“Espresso con panna?”
There was a clink, and a very small cup (there had to be a name for that, Clint thought - cuplet?) was now sitting on a saucer by his right hand. Fortunately for him, and the espresso, Clint was hard to sneak up on, so he only pretended to be surprised and looked up from his laptop.
The barista was a young woman with long brown hair, one he remembered hazily from his earlier visits. Instead of leaving him be, she looked down at him over her purple apron with a frank, assessing gaze that would have just about knocked him on his ass, if he hadn’t already been sitting.
Well, he had a type.
She put a finger to her lips, mock-thoughtful. “You don’t seem like the espresso con panna kinda guy, I gotta say.”
“Uh…” Clint scratched the back of his head, embarrassed, then smiled. “Actually, you know what? The first time I came here, I ordered it without knowing what it was. I just wanted something that didn’t sound too froofy. Does that sound bad?”
“So… you didn’t want froofy, but you ordered the espresso with whipped cream?” She was clearly skeptical.
“It’s not like I speak French,” he protested.
“Whatever. Not the point.” How was he getting drawn into an argument with a barista? A very pretty barista with a definite attitude, admittedly, but still. He wasn’t supposed to be drawing attention to himself. “What’s the espresso con panna type, anyway?”
She wiggled an eyebrow at him, and winked. “That’s for us behind-the-counter folks to know, and you… not to know. Better drink that before it gets all melty, by the way. I’ll leave you to it, Mr. Espresso Con Panna.”
She sashayed away, and Clint scowled at her back. The whipped cream had already melted most of the way down, but he downed the shot anyway, and it was pleasantly bitter but softened by the hint of sweet cream. He watched the girl behind the counter bark out some orders and tease one of the other baristas. He’d never really noticed her in his previous visits, but now he wondered how he had missed her. Suddenly reviewing reports on the newest local vigilante didn’t seem like the most interesting way to pass the time.
* * *
He was supposed to be laying low. Hawkeye hadn’t been the most recognizable of the Avengers, not by Clint’s longest shot, but he’d gotten recognized on the street every once in a while, and because he liked his privacy he didn’t particularly care to have his face connected to Ronin. He kept a low profile, which was usually fine with him, because people were generally not his favorite thing. Besides, the Tower and his apartment had just about everything a man could need.
Except sometimes elbow room, he had found. And faces of people he didn’t see every damn day. So he went to the corner coffeeshop sometimes. Who was going to look for a superhero at Starbucks or whatever?
So when the pretty brunette barista plunked down in the chair across from him with a big shit-eating grin and said, “Hi, Clint,” his heart almost stopped.
Something must have shown on his face, because if it was even possible her grin grew wider, and she stuck her finger out at him. “Ha!” she crowed. “I knew it! I knew you looked familiar.”
Could you just shut up? he thought, and snapped the incident report he was reading shut casually. Vigilantes could wait; people around them could hear, not that Clint wasn’t a common name or anything, but still. His slight alarm didn’t stop him from recovering, though. “Who’s Clint?” he asked, as innocently as possible, leaning forward on his elbows.
The girl propped her chin up in her hands and looked at him, her gaze direct. “I was thinking about it ever since you left last week,” she mused. “I thought I recognized you from somewhere. Had we met already? Like at one of my parents’ things? Or were you one of those people you only see once a year at family reunions?”
Apparently her explanation was going to go the long way round.
He told her as much, and was rewarded with her best scowl.
“Look, buster, my explanation is gonna take as long as it takes. Capisce?”
“Don’t you have work to do or something?” he wondered aloud. Inconsequentially, it turned out.
“I’m on break. And don’t interrupt. The more you interrupt, the longer it takes me to get through the whole thing.”
Clint couldn’t resist teasing. “Oh, so you are planning to get through the whole thing?”
She leaned across the table and punched him in the arm. Kinda hard, actually. “Like I was saying. I thought you looked familiar. Then I was looking through some old news articles for research and there you were! I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you right away.” She pitched her voice low, like what she was about to say was very important and they were in on some kind of secret together. “Hawkeye.”
