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He was standing on one side of the glass, and he couldn't feel embarrassed enough to stop the sobs that shook his body. Phil had told him -- everyone cries, but Clint had underestimated what it would be like. How it would make him feel.

Like a child, he didn't think it would hurt the way it did.

Ezra was on the other side and her wings kept blowing out, smacking the glass too hard, forcing her to stumble back. Clint couldn't touch her, he couldn't reach her. He couldn't hold her or make it right. And he knew that they would be different down to the things that had made them up from the very beginning. He knew their memories would never be the same, and that they could not be what they were.

It was supposed to make him stronger, but all he could do was cry. In that moment, he didn't feel like Hawkeye. He didn't feel like this was some kind of advancement he'd earned, the way Fury had talked it up. He slipped down the length of the glass and he asked what he'd done to deserve this. But he knew. He's made his choice.

They had made this choice.

"Fight or flight," Ezra had whispered to him days before.

That day, they chose to fight.

 

 

 

He and Ezra have to control themselves around other people and their daemons. Clint spent so much time in the circus brushing up against the elephants and horses, the daemons of other performers. Now, the taboo is strange. He remembers lifting a spitting cat from the steps of his trailer, tossing her out into the night at her drunken partner, and laughing about it in the morning. He scrubbed Elsa, a grey, beautiful elephant, for his first two years in the circus, her partner Hal never too far away.

"She likes it right there, under the belly," and Clint would get sprayed with water and duck her massive feet. He remembers the day she died, how she fell and cracked her head and she went so slow that Hal choked on Dust for hours, until he finally called for Clint and asked him to put them both of their misery.

He'll remember it forever, the way the circus was a blessing and a curse, both easy and hard for them all. He'll remember that leaving was bittersweet, that leaving meant SHIELD, and SHIELD meant that glass box where no one could hear him scream as they punched holes between the thrumming, live-wire connection between himself and Ezra. But it was worth it, in the end. It was all worth it.

"It was all worth it, wasn't it?" He reaches out and touches the back of his daemon, stroking against her plumage and she shivers against him, curled up on the pillow by his head and taps her beak to his forehead.

"Of course it was, don't be stupid."

"I love you." Clint reaches out and folds her into his arms, closes his eyes tight and is weak the only way he can be in front of her.

"I know."

"Don't be like that," he mutters, and she chuckles against him, craning her neck to peck at his nose.

"And I love you, Clinton Francis. Now go to sleep. Birds need their rest."

 

 

 

Clint decides that he's going to divide this year, and this year only, into Pre-Loki and Post-Loki.

His shrink thinks it's a great idea.

Ezra, as usual, thinks he's stupid.

"You're stupid," she mutters, and Clint just shrugs and goes back to eyeing down the range, scoping out the target while she flies uselessly overhead. "You're not proving anything to anyone."

"Not even you," Clint calls out, and Ezra flies across the room just to prove she can. "Whatever," he mutters. "I don't know why you're getting so huffy. It's a coping mechanism."

"Like spending eight hours in the range?" Ezra snaps back. Clint scowls at her. She flies further away.

"Don't," he warns, voice lower, now. She shifts uncomfortably. They do this, sometimes. They play with the separation. "Ez, please. Please, I'm sorry. Come back, just--"

The door to the range swings open and Steve is there, in bulk, with his mastiff daemon, her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth. "Clint, there's dinner I guess in the...in..." Clint closes his eyes tight and knows where Steve is looking. "How is she all the way over there? It's so far, it's..."

"Training," Clint mumbles, and Ezra is back on his shoulder so fast it's like she never left. "Just figuring out what we can tolerate."

The range is long. Longer than the tolerable length between most people and their daemons can manage.

Most.

"Clint--"

"Said somethin' about dinner, yeah?" And he's grinning now, of course he's grinning, and Ezra squawks happily on his shoulder and Steve doesn't say anything about it. Not a single world.

 

 

 

Clint dreams about it, in vivid, painful detail.

