From The Rubble

Title: From The Rubble
Fandom: Mavel Cinematic Universe
Characters: Clint Barton/Tony Stark; Pepper Potts/Natasha Romanoff; Jane Foster/Thor; Bruce Banner/Betty Ross; Darcy Lewis/Steve Lewis; Phil Coulson; Nick Fury; Maria Hill; Jasper Stillwell
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 26,692
Summary: Comment_fic prompt: Second chances; Avengers, Coulson, rebuilding trust, Phil Coulson didn’t die, he did something worse … He lived.
Author’s Note: Pre-Ultron; Threesome; Foursome; Polyamory

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Chapter 1 ~ From The Rubble

It was a time of hardship … Deep mourning, and building anew. New York City after the battle with the Chitauri gave everyone a new start … A new prosperity.

It was also a time for strangers becoming a team … Becoming friends … Becoming a family. They had come together to avenge the death of a man who drew a line in the sand and defended it to his last breath. To avenge the most heinous of violations to body and soul of the men and women touched by Loki’s scepter, and to avenge those lives lost in a battle in the streets of their home.

Strangers … Exhausted … Dirty and injured … Broke bread in a partially demolished restaurant. Strangers scarred by their lives in the darkest of shadows. Scarred by greed and the insanity of zealotry … They came together as warriors.

By the time the meal was finished, Tony’s brain had concluded many things about the ‘Avengers’. Knowing very little about the two assassins, but coming to the conclusion that Clint Barton would be persona non-grata at SHIELD, Bruce would not want to go anywhere near SHIELD, and Steve had no way of knowing if his apartment still existed … He cleared his throat.

“Sleepover at my place, kids.” He declared.

Five sets of exhausted eyes blinked owlishly at the declaration.

“Hawkeye and I should report to SHIELD …”

Natasha looked up when she felt Clint stiffen at her words.

“That would be no.” Tony insisted. “Not until he can be protected from becoming Fury and the WSC’s whipping boy. Pepper will be home tomorrow and we can hash that out and find out the arrangements for Agent.”

“Arrangements for … Agent …” Clint’s brain translated Tony’s nickname. “Coulson … Phil … Tasha?” Storm colored eyes questioned desperately.

“When we get to the Tower, Yastreb, this is not a thing to be told in public.”

When they were safe, showered, and their wounds bandaged, they gathered in the living room of the undamaged penthouse, and told Agent Clint Barton his handler of ten years and lover for five was dead.

From their grief a family was born.

~}}}~~~>

Being dead was the most exhausting mission Senior Agent Phil Coulson had ever undertaken. He missed his life, his friends, but mostly he missed Clint.

For ten years Clint Barton walked at his left shoulder. For the last five they’d walked side by side. He planned to ask the archer to marry him on the night Loki stole his heart.

It had taken SHIELD Medical and R & D three months to bring him back to health. Polymer fibers with incredible tensile strength replaced ligaments and tendons. Nanites repaired cut lung and muscle. He was a medical miracle on a mission of which only he and Nick Fury were privy. Nick kept him in the loop in regards to The Avengers. He spent many of Phil’s PT sessions venting his spleen over Stark stealing his best assets, making them troubleshooters for Starktech, contracted to SHIELD by the mission.

When he asked about Clint, Fury had deflated. Pepper and Natasha was SHIELD’s only contact and they refused to give personal details about the team. Hawkeye had not stepped into SHIELD since he left with Captain America and Black Widow to fight the Chitauri. The only information came from mission reports and footage from video surveillance.

It had taken two years, but his mission was finally complete. His team had systematically destroyed the Red Room and retrieved as many operatives as they could salvage from their cryogenic facilities as well as their active agents. Phil’s heart had nearly stopped when one of the cryogenic chambers contained the Winter Soldier, who was identified as James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, best friend to Captain America.

As soon as they finished deprogramming Barnes, Fury would call for a meeting with The Avengers, Phil Coulson would join Barnes in rising from the dead.

~}}}~~~>

Clint Barton sighed feeling everything let go with that one breath. He, Tony, Pepper and Natasha had just returned from the ribbon cutting for Stark Industries newest arc reactor powered building in Dallas. Tony had tasked the assassins with setting up the building’s security, hiring and training the personnel.

The building had a Steranko security system installed and peripherally monitored by JARVIS. Their security personnel were veterans of various elite military forces, and retired SHIELD and IMF agents as administrators. They’d done a surprise security check two days ago while everything was in an uproar in preparation for the ribbon cutting. Clint and Natasha had succeeded  … Barely, but there were very few people or machines that could match the combined skill sets of Hawkeye and Black Widow.

When Natasha told him Phil was dead, Clint thought he would lie down and die when his heart shattered. He didn’t leave the Tower for three months except for missions. He barely spoke for six. He’d wandered the streets helping clear rubble getting lost in the mind numbing work. One of his team mates always found him, and would stay with him … Hiding their identities under ball caps, tinted glasses and work clothes.

When nightmares of Loki and a parade of dead agents kept him from sleep, he joined Tony in his workshop where his agile mind and intrinsic understanding of mechanics led to armor, arrows, and all manner of gadgets until Pepper or Natasha would appear to drag them to bed, which eventually turned in to being dragged to one bed, Tony’s was always the closest as JARVIS flies … Who knew an AI could be such a yenta? That one bed with those four bodies, somehow managed to knit together his shattered heart.

Now he was stretched out on sinfully cushy carpet, leaning against Tony’s legs … Pepper’s fingers in his hair … Natasha curled in his lap, belly full of his favorite pizza while Bruce, Betty, Thor, Jane, Steve, and Darcy filled them in on all the Tower gossip. The Tower had become a haven in the middle of their chaotic and sometimes horrifying lives.

They were interrupted by JARVIS with a call from AD Hill informing them Fury wanted to meet with the whole team tomorrow at 0900.

“Conference room 2915E.” Tony said.

There was no way he was letting his family meet with Fury away from the safety of the Tower.

There was a pause. “Fine.” She snapped.

~}}}~~~>

The Avengers were waiting when Nick Fury entered the conference room at nine sharp followed by two men wearing hoodies and dark glasses. Silence filled the room while they waited for Fury to say his piece.

“I called this meeting to read you in on an undercover operation that took two years to complete. After our success with the deprogramming of Agent Romanoff, we devised ‘Operation Redwing’ to liberate operatives and dismantle the remains of the Red Room.”

The only change in the room was the stiffening of six spines, and fingers tangling hidden from prying eyes. Fury continued when even Stark held his tongue.

“SHIELD’s team returned with fifteen viable operatives and twelve cryogenic chambers. We have finished deprogramming four of those people.”

One of the men threw back his hood.

“Bucky?”

“Yasha?”

Steve and Natasha whispered.

“James Barnes aka Winter Soldier was one of the people found in cryogenic stasis.”

When the reunion had calmed and Bucky stood between Steve and Natasha, Fury cleared his throat.

“Since this mission has concluded, I will be appointing a new liaison with The Avengers.”

Exchanging a look the other man lowered his hood.

~}}}~~~>

Coulson and Fury exchanged a confused look when no one seemed surprised to see Phil.

“Liaison’s office … Fourth floor. I’m sure Sitwell can read you in. “

Tony made air quotes with his fingers as he exchanged a look with Clint. A raised eyebrow and upward curl of the mouth and the two men left, followed by Steve, Natasha and James.

The SHIELD agents were surprised when Thor and Bruce remained.

“Son of Coul, it is good to see you back among your SHIELD comrades.”

“I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re not more surprised at your resurrection from the dead.” Bruce added green flashing in his eyes.

“I can only assume Barton or Romanoff made a visit to my office since this operation was never on any network.” Fury answered.

Thor’s booming laugh filled the room before they were treated to the anger of an Asgard prince.

“When our Hawk Brother roused from his grief at news of your death, Son of Coul, he and I traveled to Valhalla in search of your spirit.”

Phil Coulson’s heart sank at Thor’s words.

We were unsuccessful, but before we returned to Midgard I asked Heimdall to see if your spirit still lingered on Midgard. Together with Eye of the Hawk they were able to locate Pavel Aslanov.”

“It took another three months to keep him from death by bad guy. He wasn’t suicidal, but he didn’t care if he survived our missions. He wouldn’t talk to us, but he talked to the Other Guy, who is not happy with you. He and ‘Cupid’ are quite the friends.”

Bruce’s chuckle was harsh as he and Thor left the room.

“That went tits up in record time.” Fury growled.

“I’m not so sure that me coming back as liaison is going to fix this, Boss.” Coulson said as they headed to the elevator.

“They’re professionals. They’ll get over it. Sitwell’s a good agent, he’s no match for Tony and Bruce’s big brains backed up by a tactician and an infiltrator fed through Captain America. Throw in Drs. Foster and Ross, and Foster’s PA … It’s like herding cats. I need you to bring them back in the fold, Agent.”

“I won’t be easy, Boss. Clint … Barton … Must have been devastated if Thor took him to Valhalla. I never thought they’d go so far as Valhalla.”

“That’s why you get the big bucks, Phil.” Fury chuckled at Coulson’s eye roll. “We should make note of the whole Heimdall surveillance package … For future reference.”

“For future reference we should probably never lie, mislead, obfuscate or omit anything when it comes to The Avengers. They had trust issues before this, and we’ve just made it monumentally worse.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about your relationship with Barton and Romanoff.” Nick’s voice was sincere.

“Not that it matters anymore, but I was planning on filing a ‘Change of Status’ form before this whole mess with Loki and the Chitauri.” Phil let his friend Nick see the true cost of ‘Redwing’.

“Phil …”

“I wanted you to be my best man.”

A hard squeeze to the shoulder was his only reply.

The silence in the elevator held until the car jarred to a stop at the tenth floor. Hands went to weapons. The door opened to reveal Tony Stark.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. JARVIS gets a bit agitated when people shoot as his people, and ashes plug the air filtration system, Clint gets covered with the stuff when he’s in the ducts. Then there’d be that whole emotional thing about crawling through the remains of his former lover.”

Shocked at Stark’s blasé tone as he talked about JARVIS killing them, they remained silent, but watchful.

The doors closed.

“Thought I’d show you your new office, Agent, and to give you some friendly advice.”

Both agents knew Stark could be a ruthless business opponent, but to see the billionaire’s dark side was chilling.

“Barton and Romanoff … You threw them away … Collateral damage in spy lingo, I think. They’re mine now … Technically Clint’s mine and our Spider has Pepper firmly in her web … But it’s just one big puppy pile in the penthouse … What was I saying? Oh yes … You know I hate when people take my stuff.”

The elevator door opened.

“Gentlemen, office.” Tony pointed to the door across from the elevator.

They stepped into the hall, and turned to see the hard cold look in the normally dancing brown eyes.

“Home, JARVIS.”

Fury moved into the office leaving Phil pinching the bridge of his nose in the hallway. All his half formed ideas scattered like windblown leaves when Tony got on the elevator. It was obvious Stark had no intention of relinquishing anything to Phil or SHIELD in this lifetime.

Phil Coulson considered two things standing in the hall of The Avengers’ Tower … Going back in deep cover and changing his name to Sisyphus.

Chapter 2 ~ Built From The Rubble

Phil Coulson was bone tired. He was beginning to wish he’d never heard of Thor, Mjolnir, the nine realms or any other alien race. It’s been six months since he rejoined the living and it’s been brutal both physically and mentally.

The other eight realms had been flexing their muscles against Earth, sending (fill in advance reconnoiter squad of the week) after another through the still weakened Bifrost. The Avengers and their Chosen had drawn tight into themselves, but had unbent enough to allow him and Jasper just inside the boundary of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’.

He believed he was making progress. Darcy would often stop by with lunch or reports, and sit and chat about the everyday happenings with the team. She talked about everyone but only on the most superficial of levels, both of them ever mindful of JARVIS and Tony’s growing obsession with protecting his family.

Steve acted as the team’s voice in meetings as the others sat in mostly silent support. The first few missions badly rattled Phil as the change in his status brutally smacked him in the face. Gone was the snarky commentary from Clint. He still traded quips and observations with his team mates, but his whole demeanor had changed. He only spoke to the SHIELD agents if they needed to change positions or direct emergency personnel away from danger. There was nothing of Hawkeye, The World’s Greatest Marksman, there was only the Avenger … Code name … Hawkeye.

The first time he’d said, ‘Barton, talk to me’ and got no response, Jasper shook his head.

“They can’t hear you. JARVIS controls their coms. They’ll be opened when they need us. Phil …” Jasper signed. He hated adding more guilt to his boss’ load. “Hearing your voice in his ear could distract him to the point where it would get him injured or killed.”

The shock from Sitwell’s words rang in his head for a long time. Though the archer acted with cool professionalism the few times he interacted with him, Phil could see the shadows of betrayal and distrust in those ever changing eyes. He had done this … He had sworn he was not like those that came before … Now he walked at the head of the other shadows in Clint’s memory.

~}}}~~~>

Phil thought the relationship he’d built with Bucky Barnes while the Winter Soldier went through his de-programming would help smooth the way for him back into good graces with Steve and Natasha, but Bucky, became the Winter Soldier in his presence, and when Fury had tasked him with getting Barnes to sign a contract with SHIELD out of a sense of obligation for being rescued from the Red Room, he was politely informed he was already under contract to StarkTECH.

The next day a memo signed with a stylized ‘A’, that had become the Avengers brand, was delivered informing SHIELD that all actions on the ground would be routed through James Barnes, freeing up the Avengers to concentrate on the bad guys instead of splitting their attention between bad guys and good guys.

“Want to flip for it to see who takes this to Fury?” Jasper asked.

“No need. I’m the senior agent, and the reason Stark’s building a siege wall around the team. We have our weekly briefing today anyway.” Phil slouched a bit in resignation.

“We’ve been friends a long time, Phil. I have to say I don’t disagree with them. If you explained it to me every day for the rest your life, I will never understand why you put Nick and SHIELD above Clint. You were going to propose for Christ’s sake. Afterwards …”

Sitwell snapped his mouth shut, and left the office. He still hadn’t returned by the time Coulson left for the Helicarrier.

~}}}~~~>

Phil spent many hours after his return from the dead reading and watching videos of mission reports. His heart broke every time Clint purposely stepped between a civilian or team mate to protect them from danger only Hawkeye had seen. His heart stopped every time the Hulk, Tony or Thor barely stopped his body from shattering on the ground below a destroyed perch.

Jasper had gleefully told him of the explosion of temper on the bridge of the Helicarrier when the Director learned Stark was snatching up any and all scientists that had been linked to any project that even whispered of the Tessaract. Doctors Foster and Selvig had disappeared behind the curtain of Stark money. The only reason SHIELD knew the whereabouts of Dr. Elizabeth Ross was Sitwell seeing her in the elevator at the Tower.

He read the behavioral analysis SHIELD profilers had written during the two years he was undercover, but they were based on information before the Chitauri. Everyone who survived the Battle of New York had been radically changed. No one was more changed than Tony Stark and Clint Barton.

The genius never talked about what he’d seen on the other side of the portal, and Clint never talked about Loki, if they had there was no record. Making an assumption on what he knew of Clint’s behavior, Phil hypothesized the archer and billionaire had been initially drawn together by their common nightmares.

Looking at the innovations coming out of StarkTECH in tactical and protective equipment, SHIELD’s number three saw Clint’s influence. He’d asked JARVIS, but all the AI would unbend enough to say was that Agent Barton and Sir held several joint patents being manufactured by StarkTECH and IronTECH. Phil quietly thanked the AI as pride filled his chest that someone recognized a diamond in the rough.

In between battles, he finally managed new profiles on the Initiative. The pairings within the group seemed extremely fluid reminding him of behavior often found in communes during the seventies. Listening to Darcy dither on about this and that, he thought he’d put the respective pairs together, but even with Barnes thrown in as the odd man, they’d absorbed him into their dynamic.

Now, the profiles were taking another turn. With Barnes, the upcoming nuptials of Dr. Foster and Thor, the Avengers had not just meshed as a team, but had melded into a family. Phil felt a twinge in his chest … He blamed on the pulling of scar tissue, as the Quinjet carried him to his weekly meeting with Fury.

~}}}~~~>

Barton was their eyes high and Barnes their eyes low as they relayed information on the Jotun ice giants that appeared in Central Park. Barnes fed information to The Avengers, first responders on evacuating civilians, and the SHIELD agents protecting them. What should have been cumbersome and too time consuming to be effective … Worked. The Avengers had taken the day and created another layer between the Initiative and SHIELD. In his debrief with Director Fury following the battle, Phil suggested releasing the team from SHIELD control since there was little interaction between the two.

“Believe me, Phil, I would love to cut them loose, but I can’t.” Fury rubbed a hand over his head.

“Is it something with the WSC?” He asked.

