The shadows press in on all sides of him. They are waiting for him, somewhere in the darkness. Claws ready and teeth barred –
Clint wakes with a start in his car, nearly cracking his wrist on the steering wheel as he jerks upright. He curses and rubs at it, glancing around the car to make sure nothing has been touched during the night. His bow is still strung on the seat beside him, wooden-headed arrows waiting at hand. Clint breathes out a sigh of relief.
He hates keeping his beauty strung like this; he knows it’s bad for her back. It’s be ready or be dead, though, and Clint would much rather not be dead.
Outside, the sun is starting to peer over the horizon. Clint waits until the rays are shining strong over his corner of the highway before stepping out of the car. He pees behind the roadside billboard he’d parked behind the night before. Feeling better, Clint clears the branches he’d thrown over the hood as twilight fell. The hasty camouflage isn’t much in the light of day, but it was enough to get him through another night.
Back in the car, Clint digs a power bar out of the glove box and starts her up. She rumbles a little rough, but he coaxes her though it.
“Come on, baby,” he mumbles to the engine. She gives one last squeal and then turns over. Clint pats the dash. “Thatta girl!”
Clint touches the gas and edges her forward, peeking out from around the billboard sign before rolling onto the highway. He can see the mile marker for the Canadian boarder and grins to himself – not far now.
He would have been there already if he’d been able to drive through the night, but Clint hadn’t been willing to risk it. After a week on the road, stopping only for gas and take-away food, dodging vampires and cops both, Clint hadn’t felt like being stupid a half day from his goal.
The cops’ll stop chasing him once he crosses the boarder, and Trickshot swore he knew a guy in Montreal who could help him out. The vampires are another matter, but Clint can deal with them once he has the law off his tail. He’s proven that already.
He drives for an hour in thin, early morning traffic before the engine starts to sputter. Clint curses the car and downshifts, but she sounds rough. Fuck. He’ll have to stop at the nearest town and steal another. Trickshot had this car for years, but he never treated her right – she needs a whole new engine. Clint knew when he took Buck’s keys that she wouldn’t make it all the way. He should have left her in a parking garage States ago, but hadn’t been able to give her up while she was still running.
“Come on, girl, come on,” he coaxes her as he passes a sign for “Sunnydale”. Clint wants to stop and mock it, because the sign is bright yellow and looks like something better suited to California than upper New York State, but all his attention is focused on the car. He keeps an eye open for an inconspicuous place to park while he watches the temperature gauge on the engine. It’s a small town, but he finds the high school easily enough. Perfect. Clint slides the sick-sounding car into a line filled with other clunkers. When he turns off the engine, it dies with a hard choking sound, and Clint pats the dash again in thanks. There’s something in his eye.
“It’s alright, girl, you did your best,” he says, blinking hard. He feels stupid. The car’s a piece of junk, and it’ll probably take someone a week to call the tow-truck in such a small town. Clint will be long gone by then. She got him this far, though, and she was Buck’s. That alone is enough to make him hesitate to leave her here.
Buck Chisholm, aka “Trickshot”, was a jackass. Clint shouldn’t be tearing up over him; there were other people more worthy, like Annie the Bearded Lady, who rushed Clint with a mouth full of teeth. Clint staked her, and she erupted into ash.
He shouldn’t forget about Annie.
It’s early still, but the high school parking lot is filling up quick. Clint steps out of the car and watches his fellow sixteen year olds gather their things and head into school. They clap people on the shoulder and ignore others with the kind of petty jealousy Clint’s seen everywhere. It’s different here at high school, though, a place Clint’s dreamed about but never been. It’s like watching cable on Trickshot’s shitty TV, and Clint’s half convinced the scene in front of him is going to jump and scratch, just like it did on Chisholm’s ancient set. It stays constant, though.
For these people, this is real life.
Clint’s wide-eyed stare at the scene is broken by fingers snapping in front of his face. He blinks and backs away, and would have stumbled but for his new-found reflexes. As it is, his reaction is to jump forward and break the arm that’s now waving in front of his face, but he’s stopped by the sight of a smiling, dishevelled, very human face.
“Helloooo, Earth to New Kid. Come in New Kid!”
Clint slaps the hand away. “Fuck off, man.”
The guy grins. Clint looks at him. He’s ridiculous – scruffy, black hair that’s sticking up in every direction and a black goatee like Evil Spock. There are soot stains on his forehead and smeared across his cheek, but he’s wearing a shirt and jacket combination that even Clint can tell is worth more than Buck made in a year.
“You’re seriously spacing out here, kid, and I should know, I am the motherfucking space master,” the guy says. He’s obviously jacked up on something, manic energy pouring off him in waves. “I am the Master of all things science, and masters require minions. I am officially recruiting you.” He spreads out his arms. “Welcome!”
Clint can’t help but laugh at the guy’s wide grin. “Thanks buddy, but I got places to be.”
“Exactly!” The guy says, stabbing another finger at Clint’s face. “You have to come with me to Principal Sitwell’s office!”
Clint looks around at the mass of students milling around the school. No way in hell is he sticking around here. “Sorry man, no can do. Why don’t you find some other lackey to boss around?”
The guy honest-to-god pouts. Clint refuses to find it adorable.
“Because Principal Sitwell knows all my other lackeys,” the guy goes on. “I need someone new to defend my case. Also, if you come with me I will engage in the time honoured tradition of care and respect between Masters of Motherfucking Science and Minions – ” he jabs a finger at Clint’s belly, which rumbles threateningly. “I will feed you.”
Clint rubs a hand over his stomach. He had a power bar this morning, but hasn’t actually eaten since lunch the day before. “I am hungry,” he admits.
“See?” The guy says, and grabs his elbow to drag him forward. Clint shakes him off but finds himself following anyway. This guy’s got charisma in spades, and maybe Clint’s spent too long alone, washing in gas station bathrooms and avoiding human contact, because he kind of likes it. This guy’s like a splash of salt water, a little bit rough but clean. Clint follows him through the parking lot and the mass of students, and into the double doors of Sunnydale High.
It looks more and more like television, and less and less like real life. Clint tries not to stare.
“I’m Tony,” the guy explains as he ducks and weaves through the milling sea of students. Clint eyes them and swallows. He’s never been claustrophobic, but he’s used to having a crowd staring at him, not surrounding him in such numbers.
Teenagers are ducking through the hallways, shrugging out of jackets and grabbing textbooks from lockers. There are a few adults, obviously teachers, glaring at the troublemakers and herding people to class. They pass a boy with messy brown hair, bangs falling forward into his glasses as he struggles to carry three textbooks at once. Tony slaps him on the shoulder as they walk by, and Clint can see the boy look up as they pass.
“Tony Stark,” he goes on, “though I’m sure you already knew that.”
Clint shakes his head as he follows Tony. “Nope, sorry.”
The guy stops and spins around. Clint notices the students around them break like a wave, roll their eyes, and walk around the spectacle Tony is making. “What?” the guy says, sounding offended. He ignores everyone else and focuses solely on Clint. “You’ve seriously never heard of me? Stark? Tony Stark? Youngest genius to ever be thrown out of MIT?”
Clint squints at him. Tony can’t be much older than he is. “Aren’t you, like, sixteen?”
Tony rolls his eyes dramatically. Clint’s beginning to suspect Tony isn’t actually high on anything; this is just the way he is. “Seventeen, Jesus. What, did you grow up under a rock or something?”
“A tent,” Clint says, because he’s an asshole.
Tony shoots him a look, obviously checking to see if he was joking. “Was it a small tent? Did you have cable there?”
“Sure,” Clint shrugs, biting his cheek to keep from grinning. “Sometimes.”
Tony looks horrified. “Did you have internet?!”
Clint squints at him. “Like wi-fi? Only on Buck’s cell phone.”
Tony shudders. “Buck. You lived in a tent with a man named Buck. Jesus, kid. It’s a good thing I rescued you. What the hell are you doing here, anyway?”
“Walking with you to Principal Sitwell’s office,” Clint reminds him pointedly, “because you promised me food.”
“The best food,” Tony agrees with him. “You do this for me, I am taking you to fucking Denny’s, forget the cafeteria.” He turns and drags Clint down the hallway again.
Clint doesn’t bother trying to fight him off this time, because it’s getting crowded and he doesn’t want to lose Tony in this mess. “What exactly will I be doing at Principal Sitwell’s office, again?”
Tony waves the hand not currently clenching Clint’s leather jacket. “You are saving me from academic drivel. You are swearing to Principal Sitwell that I was at your house last night, valiantly finishing my three week overdue project for geography, when your father’s shitty cooking caught on fire and all our precious work was lost.”
Clint stares at him. “I don’t have a house, and my father never cooked a day in life. Also, what were you doing last night if it wasn’t destroying non-existent projects in geography?”
“Finishing my groundbreaking work on artificial intelligence and constructing a new robotic arm for Dummy. Duh.”
Tony stops in front of a door marked Administration. “You built a robot?” Clint asks.
Tony spins around and waves his arms. “Yes! Genius! MIT! What part of this is not getting through to you?”
Clint grins at him. “The part where you look like you escaped from a burning insane asylum and robbed a fashion store on your way in to school this morning.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “All geniuses are crazy; it’s part of our charm.”
“Seriously not finding you charming, right now.”
Tony held up a finger. “That’s because I haven’t fed you yet.”
Clint shakes his head but follows Tony through the door of the administration office. Inside are several desks filled with harried-looking secretaries and another, inner office, with the door thrown open. Inside is a balding man in a rumpled suit that Clint presumes is Principal Sitwell.
“Stark. What inventive excuse do you have for me this time?”
Tony grins and whirls to present Clint. “Ta-da!” Tony exclaims with true showmanship. “My geography partner! He will clearly and succinctly delineate the numerous ways in which the lateness of our project is not, and never has been, my fault. Go ahead, er – ” he peers at Clint. “What’s your name, anyway?”
Clint rolls his eyes. “Clint Barton.”
Tony snaps his fingers. “Right!” He grins at Sitwell.
Principal Sitwell shakes his head. “It’d like to say that you not knowing his name means you have clearly never met before this morning, and for anyone else that would be true, Stark.”
Tony waves away the insult. “We’re friends, best friends, know all about each other. He lives in a tent with a man named Buck.”
Clint grins at Sitwell’s sigh, but straightens when the Principal stops and looks over at him a frown. Shit. He shouldn’t have said his name. What if the cops put his picture out on the news or something? What if the Principal is about to turn him in?
“Clint Barton?” Sitwell asks, and turns back to his office. He starts rummaging through his desk. Clint eyes the exits. Tony gives him a funny look, but Clint ignores him. He could dive back into the corridor, but they could lock down the doors. There’s a plated glass window behind the secretary’s office, with only a few feet drop. He could totally make it…
“Ah, here it is!” Sitwell says, coming back to the doorway of his office with a purple folder. “Fury told me all about you. You’re the new transfer student.”
Clint stares at him. Sitwell starts thumbing through the report. “Yup, it’s all here,” he says. “Transfer records and all.” He looks up and catches Clint’s eye. He smiles. “Welcome to Sunnydale High.”
Clint blinks but can’t find any words. Transfer student? What the hell? Beside him, Tony smiles. “Good! Excellent! So he’s a real student and actually my geography partner, and can we go back to the part where I’m not expelled now?”
Sitwell rolls his eyes and ignores him, handing Clint a piece of paper from the purple folder. “Here’s your class schedule,” Sitwell says. “See Fury in the library for books and let him know you’ve arrived. Stark can show you around, since it seems he’s adopted you,” he turns to Stark. “Don’t even think of taking off to Denny’s until after fourth period, Stark. Ms. Carter is looking for you.”
