Best of A Bad Thing

July 23, 2015:

Kate Bishop drops by a SHIELD safehouse to talk to Clint Barton. The real one.

SHIELD Safehouse

Bland, innocuous and inoffensive to the point of insanity.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been a couple of weeks now since the news. Since everything was turned on its head. Kate's been…very pointedly busy. Working. Training. Doing publicity. Whatever she can do that doesn't involve thinking about the LMD and what it means. But in between, she managed to talk to a few people. Managed to come to terms with some things. Which means it's Clint's turn.

She wasn't kidding about the tracker in his suit. And after the video of what happened when she tried to leave the Triskelion after she got the news, most of the SHIELD agents aren't interested in starting a fight. So eventually, she managed to find the safe house where they're keeping Barton, knocking on the door.

"Hey. Knucklehead." She pushes the doorbell too. "I brought pizza and beer. Put your ears in, we need to talk."

***

The door opens about ten seconds after the doorbell. Clint looks… er… well still different. "Don't need 'em at the moment. Long story." That he doesn't like thinking about. "Good to see you though." And the pizza's welcome too. And the beer. The beer here is awful.

Clint reaches a hand out to relieve her of one of the two items while he opens the door wider and steps back. The place is… well it's not a wreck. It's not really a mess but Clint's not really tidy. So there's a couple changes of clothes bundled up and tossed onto one of the chairs. The dishes in the sink are… rinsed, at least. And there's not a huge stack of them. TV is on but the volume is turned way down. He's just got the CNN feed going for visual white noise and information purposes.

There's a bow leaning on the coffee table in the center of the living room and a sword, unsheathed and clearly in the process of being oiled. That is clean. And immaculate. And likely very sharp. "I was starting to think you might just… not stop by. Er, lemme get some plates."

***

"I thought about it." Kate passes off the pizza and beer, taking a look around the place and wrinkling her nose. "Well. At least it's a step up from a fleabag motel." She perches on the edge of the table, rather than trying to choose a seat, watching him. "I thought about not showing up. And then I thought about how pissed I was at Cap for leaving the team. And I thought about…I thought about a lot of things, Clint. But the bottom line was, you've been my best friend for a lot longer than you've been anything else. And if I let some stupid robot ruin that, too, then I'd be stupid."

***

That gets a smile from Clint as he comes back with a couple of (clean… ish) plates and sets them down for pizza-ing. He listens while he occupies himself getting the both of them a couple of slices.

"Thanks Kate." He murmurs quietly and then hesitates for a moment. How does one even do this? "You, uh… you should know that I remember some of it." Shouldn't take too much for Kate to figure out what 'it' is. "The more… emotional parts." There's a slightly drawn out pause. "I really am glad that you decided to stop by. Of all the things that god damn robot screwed up, seeing the hurt on your face was the worst…"

***

Kate turns bright red, distracting herself by reaching for one of the beers and twisting the cap off. "Yeah. Well. That's…really super awkward, Clint." Her brows furrow, and though the bottle is open, it just hangs between her fingers as she stares down at the floor. "Look, before we…get into that, and what it means, or doesn't mean, or any of that, can you tell me what happened? Where were you all this time?"

***

"Uzbekistan for most of it." Now it's Clint's turn to need a beer. He still hates thinking about this. So many questions and what if's. "I'd been on a mission in Monaco. It was supposed to be routine. Turned into a chase with some… I figure they were HYDRA. AIM, that is. I was waiting for extraction, figuring I'd lost them when there was an explosion and the apartment I was in just sort of disintigrated beneath my feet."

The older archer takes a drink and is quiet for a long time. "When I woke up I was on a medical table. I only found out later they'd taken me half a world away. One of the most godforsaken places on the planet. I spent a lot of that time in a drugged daze while I… had dreams. Or I thought they were dreams. I figured they were, I dunno, probing my brain or something. They kept me hooked up to a lot of machines and computers and lightly sedated for most of it. About three months ago something happened. Lots of panic and folks getting agitated. Someone forgot to change my sedatives and I woke up enough to escape. They chased me though. Took me three months to make my way to Albania where I was finally able to get a message out to folks I knew I could trust. That's, uh, the short version anyway." The long version is the subject of a report he knows SHIELD is going to insist on having at some point.

***

"And having you hooked up the the robot was…" Kate takes a sip of the beer, still frowning and looking away. "Is it wrong that there's a part of me that would really rather be talking to the robot about this?" she asks, rubbing a hand over her brow.

***

"Part of the plan I guess…" Clint has to put effort into not making that statement a growl. "I don't think they write manuals for this Kate, so… I guess no not… wrong." Hard for that to not sting a bit but, the robot might have more answers than he does at this point. That very fact, indeed, is why it was captured and not destroyed.

There's another awkward pause while Clint watches Kate. He hasn't eaten anything yet and he's clearly not sure where to go from there.