Well. That was sort of a relief.
All he said in response was, “Hmm. Is that so.”
“Of course it’s so. I said it was so.” She broke off a piece of his cranberry-orange muffin and popped it in her mouth. “Also, you’ve totally confirmed it by being all dodgy, just so you know.”
“Have I,” he said, because it seemed to annoy her. Annoyed looked cute on her.
Instead, she just winked at him and stood up, dusting crumbs off her apron, her long brown ponytail swinging behind her. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret.”
“Hey,” he said suddenly. “You know my secret identity, uh, I mean supposedly, but I don’t even know your name.” Nice save, he chided himself.
She smiled, and it lit up her whole face. “It’s Kate. Kate Bishop.”
Clint gave her a little salute and a smile of his own. “Nice to meetcha, Kate.”
At the pizza place on the way home, when he reached for his wallet, he found a little piece of paper with her number scrawled on it in his pocket. How did she even get that in there? thought Clint, half-admiringly. When he got home, he stuck it on the fridge with a magnet as he was holding out a piece of pepperoni-extra-cheese for Lucky.
* * *
Clint spent the next couple of weeks on a few missions to various parts of the world, and the in-between time mostly sleeping said missions off. The black eye had faded, but his ribs still twinged a bit when he walked.
So he occupied himself with that vigilante case. He’d only been dicking around with it in his free time; it wasn’t high on SHIELD’s priority list, just something in his neighborhood they’d asked him to look in on. Another archer, actually - they had something in common.
Not a mutant, as far as they could tell, or any special powers, just someone running around with decent aim and a bit of a hero complex. Scare her off, they’d advised.
Local unsavory characters as the targets, mostly, even one of those asshole tracksuits from his building once, and they’d all been neatly trussed up and left for the police to handle. The archer had been long gone by that point, each time. The only thing the tracksuit had had to say was, “Bro, she scary.” Other witnesses (there were few) described a medium-sized white woman with dark hair, a mask, and a bow and quiver. Clint supposed in that situation it was understandable that civilians mostly noticed weapons, but it was still inconvenient for him.
There was purple and black involved in the getup, someone had said. She didn’t seem to call herself anything, which was unusual for DIY attention-seeking types, although some people were starting to call her the new Hawkeye. Because of the colors, he guessed. Everything seemed to happen in a pretty local area in the early night. It wasn’t much to go on, but it might be enough.
He slapped the file shut in his lap and scratched behind Lucky’s ears. “Wonder if we had something of hers, you could sniff her down,” he muttered. “That would be too easy, though, wouldn’t it.” Lucky gave a little whine of agreement and rubbed against Clint’s thigh.
Roaming the neighborhood at night was probably his best shot at finding her, he decided. He’d done it a couple of times at random and hadn’t found anyone, but that was probably how the novice found her targets, so he was bound to get lucky eventually. Wasn’t he?
He really should have known better than to hope for good luck.
* * *
Night could make city pretty - at least some of it, almost. Lights spilled out from windows in orderly rows, neon glowed in the darkness like beacons, and shadows covered up the worst of the dirt and grime along the edges and in the corners.
Up where Clint was, above everything, was the best view of all.
There weren’t any eyes sharper than his, but up here it was more about listening. He had been roaming the rooftops for a couple of hours to keep an eye on the activity in the neighborhood, and all he had seen so far was stunningly boring. Did all the criminals decide to go to sleep early tonight? he wondered irritably, and had to remind himself that it wasn’t a bad thing that crime seemed to be suspended for the night - at least to prying eyes.
He jumped to the next rooftop with a sharp roll and a huff, just barely coming up short of a small garden bed. He probably should have thought it was good that people were doing that kind of thing or whatever, but really it was just inconvenient for him.
Striding along the roof's concrete lip, Clint peered over the edge.
Nothing, again. He rolled his shoulders and kept walking.