Tony raises a hand to his chest. “Principal Sitwell,” he says in a shocked voice, but he’s grinning. “Would I, perfect student that I am, ever be so disrespectful of this institution of higher learning that I would skip school just to treat my fellow, hardworking geography partner to Denny’s? Would I?”
Sitwell gives him an un-amused look. He walks into his office, closes the door, and locks it behind him.
Tony grins and turns to Clint. “He loves me. I keep his life interesting.”
Clint ignores him – he’s caught by the class list he’s holding in this hands. His name is there in black and white: CLINT BARTON. FIRST PERIOD – SPANISH. SECOND PERIOD – MATH. THIRD PERIOD – GEOGRAPHY. FOURTH PERIOD –
“Helloooo, Clint. Helloooooo!” Fingers snap in front of his face.
“What?” Clint snarls. He has no idea what the fuck is going on. He wasn’t supposed to stop here – how do these people know his name?
“I said,” Tony repeated, sounding hurt, “meet me in the parking lot after fourth period, I meant it about the Denny’s thing.”
Clint shakes his head. “I’m not – fuck this. I’m not sticking around, Tony.”
Tony stares at him. “You’re seriously skipping out on your first day of school? I know Sitwell looks like a pushover, kid, but you’ve got balls of steel.”
“Don’t call me kid!” Clint snaps. Buck always called him kid.
Tony takes a step back. Clint closes his eyes and tries to wrestle his temper under control. He needs to get a fucking grip.
“I’m not skipping out,” he tells Tony, opening he eyes. He knows the words are true as he says them. He can’t leave yet, he needs to know what’s going on here. He needs to find out who the fuck this Fury guy is, and how he knows Clint’s name.
“I’m not skipping out,” Clint repeats, folding the class list and stuffing it into the back pocket of his jeans. “I’m just going to the library to chat with this Fury guy. I’ll probably be busy until the end of the day.”
Tony rolls his eyes, but Clint can see he’s hurt Clint snapped at him. “Okay, sure, whatever. Meet me out by the parking lot after last period then.” Tony grins again, but it’s with a little less intensity than before. “I’ll take you to the Bronx instead of Denny’s.”
Tony shrugs. “It’s the only bar in town. They won’t sell you alcohol or anything, but you can hang out and dance, meet some of the regulars around here. Steve will be there, and Bucky. You can meet the rest of my minions.”
“Can I tell them you refer to them as minions?”
Tony shudders. “Hell, no. Bucky’ll laugh, but Steve will look all disappointed and shit. He’s trying to teach me manners.”
Clint has to grin at that. He bets it’s a full time job. “Sure,” he says. “I’ll see you later.”
Tony waves at him and leaves the office, bouncing off down the halls. Clint shakes his head but follows, turning to read the signs to the library.
Sunnydale High is actually a pretty big school, but the library, when he finds it, is empty. Clint steps inside the double doors and inhales the welcoming smell of wood and paper. Despite his best intentions, he relaxes slightly. He’s never been a big reader, but he used to treasure the few books Barney stole for him. For his tenth birthday, Barney had given him a copy of the Hardy Boys. The spine had been broken and the front cover ripped off, but Barney had written “To Clint, from your Big Brother” on the inside. Clint fucking loved that book.
It’d burned, back at the circus. Along with everything else.
Clint shakes off the memories and walks further into the library. “Hello?” he calls out. “Is anyone here?”
“Well, it’s about fucking time.”
Clint whirls around to see a tall black man wearing a stiff leather coat step out from behind shelf. He’s huge, easily over six feet, and he’s wearing an eye patch. He looks like a pirate, and Clint wants to laugh, but the guy looks as intimidating as hell. Clint squares his shoulders and reminds himself that he’s a stone-cold vampire killer, now. “You Fury?” he asks.
The man gives him an unimpressed look. “Yes. You Barton?”
That’s all it takes for Clint to find his spine. “Yeah,” he glares at him. “How the fuck do you know my name?”
Fury shrugs, like it’s no big deal. “The Council keeps notes on every Potential. Didn’t Buck tell you?”
Clint stares at him. “You knew Buck?” His voice absolutely does not crack.
Fury sighs. His shoulders slump slightly, and suddenly he looks a little more human. “Yeah, I knew Buck,” he says, and his voice is sad. “We were initiates together back in the good ol’ days, before Trés Rivers. He tell you about any of that?”
Clint thinks back. “Only that he did something stupid,” he says. “Called it the ‘story of his life’.”
“Yeah, well,” Fury snorts, “it was at that.” He stares Clint with his one eye. “Buck Chisholm was a member of the Watcher’s Council. He did something stupid – not my story to tell – and got drummed out. Ended up in the circus, of all things, performing with the bow and arrow. Met you there, from what I heard. Said he knew from the start you were something special.”
Unexpectedly, Clint feels tears prickle at the corner of his eyes. He blinks them angrily away. “He gave me the bow, then beat me till I couldn’t see straight if I missed. Fucking jackass, was what he was.”
Fury nods. “He was at that. A messy drunk, too, from what I hear. But he knew you were a Potential, and he trained you best he could. I’m not making excuses for the man – he’s dead now, and what’s done is done. But you know the basics, don’t you?”
Clint stares at him. “The basics of what?”
Clint forces himself to laugh. “No such thing as vampires.”
Fury gives him an unimpressed stare. “Now we both know that ain’t true. Vampire and witches, mummies and ghosts. Everything you told yourself wasn’t real and couldn’t be true – it all is. It’s all out there. It’s all real.”
Clint licks his lips. He thinks back to the smoke and the fire, Annie with her too-wide grin, and teeth coming for his throat. He shakes his head, backing away. “No.”
“Yes.” Fury says. Then he gives Clint a humourless grin. “And you get to kill it.”
“No.” Clint says, more firmly. “No. I’ve killed my vampires, I’m done with that.”
Fury levels him a look. “You aren’t done with that, Barton. You’ll never be done with that. You’re the Slayer.”
That stops Clint in his tracks. “The what?”
“The Slayer,” Fury says. “Into every generation a Slayer is born. They alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness.” Fury stares at him. “That’s you, Barton. This gift you’ve been given? This power? It has a purpose.”
Clint shakes his head, thinking of his enhanced speed and reflexes. He’d give it all back to have the Circus whole again. “I don’t want it.”
“You don’t have a choice. The Powers That Be have selected you from all other Potentials, Clint. But you won’t have to do it alone. I’m a Watcher. I’m here to train you, to prepare you.”
“Prepare me?” Clint snaps back. “Prepare me for what? For burning down my home? For losing all my friends?” The memory of smoke rises in his eyes. He’s shaking, but he can’t seem to stop. “For killing the only family I’ve ever known? Go ahead,” Clint shouts. “Prepare me.”
He waits, but Fury doesn’t say anything.
Clint shakes away the tears. “I thought so.”
He turns away, ready to head back to the parking lot, to jack another car and get the fuck out of this messed up town, but Fury stops him.
“They’re here,” he says. Clint halts. He doesn’t want to turn around, but Fury goes on.
“They’re here – now – in this school. A boy was killed last night. She killed him and stuffed him in a locker down by the football pitch. I followed her, but I was too late to save him. They’ll be finding him any minute now.”
Clint closes his eyes. He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want any of this.
“Is that why you brought me here?” he asks, not turning around.
He doesn’t have to see Fury to hear his grin. “Me? Nah. Your car broke down, Barton.”
Clint’s shoulders slump. “How’d you do it?”
“Magic,” Fury says. “I’m no sorcerer, but I’ve got some skills.”
Clint sighs and turns around. Fury is waiting for him. He holds Clint’s angry, tired gaze, and his own eye softens. “I’m not your enemy, Clint. I’m here to help you. If I hadn’t gotten you off the road, they would have caught up to you on the Canadian border. I don’t care what Buck told you – you’re needed here.”
Clint’s shoulder slump further. He closes his eyes for a moment, and runs his hands through his hair. He’s tired – so tired. He wants to sleep for a week.
“He told me to head to Montreal. Said there were some people there who would help me, train me.”
Fury nods. “Guy is there, and Salle. They’re good people, and if you want you can still go there some day. But today we need you here, Clint. You’re the Slayer, and I’m pretty sure this town is built on a Hellmouth.”
Against his will, Clint frowns. “A Hellmouth?”
Fury walks over to the book cage. There are ancient tombs scattered all over the desk, and now that Clint is looking, he can see the titles of them. Vampyres, one reads. Another says Curses. There are other titles written in Latin.
Buck had books like that.
Fury taps the cover of one. “A Hellmouth is a confluence of dark energy – it draws in strange creatures from all over the world, calling to them like a moth to the flame. Most Hellmouth’s are stable, but something is wrong with this one. It’s – seething – for lack of a better term. I think something big is going down. The Council agrees.”
Clint wants to ask who the Council is, but he doesn’t honestly care right now. He grits his teeth. “Okay, vampires. Hellmouth. Whatever. I stop this, and you let me keep going, right? You won’t try to hold me here with magic or voodoo or anything?”
Fury gives him a serious nod, and Clint squares his shoulders. “Right. So – dead guy. Which locker is he in?”
The sudden screaming from the corridors answers for him. Clint sighs and turns towards the door. “Never mind.”
As always, HUGE thanks to Ralkana for the hand-holding and Infiniteeight for the beta!!!
The dead guy is indeed stuck in a locker. Clint edges his way around the hysterical prom queen who found him and catches a look before the police and Principal Sitwell can shoo him away. It’s enough to see that the kid is dead, just dead, and that he won’t rise again.
“You sure?” Fury asks him later that day in the library.
“I’m sure,” Clint nods. “No blood around the mouth, no sign of a double-suckage. He’s just dead.”
“To become a vampire,” Clint says, “they have to suck your blood, and then you have to suck their blood. It’s a whole sucking thing.”
Fury looks deeply unimpressed.
Clint grins. “I could make so many sex jokes right now, you have no idea.”
They talk vampires for a while and it’s weird, but also kinda nice, because Clint has been on the run for a week now, dealing with this stuff on his own, and it’s a relief to talk about it with someone who understands. Just when Clint is starting to get comfortable, though, Fury kicks him out to go to class. He even signs out text books for him from the library. Clint shoots the books a dirty look.
“I think I’d rather take the Latin,” he says.
Fury gives him an eye. “Do you know how to read Latin?” he asks.
Clint shakes his head. “No.”
“Then go the fuck to class, Barton.”
Class is wonderful and frustrating. Clint’s not stupid, but he hasn’t had anything like a formal education in years. He can read, thanks to Barney, but not too good. Spanish isn’t bad, because Clint’s been everywhere around the US and he’s picked up more than a little on his own. Math almost makes sense, like it’s another language Clint half understands, and he sits through the class in frustrated wonder. Geography is only bearable because Tony is there.
Tony’s actually a pretty cool guy. Clint’s beginning to believe he might even be the genius he claims, if only because he doodles circuit-boards in his notebooks instead of paying attention in class.
Their geography project turns out to be a self-directed learning module. Clint asks if he can research the local rock formations and gets an enthusiastic yes. He smirks; if Fury is going to make him chase this “Hellmouth”, he might as well get credit for it.
Then he wonders what the hell he’s trying for, since he’s not going to be sticking around, but Tony looks so excited that Clint ignores the thought for now. He’s going to be staying for a little while, at least. Tony’s been pretty good to him – it wouldn’t hurt to help him out.
