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Paths we Walk

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Only two people knew Clint Barton. Everyone else knew Hawkeye. Barton held so much of himself back, he didn't trust easily and it had taken both Natasha and Coulson years to break past the Hawkeye persona to find the true Clint Barton buried underneath. They both understood why he did it, why he felt he had to hide himself away, and never questioned him on it. When the team moved into Avengers Tower after the battle, when everyone was mostly healed and Fury wanted them all back in one place to train and get to know each other, Hawkeye was the one who was always at the back of everything. He learned the vent systems, found the weak points and brought them to Tony's attention via Coulson. Barton wanted to make their home safer, but didn't want anyone to know exactly what he was doing. He watched each of his new team when they were in common areas of the building, and tried to see who they were. Coulson was the one who asked Tony if it would be possible to put high platforms in the meeting room and also the common room. He knew Barton got migraines if he had to sit close to televisions or large monitors of any kind, and would be able to see perfectly well from nearer the ceiling. Tony gave him odd looks, but had them installed. Tony was the only one of the Avengers to notice Barton appeared more for movie night after the platforms were done.

Tony understood hiding parts of yourself away and asked JARVIS to let him know, quietly, when Barton was in the vents around the lab. Tony didn't mind having their sniper in the vents, it actually made sense. He'd wondered how Coulson knew there were weak spots in the vent system, but Agent had a poker face that could not be beat - it honestly couldn't, they'd banned him from poker nights - and he refused to answer questions. When JARVIS flashed the message that Barton was watching the lab, Tony turned his music down and talked. He didn't talk about anything important, not at first, but he knew Barton was listening. The day Barton appeared on a table in the back of the lab, scratching Dummy behind his primary joint, Tony knew there had been a break-through of some sort. He nodded at Barton and went back to what he was doing, talking the whole time about plans he would like to use for new arrows, if Barton wanted. He found the specs for Barton's bow in the workshop the next day.

Barton also took the time to talk with JARVIS, find out as much as he could about the AI and tried to make friends with him. Barton wasn't too happy to have his floor monitored constantly, it made him feel slightly paranoid about his movements around the building, but JARVIS seemed to realize this, and assured Barton that he would never tell anyone other than Tony about Barton's watching from the vents and his platforms. JARVIS was probably the closest thing to a new friend Barton had in the tower, not counting the slowly developing relationship with Tony. Barton could tell that Tony was making an effort to peel back the Hawkeye layer and find the man beneath, and he found he wasn't completely opposed to the idea. He listened to everything Tony said, learned about the tortures Tony underwent when he was captured, how there were things he couldn't do even after so much time passed, and he wondered if he ever would be able to again. There wasn't any talk of keeping it secret, Barton could tell that the topic bothered Tony, and he slowly started to leave hints to his own past for the genius to find. It was Barton's way of telling his story, of letting people in, and Tony guarded every piece as if it was buried treasure.

Then Steve Rogers happened. Barton went to the lab vents one night when he couldn't sleep, and Coulson was away from the Tower on business, hoping to be able to hear Tony talk for a while, and found Rogers in the lab. Barton whispered to JARVIS not to let Tony know he was there, he didn't want Rogers to know how he got around the Tower, and lay quietly, listening.

"Come on, Tony, it'll be fun," Steve was saying.

"Yeah, no, Cap," Tony replied. "I've got too much going on right now to think about going out to dinner any time soon. Thanks for the thought and all that, but I've got four orders back-logged here."

"Tony, you have to eat," Steve sighed. "The world isn't going to end if you go out for dinner for an hour. I'd like to spend some time with you, alone. Without worrying about the team breaking in on us."

That was new, Barton thought. He knew that Tony and Coulson had slept together a couple of times, had even watched once through his sniper scope. It wasn't love on either side, Barton hoped he held Coulson's heart, but they had talked about it and, while Barton wasn’t fine with Coulson sleeping with others as long as he knew about it before hand, he was able to pretend he was. It’s what he thought Coulson wanted, and Barton would do whatever he could to keep the man in his life. Coulson even suggested bringing Barton in for a threesome with Tony, but Barton shied away from sleeping with strangers unless it was for an op. Even then, he did everything he could to keep the people from touching him and ended the op as soon as he had the information needed. He didn't think Tony would understand the knife under the pillow. Now that he'd gotten to know Tony a little more, he'd been thinking about it. Barton could see the attraction there, thought maybe it could be good between the three of them, if Tony was willing, but Steve Rogers threw a dent in the plans. Who would have thought he'd try for Tony Stark.