In his dream, Phil smiles thinly, gripping the fur of his ocelot daemon -- Penelope was her name -- and refusing to look Clint in the eyes. "It's a very simple procedure," he says, and Clint feels Ezra's talons dig into his shoulder. "It's not like the old experiments. The process has been tested hundreds of times." Phil keeps a tight hold on his daemon and Clint wonders what it feels like, for just a second. He's so sure he's going to say no. "If you don't agree, then we can unfortunately not keep you on, Agent Barton."

"What?"

Phil looks up quickly. "You understand, I'm sure. If you cannot agree to the terms, then we'll have to look elsewhere for someone with your...skillset."

Clint growls. "This is bullshit. You can't...you can't cut her out of me, that's not--"

"She'll never be away from you. She'll simply be able to travel further."

"But what about the connection, what about--"

"It remains. It's not a complete cut. It's..." Phil nods, as if coming to terms with his own analogy. "It's more of a puncturing. Like punching holes."

That doesn't make Clint feel any better about it.

"Phil--"

"Clint." The sound of his name being spoken so sharply brings Clint lurching forward and Ezra flutters into his lap. "You either do this, or I have to escort you off the base. You aren't welcome back. You won't be protected. And that's it."

Sometimes in his dreams, Clint says no. Other times, he says nothing.

Other times, it happens exactly as it did, and he wakes up screaming.

 

 

 

Two weeks after Steve saw Ezra so far away, he comes into the library where Clint's reading and sits across from him. Ezra is perched high in the ceiling.

"How does she do that?"

"Magic," Clint says without looking up.

Steve grits his teeth. "Clint."

"Jesus, Steve." Clint shuts the book and tosses it away, scrubbing his hands over his face. Ezra is by him in a second, nipping his ear affectionately. "It's...you should ask Ph--" He stops himself. Dead or alive, Phil isn't here. Phil can't be his default go-to guy for the questions he's too lazy to answer. And Maria hasn't been around in weeks. He's not stupid enough to think one doesn't have to do with the other. "It happens to all of us. The assets. The field agents. They..." Phil's words come back to it. "Think of it as a puncturing," he says quietly, reaching out to let Ezra step into his palm. "Like punching holes," he repeats.

When he finally lifts his head, Steve looks like he's going to be sick. His daemon, a bull mastiff, looks like she wants to cry.

(Clint thinks her name is Rebecca, and he wants to tell Steve that his brother Barney's daemon was (is) named Rachel, and she was (is) a dog and sometimes Steve makes him think of his brother and sometimes he doesn't make him think of anything at all --)

"--believe they'd do that."

"Huh?"

Steve gets up quickly, looking angry, looking ill, looking anywhere but at Clint. And Clint thinks he's going to ask the question everyone asks, Why would you do that to yourself?

He's asked himself the same question a hundred times. Why? Why is such a good question, but Clint has never had an answer. It's always just been the way it is.

But all Steve says is: "Don't tell Tony."

Clint makes a face, and he thinks he might be sick himself.

Everyone knows what Tony would think.

 

 

 

When Clint first met Stark, he thought he'd have a daemon like his father had. Howard Stark's daemon was a leopard, and she was beautiful and her name was Igrette and no one thought that it should have been any other way.

Tony Stark's daemon is a dirty looking tabby that takes naps in the sun and has a brutal hiss. Her name is Margaret, but Tony calls her Mags.

She doesn't trust Clint, not even a little tiny bit. And Clint isn't surprised. Tony doesn't trust him.

When they're around him, Clint and Ezra stay close, because they both know what it would be like if Tony knew that SHIELD had punched holes in Clint's soul, in Phil's and Maria's and Natasha's. They both know, because once Thor called Tony's daemon a pet and it was like someone had dropped a nuke in the living room.

"You think he's crazy?"

Clint poses the question to Natasha, his legs dangling off the counter, Ezra and Natasha's fox daemon, Osip, playing in the sink.

"That's rude, Clinton." She hands him a couple of plates. "Set the table."

"Okay, but, like, honestly. Is he nuts?"