“I wish. After the battle with the Chitauri, everyone was looking for someone to blame. Adopted or not, Loki is a member of the royal house of Asgard, and as such he got the alien equivalent of diplomatic immunity, and Thor took his ass and the Tessaract home for Daddy dearest to handle his punishment. The Chitauri were dead and this Thanos character that Thor spoke of was on the other side of the portal. That brought us down to Agent Barton and Dr. Selvig, who under the control of the Tessaract made it possible for Loki to nearly take over the world, but were just as instrumental in stopping him.”

“The WSC was going to throw them to the wolves?” Phil asked.

“Yeah, well Stark was ten lengths ahead as usual, and to protect SHIELD, the WSC, and everything we’ve worked for, I had to make a deal to protect them.”

“How …?”

“Do you realize how much equipment in this organization has ‘Stark’ stamped on it? While we were vulnerable, he had JARVIS scouring through every nook and cranny. He ferreted out files dear ‘ol dad probably doesn’t remember … Not to mention everything he’s been able to track down on the supposedly secret members of the WSC. Tony Stark can be a very dangerous man when he turns that genius IQ on you.”

“Did we try to keep Agents Barton and Romanoff?”

“We did. Agent Romanoff came in, collected your and Clint’s effects. Then six months after the battle, she returned a box telling me it’d been accidentally mixed with Barton’s. I never opened the box.”

Nick unlocked his storage closet and pulled out the box. Opening the box they found a note.

 “Agent may need these when you bring him back from the dead … TS’

Inside were the personal bits and pieces of Phil Coulson that Natasha had gathered for Clint to hold in remembrance of the man he loved, but finding out how cruelly deceived he’d been by the man who had promised to never betray him … Coulson and Fury understood the implications of the box. If Fury would have opened it sooner things would have been much different.

“Cheese …” Fury started, but Phil waved him off.

“If we’re honest, I’m as much to blame for this mess as you. I could have said ‘no’. I could have stipulated telling at least Clint and Natasha … Hell, if I’d had their help it probably wouldn’t have taken two years.”

He walked over to the windows, but didn’t see the fantastic view of the eastern seaboard … Only the ways he’d sabotaged his relationship with the man he supposedly loved enough to want to marry. The clink of glasses drew his attention back to Nick.

“It was the one of only a few points of contention between us.” He accepted the glass of whiskey from Fury.

“What’s that?”

“You, or you and SHIELD … Clint always claimed he came in third behind those two things. Then there were my Captain America fan boy tendencies …”

“Did he?”

Phil saw a light glitter in that one dark eye.

“Apparently, since I let him think I was dead and ran off to Russia for two years to find Captain America’s best friend.”

“Have you talked to Barton?” Nick leaned his elbows on the desk.

“Beyond ‘Here’s our reports, Agent Coulson’, ‘or move your asses before that alien falls on you’… No.”

“Don’t you think it’s about time to act more like Badass Coulson than a shrinking violet?” The Director goaded.

“Really, Marcus … That’s where you want to go?” Phil grinned.

“No. I want my ‘one good eye’ back.”

“Boss?”

Phil’s expression was wary. He could only blame exhaustion for belatedly realizing what he’d just admitted to Nick.

“I came first?”

Shocked at what the day was revealing Phil stood abruptly.

“I think that covers all the Avenger business for today. I’ll be returning to the city … Now, Sir.”

“Phil …?” Nick stood as though to stop him.

“No … Nick … I… I need to think about this. Apparently Clint was seeing me much clearer than I saw myself.”

~}}}~~~>

He laid awake a long time thinking about his conversation with Nick. He loved Clint … Hadn’t he? Stepping outside ‘Phil’ to look at the past seven years through ‘Agent Coulson’ eyes … He became nauseous. Clint had initiated all of the firsts in their relationship. Phil had told himself it had to be that way since he was Hawkeye’s handler. There could be no whiff of coercion in any relationship with a subordinate. At first it was hard to believe a handsome young man like Clint Barton would give him a second glance, let alone be in love with him. Even after Clint had been promoted, the archer had carried the load … Fitting his schedule to Phil’s as much as possible. He began to see why Clint had become frustrated to the point where they argued loudly over the time he spent on the Director’s pet projects. A few of the arguments had been so bad that Clint would disappear … Fearful that the flaring tempers would turn violent.

Remembering those arguments, and the way he blew off Clint’s concerns made him wonder if their talk of marriage had been a last ditch effort because the younger man felt he was losing Phil to SHIELD and the Director. Now the light in Nick’s eyes, and the thrill running through his body at the thought confirmed all of Clint’s fears, and made Phil wonder if he’d simply used Clint until the time was right for him and Nick.

Agent Coulson approved of using the assets available until such time as they were no longer pertinent to the bigger picture. Philip J. Coulson was appalled that he’d acted in such a way toward someone he professed to love. The only way to merge the two halves of his psyche was to talk to Clint … Otherwise it would haunt any future relationship. Satisfied, he began planning how to get Barton away from JARVIS and the Avengers protective tendencies long enough to talk. He fell asleep devising his game plan.

~}}}~~~>

It took two weeks and a fundraiser for the foundation set up by Stark to help defray the costs of repairing the damage when the bad guy of the week decided to use New York City for a battleground. Inside security was being handled by Clint and Natasha’s people with Bucky as liaison with Phil and Sitwell as SHIELD handled perimeter security.

The top six contributors had the honor dining with one of the Avengers at their table. After diner … The team changed from their uniforms to mingle during the dancing and silent auction. The whole room stopped when the Avengers and their significant others stepped into the room in evening dress. Phil’s breath stopped at the sight of Clint in his pale grey tux, matching Mandarin collared shirt with amethyst studs and eggplant silk waistcoat.

“You need to stop drooling before I have to shoot you.” Bucky whispered in his ear. “Though they certainly are a drool worthy bunch.” He said more to himself than the SHIELD agent. “And the muscle control being an acrobat gives you.” With a raised eyebrow and a leer, Barnes disappeared into the crowd.

The Winter Soldier catching him off guard caused Phil to give himself a mental shake. He’d never get Barton alone if he the sight of the archer in a tux stopped him in his tracks. They circulated through the room in a loose group … Mingling with the crowd, but never far from one another. Toward the end of the evening, board members from Stark Industries cornered Tony and Pepper. Natasha was talking with Bucky while Clint went to the bar. Seeing his chance, Phil approached so Clint was caught between the bar and a wall.

“Clint.”

“Agent Coulson.”

Phil flinched inwardly at the blandness of the younger man’s voice.

“I need to have a word … Privately.”

“I can think of nothing that won’t wait until business hours, Agent.”

This was a novel experience for Phil. He’d seen Clint pull out his Agent Barton persona many times over the years, but this was the first time he’d been on the receiving end.

“I have some things I need to say to you that does not need an audience.”

Clint looked over his shoulder and a minute twitch of his head told Phil he’d shaken off an offer of rescue from the Black Widow and the Winter Soldier.

With a sigh of resignation, eyes cold as an arctic storm looked back at Phil.

“If this is what it takes to lay this to rest and cap it with a tombstone … Let’s go.”

He stalked past Phil to the elevators. When the doors opened they were at the hotel penthouse.

“I’ll give it fifteen minutes before Tony shows up so talk fast.” Clint settled in an armchair, the picture of nonchalance.

“I’ve apologized to the team for SHIELD’s deception, but I wanted to talk to you alone, and talk about some things I’ve realized since I’ve been back.”

“I really don’t care about your epiphanies, Coulson. You made it perfectly clear I was a piece of ass to tide you over until Fury consolidated his power to oppose the WSC. Then he stopped wasting those undercover talents you use to convince assets with issues to trust you … To fall in love with you.”

Phil flinched at Clint’s bluntness.

“It wasn’t like that …” Phil looked away from the too seeing eyes. “I did love you.”

“But not like you love SHIELD … Love Marcus Johnson aka Nick Fury, Jr.”

Phil paled as nausea rose again. Hearing the words in that cold emotionless voice shook him to the core … Made him feel unclean for the first time in all his years with SHIELD.

“When I heard you were dead, I stopped living. I wasn’t suicidal, but if the bad guys got lucky then the pain would stop. No one at SHIELD cared … Fury had you to himself at last, and if Hawkeye died a hero’s death it would be a publicity windfall.”

“I’m sorry. I never meant for things to go the way they did. When Nick asked me to go undercover I didn’t think about the ramifications of after the mission.”

“You never thought of any ramifications when it came to Nick.” Clint spat. “Didn’t you think I would tear up the world because I know Fury is fucking liar who lies. I loved you … Sure … But more than that I trusted you. You convinced me to try one more time so when Thor offered to look for you in Valhalla I didn’t hesitate to say yes. You know Thor … Heart’s as big as he is … He wanted my forgiveness for what Loki had done, and when Heimdall offered to look for you, I was stupidly grateful. When he told me you were alive in Russia … Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.”

Phil’s heart rate shot up when Hawkeye, the world’s greatest assassin turned those cold grey eyes on him.

“If not for my team … I felt …”Clint’s façade cracked enough for Phil to catch the haunted look in those fascinating eyes, “Like a whore. Granted the pay and the benefits were good so I was a well paid whore. I thought I’d feel better if I but an arrow in Fury’s eye socket until my team made me realize that someone who could do what you did was not in love with me. So I will ask this one time, and I will never speak of it again. What do you want, Agent Coulson?”

Whatever Phil hoped to accomplish by talking to Clint without the influence of the others, turned to ashes. The Clint Barton he knew died in the aftermath of the Battle of New York. All the pretty speeches he’d planned got thrown away. The only way to meet Clint’s bluntness was with honesty.

“I wanted to set things right with you. I wanted to give you closure … To see if there was anything left that we could rebuild if not a relationship then at a least a friendship. I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, and if I could change the past I would. Looking back and listening to you just now, I don’t feel very good about what Nick and I did, and all I can say is, I never meant for it to happen that way. I want you … You and Natasha to come back to SHIELD.”

Clint sat frozen in his chair the look on his face incredulous that Phil could say these things to him with a straight face. Before he could recover from his shock, the doors to the suite burst open.

“Agent … Agent … Agent.” Tony called as his presence filled the room. “That is soooo not going to happen.”

The rest of the Avengers entered the suite at more sedate pace, Bruce closing the doors quietly behind them.

“Are you saying Barton and Romanoff can’t return to SHIELD?” Phil challenged.

“Sure they can return. They just can’t stay. They’re under contract to SI, and as such we …” he pointed to Pepper, “Negotiate any outside contracts for their services.” Tony walked over to the bar. “Drink anyone?”

“Actually, anything any of us do goes through Tony and Pepper.” Steve added. “Anytime there’s a fight SHIELD is responsible for any fallout from those battles.”

“Why would The Director agree to that?”

Phil wanted the whole picture not just what Nick had told him.

“I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Tony’s expression was smug.

“What could you possibly use to blackmail SHIELD?” Phil wanted to smack himself for sounding smug.

“Did you know JARVIS recorded everything that happened during our little skirmish?” Tony raised his eyebrows as he asked the question. “Including the transmissions from the WSC to the pilot that launched the nuke?”

Phil felt the blood leave his face. He looked around the hotel suite. Natasha and Bucky had moved to sit on the arms of Clint’s chair, flanking the archer. He stood in the middle of the Avenger family … The only clear path was the one to the door.

“Coulson.”

Phil turned back to Clint.

“I have one last question.”

Phil nodded at him to ask.

“These past six months … Were you just there to try and rebuild our trust enough to bring us back to SHIELD, or were you truly trying to make amends?”

He hesitated.

Clint moved to the window, his back to the room.

Phil moved as if to go to him, but Bruce and Thor blocked his path.

“I’ll expect your things out of the Tower no later than noon tomorrow and inform Fury that only Agent Sitwell will be allowed on the premises.” Tony’s voice was hard.

Steve escorted Phil to the door.

“Clint, the answer to your question is both.”

Phil cringed at the quiet snap of the lock behind him. Nothing left to do but report to Fury, and test the waters to see if what Clint intimated was correct. They’d both caused too much damage outside their inner circle to look elsewhere.

~}}}~~~>

Phil sat at the conference table in the Director’s office with Nick and Maria when Jasper burst into the office with a burgeoning file folder and a red envelope. Nick picked up the folder while Maria grabbed heavily embossed envelope.

“I’ve got an invitation to a fundraiser next month to be held in the Hamptons celebrating the various and sundry nuptials of members of The Avengers. For a mere two thousand dollars a plate you can attend an Avenger wedding reception. Room is limited to the first fifty RSVPs, limit four per invitation, and Chef Tyler Florence is preparing dinner.” Maria winked at Jasper.

I’ve got copies of marriage licenses with so many names and places that it’ll take all four of us to figure out who’s who.” Nick growled.

They shifted through the piles of paper.

“Damn, did everyone marry everyone?” Jasper’s voice was filled with awe. “Why would they give us all these aliases?”

“So they can all speak for each other, and we can flag them if they come up in a search we can get someone there to cover the situation.” Phil’s voice was bland, but his chest felt tight.

~}}}~~~>

A month later the inner circle of SHIELD, dressed for an August lawn party on the ocean, appeared at the gate of Stark’s Hamptons home. Happy was on gate duty and greeted Jasper as he waved them through.

Velvet ropes directed them from the parking area to the party venue where Darcy greeted them and directed them to their table. The tables were under a tent facing the ocean while the sides would keep the ocean breeze off the guests when the temperature dropped after dark.

Leaving jackets and bags at the table, they began to mingle. Phil was standing next to Nick at the bar when his breath stopped as a laughing Clint dashed barefoot across the lawn followed by Natasha dripping water and hissing Russian curses like an angry cat.

“They are magnificent.” Nick commented.

“Yes.”

A barely healed wound between the men, they never spoke of Phil’s time with Clint. Phil oversaw SHIELD’s most secret projects and ops, seldom coming in contact with anyone under Level 7 clearance.

“Gentlemen, you’re not ogling my spouses are you?” A hard twitch was the only indication Stark had startled the two spies.

They turned to see the genius with his arm wrapped around a pregnant Pepper.

“Which ones?” Nick asked. “We’re still trying to sort who married who.”

“They’re all mine. It’s like Stranger In A Strange Land Avengers style.” Tony quipped.

“Don’t pay any attention to Tony … He’s feeling very smug at the moment.” Pepper rubbed a hand over her rounded abdomen. “He won’t be so smug in a few months when it’s his turn to change diapers.” She smiled softly.

“Congratulations, boy or girl?” Phil asked.

“We don’t know.”

“You know how we like surprises.” Tony verbally jabbed. “Off we go, sweetheart. Rich people to separate from their money.” His grin was all teeth. “Enjoy, Agent … Director.”

They did enjoy their evening. The food and drink were excellent, all the Avengers made a point to talk with them though Clint and Natasha didn’t talk long. Driving back to the city, they compared notes.

“Stark has definitely calmed down.” Jasper offered, but he saw them five days a week.

“Barton has finally matured.” Maria said.

“What’s that mean?” Nick asked.

Phil watched her face in the rearview mirror.

“No smartass jokes. Actually, he didn’t say much at all.” Maria sounded bewildered.

The rest of the trip went by quickly as they talked about the party, the people, and what they’d learned. Silence filled the car after they dropped Jasper and Maria. Nick waited until their apartment was secure before he grabbed Phil’s hand.

“You’ve been awful quiet. Did something happen at the reception?”

“A little … It’s nothing … Just my paranoia having a field day.”

Phil pulled a napkin out of his pocket and handed it to Nick. There was the name of the event and the date, but below that was a quote from George MacDonald … To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.’

Both men knew without a doubt there would be no rebuilding of trust between Agent Phil Coulson and The Avengers.

Chapter 3 ~ Clearing The Rubble

With a groan, Clint rolled onto his side. Landing on his automated quiver twice in the same day deepened the pain in his back and ribs. With Loki’s army strewn across Manhattan like broken erector sets, his only concern was finding Natasha and getting back to Phil.

Using a desk to lever himself to his feet, he limped to the elevators until sheer determination and the need to find his partner enabled him to jog toward the place he projected the Hulk would land after catching Iron Man.

Captain America pulled Stark to his feet just as he arrived. Clint heard him ask JARVIS Black Widow’s location.

“At the Tower watching over Loki, Sir … The Hulk left him embedded in the living room floor.” The AI answered.

“Alright then, let’s go.”

Stark grabbed Captain America and with a whine the thrusters covered the whirring of Mjolnir, the three took off for the Tower.

Confused by the small humans leaving, Hulk gave a whimper until he was distracted by something tapping him on the hip.

“Coming?” Clint asked the Hulk.

Letting out huff of annoyance and exhaustion, the archer started walking toward the tower.

“Guess we’re walking, Big Guy.”

Hawkeye let out an undignified yelp as Hulk tucked him against his side and bounded after the others.

~}}}~~~>

After SHIELD relieved them of Loki, the team was able to find some clothes that fit Bruce since Tony insisted on dragging them down the street to the restaurant advertising shawarma.