It was bad enough that, for years now, he had donned the costume of a superhero who liked close-range combat. Not that he was bad at it, but it wasn't his favorite; he preferred a little distance. He squeezed the handle of one of his short swords. It was not a completely antagonistic gesture - he had grown fond of the stupid things, and as a guy who had gotten really good at re-inventing himself over the years, he knew he could have done worse.
But he missed Hawkeye, he had to admit - at least to himself. It wasn't like he hadn't kept practicing on the range, and out in the field whenever he could get the chance, but it just wasn’t the same.
A quick, sharp sound broke through the murmur of the city, making Clint’s ears perk up. Whether or not he found the vigilante, at least he might see some action. Hoping it wasn’t just a car backfiring, he made a beeline for the noise, careful to keep his steps quiet even up here.
Looking out over a nearby alley, he saw some thugs had a guy pushed up against the dumpster. Tracksuit Draculas, maybe. A good shove of metal on concrete might’ve made that sound, Clint thought.
Glancing around, he didn’t see anyone. He couldn’t just wait around for someone else to show up, though; he had to help. So he slipped over the edge and began shimmying down a nearby pipe. It would take him down behind the dumpster, which was perfect.
Halfway down, though, a new voice entered the fray. “Leave him alone.” Female. Young-ish, maybe. Just the voice he was looking for. Clint quickened his speed as much as he could without giving himself away.
“No trouble, miss.” It was impossible to mistake the leering tone.
“Oh, you’re in trouble all right, buster.” She sounded like she was going to laugh. Something that she said pinged Clint in a weird way, but he couldn’t think of what it was. There was a whistling sound and one of the tracksuited thugs cried out, though it sounded more like surprise than pain to Clint.
She’d made a mistake by getting too close, though. It was inevitable in the poor light that she’d have to, but it was clear she wasn’t much of a melee fighter judging by what he heard next.
A sharp cry.
Coming out from around the corner, Clint darted into the fray. One of the thugs had the woman in a nasty wrist grip and was wrenching her shoulder, but she managed to land a kick somewhere in the vicinity of the guy’s balls, and he let go with an oof.
It was easy to dispatch the other two; they were used to wielding the authority of a gun, not facing the democracy of hand-to-hand combat. The first staggered back and nearly fell over from a kick, and then Clint swung around and hit the other in the head with the handle of one of his swords, knocking him out cold.
Swiftly Clint divested them of any other weapons and turned to the victim to make sure he was okay.
Unfortunately, it didn’t look that way. The guy was doubled over, arms around his middle, and when Clint touched his shoulder he about went nuts.
“You okay, man?”
The head below him shook. “Think I mighta broke a rib,” he gasped out.
Shit. Clint turned to his target – and she had her weapon up already and trained on him, slowly backing away, although she was favoring that shoulder. That mask - it looked like Bobbi’s getup, he noticed with curiosity. The rest of her costume, if you could even call it that, was plain, serviceable - the mask was her only piece of flair.
"Hey," he tried, holding up a hand as if that would ward her off. "I just want to talk."
"Like hell," she snapped. Her steady footsteps slowed for a moment, though. "You're helping him get to a hospital, aren't you?"
Clint thought about saying no, just to get her to stay, but the guy groaned in his ear, and Clint hesitated and rolled his eyes.
It was long enough. She must have seen his resigned acceptance and was gone in the blink of an eye, disappearing onto the next street into the darkness. Clint swore, and next to him the tracksuit victim made another pained noise.
"Yeah, yeah, I got you, buddy," muttered Clint, looping the guy's arm around his neck and trying not to sound annoyed.
* * *
“Espresso con panna?” Kate’s voice came from his right.
Clint almost reached for the saucer before realizing his mistake and waved it off, looking down. “I didn’t order anything.”
“It’s on the house.” She slid into the chair next to him, all casual and graceful, and deposited the beverage. “You look kinda beat.”
“You sure do take a lot of breaks,” he observed, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Kate leaned forward with her hand on her chin, the other tucked into her pocket, and asked, full of false sympathy, “Too much partying for you?”
