Clint looks at Coulson through his sights. “Smile, sir, it might never happen.”
He can see Coulson lift his radio. “What have I told you about aiming that thing at me?”
“That it shows my preparedness for the day you inevitably get sick of us all and turn to the dark side?”
“That day may come sooner than you think. No chatter on this frequency please, you’re supposed to have your eyes on the target.”
“They’re not going to be in range for another thirty seconds. What do you want to talk about in the meantime?”
Clint sighs. “Going quiet, eyes on target, yes sir.”
They practice on the range at SHIELD, because Stark hasn’t finished whatever remodelling he claims to be doing at his mansion. Coulson fires off a few rounds while Clint watches him.
When Coulson turns to look back, Clint sends an arrow flying into the centre of the furthest target, just to show that he’s here for legitimate reasons. Coulson raises his eyebrow.
“Just keeping my hand in, sir,” Clint says. “You don’t need to look so serious all the time.”
“If you had my job, Barton, you would understand. And this is what I don’t understand: everyone else claims you don’t talk. I have difficulty with that notion.”
Clint processes that. “Everyone who?”
Coulson sighs. “Who- your team-mates, Agent Barton.”
“I talk to Natasha.”
“Excepting those team-mates who have carried you across international borders while you were bleeding copiously over each other.”
“I don’t know that I would say ‘copiously’. Or, wait, did you mean oh-six or oh-eight?”
Clint cannot protest the copiously on that one. They had barely known each other back then, but the mission had really brought the two of them together. So: “I still talk to her. I talk to the others too. I’m not all Kumbayah holding hands around the campfire but we talk.”
Coulson reloads. “Apparently they disagree.”
“And they told you?”
“I’m very approachable.” Coulson says this in the kind of deadpan a poker-player would kill for. “People tell me things.”
“Are these people Natasha? Because she’s hardly Miss Congeniality herself.”
“No, but she does manage to see her team-mates in a non-lethal capacity every now and then.” He fires off another two rounds. “Apparently you’ve been missing scheduled team meetings. Captain Rogers worries that it’s something he said.”
Coulson assumes a mock-earnest expression. “Do you resent his leadership, Clint? Seeing as how you’ve been doing this job for so much longer and you do have seniority in terms of experience in the field?”
“Stark thinks you don’t want to work with civilians, Banner thinks you would rather not have to work with a team-mate you might have to tranq at a moment’s notice, and Thor seems to think it’s something to do with your opinions of his brother. And no, they didn’t all come out and say this. I inferred.”
“So in comparison with all that, I must look positively cheery.”
“Good night, Agent Barton.”
He doesn’t actually miss team meetings. Clint turns up at official briefings when Coulson tells him that his presence is required. He drops by when Cap mentions that he needs to talk about something. These things are more informal.
When Clint walks through the doorway into the Mansion’s kitchen, Steve does a double take. “Clint.”
“You’re- do you want something to eat? I’m making popcorn. We started a bowl already but Thor…” He gestures in a way which actually communicates perfectly clearly that when you work with Norse Gods, sometimes food disappears almost on its own. “And we’ve got the microwave, so it won’t take long.”
It’s not that Clint doesn’t like his team. They’re all- well they clearly have a variety of different things wrong with them, they’re dangerous to be around and they’re capable of pissing him off on a variety of levels but none of those things are the reason he hasn’t been around much. Clint doesn’t really know what to do with a team. He’s had partners before; of course he trusts Natasha with his life. He has worked as part of the same SHIELD team for a few ops in a row but nothing more sustained than that. And he’s the guy with the weapon at the top of a building - he’s not on the ground back to back with one of these guys. It makes a difference.
Clint forces himself to open his stance, unclench his fists. He sits down at the table and looks at Steve. “Do anything fun today?”
Steve blinks at him and then smiles. “Tony tried to teach me how microwaves work?”
“Yeah, but you already knew-.”
“I knew how the buttons on the machine worked. He wanted me to understand the science.”
“Isn’t that what, I don’t know, Wikipedia is for?” Stark isn’t the most patient teacher.
“Tony doesn’t trust Wikipedia,” Steve says. “Apparently the article about him lacks appropriate citations.”
Steve grins and Clint’s answering smile is just an honest reflex. The microwave beeps and Steve turns to get the popcorn out. Clint steals a handful of it and heads back outside again. He can’t do this all at once.
“I could make it an assignment if you need me to,” Coulson offers, sitting in the chair by the edge of Clint’s bed.
“You’re actually going to bug me about this while I’m in medical?”
“I can see you. It’s an advantage I don’t normally get.”