After geography, Tony drags Clint to their shared history class. Ms. Carter is actually pretty cool. She has this way to bringing the past to life that Clint’s never seen before, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s fucking gorgeous.
She doubles as the computer teacher, and is obviously something of a mentor for Tony. He hangs back after class to discuss something that goes over Clint’s head in about two seconds, and he waves to Tony as he leaves.
His last class of the day is English, and that’s when Clint knows he’s really screwed. They’re doing Shakespeare, and Clint hunches his shoulders and tries to become one with the floor. Shakespeare makes no fucking sense. Clint is once again glad he’s not sticking around to earn his SAT’s.
Tony finds him as Clint is filing out of the classroom, after stuffying Hamlet under the bottom of his book pile and promising himself he’ll never look at it again.
“Ms. Carter is going to marry me,” Tony declares. Clint rolls his eyes.
“She is!” Tony puts an arm around Clint’s shoulders, casual and carefree. “She’s going to be wooed by my brilliance and run away with me to Mexico. I’ll keep her in the latest Stark tech and buy her a museum of history. She will love me forever.”
Clint freezes at Tony’s casual touch, but forces himself to relax. It’s just Tony – there’s no threat here.
“Sure she is,” he says. Tony must notice something is off because he shoots him a look, but he doesn’t remove his arm. “She’s going to ignore a ten year age difference,” Clint goes on, “and, you know, the law, and run away with you to Mexico.”
Tony sighs dramatically. “But she’s so smart. And beautiful. And I think she actually understands what I’m talking about half the time.” He’s morose for about two seconds, but then he shrugs. “Ah well, more fish in the sea. Hey, Bruce! I guess you’re stuck with me after all!”
The short kid with the messy brown hair and too-long bangs that Clint saw that morning lifts his head and shoots Tony a fond, if exasperated, look. Tony just laughs, high and carefree, and drags Clint out towards the parking lot.
“Ah, Bruce loves me. It’s okay though – they’ll be plenty of pretty fish at The Bronx tonight. You want to change at my house, Barton?”
Clint shifts his shoulders awkwardly under Tony’s arm. “I don’t really have much to change into.”
Tony waves a hand. “Of course, I forgot you lived in a tent with a man named Buck. Whatever. Come to my place and we’ll see what fits – I’ve got too much stuff, anyway.”
The parking lot is emptying rapidly, kids firing up old, battered cars and taking off. Clint can see Buck’s ancient car sitting in the parking lot, looking abandoned. He sighs and starts to walk towards it.
Tony shoots him a look. “My car’s over here, Clint. Oh my god, is that yours? Does it even run?”
“Not at the moment,” Clint says, trying to make the words come out easy and not at all sure he’s succeeded. “I’m sure there’s a part-shop around here somewhere, I’ll just – ”
“Part-shop?” Tony waves a negligent hand. “Whatever. We’ll just have it towed to my place, man. You can crash there for a while and we can rebuild the engine in the basement or something.”
Clint shakes his head. “No, Tony. I can’t – ”
“Come on,” Tony wheedles at him. “It’s no big deal.” He tugs Clint forward, up to a beautiful Porsche Carrera. “Just get in the car, we’ll call the tow-truck from my place.”
Clint can’t help but run an appreciative hand over the sleek, smooth lines of the convertible 911. “You sure?”
Tony rolls his eyes and pops open the driver’s side. “Get in the car, Barton.”
Clint grins and hops over the door into the passenger seat. Tony turns the key and the engine purrs to life.
They make the drive in near silence, Tony tapping along to the radio as they go. Clint watches the town goes by, taking in landmarks and noting intersections. He’s travelled around enough to have a sixth sense about cities, and he knows they’re moving to the outskirts of Sunnydale.
“So, where do you live, man?” he finally asks as they clear the city limits.
“Oh, just this house my father built years ago. He had it opened when I got kicked out of M.I.T. and moved back to town. It’s a huge house, and it’s just me and the staff who come in to clean and shit.”
Clint bites his lip. “You sure your folks won’t mind?”
Tony snorts. “No ‘folks’, just my dad, and no – he won’t even notice. He lives in the city. I mean it, it’s just me here.”
Clint tries to get his head around that as they drive. He’s lived with people all his life – first at home, with his parents and Barney, and then at the orphanage and in foster care. In the circus there were always people, and lots of them. Clint’s been a lifelong loner, feeling safe only when he has his back to the wall, but he’s always had to fight for the space he’s wanted.
Tony’s obviously got too much space and no idea what to do with it, because the house, when they arrive, is huge. Tony tells him that there are six bedrooms and just as many bathrooms as he shows him around. There’s no one to greet them at the door, but dinner is sitting under a warming light in the kitchen.
It feels weirdly empty, like the house is half-abandoned. Tony taps a few buttons on his phone and music begins to play.
It’s heavy rock, nice and steady, and makes the house seem more alive. Clint grins.
Tony grins back at him, then waves him upstairs. He shows Clint where his bedroom is, and then tells Clint to take his pick of the others. Clint wanders down the hallway looking through rooms, but finally circles back and takes the one next to Tony.
It’s bigger than the trailer Buck spent twenty years in, and the bed is clearly a king. It’s gorgeous.
The attached bath is a little slice of heaven, and Clint takes his time in the shower. It’s worlds away from the dollar-per-minute stalls he’d used on the road, and the hot water never runs out. By the time Clint forces himself to get out of the shower, he’s pink all over.
His new room has a closet, but it’s empty. Tony lends him a pair of frayed jeans and a black Sabbath t-shirt. It’s a little tight in the arms, but the shoulders fit just fine.
They take the car back into town, and Clint watches the scenery as they go. Sunnydale is a small place, but it’s nice. There are tidy houses and cut lawns, no white-picket fences that he can see, but still it looks… comfortable. Clint likes it here.
He’s lonely suddenly, even though Tony is two feet away from him and rattling away. Clint tries to shake himself out of the mood he’s in, but the town’s not large enough and too soon they’ve parked. Clint looks around the downtown core.
It’s bustling in a way the suburbs weren’t, but it’s still a small town – there are young couples strolling the streets and a few storefronts open, but it’s nothing like a big city downtown. Tony’s parked the car in an open lot and Clint can see The Bronx from here. It’s an old warehouse that’s been turned into a bar, and clearly the only gig in town.
Strangely enough, it’s just across the street from the local graveyard. Clint can’t help but wince at the poor planning.
Tony grins as he gets out of the car, but Clint’s still in a mood. He shakes off Tony’s arm as they walk closer to the bar, and says, “Listen, I’m just gonna take a walk for a second, okay?”
He doesn’t want to meet Tony’s friends like this, wants a second to get his head on straight before marching into a crowded bar. He’s feeling claustrophobic all of a sudden.
Tony’s not an idiot, but he’s also not the type to pry. He gives Clint a piercing look, then grins at him. “Sure, no problem. I’ll head inside and see if Steve and Bucky are here – meet you in a few minutes, okay?”
Clint nods. “Yeah, sure. Thanks man.”
Tony winks at him and turns. There’s a bouncer at the door with a black-light stamp to identify the kids who can’t legally drink. Clint’s snuck out of the circus enough times over the years to know how to get around them, but Tony doesn’t even try. He gives the bouncer a friendly grin and holds his hand out for the stamp, then waves at Clint before disappearing inside.
Clint grins and watches him go, but feels a weight off his shoulders when he’s alone again on the sidewalk. Tony’s a great guy, and Clint really likes him, but he can be a little… much.
Taking a deep breath, Clint turns and walks away from the bar. It’s dark out, no moon yet in the sky. He turns away from the busy streets and starts strolling down a dark alley. It’s quiet here, away from the lights, and Clint feels safer in the shadows.
It’s been a crazy kind of day. He has a hard time believing that just hours ago he was hiding Buck’s car behind a billboard, ripping branches off a tree and piling them on the hood in a desperate attempt to survive another night. Now he’s clean and wearing borrowed clothes, in a town where people know his name and haven’t yet turned him over to the cops.
Clint thinks of Fury and his cryptic talk, of Buck and a secret past. He doesn’t like it, but he has to admit it makes sense. Buck always knew too much about the darkness, and he talked sometimes when he drank.
Clint had been his protégé for years, almost since that first month he and Barney arrived at the circus. Buck had left his bow out one morning and Clint picked it up, curious about the circus’s headliner act.
He wonders now if Buck had planned that first meeting, if he had left Bessy out on purpose to lure Clint in. Clint had struggled with the too-heavy bow, but he’d still hit the target on his first try. Buck had appeared out of nowhere, larger than life, yelling and screaming that if Clint was going to steal his stuff he should be better at it than he was.
Buck had hit him then, cuffed him hard and sent him sprawling. Clint had been hit plenty of times before, and he knew how to take it – go limp and roll away, fall with his arm outstretched to take the impact.
Buck had watched him, a strange look on his face. After that he calmed down. He adjusted Clint’s grip and showed him how to draw properly. Clint had gotten closer to the centre on his second attempt, and Buck had gruffly said “You may have a knack for this, kid.”
Clint had never been good at anything before. He’d grinned at Buck, too young and happy to know what the words really meant. After that Buck had practically adopted him, bringing Clint into a world filled with training and chores.
Barney had been jealous. Clint had tried to explain how it wasn’t all roses. Buck hit him plenty, made him do the worst of the chores, and screamed at him if he were more than five seconds late to practice. Clint learned how to hit the target every time, because if he didn’t Buck would make him do push-ups until his arms gave out.
But between the training and the abuse, mucking out the stalls and putting up the tent, there was the occasional “Not bad, kid” and once – only once – Buck had said “Good job, Clint.”
Barney hadn’t been able to handle that. He’d left, three years ago now, and Clint hadn’t thought he’d survive the hurt. Buck had just cuffed him over the ear and sent him back to work, and Clint had lived, somehow.
Six days ago, Buck had died in Clint’s arms, hands pressing bloody keys to Clint’s fingers. “Get out of here, kid” he’d said, blood frothing at the corner of his mouth. “Go to Montreal, ask for – ” he’d coughed, and Clint had held him, his own hands shaking, while the circus around them burned.
“ – friends,” Buck said. He’d taken a deep, rattling breath. “They’ll… help you. Train you. Good luck, kid.”
And then he’d died.
Clint’s fingers had clenched around the keys, tears rolling down his face, and wished he could blame it on the smoke. He still doesn’t know how long he’d held Buck for, but he remembers the sound of the flames dying and the yellow, beady eyes peering at him from between the smouldering ruins. The vampires, the ones who’d taken the circus in the dead of night, who’d killed and turned Annie the Bearded Lady and Jack the Sword Swallower in a pre-emptive assault, closed in around him.
Clint had laid Buck on the ground and lashed out at them. His mentor had trained him in more than just the bow, and Clint had never understood why he’d made him practice with wooden knives before.
He knew then. Buck had three clutched in one hand, and Clint took them, throwing two with deadly accuracy before he charged at the group. He’d turned four vampires into dust before the others even closed in.
Clint hadn’t gained his new strength, yet. He’d been quickly outnumbered, two new vampires appearing for every one he killed. He’d lost his last knife and clenched his hands, only then realizing he was still holding onto Buck’s keys. He turned and ran, going first to the trailer he shared with Buck and grabbing his quiver and bow. He rifled through the cheap safe Buck kept in the back corner, killing two vampires when they jumped into the trailer after him, and grabbed the rainy-day money Buck had stashed.