Natasha sighs and starts cubing watermelon for a salad. Every so often, they have time together and they cook and eat and cling to normalcy. Tonight they'll go see a stupid movie and in the morning Natasha has to be in Belfast. Clint's still grounded, still seeing his shrink.

"He's eccentric. It's comes with the billionaire territory. And, most likely, being a Stark. I've talked to Steve about it. Tony reminds him of Howard in small ways. He says it's a relief and a torture." She sounds like she's reading from a card, a canned answer to get Clint off the subject.

"Steve knows about me and Ezra."

Natasha's knife pauses. The daemons hop out of the sink and retreat to their respective humans. "How?"

"He saw us, in the range. She kept flying away, we were having a spat, it was stupid--"

"Don't let him tell Tony."

Clint groans and collapses into a chair. "He told me that first! And I know not to tell Stark and since when is it Tony with everyone, good fuckin' grief--"

"He calls you--"

"Jethro." Clint grits his teeth. "Stark calls me Jethro."

 

 

 

A long time ago, Clint met a girl and fell in love.

(A long time ago, Clint and his brother and their daemons were walking and walking and when the circus took them in, it was like falling in love with life all over again. He remembers Hal, Hal with Elsa, the elephant daemon, telling him that families could be chosen, could be made and patched together. They could look strange and fractured, but sometimes that's just the way life made them.)

A long time ago, Clint stood in a glass box and they ripped the fabric between himself and his daemon to unrecognizable shreds and left them alone to rebuild it the only way they could.

A long time ago was an awfully long time ago.

 

 

 

Steve keeps saying, Don't tell Tony.

It isn't Clint's fault that Tony is as much of a cat as his daemon is. That they are as silent as they are explosive. That Clint is lost in blue memories and someone telling him that if he would just let go, if he could just make room in his heart for a cage and Ezra is flying so high above him, her own mind lost in the weightlessness of the freedom they had when they were His. When He had them in His hands and sometimes they were crushing and sometimes they loved and Clint doesn't know anymore. He just doesn't--

"How does she do that?"

Clint turns around from his spot on the roof to see Tony, his daemon curled between his legs, eyes steely-grey and watching Ezra while Tony watches Clint. Ezra flies back down to his shoulder and stares back at Mags, doesn't lift her gaze for a second.

"Do what?"

Tony laughs. "You're too clever to play stupid with me, Barton. How does she go so far?"

"Always been able to do that."

"You're a bad liar, too."

Clint tries to move off the roof, brushes past Tony and stumbles his way down the stairs. He can't go to Natasha, the only person in the building who will ever understand. He can't go to Maria, who is gone, to Phil who is dead and un-dead. His shrink has never had her daemon torn away, she is kind and Clint enjoys her voice and their time and the smell of coconut in her office -- but she's never been able to get into That Part of his head. The one that remembers every second, every scream, every earth-shattering sob --

So Clint just goes.

 

 

 

He gets a call from Steve sometime around the second day, and it's just a message that he doesn't listen to for another three, sitting in the desperate darkness of a motel in Gary, Indiana.

Bruce came back from some kind of trip, Thor should be here soon. You should come back. Come back home.

Clint wants to call him back and tell him that SHIELD was his home and then they stopped loving him, the second he lost his control to a deranged, genocidal asshole and he does not want to see Thor or Bruce or anyone because they are not his family, not his--

They are not his.

His people have died or vanished. Phil was his people. Phil was like him. And then Phil was gone. A good friend, taken in the dark. By death or by secrets, Clint's got no fucking clue anymore.

Natasha is all that's left, sometimes, and she hasn't been home -- no, the city, she hasn't been in the city for months.

Clint thinks about a girl.

A woman.

He thinks about her, and how they were together and then they were not and she had known him before and after they had carved holes between himself and his daemon. But he only knew her in her own After. Mockingbird.

Clint gets on his computer and Ezra's feathers are stiff against his neck.

"She doesn't love us that way. Not anymore."

Clint grits his teeth against the cold in the room.

