" Kate is dimly surprised at how angry she is at him. She thought she'd really gotten to the point where nothing he did could bug her, but apparently, she hasn't. "I mean, my friends have their issues, but I'm not the one about to convert their wardrobe to that lovely shade of orange."

That ticks him off enough that he drop-kicks the waiting game to the curb and says through gritted teeth, "No, you're just the one with a contra--" He snaps his mouth shut right as Kate's drops open.

"Finish that," Kate snaps, all her cool gone in a flash.

"Watch your tone," Derek snarls.

"Watch my tone?" Kate half-yells in disbelief. "Watch my tone, when you just told me there's a hi--"

"This is over," he snaps, standing up and motioning to the stupid lawyer.

"No, it's not," Kate snaps back, already on her feet. "Not until you finish that sentence. I'm not the one with a what?"

He stalks out of the room and nearly walks right into Clint, who's in total hover-mode.

"You," Derek snarls, clenching his fists like he's going to take on the guy who's an Avenger in his spare time.

Kate half-expects Clint to snarl right back at him and really get the fight going, but Clint just smiles, one lazy little curve of half his mouth. "Derek," he answers, sliding his hands into his pockets and propping one shoulder against the wall, like the fucking piece of beautiful trash that he is.

"This is--" Derek's practically foaming at the mouth, and the more Clint smiles, the less control Derek has, until the lawyer has the bailiff literally dragging him away. "--your fault, bringing my daugh---"

The elevator doors finally close, cutting off the shouts, and Kate's brain starts working again. She looks at Clint, still leaning against the wall, and says, "This is so fucked up."

"Yeah, pretty much."

"No." Kate shakes her head. "Not just the trial stuff." There's a bench along the wall right next to where Clint's leaning. She goes and sits down and drops her head down into her hands. "I'm pretty sure he just slipped up and almost told me there's a contract out on me."

Clint's quiet for a long few seconds, and then he snorts and says, "Okay, you're right, that is fucked up."

"You know what's worse?" Kate doesn't wait for him to answer, just plows ahead. "I can't even be surprised by that, not after everything in LA." She probably should be mad, but mostly she's just numb. "How totally fucked is it that I'm not surprised that my father knows about a contract hit on me?"

Clint comes and sits next to her. "Pretty damn fucked."

Kate thinks she probably would have started screaming if he'd tried to be soothing or sympathetic or anything like that, but it's Clint, and she knows he'd dealt with the fucked-up things fathers can do when he'd been too young to know anything else. It's not exactly comforting hearing his words, but it feels true.

"Yeah," Kate says without looking up. He doesn't say anything, but he kind of leans into her, which she's taking as a wordless acknowledgment. They stay like that until a guard comes by and tells them the building is closing and they have to leave. Clint clearly expects her to go back to the Mansion, like every other night, but the thought of it makes Kate's head hurt.

"Listen," she says, stopping two steps outside of the main entrance. It's cold and the light is gone from the sky, but at least it's not sleeting. She knows where she wants to be, but that's not really going to happen if she doesn't make it happen. "Why are you here?"

"I told you--"

"Yeah, you didn't want me to be alone." Kate finishes for him, and then takes a deep breath. "Why isn't that good enough?" He's watching her like she's a mark that he can't lose, which is good in that screwed-up way they have with each other. At least he's not running yet. "You knew I'd be here even though I didn't tell anyone, and you didn't want me to be alone. You look out for me all the time, but that doesn't make you good enough for me?"

"Kate," he starts, but then his voice kind of fades away. Kate waits him out, and finally he says, "One right move doesn't fix much." His voice is quiet and as serious as she's ever heard it.

"It's one move after another, Clint." She makes sure she's breathing, like he's always taught her, so that everything else is rock steady. "I know you don't see it that way, but you trust my eye in the field, so maybe you can trust it here, too?"

This time the silence stretches out so long Kate's sure the answer is no, but then Clint says, still in that deadly serious voice, "Maybe," and Kate's heart is suddenly beating in double-time. From anybody else that would be the seal of doom, but from Clint Barton, it's… Actually, Kate doesn't have words for what it is, but it sure as hell isn't bad.

"Okay," she says, her own voice gone rough. "I-- if I tell you that I don't want to go back to the Mansion, that I want to go out to Bed-Stuy and sit with Lucky and watch whatever's on your DVR and fall asleep on the couch--if I tell you that, will you tell me if you don't want me there?"