His run to the car is still a blur – Clint knows he jumped through the hole the last vampire had made in the trailer. He remembers dodging an attack as he ran to the car, and he knows the engine had sputtered, coughed, and then finally turned over. The rest is a half-remembered sea of images, of people screaming and fire leaping. Clint had sped out onto the open road, the rest of the vampires hot on his heels, leaving Buck alone in the muddy grass.
The next morning Clint had woken with a new sense of purpose and strength. His reflexes, always good, were suddenly better. He could see farther, hear clearer, and move faster.
The radio had a special news report on a burst of gang-related violence across the Southwest, and Clint had known with chilling certainly what it was. The vampires had pushed a concentrated offense, attacking not only Tilbolt’s circus but cities all over the State.
Now, thanks to Fury, Clint knew that somewhere in that mayhem, the Slayer had died. Clint had inherited their power.
He swallows in the dark alleyway and clenches his fists. He can feel the power in his hands, more than he had a week ago despite all the training. He wonders if Buck had known this was coming, if he’d noticed when Annie and Jack went missing. Had he known the vampires were pushing an offensive? Had he known Clint would become the Slayer?
He’d guessed, according to Fury. He’d done his best to train Clint, in case that day came.
It’s come now.
Clint pushes his palms into his eyes and tries to block out the world. He hadn’t been lying to Fury when he said he’d rather leave. If what Fury said was true, though, if Clint was the Slayer, the vampires would probably follow him. They’d killed one Slayer in the past week – they’d do their best to kill him, too.
If this was his destiny, he’d never escape it. It was a depressing thought.
A rat squeals in the darkness. Clint stills and listens carefully. It’s only because of his newfound senses that he is able to hear the soft sound of a foot shifting on asphalt, back near the mouth of the alley.
Clint hunches his shoulders to present a more welcome target, and deliberately scuffs his shoe on the ground as he moves further into the shadows.
Fury had said there were vampires in town. Clint would rather they focus on him than some innocent bystander. He never wants to watch someone die again.
A few steps into the alley, Clint hits a darker patch of shadow. He moves quickly, jumping to the side and scaling the brick wall with a swiftness he’s still getting used to. He watches from up high as a figure steps into the alley after him.
Smirking to himself, Clint flips off the wall and lands in a crouch behind the stranger.
“You know, I’m new to town,” he says out loud. “But even I know it’s rude to follow people when they’d clearly rather be left alone.”
The stranger stiffens in place, and then slowly turns around. Clint chokes on air as the man straightens, the dim lights from the street reaching far enough to illuminate his face.
He’s surprisingly handsome – his face would be bland, except for the arch of his eyebrows and the cut of his jaw. He isn’t tall; he has maybe an inch on Clint himself, but he’s solid without being stocky. His hair is a light brownish color and thinning, and he’s definitely older than Clint by at least a few years. He’s wearing a dark suit with the kind of off-hand grace that Clint’s always admired, and he can’t help but notice that he fills it very well.
Still, there is something in his eyes, a wary sort of sarcastic kindness that really captures Clint’s attention. His mouth goes dry, and he stares.
The stranger stares back.
Then the corner of his mouth lifts and he says, “Funny. I thought you’d be taller.”
Clint snaps out of his daze. “Excuse me?”
“Hey, don’t be offended.” The man chuckles. “You’re like the boogy-man, you know? Ten feet tall and bristling.” He walks forward, his polished shoes making little tap-tap-tapping sounds on the pavement. The glance he gives Clint is definitely assessing.
“But you’re almost short, for a Slayer.” He halts a few feet away from Clint and smiles. “Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking.” His voice lowers, soft and teasing. “I don’t bite.”
Clint pulls the wooden knife from the back of his jeans. “Shame,” he says, twirling it by the handle, adrenalin singing in his veins. “Almost be more fun if you did.”
The stranger quirks a grin. “Maybe,” he admits. He nods at the knife. “You any good with that?”
Clint bares his teeth. “I’m better with a bow.”
“I know.” The man reaches into his pocket and throws something. Clint lifts a hand and catches it on instinct.
It’s a purple velvet jewellery box. Clint opens it.
Inside is a silver ring. The design on front is a crescent moon speared by an arrow. Clint stares at it.
“Had that blessed by a priestess,” the stranger says, nodding at the box. “It works as well as a cross. It’ll keep you safe.”
Clint licks his lips. The ring is beautiful. His fingers itch to try it on.
“Keep it close,” the stranger says. Clint looked up to see him walking away. “You’ve got to be ready.”
Clint clears his throat. “Ready for what?”
“For the Harvest.”
“Hey!” Clint shouts. The man is nearly gone, his black suit swallowed up by the night. “Who are you?”
The man’s voice comes from the darkness. “Let’s just say I’m a friend.”
Clint clenches his jaw. “I don’t need any friends.”
From the shadows comes a chuckle. “I didn’t say I was yours.”
Thanks again to the fabulous infiniteeight for the beta and Ralkana for the hand-holding. I'm glad you guys are enjoying this fic!
Clint waits until the man is gone to leave the alleyway. Walking back onto the street is like stepping into open air, and Clint feels like he can breathe again. He shakes his head to clear it.
Who the hell was that guy? Where does he get off following Clint into alleyways and making cryptic remarks?
He is far too good looking, Clint decides. Clint’s always had a thing for older men, but this guy is too perfect, too put together. He needs to work on that; maybe scuff up his suit a little.
Clint has a sudden, full-colour mental image of exactly how he could scuff up the stranger’s perfect suit. He coughs and looks at the jewellery box in his hand.
He hesitates a moment, then takes out the ring. It gleams at him. It looks like real silver, and Clint stares before trying it on. It fits his pinkie finger perfectly, thick and heavy, a ring made for a man, not a girl.
Clint holds it up to the moonlight and swallows.
He can’t remember the last time someone gave him something that wasn’t a weapon.
Clint squares his jaw. The ring is a weapon – and if it works as good as a cross, he’ll keep it. He won’t grant the giver any special protection, though. The man is a creep and obviously a stalker – how the hell does he know that Clint prefers a bow?
Clint resolves to ask more questions the next time the mysterious man shows up. He’s sure he’ll get his chance soon.
The bouncer is still standing at the door when Clint walks back to The Bronx. He shows his ID and gets his hand stamped, then walks in. The noise of the bar overwhelms him for a moment, but his enhanced senses quickly adapt.
It’s a dark, crowed bar, filled with people shifting, talking, and dancing en mass. There’s a small stage in the back where a live band is playing, and a bar in the corner surrounded by people old enough to drink.
The dance floor is in front of the band, but there is scattered seating around the edges. Tables, chairs, and sofas litter the walls. There’s even a second floor, albeit a small one, ringed in a wire railing that keeps people back from the edge. There’s a spiral staircase in the middle of the bar, leading up, creating inviting shadows.
Overall, it’s a pretty cool place. Clint can see why it’s the most popular spot in town.
He scans the bar for Tony, and finds him talking excitedly to two other boys at a corner table.
Clint ducks his head and makes his way through the bar, sliding between couples dancing and weaving around people carrying drinks. He sidles up to Tony and leans forward to get his attention.
“Clint!” Tony shouts, loud enough to be heard over the music. He grins. “Let me introduce you to my two of my favourite people. This is Steve,” he says, indicating a short, scrawny kid with twig-like arms and a head too big for his neck. Despite looking like a stiff wind would blow him over, Steve gives Clint a large grin and waves energetically.
Tony turns to his left. “And this magnet for trouble is Bucky. Say hello to the new kid, Bucky!”
Clint swallows as the third guy turns towards him. Jesus Christ, what is it with this town and attractive people? The third guy – Bucky, and damn, but does Clint wish he had any other name – smiles. He’s large where Steve is small, dark where Steve is blond, and has a face too handsome for words. He’s got a deep, penetrating gaze and soulful brown eyes, and his chin would be brooding if his lips didn’t danced with mirth. As it is, he’s got the Tall, Dark, and Handsome look down.
“Hey,” Bucky says, grinning. Clint thinks the man knows exactly the kind of effect he has on people, and uses it regularly.
Clint bites his lip against the urge to smile. Tony was right – Bucky is trouble.
Clint likes trouble.
“Hey,” he says. “I’m Clint Barton, the new guy in town.”
Steve laughs. “We know! You’re kind of a mid-range celebrity in a place like this. What brings you to Sunnydale?”
Clint forces himself to keep his answer light. “Oh, this and that. I’m sure Tony has already told you all my dirty secrets.”
“Hey!” Tony protests. He puts a hand on his chest and makes a face. “I am the soul of discretion. I only told them the truth, that you rescued me from geography like a true hero. I might swoon.” He flutters his eyelashes.
Clint laughs and backs away. “Sorry, Tony – you’re not my type.”
Tony pouts. “No breasts?”
Clint grins. “I like breasts – breasts are awesome – but they aren’t a requirement.” He glances at Bucky, then thinks of a strange man in a perfect suit. He shrugs to cover his blush. “I like what I like.”
“I can be very likeable,” Tony argues.
Bucky laughs and swats him on the shoulder. “Back off, Tony. You don’t have to sleep with absolutely every person in town. At least leave some of them intact for the rest of us.” He winks at Clint. “So what do you think of Sunnydale so far?”
“It’s nice,” Clint says, sincerely. “Tony’s letting me crash at his place for a couple of days.”
Steve smiles. “That’s good – Tony could use the company. The Stark Mansion is too big for one person to live there all alone.”
“I keep offering, honey-bun,” Tony says magnanimously, sweeping his arms to the side and almost knocking the drinks off their table. “Move in any time you like, Stevie.”
Steve shakes his head. “I’m not leaving my mother, Tony, you know that,” he chides.
“What’s your mom do?” Clint asks.
“She’s a nurse over at the hospital,” Steve says, obviously proud. “She works nightshifts in the ER.”
Clint nods and files away the information – it might be handy to have a friend with a connection to the hospital. He’s noticed that he seems to be healing faster than he had a week ago, but he suspects that tussling with vampires on a regular basis will result in more than one visit to the ER.
Clint realizes he is starting to think long-term, as if he’ll actually be around here in a few weeks time. He scowls. Damn Fury and his asking for help – Clint would be in Canada by now if it weren’t for the Watcher.
As if thinking of the devil makes him appear, Clint looks up to find Fury prowling the edges of the upper floor.
He groans, and the other three boys look over.
“You alright?” Steve asks.
“Yeah,” Clint says, sliding away from the table. “I just have to – uh – use the bathroom. Where is it?”
Bucky starts to give him directions, but Steve interrupts. “I’ll show him. Right this way, Clint.” He steps away from the table, and Clint can see for the first time how truly small Steve is.
“Sorry about them,” Steve says, gesturing back to the table. Clint glances over to see Bucky already making eyes at a pretty girl one table over. Tony is glancing over the bar with a predatory gleam.
“They’re a little…” Steve wavers.
“Teenage boy?” Clint asks. He chuckles. “It’s alright, Steve. I’m not offended. Flattered, actually. Bucky is really hot.” He glances over at the little man. He can’t help but notice the difference between Steve, Bucky, and Tony. “Why do you hang out with them, anyway?”
Steve grins. “Bucky is my best friend, has been since second grade. Lillian O’Donnell stole my red crayon and Bucky got it back for me.” He shrugs. “Our mothers shared a room in the hospital, and we practically grew up together, but the red crayon is what I remember.”
Clint smiles wistfully. “It must be nice to know someone that long.”
“It is,” Steve says. He looks over at Clint. “How about you?”
Clint shrugs. “I – we – moved around a lot when we were kids. My brother and I. He left a couple of years ago now. I… don’t have anyone else. It’s part of the reason why I came to Sunnydale.” Part of the reason, Clint thinks, if you discount meddling one-eye Watchers. Fury is still on the upper level. Clint keeps half an eye on him.