"It's all that's left, Ez."

 

 

 

That's a lie, really. Barney is left, but Clint couldn't find Barney when he wanted him, and he shouldn't find Barney now because he isn't sure they would both survive it. Clint's brother was Love and Life and Everything -- and now he's a ghost. Living, free, and haunting.

So Clint goes after Bobbi.

 

 

 

They met in training. She was his teacher.

No, it's not like that.

(that memory is a false one)

She's a mentor? Does that fit into his memory of her? She was (is) two years younger than him, and she had (has) a bird daemon, too. A blue bunting she called (calls) Pi.

You're not much for rules, are you?

Clint had looked at her and felt like he could fly and she kissed him first. He'll always remember that.

 

 

 

"Dr. Morse is in her office."

"Doctor Morse." Clint grins around the words. He remembers it was what she wanted. It was why she transferred to a different division of SHIELD.

He wonders if she regrets what they did to Pi. She was a perfect agent, a perfect spy. They blended seamlessly into the lives of strangers, into Clint's life. So much that when she left, he was still cutting her out of the hems of his memories. He never did quite get her loose.

He knocks on her door. They had a mission in San Diego. She loved San Diego. She told him that when she left, asked him to go with her, and Clint could not.

They had fallen out of.

Out of love.

No.

(no that's not it)

 

 

 

Bobbi is just what he remembers, maybe a little older like him, her hair in a long braid swinging down her back.

Once he braided her hair and she told him she loved him.

"Clint." She says his name like he's stolen something from her, and maybe he has. "Oh my god, Clint." And he suddenly has his arms full of her and Pi is singing in circles above them, his voice high and beautiful and she presses her lips to his cheek and he feels her face wet with tears. "Maria told me something had happened, I wanted to go, I wanted to see you, but there was...we've got these alien parts and there's so much work we've been doing, I--"

Clint kisses her.

 

 

 

A long time ago, Clint was allowed to hold Pi in his hands, and he remembers what that had felt like. Now, their daemons are the only ones who touch, and even that feels like it did. Bobbi has a leg between his and she's telling him about everything they're doing, all the work that the attack gave them, what it was like being so far away, so helpless.

"I saw you," she says, and she sounds so young again, giddy and nineteen, like they were. "I saw you on the news. You were beautiful."

 

 

 

In her kitchen, they kiss and they meet and fold into one another like they used to. They make love and she gives him a haircut. He cooks for her and tells her stories about the Avengers, what little ones he has. She listens, chin in hand, and they reach out and touch each other's daemons and it's like it was. However briefly.

I am glad to have this with you.

He doesn't say that.

"You're going back," she says quietly, and Clint nods. He needs to. Sooner or later, Phil's going to crawl like a roach out of nuclear fallout and if Clint's not where he's supposed to be, he'll drag him back by his ears. Bobbi grins, like she knows what he's thinking. "Maybe I'll visit New York."

"You'd love it. All nice and construction-y for you."

She strokes his cheek, kisses his shoulder. "Well, I do love a good disaster."

 

 

 

Back on the roof of the tower, Ezra flying too high for anyone else's comfort but Clint's. This time he knows Tony is watching, and this time he isn't running away. They sit across from one another, white dust from the roof top marking their clothes like flour, settling like pollen on their shoes.

"They told me it'd make us better. For them, I guess, it did."

"They pulled you apart."

Clint shakes his head. "Phil always talked about it like they were just loosening the hold. It was just longer, now. It made us stronger. It's supposed to keep us alive if the other dies, but I don't see what the use in that is." Clint had never met an agent who survived their daemon's death. Supposedly they died together, but once Sitwell told him about a woman who blew her brains out when her daemon was killed. Could have been a nightmare, because Sitwell was never able to go through with the process and took the desk job that had become available in the wake of Iron Man's arrival on the scene.

"Do you feel her, still?" Tony has a tight grip on Margaret's fur and she looks like she wants to cry.