***

"Here's the thing." Kate keeps her eyes on the floor, or the TV, anywhere but him. "We…have what we always had. We're friends. You've got cool stuff. We're partners. I pull your ass out of the fire, and you teach me neat tricks. But Clint-bot made it more than that. We were…There were a lot of things about me that were broken, Clint. They were taped up okay. They were functional. But when it came down to it, I was broken in a lot of ways. He helped me move past those."

She drinks again, letting out a slow breath. "He was there when one of my best friends died in my arms. He believed that not only could I be a part of the league, but that I should, and that I ought to be on the council, even. He showed me that it was okay to trust someone. To care about someone. To let them care about you."

"And I don't…I refuse to let go of all of those things just because they came from something false. They're still valuable. They're still important. It still happened. But there's still this feeling when I think about it. Because I don't know where it all really came from. That's what it is."

Finally, she looks back at him, cautious. "I don't know if it was you, and your…your brain patterns programmed into it. Or if it was your subconscious. Or if there was some operator in some base somewhere playing me for a fool. And that's the part that's terrifying."

***

Clint is also looking at the ground. The main difference is he keeps glancing up at Kate as she talks. "I can't tell you for certain. I… I'm fairly sure, because I remember that they were… basically using me to run it. But regardless Kate… I wouldn't throw away everything you've accomplished. It's… weird to me that this… thing… did so much good. But it did and you're right. It's…" Words fail Clint and he blows out a sigh.

"Kate when this is all over you and what you've done may be the only good things to come out of this. And I don't want you to lose that. And… I'd… like to not lose it either." Which is weird to say considering he didn't have it to begin with but… you know, there it is. "The reasons you did it, the 'truth' of it ultimately doesn't matter. You did it and you did it because you believed in it. Don't let it take that."

***

"I can deal with it having happened with something that basically thought it was you. And with you. But some random tech somewhere just makes my skin crawl," Kate shudders, hopping off the table to retrieve a few slices of pizza. "And either way, it's still weird that it wasn't you and you were watching it. Creeper." As if he had any choice in it. But it's easier to poke fun at Clint. That's always been the same.

***

"Yeah well, you know, I've always liked watching." It's a shadow of the smirk Clint used to have - from Kate's perspective had just a few days ago - but it's there and it's real.

"It's weird. I… yeah. Weird is probably the nicest word I have for it." And nothing he thinks aobut makes it any less weird. "So… I guess the question is… what are you going to do now?"

***

"That's not the question, Clint," Kate shrugs, coming back with her pizza. "I'm going to do what I've always done. I'm going to stick my nose where it doesn't belong, jump in over my head, and do everything I can to make the world a safer place, so that no one else ever has to go through those hells."

Taking a bite of pizza, she gives him a long look as she chews before she speaks again. "The question is, what are we going to do?"

***

That is the question. The fact that Kate's asking it like that though, or well, the fact that it's even the question makes Clint pause in the way that one does when everything has been going awfully and then unexpectedly… something maybe possibly doesn't.

Or maybe it does, this is Clint Barton we're talking about after all.

But maybe… just maybe… "'We'…." Clint lets it hang there for a moment. "I… don't really know yet… except that I'd like there to still be a 'we' if that's something you still want also." This whole thing is so strange and so hurtful he kind of wouldn't have blamed her if she'd decided she just didn't want to deal with it. "I won't lie, I'm… more than a little jealous that a… simulation of me got to get that close to you and I never did…" Of course, Clint had other priorities and even, yes, distractions in the past. "But if that is something you'd still like… maybe what we're going to do is… take it one day at a time. Figure it out."

***

Kate lets out a breath, relief heavy in the sound. "Good," she says quietly, sliding close enough to bump her shoulder against his. "Because that was the other sucky part. I always figured there was a solid chance- I mean, I wasn't counting on- I mean." She pauses, taking a minute to rethink her words. "You've got a gift and some serious determination for screwing up relationships. It's not like I didn't think about one day walking in on something I shouldn't have. I could deal with that, or I wouldn't have gone into it in the first place. Losing everything, though? That would've sucked. A lot."

***

There's that ghost of a smirk again. "That's just plain old hard work. Nothing 'gifted' about it." For some reason, joking about things, even that, makes them less… daunting. At least, for Clint it does. He rolls with the bump a little and finally stops staring at the floor.

"Look in all seriousness, Kate, I'm pretty messed up right now and I know that. I'm not saying I'm going to go use that as an excuse to go jump in bed with someone. Honestly I'm… still kind of getting used to sleeping in real beds. But I know my head isn't screwed on right at the moment. And I know I'm probably going to be a pain. But if you can deal with that… I'd…" Clint trails off, coughs and take a sip of beer. His throat was dry. Nothing to see here. Just needed a drink. Not choking up in any way shape or form. "I'd really like that."