Steve squeezes his arm. For such a little guy, he has a good grip. “I’m an only child. Bucky’s the closest thing I have to a brother, but, well…” He blushes.
Clint laughs. “You don’t feel quite brotherly towards him?”
Steve grimaces. “Not really,” he admits. His eyes grow wide. “But don’t tell him that! He’d just let me down gently.”
Clint gives him a long look. Steve might be little, but he obviously has the heart of a lion, and he’s cute, in a tiny way. “Don’t sell yourself short, buddy. If Bucky’s the kind of guy you say he is, he probably knows how lucky he’d be to have you.”
Steve blushes and looks away. “Bucky dates all kinds of people. I’m not his type. He likes you more than he likes me.”
Clint shrugs. “I’m new and shiny, and –” he winks, “I’m very likeable guy.” Steve laughs. “But I’m not interested in dating him,” Clint says. Sleeping with him, Clint thinks, yeah – in a heartbeat. But not dating.
“I think Bucky’s the kind of guy you need to know how to handle, and I don’t. You do.”
Steve doesn’t look convinced, so Clint pushes on. “Maybe he’s just forgotten to think of you that way. You should show him you’re a desirable kind of guy. Flirt with someone when he’s watching, make him jealous. You’re young, you’re good-looking. Who cares about Bucky anyway? Seize the moment!”
Steve looks doubtful. “Seize the moment?”
Clint shrugs. “Okay, so it’s not the most original motto, but it’s all I’ve got. Life’s too short by half. If you meet someone and Buck’s jealous, perfect. If you meet someone and he’s not interested, well, then at least you’ve met someone who is.”
Steve bites his lower lip. It’s pretty adorable. If the guy weren’t so obviously hung up on Bucky, Clint thinks he might actually be tempted.
“Seize the moment… ” Steve repeats.
Clint nods, spotting Fury making his way to the stairs. Time to go. He claps Steve on the shoulder. “Exactly! Go for it! I’m gonna see what’s upstairs.”
He leaves Steve looking around the bar with new eyes and meets Fury before he leaves the top floor.
“So, you like to party with students? It’s that a little weird?”
Fury scowls at him. “Yes. This is me having fun.”
Clint grins. “I think you’re rocking the underground scene. You have to admit, the leather coat means you almost fit in.”
“This is the perfect breeding ground for vampires,” Fury says, looking pointedly around the bar. “Dark, crowded… Besides, I knew you would most likely show up.”
Clint groans. “Yes, yes – find the vampires, kill the vampires, the Harvest is coming – I got it, okay? You’re dapper friend showed up and warned me.”
Fury frowns. “What did you say?”
Clint waves a hand. “You’re friend, the creepy guy in the too perfect suit; gorgeous in an annoying way. He said the Harvest was coming.”
“The Harvest…” Fury says, looking away with a frown. “Did he say anything else?”
“No.” Clint scowls. “I really didn’t like him, by the way.”
Fury pauses in obvious thought for a moment, but it’s clear he can’t lock down what’s bothering him. “The Harvest,” he shakes his head. “Whatever it is, it can’t be good.” He turns to lean on the steel railing that encircles the top floor. “Look at them,” he says, gesturing down. “All of these people, in danger and they don’t even know it.”
Clint frowns. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I mean, I agreed to stay and help you fight. Here I am – I’m staying! Witness me staying! What else do you want me to do?”
“You should be able to sense the vampires, track them. You should be able to see their demonic insides, even hidden behind human faces.” Fury scowls. “Can you tell me if there is a vampire in this building?”
“Well,” Fury indicates the floor, then crosses his arms and leans his hip against the railing. “Go ahead. Tell me.”
Clint sticks his tongue out, because it feels appropriately juvenile, but he does turn his attention towards the bar.
He’s looking over the crowd as Fury begins to scold.
“See – you need training, Barton. This should be child’s play to you. You need to –”
Fury stopped and stares at Clint. “What?”
Clint rolls his eyes. “There. That girl, right there? Talking to that guy.” Clint points. The vampire in question is pretty, a dark haired brunette with thin hips, a slim chest, and a pretty smile. “She’s obviously a vampire.”
Fury glances at her. “Why do you think she’s a vampire?”
“Oh please – a cat suit? Since when is a cat suit something you wear out to a bar where teenagers are going to be hanging out? Any self-respecting cougar would be in high heels and a short skirt, not a tight-fitted jumpsuit that looks like something you would find on Batman. She’s obviously a –”
He stops. The crowd has shifted, and Clint can see the man the vampire is flirting with in profile now.
“Oh, no.” Clint says. He turns and starts pushing past people, heading towards the stairs.
Out of the corner of his eye he can see Fury stare at the brunette in the tight leather suit. “Is that – ?”
“Steve,” Clint confirms over his shoulder.
“What is he doing?”
Clint growls and pushes through the crowd, taking the steps two at a time. “Seizing the moment.”
It takes Clint too long to reach the ground floor. By the time he makes his way over to the spot where Steve had been standing with the vampire, he’s no where to be found.
“Tony!” Clint shouts, hurrying to the table where Tony is fiddling with his phone. “Have you seen Steve?”
Tony doesn’t even glance up. “No. Buck left with some dude though, like five minutes ago.” He looks over as Clint brushes past. “What’s wrong?”
“Steve left with someone. A girl. She’s bad news,” Clint explains. “You didn’t see him leave?”
“No.” Tony frowns. “Steve left with a girl?”
Clint shakes his head and looks again around the crowded bar. He can’t see Steve anywhere. “Damn it,” he mutters. He turns back to Tony. “Stay here, they might come back.”
Tony grabs his arm. “Where are you going?”
Clint shakes him off. “I’m going to go look for them. Stay here.”
He leaves Tony fish-mouthing at the table behind him and pushes his way through the crowd. Outside there are seniors smoking. Clint asks if any of them have seen Steve.
“Yeah, little Steve-o found a hot one!” one of the guys says. He laughs and points out towards the graveyard behind the Bronx. “They went that way.”
Clint thanks the guy and runs, cursing as he goes. Who the hell builds a bar next to a graveyard? How is that good city planning?
The graveyard is quiet at night. It’s surrounded by forest, and the light and sound from the bar fade as Clint runs past the trees and the headstones, his eyes scanning the markers for any sign of Steve. He doesn’t see anything for two horrifying minutes, but then he spots them – two figures, near the centre of the graveyard. One has long brown hair and the other is short – it has to be Steve.
Clint puts on a burst of speed. He can hear Steve talking now, asking if this is really a shortcut to the ice cream parlour. Clint misses the vampire’s reply as he slams into her, taking the woman down.
She flips onto her back in a move that is clearly supernatural in origin. Clint has a moment to think Ha! in Fury’s general direction before the vampire is whipping forward. Clint dodges her first blow, but the second catches him on the shoulder and he goes down.
Clint has been in the circus for eight years, though, and training with Trickshot for nearly that long. He turns the fall into an effortless roll, and pops back up before the vampire can recover from her lunge. Clint kicks her and she goes flying. He takes a second to glance at Steve.
The boy is standing there, looking shocked. Clint waves him away.
“Go, Steve – go! Get out of here!”
The vampire snarls. “Don’t go anywhere, Steve,” she says, and her faces shifts. Her nose scrunches up, her teeth extend into fangs, and where she was pretty, she’s now horrifying. “We haven’t been properly introduced.”
Steve makes a high-pitched, frightened sound, but he stands his ground. Clint curses poorly timed heroics.
“I’m serious, Steve! Get out of here! Go find Bucky!”
That gets Steve’s attention. “Bucky’s in trouble?”
The vampire snarls and pounces. Clint fights her off. “I think so,” he says, between punches. The vampire kicks and Clint catches her foot, flipping her. “Tony says he left just before you did.”
Steve finally runs and Clint pulls his full attention into the fight. It’s invigorating in a way it wasn’t, the last time. The air is cool and nothing is burning. There isn’t a horde of vampires crying for his blood – just one, a single point on which to focus his attention. It’s almost fun.
The vampire is good, but Clint is obviously better. They trade blows until Clint lands one solid hit, and then another. The vampire stumbles and Clint gains enough time to go for his wooden knife.
“This was fun, but I have a friend to rescue,” Clint says. The vampire stares, her eyes wide, before something crashes into Clint and he stumbles.
“Jason!” The female vampire says.
“Go,” a deeper, male voice says. Clint gains his footing and turns around. In front of him is the largest, meanest looking vampire Clint has ever seen. He obviously Asian, and something about him feels very old.
“He’s strong,” the female says. “I lost my offering.”
“The Master will decide the extent of suffering,” the guy – Jason – says. “Now go.”
This time the female vampire runs. She turns into the mausoleum that stands in the centre of the graveyard. Clint wonders if she’s hiding.
“That’s right, you run!” he shouts after her. He spins the wooden knife and eyes Jason. The big vampire eyes him back.
“And what are you now?” Clint mocks, readying his knife. “A vampire who eats his wheaties?”
“You’re good,” Jason says, with the weight of a pronouncement. Clint ignores him and attacks, but the big vampire catches his lunge and throws him aside. “But I’m better.”
Clint shakes his head in an effort to clear it, and then rolls as Jason throws his fist into the space where Clint’s head had just been. The strength of the blow digs a hole in the ground and fractures the headstone Clint had been laying against.
Clint jumps onto another headstone and somersaults over Jason’s enormous bulk, landing behind him. He stabs the knife forward into the space where the vampire’s heart should be, but Jason spins, faster than Clint is expecting.
He backhands Clint, who goes flying head-over-heels. He crashes through a set of wooden doors, and slams into cold, hard concrete. Clint groans and looks around. He’s landed in the mausoleum. There is an empty stone coffin in the small stone structure. He gets to his feet and darts around it as Jason looms in the doorway.
Clint wishes desperately for his bow. Instead, he throws the knife. He never misses, but Jason swats it away. “Shit,” Clint says, and plucks the second knife from his boot. It’s a good thing Trickshot taught him to be prepared.
“You’re wasting time,” Jason says.
“Hey, I had plans too,” Clint says nervously. He leaps onto the stone coffin and jumps forward with both feet, catching Jason in the chest. The huge vampire staggers backwards, and Clint lunges forward with the knife.
Jason catches his hand in a powerful grip. He’s so strong, the wooden knife cracks. Clint winces as that immeasurable pressure tightens around his hand.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
Clint grunts and pivots, kicking Jason in the knee. He relaxes his grip and Clint backs away, but not before Jason backhands him into the wall. Clint throws up his hands and manages to take most of the blow, but he still cracks his head on the concrete.
“Like a plague of boils, the race of Man covered the earth. But on the third day of the newest light will come the Harvest, when the blood of men will flow as wine. The Master will belong to the Old Ones.”
Clint staggers, getting his feet back under him. Before he can attack, Jason picks up the lid of the stone coffin and throws it at him. Clint dodges, but the back of his knees catches the lip of the coffin. He falls, flailing, into the stone grave.
“Amen,” Jason intones. He jumps after Clint into the coffin.
Clint bites back a scream. He throws a punch at the vampire’s face. It’s only when Jason snarls and reels back, that Clint realizes he’s punched with the hand that’s wearing the ring the stranger gave him.
Jason’s face is red where the ring struck. Clint locks his elbow and pushes the ring into the vampire’s face, warding him back. Jason hisses and spits, but he leans away. Clint gets his feet under him, reading to spring, but Jason moves first.