“Sure, yeah. If ‘partying’ means ‘bringing home pizza and a beer to my dog,’” he offered.
She arched an eyebrow. “Wow, that’s even more pathetic than I was imagining. Do you even know what fun is?”
The idea of explaining his sometimes-tumultuous personal life, coupled with his hectic-by-nature profession, as well as the resulting desire to just sleep in his spare time, was too much to contemplate. Clint just downed the espresso with all its sad, melted whipped cream and sighed.
“I’ll take that as a no.” She smirked, but then her attitude turned more tentative, her purple-lacquered nails tapping on the tabletop and betraying her nerves. His gaze moved up from her fingers to her face, which was regarding him uncertainly. “So, were you planning on calling, or was I barking up the wrong tree?”
Shit, he’d almost forgotten. That number had stayed in the back of his mind, and he’d turned the idea of calling over a few times, but it had been a few weeks, hadn’t it? Sure, he’d been busy with other things, and, well, she was kind of young, so he’d hesitated, but still. Good move, Barton.
“Not barking up the wrong tree,” he assured her hastily. “Just got caught up with some… work stuff.”
“Ah.” Kate looked satisfied by that answer, her disappointment slipping away. Belatedly Clint remembered that she would have an idea of what he was talking about.
“I’m leaving town tomorrow again, though,” he remembered aloud. There was some kind of problem in Peru he’d been called in for. Nothing requiring superpowers, but still a serious job, and maybe a lengthy one. “Heading out around noon. Not sure when I’ll be back.”
“Tonight, then. If you’re up for it?”
She was something else. Clint tried but couldn’t quite fight back a grin. “What time do you get off work?”
“I close later, so around ten-thirty.”
“That’s a little late for a date, isn’t it? Unless you were planning on taking me dancing, which, I gotta say, Katie-Kate, not a great idea.”
Kate rolled her eyes - at him or his nickname for her, he didn’t know. But she was still smiling, so he counted it a win. “The other barista for tonight called in sick, and he’s my usual escort home. Well, we’re each other’s escorts. We live in the same building. You can walk me.” She made it sound like she was the one doing him a favor. He thought about what was waiting for him back at the apartment; the sad part was that maybe she was. “Maybe we can grab something on the way.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She stood up, punching him on the shoulder as she went by. “Better believe it’s good, buster.”
He couldn’t help but watch, and admire, as she walked away: the muscles of her calves, the sure set to her shoulders… and the way she was favoring her left arm. She hadn’t ever taken it out of her pocket, he realized.
Maybe she had hurt it carrying boxes or crates of milk. But what had she called him? Buster. He remembered the woman with the bow and mask, her clear and confident voice saying you’re in trouble all right, buster.
A laugh bubbled up in his throat before he could stop it. He found himself with his head in his hands.
Yeah, he definitely had a type.
* * *
The disappointing part of the whole thing was that the conversation they had to have wasn’t really date material, and in fact might kick this whole dating thing permanently in the nuts. There was also the possibility that he’d have to find another coffeeshop to frequent.
It didn’t stop him from showing up.
Finding the door locked, he tapped on the glass. Some of the lights were off, but he could see her dark head behind the counter, which jerked up at the noise.
“Hey,” she greeted in a low voice as she ushered him inside, locking the door after him. She looked tired, but still smiled up at him. “Running a little late, sorry, forgot how much work there is with closing, and without a partner…”
“No problem,” he assured her. “I’ll just wait. Unless there’s something I can do?”
She bit her lip and hesitated, looking torn.
“Kate. Just give me something a monkey could do.” His tone brooked no argument.
“Take out the trash?” she suggested, sounding clearly, if reluctantly, relieved. “There’s just a few bags, by the back door, and the dumpster’s right outside. I’ve just got to finish cleaning this machine. Oh, but you have to leave the door propped open or you’ll get locked out.”
“You got it.” Clint flashed her a grin, and she smiled back, all pink lip gloss and sass.
Too bad it would all be over soon, his mind reminded him. What a shame. Just his luck.