They were nearly too battered and exhausted to lift their food to their mouths, but Clint couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten or slept. He hoped the thumping in his head allowed the food to stay with him. He supposed the next thing he should do is let Natasha take him back to SHIELD, but that would mean hours of debrief, poking and prodding by medical, and psychiatrists … That’s if they didn’t lock him in a cell and throw away the key. He wondered if Phil had any huge owsies he could use to keep Fury from throwing him off the Helicarrier at thirty thousand feet.

He laid down his food. Thinking about the attack on the Helicarrier stole his appetite. All he wanted now was to find a dark hole and pull it in after him.

~}}}~~~>

Exhausted, sore and freaked out, Tony Stark let his genius brain distract him from his emotions to study his team-mates, especially Agent Clint Hawkeye Barton. Of all the Avengers, he’d had the least amount of contact with the archer. He’d read the files Coulson had brought to the Tower, but words on paper never gave the true feel of a person. Listening to his directions and tactics along with the smart ass commentary reminded him so much of himself, that he felt an instant kinship to the assassin.

Seeing the dark circles and sunken features, he was amazed the man was still conscious. Though people thought he was oblivious to his surroundings, Tony knew he processed information at a faster rate than most. He was about to head back to the tower when Barton dropped his food and his face lost what little color it had. Haunted grey/green eyes met his, giving Tony a new lot of information.

Their meal finished, Tony’s brain had concluded many things about the ‘Avengers’. He had concluded that Clint Barton would be persona non-grata at SHIELD, Bruce would not want to go anywhere near SHIELD, and Steve had no way of knowing if his apartment still existed … He cleared his throat.

“Sleepover at my place, kids.” He declared.

Five sets of exhausted eyes blinked owlishly at the declaration.

“Hawkeye and I should report to SHIELD …”

Natasha looked up when she felt Clint stiffen at her words.

“That would be no.” Tony insisted. “Not until he can be protected from becoming the whipping boy for this cluster fuck. Pepper will be home tomorrow and we can hash that out and find out the arrangements for Agent.”

“Arrangements for … Agent …” Clint’s brain translated Tony’s nickname. “Coulson … Phil … Tasha?” Storm colored eyes questioned desperately.

“When we get to the Tower, Yastreb, this is not a thing to be told in public.”

When they were safe, showered, and their wounds bandaged, they gathered in the living room of the only slightly damaged penthouse, and told Agent Clint Barton his handler of ten years and lover for five was dead.

From their grief a family was born.

~}}}~~~>

They slept in the next morning, but woke in time for a Clint Barton breakfast that consisted of enough food to feed an army. Hunger satisfied they sat with their beverage of choice enjoying the quiet and the company of people who understood without words. Their peace was broken with JARVIS’ announcement that Director Fury and a contingent of SHIELD agents were approaching the tower.

Pepper and Tony exchanged a glance, her yelling could be heard throughout the tower when she’d returned the night before, but now she was ready to help battle for this group of wounded strays Tony had brought home.

“Fury only, JARVIS.” There were no override codes today. Stark Tower was closed until further notice.

They all remained at the table until Fury settled in the only empty chair.

“Barton, you look like hell. Thanks for not shooting me and Hill in the head.” The Director accepted a cup of coffee from Bruce.

“You’re welcome, Sir.”

He switched his attention to Tony and Bruce.

“Did you check him out?”

“Agent Barton’s brain scans are nearly normal. The residual energy from the Tessaract has dissipated to almost immeasurable levels.” Bruce confirmed.

“Good. Then there’s no reason we can’t do debriefing right now. Your AI can record everything. I’ll expect your written reports by tomorrow close of business.”

“You’re not going to arrest me, Sir?” Clint was confused.

“No, and while I can use all the agents I can get right now, I feel it’s best for you and Agent Romanoff to be away from the eyes of the Council. In fact, once Thor takes his brother and the Tessaract back to Asgard, I suggest you all take a brief leave of absence. Mr. Stark I would consider it a favor if you could find some place for Dr. Selvig, too.”

“I can do that.”

Tony’s tone was suspicious, but Fury seemed completely at ease.

Sir, I’d like to see Phil … Make arrangements …” Clint stopped and clenched his jaw until he was back in control.

“No can do, Agent Barton. Agent’s Coulson was cremated and his ashes sent to his family. Agent Romanoff can remove any personal items from his office, and I’ll have agents drop your effects here after they clean his apartment. His effects will be sent to his family.”

“So soon? Isn’t there going to be a service?” Pepper asked when she saw the devastated look on Clint’s face.

“It’s for the best. There’s just too much to deal with for the niceties right now. Later there’ll be a service for all our fallen agents, and by then things will have settled enough for Agent Barton to attend.”

Seeing the shock and anger around the table, Fury unbent a little. He wanted to sleep at night without worrying about the Black Widow sliding a knife in his ribs.

“Agent Barton … Clint … I know this is hard, and I know you did the best you could. The damage and injuries could have been so much worse if you weren’t fighting the Tessaract’s influence, and everyone at Level 7 and above understands. It’s the lower six levels where my problems lie. That’s why you can’t come in, and I am sorry for your loss. Phil was a good friend.”

“If you could debrief the others first, I’d appreciate it, Sir.”

“Of course, Agent.”

“I’ll go first. I want to take care of Phil’s personal effects as soon as possible.”

“Of course, Agent Romanoff.”

“Recording, Director.” JARVIS offered.

“Now, Agent Romanoff, when did you first become aware that Agent Barton had been compromised?”

Eyes on the elevator, Clint tried not to listen to Natasha’s words as he forced himself to walk calmly. Just before the door slid close, Stark was there.

“Where to, Legolas?” Tony asked.

“Uh … Anywhere … Nowhere … I don’t have anywhere …”

“No worries than … I have just the place. You know all about angles and stuff and I need a fresh set of eyes …”

With that Tony pulled him into his workshop, and before Clint could protest Stark had him elbow deep in several projects until Tony looked around several hours later to see DUM E laying a blanket over the man asleep on his couch.

~}}}~~~>

By the end of the week, the interviews and reports were turned into SHIELD, and the Avengers were standing in Central Park to watch Thor take Loki and the Tessaract back to Asgard.

After Thor left, things began to settle. Steve took off on his bike to see America, Natasha started spending more time at SHIELD, but had sat with him as he opened the boxes she’d brought from Phil’s office and that had been delivered from their apartment.

After his initial breakdown, Clint had no more tears, but his grief settled into his bones like a second skin. He cooked, but seldom ate, was always present, but rarely spoke. He trained with the others, but would often slip away alone to help the clean-up crews. He let Stark cajole him into helping him redesign the tower to be more suitable for the care and training of a team of … Whatever they were.

When Fury suggested it was a good time to travel, Tony packed his menagerie and moved Clint and Bruce with him and Pepper to Malibu.

The rocky crags around Tony’s Malibu house gave Hawkeye new perches from which to stand guard when sleep was elusive, and a new training ground in which to work out his guilt and grief.

When that didn’t help the nightmares, he often wandered into Stark’s workshop where he didn’t talk about his Loki nightmares and Tony didn’t talk about flying into the abyss of space with a nuclear bomb or his anxiety attacks. Along with his various suits of armor, they were attempting to build Clint a miniature crossbow that would be worn in a holster strapped to his thigh, the bolts strapped to the other. Since he carried his pistol at the small of his back, it would add to the Hawkeye arsenal. There were flaws, but they were making progress.

Many mornings, Pepper would get ready for work and find them in the kitchen with Bruce, Clint spoiling them with his wonderful cooking. Days when there was no need to be anywhere she might find them curled on the couch in the workshop DUM E and YOU emitting contented hums she supposed were to help the men sleep.

One night she feigned sleep to observe the odd relationship between her genius and the archer. Clint had been absent all evening while she and Tony watched a movie and talked quietly about Happy’s new position as head of security, and the progress on several projects Tony and Clint were working on for improvements in the tactical equipment used by field agents.

They’d been in bed several hours when she heard JARVIS’ soft voice. An hour later, Tony jolted awake. Checking to see if his nightmare had caused her to waken, he slipped quietly out of bed and closed the door behind him. Giving it fifteen minutes, she headed toward the workshop.

Pepper couldn’t hear the music, but she could feel the vibrations of the beat through the floor.

“JARVIS, what do they do all night?” She asked the AI.

“They tinker and talk about everything except their nightmares. Master Clint has little formal education but apparently is a voracious reader. He has practical and learned knowledge in many of the same fields as Sir.” The AI told her.

“So throw Bruce in the mix and Tony has his own mini think tank.”

“So it would seem, Madame.”

“Huh. Cut the music would you, JARVIS?”

“Certainly, Miss Potts.”

Heads swiveled and eyes blinked at having their concentration broken.

“Okay you two, back to bed.”She scolded.

“But, Sweetie …”

“Don’t Sweetie me. You have meetings tomorrow, and I don’t want you going to the office looking like you’ve been on bender.”

“You wound me, Woman. You know I rarely touch the stuff anymore.” Tony pouted. “Besides Hawkniss and I are doing mechanicey … Sciencey things …”

Clint gave the couple a small smile.

“Sorry, I didn’t know he had meetings.” He said softly.

“I know … Four Feathers can come with. He can keep me from being bored and explain to the idiots in R & D why they can’t get it right.”

“Tony …”

“Pleasepleasepleaseplease, Pep. You have Happy for security. You won’t let me have a red-head so I want a Legolas. We’ll be bad ass together. Besides he’s bored all day by himself … Aren’t you?”He looked at Clint pleadingly.

The archer’s eyes went wide then gave Pepper a helpless shrug as though to ask, ‘what are you going to do?’

“Great! Let’s go.”

Tony grabbed both their hands and pulled them upstairs.

“Lock up for me, J.”

“Indeed, Sir.”

Clint started to move toward his own room when Tony pulled him back.

“Nope, you won’t sleep if you go in there. Come on. Best security blanket ever.” He coaxed, grinning at Pepper.

Clint turned another surprised look on Pepper, who rolled her eyes, but extended her hand to Clint.

“He’s right. You need sleep.”

Tony was right. Best security blanket he’d had since … In a while.

~}}}~~~>

Looking out over the newest batch of junior agents, Agent Romanoff breathed a sigh of relief when her phone rang … Anything to distract her from the train wreck of watching their attempts at the obstacle course. Relief turned to worry when she saw the number for Pepper Potts.

“Ms. Potts?”

“Agent Romanoff … Hey … Hi … How are you?”

“Natasha, please, is everything alright? Nothing’s happened … Has it?”

“Pepper, please. No … I don’t know. That’s why I’m calling. I don’t really know Clint, so I don’t know what he was like … Before … I was hoping you could tell me about him.”

“Didn’t you read the file Coulson brought Tony?” Natasha hedged.

“That was before Loki … Before Phil died. This Clint eats little, talks less, builds things with Tony, and never mentions Phil, and seems so very lost. It’s like he’s waiting for us to set him outside like an unwanted puppy and close the door.”

“Bozhe moi. When he’s himself, Clint is snarky, funny, protective, and has a huge heart.”

“Maybe he just needs time.” Pepper said more to herself than to Natasha. “Thank you Agent … Natasha.”

“You’re welcome. Pepper?”

“Yes.”

“Tell him I’ll see him soon.”

“I will. I’m sure he’ll look forward to it.”

~}}}~~~>

Fury studied the woman sitting across his desk. He was going to have to be very careful. SHIELD only hired the brightest and the best, and the Black Widow was definitely at the top of their game.

“What can I do for your Agent Romanoff?” Fury asked.

Elbows on the arms of his chair, he used his steepled fingers to hide the lower part of his face.

“I’m flying to California tomorrow. Is there anything you’d like me relay to Agent Barton?”Her tone was cool, but those sharp green eyes watched him carefully.

Fury pulled an envelope out of his drawer.

“As a matter of fact, I do. Normally I wouldn’t share this type of information, but he’ll probably tell you himself, so …” He looked into the carefully smooth face as he slid a second folder across the desk. “Since you’re already Level 7, you and Agent Barton will handling Agent Coulson’s duties in regards to the Initiative.”

She scanned the file.

“Before you ask, I’m sure Stark can set you up with whatever secure access you need to SHIELD. You and Barton can handle the division of duties for attending meetings and such. I’m sure we can spare Agent Barton the need to be seen around SHIELD offices or the Helicarrier … At least until the Helicarrier is back in the air.”

“That’s very accommodating of you, Sir.” Natasha sounded suspicious.

“It’ll take time for people to get over what happened, and until we get enough new faces … I think it’s safe to say it’ll be best for all parties involved.”

“Not sure Agent Barton will see it that way.”

“He’s grieving … I know what Phil meant to him.”

“To us, Sir. He was someone we could trust.” She paused. “Will you still be using us on SHIELD missions, or will we be strictly with the Avengers?”

“We’re going to play that by ear. Wait and see if what Thor said about other realms and worlds thinking we’re easy pickings comes true.” Fury stood marking the meeting as over. “I’m sure you’ll find everything you need in the SHIELD office in Stark’s tower.”

“The Avengers’ Tower, Sir.”

“What?”

Romanoff’s look was coy. “The Avengers’ Tower … It’s what everyone calls it since only the A was all that was left after the battle.”

~}}}~~~>

Natasha did not get on a plane for California. Instead she was sent to investigate rumors of Chitauri weapons appearing on the Black Market.

“Clint.”

“Hey, Nat.”

“I was going to come to see you, but something came up.”

“A mission? Need me?”

Her eyes sparkled at his question. No matter how bad he felt, he always offered.

“No, Yastreb, but I wanted to tell you Fury assigned us to be the liaisons between SHIELD and the Avengers. So you need to call the Director, and see if he wants you to stay with Stark or come back to New York.”

“Dammit … I … But … Fuck, Tasha.”

“I know, Clint, but you’ve got to get back out there. You can’t hide behind Stark’s dress tail forever.”

“You’re such a … Red-head.” Clint growled.

“You need to come home. I’m out of people to spar with  … There’s no one to give me any competition.”

“Love you, too, Ryzhiy.”

“Seriously, Clint …”

“I’m fine. Stark’s brand of crazy is actually good right now. He drags me to his dungeon to work on his monsters … Then there’s this bodyguard thing he wants me to do later so he doesn’t get bored.”

“‘Bout time he was good for something.” The Russian grumbled.

“Nat … I’ll be back … Day after tomorrow. I can check the progress of the repairs on the Tower, and touch base with Fury.”

“I’ll catch up with you when I get back.” Natasha promised.

“I should be at the Tower unless I get called back to Cali.”

“Clint …”

“What, Tasha?” He growled. “It keeps me busy so I don’t just sit around with the memories of Loki and Phil to drive me crazy as a shithouse rat. What am I supposed to do … The non-work for the liaison position that only takes one person? The solo missions with no back-up ’cause they may or may not cover my ass because I may be the reason their partners or friends are dead.”

“Nick just wants you to lay low for awhile. You’re still a SHIELD agent … Still have your clearance.” She tried to assure him.

“That’s not exactly the top of my list of problems, Nat.” Clint’s voice went quiet.

“I know. I look around expecting to see him.”

“I … I’ll talk to you when you get back.” He ended the call.

Pepper and Tony exchanged a look when Clint informed them about Natasha’s call and that he’d be flying back to New York.

“That’s perfect. I just got a call that the labs are ready for inspection so I was planning on grabbing Bruce to check out the equipment and see about transferring his projects back east … And Pep, don’t I have some billionaire stuff I need to do?”

“Yes, Dear. I’ll be there Saturday. If the rooms aren’t ready, I’ll stay at a hotel.”

“We’ll be done … Right, Greyjoy?”

“Don’t get me to lyin’, Stark.” Clint actually chuckled.

With a grin, the trio continued making plans.

~}}}~~~>

Clint loved his apartment. He’d kept the open floor plan, only blocking the lines of sight around his bed with intricate Moroccan screens. The furniture was meant for comfort … A place to sprawl or nap comfortably. The best and the worst part of the apartment was Phil’s ghost didn’t hover in every corner.

The box containing his life with Phil Coulson was stuffed in the back corner of a closet, and the memories of it locked behind the door with Loki.

The windows and the Loki sized holes in the wall and floor had been repaired. Bruce was practically orgasmic over how many science toys Tony had stuffed in the ten floors of R & D. There was training rooms akin to the Danger Room at Xavier’s under the garage, along with firing ranges and playrooms for the super strong. Clint couldn’t wait to try everything out. The assortment of weapons stored at the firing range made his chest ache when he saw not only his and Natasha’s favorite toys, but Coulson’s as well. Clint slid to the floor, his hand pressed to his chest, waiting for the ache to pass.

Needing a distraction, he asked JARVIS to show him the building’s schematics and security systems. Getting lost in ideas and questions to the AI, it was jarring when Stark burst into his apartment.

“We’re thinking Chinese … What are you doing, Hawkniss … JARVIS?”

“Master Clint was offering his unique perspective on the Tower’s security.” JARVIS answered.

The genius studied the marked up hologram.

“And his suggestions …?”

“Timely, and being implemented. We conduct testing next week.”