“I can see you too. Anyone would think you were worried, sir.”
Clint anticipates the polite cough before he hears it. He heard the oncoming footsteps. From the doorway, Steve says, “We were all worried.”
The others shuffle around the door. Natasha makes it in first. “He’s had worse than this. Falling off a building is nothing.”
“I didn’t fall,” Clint protests. “I was pushed.”
Natasha rolls her eyes in a way that is entirely familiar. “That’s what you always say.”
“Not true. Once it was because the building fell down underneath me.”
Coulson stands up from the chair. “Either way, try not to do it again.”
Clint calls, “Not even a ‘glad you’re not dead’ smile?” Coulson ignores him and continues away down the corridor.
Stark lets go a breath of laughter. “Well, you’re a braver man than I am. Coulson tends to respond to backtalk with paperwork. I’ve seen enough expenses claims to last me a lifetime.”
Clint shrugs. He doesn’t think of it as backtalk. But no, he’s not afraid of Coulson the way that other people would think of it. He wouldn’t get very far in his job, being afraid of powerful people. Coulson is one of the few people he sees often enough as more than a figure in his crosshairs. That counts for something.
The Mansion isn’t Clint’s first choice as a bolthole but he doesn’t want to be at SHIELD right now. Stark finds him in the kitchen, taking apart the bow and putting it back together again.
Stark offers, “Want a drink?”
“Every time I come down here, one of you guys tries to play host. Maybe I just want to sit.”
Stark turns his back and pours himself a generous measure of whiskey. “Suit yourself.”
Clint waits until Stark is sitting at the table with his glass and shoves the whole mess across at him. “Take a look at this fucking thing, will you?”
Stark’s hands settle empty on the table. “Sorry?”
“New arrows. SHIELD design.”
“And I hit about three inches away from where I was aiming.”
“You still took it down.”
“You know what difference three inches makes in my line of-.”
Stark picks the arrow up. “Okay. What am I looking at? Oh, hey. Okay.” He stands up, taking arrow and most of the bow with him. “Bring the rest of that.” He trails down to his lab and before Clint has time to protest, he’s attacking the arrow with a screwdriver.
“Which is why I need to get that bit out before I start with the blowtorch. Can I look at the bow some more?”
Stark doesn’t normally ask permission to do anything but there’s a reason Clint offered it to him tonight. “Go ahead,” Clint says. “Just be careful.”
“I can be careful. Why does everyone think I don’t know how to do that?”
Clint snorts and slumps down in the chair opposite Stark’s workstation. “You want a list?”
Stark brushes that off easily. “Okay, roof.”
“I don’t think firing one of these across the lab is a good idea, and I haven’t done enough digging to give you a decent range downstairs yet. We’ve got plenty of garden though.”
It needles Clint a little: the way Stark has enough houses that this one is now ‘we’, and that he can tear it apart to build a range underneath it without even a moment’s pause. But on the other hand he was willing to tear the house apart to do that, though a range is next to no use to him, and he drags Clint up onto the roof and hands him back the bow. “Try it now.”
Clint sights across the grounds. “What am I aiming at?”
“I don’t know, something we don’t mind exploding. What about that statue?”
Clint raises his eyebrow. “Was that a joke?”
“Okay, further away than that. Little fence over there?”
It’s still closer than Clint would like but he draws the bowstring back and grins when the arrow hits dead centre this time. He follows along the fence and the small bangs when they go off satisfy the twitch he’s been carrying since the mission today.
Stark laughs. He laughs all the time, as punctuation and underline to his speech: look how witty and awesome I’m being. But he just laughs now, head back.
Clint elbows him and reloads with a regular arrow. “See the crack in the wall by the front gate?”
Stark nods, all challenge, and Clint hits the mark dead on. That just makes Stark laugh some more and they keep themselves amused until it starts to get cold up there and Stark grumbles.
Stark traipses down the stairs and offers vaguely, “Are you sticking around?”
“Tonight, I meant stick around here, what do you mean generally, where are you going?”
“I’m not going anywhere but I’m not staying here tonight.”
Stark says, “Sure, fine, come back in the morning. We should look at the rest of the stuff they’re making for you, I don’t trust them.”
In normal circumstances, Clint trusts them more than he’s ever trusted anyone like Stark. SHIELD techs are some of the best in the business and they are unlikely to lock themselves in the lab to get drunk and try to redefine quantum physics. But they made his arrow fly three inches off where he aimed it and they don’t make him laugh.
In the morning, Clint turns up late for what may or may not suppose to be another of those almost team-meetings. Coulson is sitting at the breakfast bar, twirling one of Clint’s arrows between his fingers. Coulson says, “I found three of these between the gate and the front door.”
