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Fallout Patterns

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Chapter 14: Harvester of Light

The demi-god who had taken Clint’s mind, possessed it, manipulated it, and killed people with his hands, his bow, his arrows, his knowledge was only fifteen feet away and Clint knew exactly the precision at which he could fill the man’s body with knives and bullets and arrows, but Natasha quietly taken away his weapons a few days earlier after shawarma. She stood next to him, poised and ready, lethal as ever, and armed to her teeth (literally. Her chewing gum could be used to start an explosive.) She had asked him to trust her to keep him safe. It was not that he couldn’t trust her—he did—but he had no trust left to give. She hadn’t cared. She told him that she’d carry his trust for him until he was ready to have it back. Now she stood next to him, almost hovering, but not quite. She still trusted him to handle himself appropriately and he wasn’t sure if he had quite earned that trust.

She turned to him slightly and whispered, “This is all very dramatic. I thought he’d go for something a little more low-key.”

Clint paused, smirked and muttered back, “That’s a terrible joke, Nat.”

“I’ve never liked word play,” she agreed, her voice low, her eyes always scanning the crowd that had gathered.

Loki disappeared and the Avengers began to disperse, their smiles hesitant and unsure. They were leaving on uneven ground, broken, mentally and physically, and unsure of their employment or where they even belonged. Clint felt it more than most. He felt the way that the others stayed away from him, preferring to interact with him through Natasha. It was a reverse of everything they had constructed over the previous ten years where he was Natasha’s door to the world, where people came to him if they needed or wanted something from her. But he guessed that changed from the moment that Phil called her to tell him that he was compromised, and not in the way that was fun.

Clint got into the car that the papers would later call ‘a gift from Tony Stark’ which Natasha didn’t mind even though it had been her gift to him but Clint found utterly insulting. Like he would accept anything from Tony Stark short of having Natasha returned to him in one piece after the Babysitting Ironman Fiasco of a few years prior. Natasha curled up in the front seat as they pulled away, transforming from Natasha Romanov into his Tasha, less sharp around the edges than anyone would ever believe. She pulled out the iPod and scrolled through it, finding a playlist she liked, set it to play and leaned back, her head against the seat. They were quiet, listening to the song murmur softly to them as the city spilled away, leading into rolling countryside and flat stretches of highway.

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, put them on a road heading west, and fell a little more in love with the woman in the seat next to him when she didn’t ask where they were going. Either she knew, or she didn’t care, or maybe both, but he didn’t need to know. They drove until he was too tired to stop and pulled over at a dingy motel somewhere in Indiana. He turned off the car, knowing that alone was enough to wake up Natasha who stirred, opened her eyes, and sat upright.

She looked at him, “Switch?”

He shook his head. “Sleep.”

She flopped on the bed, pulling her shirt over her head lazily, and he paused in the doorway to the shower, his eyes running up her body. She wasn’t paying attention though and was simply changing, like she knew he didn’t have it in him to touch her right now. He went into the bathroom and showered under scalding water. He did not scrub his skin raw but after they brushed their teeth and Natasha had clicked on the tv (and promptly clicked it off when every channel was showing New York and the aftermath), he washed his hands once, twice, three times, four times, five times, he couldn’t believe how dirty they had gotten and if they weren’t clean then everyone might know what he had done back there and ---

Natasha’s hands closed over his, and she reached around him to shut off the water. She pressed herself against him, wrapping one arm around him and clenching his hands in hers. “Come to bed.”

So he dried off his hands and let her lead him to bed. He fell asleep curled against her, her humming a song that ran over her skin and onto his skin and into his heart, steadying its beat, and into his mind, calming it. In the morning, he showered again but left the door open, not as an invitation but as a gesture of trust, and she pressed a quiet closed mouthed kiss to his mouth before they locked their door and checked out of the motel. He drove again. He needed to do something and if she wouldn’t let him clean his bow obsessively, then he wanted to drive. She said nothing, just turned back on the iPod and watched the world run by outside of her window.

