Bottled Lightning – Ch. 7
The next morning was slow and lazy. Phil made waffles with peanut butter, one of Clint’s favorites, and they slowly nibbled while Clint fiddled with a tablet and Phil read the paper. He was deliberately ignoring the strobing of his silenced phone in the living room; he guaranteed there were at least twenty messages or texts from the avengers and at least ten from Shield. They could learn to work and live without him for twenty four hours.
“Any plans for today?”
“I have to write up my report.” Clint said, pushing away from the table and taking his dishes to the sink.
“You can always do that tomorrow.” Phil pointed out, making himself not watch as the archer shuffled towards his bags still waiting near the door, hitching at the too long sweats of Phil’s that he was wearing.
“I’d rather do it today.” He said pulling out his notes and a thin laptop computer.
“Alright, you’re welcome to use the office here if you want.”
“I was planning to run a few errands this afternoon. Would you like to join me?” Phil said as casually as he could, not letting himself fiddle as he collected his own dirty dishes and started loading the dishwasher.
“Just to the grocery store, dry cleaner, that kind of thing. I was thinking about maybe stopping somewhere for lunch.” Phil said, straightening up and starting to wipe down the countertop. “I can bring you something back if you don’t want to go.”
“Nah, let me get my report typed up and get some laundry done. We can go to lunch first and do the errands afterward if you don’t mind?”
“That sounds good. I’ll get some chores out of the way here while you work. Just let me know when you’re ready to go.”
Phil had been puttering about the apartment for hours now and the place was cleaner than it’d been in years. Shield had been dealt with and they both had two weeks off of duty once Clint turned in his mission reports and debriefed. He finally checked his phone and texted the team that Clint was back in town but to give him a few days before they tracked him down. Ten minutes later there was a delivery man at the door with bags of clothes for Clint, groceries, and enough gourmet accessories that they had no need to leave the apartment for at least a week, courtesy of Miss Potts.
With most of his errands now completed for him Phil left the bag of clothes for Clint in the bathroom and tossed the last bag of his laundry for the dry cleaners next to the front door. With nothing left to do he collapsed into the couch and turned on some documentary as background noise while he reviewed the last few months. He still hadn’t decided if he should let Clint know just how much Shield knew about him.
Fury had given him the full file on Ronin, Hawkeye, and Clint Francis Barton after Clint’s second disappearance. Phil had spent half the time Clint was gone bouncing between utterly denying the information and trying to understand how it was even possible. Considering he spent most of his time around a Norse god, a super solider from the 1940s, and two genius inventors who had altered their own bodies there really wasn’t any way he could deny the facts.
Clint Francis Barton had been born in Waverly, Iowa. He’d been orphaned at a young age and run away from an orphanage to live and work for Carson’s Carnival of Wonders. He’d been billed as the Amazing Hawkeye, Greatest Marksman in the World and when he was seventeen his brother, Barney and his mentor had almost killed him and left him for dead. That was where the strange part happened.
The only record of a Carson’s Carnival of Wonders that Shield could find was from 1910 to 1950. There were even a handful of authentic posters showcasing the Amazing Hawkeye complete with dates, from 1935 to 1940. Shield then loses track of Clint Barton but soon after the rumors and notes start circulating about an assassin going by the name of Hawkeye.
Ten years later Hawkeye disappeared and was replaced with Ronin. Ronin popped up seemingly randomly over the next sixty years earning a fearsome reputation as an assassin who would wipe out entire organizations if one of those he protected was injured or killed. Both Ronin and Hawkeye had been known to pick their targets by some moral code they followed, only hunting the scum of the earth or those who hurt the ones they considered innocent.
If the files were true then Clint was the same age as Steve Rogers, only instead of sleeping under the ice for seventy years he’d been living as a reclusive assassin. Phil couldn’t figure out how to broach the subject of his best friend and coworker being over 90 years old but looking like he was in his late twenties or early thirties. His mutant abilities didn’t seem to prevent him from aging but he had looked noticeably younger after his jumps around the US.
