Bobbi Morse isn’t supposed to happen.
She’s got a PhD and she’s far too smart for Clint; on their first date she gets on a tangent after too much wine while talking about genetics and biology. Clint just keeps drinking and drinking because he has no idea what to say, until he finally blurts out something about how he got good marks in tactical but failed the SHIELD science exams they made him take. He thinks Bobbi’s going to walk out after that, because Clint’s a carnie, and Clint’s a mess, and Clint’s also pretty tipsy.
But Bobbi just picks up her wine glass and then invites him back to her hotel room in Times Square, and they make love before ordering room service at midnight.
“I’m a really bad date,” Clint admits afterwards, because he is. Bobbi laughs and Clint figures she can’t possibly understand what she’s getting herself into.
“Everything is my fault,” he tries again, fighting not to slur his sentences. Bobbi shrugs.
“It’s your fault; it’s everyone’s fault...who cares?”
And in that moment, Clint decides she might be okay.
“Tell me about yourself,” she responds over a really expensive omelet. Clint shifts on the bed, pulling on his discarded shirt.
“Not much to tell. I can give you the Clint Barton life story, but it’s pretty extensive. Or I can give you the abbreviated version. That one’s more complicated, but there are less words. And less depressing things.”
“I don’t know...I think I might like the Clint Barton life story,” Bobbi says slowly. “Does it include more terrible jokes?”
Clint smiles. “Only if I get the Bobbi Morse life story,” he says, before pausing. “That, uh. That is your name, isn’t it? It’s not some code name thing? Because I know you work for SHIELD. I saw the files in your luggage when I went to the bathroom.”
Bobbi puts her lips together and then gives a half grin.
“They call me Mockingbird,” she says, leaning back against the pillows, and Clint nods.
“They call me Hawkeye.”
So that’s how Clint meets Bobbi.
And then she becomes his girlfriend.
Laura Barton is an accident.
She’s pretty and she’s tall and she’s just as good at darts at he is, so much so that he actually asks if she’s ever picked up a bow and arrow.
“In Iowa?” Laura raises an eyebrow. “You have some strange ideas about how people spend their time.”
I have stranger ideas than that, I’m a SHIELD agent, Clint says, but doesn’t say, because that’s not the kind of thing you say in Iowa. He buys her a few drinks though, and finds out that she can hold not only her liquor but also her own in conversation. She laughs at his jokes even though he knows they’re terrible, and she even slips him her number at the end of the night -- a move Clint’s pretty sure isn’t precipitated by the four drinks she’s consumed.
Barney laughs when he comes home and sees the look on Clint’s face that he knows he can’t hide.
“You picked up a girl. At a bar.”
“Not really,” Clint defends, flopping down on the couch across from his brother. “She wasn’t actually drunk.”
“But you were,” Barney says with a smirk, picking up his glass of water and offering it out. “Come on, bro. You get a week off from your job and you spend it trying to pick up girls in small-town Waverly?”
“Well, what else am I supposed to do?” Clint asks a little sharply, taking the cup and downing the liquid in one go. “Fix up the barn? Maybe the tractor?”
Barney gives him a look, followed by an audible sigh. “Look. I get it. You’ve had a hard few months, okay? Things went to shit, you needed a break...but it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. Who cares?”
“I care,” Clint says and Barney rolls his eyes.
“Look, you could’ve gone anywhere. So the fact that you came back here means something. I’m not dumb.”
Clint knows his brother’s not dumb, in the same way he knows that Clint really did kind of pick Laura up at a bar, and when his cell phone rings the next morning, Clint suspects Barney also knows that she would have probably called.
“I can’t stay,” Clint says when he meets her at a coffee shop downtown. She’s got big sunglasses and her brown hair is pulled into a loose bun, and her jeans look like they’re going to fall apart. It’s endearing, because she’s not at all put together, and Clint feels like he never is.
“I know.” She pays for his drink without question. “But, if you ever do decide on some kind of simple life thing…well, I think you’re pretty cute. And I don’t think I’m going anywhere for awhile.”
Clint leaves Iowa at the end of the week and returns to New York, and when he wakes up from his nap there’s a text message on his phone.
Don’t be a dick. Call that woman and at least start a long distance thing.
So that’s how Clint meets Laura.
And then she becomes his wife.
Natasha Romanoff is a mission.
She’s volatile and she’s dangerous and she’s got a file with a rap sheet about as long as the laundry list of clothes Clint knows are piling up on his floor and spilling out of the closet.
