An ear piercing shriek jolted me awake from the best sleep I was having in weeks. I was barely awake and completely disorientated. Beside me, Clint jumped in fright at my rude awakening, barely holding onto the bed.
My hand had gone from the bedside table where Clint always kept a P30. It only stilled when I heard Natasha spitting out curses in Russian at the top of her voice.
"For fuck sake," I said with a heavy groan. I flopped back on the bed.
Clint had told me last night that Natasha and Jared were in his room to keep me quiet for my welcome home sex. Whatever had woken Natasha up was getting an earful. She was very upset. No doubt Jared had put his cold feet on her or something equally annoying. When I had another ten hours of sleep I was going to kill them both.
I'd barely closed my eyes before my bedroom door flew open.
Coulson sauntered in the room, yanking the blankets off the bed. He took them with him and was gone just as quickly as he came in.
Considering how cold Clint kept the room of a night, the loss of my blankets had me cursing too. The bedroom was barely above freezing. I needed those blankets so I didn't freeze to death. Not to mention we were both naked.
Coulson's voice yelled from the lounge room. It was a command, not a request.
This was not how I wanted our reunion to go.
"Why is he here so early this morning?" Clint muttered, stiffly climbing out of bed.
"Why is he here at all?" I said with a heavy sigh. Without the blankets, it was forcing me to get out of bed too.
I squinted at the clock. It was only 0730. Far too early for the late hour I got in last night. What's more, I finally had a very good night sleep. Clint had been very thorough in his attention to me last night. I'd been a boneless heap by the time he was done. I'd fallen asleep before he'd settled down beside me.
"There better have breakfast on," Clint called out loud enough that Coulson would hear.
There was a soft laugh come from outside that I knew was Coulson.
From my side of the bed, I eyed Clint getting dressed. It still felt odd that this was happening between us. But after that stressful mission, I was very happy to have this to come home to. Especially if I was going to get sex like that every time I left. Maybe there was one tiny upside to what I had to do.
Getting dressed didn't take long. It felt ridiculously good to pull on a pair of track pants and hoodie after being in a uniform for the last few days. Clint was longer in getting dressed than I was. Unlike me, he didn't need a shower and was rummaging through our clean clothes basket on the floor. Stepping out of the bedroom greeting me with something that used to be a common sight.
Coulson standing in the kitchen making breakfast. It was like old times.
"Morning," Coulson said brightly, glancing at his shoulder at me. "Scrambled or fried eggs?"
The smell of bacon was swiftly filling the apartment. I felt so out of place right now. I was expecting a disappointing look. Or at least a please explain from Coulson. Not breakfast and a far too cheery Coulson.
I wouldn't knock it back though.
"Scrambled," My stomach growled in agreement. "Is there coffee?"
Coulson pointed the spatula at the kitchen island. Of course, there was a mug already waiting.
I was busting for the toilet but I could hear someone in the bathroom. The door to Clint's room was wide open.
It was funny I still thought of it as Clint's room. He hadn't slept in there ever since we started fucking. Even before then we'd spent a few nights a week asleep together. It had been an easy transition. One I hadn't really thought about until now. I really enjoyed having someone to curl up with on a regular basis.
Natasha and Jared finally got out of the bathroom a few seconds later. I bolted for the door, slamming it shut behind me before either of them could change their mind. After going to the toilet, I turned the shower on. I stank of sex, sweat and needed to scrub any remaining reminder of the last mission off my body.
"No sex in the shower!"
Jared yelling out loud enough that the neighbours would wear clued me in that Clint was out of bed. Sure enough, he came into the bathroom a minute later.
"Can I punch your brother?" Clint asked, heading to the toilet.
"Please. Make sure it's hard enough to bruise." I turned back to lathering my hair up. "Why is Coulson here?"
"He's been coming over nearly every morning," Clint explained. "He missed us and said we're eating too much takeaway."
That sounded exactly like Coulson. It still didn't stop my stomach clenching in a sudden bout of nerves. When I walked out he acted as nothing had happened. I knew something was going to be said though. It would probably come at the worst possible time.
"I'll see you out there," Clint said, leaning into the shower. "Don't be too long or I'll eat your breakfast."
I smiled and bent forward for a quick kiss. Part of me wanted to drag Clint into the shower with me. Knowing we had an audience behind the unlocked door stopped me. The promise of coffee and breakfast made me finish up quickly. Finally clean and in comfortable clothes, I felt ready to face anything.