Could this explain why Clint hated celebrating his birthday? Phil had only tried to push the matter once, arranging for the team and a few coworkers to meet up at a favorite bar. Clint had walked in, taken in the nervous cast of everyone not sure how an assassin would react to a surprise party and turned around and walked out without a word. It took Natasha tracking him down a week later to convince him to come back.
It was almost noon when Clint finally left the office and went to change into some clothes that actually fit. He emerged from the back of the house wearing sharply creased jeans and a sleek expensive black sweater. Picking up his beat up combat boots he fussed with the sleeves making a face, it was about as far from his normal attire at home as you could get.
“Blame Pepper, I think she wanted to make sure you were comfortable.” Phil said with a soft laugh.
“They know I’m back?” “Yes, but I asked them to give you a day or two to get over the jet lag before they descended upon us.”
“Like locusts.” He said with a small huff tugging the hems of his pants into place. “Where were we going to eat?”
“That depends on what you want? Craving anything?”
“Steakhouse or pasta?”
“Italian it is. We can go to Nona’s if that’s okay?”
They dropped off the dry cleaning and headed to Nona’s, a small hole in the wall restaurant he had found years ago during a stake out in the area. They ate mostly in silence savoring the authentic Italian and red wine that the friendly staff served. Clint asked after what the team and Shield had been up to while he was out and Phil had enjoyed filling him in on some of the more memorial blunders and fights the team had been part of.
Once they were back at the apartment they settled on separate ends of the couch and Phil put on an old movie they could veg out to. Phil tried to settle in but he just couldn’t get his mind to quiet. Too much had happened in the last few months that he was dying to talk to Clint about.
“Alright, what’s got you so uptight?” Clint asked finally as Phil fidgeted with the blanket he’d pulled over their feet. “Is there a big mission you’re supposed to be prepping for?”
“No, nothing like that.” Phil said with a huff. “Fury’s given both of us two weeks off.”
“Nice of him.”
“You’re due some downtime and I haven’t taken a vacation in years.”
“Then what’s got you worked up?”
“Fury gave me your full file.”
“I just wasn’t sure how to bring it up. I wanted you to know that I knew the full story so in case you ever needed to talk to anyone.”
“And the team?”
“No, only myself and Directory Fury know the full story. You’re welcome to tell the team or not as you decide.”
“When did you find out?”
“A few days after you left Fury called me in and gave me your full files.”
“So last night…”
“I meant it. You’re still Clint to me, no matter what abilities you have.” Phil said with a small grin, “Though I might pick your brain on what it was like growing up in the 1930s.”
“Yeah, I found out that Steve might have even have went to one of my shows at one point. Think he remembers?”
“At this point I think he’s just trying to forget and live in the current century as best he can.”
“About what I did.” Clint agreed with a snort shifting so they were sitting next to each other, legs sharing the ottoman.
“But you didn’t have the 70 year gap in technology to deal with. What were you doing anyway? Shield found a lot of rumors about Ronin and some news articles about possible targets being eliminated but not much that was concrete.”
“I traveled around, it was too hard watching people live their lives, age, and die. It was easier not to get attached to anything.”
“And yet you kept saving people. You could have lived any life you wanted to, studied, married, had a family and instead you ran around the world saving people.”
“So many people got hurt because of me at first. I kept losing control of my powers. I thought I needed to even the scales.”
“Then why did you come in? Why Shield?”
“I’d seen the good that Shield was doing and helped out where I could on a few missions. I liked how they handled themselves and that they never seemed to leave their soldiers behind if they could help it.”
“And you got Fury’s attention how exactly?” “I knew a contact that he talked to and sent a message. He sent a lackey and I turned up in his office to protest. He was all ready to shoot me with that stupid laser gun you guys were using at the time.”
“I’ll have to get his side of the story.”
“I’m sure he’ll enjoy having someone to complain to now. He seems to like kicking me out of his office now that I’m an employee.”
“I always wondered what you had on him to keep your job at times.” Phil said with a snort, “Anyone else would have been out on their butt in the first month. You pulled so much shit while you were a probationary agent.”