He leaps straight up, out of the coffin. Clint watches as he clings to the ancient chandelier hanging from the ceiling before back-flipping away. There’s a scuffle of moment, and then the mausoleum is eerily still.
Clint waits for another heartbeat, sure that twelve vampires are going to appear any second, but nothing happens. The air stills. Clint groans and levers himself out of the stone coffin, pausing to stare at the rotting corpse with which he had briefly shared the small space.
“Peace,” Clint says, and hops out. He looks around the mausoleum.
It takes him a precious few seconds to remember Steve. As soon as he does, Clint starts running. He’s half-way through the graveyard when he hears a shout. He changes direction and sees Steve struggling with another vampire.
Clint does a flying tackle and pushes the vampire off his friend. Steve gasps for air, but he’s alive. Clint leaves him on the ground and attacks. The vampire is a weak fledgling, nothing compared to Jason’s immeasurable age. Clint’s lost his knife but he’s not defenceless – he backs the vampire towards a tree and then grabs it by the waist, hauling it up. The vampire’s back runs into the tree, and a thick branch pierces it like a hot knife through butter.
The vampire opens its mouth to scream, but bursts into ash instead.
Steve is still on the ground and Clint is turning to face him when he hears another scuffle. Tony is running towards them, another vampire hot on his heels.
Clint turns to the tree and breaks off a branch. He throws it just as the vampire hits Tony in the back. The genius bounces off a gravestone and hits the ground as the vampire explodes.
Clint rushes to his friends sides. Steve has fumbled an asthma inhaler out of his pocket and is taking deep, focused breaths. Tony is groaning.
“Uh… something hit me…”
“It’s the weight of stupidity,” Clint growls at him. “I thought I told you to wait inside!”
“You said Steve was in trouble,” Tony argues, shaking his head. He stumbles to his feet. Clint steadies him. Beside them, Steve is finally catching his breath. “I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.”
“Yes, that is exactly what you should have done! This isn’t your job, Tony, it’s mine. You almost got yourself killed!”
Tony squints at him. “What do you mean, it’s your job? What, are you some kind of vampire slayer?”
“Hey guys,” Steve says, and he sounds scared. He’s looking around. “Where’s Bucky?”
Clint drops his hands from where he’s been half-holding up Tony and looks around. The genius staggers, but Clint ignores him. Tony’s an idiot.
Clint looks around. The graveyard is still.
“Did you find him?”
Steve nods. “Yes – he was with some girl, but as I got closer she…” he swallows. “She changed, like the girl who tried to take me did. Bucky and I were running away when that one,” he gestures towards the pile of ash beside the tree, “jumped us. I don’t know what happened after.”
“Fuck,” Clint curses. He looks around again, but the graveyard is silent. Did he miss Bucky being taken when he was helping Steve? “I didn’t see him.”
Tony is staring at them. “So this is really happening, then?” he asks. Hysteria is creeping into the corner of his voice. “We were attacked by vampires this evening. Vampires tried to suck our blood, and this guy –” he points at Clint, “saved us. He, you know,” Tony waves a hand, “slayed them, or whatever.”
“Yes, Tony,” Clint bites out angrily, “because I’m a vampire slayer.”
“See, I know this is you trying to explain,” Tony says, “but it really sounds sarcastic. So, for the record, and I want this for posterity,” he points. “You’re a vampire slayer.”
Clint scowls, but manages a nod.
Tony gestures around the graveyard. “And those, those were vampires.”
Clint nods again.
Tony stops and rocks backward on his heels, tucking his hands into his designer jeans. “Okay, then. I just wanted to get that straight.”
“Can we focus?!” Steve shouts. “Bucky is missing!”
“I know,” Clint says. He takes a deep breath. “Something bad is going down – vampires don’t usually act like this. We need more information if we’re going to rescue Bucky.”
Tony stares at him. “And where are we going to get information on vampires?”
“From someone who watches them,” Clint says. He picks the direction of The Bronx and starts walking. “Come on.”
As always, THANK YOU to infiniteeight for the beta on this chapter and to Ralkana for the cheerleading.
Half an hour later Clint, Tony and Steve are sitting in the library while Fury pages through books. He’s given them the speech on vampires, the whole caboodle he hadn’t gone through with Clint. After a few points of clarification, Tony hadn’t protested. Steve is looking murderous, like he’d go after Bucky himself if he had a half a chance of getting him back alive.
He doesn’t, though, and Steve knows it. Clint tries to give him a smile. “We’ll find him,” he promises.
Steve squares his jaw and nods back.
“You have no idea where they took him?” Fury asks.
Clint shakes his head. “As soon as they got clear of the woods, they could have just – vroom!”
Tony startles. “They can fly?!”
Clint spears him with a look. “They can drive.”
Tony looks contrite for a second. “Oh, right.”
Steve’s face pinches in what Clint is already calling his thinky-look. “I didn’t hear a car…”
Fury folds his arms over his chest. “Vampires need to avoid the sunlight. They usually travel underground.”
Clint has to nod at that logic. “That would be the advantage of being in a city,” he says, “you could probably get anywhere in the sewer system, but I didn’t see an access point near us.”
“There are also electrical tunnels,” Steve points out. “They run under the entire town.”
Fury looks thoughtful. “There should be a book on the tunnel system in City Hall, we could –”
“Oh, please,” Tony says. He flips down his shades from where they are resting on his head and pulls out his phone.
Clint had noticed Tony’s phone before, but he hadn’t realize what it was until now.
“Holy shit, is that the new StarkPhone?”
Tony peers at him from over his shades. “Oh, fuck no. This is at least two versions better. JARVIS?” he asks.
Clint starts and looks around, but a voice from the phone says, “Yes, sir?”
Clint stares. The voice is deep and British-sounding. “Is that like Siri?”
Tony looks wounded. “JARVIS, we’ve just been insulted.”
“Yes, sir,” the voice sounds at once irritated, amused, and fond. “Shall I whimper in solidarity?”
“No time for your sass tonight, my friend. We need a map of the electrical tunnels and sewer system of Sunnydale.”
“Yes, sir,” the voice – JARVIS – says. “Shall I display it on your monitor, sir?”
“Nah, throw it up on the projector,” Tony says. He tips the phone so the tiny hole at the top, something Clint had thought was a headphone jack, is aimed at the nearest wall. The empty wall is suddenly filled with a full-colour picture of the city, with the streets of Sunnydale in grey, the electrical tunnels in blue, and the sewers in green.
“Oh, please,” Tony says, “This is nothing. Wait till I get the bugs out of my hologram tech.”
Fury ignores him and stalks forward. He traces the electrical system with one finger, slightly marring the projection. “There’s access here, near the school. We could go in there.”
Clint shakes his head. “That’ll take too much time. We have no idea where the nest is.”
Fury turns back to him, a slight frown on his face. “We’ll find him, Clint, but we need to be careful. You shouldn’t rush in just because you blame yourself.”
“You’re the one who told me I wasn’t prepared,” Clint shoots back. “Understatement! I fought off one vampire, but Jason –”
He stops. Fury stares at him.
“I fought her off and she ran into the mausoleum,” Clint says slowly, thinking back to the fight. “And then Jason threw me in, afterwards. When I got there, there was no sign of her. Jason kicked my ass and then vanished; when I ran outside after Steve, there was no sign of him. That has to be it. There has to be an entrance in the mausoleum!”
Tony stares at the projection and then pumps a fist into the air. “There is! Right here,” he points. “Here’s the graveyard; here’s the mausoleum, and – yes! There’s the entrance. It’s right there.”
Clint stares at it, then turns around and starts gathering his equipment. Fury had shown them the crate of stakes he’d hid behind the counter when he got out the vampire books.
“Um, what are you doing?” Tony asks.
“I’m going after them,” Clint says.
“With us as backup, right?”
“No.” Clint tests the weight of a stake and slips it into his boot. “I’m the Slayer, I slay vampires. You stay here – actually stay here, this time.”
“Bucky’s my friend,” Tony says. “I – Steve and I – we want to help too.”
“I need your help,” Fury says, before Clint can open his mouth. Fury nods towards Stark’s phone. “Get your friend JARVIS running and help me research what’s going on here. We can’t stop them unless we know what they’re doing.”
Steve is still sitting by the desk, but his jaw is clenched. “I want to help,” he says.
“You will,” Clint says, “by staying out of my way.” He nods to Fury and Tony. “Stay with them, keep them focused. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
He stands and looks at Tony. “Hey, Stark. Can I borrow your car?”
Tony takes his keys out of his pocket and throws them to Clint. “Sure,” he says, “why?”
“I left something at your place I’m going to need.”
Half an hour later, Clint is sneaking into the mausoleum armed to the hilt. He’s got Fury’s stake in his boot, two wooden knives at his back, and his bow strung and ready in his hands. His quiver is full of fire-hardened wooden arrows and Clint feels ready to take on the world.
The world doesn’t usually look like a rusted electrical tunnel grate tucked into the back of a mausoleum, though. Clint stares at it.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a key on you?” he asks out loud.
The figure in the corner of his vision smiles and steps out of the shadows. It’s the good looking man in the suit, still as perfectly un-rumpled as before.
“They really don’t like me dropping in,” he says.
“Why not?” Clint asks.
“They really don’t like me.”
Clint scowls. “How likely is that?”
The man smiles. “I knew you’d figure out this entrance sooner or later. To be honest, I thought it’d be a little sooner.”
“I’m sorry you had to wait. Listen, if you’re going to be popping up with this cryptic wise accountant act on a regular basis, could you at least tell me your name?”
Clint raises an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
Phil smiles. “Yes.”
Clint scowls. “You really do look like an accountant.”
“I always pay my taxes on time.”
“No you don’t.”
Phil smiles wider. “No, I don’t.”
Clint can’t help but grin. He ducks his head so it isn’t obvious, and turns back towards the grate.
“Don’t go down there,” Phil warns.
“I have to.”
“Tonight is the Harvest. You shouldn’t be putting yourself at risk. Unless you can prevent it, the Master walks.”
Clint grunts and kicks in the grate. It flies off its hinges and bounces off down the tunnel, echoes illuminating the structure as it goes.
“They’ll be expecting you,” Phil says.
“I’ve got a friend down there,” Clint explains. “Or, at least, a potential friend. Do you know what it’s like to have a friend?”
He pauses, and looks back when Phil stays silent. “That… wasn’t supposed to be a trick question.”
Phil’s jaw clenches, and his lips thin. “When you hit the tunnels, head east, toward the school. They’ll be in the second chamber to the right.”
Clint nods and steps forward. He ducks under the grate into the tunnel. “You gonna wish me luck?”
Phil is quiet behind him. It’s not until Clint has walked forward, feet sloshing a little in the pooled water, that he hears Phil whisper, “Good luck.”
Clint turns east when he hits the brick tunnels, and keeping an eye on the shadows. There’s a scurry of a rat eating something long dead, and Clint tiptoes around it, not wanting to create a disturbance.
“Do you see anything?”
Clint startles badly, flailing and slipping on the slimy brick. “Steve! What the hell?”
Steve is standing in the shadows, his tiny frame swallowed up by the darkness. Even knowing that he’s there, Clint can barely see him.
“I want to find Bucky,” he says, mulishly. “I came to help.”
“I know you want to help,” Clint says, “but now is not the time. Go away.”
Steve squares his jaw. “I’m not your kid brother – you don’t need to protect me. I am well aware I am putting myself at risk by doing this, but… ” his tough guy act falters. “It’s Bucky.”
Clint sighs. He doesn’t want to, but he understands. Not completely, he’s never had what Steve has, but he wouldn’t be able to leave if Trickshot or Barney were in trouble.