Stark is standing at the coffee machine, facing away from them. He laughs and Clint grins at his back.
Coulson looks between them. “This is exactly what I was afraid of.”
Clint doesn’t bother letting him know that it was his own idea, and he should have been prepared to deal with the consequences. He thinks Coulson already knows that, and he’s not sure the man minds nearly as much as he’s pretending.
“Four o’clock,” Clint says.
Many feet below him, Coulson looks up in an apparent attempt to meet his eyes. Clint is pretty sure he’s not visible from down there.
“Your four o’clock,” Clint says, to clarify. “My ten.”
Coulson turns slowly to look at his four o’clock. He takes a few steps forward and snags the thing from the ground. He wraps it carefully in a bag and hands it over to the techs. He says, “You could come down and help.”
“I like it up here. Your eight o’clock.”
Coulson turns the other way and goes to chase it down. Clint’s not sure what they think they’re going to do with a reengineered silence gun, even if they do get all the pieces back together.
“I could aim it at you,” Coulson suggests, proving once and for all that he is in fact psychic. There’s a pool running at SHIELD, but Clint doesn’t know if they’ll take this as confirmation.
“You would miss the sound of my voice, sir,” Clint says.
“We can’t know that until we try,” Coulson says. But he sounds like he’s smiling.
Clint gives it another fifteen seconds before he whispers, “Two and seven. No, your seven.”
Thor says, “He wasn’t always like this.”
“We know.” Bruce is shivering, trying to shake off the effects of the tranquilliser Clint hit him with.
“He was not always so…”
“It’s fine,” Bruce says. It’s actually fairly difficult to upset Bruce, as these things go. Clint gets the impression that if it were Tony, or even Steve, who had to worry about hulking out every time something pissed them off, the world would be a far more dangerous place. But once something – or someone – has set Bruce off… the man represses. He has a lot of anger to spare and once it’s loose he’s only halfway careful about what he takes it out on. So it’s not fine now: Bruce is quietly tense the way he always is after an incident, Steve worries that they didn’t make the end call on time, and Clint is letting Natasha wrap his wrist where he was knocked into a wall. All because Loki has no problem winding Bruce up to see what happens.
It’s not fine, but Thor is hunched over like it’s his fault, and maybe he thinks it is, so they say it’s fine anyway. It’s not something Clint used to care about – whether or not his teammates were suffering post-mission stress. Natasha doesn’t share that sort of thing, Coulson just watches junk television until he levels out, and everyone else looks the same from Clint’s usual vantage point. Clint winces and waits until Natasha has finished with the bandaging. Thor looks as though he’s about to apologise. Clint says, “It’s family. It complicates things. Don’t worry about it.”
Natasha’s fingers freeze where they are resting on his arm.
Clint turns to look at her. “What?”
Thor asks, “You have… what of your family?”
Oh. “I had a brother. It didn’t end well.”
“There were not-.”
Clint shakes his head. “Just me now. Complicated.” He yawns.
Steve doesn’t let the odd silence linger. He says, “Okay, I think we should all just turn in for the night. We can look at the reports in the morning and see what we could have done differently.”
Clint struggles to his feet and tries to muster up the enthusiasm to go back to SHIELD.
Tony looks over at him. “Staying here tonight?”
“Problem?” Clint asks, though he hadn’t considered staying until that moment.
“Your room’s on the top floor, second door on the right. Roof access from the steps. Don’t jump out the window unless you have to.” Tony turns on his heel and heads away.
Bruce rubs the side of his neck; Clint doesn’t know whether or not he should apologise for shooting his teammate. That is sort of what he’s here for. Bruce nods at him. “It’s fine.”
“Everything’s always fine with you,” Clint notes.
Bruce rolls his head back and acknowledges this. “I’ve found it’s safer that way.” Clint smothers a breath of laughter but Bruce quirks a smile back at him. “Good night, Clint.”
The top floor of the Mansion is a good distance from the noise Tony is still making in his lab, and from Thor’s loud phone conversation with Doctor Foster. The room has a good view down onto the gardens and it faces away from the street. Clint taps the glass and is pretty sure it’s bulletproof. There’s a button to make it slide open, and another to lock his door.
There’s no physical lock on the door and Clint considers dragging some furniture in front of it, just in case. He settles for keeping his bow in easy reach.
A sound down the hallway startles him and when he pokes his head out of the door, Natasha nods at him. “This one is mine.” She taps on the frame of the other door on this hallway.