They arrived outside of a little brick ranch house sometime in the early evening hours of the second day. They carried their bags up the path to the front porch. Sara was older these days, and she hadn’t heard them coming, but when they knocked on the door, she answered it with tears in her eyes. She opened the door and stepped out to them, wrapping her arms around Clint. She was crying, Clint realized, belatedly, and he dropped his bags, wrapping his arms back around Sara.

“I’m fine,” he reassured her, his voice sounding scratchy.

She released him and pat his cheek, her blue eyes a little foggier than they used to be. “Don’t you lie to me, boy. Come inside.”

She turned to Natasha now and kissed Natasha on the cheek, hugging her tightly. Natasha held the door for Clint and they sat down in Sara’s kitchen like they had once a year for the past ten years. This time felt different. Sara looked old for the first time. She moved slowly, her fingers shaking too much to press the start button on the coffee machine. Natasha helped her refill the sugar bowl and reheat a few frozen meals. She was not cooking much apparently. Natasha sat down between them, her hand sliding down Clint’s leg to his knee.

They ate in near silence, with Sara filling it only with the idle gossip of a small town like Waverly. Natasha helped fill the gaps when Clint remained silent. And Sara handed her the sheets and pillows to make up their bed downstairs. Clint went to the bathroom to shower and he heard Sara asking Natasha what was wrong with him.

Natasha replied, “You know how he is. He carries guilt in the marrow of his bones.”

Sara replied, “Always has.”

Natasha said, “I don’t know how long we’re staying, Sara.”

There was a clatter of dishes in the sink and the sound of the water turning on. “You stay as long as you like, dear.”

They stayed well over a month. They helped Sara with her basic chores, went shopping for her, and Clint taught Natasha how to cook which entertained Sara for several weeks. They all watched Jeopardy together and Clint fixed Sara’s gutters, fences, and helped build a second shelter in the pasture. She still had Happy but Happy had a new friend, a skittish, uppity bay filly named Joy.

“Joy?” Clint repeated when Sara walked him out to the field the morning after they arrived. “Sara.”

Sara smiled a bit. “I have no business owning something like Joy but you know, she needed a goo home and Happy needed a friend. Seemed like a good name for a girl like her.”

Clint spent a lot of time out in the field working with Joy. He got her used to being handled all over, walking next to someone, working at the end of a long line, and he broke her to ride a few weeks after they arrived. Natasha never asked to ride but she sat on the fence, keeping vigil while he loped easy patterns through the fields. Happy usually stood next to her while she sat there and she fed him endless peppermints, earning herself the closest thing to a best friend she had after Clint.

Clint went to find her one night and Natasha was on the front porch swing, a mug of tea in her hand and a book on her lap between her crossed legs. He sat on the swing next to her, pushing off with his feet so they were actually moving through the air.

She looked up and gave him a faint smile. “Hey.”

He smiled back. “Hey.”

They sat out there for awhile and Clint said abruptly, “I think I want my bow back.”

She nodded and said, “Okay.”

She dog eared four pages in her book, and then set it down next to him on the bench. She slipped back into the house and Clint sat there, waiting for a moment, before he realized that she wasn’t coming back with his bow. He picked up the book she was reading (Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times by Eyal Press) and flipped through it to the pages she bookmarked. It took him no time at all to connect the dots once he looked at the page numbers. He put the book back down, went back inside, ran down to their room and went to the safe in the basement. They had put it in there years ago, and Natasha had changed the combination when they arrived this time. He repeated the page numbers in his head and spun the combination lock until it clicked open.

His bow. He had his bow.

He took out everything of his in that safe. He laid the weapons out in front of him and field stripped both his long rifle and his pistol. He cleaned everything thoroughly over the next two hours and then reassembled everything. He took his bow and quiver outside in the night. He grabbed a can of spray paint from the barn and marked six trees, away from the horses. He made every shot on the first try, backing up fifty meters for each consecutive shot. On the sixth shot, taken from 725 meters, he heard the soft applause. Natasha was up on the roof of the house watching him. Her red hair glowed in the dim light of the motion sensor light they had put on the front of the house.

“You didn’t lose everything,” she called down to him.