“Like when?” Clint asked with a grin.
“Setting Romero on fire for one thing. I never did find out what he’d done to you.”
“They never proved I was the one who did it and he deserved it. The guy was an ass.”
“It was a known fact that he was but most people wouldn’t have set a fellow agent on fire for name calling. What did he really do?”
“If we’re going to do this I need to know that what we’re talking about doesn’t go anywhere, not to Fury, not to Natasha, nowhere.”
“Alright, you have my word it won’t go any farther.”
“He raped a junior agent. I tried to get her to turn him in but she’d already put in for a transfer to a different base.”
“You should have told me. I would have dealt with him.”
“I made her promise to get treatment when she got on base and called to check on her. She’s all but running the Orlando base now.”
“You made Romero’s life a living hell. He finally died in a mission gone wrong six months later.”
“I made sure he didn’t touch anyone in those six months either.” Clint snarled.
“I wish you had told me about it even so. If something happens like that again I want to know, Clint.”
“That was before you were my handler. I was still in the general pool while you finished up with some training you were doing.”
“I still would have dealt with it.” Phil said shifting on the couch.
“I didn’t know you then, Phil.” Clint said bumping him with his shoulder.
“You’re right; I shouldn’t be punishing you for things in the past. I’m sorry.” Phil said with a huff, “I just hate that you had to shoulder that alone. Things like that are what handlers are supposed to be keeping an eye out for and Romero’s handler missed it.”
“That’s not your fault, Phil.”
“But if his handler missed that what else did he miss? I’m going to email Hill and have her look back through the files just in case.”
“Which is exactly why every agent wants you to be their handler, Phil, you look out for us.”
“That’s what a handler is supposed to do, Clint. We’re supposed to support our assets and keep them safe, in and out of the field.”
“I never understood why you were so willing to brush away my fuck ups. You let me get away with so fucking much.”
“Not really. You did more than your fair share of scud work over the years.”
“Yeah, but seriously, why didn’t you try and crack down on me? Most people would have.”
“You always had a good reason for whatever you did.” Phil said finally. “If you punched someone you had a moral reason to do so. If you jumped out of your blind it was because you needed a better line of sight to save someone’s life. You almost never did things just for the hell of it, and when you did I punished you as Shield rules directed.”
Clint went silent for a time and Phil went back to watching the movie. He could see Clint was working something through his mind. He left him be, he’d learned that pushing the archer while he was working on something just lead to him retreating until he decided how he was going to react.
“Phil?” Clint finally said his voice soft and hesitant.
“We’re friends, right?”
“Of course, I would have to say at this point you’re one of my best friends.”
“One of them?”
“Natasha would kill the both of us if we left her out.”
“Probably true,” Clint agreed with a soft laugh, “She’s been my best friend since we beat the crap out of each other and I dragged her back to the safe house.”
“Budapest,” Clint said laughing.
“Why are you asking exactly?”
“I just don’t think a lot of the team, maybe even Natasha, will forgive me if the rest of my life story comes out.”
“If they don’t then we will just have to find you a new team to work with. I’ll go wherever you need me, Clint. If you need a transfer in order to be comfortable then we’re transferring.”
“You can’t just leave the Avengers, Fury won’t let you.”
“Watch me.” Phil snapped, “If that’s what you need then we’re going. Just say the word, Clint.”
“I don’t want to leave. I was just starting to like Stark and Rogers before everything came out. We could be a good team.” Clint said with a sigh.
“Then if you are willing, we need to have a meeting with everyone. Make sure they understand their options.” Phil said, “You don’t have to tell them about everything, just what you are comfortable with.”
“We’re talking about Stark and Natasha; they’re going to piece things together eventually.”
“That still doesn’t mean that you need to tell them anything tomorrow or even anytime in the next month.”
“Alright,” Clint said with a sigh, shifting so he was slouched down in the couch.
“When do you want me to set up the meeting with the team?”
“End of the week? I just need a few days to breathe before we drag everything back up.”
“Far enough, I’ll let them know.”