“What’s the going rate for master assassins becoming security consultants?” He grinned at Clint.

The archer shrugged.

“For you … A special deal … Room and board?” Clint’s grin was genuine and confused.

“Sold, but you really should have Pepper negotiate your next contract. She’ll get you a much better deal.”

“I’ll keep that mind in case I need a day job.”

His quip sounded more like the Hawkeye Tony had seen in SHIELD’s files.

~}}}~~~>

After supper, Clint sat with his StarkPAD and JARVIS looking for weaknesses in the Tower’s security. They weren’t just protecting the tenants on the lower floors, but also Tony’s workshop and ten floors full of years of research. Then there were the Avengers. The place they called home should be a place where they felt safe and secure.

He’d been down to the liaison’s office earlier to find everything in order and up-to-date. Tomorrow marked thirty days since the battle, and looking out the office window it seemed everyone’s wounds were beginning to form scabs. When he called SHIELD earlier, he’d been put straight through to the Director.

“Agent Barton, getting settled into your new office?” Fury sounded downright friendly.

“Somewhat, Sir.” Clint answered warily.

The Director in a good mood was not always a good thing.

“I was calling to see if there were any new orders.”

“Not at present. Just keep a general location on everyone with the exception of Agent Romanoff, and file the required reports if there should be an incident.”

“Very good, Director. If there’s nothing else …”

“How are you doing, Barton?”

The words came out in a rush, confusing the archer.

“Uh … Fit for duty … Sir.”

“Agent Barton … Clint … I think it best … You know … The whole Loki incident and Coulson’s death …”

Clint could hear how uncomfortable this was making the Director. The way he rushed his words and his tone. He knew the men had been close, friends since the Army, but he needed to end the misery this call was causing.

“I understand, Sir. No coming to headquarters, no coming to the Helicarrier, be a quiet little asset until everyone forgets I exist. Roger that, Sir.” He hung up the phone.

~}}}~~~>

Nick Fury sat in his quarters going over the events of the day, and looking for ways to improve the internal security of SHIELD. Having to rebuild, after Hawkeye’s attack, gave him the perfect opportunity to mold SHIELD to fit his objectives.

The call from Barton had been a surprise and left him staring at the receiver when Clint hung up on him. He heard the pain in his agent’s voice at being banned from the place he’d called home for ten years, and then the gravelly voice had gone cool and professional. It would probably be better if he didn’t mention this to Phil when he dropped by his therapy session in the morning.

When Nick had announced Phil’s death over the coms it was meant to settle the pissing contest between Rogers and Stark. He never considered Stark would take them home like abandoned puppies. They told Barton Phil was dead, and the archer became a ghost. His guilt over the damage he’d wrought on SHIELD and Coulson’s death was close to breaking one of SHIELD’s best agents.

So he thought he’d wait until Phil woke from the surgeries and procedures that put him back together to tell the team he was alive, but one of their deep cover operatives had located startling information about the Red Room. Phil woke up a few days later … Their experimental tech worked better than expected … Then like the days before hammers, aliens and The Avengers they brainstormed. When Phil suggested he run the op, Nick had stared at his friend, totally nonplussed.

“I thought the first thing you’d want to do after you woke up would be to call Barton.”

Phil frowned then cleared his face of expression.

“He thinks I’m dead … If we can dismantle the Red Room and find the Winter Solider, it’ll be worth the few extra months. Knowing Clint, he’s already pissed and hurt enough to scare the Hulk, but this is part of the job … Taking advantage of any little edge.”

“I can get someone else to do this, Cheese.”

“There’s a lot to put in place before we launch this op. We can carry it from start to finish so the logistics flow smoothly, less chance of a leak, and I’ll be on my feet and re-qualified by the time we’re ready to move.”

Nick was so caught up in working with his ‘one good eye’ again he pushed his misgivings aside and reveled in having Coulson to himself.

~}}}~~~>

Seventy-two days after the attack on New York, Thor Odinson landed on Iron Man’s landing pad at the newly renovated Tower. The bolt of lightning had barely cleared before Clint and Tony were on there to greet him.

“Shield brothers, it is good to once again gaze upon your countenances.”

Thor gave each man a crushing hug.

“Good to see you, too, Blondie. How’s Dagwood?” Tony asked when the Asgardian set him back on the ground.

Thor looked at Clint.

“What Tony means is … How did the trial trial go?”

“Loki has been locked away, his magic nullified and the Tessaract returned to its proper place.”

“Good.” The men agreed.

Clint went back inside leaving Tony to play tour guide.

“Come in, take a load off, we’ve got a floor with your name on it.” Tony invited.

“I thank you for your hospitality, Stark. I would refresh myself before going to seek out the Lady Jane.”

“You won’t have to venture far.”

The elevator stopped.

“This is your floor. There’s an Avenger proof gym in the basement … Just ask JARVIS. The floor with the balcony/landing pad is communal space … Kitchen, dining, media.”

At Thor’s confused expression, the genius chuckled.

“The Great Hall where all gather to eat, drink and make merry.”

With a nod, Thor looked around the floor.

“These are excellent rooms, friend Tony, and Lady Jane?”

“Through that door is your bed chamber along with Midgardian clothes. Down the hall,” he pointed to the left, “are the rooms of Dr. Foster and her assistant, Darcy Lewis, who are presently working in the labs on the top floor of the west tower.”

The smile on the handsome face was dazzling.

“When shall they return, and our Hawk brother … How is he?”

“Darcy usually manages to drag Jane and Bruce from the labs in time for dinner, and you can ask him yourself as soon as you change so you don’t look like a refugee from World of Warcraft.”

“It shall be as you say.”

Thor dropped Mjolnir in the corner and left a trail of armor in his wake. Tony left chuckling as the house bots scrambled to clean up after the man.

~}}}~~~>

The Tower was quiet but for a lone figure moving through the shadows. Pale eyes surveyed the area before the quiet ‘twang’ of a bowstring was lost in the sounds of the city. Riding a zipline from the building next to the Tower, the figure was careful not to touch the roof, as the shadow ‘skinned the cat’ to disable the sensors and open the access door to the elevator shaft.

Free climbing down the shaft the shadow bypassed the floors of research and development and the floors belonging to the Avengers. Hacking the keypad on the maintenance access panel, the shadow slid into the shaft. Entering the proper code had shut down the shaft’s laser grid allowing the body to move freely through the arteries of the Tower until he got to Stark’s workshop. A quick check showed the workshop had been set on a separate security protocol from the rest of the building.

Lifting the grate into the shaft, deft fingers plucked aluminum foil from a pouch, and built a reflector around the access panel to keep the lasers intact, the figure slid down into the darkened workshop.

~}}}~~~>

“Sir?”

Tony looked up from his first cup of coffee. This was his and Pepper’s last day in New York for a while. Knowing the chaos waiting for them in Los Angeles, he was hoping for a quiet day.

“Yeah, JARVIS.”

“Knowing you had plans to work on the Mark 42 this morning I took the liberty of bringing the workshop online.”

“Good thinking.”

“Thank you, Sir. There’s a problem.”

“What problem, JARVIS?”

The AI had the inventor’s attention.

“Someone is sleeping on the couch in the workshop.”

“What do you mean someone? Haven’t you identified them?” Tony rushed for the elevator.

“I cannot. The only way I know there is a person on the couch is a null field in my scans in the shape of a person.”

“Is this one of Tweety’s security drills?”

“Master Clint had not informed me of such.”

“Give me cameras!” He watched on his StarkPAD JARVIS’ camera feed and grid pattern scanner.

The empty field moved. The face of Hawkeye appeared as he pushed back the hood of the suit he was wearing and waved after removing his gloves. When Stark slid to a stop inside the door, Clint was stripped down to his black under suit.

“Is this?” Tony looked at the archer.

“Yeah.”

Tony excitedly grabbed Clint’s face and pulled him in for a kiss.

“Oh man. This is great! JARVIS is there anything on the security feed?”

“Uh … I … Uh … Wanted to test it before I left to go…” A confused Clint stuttered as he waved his hand toward the ceiling.

“So Blondie agreed to take you?”

“Yeah. Thor said something about time being different so …”

“Then we’ll look over the footage during breakfast.”

Tony grabbed Clint’s hand and pulled him into the elevator.

“Lock up better this time, JARVIS.”

“Of course, Sir.” The AI sounded irritated.

“Sorry, J.” Clint ducked his head.

“It’s quite alright, Master Clint. I did not re-calibrate my sensors though I knew the suit was ready for testing.”

They’d just finished the initial walk-through of Clint’s test of the Tower’s security when Pepper stepped off the elevator.

“Where is everyone this morning?”

She moved toward the coffee pot as Clint took her plate out of the warmer.

“Bruce and Darcy have gone to the lab, Thor took Jane to breakfast since he’s going back to Asgard for a few days, and Clint tested out our stealth suit last night. We were just going over the security feed.”

“It worked!?” Pepper sounded surprised.

“Clint was sleeping on the workshop couch when JARVIS turned on the lights this morning.” Tony’s voice was gleeful. “I’m off to the shop until time to leave.”

He kissed Pepper on the lips and dropped a kiss on the top of Clint’s head. As she sat down, Clint gave her a deer in the headlights look at Tony’s behavior.

“I … Uh … I … We … I’m sorry.” Gray eyes were wary.

“It’s okay, Clint. There’s nothing to be sorry for. The only other person I’ve ever seen Tony that affectionate with is Rhodey, and they haven’t been that close since Rhodey he took the War Machine armor.”

“Oh … Okay … I just … Uh … I don’t poach.”

“I know.” Pepper kissed him on the cheek before sitting down to enjoy her breakfast.

Clint finished his coffee.

“I’ve invited Natasha out to Malibu. Do you think you’ll be back by the weekend?”

“Yeah. Thor said it wouldn’t take long. Plus Darcy is dragging the scientists out of their dungeons this weekend to some kind of renaissance faire or some such. I was so relieved Thor agreed to take me to look for Phil I didn’t catch all the details.”

A small hand covered his.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for, Clint. Whatever happens, we’ll be here.” The CEO offered softly.

“Thanks, Pepper. You and Tony … These past months … Thanks.”

He brushed by Natasha as she stepped out of the elevator.

“Breakfast is in the warming oven.” Clint mumbled on his way past.

“What was that?” Natasha asked.

“Clint being flabbergasted by Tony.” Pepper chuckled around her eggs.

“Huh.” She sat in the chair vacated by the archer.

“Apparently their infiltrator suit works.” She announced.

“Really?”

“Yeah, Clint tested it last night. Got into Tony’s workshop without waking JARVIS.”

“Oooo. Looks like I’ll be getting a new addition to my wardrobe.”

Both women were chuckling as they finished breakfast while discussing plans for the weekend.

~}}}~~~>

Clint sat on the edge of the roof watching the skyline, black duffel at his feet. Thor, in full regalia, burst out the door.

“You are prepared Hawk brother?”

“Yeah.” He stood slipping the straps over his shoulders.

“You go un-armed?”

“Never.” Clint chuckled. “Bow’s in the bag.”

“Let us prepare then.”

Laying a hand on his shoulder, Thor twirled Mjolnir with the other. Clint felt like his breath had been stolen as they disappeared in a flash of lightning.

“Heimdall! Good day to you, Brother.” Thor boomed.

“My Leige.” The guardian of the Rainbow Bridge regarded Clint.

“This is the hawk eyed one?”

“Yes, this is my shield brother, Hawk. The Midgardians also call him Clint Barton.”

“It is good to make your acquaintance Hawk of Midgard.” May your wish to find your shield mate be fulfilled.”

“Thank you, Heimdall, I appreciate the chance you’re giving me.”

“Come, we will seek an audience with the All-father before we continue our journey.”

No sooner had he spoken then they were traveling through a city the likes Clint had never seen.

“You sure ain’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.” Clint muttered to himself.

After seeming to walk for miles, Thor led him to a plain looking door at the side of huge structure. They climbed a spiral staircase that ended in what Clint supposed people with castles called a solarium. Women of all ages sat with sewing, scrolls, paints and all manner of things.

“Thor!”

An beautiful woman of regal bearing laid down her papers to kiss the big blond on the cheek.

“Mother.”

“Who is your friend?” She smiled at Clint and offered her hand.

“Clint Barton, Hawkeye, ma’am.” Conjuring his best manners, he bowed over her hand.

“Your Hawk brother who was taken by Loki?” She looked at Thor while still holding Clint’s hand.

Clint stiffened at the Trickster’s name, but made no comment.

“Aye, Mother. My brother kept the Hawk close whilst he was held by the Tessaract’s thrall.”

“Yes, well everything’s back where it should be, and Loki is serving his punishment. Odin is not in residence, but I will aide your journey as is within my power. Come, I will show you to your rooms, and have food prepared. You’ll want to get an early start to travel to Valhalla on the morrow.”

“Thank you, Mother.”

“I wish only to help heal what harm my son has done.” She looked at Clint. “Eir will meet you at the stables to guide you on your way.”

“Thank you for your help, Milady.” He bowed his head and turned away to give Thor a bit of privacy.

“His pain is great. He loved this Son of Coul.”

“Aye, Mother. They were together for many years.”

“Take care of him. He has heart.”

“That he does. He too had a brother who hurt and betrayed him so commiserates in my dilemma. He does not hold the actions of the one against Asgard as a whole.”

“Rest well and be safe in your travels. Come speak to me before you return to Midgard.”

She hugged him and pulled the handsome face down to kiss his cheek.

“Until then, Mother.” He placed a kiss on her forehead before going to Clint’s side.

“Come brother Hawk. We shall take our rest. Eir will want to travel soon as the light breaks the darkness.”

~}}}~~~>

The next morning, Thor stopped by Clint’s room to wake the archer. Worry surfaced when he found the guest chamber empty. He stopped in the kitchens to question the servants preparing breakfast.

“Such a sweet boy.” Cook smiled. “I fed him up good then sent him to the stables. Not enough meat on that one.”

“Thank you, Cook. I will watch over him in our travels.” Thor promised with a grin.

Eir stood at the stable door, her winged steed lipping her hair to hurry them on their way.

“Lady Eir! Good morrow. Have you seen the Hawk?”

“Good morrow to you, Odinsson. Indeed the youngling visits the beasts of the stable. They are quite taken with each other.”

“He has a way with the young, skittish and wild things.” Thor agreed. “Are we ready to begin our journey?”

Before Eir could answer two more horses landed beside the first.

“My sisters give you loan of their steeds for our journey.”

Thor turned to call Clint to his side only to find the archer moving toward the winged horses.

“They’re going to let us ride them?” His voice was full of awe.

“Aye. Gather your gear Hawk so we may begin our journey.”

His bow slung across his chest, quiver over one shoulder, small pack over the other, Clint was surprised when the smallest of the three horses shouldered the others to the side.

“Well matched young Hawk,” Eir chuckled. “Olnir is small of stature, but large in heart and takes no foolishness from its brethren.”

Clint spoke quietly with the animal before landing lightly on its back. With a nod to his companions their journey began.

~}}}~~~>

The sun was high in the sky before a great golden building came into view. When the horses touched down in the courtyard, they were met by a young woman Eir introduced as one of Odin’s scribes.

“Do not dismount. When Lady Frigga sent word of your search, I began to check the records. There is no Phillip J. Coulson amongst our warrior souls. You will need to travel on to Fólkvangr and speak to the Lady Freyja.”

The day turned to evening as they landed at Fólkvangr. Clint was exhausted as he slid from Olnir’s back.

“Come, rest yourselves for the night. Eir will return you to the capital come the new day.”

“Lady Freyja, we thank you for your hospitality.” Thor bowed low.

“I could do no less for Odinsson and his shield brother.”

They passed the evening with Thor, Eir and Freyja telling tales of Asgard. Clint knew they were trying to distract him from his worries of not finding Coulson, but the seed of a dark and devastating thought began to take root.

Right before they retired for the night, a messenger came into the hall. A short conversation with the Lady Freyja, and he was sent on his way.

“I fear the news is not good. There is no Phillip J. Coulson on our rolls.” Freyja informed them gently.

“I thank you for your efforts on my behalf, Milady.” He looked at Thor. “I’m going for a walk.”

“What does this mean, Odinsson?” Eir asked.

“It means my shield brother begins to think his commander has perpetrated a falsehood worthy of my brother upon us all.” Thor left to watch over the archer.

~}}}~~~>

Landing back at the stables of the royal house, Clint gave his thanks and goodbyes to Eir and the horses before excusing himself to go to his room. Eir and Thor spoke of their concern before Thor sent the Valkyrie on her way. He next went in search of his mother to tell her the news.

“I see the people of Midgard also have their intrigues.” Frigga shook her head. “What will you do?”

“I will remain aligned with my Avenger brethren, but give no loyalty to Fury and his ilk if this is subterfuge, and it comes into the light.”

Frigga chuckled.

“You are a loyal friend, Thor … Your heart full of honor and goodwill along with your stubborness. ‘Tis a shame all our fellows do not carry the same in their hearts.”