"I never didn't want you there."

"Yeah, but that was before I--" Even now, Kate isn't sure exactly what it was that she'd done. It sure as hell hadn't solved anything, not really. "Before I—"

"You didn't do anything, Kate." Even in the fading light, Clint's eyes are deep and blue. "You were honest with me."

"You were honest with me, too," Kate whispers. "You just couldn't see what I was seeing. What I see."

"No," Clint says, exhaling on a sigh. "I can't." Going by the actual words, it should have sounded final and awful, but there's something about how he says it that keeps Kate's heart rate racing along, buoyed on something that might be hope.

Kate knows some people would just let that be, let whatever it is grow organically into whatever it's meant to be, but she is not one of those people, so she reminds herself to breathe slow and even and says, "Tell me there isn't a 'but' there."

Clint takes a slow, even breath of his own, and says, "No, there is."

She waits him out with a patience she usually can only find when she has a bow in her hand.

"You're right, I trust your eyes in the field, I do." He's even more serious. "But I also know you take an awful lot of risks there, too."

"So do you," Kate reminds him.

"I can risk me, but I really fucking do not like risking you."

"I'm pretty sure that's my call, not yours," Kate answers. She can't actually believe they're having this conversation on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse now, after all these years of dancing around the stuff between them, but then again, it's not like anything else in her life has ever gone normally. "I won this argument with Captain America, remember?"

"Yeah," Clint says, a reluctant-looking smile tugging at his lips. "I'm pretty sure you're never gonna let anyone forget that." Kate arches an eyebrow at that, because really, who would? He gets serious again, real fast, so she leaves it at that. "It is your call, and I'd let you make it, except I'd be the one who screws you over, and I—" He stops and hunts for words. "I'm havin' a real hard time going there."

"Then don't," Kate says, and this time when he wants to talk she cuts him off. "No, seriously. Just, don't."

"Yeah, 'cause I wanted to fuck over Jess and Bobbi and—"

"I'm not them," Kate says, and judging from the looks people are giving her as they walk by, she's probably just hit the Too Loud ceiling, but oh-fucking-well. "I'm not. You and Bobbi, you knew each other for what, a weekend? before you got married. And Jess, I'm not dragging on her, but she had a lot of shit happening and she barely knew what she wanted, so I'm not exactly surprised you missed the memo there, too."

"So, what, we just need to talk and it'll all be good?"

"Well, it would be a start, wouldn't it?" Kate snapped. Approximately zero relationship counselors would give her a cookie for losing her cool like that; Clint just grunts and nods. Kate can tell he's still scared as shit—she'd like to point out that she's never actually had a relationship work out well either, but that'd probably be counter-productive—but he's not as completely freaked as he was.

It's still a shock when he looks at her and says, "Okay."

"'Okay' it'd be a start, or 'okay' we can do it, or—" Kate's babbling a little, she knows this, but it's possible she hadn't really thought forcing this conversation could actually work.

"Okay to everything," Clint says, and if he still looks a little freaked, he's at least pulled together enough to be enjoying throwing her for a loop. If she wasn't so happy to see something normal between them she'd be ticked, but, yeah, it's pretty good to see that smirk. She barely even glares at him.

"Okay," she says, and a sort of disbelieving laugh trickles out before she can get her mouth under control. "Everything. Okay."

x - x - x

It takes an hour and a half to get out to Clint's apartment, and Kate's so tired she sits down on the floor as soon as she walks in the door, but Lucky comes and climbs on her and lets her bury her face in his fur. There are worse ways to end a day.

Clint lets them hang out for a little while, but then he's showing Lucky his leash and nudging Kate toward the shower. "There's, uh, a pile of your stuff on the shelf behind the towels," he says as Lucky tows him out the door. "I—uh, it's all clean."

You'd think he was admitting to vilest of actions, not just pointing her to clean laundry, but Kate's too tired to needle him about his domestic talents. She does indeed find a random assortment of clothes and a couple of trick arrowheads on the specified shelf; she manages to assemble one of everything usually accepted as necessary for basic decency. She does appropriate a pair of Clint's socks and a sweatshirt (also clean, which is semi-weird for Barton, whose clothes usually shuffle from pile to pile (on the scale of Worn Once to Burn This) and then molder in the washer for an extra few weeks) to ward off the rest of the chill from the weather and the general stupidity of the last few weeks.