As Clint tossed one bag over the lip of the dumpster and heard the answering thump, he caught sight of a couple of guys hanging around the entrance of the alley. Slouched, not trying to draw attention to themselves.
Wearing what looked like velour tracksuits. His eyes narrowed.
When he slipped back inside, he removed the crate he’d used to keep the door open and let the door close behind him.
“All done?” he heard echo from the front of house. Kate looked up at him from where she was pouring some coffee beans into a machine as he passed.
He ignored her question and instead went straight for the front door, looking out the window. Yep. Two other velour-decked thugs. “You might have a problem,” said Clint grimly. “You ever been visited by some mobsters? Guys who wear tracksuits all the time?”
Her whole posture changed, suddenly tense and alert in a way she hadn’t been before. “Shit. Shit.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Pushing apart the blinds with a couple of fingers, Clint glanced through again, and then carefully back at Kate, considering. They might be able to take the lot even with her injured shoulder - it had been a couple days, but he didn’t know how bad it was.
Her eyes were darting around the store, looking uncertain and on edge. Finally, she dragged a bag out from behind the counter, set it on the counter, and started unzipping.
“You got a bow in there?” he asked bluntly. “Sure you can pull it with that shoulder?”
Kate stopped her rummaging to stare at him, her hands going still. “How did you - I mean, what are you -?”
Screw secret identities. He pointed at himself. “Ronin.” And then at her. “Mockingbird wannabe.”
She gaped at him a moment longer, then shook her head. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he heard her mutter under her breath.
“Do I look like I’m kidding? Be honest about the shoulder. That looked rough. I can take the bow if -”
Kate rolled her shoulder experimentally, testing it. “I can do the bow,” she said with confidence, hands back in the bag and pulling out the item in question, along with a quiver. “No grappling, though.” She seemed to be recovering from the shock nicely, he noted.
“That’s all me, then.”
“Out back, too?” She’d come up next to him to look out the window herself, nearly pressed up against him, but her tone was all business. He had to admire her.
“Two of ‘em.”
“Don’t want some of them tearing down the place while we beat up the others.”
Her body was very warm against his side. He pushed that thought aside for the moment; there were more important considerations at hand. “We’ll split up, then. What do they want?”
“I’ll tell you later. Out back, were they close to the door?”
“Nah, end of the alley. They could have moved, but I think they’re just there to block your escape.”
“I’ll take the back, then.” She looked up at him with a teasing smile. “Can you take care of yourself, Ronin?”
Clint’s only answer was a snort, and then they were off to the races.
His guys watched him carefully as he closed the front door and began walking toward him. There was no one out on the block at the moment - not typical, which was only inconvenient for him. His luck, Clint supposed. “Hi, guys,” he said easily when he was close enough, and looked up for a long moment so they’d recognize him.
The one on the left, who looked vaguely familiar, started. “Lucky night for us. Two for one! We looking for you, bro.”
Cracking his knuckles, Clint grinned. “Oh, yeah?”
The guy on the right moved restlessly, annoyed. “We got our job,” he said in a low, gravelly voice, obviously talking to his partner. “No distraction.”
Clint heard a shout from the alley and the familiar sounds of a scuffle. The two grunts both swung around, and he took the opportunity to bash their heads together. “You sure about that no-distraction policy?”
They fell, stumbling over each other comically. Conscious still, but that had to hurt like a bitch. He almost winced in sympathy; he had never gotten used to the way head wounds bled, and at least one of them had a broken nose.
“Always wanted to do that,” he said with some satisfaction. He grabbed them both by the collars and jerked them around a little, then shoved them down the street. “Take a message to your boss for me. This is the Avengers’ favorite coffeeshop. Capisce?”
They looked at each other, sluggish and disoriented but clearly weighing their chances against him.
It was at that moment that Kate came around the corner, bow in hand and arrow notched. Under the orange lamplight and shadows she was a forbidding sight. “I’d do what the guy said,” she suggested lightly, only a little out of breath.
They exchanged looks again and were off, both wincing and touching their heads gingerly.