“I don’t belong to you,” she says when he finally corners her on a roof after three days. He’s exhausted and dehydrated and he’s pretty sure he’s got internal bleeding somewhere from an earlier fight gone wrong, but he’s too stubborn to call for extraction without at least finishing this.
“I didn’t say you belonged to me,” Clint says, ignoring the pain in his side and his swimming vision. She’s all bravado, he’ll give her that much, but he’s gotten pretty good at reading people over the years and he can see the way her mouth is twitching, the way her pupils are darting back and forth, as if she’s afraid someone will come and take her away -- even here, even when she theoretically has the upper hand.
“You didn’t, but you will,” she says, straightening up so that she’s arched against the backdrop of night. “I’ve read about you. About what you do to people.”
“You’ve read about us,” Clint acknowledges, because he’s not dumb enough to think other people in the Red Room haven’t known about SHIELD. “But you haven’t read about me.”
Natasha meets his eyes and squares her jaw, her fists hardening at her side as silence stretches between them.
“You don’t want me,” she says finally. “I’m no good to you unless I’m dead. I killed everyone that was ever nice to me, for no reason.”
Clint shakes his head. “It’s your fault; it’s everyone’s fault...who cares, Natasha?” She flinches at the use of her name, and in that singular moment, he knows he’s got her, at least enough to hopefully make progress.
“So what do you do, then?” she asks carefully, with a clear edge to her voice. “Court me somewhere? Take me out for drinks and explain the wonders of the world outside of Russia?”
“Actually, I was thinking maybe we could just hang out,” Clint answers with a small shrug, and yeah, he’s definitely bleeding more than he wants to, but Coulson’s got a lock on his location and one small tap on the comm hidden inside his sleeve will have extraction there in seconds if he wants it. “Been spending a lot of time up here lately. The view’s really great, if you can make it to sunrise.”
Natasha continues to stare at him but eventually, her fists unclench and the lines around her mouth even out, and she takes a step towards him. When she sits down, she keeps her distance, and Clint puts his bow to the side, well out of easy reach.
“I like your bracelets,” he says after a moment, nodding towards the makeshift guards on her wrist. He’s read her files and he knows about the handcuffs, but he knows that’s a conversation for a later time. If he’s even lucky enough to have a later time. Natasha swallows, a sound he can almost hear in the quiet.
“They’re good for protection.”
So that’s how Clint meets Natasha.
And then she becomes his best friend in the world.
Natasha makes fun of him for it sometimes, but Clint knows it’s only because she means it.
“You always pick up strays. It’s what you do.” They’re lying together on the worn couch; Clint’s put the kids to bed an hour ago with her help and Laura’s retreated to the kitchen to give them the alone time Clint knows they desperately need.
“Old habits,” he tries to brush off as Natasha puts her head on his chest, and he feels her smile against him.
“I didn’t say I minded. You picked me up, all those years ago.”
“And look how well that turned out,” Clint says, trying to be sarcastic, but he’s smiling, too. When Natasha puts her head in just the right place, he can feel every beat of his heart, as if there’s an instant connection between their skin that makes him more human than usual, that makes him realize just how important his own mortality is.
“Look at how well that turned out,” Natasha echoes, curling into his side. Clint brushes a stray hair out of her face, his fingers crawling past a small piece of tissue paper that’s settled among the red curls. He makes a mental note to ask Natasha which kid decided to play arts and crafts with her.
Outside, the moon plays in the shadows and the cornstalks do a small dance against the wind.
Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are different.
They’re not Clint’s charges. He’s not even supposed to babysit them. He doesn’t even know why he ends up fighting with them, except for the fact that Cap’s got his shield and Thor has his hammer and Tony has his suit and Natasha and Bruce are MIA.
He’s been as wary as fuck about them, truth be told -– has been wary ever since Wanda had tried to stick her hands into his brain for the second time. He knows he’s never going to apologize for sticking that arrow in her forehead. But now they’re in trouble, and they’re certainly not playing for the robots, and anyway, Clint knows a thing or two about turning people over from the other side.
“This is all my fault,” says Wanda, and Clint can see it in her eyes, because in that moment, he gets it.
This is all my fault, he tells Barney when they’re standing at their parents’ funeral. This is all my fault, he tells the Swordsman, when the circus starts to fall apart. This is all my fault, he tells Hill when the man supposed to be covering his six gets mortally wounded because he’s said the wrong information in the wrong place without knowing the walls have ears.