Well, maybe not anything. I was ready to at least punch Jared for his snide remark.
Everyone was eating at the kitchen island like civilised creatures for once. When Coulson saw me, he turned and got a plate from the microwave. It was piled up with scrambled eggs, waffles and bacon.
"Jared threatened to eat your waffles," Coulson explained as he slid the plate over to me. "Eat up and then pack a bag. We're going to the beach."
The beach sounded like a perfect idea. I could laze around and sleep for most of the day. Natasha had forty different ways to smuggle booze into anywhere so we wouldn't go thirsty. I had no doubt I'd end up mostly drunk and sunburnt.
I couldn't think of a better way to spend the day.
Coulson had given me far too much food. As always. But the home cooked meal was the best thing I had tasted in days. I managed to finish all of it despite the extra large serve. I knew it wouldn't have been by chance. Coulson was going to comment about me being too thin.
Still, I was full and happy. It didn't take us long to get packed. I was not at all surprised to see Coulson already had a full cooler of food and drinks.
"Where are we going?" Jared asked as we headed down to the carpark.
It was going to be two hour drive. For once I wished one of us owned a sensible car. It was going to be squished no matter who's car we took.
No sooner had that thought entered my head, I saw an SUV parked behind Clint's car. Of course, Coulson had thought ahead and rented a sensible car for all of us.
"Come on kids," Coulson said happily. "Let's go."
Clint and Jared yelled at the same time. They scrambled over each other, shoving and pushing until Clint was victorious.
As usual, I got squished into the middle of the backseat. Jared made sure he was spread out as much as possible. It was a really long two hour drive between our bickering, stopping for snacks and my thimble sized bladder, as Clint called it.
The beach wasn't too crowded. We were able to set up our own little spot far away from everyone.
Lounging back under the large umbrella, I wriggled my toes in the warm sand. Behind me, Clint was putting sunscreen on my back. Natasha and Jared had already abandoned us to go swimming.
Clint's fingers dug into some tense muscle on my shoulder. I couldn't smother the groan of relief as I felt the tension melt away.
"Feel good?" Clint said with a chuckle behind me.
"Very." I lent back into his touch. "Don't stop."
Clint obliged, his fingers finding the knotted muscles and working them out. Except for the occasional particularly sore spot, it felt amazing. I could feel myself drifting into something that almost felt like a post orgasmic haze.
"I missed you," Clint whispered in my ear, as he pushing my hair out of the way.
"I'm sorry I left without saying anything," I murmured. "I missed you too."
I was a fool for saying it. I couldn't help myself though. I needed something good to cling to right now.
Clint kissed the side of my neck. I could feel his lips smiling against my skin. I melted against him enjoying the intimacy. It was far too intimate for a public setting but I didn't care right now.
"Doesn't matter. You're back. Coulson's back and we're all together." Clint's fingers trailed down my back. "It's a good day."
A good day amongst all of the shitty days was what we all needed. I could see Natasha and Jared splashing each other in the surf. Both of them were laughing hysterically. Coulson was fishing a little further down the beach.
Clint wrapped his arms around me and I happily let my full weight fall back into his embrace. He put his chin on my shoulder and looked out towards the water.
Every horrible thing that had happened over the last month seemed to melt away in Clint's firm embrace. It had felt like months since I had been this relaxed. I closed my eyes. I could easily doze off.
"Are we going to join them?" Clint asked after a few minutes of silence.
"Maybe after my nap," I said sleepily. "I'm warm and in your arms. I don't want to move."
This was another stupid thing I was doing. I shouldn't be doing this with Clint. Especially in public. It would just take one nosy person to realise who we were and snap a photo. I found myself not caring in the least at the moment.
Clint let me doze off for an hour before nudging me awake.
"Come on, let's at least get in the water once. We are at the beach after all."
Smiling, I followed Clint to where Natasha and Jared were in the surf. They were trying to drown each other, Natasha having more success than Jared. As we got to them, she managed to get him in a thigh hold under the water.
Jared came up red in the face and coughing a lung up. He had no sympathy from Clint or myself as we were both doubled over in laughter. Jared repaid Clint by tackling him, sending them both under the incoming wave.