“Why don’t you come down here and prove that to me?” he called back.

So she did, sliding down the roof and landing, catlike, on the balls of her feet and two fingers touching the ground, silent and graceful. She slipped through the thick grass to him. She said to him, “Good thing you didn’t pick the back of the barn. Those arrows would have gone through. Seems like a problem if you shot Happy and Joy in their butts.”

He grinned at her, barely able to see her face in the dark but not needing to. “You like wordplay, don’t you lie.”

“Naw, just metaphors,” she said, stepping closer to him. “I heard a rumor.”

“Did you?”

“Tony told Bruce who told Steve who told Darcy who told Jane who told Pepper who told me,” Natasha took a breath, her teeth flashing white briefly, “that there was a rumor that Hawkeye and the Black Widow, they were a thing.

“A thing?” Clint said, unable to stop smiling. “Really. I don’t know about that. I heard the Black Widow ate men for breakfast with her Lucky Charms.”

“The Black Widow doesn’t eat Lucky Charms. Besides, I heard that Hawkeye never liked to get close to people. Heard he liked things better from a distance.”

“Hmm,” he replied, kissing her throat. “Possible.”

“Then again, there was that rumor that the Black Widow thought love was for children.”

He laughed softly as her hands skimmed under his shirt. “I heard that rumor too.”

She kissed him and every doubt that he had roared, red and white and alive in his mind, but she didn’t let him go until he sighed, relaxed, and kissed her in return, a hand at the small of her back. She rubbed her hand against the scruff he was letting grow on his jawline.

“The rumors are wrong,” she whispered. “Besides, Hawkeye and the Widow. Mostly they piss each other off as often as they cover each other’s asses. Romanov and Barton, though, that’s something.”

            “You’ll have to tell me that story,” he managed to mumble back, preoccupied. “Later.”

            “You’ll like it. Lots of metaphors,” she said, equally distracted.

            The backdoor banged. Sara called. “Did you feed Happy and Joy?”

            “In a moment!” Clint yelled back as Natasha covered her mouth, laughing against him.

            Later, in the quiet of the house, Clint ran his fingers down Natasha’s bare spine, marveling at how quickly her bruises had faded. Her hair was getting long again, a cascade of red down her back. She rested her head on the pillow, watching him study her with a curious eye that he hadn’t passed over her in awhile. She would tell him, later, that she had loved that she became routine and ordinary to him after awhile. She had been programmed and remade and picked for her ability to look extraordinary and unusual and strikingly beautiful no matter what, and he had eventually, at some point in their partnership, stopped staring at her when she undressed, stopped looking at her agape when she wore clothing designed to seduce marks.

            He said quietly, “I don’t even think that I’ve found the triggers yet. I feel like my head’s a field of landmines.”

            She watched him quietly and whispered, “We’ve been here before.”

            He paused, running his fingers over a faint scar on her side. “What if my triggers trigger you?”

            Her smile was sad. “We’ve been there too.”

            He brushed her hair off her bare shoulders, planting a kiss at the exit wound for the arrow he once put through her shoulder on a rooftop in Sofia. “Do you want to go back?”

            “To where?” she asked him.

            He ran a finger over her cheek. He said, “Anywhere.”

            She shrugged a bit, her back muscles rolling slightly. “I would go to the Avengers more likely than SHIELD, at least for now. I expect people to lie to me, unlike Steve and Bruce and Tony who were surprised that Fury had lied.”

            He slid down to lay on his side next to her. “I don’t lie to you.”

            Natasha touched the bruise on his side that still hadn’t healed from New York. “No, you never have. It still throws me off after all these years.”

            “I think we should go back to New York. Start there,” he sighed, scooting closer to her and closing his eyes.

            “You don’t feel very level to me,” she said after a long moment.

            “I know.”

            “Alright. We’ll go back.”

            “Spies and assassins turning soldiers. They write stories about that, you know.”

            “Balancing out their ledgers. I can see that. Might make a good movie.”

            He laughed. They passed that back and forth until eventually, they fell asleep, quiet, and content for now.