***

"Your head's never been screwed on right and you've always been a pain," Kate smirks, taking another drink. "You're just my pain." Setting her bottle back down on the table, she reclaims her pizza with one hand, flicking at his ear with the other. "So. What'd they do, upgrade you with new ears while you were under?"

***

"Not quite. Medical said it was a side effect of them having to fix my 'aural nervous blah blah'. I think in order to hook me up to their machinery they had to repair the damage to my ears. Dunno how long it'll last, or if its permanent or what." Clint trails off again, thinking about, yeah, the time he was under. After a moment he shakes himself and snaps out of it though, and takes a bite of pizza before reaching for his sword and the oil cloth on the table.

"I've had a chance to… uh… well, they've had me cooling my heels since Paris, so I've had a chance to read up on the JL:A and everything you guys have done… and been put through…"

***

"The giant clusterfuck, you mean?" Kate says ruefully, taking another bite of pizza and shaking her head. "It's not exactly been the smoothest start in the world, that's for sure. And with Cap backing out, now of all times…" Grimacing, she trails off. "I still don't understand why he'd quit at all, let alone right now. And it puts us in a tight place. Puts me in one. This isn't something I would've gone for. I was always fine with just you and me. But I can't back out now that I've started."

***

"Yeah, that." Giant clusterfuck might be something of an understatement. "Partly I was… trying to catch up on stuff I didn't remember. I tend to only remember the really emotionally charged stuff. We're going to have to be careful about that, by the way. I doubt revealing that one of the JL:A's senior members has been a robot spy is going to help anything." So dealing with it will have to be quiet… and it might make it impossible for him to stay.

"Speaking of you and me, I've been thinking… way back when you decided to be 'Hawkeye'. Of course I was doing that at the time too but… well, since I've been gone it really has been only you for a while. And I'm thinking… maybe that's the way it should be. You've certainly done the name proud. Prouder than I could have in your shoes, I think."

***

"Clint, you cannot keep wearing the ninja suit." Why does it sound like that's a hard line? "Seriously, Clint. The ninja suit is the most painfully eighties thing in the universe. Who are you, a ninja turtle?" Kate takes another drink of beer, giving him a dry look. "It might be a nineties thing. But I'm pretty sure if you wear the ninja suit, you're obligated to also wear those dorky banded collar silk shirts and have black velvet paintings of mountains and dragons hanging on your walls."

***

Clint chuckles. "So, my usual style right?" He teases a little. "I'm not thinking of wearing that. Though I'm probably not throwing it away. You have to admit, if I ever need people to not know who I am…" Might be handy… "The name though… well, you know, think of it as the Dread Pirate Roberts thing. Without the part where I threaten to kill you in the morning for a year on end. I think we both know how that would end…"

***

"You've already been threatening to kill me in the morning for a year on end," Kate snorts, taking another drink. "Robo-you's had me jumping out of planes, rappelling down buildings and jumping across grappling lines for this whole training to be part of the JL:A thing." She sets her plate aside, smile crooked as she shakes her head. "I think you're being dumb. You're Hawkeye. I'm Hawkeye. We're both Hawkeye. But if you need to be something else while you get your feet back under you, then that's your choice."

***

Leave it to Kate to suss out the other reason behind that. "Alright, you got me. Look, you deserve it. More than deserve it. But… I also need some… space? Does that make sense? Something that's mine and not… mmm… tainted? Something I don't have to share with the memory of something that was and wasn't me." He might, at some point, take up the Hawkeye moniker again but for now he's happy to be Clint. And if he has to be something else he'll figure that out. Arrow Guy is not his style though, so not that.

***

"So long as you promise to pick it up again when you're ready," Kate counters, giving him a steady look. "No running forever, Clint. Eventually, you're going to come to terms with this. And when you do, then no more ninja games. You be who you're supposed to be. Deal?" She holds out a hand, not looking away.

***

Running is tempting. But Clint's smart enough to know that he can't get away from this. He'll literally carry it with him wherever he goes. Which is a very good reason that he's not leaving the New York area. The other very good reason is sitting right in front of him. "Deal." Clint takes that hand and squeezes it firmly… then tugs a bit on it to offer a hug.

What? He's been short on any kind of human contact that didn't utterly suck in the last 18 months. He could use one.

***

Some things never change. Clint Barton really is one of them. Kate leans into the hug, and while she tries to keep it casual, there's still a desperate relief in the strength of it, and the way she presses her cheek against his shoulder. "Welcome back," she murmurs.

***

Clint wraps his free arm around Kate and gives her a tight squeeze. After everything, after a year and a half of unrelenting awful, this is one bright point, one thing that went right. "Thanks, Kate." He can't find words for anything else right now. But there aren't really words for the relief he's feeling anyway. "It's good to be back."

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