“Okay,” Clint says, already regretting it. “Stay behind me and say something if they try to flank us.”
Steve is actually a good sneaker. They walk carefully through the tunnels with minimal noise. Steve didn’t bring much with him, but he has a crossbow from Fury’s collection. Clint would sniff at the tech, but it’s probably most deadly in the hands of someone like Steve. The crossbow doesn’t need much force to fire, which is why it became so popular during the age of siege craft.
Clint notices the change first. He pauses. “They’re close.”
Steve’s voice is barely a breath. “How can you tell?”
Steve nods. “Now what?”
Clint moves forward carefully. They round another corner and then Clint stops – there’s a body in the water. Clint hears Steve catch his breath, because the body is obviously Bucky’s.
Just as Steve starts to rush towards him though, Bucky jumps up. He’s got a pipe in one hand and his eyes are wild. He almost strikes Steve over the head, but Clint catches his arm.
Bucky’s eyes focus, and they land on Clint. He stares. “Wha-?” His gaze slides to Steve. “Steve! What happened?”
Steve catches him around the waist in a death-grip hug. “Bucky! Are you okay?”
Bucky shakes his head, spraying slimy water everywhere. “I am miles away from okay, little soldier. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“This way,” Steve tugs his arm, but Bucky stops him. He raises a the foot that’s been hidden by the water, and Clint can see the length of chain attached to it.
“No good, buddy. They stuck me here as bait.”
“No problem,” Steve says, “Clint’s a superhero.”
Bucky looks over at him, confused. “A what?”
Clint rolls his eyes, but he takes the pipe. “If you’ll allow me,” he says, and then smashes the lock on Bucky’s shackles. The noise bounces off the brick walls, but the chain falls away.
“Oh, thank fuck,” Bucky says. He rubs his ankle, then makes a face when his hand comes back wet with slime. “We’ve got to get out of here. They knew you were coming.”
Clint listens. Sure enough, he can hear movement in the darkness. Something far away starts to roar. Like in his dream, Clint thinks, and he shudders.
“This way,” Bucky says, pointing down a third corridor. It’s left, the opposite direction Phil told him to take, so Clint agrees it must be the way out. “Come on!”
Bucky takes off down the tunnel, and Steve follows him. Clint hurries after them both, guarding their backs. The shouts from the tunnel are growing louder.
They reach a fork, and Bucky looks around. “Uh, they brought me through here, it must be – yes! This way!” He takes off.
Clint and Steve follow. Bucky leads them through another set of tunnels, and then dashes right. Steve is hot on his tail. Clint follows them, too fast, realizing only after he turns the corner that they are in a room with no exit. Clint looks around – the three walls are solid brick, and the roar of approaching vampires is getting closer.
“What do we do?” Steve shouts.
“I have an idea,” Bucky says. Steve and Clint turn to face him.
Bucky’s face shifts. The handsome jaw and strong chin merge into the gruesome visage of a vampire.
“You could die.”
Aaaaand were done! Here is chapter five, the last installment of Season 1 Episode 1. Episodes 2 and 3 have already been written and need to be beta'd, while Season 2 is complete in my head but needs to be typed up. Plus I've got First Impressions and another massive AU I'm working on. *sigh* It's like I've got AU fever!!
This chapter (and First Impressions) are going up early because I spend next week in an office where they only use mac's, and despite my best efforts I get all kinds of cross-culture mistakes showing up on my formatting. Grrr.
(you get it now at noon EST because the baby is asleep and that is when ALL CREATIVE EFFORTS TAKE PLACE)
Thank you all for the lovely comments!! I'm sorry to have kept you on tenderhooks! (no I'm not). Again, AMAZING and EVERLASTING thanks to Ralkana for the encouragement and Infiniteeight for the beta!
Clint and Steve stare. Steve breaks the silence first.
“Bucky. Oh, Bucky… I’m so sorry.”
Bucky – the thing that was Bucky – grins. “Sorry? Why would you be sorry, Steve? I feel good. Stronger. Faster. I’m connected to everything, man. I can hear the worms in the earth. Do you know what they sound like, Steve? What they feel?” His grin widens. “They’re hungry.”
Clint can’t ignore the newly turned vampire in front of them, but he can’t pretend the horde approaching doesn’t exist, either. He plucks an arrow from his quiver and runs to the corridor. “Steve!” he shouts. “The crossbow!”
Steve lifts the crossbow, and Bucky hisses. Clint turns back to see Steve’s first shot go wide. Bucky has dodged, which means Clint has a clean shot.
He shoots, but Bucky’s fast. He moves and the arrow catches him in the shoulder. Bucky snarls at him, and leaps.
Clint ducts instinctively, but the expected impact never comes. Instead, Bucky is hanging from the ceiling, from a vent Clint hadn’t seen. It’s high and slimy, almost hidden among the brickwork.
Bucky hangs from the grate for a second, before pulling it off and flinging it down. He aims at Steve, who jumps clear at the last second. Clint pulls a second arrow, but Bucky is in the vent and gone before he can fire.
“I’m going after him!” Steve shouts.
The vampires are getting closer. Clint ducks around the corner and fires twice in rapid succession. He’s back behind cover before he can see what happened, but the roar of the approaching vampires quiets for a second.
“How?” Clint asks.
Steve looks around the room. He spots a box in the corner and drags it over. Even standing on top of it, his jump doesn’t quite reach the vent.
“Clint! Help me!”
Clint hesitates. He ducks around the corner and fires three more arrows, waiting this time to make sure two are kill shots. The vampires explode and the horde stops, vampires scattering as they rush to hide in side-tunnels.
Clint throws his bow over his head and leaps towards Steve. He grabs the lightweight in his arms, hops onto the box, and jumps.
At the top of his arc, Clint throws Steve. The little guy goes shooting upwards, and for a second Clint’s sure he’s going to fall straight back down, or get caught by Bucky. But Steve manages to scramble a hand into a hold Clint can’t see, and then he’s stable, hanging from his hands, as Clint falls back down to the box.
“Clint!” he shouts.
Clint pulls a glass bottle filled with holy water from his pocket and dashes to the corner. He whips it into the tunnel and hears the glass break. A vampire screams, the high pitched sound of someone in pain, and Clint grins. He runs back to the box and looks – Steve has managed to scramble onto some kind of ledge, and his arms are out, waiting for Clint.
“Jump!” Steve shouts.
Clint launches himself upwards and catches Steve’s outstretched hand. Steve holds him for the quarter-second it takes for Clint to brace himself against the vent walls, legs scissoring out to support himself.
Beneath them, the vampires charge into the room. Steve scrambles backwards and Clint shimmies up, legs braced against the vent as Steve pulls him forward.
The vampires are growling now. Faces appear beneath the vent. Clint remembers the way Bucky leapt, and hurries out of the way. He follows Steve into the side tunnel he’s found, and the two of them move as quickly as they can.
It doesn’t take long to find another grate to the surface, and they’re popping out onto the green of the graveyard before the first vampire reaches them. Clint pushes Steve up and into the open air, and then leaps after him. He throws the grate back down over the tunnel, then waits, bow drawn.
No vampires follow them.
Steve is gasping for air but he’s still on his feet. Clint waits another beat, but nothing happens. The sounds from underground gradually fade away.
It takes him until then to realise the air is warm around them. The sun is up, just peaking over the hills. Clint lowers his bow with a sigh.
“We’re safe for now,” Clint says. He pulls his de-stringer from his pocket and carefully unstrings his bow, packing it away into the case on his back.
Steve is looking around the graveyard, eyes searching the shadows. “I don’t see Bucky anywhere.”
“He probably saw the sunlight and went another way down the tunnel.” Clint hesitates. “Steve – I’m sorry, man.”
Steve doesn’t turn around. His voice is heavy. “So am I.”
It takes time to trudge back to the car. Clint drives slowly to the high school, parking in Tony’s usual place. Around them teachers are pulling up, notes in hand. Clint sees a few of them give him and Steve a strange look, but he ignores them. They head to the library.
Fury and Tony are waiting.
“Did you find Bucky?” Tony asks, jumping out of his seat.
Steve kicks an empty trashcan and sends it flying.
“Oh,” Tony says. He sits back down.
“I’m sorry, Tony,” Clint says. He sits beside his friend. “We were too late – they’d already turned him.”
He sees Tony swallow. “He’s a vampire now?”
Clint nods. They both look at Steve, who’s breathing heavily by the upturned garbage can.
“I don’t like vampires,” Steve says. “I’m going to take a stand and say they’re not good.”
They sit in heavy silence for a moment, and then Clint turns to Fury. “You got anything that can make this day better?”
Fury sighs and rubs a hand over his one eye. He looks tired. “Maybe. Stark and I – and JARVIS – combed through the records last night. It seems there was a string of suspicious events here about seventy years ago – murders, a rash of killings, and then an earthquake. We found a few articles that suggest a very old, very powerful vampire came to Sunnydale during that time. He wanted to open the Hellmouth and make a portal from this reality to the next.”
Tony jumps into Fury’s pause. “Only he failed. And not a little, tiny fail – like a big, giant, epic fail. He blew the summonings and trashed the whole town, and the earthquake? That was him, burying himself, his minions, and half of Sunnydale under a shit ton of rock.”
Instead of looking upset at the interruption, Fury nods. “Opening a portal is a tricky business. Chances are he got himself stuck.”
“Like a cork in a bottle,” Tony adds.
“And this Harvest is to get him out?” Steve asks.
Fury taps one of his vampire books. “This is a mystical night, for a vampire mage. The master vampire can draw power from one of his minions while it feeds. If the minion can take enough human blood, the master vampire might have the strength to break himself free.”
“'Unless you can prevent it, the Master walks’,” Clint quotes under his breath.
Fury taps his book. “The minion is called The Vessel. He bears this symbol.”
Clint looks over to where Fury is pointing. The text is open to a page that shows one vampire kneeling before another, a three pointed star on its forehead.
“So, I dust anyone wearing this symbol. Got it. Any clue where this shindig is going down?”
Fury leans back and crosses his arms. “There are a number of possibilities…”
“They’ll go The Bronx.”
Everyone turns to look at Steve. The little guy smiles, a tight lipped expression. “Come on? Tasty young morsels all over the place – who could resist? Besides, that’s where Bucky’ll be.”
Clint stares at him. After a moment, he nods. “If you’re sure.”
“Then we’ll be ready.”
They break for a couple of hours to get food and rest. Tony drives himself and Clint home, and Fury promises to make their excuses to Principal Sitwell. It doesn’t look good that Clint is skipping school on his second day of class, but he doesn’t feel like sitting around and letting the world come to an end.
If Sitwell knew, he’d understand.
Tony offers to drive Steve home, but he won’t go. He wants to go to the hospital first, to get some supplies from his mom and say his good-byes. All of them know this is going to be the biggest fight of their lives. Clint is, at least, ready for this – he has the power and the responsibility. Tony and Steve are in this because it’s the right thing to do, and because they want revenge.
Steve’s face has been cold and hard all morning, but Clint knows the reality of Bucky’s new life hasn’t yet sunk in. It probably won’t for a while.
At Tony’s, they sleep. Clint doesn’t think he’d be able to, but as soon as his head hits the pillow he’s out like a light. Tony’s likewise. They both wake around three o’clock, shower, and change. Tony lets Clint borrow some more clothes, and he chooses things he can move in.
Tony’s still in his room when Clint’s ready. He knocks on Tony’s door and finds the other man standing by his dresser, staring at something in his hands
“Tony?” Clint asks.