“It’s your fault; it’s everyone’s fault...who cares?”
Be an Avenger, he says, but doesn’t say, because he doesn’t just want to give away the title but he knows he owes it to someone else who is lost to find themselves, if they can.
The battle continues and shots are fired and robots are killed, and then the world goes into slow motion when Pietro throws himself in front of Clint, Clint sees him die and Clint sees him die.
“It’s been a long day,” he says at the end of it all, because it has, and when he closes his eyes he sees the speeding man’s blank face.
So that’s how Clint meets Wanda and Pietro.
And then one of them becomes his teammate, and one of them saves his life.
Kate Bishop is supposed to be a student.
She’s annoying and she’s a brat, and she comes from more money than Clint’s ever seen on a good day. She’s just as good with a bow and arrow as he is, which really, really pisses him off, because he likes being the best...or at least, almost the best.
“I don’t take in strays.”
“Seems to me like you do.”
Clint glowers. “I don’t work with children,” he adds grumpily and Kate raises her head slowly from where she’s been resting it on the couch, half her dark hair matted against her face, a dark bruise starting to swell on the upper half of cheek.
“I’m not a child.”
“Seem like a child to me,” Clint says, leaning against the wall. “You seen people die, Katherine Katie Bishop?”
She hasn’t, he knows, not in the way he has, but that doesn’t stop him from asking. Kate sits up fully and finds his eyes, glaring daggers.
“I can still shoot just as well as you, and you’re going to teach me how to be better.”
“Yeah?” Clint snorts. “Says who?”
Kate tilts her head slightly to one side. “Says me. You lost your hearing, not your skills. Cap didn’t stop fighting when he came out of the ice. Tony didn’t stop fighting when he stopped making suits.”
Clint sighs, and the sound echoes too loudly in his ears. The new aids are killing him, they make everything sound amplified ten times over, like he’s in a brand new world that he can’t understand.
“Fine. First thing to remember, and the only thing that matters when you get into the field -- you do something wrong? You mess shit up? Don’t dwell on it. It’s your fault; it’s everyone’s fault, who cares?”
Kate arches an eyebrow. “You give the same speech to all your recruits?”
“Yeah,” Clint says after a long moment, turning the words over in his mind. He nods. “I guess so.”
“Alright.” She nods. “Then I’m in.”
So that’s how Clint meets Kate.
And then she becomes his partner.
Natasha takes off after a few days with Steve, leaves him in charge for 24 hours while she makes her way to the farm and finds him in the barn, his back pressed up against the abandoned tractor, bare feet and messed up hair.
“Unless there’s a flask hidden somewhere, I’d say that is the worst way to celebrate saving the world that I have ever seen,” she says by way of introduction, joining him on the dusty floor until their bodies are a parallel mirror. Clint closes his eyes. Laura hadn’t bothered to tell him she was coming, but then again, he knows Laura probably had no idea.
“If I hadn’t --”
“It’s your fault; it’s everyone’s fault, who cares?” Natasha interrupts. “Since when do you do the guilt thing, Barton? Come on. I know you. You’re more well-adjusted than that.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Clint says, crossing his arms over his knees and resting his chin on his elbows. Natasha brushes dirt and sawdust off her pants as she brings her legs together.
“Laura was glad to have you back,” she says pointedly, but her words are rooted in gentleness. “I could tell.”
Clint nods. “Her face when I walked in the door, when I came home. Even the kids’ faces...I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Maximoff guy.”
“Because you had to go back,” Natasha says, wisely side-stepping the larger elephant in the room. Clint nods, and brings a hand up to adjust his new hearing aid.
“Yeah. I had to, Nat. It was like...if that was my kid -- if that was you -- if that was Barney --”
“I know,” Natasha says, putting her head on his shoulder, and he lets the feel of her skin warm him until he feels himself relax. “Clint, I know. This is what you do.”
It’s not said in the teasing way he’s used to, or even the scolding way he’s used to, and there’s a tremor in her voice that makes the words sound both sad and understanding.
He hasn’t cried since he saw Pietro's body fall in front of his feet. He hasn’t cried since he walked in the door and set down his bags, stared at the wife and the children that he knew he came so close to not being able to see. He wonders if today will be the day he finally loses it, because it’s been a week but so far, he’s just felt numb.
“That’s what I do.”
Natasha takes his hand and in the quiet, he feels the broken parts of himself, the ones that still haven’t found a way to heal, start to mend.