She lowered her bow, but only just, and looked at him with no small amount of defiance.
"Well?" he said. But she didn't lower the bow any further. Instead, she looked both afraid and angry.
“This the part where you tell me to cut it out? Quit?” she spat out, before he could even say anything. “That’s how you know who I am, right? How long have you been following me?" She was panting a little, whether from exhaustion or energy he couldn't tell.
He held up his hands with the feeling that this fight would be way worse than the one he’d just been in. “What’d you do with the other guys?”
She harrumphed, unimpressed. “They’re out cold.”
“Still want that walk home?” he offered, probably suicidally.
Her gaze was still suspicious. “Let me get my bag.” While she was doing that, he called a buddy cop to get someone to sit on the shop for a while.
The walk to her apartment was oddly quiet and, somewhat less oddly, very awkward. He had definitely thought there would be more yelling. She wasn’t looking at him now, just straight ahead, like she wasn’t sure what she would see and maybe didn’t want to know.
After a few blocks of the silent treatment, Clint cleared his throat. “So what’d those guys want?”
“A protection racket,” Kate said shortly.
Raising an eyebrow even though she wouldn’t see it, he asked, “From a barista?”
She shifted her bag over her shoulder. “I’m the owner. Actually.”
“What are you, nineteen?” he said without thinking. Also, thinking about how old she could be did not make him feel spectacular.
Even though he couldn’t see her face, he somehow knew that she was rolling her eyes. “Twenty-one. My parents died a few years back. I sold the family business and then… I started my own.”
He had the feeling he’d stepped in some deep shit and needed to beat a quick retreat. “Sorry, really, I’m...”
Kate’s shrug was just irritated, though. “Whatever.” They must have arrived at her building, because, in a sudden display of athletic grace, she jumped and grabbed the fire escape ladder, pulling it down with her. But she only got a one step up before turning around, a hand on one hip, and took a deep breath, rocking back and forth a little on the step.
Clint got the impression she’d been preparing for this, whatever it was, the whole way. He walked to the bottom of the stairs to wait for whatever was coming.
“Look, I’m not going to stop.” Her gaze bored holes into him; they were at eye level. He opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off. “I’m good. Really good. You know it.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “You are.”
That seemed to throw her a little. “Aren’t you going to tell me I have to stop? That I’m putting myself and others in danger, yada yada yada?”
He rubbed a hand over his face. “Look, I only found out it was you, that you were the vigilante, today.” Something tense in her shoulders seemed to relax, so he plowed ahead with renewed hope. “So yeah, that’s what I was going to do. But honestly, I’d rather work with you than against you. If you’re interested.”
She seemed to be studying his face. “For real? This isn’t a trick?”
“No tricks,” he said firmly. Before he thought better of it, his hands came up to rest on her elbows, squeezing lightly.
The moment seemed to hang between them for a moment, frozen. Then she leaned forward and kissed him, her touch light but slick with lip gloss. As she leaned into him, one of her small hands came up to curl into his short hair. When her lips parted against his, Clint leaned forward to deepen the kiss, just for a moment. Then he pulled away with regret.
From just a few inches away Kate stared at him, her tongue swiping over her upper lip unconsciously. It was cute. His mouth tasted like fake cherries, plastic and sugary, but he found he didn’t mind all that much.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, as if she were remembering something, and a smile settled into her expression. From this close he could see it crinkle the corner of her eyes. “I’m not a Mockingbird wannabe. Take it back.”
Each word puffed a little breath against his face. He thought about kissing the corner of her smile, chasing that cherry flavor. “You’re right. You know, people been calling you Hawkeye. That your codename now? I wouldn't be offended."
Her smile widened into a grin. “Nope. Tell you what - you can call me Hawkingbird.”
Clint laughed before he could help it. Still grinning, she leaned away from him and began her climb up the creaking iron stairwell. “Night, Clint,” she called, and he gave a short wave, watching her.
Damn if he wasn’t going to get this Peru thing settled ASAP.