“Aye, Mother. They were hard lessons learned. I would save our hawk-eyed archer the added pain and heartbreak I fear such truths will cause.” He kissed his mother’s cheek. “I will ask Heimdall after the Son of Coul before we journey back to Midgard. He will bring what is hidden out of the shadows.”

“Excellent idea. Will you break your fast with us before you leave?”

She took his arm as they walked toward the family wing of the castle.

“I may have to pull Hawk from the high places of the keep, but we will break our fast with you on the morrow.”

“Sleep well, my son.”

~}}}~~~>

“I could stay here and see something new every time I blink.”

It did not surprise Thor that the human knew he was behind him.

“Did you rest, or did you perch up here all night like your namesake?”

“I can feel it.”

“Feel what?”

“The Tessaract. I could walk right to the treasure vault where Odin thinks he’s hidden it.”

“Does it call to you?”

Thor was beginning to worry even more than when he walked up the stairs to the keep’s highest tower.

“No. It feels … Content.” Clint turned to look at Thor. “Time to leave?”

He jumped from his perch on the battlements to join the thunder God.

“Time to join Mother for the morning meal.” He chuckled. “I would not be forgiven should we leave without breaking our fast with her.”

“We can’t have that now, can we?” Clint asked, his voice sounded more like before he was told of Coulson’s death.

“No we can not.”

Odin had joined them for their meal, talking with Thor about Asgard business while Frigga drew Clint into conversation. Taking their leave, they made one last stop.

“Heimdall, old friend, I would ask a boon.”

“You have but to ask, Liege.”

“With the help of Hawkeye would you turn your gaze to look upon the Son of Coul?”

“Join with me young Hawk that we may gaze upon Midgard together.”

A large hand rested warm on the nape of Clint’s neck.

“Hold in your mind the one you know as the son of Coul.” Heimdall instructed.

Two sets of all seeing eyes scanned the Earth until they stopped on the Atlantic Ocean, and peered through the layers of the SHIELD Helicarrier to a room where two men sat on a couch speaking in Russian.

“Pavel Aslanov from the FSB. I am here to inspect your records and facilities.”

“Perfect, Cheese. You own mother wouldn’t know you’re not Aslanov.” Nick Fury reached over to pat Coulson’s knee. “Let’s grab some dinner.”

Clint stepped away from Heimdall, his face pale and blank.

“Thank you, Heimdall. ‘Preciate the use of your sight.”

Thor rested a hand on Heimdall’s shoulder in understanding.

“Come, little brother let us return to friend Stark’s keep.” Thor laid a hand on his back and in a flash they were back at the Tower.

~}}}~~~>

Everyone, even Tony, was asleep when they appeared.

“JARVIS, how long have we been gone, and is Natasha in house?”

“It is 2 am eastern time. This is the tenth day since your departure. Agent Romanoff is traveling with Miss Potts. They are due back in the Tower by 7 pm. Was your trip successful, Master Clint?”

“After a fashion and not in the way I expected. Find everything you can on a person named Pavel Aslanov and send it to my PAD.”

“Certainly. Should I wake Sir?”The AI sounded uncertain.

“It’ll keep, JARVIS … It’ll keep.”

“Very good.”

The two exhausted warriors headed to their beds.

~}}}~~~>

Tony hummed contentedly when Pepper wrapped around him and kissed him on the neck.

“What are you watching?” All she could see was Clint.

“They got back around two this morning. Clint asked JARVIS to look up a name, but hasn’t said a word since. J got the impression he’s waiting for you and Romanoff.”

“It must not be good news.” Pepper speculated.

“And that’s why you get the big bucks, Sweetheart … ‘Cause of your astute observations.” Tony teased.

“Did you sleep while I was gone?”

“Last night as a matter of fact.” He grinned. “Does that entitle me to a cookie … A sinfully expensive chocolate … Public sex?”

“You.” She smacked him on the shoulder before heading toward their suite. “I’m going to change. Bring him downstairs so we can get this over with.”

“Bossy  … Must be my kink.” He muttered as he stepped out on the roof.

“Come on, Legolas … The ladies are home.” Tony called.

Still silent, Clint picked up a box followed him to the elevator.

~}}}~~~>

Natasha Romanoff looked at her best friend then looked at the box and the envelope on top of the box.

“This is the box with Phil’s things I thought you wanted.” She eyed the box and envelope like they were vipers.

“He’ll want it back.” Clint said quietly.

“Want what back? Agent Coulson is dead. How could he want his stuff back? What’re you trying to tell us, Clint?” Bruce was getting an awful feeling in his gut.

Clint scrubbed his hands over his face.

“Coulson’s alive.”

Feeling the heavy hand fall on his shoulder, Clint looked up and gave Thor a weak smile.

“Yastreb, are you sure?” Natasha asked to break the silence.

“Thor took me to Valhalla and Fólkvangr. There was no record of Phil anywhere so before we came back we asked Heimdall to ‘look’. We saw Phil sitting with Fury practicing his Russian undercover identity, Pavel Aslanov.”

“I think we should confront Fury. You were lovers … Why would they do this?” Bruce sounded genuinely confused.

“No, I don’t want them to know I know. Just let Nat take Coulson’s stuff back to Fury with my letter of resignation. Phil’s made it clear he’s rather be dead than with me … So …”

They could see Clint fighting his emotions.

“Nat if you’d get that stuff away from me … I’d appreciate it.” Clint said softly as he left the room.

The closing of the elevator doors had Bruce and Natasha turning to Thor for details.

~}}}~~~>

The knock on his door startled Nick Fury. He checked his calendar, but the space was blank.

“Come.”

He was surprised to see Agent Romanoff carrying a cardboard box.

“Something I can do for you, Agent?”

She set the box on his conference table before walking to his desk, and handing him an envelope. Dumping the contents on the desk, the Director felt his blood pressure start to rise. On his blotter lay the credentials of one Level 7 Agent Clinton Francis Barton.

“He’s resigning.”

“Effective immediately.”

“He say why?”

“Says he won’t work with people he can’t trust.”

“I’m obviously missing something here. Would you care to enlighten me, Agent Romanoff?”

“He didn’t make me privy to his thoughts, but said if you still needed him to shoot people to call Ms. Potts at Stark Industries. She’s negotiating his contracts now.”

“What about you Agent Romanoff?”

“I never had the same trust in SHIELD as Agent Barton.” Her tone was matter-of-fact.

“I see. I don’t suppose he’d come in for a chat?”

“He’s no longer in New York.”

“How convenient. Why don’t you hold on to these … Give it some time …”

“There’s not that much time in the world, Director. You should probably assign Agent Sitwell to liaison with The Avengers.”

“And where will you be, Agent Romanoff?”

“Traveling, Sir, but I’ll be available if you have urgent need of me.”

“Make sure, Agent Sitwell is up to speed before you begin your trip, Agent Romanoff.”

“Of course, Director.”

After she left, Fury pulled up SHIELD’s RFID tracking program. They not only chipped their agents, but all their gear as well. Maybe Barton hadn’t yet removed his chips. He hated losing an asset the caliber of Hawkeye, and this was not really something he wanted to tell Phil.

His hope was in vain. All the chips assigned to Barton were off-line. Maybe he simply needed time to grieve … He knew Clint threw himself into anything he did. His relationship with Phil would be no exception. He’d have Sitwell feel out the situation in a few months.

With a sigh he stood to find Hill. She could tell him where to find Sitwell.

~}}}~~~>

“You sure that’s a good idea?”

Clint asked as he watched Tony inject components under his skin that would link him to JARVIS and his suits.

“This is not the worst thing I’ve put in my body.” Tony quipped.

The inventor concentrated for a moment then struck a pose.

“Huh.”

“Stark.”

“Yeah , Greyjoy.”

“Wish you’d stop watching Game of Thrones.” Clint answered.

“Anything else?”

“If you don’t get this floating head away from me I’m stabbing it in the eye.”

Tony looked up to see the helmet of the Mark 42 hovering behind Clint.

“Oh … Okay.”

“Sir, it’s been seventy-two hours since you last slept.” JARVIS reminded him.

“Holy shit, Stark. You have a life and a beautiful woman in your bed. What are you doing not sleeping?”

“Can’t sleep. You know the whole flying into space with a nuke and dying thing.”

Clint nodded his understanding.

“It’s all fun and games until it’s not.”

Their moment of introspection was interrupted by the sound of Pepper calling his name.

“Damn. We may have planned to have dinner together this evening.” Tony winced.

“Guess there won’t be any sex as a sleep aide tonight.” Clint snickered.

“Cute, Barton.”

“Stall. Maybe I can salvage your love life.”

Disappearing out the back, Clint headed for the kitchen.

~}}}~~~>

“It’s a good thing Clint is a master tactician.” Pepper took a sip of her wine. “The two of you concocting schemes is actually kind of scary to think about.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Sweetheart.” Tony tried to look innocent.

“Hmm. Where is Clint?”

“Probably some place perched like his namesake. Why?”

“This is wonderful. I wanted to thank him.”

“He’ll be going with us tomorrow. Since he and JARVIS did such a bang-up job on the Tower, I want him to look over security at all the Stark properties.”

“Speaking of which, I had an interesting visitor today.”

“Oh? How interesting?”

“Aldrich Killian.”

“Did you tell him no?”

“He had some really fascinating ideas. I think you should talk to him.”

Tony set down his wine glass.

“I feel like movie night. I’ll even let you pick after you slip into something comfortable of course.” Tony waggled his eyebrows at her.

“Tony … We need to talk about this.”

“Not tonight. Not working after hours. After hours are for my best girl.”He cajoled.

“I am kind of tired.”

“That’s my girl. Now go change … Scoot.” He prodded.

Pepper had no sooner slipped up the steps than Happy was knocking on the door and complaining about Killian’s driver, Savin.

“Follow him, but be discrete.”

“I can do that.” Happy assured him.

“Good man. Now go before Pepper comes back and starts asking questions.”

“You got it, Boss.”

“Something we should worry about?”

Clint’s quiet voice nearly caused Tony’s heart to stop.

“No sneaking up on the guy with a heart condition.” He growled. “Probably nothing just some guy I met twenty years ago wanted me to work for his company. He called it Advanced Idea Mechanics.”

“Let me know if nothing becomes something. I’m going to call Nat and ask her what going on with this Mandarin guy.”

The archer headed back to his room.

“Hey Clint.”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.”

“No worries, man.”

A week later those words would come back to haunt both men.

~}}}~~~>

Standing in the pile of rubble that only the day before had been the masterpiece of Malibu he thought the house represented his life perfectly. Anger and guilt pressed in from all sides … Another person he cared for lost. He moved toward Pepper as she mournfully picked through the remains of the workshop. He placed a supportive arm around her waist has she picked up the battered helmet from one of the suits and rested it against her forehead.

With Happy in a coma, the house in ruins, and Tony missing, he could feel the anger building. He cursed Fate for a bitch and wondered where to start looking for a genius billionaire hell bent on revenge.

“Oh Tony.” She mourned as Clint supported her.

“Pepper?” Clint asked as they saw the flashing light.

She placed the helmet on her head and listened to Tony’s message. She handed the helmet to Clint, tears of joy rolling down her face.

“Only Tony would find a cigar store Indian wearing a blanket when he needed it.”

They now had a place to start.

~}}}~~~>

Under the cover of night, the small jet set down in a field on the outskirts of Rose Hill, Tennessee. Clint had argued with Pepper about leaving her unprotected, but she assured him Stark security would take care of her while he went to find Tony.

Now he was standing in a hay field with a jet they’d built based on Tony’s suits. They hadn’t had time to interface the jet with JARVIS, but he was impressed with how the machine had performed. Warmth ran through Clint as he trailed fingers over the powder black metal. Their girl had performed well on her maiden flight. Double checking the information JARVIS relayed from Tony, he went in search of Harley Keener to see what the genius had left with the kid.

Clint slipped into the garage, glad the Keeners didn’t have a dog. His eyes adjusted to the lack of light as he scanned the building for a place to start. He saw the Mark 42 sitting on the old loveseat hooked to a battery charger. Grinning he went around behind suit and opened the shoulder compartment. Instead of the usual mini-missiles, he found the file Tony had left for him. The creak of rusted hinges had Clint flattening himself on the ground behind the old Mustang by the back wall.

He watched the curly headed kid as he poked and checked and prodded until a phone rang. He listened, fascinated as the kid talked Tony down from a panic attack. *Holy shit. Tony had found a Mini-Me.*

Clint was grinning as he slipped through a loose plank in the back wall and headed back to his miniature Quinjet. If he was lucky he’d be sitting with Pepper over lunch.

~}}}~~~>

Clint was approaching the Stark Industries offices when he saw Killian and Savin shove Pepper into a van. Keeping the van in sight without drawing attention to himself, he trailed them to a private airstrip. Parking his bike out of sight, he ran toward the hangars while remaining hidden from anyone looking out office windows, dialing JARVIS and watching the van until it pulled into a hangar.

“JARVIS, I need you to tell me you can track a plane ID’s.”

“I’ll do my best, Master Clint.”

Realistically he knew there was no way to rescue Pepper. Swallowing his guilt, he ran back to his bike and headed to Stark’s private airfield and his mini jet.

He hoped Tony would forgive for whatever happened to Pepper.

~}}}~~~>

Plugging his Starkphone into the mini-jet’s console and hearing JARVIS’ voice through his headset had Clint resting his head against the back of his seat in relief.

“Good to hear you, JARVIS.”

“It’s good to be heard, Master Clint.”

“Have you got anything on anyone?”

“Colonel Rhodes in the War Machine armor is traveling with the president, but an attack on Air Force One led Sir to use the Mark 42 armor to precipitate a rescue of the surviving passengers. He has left the suit with young Master Haley and is en route to Miami.”

“Do you know where he is?”

He ran his pre-flight while continuing his questions.

“Not precisely. Sir is using what you call a burner phone to communicate with Master Haley.”

“You got me some place to go and somewhere to land when I get there?”

“If you would turn your attention to the display, Master Clint?”

“If I don’t say it again … Thank you, JARVIS. I’ll try to get them back in one piece.”

“I know you will do your best. Sir and Miss Potts are not without their own resources.”

“I’ve no doubt they can rescue themselves just fine, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind a little help.”

“As you say.” The AI answered as the small jet took off.

~}}}~~~>

Seeing Killian’s mansion in flames, he sets the mini-jet on a floating helipad well away from the flames and flashing lights. Rubbing his face to clear the cobwebs, he tried to be patient while JARVIS searched for their next target.

“Master Clint, Sir is calling the ‘boys’, and I am getting a signal from the processor in War…The Iron Patriot.” JARVIS informs him.

“Where?”

“There is a dry dock platform where they have secured a damaged super tanker. There are high levels of activity on the platform out of the ordinary for such an installation.”

“Can I get close with the jet?”

“Technically you could land on the platform, but Sir having called the suits I anticipate property damage on a large scale.”

“No doubt.”

“There is a helipad a short distance from the platform that should be out of the blast area.”

“Show me.”

Clint’s secured the arrows in the two quivers resting against his shoulders. Three pistols went in a waterproof pouch, and various knives were strapped to his person. Swimming from the helipad to the platform, he found a quiet place to pull himself out of the water. Time to find Pepper.

Let the bodies hit the floor.

~}}}~~~>

There were guards on the perimeter, but they seemed to be hired help with no attachment to Killian or his ideals. They stood in groups talking and smoking allowing Clint to slip inside without detection. When the party got loud they would probably be on the first boat to shore. As he moved deeper into the platform, he began to find the true believers. Using his bow and knives to move through the outer layers of security, his presence went unnoticed.

The first explosions caused Clint to curse as he looked for places to stay out of the way of Killian’s Extremis enhanced soldiers as they ran toward the upper decks. He went for head shots hoping that even with Extremis, they wouldn’t revive from traumatic brain damage.

Rocking and shaking from the explosions slowed Clint’s progress through the metal rafters and along tiny metal ledges, but he finally reached the labs. While looking for places to hide once he dropped from the ceiling, his heart stopped when he heard Pepper’s pain filled scream. A rocket hit above the lab opening a hole in the wall and brought Killian and his enforcers running for the upper decks.

With the way clear, Clint dropped down. The three people that remained in the lab were dead before they knew he was there. Rushing to Pepper, he worked to free her from her from her restraints.

“Clint, you have to get out of here.” She gasped for breath between spasms of pain.

“Tony’ll never speak to me again if I leave you, and that doesn’t include what JARVIS would do.” Clint quipped as he supported her out of the lab. “If we get to the water, the mini jet’s on a platform a little ways from here.”

“CLINT!”

Pepper’s scream and the roar of the explosion filled his head. The metal under their feet groaned as it took another hit. Suddenly the world tilted and they began to slide. Seeing a support beam, Clint caught it, wrapped his legs around the beam while catching Pepper by the ankle as she slid by.