"Not happening, Cap," Tony said. "If that's all, I hate to be rude, but I've got to get this done and it's something I really need to focus on, and having you yapping at me isn't exactly relaxing."

"I'm not giving up on this, Tony," Steve said.

Tony sighed when the door to the lab hissed shut behind Rogers. "Well, that wasn't awkward or expected, huh, Dummy," he said. He looked up at the ceiling. "You planning to come down any time tonight?"

Barton appeared on his favorite table silently. "JARVIS didn't tell you, how'd you know I was there?"

"I've learned what it feels like when you're around, Legolas," Tony smiled. "What'd you think of Cap being all alpha male and aggressive there?"

"It's out of character for him," Barton said. "You think he's serious?"

"I think he's serious about wanting to get me to eat, yes," Tony said. He picked up his coffee mug and glared at it when he realized it was empty. "I remember to eat, most of the time. I'm not going to fade away and die down here. Not with you watching over me."

"Do you want me to watch him?" Barton asked softly.

"Nah, he's just a kid with a crush," Tony replied. "Not my type and way too innocent. He's just taking his role as leader of the team way too seriously. Now, I've been looking at bows and wanted to get your opinion on a new, longer range weapon for you to have out in the field. Feel up to doing some draw tests for JARVIS?"

"Sure," Barton said.

Barton knew that he should tell Coulson what he'd seen and heard down in the lab, but he didn't know how to tell his partner that his hero was acting freaky. Tony might have been willing to dismiss it as a kid with a crush, but Barton couldn't. He'd honed his instincts and they were telling him that Rogers needed to be watched. JARVIS helped, seeming to enjoy having a new task to break up the somewhat boring routine in the Tower. It was never really boring, it couldn't be with Thor in the group, but the days seemed to pass in the same blur of meeting, food, workouts, free time, battle, debrief, food, and sleep. Barton spent all his free time watching Rogers, trying to see what was going on there, what he was planning, but only found plans for dates with Tony. Actual dates. Things that Tony wouldn't like, Barton knew that, but it was pretty obvious that Rogers wanted to spend all his free time with Tony and was getting frustrated by the constant stops Tony was putting into place. He was in his nest in the common room, reading over Rogers' latest plan for a date - complements of JARVIS - when he heard Coulson's voice in the hallway.


Barton grinned, stashed the pad in a hole he'd made in the wall and slid down the rope he kept to get to the ground quickly. "What's up, boss?" he asked.

"You've got an op," Coulson said. "We're needed at base for specs and deployment."

"What about the Avengers, sir?" he asked.

"They'll be fine, Fury has assigned a sniper until we get back," Coulson replied. "Grab your kit, Barton. We need to move."

"Yes sir, I'll be ready in five."

Coulson smiled fondly. "Car's in the garage. Meet me there."

Barton nodded and tugged the rope, not wanting anyone to be able to climb up into his nest while he was gone, and carried it with him to his floor. He kept a bag ready for deployment, never knowing when SHIELD would need him for an assignment, and grabbed it along with his suit and gear. Slipping an earpiece in, he switched to the frequency he knew Coulson would be monitoring. "What weapons should I bring along?"

"Whatever you need," Coulson replied.

"Two minute delay," Barton said. "I have to retrieve my bow from the lab." He shifted the heavier bag onto his shoulder and walked out into the hall, heading towards Tony's lab.

"You've been letting Stark work on your bow?" Coulson asked. "Glad to see you making friends, Barton."

"He's working on a longer range weapon for me, sir," Barton replied. He closed his eyes for a minute when he caught sight of Rogers in the lab, then walked in, all business. "Stark, I need my bow."