"Always," Clint says, looking up. Ezra circles them like a predator, but there's only love when she lands on his knee and he strokes his fingers down her back. "She's still here, isn't she? God, it hurt," he says, before Tony can ask. "Cried like a baby for days. Phil says everyone cries."

Tony laughs at that and looks up, no doubt thinking about some way to get back at SHIELD for once again proving to be nothing he can trust.

"Are you angry?" Clint asks. Tony shrugs. "Everyone thought you would be. Steve and Natasha, anyway."

"They're right, in a way. I don't feel so good about it."

"Maria used to say it was another mark on the resume, if we ever wanted to leave the business, become assassins." It's supposed to be a joke, but Clint learned a while back that Tony didn't think murder was very funny. Neither does Clint, really, but SHIELD work gives you a dark sense of humor, and he always enjoyed the coldness of it.

Tony says, "You're happy with it."

And Clint says, "I'm at peace with it."

 

 

 

It's a funny thing -- sometimes happiness and peace? Sometimes they're the same.

 

 

 

More often, they aren't.

 

 

 

When Natasha comes back, Clint must look like he's gone out, fallen in love again, spent too many nights tangled in Bobbi's sheets or on the bathroom floor of a motel, puking his guts out after two bottles of whatever he could find. She's disappointed. And pleased. About which or what, he doesn't know. They don't talk about it. She's bought blackberries on her way in and they sit on her balcony, tossing the bag back and forth before Natasha says:

"Tony knows."

"Yeah, we talked."

She nods. Clint chews.

"He wants to do something about it," she mutters, and there's laughter there. Clint huffs and smiles. "He'll try."

"For science," he says.

"No," Natasha corrects. "For us."

 

 

 

So Tony starts messing with Dust again. Or this is what he says. He used to research it years ago, and Bruce did, too. Steve remembers all the talk when they were working with the serum, how they had to account for the Dust, how they were worried the experiment would tear his daemon away.

Steve doesn't really like talking about Dust, but he does, for the sake of the Now.

Clint's never seen Bruce more excited, running tests on them, dashing from one side of the room to the other. He has a mouse daemon and she practically lives in his pocket all the time, brown and chipper and spitting out facts and figures in a voice that make Clint think of Pi. Sometimes, when he's hooked up to the machines, he'll get a burst of memory -- touching Pi, Bobbi touching Ezra and Bruce looks at him and wonders --

"What is that?"

"Nothing," Clint says, and closes his eyes.

 

 

 

It takes, like, not even a day for Fury to find out what's happening, and he is really fucking pissed.

"This was never anyone else's business," and his bobcat daemon hisses at his feet. "Especially Stark's."

"Just happened, sir." Clint feels like he's been found at the scene of a crime.

"Whatever is going on, it stops now." He makes a show of switching off one of Banner's monitors and leaves the lab. Tony scowls.

"Can't do that, can't come into my lab--"

Clint feels a surge of protectiveness for his boss. For his leader. "Don't get angry with him--"

"He made you--"

"No." Clint points a finger in Tony's chest. "They made him. You don't know shit if you think Fury loves the idea of someone shredding the line between us. They made him, he did it, too. He did it before all of us." Clint's chest is heaving. "He did it for us. It makes us...it makes us better."

(no it doesn't, he knows that's a lie, but what else is he supposed to say what else can he say when everyone and everything has been lost to him

and no, that isn't true.

because he has people standing right here)

"It hurt so much." Clint sits in a chair and he weeps. "It hurts so much. But what else are we? What else can we be?"

He realizes it's just him and Tony in the lab and their daemons are dangerously close to touching.

"Did you want it, really?"

"No." Clint laughs and it's hollow, breaking out of him like stone. "No, I wanted to turn and leave. But I had people on my tail, and I had to protect certain things." Margaret concedes and Ezra taps her head gently with her beak. "Look at that."

Tony snorts. "Guess we're buddies now."

"Yeah." Clint looks at him and grins. "I guess so."

 

 

 

Clint lets Tony do his experiments again, but they both know, now, that this thing cannot be repaired. Clint's accepted that. Tony's begrudgingly come to terms with it. Natasha finds it all amusing.