Wonders upon wonders in all the chaos and confusion, Pepper ended up dangling above Tony’s head. Clint couldn’t hear their words over the roar of fire and explosions, but he understood the tone. It was for that tone he concentrated on his hands wrapped around the delicate ankle. He ignored the heat, his cuts and burns, and his screaming muscles to keep his hands locked. Then he heard their voices calling him.

“Clint!”

“Hawk!”

“Yeah!” He shouted back.

“On the count of three … Let go.”

“What!? ”

“Let go!”

“Are you nuts!?”

“I’ll catch her!”

“Tony?!”

“Ready! Three … Two …” Tony counted.

A fire ball hit the compartment … The beam snapped.

Pepper fell.

Clint fell.

The world went black.

~}}}~~~>

When he woke, he was surrounded by flames. Clint remembered seeing Johnny Storm up close when he was doing his Human Torch thing. That’s what he thought of when he looked up except it wasn’t Storm … It was Pepper. She was kneeling over him holding the flames at bay.

“Move …We need to move … Tony … Oh my god … Tony …” Clint muttered as he began testing body parts.

Canvas … He was laying on some kind of piles of canvas. No bones seemed broken so ignoring everything else he looked back at Pepper.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here before Tony does something insane that gets him killed.”

Using her Extremis abilities, the literally flame-haired CEO held the fire at bay until they were in the clear. Dropping to his hands and knees Clint began to cough from breathing the heated air. Finally able to lift his head, he watched in awe as the enraged red-head took out Killian. Seeing the couple huddled together, he staggered to the edge and dropped in the water.

Crawling onto the heli-pad with the last of his energy, Clint contacted Sitwell so SHIELD could get their asses out to clean up the mess. Hearing repulsors, Clint looked up to see Tony landing beside the jet. He settled Pepper gently in the seat behind Clint.

“Take her back to LA so she can check on Happy. I need to see if I can salvage any of Killian’s research.” Tony turned away.

“Stark! … Tony!” Clint reached out of grab the armored arm. “I called Sitwell. SHIELD will be on the scene any time. We need to leave.”

“But …”

“I had JARVIS with me. While I was crawling through the rafters, he was crawling through the computer systems. We need to go.” Clint urged.

“They’ll want reports and debriefs …”

“They can find us wherever we’ll be staying.” Clint cajoled.

“Screw it. Let’s go home.”

Tony turned to grab a quick kiss from Pepper.

“You got enough juice to get there?”

“Plenty, sweet of you to ask.” He smooched Clint on the forehead. “Last one to the airfield buys dinner.”

Tony flipped down his face plate as Clint lifted off.

Tony bought dinner, but it took both Pepper and Tony to get the injured archer out of the cockpit and into the car JARVIS had waiting for them at the airfield, and a doctor waiting in their hotel suite.

~}}}~~~>

Feeling guilty over Clint’s second and third degree burns and strained shoulders, but feeling a warm glow that had nothing to do with his arc reactor, Tony stretched next Clint with his StarkPAD while Pepper went to visit Happy.

Engrossed in the Extremis files, Tony didn’t realize Clint was awake.

“That doesn’t look right.”

The sleep raspy voice caused Tony to startle.

“Wha … Don’t scare the guy with the magnet in his chest … I mean … Do you need something?”

An unrepentant grin was his answer as Clint levered himself off the bed, and being careful not to jar his wounds, hobbled to the bathroom. Hearing the water running, Tony got concerned.

“JARVIS, is our little Hawk doing something he shouldn’t?”

“Master Clint informed me it was not his first rodeo when I expressed my concern.”

“That’s okay then.” Tony muttered as he went back to trying to find what Clint noticed.

Clint looked and smelled better, though he was still a bit pale.

“How ’bout food so you can take the pills the doc left?”

“Antibiotics only … Don’t need the pain meds, and something light.”

“There’s ointment. Want me to rub you down.” The genius waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“I’m good. Got my own stuff the fire-eater in the circus taught me how to make. Better than the chemical crap they give you, but don’t let that stop you from giving me a massage.” Clint winked.

Blushing, Tony ordered room service then demanded Clint show him what he thought was wrong in the files.

~}}}~~~>

By the time Natasha wrangled free of SHIELD obligations, Clint was mostly healed, Happy was home, Tony and Bruce had re-worked Killian’s formulas and had gotten Pepper to clear a few days on her calendar to stabilize the Extremis virus.

Clint and Natasha had waited anxiously outside the Stark R & D labs for news on the procedure.

“Fury wants you to come back.”

“Yeah, well Fury can wish in one hand … Shit in the other and see which one fills up first. How he could think I wouldn’t do whatever it took to find Phil … I mean we were bad ass before we ever joined SHIELD. Did he think we wouldn’t have other sources? Seriously, we have access to the all-hearing all-seeing guardian of Asgard. Did he think I wouldn’t ask?” Clint growled.

“It must be crucial for Phil to agree to not tell you he’s alive.” Natasha soothed.

“Oh it’s crucial alright … To Phil. He’s looking for the Winter Soldier.”

Green eyes narrowed.

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything, Nat. We live with geniuses and a demi-god. If you’re Fury and you want to tempt The Avengers to stay in the fold … What do you do?”

“Look for a really juicy carrot.”

“Not just for Steve, Tasha.” Grey eyes went soft.

“What’s Steve got to do with Yasha …?” Her eyes went wide. “Oh … Are you sure?”

“I had JARVIS do a facial recognition with a picture from the Howling Commandos and surveillance shots of the Winter Soldier. Bucky Barnes is the Winter Soldier.”

“Did you tell Steve?” Her voice was breathy.

He shook his head.

“The only reason I’m telling you right now is because you’re trying to justify why it’s okay for Fury and Coulson to drag me through an emotional hell after Loki romped through my brain.”

“Clint …”

Natasha watched him go from tactical genius to abused and orphaned mercenary in the blink of an eye.

“No. Just … No. Phil’s out doing his fan-boy spy gig or whatever Fury wants knowing poor broken Clint will be waiting like a faithful hound until his master decides to come home strutting his stuff for light, liberty and Fury’s way. There I’ll be waiting for those crumbs.” His eyes went hard. “Maybe it’s time Fury’s reminded Hawkeye is no one’s lap dog.”

Black Widow sat alone thinking on her partner’s words.

Pepper was doing so well that two weeks after her procedure, Tony went under the knife to remove the shrapnel and the arc reactor from his chest. Clint and Natasha sandwiched Pepper between them through the twelve hour wait. JARVIS was their lifeline, but when the exhausted surgeon appeared as day turned to night with the news that Tony made it through with flying colors … All three visibly wilted.

Six months after the battle with the Chitauri, the Avengers were healthy and whole and together again in the rebuilt Avengers Tower.

~}}}~~~>

“I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery …” Tony groused as half-sized copies of War Machine buzzed over the financial district, “But Rhodey does not need this kind of ego stroking.”

“You’re just mad they don’t look like you, Stark.” Clint teased as he took out a robot headed for a distracted Black Widow.

A roar from Hulk showed him using one robot to swat others out of the air until his ‘bat’ was shredded to scrap, then thrown into the harbor.

As the battle shifted, Hawkeye moved from rooftop to rooftop in an attempt to keep as many lines of sight open as possible. Thor had been in New Mexico helping Jane and Darcy’s move the remainder of their belongings, so he was late to the battle. Steve was focused on telling Thor where he was needed when a robot slipped past the Hulk’s robot batting practice.

Taking off at a run, Clint leapt toward the next roof knowing he was going to be short, but taking the shot regardless. He was reaching for his grappling arrow when Iron Man plucked him from mid-air and set him on the roof where he’d originally hoped to land.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Barton! What the fuck was that?” Tony growled over the coms.

“I needed a better angle to cover Cap.” Hawkeye’s tone was curt.

More robots cut the exchange short, but the battle soon ended as Clint’s rooftop hopping caused him to stumble over the men controlling the machines. Tranquilizer darts to the neck brought the battle to halt.

The following battles happened in similar fashion with Hawkeye showing a blatant disregard for his own safety if it meant protecting a teammate. There were firm admonitions from Rogers, sympathizing looks from Bruce, cold silence from Natasha, and yelling from Tony that led Clint to hiding at the range or in the maintenance ducts.

He gravitated to the Hulk after their battles, staying with Bruce’s alter ego until the big guy calmed enough to change back to the scientist. Clint would call for Natasha to pick them up then retreat from contact. When nightmares of Loki and the Mandarin pulled him from his sleep he could often be found in Tony’s workshop.

Tony never commented just pulled the archer into whatever project he was in the middle of, often depending on Clint’s native intelligence and experience with tactical gear to pinpoint errors or suggest better designs.

StarkTECH was quickly becoming the most profitable subsidiary of Stark Industries with new and improved products coming to the market every quarter, but the cost was the decline of Tony and Clint’s health.

~}}}~~~>

Pepper looked up when the receptionist announced her three o’clock appointment. To say she was surprised when the Black Widow walked into her office was an understatement.

“Agent Romanoff …”

“Natasha … Please.” She sat primly in the visitor’s chair.

“Not to be rude … But why are you here?”

“We need to talk about a few things away from the Tower.”

“Such as?”

“Tony … Clint, SHIELD …”

Pepper held up her hand to silence Natasha’s words.

“JARVIS?”

“Agent Romanoff asked before she left the Tower if I would engage privacy mode on this meeting so that Sir could not access the file.”

“Thank you, JARVIS. Smart move.”

“You know how Stark is?”

“Yes … Now that we’re in snoop proof mode …”

“What’s going on with Clint and Tony or maybe it’s you, Tony and a side of Clint. You tell me so I can get Clint away from the Tower before you and Tony break him more than I can fix.”

Pepper blinked in shock at the assassin.

“Umm … Tony drags him to bed when nightmares wake him, or I drag them both to bed when they can’t sleep and hide in Tony’s workshop, but we’re not having sex if that’s what you’re asking.” A blush dusted the high cheekbones.

“Not yet.” Natasha mumbled.

“What’s that mean?” Pepper snapped.

“Tony hangs with him, you take him into your bed, then he nearly died trying to save you from Killian. Plus there’s the part where he won’t go back to SHIELD because Tony’s giving him work as a consultant on Stark security. I know Clint. I know how he thinks. He’ll think you’re offering him a real home with a real relationship until the novelty wears off and you’re off to the next new toy.”

When Natasha finished, she watched the CEO’s face and body language … The changes she saw made her realize Tony wasn’t joking when he said Pepper was the scariest woman he knew that wasn’t her.

“Agent Romanoff.” Pepper paused and took a breath. “Natasha. Clint will not be going back to SHIELD, and how you can expect him to return to an organization that would treat him the way Fury, and Agent Coulson, who professed to love him, have treated him. That’s tantamount to mental and physical abuse. Is it any wonder he hides in the duct work and has nightmares?”

“That’s how the game’s played.”

“We’re not playing anymore, and if your relationship is as close as Clint thinks it is, you wouldn’t ask him to go back to his abusers. Clint’s an Avenger, and a valued consultant for Stark Industries. Any and all contracts for outside work will be dealt with in my office. That includes any sniper work for SHIELD.”

She pulled a sheaf of folders out of her drawer.

“Since you’re leaving, you can deliver these to Fury.”

Natasha placed the folders in her bag and headed for the door. Her fingers curled around the handle and were beginning to pull when she heard Pepper’s softly spoken words.

“It could be your home, too.”

She didn’t look back.

~}}}~~~>

Not seeing anyone in the great room when she got home, Pepper threw her shoes and briefcase against the bar before pouring herself two fingers of Tony’s best whiskey. The emotions running through her mind and body after meeting with Natasha had distracted her to the point where she gave up on work, and called for her car to bring her home. A noise at the entrance to the dining room caused her to look up from where she was staring at the bottom of her glass.

“Pepper … Sweetheart … What’s wrong?”

As she continued to stare, Tony began to panic.

“Pepper.” He walked over and pulled her into his arms. “Sweetie, please, you’re beginning to scare me. Did something happen … Did something happen to Rhodey … Or Happy … Pepper?”

The fear in Tony’s voice finely broke through the fog around her mind.

“What? … No … Everyone’s fine. My last appointment was … Upsetting.” She turned in his arms to reassure him.

“I know those windbags on the Board don’t bother you … Who was it?”

“Agent Romanoff.”

“What’s Fury after now?” Tony growled.

“Not Fury per say … She wanted to talk about us and Clint. She wanted to know when he was going back to SHIELD.”

“Never. None of them will have anything to do with SHIELD, if I have my way. Phase 2, all that crap with the Tessaract, pretending Agent is dead, the way they treated Clint …”

He felt Pepper smile against his throat.

“It’s a black ops spy agency, Tony, run by a shady secret world council.” She lifted her head. “She was afraid you and I were setting Clint up for some sort of mind games.”

She pulled away, angry again.

“What? … I don’t … We talked about this …”

“Tasha doesn’t know that.” They both startled when they heard Clint’s voice. “All she’s seeing right now is poor Clint, just gets over being mind fucked by Loki then Coulson then runs right over to Tony Stark because he’s not the shiniest tool in the shed.”

“What, but you’re a genius … I mean you don’t have all the fancy papers, but yeah.” Tony sounded confused.

“The world as she’s known it for the past eight years went up in flames. She’s trying to decide if she should stay or run.”

“Where would she go?” Pepper asked.

“She needs to come to us. I mean she can run … I can run. We each have money and papers no one knows about. We could go and never be found.”

“I offered her a home with us.” Pepper reached out a hand to both men.

“Nat’s smart, too. You watch. She’ll come.” Clint whispered.

They stood, giving each other comfort for several minutes. Clint finally broke the mood.

“Before this got all emo, I came in here to tell you supper’s ready. JARVIS, whoever’s in the Tower tell them soup’s on.”

“Certainly, Master Clint.”

“Good man.”

“I’ll go change.” Pepper scurried to the elevator.

Clint turned to go back to the kitchen, but Tony’s hand around his wrist stopped him.

“You know I don’t do that with family.”

“I know. Now, you don’t do it to anyone that doesn’t deserve it.”

Clint answered with a soft smile that made Tony’s breath catch.

~}}}~~~>

“Ms. Potts, you’re three o’clock is here.”

“Send them in, Monica.”

Pepper’s breath caught when she looked up into the green eyes of the Black Widow. She extended her hand.

“Ms. Potts, my name is Natalie Rushman. I’m here to apply for the job you posted for a PA/bodyguard.”

Pepper’s smile was genuine when she walked around the desk.

“Lovely to have you back with us at Stark Industries, Natalie. Since we’re going to be spending a great deal of time together, please call me Pepper.”

~}}}~~~>

When the vintage motorcycle rumbled into the garage under the Avengers Tower, ten months had passed since the battle with the Chitauri. He still thought the Tower was ugly, but stepping into the elevator and hearing JARVIS say, ‘Welcome home, Captain Rogers’, left a warm glow in his gut.

Steve Rogers had been from ‘sea to shining sea’. He had sketched and photographed all the places he’d ever wanted to see, and somewhere along the way he begun to feel at home in his skin, and in the 21st century. Regular calls from his team mates, along with Clint or Tony somehow finding him in the middle of nowhere to travel with him from time to time had kept him from being lonely. It had also made him realize that though ‘his’ family was gone, he had an opportunity few people got … The chance to have another. He didn’t have to walk through this brave new world alone.

It was that realization that had him turning the bike for New York City, and Tony Stark’s god awful monstrosity of a tower.

He stepped off the elevator into the common area where he was promptly hugged until his ribs creaked, and nearly deafened by Thor’s enthusiastic welcome.

Being introduced to Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis had meant more hugs and hands … He was almost positive it was Darcy, that copped a feel, which caused the blush from his collar to the tips of his ears.

It was good to be home.

~}}}~~~>

Tony Stark stepped out of the long black car, sunglasses in place, bodyguard on his left, CEO on his right. He offered his arm to his beautiful CEO as sharp eyes hidden behind dark glasses watched everything. He smiled at the all the bowing and scraping while Pepper smiled her gracious smile, and Hawkniss looked fierce.

“If we could show you our facilities, Mr. Stark … Ms. Potts.” The project manager gushed.

“Not interested in your facilities … Just one of your scientists.” Tony muttered.

“A scientist?” He looked confused.

“You do have those here, don’t you?” Tony looked over the top of his glasses.

“Uh … Yes. Any particular one or will any do?”

He looked at Pepper.

“We’d like to talk to Dr. Elizabeth Ross.” Pepper’s smile was still gracious.

“Dr. Ross is …” The expression on the three faces caused the manager to freeze, “Will be more than happy to speak with you. I’ll send someone fetch her. If you come this way, we can use my office. Can I offer you some refreshment while we wait?”

“We’re good.” Tony looked at Pepper and Clint. “You good?”

They rolled their eyes.

When the office door opened to reveal Dr. Ross, Clint shuffled the project manager out the door and shut it in his face.

“JARVIS?”

“Done, Sir.”

“Good boy.” Tony smiled as he turned to the confused scientist.