Clint sleeps most of the way through the night. At five a.m. when he wakes up and has a moment of panic when he has no idea where he is and where he slept last night, Natasha’s right down the hallway. They have a sparring session on the roof of the mansion as the sun comes up; when he gets downstairs the coffee machine has turned itself on. Steve is reading the newspaper in the kitchen and this is maybe the most surreal thing Clint has ever experienced but he doesn’t run right away.
Clint has been gone for two weeks and when the pilot announces that they have to stop on the West Coast on the way back, he just closes his eyes in frustration. There’s no one here to bitch at. They touch down in Seattle, already dark over the city.
A familiar voice says, “Do you want to do your debriefing now?”
Clint opens his eyes to look at Coulson. “I want to go home.”
Coulson looks back at him. “Home.”
“New York, whatever. Somewhere I have a bed. Covert ops aren’t as glamorous as they sound.”
“I know that.”
Clint stretches out and kicks his feet up onto the opposite seats, beside Coulson. Coulson stares at Clint’s legs but doesn’t shove them off the seat. He rests a folder on Clint’s shin. “If we get this done now, you can go straight home when we land. Mansion or SHIELD?”
Coulson tips his head back. “Most of the agents don’t stay there all the time, you know. It’s fine if you have somewhere else to go.” Clint knows that Coulson has what is a pretty nice apartment in the city, and he spends so little time there that his cactus had died from dehydration. They’ve both been spending more time in one place since this happened.
“I’ll come back with you, sir. I can check in with the team in the morning.” He still gets a small incredulous buzz at that; when Clint had turned his regular phone back on at the airport today, he had ten messages, all from people who had to have known that he wasn’t available in a mission-capacity for those two weeks. It’s weird and vaguely aggravating, but he spent the first half of the flight replying to Steve’s query about training together on close range tactics, and Thor’s request for an escort for a field trip to Canada. God knows when Clint became eligible to keep an eye on their otherworldly contingent. He’ll have to think about how to phrase that particular request.
Coulson asks, “How do you know I’m going to the office?”
Clint looks at him incredulously. “Because I know you, sir. So let’s finish the debrief, and I’ll come back to the office and catch up on TIVO with you afterwards.” He pauses. “Unless you want to come back to the Mansion? There’s like thirty bedrooms.”
Coulson’s expression turns thoughtful. “I don’t think Stark would appreciate that. But thank you for the offer.”
Clint shrugs and lets Coulson start talking about the clean up from the mission. New York keeps getting closer.
Clint is about ninety seconds away from losing his shot. “Somebody make the call.”
Coulson and Steve are having a minor disagreement. Coulson wants to wait and Steve thinks they can finish this now. They’ve been running what ifs for the past couple of minutes and they don’t have time.
“Seriously,” Clint radios. “I don’t care who. Someone tell me what they want.”
Steve is the Avengers team leader and Coulson is responsible for most SHIELD domestic operations in the field; Clint is an agent of SHIELD and the Avengers marksman. He’ll take an order from either one of them.
Coulson exhales. “You still have the shot?”
Clint looks over the edge of the roof and decides not to give them the caveat. “Yeah.”
Steve says, “Take it.”
Clint readies his bow. “I’m going to need someone aerial.”
“What the-.” Coulson protests but Clint is already in his run-up. He takes a flying leap off the building, spins from the rail, and twists in the air to get his shot off. If someone doesn’t turn up in a second, he’s going to have to grab for one of the robots and then the nearest fire escape.
“I have him.” Thor snags Clint from the air.
Tony growls. “Feel free to drop him. Hey, Hawkeye, next time maybe ask for the air support before you jump? I was two blocks away.” He sounds out of breath.
“It was before,” Clint says. “After I jumped I was shooting things.” He laughs and it’s only then that Coulson comes back on radio.
“All right, everybody, let’s get clean-up in.”
Thor drops Clint, gently, back onto his feet. Clint is still laughing. This is the most fun he’s had in years.
Steve admonishes, “You could have died.”
“You’re not Spiderman,” Tony adds, the two of them doing their weird tag-team thing. “Although that would be useful, actually.”
“We should get Spiderman,” Clint muses briefly. “And anyway I grew up in a circus. I had three other ways down. Not that I didn’t appreciate the lift.” Thor grins at him.
Tony says, “What, really?”
“The circus? That’s not a line.”
Natasha meets Clint’s eyes. He shrugs. “That’s not in my file?”
“What makes you think I-?” Tony asks.
“I know you?”
“Point taken but in this instance no I have not. SHIELD has that stuff locked down.”
