"Okay, okay, okay," Clint slurs, half slumped over the bar, "This looks bad."
He receives little more than a slow blink from Natasha, which is not the tender concern and sympathy he really ought to be getting. Though, he supposes, he probably shouldn't have called Natasha if compassion was what he was after. Then he should've called… Well. The dog can't answer the phone, so that really cuts his options.
"This is your fault," he says viciously, reaching for his beer. "You could have, like, thrown me a text and told me we were working for Nazis."
Here's the thing with the job – thing.
Clint's got money now, so he can probably coast for a while and maybe the landlord deal will actually prove to have an upside, but it's not like money was the reason he was at SHIELD. There were…moral reasons and stuff, all sorts of things that go out the window once you find out you were kind of working for Nazis.
"Not all of them were Nazis," Natasha says mildly – because she likes to correct him, literally for no other reason than that – as she helps him back to his apartment post-drunken-sorrow-dwelling.
"Enough of them were, Natasha," Clint says meaningfully. He's got an arm slung around her shoulders and she's got one around his waist and it would be kind of nice if everything didn't majorly suck. "Enough of them were."
Being so very suddenly out of a job means Clint has a lot of time on his hands. And he's not really the kind of person who should have a lot of free time. It tends to get him into trouble. What he needs is missions and objectives and –
"Hobbies," Katie says. "Maybe try a hobby."
Once he works his way through Dog Cops (which, awesome) and finally unpacks his boxes and finally labels his arrows and plays all the shoot-the-target games he could ever come up with (which mostly consist of: choose this unfeasible target and make it feasible), he's just kind of bummed out all the time. Which means a lot of pizza and beer and asking Lucky not to judge him for being pathetic. (Lucky usually doesn't, because dogs.)
Stark is trying to rustle up SHIELD-lite or something and Natasha keeps disappearing (business as usual) and Fury is dead but maybe not dead at all. It's hard to keep track. Either way, Clint is most definitely out of a job. And he doesn't really know what to do with that. Or with himself.
Plus it's damn boring.
That is until Captain America of all people shows up on Clint's doorstep.
"I'm sorry to have to do this, Clint," Cap says with that square-jawed, all-American inflection he does so well. "But I…don't know anyone else in Brooklyn."
Saying that seems to physically pain him. He's got a bruise mellowing on one cheekbone and he's rain-drenched, which combined with the earnest puppy dog eyes creates one hell of an endearingly pitiful picture. So Clint steps aside to let him in because, what, is he going to not let Captain America into his apartment?
Well. Captain America, some dude with wings, and a silent assassin with a metal arm. Which is…maybe not an excellent decision, but Clint is Clint, so.
"Where are you planning on putting all of them?" Kate asks but she's hardly even listening for the answer, dazed-looking as her gaze slides from one new houseguest to the next. Clint frowns. He didn't intend this as an influx of eye candy.
'Where to put them' is definitely a question, up there with 'and why are all of them here.' Cap caught him up on the big stuff, like the murderous amnesiac best friend from seventy years ago (gee, thanks again Nat for the total lack of a heads-up on that) but didn't say anything else beyond some vague stuff about getting into a "scrape" and "lying low." Which, whatever: story of Clint's life.
"Hope you guys like the floor," Clint says, then winces a little, considering the floor is still covered in empty pizza boxes and beer bottles from his I–accidentally-worked-for-Nazis binge. He feels kinda bad about that, not to mention all the outdated tech and general tornado-swept-through theme he's got going.
"He'll clean," Kate says. ("I will clean," Clint agrees.)
"I've slept worse places," Cap says with a smile, sweet as apple pie, and honestly Clint isn't really into dudes but he's pretty sure both him and Katie flutter a bit. Captain America, man.
"Place is a palace compared to where we've been crashing," says the guy with the wings, who normally does not have wings and answers to Sam.
The Winter Soldier blinks expressionlessly.
"You're being magnanimous," Kate says, and she seems sort of torn as to which of them to give the eye to. Clint elbows her to get her to quit it, because these are his colleagues – or at least, his ex-colleague, friend-of-colleague, and person-who-once-almost-murdered-colleague. Whatever. They're his people, and they're too old for her.
Kate elbows him back with such force that Clint spills his coffee pretty much everywhere, which is just the cherry on top of the sundae that is his life.