“Dr. Ross, how would you like to move uptown to a researcher’s Candyland? I promise you we have all the toys.”

“Who would I have to kill?” Her tone was skeptical.

Tony grinned at Pepper.

“I like her. Can I keep her?”

A quiet growl from Clint answered his question.

“Sorry Legolas. Forgot you and the Big Guy are BFF’s.”

“You don’t have to kill anyone, but …”

“There’s always a ‘but’.” Dr. Ross threw herself in a chair. “Let’s hear it.”

“You have to work with a man with breathtaking anger management issues.”

The room fell silent.

Elizabeth Ross glared at the trio. She ignored Tony and Pepper and looked at Clint.

“You’re best friends with the Hulk?”

“Yeah. Saved my life more than a couple times, and Bruce is an okay guy, too.” Grey eyes dared her to contradict him.

“I’m glad.” She turned to Tony. “Just because I want to see Bruce doesn’t mean I won’t drive a hard bargain.”

“That’s why I brought the boss.”

Tony stepped back to stand with Clint while Pepper and Dr. Ross worked out the details of her new employment.

~}}}~~~>

Fury watched news footage of the ribbon cutting and grand opening at a center to provide help for at risk youth. The Maria Stark Foundation had acted as the mediary for an anonymous donor. Tony Stark was the center of attention, but the Director saw Barton and Romanoff in the background.

The mission in Russia was taking longer than he’d anticipated. At this late date he could only hope that shock and relief would keep the members of the Initiative off balance long enough for Coulson to coax them back into SHIELD.

He’d tried to approach Barton both at and away from the Tower. Between JARVIS and Stark, he got nowhere close to the archer. He’d talked to Rogers, Banner … He’d even talked to Dr. Foster’s PA, Darcy Lewis. They all tried to tell him Barton didn’t want to see or talk to him. It was finally the Black Widow who put an end to his attempts. He’d awaken at 2 am to find her sitting in his bedroom, street light reflecting off the silver dagger in her hand. Her clipped admonishment convinced him Barton was never coming back to SHIELD no matter the incentive.

*Damn Operation Redwing dragging out so long.*

The list of collateral damage was growing every day.

~}}}~~~>

After Steve came back to the Tower, Tony noticed Clint disappearing only to reappear around dinner time. His hours in the workshop began matching the inventor’s until Natasha … Pepper … Or Natasha and Pepper would drag them to bed. Some nights Clint tugged and cajoled Romanoff until they were all piled in Tony and Pepper’s bed, the archer arranging them to suit whatever was rattling around his brain.

Steve headed to the living room looking for Clint. He’d been reviewing the battles he’d missed and he wanted to talk tactics with the archer. Tony joined him with a fresh cup of coffee. They stepped into the great room in time to see Clint disappearing into the elevator. That’s when the words from the television broadcast registered.

“Preparations have begun for the one year commemoration of the Battle of Manhattan. The spokesperson for the mayor’s office has not been able to confirm whether any of The Avengers will be present for the celebrations.”

“Damn.” Tony slumped down on a barstool. “I forgot the date.”

“What? …”

Tony perked up.

“Cap, we’re going on vacation. Hot or cold? … Not important … JARVIS, properties out of the US, preferably warm with sand and very few clothes.”

“Caribbean or Pacific, Sir?”

“Pacific. We’ll be there in a week.”

“I’ll alert the staff.”

“Thanks, J.”

“Pack your trunks, Capsicle, we’re going on vacation until the hoopla’s over.”

Tony was in the elevator before Steve could ask … Anything.

~}}}~~~>

“No.”

“What?”

“No. I’m not hiding on a Pacific island for two months because New York is commercializing last year’s cluster fuck.”

“Come on, Hawkniss … Work on your tan, relax …”

“No. I’ve got three consults so I’ll be on the road anyway.”

“Where?”

“Denver, Seattle, and a stop in Dallas to get with the architect for the new buildings.”

“Change it. I don’t want you anywhere near a big city that day.”

“Tony, I’m a big boy. I’m a master assassin and really good at not being noticed. It’ll be fine.”

“Do Dallas from the island. We have JARVIS … Teleconference. We all need to be away from the world until all this anniversary stuff is over.”

Clint looked at the genius and rolled his eyes.

“Puppy eyes only work for Steve and Thor … You just look like Dennis the Menace.”

Clint chuckled.

“Yes! Road trip! Pepper! Is she even home yet?” He grinned at Clint.

~}}}~~~>

A dark eye glared at the person sitting opposite him.

“According to you, he’s already going to be in Seattle.”

“Fulfilling a contract he has with Stark Industries.” Pepper’s tone was cool.

Nick Fury looked out the corner of his eye at former SHIELD agent Romanoff sitting demurely next to him.

“I was led to believe that snipers were easy to find.”Pepper goaded the Director.

“Snipers … Yes, snipers like Ag … Barton … No. There’s several reasons I need him on this mission none of which you …”

Fury trailed off when Natasha handed him a piece of paper. It gave them clearance for any operations involving The Avengers. It had been signed by the new president of the World Security Council, Margaret Carter. The Director ground his jaws to keep his words behind his teeth. He’d thought he was rid of the old harridan when she retired, but she’d found a new way to be as irritating to him as sand to an oyster.

By the time he left the CEO’s office Nick Fury felt lucky to still have the fillings in his teeth, and Clinton Hathcock received a very handsome payday.

The Seattle op went off without a hitch. Their mark was taken out with no injuries or casualties, but when the lead agent had looked for Hawkeye to debrief the sniper he’d disappeared.

The next morning a perfectly filled out mission report appeared in his inbox.

~}}}~~~>

On an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, The Avengers and their partners enjoyed the fine sand beach and the beautiful weather playing what had disintegrated into a game of tackle volleyball. Tony under a cabana with Pepper heckled as the game became more outrageous.

“I want to keep them.” Pepper said quietly in between Tony’s jibes.

“What? … Keep who?” His attention swiveled back and forth between Pepper and the game.

“Nat and Clint.”

“Nat? She lets you call her Nat?” His voice rose a notch.

“Keep it down.” Pepper hissed.

“What brought this on?”

“Well … You know … You and Clint …”

“Wait. I’ve been good. I love you …”

She reached over to squeeze his hand.

“Tony, I know that, but you and Clint get each other. You understand things about each other that the rest of us don’t. Natasha gets all of us. Who do you think wakes me up to drag you boys out of the workshop at three in the morning? I think we could be what each other needs all together.”

“We could start ‘The Avengers Commune’, free love among the super hero set.” Tony quipped.

“That’s not a bad idea. The Tower’s self-sustaining, and we wouldn’t have to worry about jilted lovers trying blackmail us, or to sell their stories to the tabloids …” Tony’s jaw dropped as he saw the thoughtful expression on Pepper’s face. “And we could come up with aliases and powers-of-attorney so everyone could speak for everyone if you’re hurt away from the Tower clinic … Yeah … It could work.” Pepper talked more to herself than Tony.

“You’re serious?!” Tony stared owlishly.

Thoughtful blue eyes turned on the genius.

“Do you want them in the hands of SHIELD or strangers when they’re hurt? You know Clint is the most susceptible to injury being human with no super healing or armor …”

Pepper smiled inwardly when she saw Tony grab hold of what she was saying and start to roll it around his big brain. Sometimes it was too easy, but the easy times were still outweighed by the hard times.

“We’ll have to be sneaky … Clint’s gun shy and Romanoff is scary, but the possibilities.” He shuddered as his brain ran probable scenarios. “JARVIS will help.”

“I will, Sir?”

“Of course you will. Barton’s your buddy. You want to see him happy.”

“With you, Sir?” The AI’s delivery was deadpan.

“Well, me, Pepper and the Spider.”

He rubbed his hands together as the volleyball game broke up.

“It’ll be fun.”

His eyes danced as he kissed Pepper’s hand.

“Now I remember why I made you CEO.”

~}}}~~~>

It was fun, but it was extremely frustrating. Like a wild thing, Clint had sensed a change and had taken to disappearing. How one person could disappear on a small island was a mystery to Tony. When they returned to New York after the hoopla of the first anniversary of the invasion, it got worse.

They still worked on their projects, but the new building in Dallas was taking up a lot of Clint’s time. The bi-weekly bad guys testing The Avengers mettle took even more time until in total frustration, the genius plopped in the chair across from his CEO.

“How’d he find out?”

“Find out what?” Pepper looked up from her StarkPAD.

“That we’re keeping him.”

She looked thoughtful for a minute.

“Does Clint ever talk to you about Loki … Phil … Anything?”

“Sometimes.” Tony looked away. “We both just throw random thoughts out once in a while, exchange bits and pieces. It’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle without a picture and half the pieces on the floor face down, and you can’t bend over.”

Pepper looked at Tony in exasperation.

“You smothered him.”

“I did what?”

“It’s not a bad thing … Just something Clint’s not used to having done. Natasha thought it was funny.”

“You got the easy part. Spidey acts as close to normal other than Steve we have.” Tony pouted.

It was Pepper’s turn to blush.

Tony leaned on the desk.

“Okay, Pep … Spill …”

“She’s no more normal than the rest of us … She just hides it better. We’ve talked … A bit.”

“That’s my girl.” He gave her a quick hug and kiss before dashing from her office.

“Tony?”

“I know. No smothering the wild things. Let them come to me. Patience and all that jazz … I just need the right bait …”

Pepper shook her head. It would do no good to call a warning to the genius when he was lost in his plans for building a better hawk trap.

~}}}~~~>

Clint jumped from his perch onto the broad green shoulder of the Hulk as a throw from Steve’s shield took down the last of A.I.M.’s experiment of the month.

The terrestrial bad guys were more active than the extra-terrestrials, though Loki’s kinfolk, the frost giants, made a visit every few months, and a race calling themselves Skrulls would pop up every now and again. He still got injured, but the injuries were nothing like he sustained while he worked for SHIELD. Though he still put himself between his teammates and the bad guys, it wasn’t because he wanted to end his pain, it was to protect his family.

The icing on his cake was his relationship with three people. The odd part wasn’t waking up in Stark’s custom made bed, it was how they’d come together once he’d stopped running from them. Tony, Pepper and Natasha had made it easy, there was no pressure, no one cared who he’d been only who he was, and for the first time in his life he had work that didn’t involve killing people.

He wasn’t sure they’d get to keep Natasha if Phil really found the Winter Soldier, but when he thought about, he found he didn’t mind. Sniper to sniper, he was looking forward to getting to know James Barnes.

Until then, next week was the ribbon cutting on Stark Industries new arc reactor powered building in Dallas. Something Clint helped to create instead of destroy.

If someone had told him after the Battle of Manhattan that he would someday be happy with a family that loved him unconditionally, he would have laughed in their face after he punched them. Now his life was so full, he rarely thought of Coulson, Loki or SHIELD.

Pepper had started making comments about babies, but they’d all been exposed and subjected to so many different compounds, the fear of contaminated DNA had Clint and Tony both avoiding the CEO when the sound of her biological clock ticking drowned their fears. After an almost argument that had driven Clint into the vents, they agreed to table the subject of babies until they got back from Dallas.

~}}}~~~>

Clint sighed feeling everything let go with that one breath. He, Tony, Pepper and Natasha had just returned from Dallas, and were settled in to enjoy some down time. Showered and changed into comfortable clothes, he was stretched out on sinfully plush carpet, leaned against Tony’s legs with Pepper’s fingers in his hair, Natasha was curled in his lap, and his stomach was full of his favorite pizza. Bruce, Betty, Thor, Jane, Steve, and Darcy were filling them in on all the Tower gossip they’d missed, their science projects, and that the bad guys had behaved while half the team was out of town.

Times like these still amazed the archer. He was amazed at how the Tower had become a haven in the middle of their chaotic and sometimes horrifying lives. He let the familiar voices wash over him, until JARVIS’ voice jarred him from his light doze.

“Sir, Assistant Director Hill is on the line.”

“Put her through.” Tony frowned. “What do you want, Hill?”

“Director Fury wants to meet with the Initiative tomorrow at 0900.”

Her voice was cold in response to Tony’s brusque question.

“Conference room 2915E.” Tony said.

There was a pause. “Fine.” She snapped.

Everyone relaxed. They would remain safe in their sanctuary when SHIELD’s agents came calling.

~}}}~~~>

Clint settled into a chair furthest from where Fury and whoever came with him would be sitting. Flanked by Tony and Natasha, he actually slouched down in his seat watching the rest of the team settle. A few minutes later, Agent Sitwell showed Director Fury and two people in hoodies and dark glasses into the room. No one greeted the agents as they waited for their nemesis to speak. Clint saw Fury sigh at their stubborn silence.

“I called this meeting to read you in on an undercover operation that took two years to complete. After our success with the deprogramming of Agent Romanoff, we devised ‘Operation Redwing’ to liberate operatives and dismantle the remains of the Red Room, and organizations like it.”

The only change in the room was the stiffening of six spines, and fingers tangling, hidden from prying eyes. Fury continued when even Stark held his tongue.

“SHIELD’s team returned with fifteen viable operatives and twelve cryogenic chambers. We have finished deprogramming four of those people.”

One of the men threw back his hood.

“Bucky?”

“Yasha?”

Steve and Natasha whispered.

“James Barnes aka Winter Soldier was one of the people found in cryogenic stasis.”

When the reunion had calmed and Bucky stood between Steve and Natasha, Fury cleared his throat.

“Since this mission has concluded, I will be appointing a new liaison with The Avengers.” Exchanging a look the other man lowered his hood.

~}}}~~~>

Coulson and Fury exchanged a confused look when no one seemed surprised to see Phil.

“Liaison’s office … Fourth floor. I’m sure Sitwell can read you in. ”

Tony made air quotes with his fingers as he exchanged a look with Clint. A raised eyebrow and upward curl of the mouth and the two men left, following Steve, Natasha and James.

~}}}~~~>

Clint had prepared himself for never seeing Phil again, but he had never thought about how he would handle coming face to face with his ex … Everything. Seeing the expression on Natasha and Steve’s faces when they’d seen Barnes had made him happy at their joy. When he turned back to Fury and Coulson, his brain had fuzzed out. He was aware of everything around him, but logical thought scampered away and instinct took over.

Before instinct had time to act, Tony was herding him out of the room behind the happy trio. Being shoved into the elevator and surrounded by Steve and Natasha, Clint had no choice but to stay in the car. By the time the elevator stopped, anger and instinct drove him high and hidden to evaluate the situation.

~}}}~~~>

Tony didn’t know what Thor and Bruce were doing to delay the king and queen of SHIELD, and he didn’t care. All he could see was red. The last time he’d been this angry, Happy was in a coma and his Malibu home was rubble. Entering an empty elevator, he stepped out on the tenth floor.

Watching the expression and color leech from Clint’s face when Fury announced Coulson would once again be their liaison with SHIELD, had started a slow burn that he had no desire to control. His protective instincts kicked into high gear as he herded HIS archer out the door behind Steve, Barnes and Natasha. Wanting nothing more than to go with Clint to whatever hidden perch he chose, Tony consigned him to The Widow’s care and headed off to set a defensive perimeter around his family. He’d ask for their forgiveness later for being an over protective control freak, but these people were the family that chose to be with him and nothing and no one was going to take them from him … Not while he drew breath and JARVIS was operational.

When the elevator car containing Nick Fury and Phil Coulson stopped on the tenth floor, they reached for their weapons, but what greeted them was far worse than they could anticipate. Anthony Stark … Genius billionaire who had outwitted the Ten Rings and invented Iron Man in a cave, stood on the other side of the elevator door with an expression that had made many a hard-nosed CEO fear for his company and his job.

~}}}~~~>

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. JARVIS gets a bit agitated when people shoot at his family, and ashes plug the air filtration system, then Legolas gets covered with the stuff when he’s in the ducts. Then there’d be that whole emotional thing about crawling through the remains of his ex.”

The doors closed after Tony stepped into the car.

“Thought I’d show you your new office, Agent, and to give you some friendly advice.”

“Barton and Romanoff … You threw them away … Well Clint … But anyway … Collateral damage in spy lingo, I think. They’re mine now … Technically Clint’s mine and Pepper’s but our Spider had Pepper in her web, but with James back on his feet … Well you never know … It’s just one big puppy pile in the penthouse… What was I saying? Oh yes … You know I hate when people touch my stuff.”

The elevator door opened.

“Gentlemen, office.” Tony pointed to the door across from the elevator.

Tony saw Jasper step out of his office when he heard the elevator’s bell. Iron Man and Agent Sitwell exchanged a look. Satisfied with what he saw, Tony ignored Fury and Coulson.

“Home, JARVIS.”

~}}}~~~>

 When Tony stepped off the elevator he was met by everyone save Clint.

“Where’s Hawkniss?” He headed for the coffee pot.

“Hiding. What did you do?” Pepper asked.

“Nothing. I showed. Agent to his new office and turned him over to Jasper. Did anyone find a room for our newest tenant?” He looked at Barnes.