"Lab buddies."

"Little bit," Clint says around a mouthful of taco. "I'm enjoying myself. Learning a lot about Dust. All I ever knew was circus stories. People used to talk about it all the time. Sometimes we just called it magic."

Natasha makes a happy noise, says, "Maybe that's what it is," and Clint smiles back.

"Might be." They eat in silence. "You ever talked to Bruce about Dust?" Natasha nods. "He's something else."

"He makes me sad." Clint frowns, because he hadn't thought of it that way. But then, there must be a story here that he doesn't know, and like she always does, Natasha tells him how he can fill in the blanks.

(never does it for him, they aren't like that)

So Clint ends up in one of the smaller labs, legs swinging back and forth as he perches on a workbench and Bruce fills in the blank lines of his sad story.

 

 

 

(This is Bruce's story as best as Clint can remember it.

His daemon's name is Arlene.

When Bruce becomes the Hulk, he is terrifying. But what scares everyone the most, what he is so unwilling to learn about, because the answer to it might terrify him even more, is that his daemon is nowhere to be found. Bruce doesn't know where she goes. Hulk doesn't know where she goes.

When they found him in Harlem, no one would go near him.

Because he had no daemon.)

 

 

 

(This is Clint's story as best as he can remember it.

His grandfather was Francis. His parents died. He joined the circus. His brother left him, or he left his brother he isn't sure anymore.

He killed, he got in trouble, SHIELD picked him up, he almost died, they cut them away, he was Hawkeye before and after it all and then came

Bobbi

Natasha

Tesseract.)

 

 

 

It's just a stupid text message, but it's from Tony so Clint looks and all it says is "COULSON LIVES" and Clint knew that.

It's even better seeing the dipshit in person.

"Everyone is gonna murderize your face," he mutters, wrapping his old friend in a hug. Phil and Penelope, too stupid to die.

"There's work to be done," he says quietly, face tilting down with worry lines. Clint doesn't press him, and just lets him go on his way through the base, making his way to Fury. There are some things you don't push, and Clint's been lucky to have Phil stay out of the majority of his private life, so he doesn't make a big scene.

He wonders where Maria is, if she knows, and then there she is, running around the corner, her lynx daemon bounding ahead. "You seen--"

"That way," Clint says and she looks like she wants to kiss him, but he knows she's saving herself.

Some things just sneak up on you, he figures.

Like Phil and Maria, meeting at the corner and Clint has to watch, has to see, until he sees one (or both) of them crying and then they are kissing and then he is gone. He can't watch. It's cruel.

He hadn't known, and yet he had. He knew that Phil had gone and Maria had gone after him, turning over every stone, just missing him every time. Phil tells him how she hates him and she loves him and he wishes he could go back and meet her at just one rest stop, sleep with her just one night -- but secrets are secrets are secrets. SHIELD has always been good and making and keeping them, even from people they claim to trust (love) the most.

Maria tells it differently, in that she doesn't tell it at all. And Clint never asks. And no one needs to be understood.

They all go drinking on a Tuesday night -- Maria, Phil, him and Nat. The four of them and their daemons, their hollow selves and recollected time pieces. Under their feet, their souls play and scratch and sing. They are all together. Phil calls them the Beatles.

"Natasha would be George," he says, and because he's Phil he gets away with it. "Clint would be Paul. Maria would be Ringo. I would be John--" Because I broke your hearts, Clint hears him not say, very, very clearly.

The way Maria kisses him is raw and Clint looks away. Natasha looks beyond, and Clint thinks there's something to her gaze, like she's thinking of someone (something) else. He wants to know what, because for all their closeness, the way they are, she is still too often a mystery to him. He loves her the way he loves so many other people, but differently.

"You're my best friend," he says quietly, walking back to the tower. Natasha slips her and into his and tells him about her trip to Belfast earlier in the year, before Clint left for Bobbi's place, before all this business with Stark. It's a beautiful story, and she talks about Bruce calling her while she was there, giving her traveling tips, and how Steve sent her the longest text message in the world, and Tony left seventeen voice mails and taught Thor to leave them, too.