Clint figures the best way to deal with this Winter Soldier thing is pretend to be chill about it while secretly thinking of all the ways he could be silently, untraceably murdered in his own home. So in the morning when the Soldier of Winter comes into the kitchen, Clint just pours a second bowl of cereal and slides it over, continuing to munch his own while he leans heavily on the counter out of sleepiness.
Bucky (or whatever) seems less enamored of his Cocoa Puffs but still eats slow spoonfuls with a restrained kind of hunger.
Clint nods towards the fuck-off metal arm. "Heavy?"
Bucky-or-whoever looks down at it for a moment. "Heavy," he agrees.
It's a little early in the day for metaphors, but hey, it's something.
"Boomerang arrow," Clint is explaining.
Sam is nodding, saying, "It comes back to you in the end."
"Yes," Clint says.
Clint has determined that Sam is pretty great, and not just because he's the only person who is genuinely interested in hearing about all the arrows and what they do. Sam isn't an Avenger, old or new, and he doesn't have powers or serums – sure, his jetpack metal wings sure beat Clint's bow in the coolness department, but still. Sam is a normal guy and it's good to have another one of those around.
Case in point: Clint has brought Sam up to the nightly rooftop barbeque, where he quickly wins over everyone. But Sam was the only one who would come; Cap shifted his weight and gave some excuse about people recognizing him, but Clint was pretty sure he just didn't want to leave Bucky-or-whoever alone. Bucky still didn't say much or even do much, but Lucky had taken a liking to him, so Clint supposes there's hope yet.
"You think you'll go back to D.C.?" Clint asks.
Sam shrugs, sips his beer. "I don't know, man; can't keep skulking around here, you know?"
Clint doesn't want to be an asshole or anything, but, "What d'you think his endgame is?"
"Steve's?" (Clint is a little jealous of Sam's cool, casual use of Cap's name.) "To have his friend back, I guess." Thoughtfully, Sam surveys the scope of the city around them. "I think maybe that's why he wants to hang around here, even if he's not saying it. Trying to go home in some small way."
"Aren't we all, man," Clint says, which is neither true nor as cool-sounding as he wanted it to be. But, well, maybe it is kind of true – home isn't always a place so much as a state of mind. That would be cool to say but before he can vocalize, Sam gives him a little nudge and points over the edge of the building. Clint peers down and sees Cap sitting on the fire escape, the very picture of loneliness.
"Somebody ought to set up a superhero support group," Sam says, faint amusement and concern flavoring his words.
"That might be on you," Clint tells him. "You're the most together guy I've ever met who hangs around with the likes of us."
"That is worrying," Sam laughs.
Later Clint joins Cap on the fire escape, handing him a beer that Cap accepts with a wry smile. "Sorry I'm not…" Cap starts and trails off, looking down at his hands. "We'll be out of your hair in a day or two."
"Don't worry about it," Clint says. What else is he gonna say? Does he need to re-state: this is Captain America.
But maybe that's what's so weird about it – the icon versus the man. Clint never really got the chance to chat Cap up, seeing as they all parted ways pretty quick after the Loki-sponsored alien-monsters ripped New York a new one. Clint had missions to go on (cough cough, Nazi missions, not that he's bitter) and only heard stuff through the Nat grapevine, which was neither reliable nor candid. Once in a while she'd mention trying to set Cap up. Clint thought it was awesome she got to hang out with the big all-American hero of heroes. That was that.
So Clint guesses the weird thing is that Cap isn't the big hero of heroes, or isn't just that: he's a guy named Steve Rogers too. Clint doesn't really know jack schnitzel about Steve Rogers, except he apparently doesn't go to barbeques in favor of being sad on fire escapes.
They've all been there, but it's easy to forget when you're blinded by the red, white, and blue. Clint feels kind of bad about it.
"So where's…?" Clint looks in the window but doesn't catch a glimpse of Cap's murder friend.
"Took the dog for a walk." There's a brief pause and then Cap goes, "You brought Natasha in, didn't you?"
"To SHIELD?" Clint says. "Yeah. I mean, she's probably pissed about that now, considering. But yeah. Yes. That was me."
Cap looks a little lost, like he's curious but doesn't want to push, so Clint takes mercy.
"I was supposed to take her out," he clarifies. "But I, uh, did not do that. Obviously."
Cap worries his lip a moment. "Why not?"