“He’s staying on my floor.” Steve answered.

“Great. We’ll want to sign him up before Agent waves a contract under his nose.” Tony looked at Pepper.

“Tony …” Pepper’s tone carried a warning.

“What? Yes, I realize I’m being an overprotective ass. Yes I know all of you can kick my ass six ways from Sunday, and yes I know Fury and Coulson put together the Avengers Initiative, but you’re mine now. My friends, my family, my lovers.” His voice turned soft. “SHIELD can’t have you back.”

Feeling someone behind him he turned around to see Clint wearing a surprised expression.

“You get a free pass this time, but don’t let it happen again.” Natasha growled as she led Barnes toward the elevator. “Come along, Yasha. I’ll show you your room.”

With a helpless shrug the Winter Soldier and Captain America quietly followed the dangerous red-head as she led them to the elevators.

Clint and Tony stared at each other until Thor broke the stalemate.

“Brother Hawk! Come. It is time for our sparring session.”

“Yeah … Sure … How could I forget?”

He grabbed a shy kiss from Tony and Pepper before following Thor.

“Thanks.” He said quietly leaving a flustered Tony with an exasperated Pepper.

~}}}~~~>

By the end of the week, James Barnes was under contract, and he was helping Clint and Steve begin to implement the plans they’d made for a tactical ground teams under the auspices of the Avengers only.

Clint and Bucky got along like twins separated at birth, sniper bros, along the lines of Bruce and Tony. When Tony and Steve had started making noise over feeling neglected, Darcy and Natasha had cornered the two and browbeat them until they came to their senses.

When Agent Coulson finally cornered Barnes with an offer to join SHIELD, the Winter Soldier was so entrenched with his old/new family he didn’t hesitate to say ‘No’, and send him back to Fury empty handed.

Picking through candidates from his consulting jobs, Clint and Bucky soon had several teams, and enlisted Steve and Thor to help train them. It wasn’t long before they were running simulations using JARVIS to control some of Tony’s drones as bad guys. Their first real tests had a few rough spots, but they were able to keep the team supplied with ammo and keep the lookylous contained.

The Winter Soldier was finally home, and the Avengers were one step further from SHIELD.

~}}}~~~>

Clint fussed and grumbled as he worked to get the amethyst studs and cuff links to settle in their proper places. Laughing, Natasha finally came to his rescue and helped him finish dressing.

“Why are you so nervous? You did fine at dinner.”

“Everyone was busy eating and staring at the uniform. Dressing me up in an expensive tux doesn’t mean I fit in out there. You’re the infiltrator in the family. You sure you don’t want to stay here and see if I can find all your weapons?” The archer waggled his eyebrows.

She slapped the hand that was working its way up the slit in her gown.

“Pretend you’re undercover … Clint Barton, billionaire, playboy, genius …”

“No stealing my lines, our deadly little spider. They’re copyrighted … I think. Hey, Pep did we copyright my catch line?”

Her only answer was a roll of the eyes as she adjusted her earrings and patted her hair in place.

“They’re waaay too pretty to leave the suite.” Tony snagged Pepper and pulled her close. “We better stay here and play strip poker.”

“You may cause a riot if you do that, Stark.” James poked his head through the door. “The natives are getting restless.”

“Shall we, Family?” Tony offered his arm to Pepper.

Clint watched the others file out of the suite in pairs. Betty trying to tame Bruce’s curls followed Steve and Darcy, Thor and Jane. His heart swelled watching the people who had taken him in when he was broken and alone. They were geniuses, Super Soldiers and a God, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how he fit. Tasha smiled a genuine smile as she took James’ arm. It made his breath catch at their beauty. He shoved his hands in his pockets, and considered slipping out when he heard Tony hollering from elevator.

“Greyjoy, get your tight ass out here!”

“Tony!”

Pepper’s voice was full of fond exasperation.

“What!? You said …”

“Tony!”

“JARVIS, make a note that Tony is cut off from watching Game of Thrones.” Clint asked.

“Good luck with that, Master Clint.” The AI answered.

By the time they got to the lobby, Clint was certain his ass had been pinched more times than during cocktail hour and dinner.

~}}}~~~>

The evening was drawing to a close, and Clint had never been so glad of anything in his life. His face hurt from smiling, and his brain hurt from all the inane conversation. He headed for the bar before anyone else could waylay him to ask more stupid questions. The bartender had just set down his drink when Phil Coulson appeared at his elbow trapping him between the bar and the wall. Setting his face into his ‘Agent Barton’ mask, he turned to his former handler.

“Clint.”

“Agent Coulson.”

He saw the older man’s twitch at his cool reception. Clint had been dosing himself with small amounts of exposure to his former handler in hopes of building up a tolerance so the sight of the man no longer caused him pain. It’d been only moderately successful.

“I need to have a word … Privately.”

“I can think of nothing that won’t wait until business hours, Agent.”

“I have some things I need to say to you that does not need an audience.”

Clint looked over Phil’s shoulder and gave a minute twitch of his head, shaking off an offer of rescue from Natasha and James.

With a sigh of resignation, he looked back at Phil.

“If this is what it takes to lay this to rest and cap it with a tombstone … Let’s go.”

He stalked past Phil to the elevators. When the doors opened they were at the penthouse.

“I’ll give it fifteen minutes before Tony shows up so talk fast.” Clint settled in an armchair not caring what Coulson did.

“I’ve apologized to the team for SHIELD’s deception, but I wanted to talk to you alone, and talk about some things I’ve realized since I’ve been back.”

“I really don’t care about your epiphanies, Agent Coulson … Your actions made things crystal clear. I was a piece of ass to tide you over until Fury consolidated his power. He now has the Council under his thumb so he stopped wasting those excellent employee management skills you use to convince assets with issues to trust you … To fall in love with you …”

Clint saw Phil’s flinch at his crude statement.

“It wasn’t like that …” Phil looked away. “I did love you.”

“But not like you love SHIELD … Not like you love Marcus Johnson.”

The color drained out of Phil’s face, but Clint was just building up steam. Now was his chance to say all things he’d held back since returning from Asgard.

“When I heard you were dead, I stopped living. I wasn’t suicidal, but if the bad guys got lucky then the pain would stop. No one at SHIELD cared … Fury sent me away so he had you to himself, and if Hawkeye died a hero’s death it would be a publicity windfall.”

“I’m sorry. I never meant for things to go the way they did. When Nick asked me to go undercover I didn’t think about the ramifications of after the mission.”

“You never thought of any ramifications when it came to Nick.” Clint spat. “Didn’t you think I would tear up the world because I know Fury is fucking liar who lies. I loved you … Sure, but more than that I trusted you. You convinced me to try one more time so when Thor offered to look for you in Valhalla I didn’t hesitate to say yes. You know Thor … He’s got a heart as big as a mountain … He wanted my forgiveness for what Loki had done, and when Heimdall offered to look for you, I was stupidly grateful. When he showed you to me and you were sitting with Nick practicing your new undercover role … Let’s just say the inside of my head wasn’t pretty.”

He looked Coulson in the eye.

“If not for my team … I felt …” He felt his façade crack, but pulled it together, “More a whore than I’d ever felt as a merc. Granted the pay and the benefits were good so I was a well paid whore. I thought I’d feel better if I put an arrow in Fury’s other eye until my team made me realize that someone who could do what you did was not in love with me. So I will ask again. What do you want, Agent Coulson?”

“I wanted to set things right with you. I wanted to give you closure … To see if there was anything left that we could rebuild if not a relationship then at a least a friendship. I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, and if I could change the past I would. Looking back and listening to you just now, I don’t feel very good about what Nick and I did, and all I can say is, I never meant for it to happen that way. I want you … You and Natasha to come back to SHIELD.”

Clint froze in his chair incredulous that Phil could say these things to him with a straight face. Before he could recover from his shock, the doors to the suite burst open.

“Agent … Agent … Agent.” Tony called as his presence filled the room. “That is soooo not going to happen.”

The rest of the Avengers entered the suite at more sedate pace, Bruce closing the doors quietly behind them.

“Are you saying Barton and Romanoff can’t return to SHIELD?” Phil challenged.

“Sure they can return. They just can’t stay. They’re under contract to SI, and as such we …” He pointed to Pepper, “Negotiate any outside contracts for their services.” Tony walked over to the bar. “Drink anyone?”

“Actually, anything any of us do goes through Tony and Pepper.” Steve added. “Anytime there’s a fight SHIELD is responsible for any media or fallout.”

“Why would The Director agree to that?”

“I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Tony’s expression was smug.

“What could you possibly use to blackmail SHIELD?” Phil drew himself up, affronted on SHIELD’s behalf.

“Did you know JARVIS recorded everything that happened during our little skirmish?” Tony raised his eyebrows as he asked the question. “Including the transmissions from the WSC, and Nick’s warning?”

They all watched the agent’s face go pale. He looked around the hotel suite. Natasha and James moved to flank Clint. Agent Coulson stood in the middle of the Avenger family … His only clear path was to the door.

“Coulson.”

Phil turned back to Clint.

“I have one last question.”

Phil nodded at him to ask.

“These past six months … Were you here to try and rebuild our trust enough to bring us back to SHIELD, or were you truly trying to make amends?”

Coulson hesitated.

Clint moved to the window, his back to the room.

Phil moved as if to go to him, but Thor blocked his path.

“I’ll expect your things out of the Tower no later than noon tomorrow and inform Fury that only Agent Sitwell will be allowed on the premises.” Tony’s voice was hard.

Steve escorted Phil to the door.

“Clint, the answer to your question is both.”

Steve locked the elevator behind Coulson, and hoped the agent hadn’t left too much damage in his wake.

~}}}~~~>

The sound of silverware dropping onto plates and then silence filled the dining room at the Avengers’ Tower.

“What?” Tony exclaimed. “It’s an inspired and ingenious idea.”

“That and a mountain of legal paperwork would ensure there’s always someone to contact when we’re hurt.” Natasha agreed.

“Cool. I’ve got some kick ass names for ID’s.” Darcy crowed.

“Darcy!” Jane gasps.

“When we throw all our names in the pool, the combinations are … Well there’s enough for what we want.”

Pepper noticed Clint slip away. She turned to Tony, but he’d seen the archer leave, too.

It was well past midnight when Clint returned to the Tower. Still restless, he pulled a chair onto the balcony/landing pad and twisted the cap off a beer.

He doesn’t notice when the bottle is empty because he’s zoning on the lights of the Chrysler Building when he heard a familiar footfall on the deck. He continues staring in an effort to ignore the interloper into his solitude.

“Hey.” Tony said softly as he squatted down in front of Clint.

The shift of his eyes was the only sign Clint had heard him.

“Why’d you take off? There was wedding plans to be made … Names to pick out … Identities to forge.”

“Didn’t want to make everyone uncomfortable being the odd man out.” Clint murmured. “Besides, you got all my powers to do whatever … You don’t need me.”

“What odd man out? Everybody’s got someone.”

“Even I can do the math, Tony.” Clint glared.

“Okay. I’ll admit Pepper wants to do the traditional thing, but I think Thor’s the only one of us that’s got family outside the Avengers, and with the killer commute, not sure they can make it.”

Tony paused, but when Clint looked away, he continued, but his voice took on a desperate note.

“I know a judge … Well I know a lot of judges, but anyway, we’ll get one of them here, and the public face can get married while all you super secret spies scatter out.”

“You mean James and Nat?”

“Them, too.”

That caught Clint’s attention as did Pepper’s slim hand sliding over his shoulder.

“Stop teasing, Tony.” She smiled softly.

“Will you run away with me and Pepper and marry us?”

Tony reached out and tangled his fingers with Clint’s.

Clint looked up at Pepper and back at Tony. After several tries at speaking, he gave up and nodded his head.

“Great!” Tony pulled Clint out of his chair. He and Pepper tugged the dumbfounded archer back inside. “J will have our ID’s done first, then we can fly to Vegas hit up a couple different wedding chapels, and be the first ones official.”

“Tony we can’t have rings by then.” Pepper admonished.

The inventor flushed.

“I may have been anticipating …”

“Tonyyy.” Pepper drawled out.

“You’ll love them … I swear. Even made a chain for Hawk to wear his …”

Tony squawked when Clint suddenly threw him over his shoulder as they stepped out of elevator in their penthouse.

When the others asked after Tony the next morning, Clint and Pepper were very smug when they said he was catching up on his sleep.

A month later, a bout of the stomach flu had Tony escorting Pepper to the Tower clinic. When they got off the elevator on the communal floor looking shell shocked, Clint began to panic.

“What … What’s wrong?” He demanded.

A look of wonder filled his spouses’ faces.

“Nothing’s wrong, Legolas. We’re … Well Pepper’s pregnant.”

~}}}~~~>

While the weddings had been private, the reception they planned would raise money for the Maria Stark Foundation. Pepper and Natasha put Darcy to work on the reception while Jane was in Asgard with Thor. The couple would return a few days before the move to Tony’s house in the Hamptons, where they were holding the party.

With all the talk of chefs, napkins, invitations, and guests lists, Clint and Tony escaped with James to the workshop to work on improvements to his cybernetic arm. Bruce and Betty hid in the labs, leaving Steve at Darcy’s beck and call.

Two weeks of errand duty saw Steve sprawled on the couch with his arm over his face.

“Who knew not even Super Soldier serum could keep up with Darcy?” He groaned.

Everyone fought to hide their snickers as Darcy dropped a large accordion folder on his stomach.

“You need to drop this in Agent Sitwell’s office before morning.” Her tone was smug, but she bent over the arm of the couch and dropped a light kiss on the pouting mouth. “You’re a good sport, Soldier.”

~}}}~~~>

As Head of Security, Happy was working the gate of Stark’s Hamptons ‘cottage’ when the black SUV containing Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, Maria Hill and Jasper Sitwell pulled up. He greeted Jasper and told him where to park.

Darcy greeted everyone cordially and directed them to their table under a huge tent facing the ocean, sides pulled down to block the ocean breeze, but not the view.

Tony and Pepper had stopped and smiled as Clint dashed across the lawn followed by Natasha dripping water and hissing Russian curses like an angry cat. Somehow body boarding had turned into sparring, and the archer had thoroughly dunked the red-head in the ocean.

They noticed the SHIELD upper echelon staring after their playful assassins.

“They are magnificent.” Nick commented.

“Yes, they are.” Coulson agreed.

“Gentlemen, you wouldn’t happen to be ogling my spouse?” A hard twitch was the only indication they had startled the two spies.

Nick and Phil turned to see the billionaire with his arm wrapped around a pregnant Pepper.

“Which one?” Nick asked. “We’re still trying to sort who married who.”

“They’re all mine. It’s like Stranger In A Strange Land Avengers style.” Tony quipped.

“Don’t pay any attention to Tony … He’s feeling very smug at the moment.” Pepper rubbed a hand over her rounded abdomen. “He won’t be so smug in a few months when it’s his turn to change diapers.” She smiled softly.

“Congratulations, boy or girl?” Phil asked.

“We don’t know.”

“You know how we like surprises.” Tony verbally jabbed. “Off we go, sweetheart. Rich people to separate from their money.” His grin was bared teeth. “Enjoy, Agent … Director.”

“Stop baiting the spies, Tony. We still make money off them.” Pepper teased.

Clint had showered and changed into a soft grey turtle neck and chinos that made his pale eyes seem to glow in the deepening shadows of evening. When he left the safety of the house with Natasha on his arm, he felt like he could make it through the reception. He faltered when he saw the SHIELD contingent until the sting of fingernails on the tender skin of his inner wrist brought his attention back to her.

Giving his partner a wan smile, he rubbed his thumb over his ring as they started their rounds of the guests. Finally the only guests they hadn’t talked with were their former bosses. James joined them as Clint straightened and headed toward Phil and Nick. He braced himself for the pain and constriction that usually lodged in his chest when he saw Phil.

When the pain didn’t come, he almost stumbled. The pain was gone. He looked over at James and Natasha with a smile of such wonder on his face that they stopped.

“Clint?”

He reached out and pulled the couple into a hard hug.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore.” He whispered in Natasha’s ear.

A full smile broke across the beautiful face.

“You might want to turn down the wattage a bit … You’re about to cause a meltdown among the guests.” James teased.

Clint barely remembered the conversation other than walking away because he felt the sudden need to be with Tony and Pepper.

“Is everything alright?” Nick asked.

“Everything’s perfect.” Natasha winked at the men before they headed back toward their family.

~}}}~~~>

Standing in the penthouse nursery, Clint marveled at Nathan Virgil Barton and Vinton Robert Stark. He’d never known such a thing was possible, but one of the tiny bundles was actually HIS son. Clasping hands with Pepper and Tony, he stood in awestruck wonder at the turns his life had taken.

After the Battle of Manhattan with his lover dead, and his career in ashes, Clint had thought there was no place left for him. Out of those ashes had been born a new family, a new career and a tower full of hope and possibilities, and all he’d had to do was rebuild his trust.

~ Fini ~

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