Coulson says, “We’ve learned the safest way is just not to put deep background on networked computers. Since JARVIS seems to find his way into them no matter how secure they were. The Director was talking about going back to paper files.”
Tony makes a vaguely horrified sound and Clint ignores him to grin at Coulson, still buzzing with the adrenaline of the jump and the explosion. “Is that your ‘glad you’re not dead’ smile, sir?”
“This is still my ‘we’ll talk about the stunt you pulled tomorrow seven a.m. my office’ smile. With a side-order of ‘I’m your boss and you have to do whatever I tell you to, so don’t even think about arguing’.”
“Steve’s my boss now,” Clint says, just to see what happens. “It’s a Captain thing.”
Coulson stares at him. “Seven a.m.”
At ten minutes past seven, Clint draws a smiley-face on the coffee he brought for Coulson, and considers heading over to the range.
Coulson opens the door. “Stay there.”
“I brought you coffee,” Clint says defensively.
Coulson walks to his desk and lifts the cup. “So I see.”
“You’re late. You’re never late.”
“Yes, well, when Captain America asks for a word, people tend to stop and listen.”
“He wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be too hard on you.” The corner of Coulson’s mouth twists up. “Seeing as how he did ask you to take the shot, and anyway he’s your team leader so he should take responsibility.”
“Steve is… Steve.”
Coulson nods. “He is.”
“I had the shot.”
“We would have downed it another way.”
“I had it.”
“You have a team.”
“I do,” Clint says. “One of them caught me.”
Coulson is surprised into an expression Clint can’t place. Then he smiles, slowly. “True.”
Clint smiles back but: “This doesn’t mean you were right.” He examines the look on Coulson’s face - faintly mocking, soft – “Just drink your coffee.”
Coulson’s smile doesn’t widen, exactly, but it holds a little more firmly on his face. He takes a long drink from the cup. Clint watches the smile he drew on it tip up towards Coulson.
The phone rings. Coulson picks it up. “Coulson.” He waits while whoever’s on the other end talks to him. “I have Hawkeye here. I’ll get the rest.” He puts the phone down.
“I think we’re going to have to get used to it.”
Clint knew Coulson before this, even before Mjolnir and New Mexico. He knew Coulson well enough that when his voice went sharp and he was snapping something that might be Bart as easily as Agent Barton, Clint relaxed down to his bones and waited for the call. But it was only one point on a line and they went months often without even being in the same country so he had never put the pieces together. Then Coulson had come to him and said the magic words: Avengers Initiative. That’s what changed everything.
Clint takes a breath. “It wasn’t just Natasha. Before. I talked to you too.”
“That’s not the same thing.”
“It sort of is. But I didn’t know that before you started on your weird team-building thing. So- if, you know, you had to jump off a building to shoot someone, Thor or Tony would grab you, and mostly I trust that they would do okay. Which is a big deal for me, honestly. But I still wouldn’t like it.”
“Okay.” Clint rocks back onto his heels and waits for the next thing to happen. He’s not sure what that’s supposed to be.
Coulson rolls his eyes, pushes the coffee cup to one side, and wraps his fingers in Clint’s shirt. Clint allows himself to be pulled over the desk and for Coulson’s mouth to settle firmly over his. Coulson is smiling, the bastard, even as he slips his tongue into Clint’s mouth and bites lightly on his lip. He pushes Clint back after a long minute. “Get to work.”
Clint follows Coulson into the hallway; they meet Steve halfway to the jet. Coulson is speaking to several people at once. “I’ll brief when we’re in the air, I need to be patched through to Stark, and I need someone to tell me that Widow’s en route.”
Steve looks at Clint. “Ready?”
“Whenever you are.”
Steve sets his hand on Clint’s shoulder – odd, companionable – “Good.”
Coulson turns halfway so for a moment he’s walking backwards down the hallway, though no one is stupid enough to get into his way. He says, “Later,” to Clint, with no further elaboration, and bestows a sharp smile on him.
In the plane, they’ve got hold of Tony who is talking a mile a minute; Steve interrupts him every third sentence and by the time they reach Central Park Steve’s doing most of the talking. Clint still doesn’t feel the need to chime in on these kinds of things. When they do something stupid, which they will, he will have no trouble letting them know. For the moment, he sits back in the jet and lets the chatter go on around him. He smiles at Coulson when he catches the man’s eye and lets Natasha and Bruce alternately threaten and reason him into not jumping off any buildings today. He secures a promise from Thor that he’ll be around if Clint does find himself flying. He waits for the moment somebody asks, “You have the shot?” In that way it’s exactly the same as ninety-nine percent of the missions he’s ever pulled. In every other way, this is new.