Tony looks over and gives him a brief smile. “Hey,” he says. It’s enough of an invitation for Clint to walk over.
Tony lifts his palm and shows Clint what he’s been staring at. It’s a thin silver cross, small, like something a woman would wear. It’s suspended on a silver chain.
“It’s beautiful,” Clint says truthfully.
Tony nods, still staring at the cross. “It was my mother’s.”
Clint doesn’t say anything. After a moment Tony undoes the chain and slips the necklace over his head. The cross sits just below his shirt, barely visible.
“What do you think?”
Clint smiles. “I think it looks good. Very badass.”
Tony grins. “Fucking right it is.”
They both sober and take a deep breath.
“So, this is it, huh?” Tony says.
Clint wants to lie, but he can’t. He nods instead. “Yup.”
Unexpectedly, Tony sticks out his hand. “If anything happens to either of us tonight, I just want you to know – I’m glad I met you, Clint.”
Clint stares at Tony. “I’m about to maybe get you killed.”
Tony shrugs. “Sounds like I’d maybe be getting killed tonight no matter what – if you weren’t here, I’d go so far as to say I’d definitely be killed. This isn’t about that. This is about you being pretty cool. I just thought you should know.”
Clint waits a second, but Tony’s obviously not kidding. Clint gives him a shy smile and shakes his hand. “Thank, man. You too.”
“I’m still waiting for that passing mark in geography, by the way,” Tony points out with a grin. “Don’t think a little Armageddon is going to get you out of our arrangement.”
Clint laughs and shoves at Tony’s shoulder. “You are such an asshole.”
Tony shoves him back, and they wrestle for a moment until Clint exerts a little too much force.
“Ow, ow! Uncle!”
Tony gives Clint the keys to the car and tells him to get it running while he does something in the kitchen. When he comes back to the garage, he shrugs at Clint’s questioning look.
“Just a little something for the servants, in case I don’t make. My dad’ll fire them if something happens to me, even if it isn’t their fault. If we survive, I’ll remove the evidence – no big.”
Clint drives them back to the school where they meet up with Fury and Steve. He hopes Steve’s gotten at least a few hours of sleep, but he’s not sure. The little guy is fired with purpose, but there’s a haunted look in his eye. Clint promises himself he’ll keep an eye on him during the fight.
Fury loads them up with weapons and Clint’s already got his bow. They pile into Tony’s car and drive to The Bronx. By the time they arrive, the sun is going down. Clint thinks they’ve beaten the vampires to the bar, but a scream from inside proves him wrong.
Clint runs to the front door, but it’s locked. He gives it a running kick, but it’s a fire door, heavy steel, and something big is blocking it.
“I can’t break it – Tony, you and JARVIS find a back entrance. Steve and Fury, go with him.”
Tony and Steve take off, but Fury pauses to give Clint a look. “Be careful.”
Clint salutes, which makes Fury roll his eyes. Well, eye. He turns and heads after the boys.
Clint surveys The Bronx and spots the window on the second floor. Grinning to himself, he throws his bow over his head and climbs the building to the second floor. The window opens easily, and Clint slips noiselessly in.
It’s crowded inside. Clint can hear frightened murmurs, but it’s overtaken by the roaring of a vampire horde. He creeps to the edge of the steel-wire railing, peering over the edge.
Jason is standing in the centre of the stage, one body already at his feet. Clint recognizes the bouncer from the other night and winces. Poor guy, he probably never had a chance.
“Another!” Jason shouts. He’s got the three pointed star on his forehead. At his side, the brunette in the cat suit is grinning.
Clint looks, but he can’t see Tony or Steve. He reaches behind his shoulder for a quiver, silently fitting an arrow to his string. On the stage, one of the lackey vampires strides forward, a human boy in his grip.
“Here’s a pretty one!”
Clint can see from this angle that it’s Bruce. The kid’s eyes are wide and terrified, but his shoulders are set. Clint draws back on his bow.
Something behind him crashes. Clint resists the urge to look behind him, firing the arrow at the centre of Jason’s chest. It’s too late – the vampire looks up at the crash. In a blur of movement too fast to follow, he grabs a lackey vampire and throws him in the path of the arrow.
The wooden head pierces the vampire’s chest, and he bursts into ash.
Clint turns around, hand already reaching for another arrow. There’s a vampire on the balcony with him, and it takes him a second to recognize Bucky’s distorted face.
“Clint,” he says, with a smile. “I’m so glad we got the chance to meet again.”
Clint doesn’t give him the satisfaction of responding, just fires the arrow at Bucky’s heart. The vampire dodges it with superhuman speed, and then he’s roaring and running at Clint.
Clint jumps backwards to perch on the steel railing, then back-flips off the second story to land on a pool table below.
“I’m sorry – am I interrupting?”
“Get him!” Jason roars.
Clint reaches for his quiver and starts to fire. He kills four vampires in rapid succession before the horde gets too close. Clint abandons his bow to go for his knife.
People are screaming; the terrified residents of Sunnydale scatter. The Bronx is a mass of moving bodies, but Clint spares a second to search for his friends. In the medley, he can see Stark and Fury, each wielding stakes. Steve is no where to be found.
Clint curses himself for losing Steve, but he doesn’t have long to worry before Jason is on him with a roar. The giant vampire comes at him swinging, and Clint leaps over him, landing on the stage.
“Alright, big boy – you want blood? Come get some.”
“Yours,” Jason grins. “Only yours.”
He lunges, and Clint dodges the hit. He knows by now how Jason moves – the big vampire is strong and liquid quick, but he’s jacked up on power and overconfident. Clint concentrates on dodging, luring Jason away from the crowd. It’s thinning now, as people escape the building, but it’s still too crowded for Clint to move freely.
In the shadows, Clint can see Fury struggling with the vampire in the cat suit. She hisses at him and he lunges at her, but she’s too fast. She goes for his neck, but then leaps back, roaring. A large burn appears on her face, and Clint can see Tony there, holding a bottle filled with holy water.
Jason hits him in the stomach, and Clint abruptly realizes he’s gotten distracted from his own fight. He staggers but manages to keep his feet. In a superhuman flash, Jason is there – right in front of him. Clint tries to go for his heart with the wooden knife, but Jason catches him in a bear hug and starts crushing the life out of him.
Clint struggles, but it’s in vain. He can’t break free. On the second floor, he finally catches a glimpse of Steve – the little guy’s got Bucky cornered upstairs. It looks like Steve is trying to talk to him, but Bucky’s laughing in his face. Steve’s jaw clenches, and then he pulls out his stake.
Clint wants to watch more, but Jason forces his head to the side. He bends down, and takes a long inhale of Clint’s scent.
“Master,” Jason says, “taste of this and be free!”
Clint whips his head forwards into Jason’s face. The old vampire cries out in pain. His grip looses, and Clint struggles free. He stabs Jason in the stomach with the wooden knife, and the vampire buckles.
It’s not a kill shot, but it obviously hurts like hell.
“How’d it taste?” Clint mocks.
Jason growls and jumps for him. Clint dodges his attack, and the power of Jason’s stride pushes him past Clint. He stumbles to a halt a few steps away. If far enough that Clint has time to grab his bow from around his neck and fit an arrow to the string.
“Shows over,” Clint says. He fires.
Jason screams, but he doesn’t have time to dodge. Clint doesn’t miss. The arrow pierces the vampire’s heart. Jason takes one, shaking step, and then he falls forward onto his face. Before he can hit the ground, he explodes.
Clint wants to drop his guard and collapse, but he can’t. He fits another arrow and looks to the second floor. Bucky is gone, but Steve is at the window, looking out. It’s obvious by the tension in his shoulders that Bucky is still alive, and has gotten away.
There are other vampires, though, and Clint takes out three before they cotton on to the fact that Jason is dead. They start running, and Clint chases them to the door of the bar. He sees the brunette in the cat suit dart behind a car and get away, still clutching at her face, but he takes out the other stragglers he can see.
“That’s right!” Clint shouts at the retreating horde, no longer able to tell who’s a vampire and who’s a victim still fleeing the scene. “You run! Tell the Master, there’s a new Slayer in town!”
Finally, The Bronx is quiet. Clint relaxes his bow and staggers. Tony's there to catch him.
“Wow,” the genius says. He lowers Clint to the floor, and follows him down. He sounds exhausted. “That was monumentally un-cool. But, hey,” he lifts a hand and waggles it in front of Clint’s face. “We survived! High-five!”
Clint grins, but gives lifts his hand and connects. He sprawls on Tony’s lap as Fury and Steve both limp into view. Steve looks sad, angry, and pissed all at once. His tiny shoulders are shaking.
“Bucky got away,” he says. Tony makes a sad noise and lifts his arm, the one not currently holding Clint in place. Steve resists for a quarter-second, then visibly gives in. His shoulders slump and he falls forward, catching himself on Tony’s hand and collapsing into his side. Clint throws an arm around him, and the three of them sit on the sticky floor of the Bronx, catching their breath.
“That’s disgusting,” Fury says with a smile in his voice. “Teenagers have spilled drinks on this floor.”
Clint flips him the bird, and Tony grins. Steve starts to laugh, but it turns into a sob. The other two comfort him, even when he starts to cry. Fury sits on the nearest chair and watches the door with his one eye, giving them space.
They stay that way for a long time.
School the next day is surreal. Students are going about their business, griping about classes, and the fight at The Bronx isn’t even the biggest news of the day. The story has circulated that it was rival gangs, and no one who knows better is talking.
Tony watches it all with jaw-dropping disbelief.
Clint grins at him. “Well, what were you expecting?”
“I don’t know!” Tony throws up his hands. “The dead rose! I was thinking we’d at least have an assembly.”
“People rationalize what they can’t understand,” Fury rumbles. He’s standing behind them on the school steps, watching the crowds ebb and flow. “They forget what they can’t.”
“Well I’m not going to forget,” Steve says. His little face is tight.
“Me neither,” Tony says. He throws an arm around Clint and another around Steve. “Next time, we’ll be more prepared.”
Fury cocks an eyebrow. “Next time?”
Tony throws him a grin. “Sure! We stopped the Master from freeing himself and opening a portal to hell, but my money’s on him trying again. I’d say this is just beginning.”
Clint groans and rolls his shoulders. He thinks for a moment of Canada, of Montreal. “More vampires?”
Fury can obviously see him thinking, because he grins. “Vampires, witches, mummies, demons – the world is bigger and scarier than you’ve ever believed. Sunnydale stands at the centre of a mystical convergence. We may be the last defence between earth and total destruction.”
Clint thinks about it. He looks at Tony and Steve, and then back at Fury. He gives the watcher a sideways grin. “Guess I’m sticking around.”
“Sticking around?” Tony exclaims. “Of course you are! I’ve finally got a housemate – I’m not giving that up!”
Steve gives them both a small smile. “I’ve got people I care about here. I’m not leaving.”
Clint grins at them both, before he groans. “Aw, shit. If I’m staying, I’ll have to finish high school.”
“It’s not that bad,” Steve says. “I’ll help you study for history.”
“History you can have,” Tony bargains, “but I’m keeping him for geography.”
“I’ll take geography if I can give up English. English is the devil.”
“It’s kind of an important subject, Clint.”
“I can speak it, isn’t that good enough for anyone around here?”
“It’s not good enough for your SATs.”
Clint shudders. “SATs. Ugh. Give me vampires any day.”
They turn and head up the steps to the school. Fury watches them go, and Clint doesn’t have to look back to know that he’s smiling.
“The earth is doomed,” he hears Fury say.