"Everyone called but you."

"I know better."

"Would have been nice."

Clint looks up. "Please don't do this."

"You're my best friend, too," she says, kissing his cheek as they get on the elevator. "And I love you, more than I'll ever be able to say. But you're sad and I wish I knew what to do with it."

"I'm not sad," he says. "I'm relieved. I'm tired. But I'm not sad. Believe me, you'd know if I was sad."

"You're melancholy, then. It makes me sad."

Clint puts an arm around her. Ezra plucks at Osip's fur. "It'll wear off. Everything's new. Phil's back."

"That's a good thing," she says, nodding.

"Maria's back. And Fury's pretty happy, for, you know." He grins. "Fury." The door to her floor opens and she puts a hand on his cheek.

"You do seem better."

Clint kisses her forehead. "I am better."

 

 

 

A year after Midtown, Bobbi shows up at the tower. She has a carry-on bag, a duffel, and Pi. The bird flies at him and Ezra flies at her and they catch one another, meet in the middle of the living room with everyone watching and kiss, and kiss, and kiss until Tony starts shouting that they need to cut it out you can't just touch and --

"Oh." Steve's voice. "Oh I didn't see that. But you can, can't you? You can touch if you...if you feel..."

Bobbi's laugh is a song and she launches herself at Natasha and kisses her cheeks and shouts, "Your hair, where did it go, God you're beautiful, look at you!"

Clint introduces her, then takes her to his room and ravages her.

"I'm here to see Fury," she says later, legs wrapped in his sheets. Ezra and Pi coo at one another at the end of the bed. "They shut down my department. No more alien goo."

"You look so sad," Clint jokes, and she punches his shoulder.

"It was something to do with my degree, at least."

He buries his face against her neck. "Doctor Morse."

"Mister Barton."

"I've missed you," he says. "This is a nice surprise."

Bobbi folds him against her and kisses the top of his forehead. "I told you, I love surprises, too."

It isn't a surprise that she leaves, again, and Clint was expecting it. She kisses him fiercely, says they sent all her alien research to Dublin and she's going to go be Irish for a while. Clint presses his lips to Pi's feathers one last time and she is clutching Ezra in her arms.

It's all they have time to do. And then she's gone.

 

 

 

And when bad guys start pouring in, these waves and anti-Avengers groups and so-called villains who wreck apartments and cause too much trouble, the Avengers are there.

Ezra flies so high, and they are molecules above the city, leaping when they shouldn't, flying when they can't, and they live and live and live. Clint admits he may be insane, but he's happy with that. He's okay with his personal diagnosis. He loves this, the feeling of every action having weight and purpose.

"Can we reach?" Ezra asks, looking across to another building.

Clint sets an arrow, says with one eye open, "Damn straight we can."

And there they go. Holes and all, punctured along the seams like they were born that way, and somewhere, Clint remembers washing the dirt off of Elsa, her trunk resting on his shoulder. And he stands in the street, surrounded by his teammates, and he hears it, so loud and so clear --

Families could be chosen, could be made and patched together.

 

 

 

Clint moves out of the tower a year and six months to the date, to the date he first met his new family. He gets his own place, makes it his, carves out his routine and is at the tower for breakfast and sparring every morning, but working with his new place every night. Fury puts him back on active duty. He goes to London with Natasha. He meets Bobbi in Dublin, does work for Phil in Vancouver. He makes it back to New York in time for the Rhino, for Spider-Man and too many villains heroes to count.

He makes it back in time, always, just for it to count. To count and more.

And when it's been two years, Steve raises his glass in a bar in Midtown, and everyone does the same in turn. "To New York."

"To New York," they repeat. They drink.

They reach out to one another and hold this moment heavy in their hearts, promise not to forget it, promise to keep going.

"We love these people," Ezra says, later, on their way to the apartment.

"Yeah." Clint grins as she nips at his ear. "We do."