The coffee he left brewing doesn't hurt there either.

Lucky comes bounding in while Kate's getting her third cup, and they do the dance of yes-i-love-you-but-don't-slosh-my-coffee. She's pretty happy to find out she's still aces at it. She's less happy with how it's suddenly a little awkward to be standing two feet away from Clint. He's in the same headspace, she thinks, which is and isn't helping, all at the same time. She thinks she might totally be freaked out by a Clint Barton who could suddenly navigate feeeeeelings even if it might be nice to have someone with some idea how to cross this emotional minefield they've (willingly) walked into.

Lucky, though… Lucky is going to get them through this, Kate realizes. He whines and whuffles and gives them something to focus on that's not this newly-acknowledged side to their relationship. Kate goes and fills his water bowl while Clint dumps kibble into the big aluminum pan that he eats out of. Then, before they can lapse back into awkwardness, Lucky steps onto the edge of the water bowl, flooding the corner of the kitchen and by the time they get that all mopped up, he's done eating and is clearly waiting for Kate to come snuggle with him on the couch.

"Go," Clint says, nodding to the couch. "The remote's over there somewhere." By the time Kate gets herself and the dog settled (Lucky at least waits until she's got the remote control for the TV before he flumphs down onto her lap), Clint's draped over the open refrigerator door, peering into it like he's hoping it's not its usual empty-except-for-the-beer state. Kate's prepared for microwaved (past-their-expiration-date) frozen burritos, so it's like a little miracle when he calls over, "Eggs?"

The bread hasn't fared quite as well, apparently, but by the time he hacks off all the places with stuff growing on it and halfway incinerates the odd-shaped pieces that are left under the broiler, it's all good. Besides, Kate likes her eggs with Tabasco and everybody knows that stuff can take out a full-grown man. A couple of mold spores don't stand a chance.

Lucky behaves well enough that Kate can eat without having to get him off her lap, which is excellent because having her very own personal weighted, heated blanket is doing awesome stuff for her jangled brain. Clint takes the other end of the couch and eats the rest of the eggs straight out of the skillet. (Evidently, the semi-clean state of the apartment hasn't extended to dishware.) There's some animated show on the DVR (Clint says it's from Simone's kids; Kate, recognizing the long tail of a Barton guilt complex, doesn't point out that the kids have been gone for nearly a year) and it's all pretty quiet and companionable, at least until Kate nearly drops her plate as she dozes off. That shakes things up a bit as Clint jumps to catch it and Lucky decides he's done his part and takes himself off to flop down on the floor in front of the TV.

Clint has the look of someone who is trying to figure out how to say something awkward, but when he comes back from dumping everything into the sink, he drops down to sit on his heels in front of her and carefully brushes her almost-dry-and-totally-flyaway hair back off her face. "I really don't want to fuck this up, Katie."

"I don't either," Kate says. She reaches out to touch his face just as carefully, and he lets her draw him down and into a kiss, a real one with nothing to prove, one that's just for the want of it all. He licks into her mouth like they have all the time in the world and he's right where he wants to be, and she slides her hands back into his hair, pulling him closer and closer, still.

She's breathless when they finally break apart, her heart beating in a quick double-time that's totally different from the adrenaline rush of shooting or fighting. If it wouldn't make her sound like an idiot, she'd say it was a happy kind of rhythm. Clint stays close to her even though he'd been the one to stop first, and drops a quick kiss on the top of her head.

"Not fucking this up," he says again. "So, I'm thinking we should take it slow." He looks determined, like he's arguing with himself.

Kate can see the point in the idea (even if she's arguing just as hard with her own brain), so she nods . "Slow. Yeah, we can do that."

x - x - x

Hah. Yeah, right.

x - x - x

To be fair, it's technically a week before they fuck. In Hawkeye-speak, that's practically an eternity.

"Are you okay?" Kate asks, picking her head up off of Clint's shoulder. She feels fantastic, loose and relaxed, the endorphins still swimming happily through her nervous system. She's pretty sure he got a good hit of the happy stuff, too, but she's not sure how hard he'd talked himself into the Going Slow plan and how disappointed he might be that they kicked that to the curb, so to speak.