"Honestly?" Clint says. "Sort of instinct. I don't know. Her Natasha thing probably had something to do with it, the whole scary, dangerous, beautiful thing. Thing is –" Clint hesitates, but only because he doesn’t want to come off as more of a doofus than he already has. "I do things like that, make snap decisions; a lot of the time it doesn't work out, but it did with Nat."
Cap nods, gaze straying to the street below. Clint guesses he's thinking of Bucky. Clint wants to say something comforting about that entire situation, but figures we've all been there, pal doesn't really apply.
"He's here," Clint offers. "So that probably means something."
"I would like to think it does," Cap says. "I know he needs more help than I can provide. I know that. But after everything he's been through, I don't even know how to start."
They're quiet again, Clint studying Cap a little but trying not to seem like he is. There are anecdotes Clint could probably share. His own flip from supposed bad guy to supposed good guy. Loki opening up his head and turning his brain to spaghetti. All kinds of things. But there's only one that matters, really, even if it's a sucky one that doesn't help as much as it should.
"Gotta learn to appreciate the small victories," Clint says. "Even the really small ones. Like, tiny. You know, not running out of coffee. That counts." Cap half-smiles, which is reassuring, but Clint finds that he is still talking – without much input from his brain, which is not unusual. "You know I'm like a landlord here? And, uh…I got a guy moving out two floors down, guess he got tired of a crazed man with a bow and arrow patrolling the perimeter all the time… Uh, what I'm saying is…you need somewhere to crash in Brooklyn?"
Cap blinks at him.
"It might be crazy to have two Avengers in one place," Clint continues, "Or it might be awesome. I doubt the tracksuit mafia's gonna futz with the Captain, you know?"
"Tracksuit mafia?" Cap repeats. Then, "Wait, are you offering me a place to live?"
"I'll gut you on the rent," Clint promises, though he hardly collects it from anyone most of the time.
"I'll think about it," Steve says. His gaze falls to the street again and Clint follows his line of sight. This time they're greeted by Bucky shuffling up to the building with Lucky trotting along beside him.
Clint is probably, definitely crazy – but like he told Cap, sometimes he makes rash decisions and sometimes they work out for him. Fifty-fifty. Clint doesn't mind the gamble.
Drunk again, Clint calls Natasha.
"What did I tell you about drunk dialing?" Natasha says, voice even-toned despite the crackling on the line. She must be far. "Do you need me to spell a word?"
"No," Clint says defensively, though the missing-or-not e in judgment has been bugging him lately. He can never remember. Blame the carnie education.
"So what is it?"
Clint reaches down to scratch between Lucky's ears, silent for a minute. Steve took the place two floors down with his murder friend, and Sam went back to D.C. but Clint is ninety-nine percent sure he'll be back. Or he hopes, really. And Clint's place is empty once again, undisturbed outside of Katie, who isn't really a disturbance though Clint likes to pretend she is, for reasons.
"I don't know," he says finally. "Are you gonna do the Stark thing, you know, let him bankroll the whole deal?"
Natasha pauses and then, "Are you still freaking out about SHIELD." She has a way of asking questions so flatly that they all sound rhetorical.
"Not freaking out," Clint mumbles.
Natasha sighs. The line crackles despondently, like it can't believe this shit either.
"I'm not interested in your existential crisis, Clint," she says. On anyone else it might be mean, but he can tell Natasha's moods apart pretty well by now. Probably. It would be pathetic if he couldn't. Her brand of tough love definitely has love in there somewhere. "We're all still doing the things we have to do because we have to do them. Judging by the messes you get into when I'm not watching you, you have no trouble being Hawkeye in your free time, so you should have no trouble being Hawkeye whether you've got a SHIELD paycheck or not."
"Yeah but the difference between weirdo vigilante and trained agent –"
"Is not something we ever worried about before," Natasha says.
Clint is quiet again. "Never had to worry about it before. We had –" Backing. Protection. A clearly spelled out raison d'être. And without all that what is he except a crazy guy running around with a bow and arrow? "I just don't know what this means yet. For me. Or anyone, really."
Natasha is unexpectedly kind on the other side of the phone, far far away. "You'll figure it out." A pause, then, "You have something to offer, Clint. Aside from social awkwardness and extra band-aids."
"I do always have those," he agrees. Lucky looks up at him with that impatient dog curiosity, tail wagging. "Are you ever coming home?"
"What's home?" Natasha says. "I'm sure I'll see you soon."
And she clicks off abruptly like she does. Clint looks down at Lucky. "That's just plain rudeness."
Lucky seems sympathetic.