"Going out to have fun without us again, Hawkeye?" Stark asked, noticing the tightness around his friend's eyes. "It's on the scanning table where you left it. Dummy's been standing guard for you, no one's touched it."

Barton nodded and went to the table near his normal perch. "Thanks, Dummy," he whispered, picking up his bow. He knelt down to pack it in its case.

"Where are you going?" Steve asked.

"No idea," Barton replied. He locked the case and stood. "Stark, Captain."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do out there," Tony called, smile in his voice.

"That leaves me wide open then," Barton said, slipping into his normal Hawkeye banter mode. "There's so much that you'll do, Stark, that I think I'm safe."

"Bring me back something cool," Tony called just before the doors shut behind Barton. Barton nodded and headed back towards the elevator. "JARVIS, will you keep an eye on things for me, please?" he asked softly, once he was alone.

"Of course, sir," JARVIS replied. "I shall have a full report for you upon your return."

"Thanks, JARVIS." Barton hurried over to the car where Coulson was waiting and stowed his gear before slipping into the passenger seat. "Ready to go, Phil."

"What was that all about, Clint?" Coulson asked as they pulled out into traffic.


"JARVIS keeping an eye on things for you. Are you still worried about the security of the Tower?"

"It's something else, Phil. Just instinct at this point."

"Tell me?"


"No, just worried," Coulson said.

Barton sighed and looked out the window. "I'm worried about Tony," he finally said.


"We've been talking, Phil," Barton said. "He was willing to open up and tell me some secrets and it seemed only fair to trust him with a few of my own. He's not to the same level as you and Nat, he may never be, but he's a friend."

"You need more friends, Clint. I'm just happy to see you willing to open yourself up a little," Coulson said with a small smile. "Does this also mean you've been thinking about my idea?"

"Yes, actually, but there's a snag."

"What? I know Tony would be willing. I've actually asked him about it. He didn't like the idea of a stranger any more than you did, he's still too tense after his kidnapping, but he said if it was someone I trusted, then he'd be willing if he had a chance to get to know them." Coulson smiled. "I think that's one reason he was so keen to get the cube back from Loki. Get the cube, he could reverse what happened to you and bring you home again. The man has a heart, he just keeps it hidden way too well. He knew that I was anxious about you."

Barton slid a hand over and tangled his fingers with Coulson's free hand. "You guys got me back," he said softly. "I know you'll always come after me, you or Nat."

"Yep," Coulson grinned. He squeezed Barton's hand and rested them on his leg. "So what's the snag?"

"Cap has taken an unhealthy interest in dating Tony," Barton said. "I mean like almost stalking him, Phil. JARVIS and I have been keeping an eye on things, but I'm worried. Tony's brushed it off as a crush and isn't taking this seriously. I think it needs to be."

"Why didn't you mention anything before?"

"I didn't know how."

"Clint, you know I'll always listen to you, right?" Coulson pulled into the garage SHIELD used as a front and headed up to the level for senior agents. "No matter what you want to talk with me about, I'll always listen."

"Even if I'm telling you I think Captain America might be planning to attack one of his team?"

"Even then because you have outstanding instincts and wouldn't say something like that without a damn good reason to," Coulson said. He parked and pulled Barton over for a kiss. "You are an amazing man, Clint, and I trust you more than I trust anyone else. You know that, right?"

Barton looked down and nodded. "This is why I want JARVIS to keep an eye on Tony for me while I'm gone," he said. "I've been careful, Cap doesn't know how close Tony and I are, unless Tony said something, which I don't think he would. I just hope I'm wrong, Phil. You know what Tony's been through, he told me he filled you in. I think having someone he trusts turn on him might destroy him, and there may not be enough pieces left to put him back together."

"Want me to have Natasha keep an eye on things too?"

"No, she's good, but she doesn't know how to hide as well as I do," Barton said. "Tony doesn't trust her. She wouldn't be able to get close enough to watch. Not this time."

"Okay, it's your call. Grab your gear, we need to get to briefing."

"Do you have any idea where we're heading?"

"Middle East is the best Fury would do over the phone," Coulson said. He picked up one of the bags with a smile. "Let's go see what he has for us."