"‘M good, girlie," Clint answers, his voice lazy and just a bit hoarse. She has a very specific memory of exactly how rough his voice can get; this is nothing as good as that but it still gets her a little shivery.

"Just making sure," Kate says, curling back into him. "It's kinda been… a day."

Clint snorts a little, half laughing, half holy-shit-has-it-ever. Kate doesn't even have to say that she's only partially talking about them being here, in Clint's perpetually unmade but somehow still welcoming bed. Taking down a mob of drones practically single-handed (because the little flying menaces kept popping EMP bursts that took everyone but Kate and Clint and Natasha out of play) is one way to kick-start an adrenaline rush. Having the actual robot overlord come after them in what was more-or-less a tank is definitely a way to keep the rush screaming along. Kate is actually pretty proud they made it back to BedStuy before the adult-rated portion of the day really got going, even if they hadn't made it to the bed.

(Stairs, Kate reminds herself. They got to the stairs up to the loft (and the bed), which she is choosing to count as better than the floor. Also, she'd been half-convinced that Clint, even once he got to the point where he was okay with them actually having sex, was going to treat her like she was fragile or something. She is not categorically opposed to this, but she'd wanted it to be clear that she was up for more than that. Given that she can already feel bruises on her palms and knees from where she'd braced herself on the stairs and snarled over her shoulder to just fuck her already, she's pretty sure that's taken care of.)

"Ended okay?"

"Now you're just looking for ego strokes," Kate grumbles. But, since she's trying to be more honest with herself, she will admit he's entitled to as many of them as he wants, because she's kinda lost track of how many times she came tonight (once on the stairs, for sure, but then they'd hit the shower and she can't decide whether to count him fingering her as one long, extended orgasm or if it should be broken up into two (three?), much less the part where she'd ended up on the bed while he'd eaten her out. That whole part is a blur of hyper-stimulated nerve endings but she'd been crying when he finished so she's guessing she got her bell rung at least once.)

"Maybe," Clint says, and oh, yeah, there it is: the patented, Clint-Barton-I-think-I-might-have-fucked-up-so-I'll-pretend-I'm-really-asking-about-shallow-shit tactic. Also, they'd started this whole thing with her being a snotty bitch about them talking, so maybe she should walk the talk.

"It ended good by me," Kate says. She tips her head back so she can see his face with the least possible movement required. "My turn in the morning?"

"I'm not gonna say no to that," Clint answers.

x - x - x

Kate has mentioned the part about the universe loving a challenge, right? She's getting really sick of that shit.

x - x - x

The one thing about getting hurt on an Avengers call is that you get Stark-funded hospital suites. It doesn't matter all that much when you're the one hurt--a hospital bed is a hospital bed--but for the ones keeping watch, getting to sleep on an actual comfortable chair/lounge combo and having a chef on call to make omelettes for the middle-of-the-night, I-can't-sleep-cause-I'm-freaked crises is awesome. Kate finishes her last bite of toast and watches the light on the heart monitor trace its semi-comforting path.

"Everything looks good," Natasha says quietly from the door. Her arm's in a sling and Kate can see the edge of a bandage peeking out from the collar of her shirt, but she sounds pretty okay and she was right there next to Clint when the building came down on them. Kate tells herself that it's a good sign that Nat is up and walking around. Clint will be, too, shortly. "They're starting to ease off on the drugs keeping him out."

Natasha and Clint still hold each other's medical power-of-attorney, so the doctors always talk to the opposite one, but this is really more about Kate being stupid. Even the SHIELD doctors wouldn't have had a problem with her being there during rounds, so long as Natasha was okay with it, and those people were hard-core, by-the-book rule-monsters. Kate just hadn't been able to drag herself away from the heart monitor.

"Thanks," Kate tells her. Natasha shrugs in a no-problem sort of a way, but Kate knows she has to be exhausted. "You should eat something--maybe a smoothie? Stark probably has the fruit airlifted in from some plantation he owns or something."

"That… wouldn't be terrible," Natasha says, so Kate calls and consults with the kitchen, and they promise to have something super-nutritious and decadent up in a few minutes.

"They swear you won't even be able to taste the kale," Kate promises. Natasha is too good of a spy to actually make a face, even in her partner's hospital room in the middle of the night, but Kate can tell she's thinking about it. "They're also sending gelato and coffee, and that I know is Kona overnighted from Hawaii."

"Stark does have his little perks," Natasha murmurs. She wanders around the room, looking at the books on the shelves and the little figurines dotted amongst them. (The room can be closed off if they need a quarantine, with the sitting/sleeping area separate from the patient area, but it hardly ever happens that way. Another of Stark's little perks, Kate supposes.) Finally, she comes and stands next to Kate, her eyes on Clint in the bed.

"I probably should say thanks for whatever you said to him, before, too," Kate tells her. She's been thinking about a lot of stuff while she's been sitting with Clint, and one of the biggest things is that she has to stop taking people for granted. She's promised herself she won't let things slide so easily. So far, she's freaked Captain America out by not being a sarcastic bitch to him (seriously, he wanted them to check her for a concussion when she smiled at him and didn't relax until she called him an overprotective idiot), and judging from the polite, blank face Natasha's giving her, this attempt isn't going much better. "For whatever you said to get him to stop taking himself out of the picture whenever I was around."

"Oh," Natasha says, her mouth quirking up in a smile. "I actually didn't say anything. He worked that out himself."

Kate has no idea what to say--she's just assumed Natasha yelled at Clint until he bought a clue, but this is so much better.

So. Much.

Fortunately for Kate's sputtering brain, the food arrives, and then Clint starts waking up, and life in the Avengers and assorted associated groups goes on.

x - x - x

"Tell me you did not just take a picture of me," Clint growls from under the pillow. He's been there, face down and sprawled out, ever since she cut through the old silk ties she'd looped around his wrists and the wooden slats on her bed (totally his idea, and she knows he could have gotten free any time he wanted, but holy shit had it been hot to fuck like that. She'd missed having his hands on her, but watching him fall apart under her might be her new favorite thing.)

"I was in it, too, so congratulations, it's your first selfie." Kate squirms her way under the covers until she's mostly draped over his back. She lays her head on his shoulder blade and holds her phone out, contemplating the picture itself. "I mean, your face isn't in it, so nobody but us will know it's you, but yeah, it's you."

"Do I want to know why you want a picture of me that doesn't have my face?"

The real answer is that Kate had looked at him sprawled out and breathing hard, his skin still flushed from the orgasm she'd teased and teased and teased him with, and her mouth had gone dry with how fucking gorgeous he was and how she didn't ever want to forget that she'd had him. Even if shit doesn't keep working out between them (which could happen--it's good now, but it happens all the time), she'd wanted something more than just her memory to say that this moment had been real.

She can't say that, of course, so she just shrugs. "Maybe I have a thing for your arms."

That gets him out from under the pillow (which is the other reason she took the damn picture, just so there's something they can talk about, in case she screwed everything up with not having any idea what she was doing with tying him down.) He looks back over his shoulder at her, one eyebrow cocked.

"You have a thing for my arms?" he asks.

"Among other things, they're not your mouth," she tells him, holding the phone up so he can see. "The quiet is refreshing." It's not a bad shot--kind of arty and she could probably play with some filters, maybe go black and white and amp up the play of shadows. She's not really in it either; it's mostly just her hair trailing over his biceps, but it's incredibly intimate. Kate thinks she likes that part best.

He mutters something unintelligible but since he puts his head back down on top of the pillow, Kate's going to take it as a compliment to her fabulous photography skills. She lays her head down, too, tucking her arms around him and letting their breathing sync up. In a while they'll get up and go get Lucky and maybe take him out for a run. She has to go by the warehouse and see what's going on with the rest of her team, and Clint will probably go shoot for a couple of hours because he still thinks he needs time on the range to make up for everything he missed after the building fell on him. For right now, though, he reaches one hand out and threads his fingers through hers and lets everything else wait.

x - x - x

FYI to the universe, Kate thinks as she watches Clint and Lucky roll around on the floor: she will tear it apart if it decides to get cute and fuck with them. It's not perfect, being with Clint, because she's not perfect and God knows he's not either, but they already knew they were better together as Hawkeyes and they're figuring out how to make that work for Kate and Clint, as well. It's messy sometimes--they'd been fighting over the stupid stuff all along, but it turns out they were pretty far along the path of knowing how to make up, too. In other words, it's real.

Newsflash: Kate will take real over perfect any day.