Watching Clint wrestle with Jared was enjoyable in more ways than one. He had the upper hand with his strength and managed to get Jared back under the water in less than a minute. It was also a lot of fun to watch Clint shirtless, muscles rippling with the effort. Judging by the pink on Natasha's cheeks she was having similar thoughts about Jared as I was Clint.
Once the boys stopped wrestling, we all swam out into deeper water. The water was crystal clear and Natasha and I took turns diving to the bottom.
It was just what I needed. A lot of mindless activity and the four of us laughing our asses off as we talked shit. Eventually, hunger drove us back to shore. Coulson was waiting for us, the cooler already half unpacked with lunch. It didn't take us long to get the rest of the food out and pile our plates up.
While shovelling down far too big mouthfuls of macaroni salad, I did notice one thing missing. There wasn't a drop of alcohol to be found. Even with Natasha's super hiding skills. The watermelon we had for dessert wasn't filled with vodka to my mild disappointment. But it wasn't hard to guess why it was done. Either Jared was drinking again or we were all making sure he didn't start.
I wasn't surprised. But it did make the guilt from earlier come crashing back down onto me. I'd been so caught up with trying to help Clint, I hadn't noticed Jared. I knew Natasha would always look out for him. But I was his twin sister. I should know when these things were happening.
After lunch and another round of Clint rubbing sunscreen into my back, Natasha and I waded out into the knee deep surf. I was far too full to think about swimming but it was getting hot now. The water swirling around my legs was cooling me off.
"Is Jared drinking again?" I didn't waste any time in asking.
Clint and Jared had stayed behind. Jared was napping under one of the umbrellas. Coulson and Clint were talking. Even from here, I could occasionally catch snatches of one of them laughing at whatever they were talking about.
"Yes." Natasha's blunt answer wasn't a surprise. "I caught him doing his water bottle and vodka trick a few days ago. Clint took every drop of liquor in all of our apartments and hid it. He and Jared nearly came to blows over it. Coulson had to intervene."
I cringed as I looked back towards them. Jared and Clint didn't have an ounce of tension between them today.
"He's okay, Kari," Natasha's tone softened as she turned to me. "He's just having a rough patch with nightmares. I'm making sure I keep him tired enough to sleep."
That made me wrinkle my nose in disgust. While their relationship had been out in the open for some time now, I still couldn't believe it some days.
"How's Clint been?" I asked, my gaze shifting back to Clint.
I would never get sick of the sight of Clint shirtless. He had such a good body. He hadn't lost much muscle tone in his downtime either.
"He's been keeping Jared busy, which in turn is keeping him busy. So in a fucked up way it's helping them both cope," Natasha said with a shrug. "How did your mission go?"
Lying to Natasha always felt like it was impossible. If I shrugged it off as nothing, she'd smell the lie a mile away. I was going to have to tread carefully.
"In usual STRIKE Team Delta fashion, shit went sideways," I said dryly. "We ran into that Cerberus group who wanted the guy for questioning. So we had to play nice with them until they were done. One of them flirted with me."
"Lucky you," Natasha said dryly. "Did you take him up on the offer?"
"No?" I turned to look at Natasha in confusion. "I'm fucking Barton. In what universe do you think that one, I need to find anyone else because the sex is amazing. Two, do you really think he would share?"
While I was grateful I wasn't getting interrogated about the mission, this conversation was taking a turn I wasn't expecting.
Natasha's eyes briefly flicked back to Clint with a thoughtful expression. Suddenly I had an idea of what had happened. Clint's insecurity didn't often appear. But when it did crawl out, it could be ugly.
"He's worried about it, isn't he?" I filled in before Natasha could say anything else.
"Of course he is," Natasha's tone was flat. "You're off being the golden girl for SHIELD at the moment. You have thousands of people fawning over you on social media. You've even got famous actors liking your shit."
I hated that Natasha was right. We had both shrieked when a message from a favourite actor had come through. I'd been way too chicken shit to reply to it though.
"And Constance trying to dictate your social life has him worried that you'll realise that it's too hard with him and it'll all stop," Natasha continued. "Then he'll hate himself for fucking it up."
A lump formed in my throat as I looked back to Clint. He and Coulson joking around in the distance showed none of this. His greeting last night hadn't had a hint of insecurity. We had both missed each other and that had been clear.
"We shouldn't have done this," I said, fighting back a heavy sigh. "I'm well aware of that."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Natasha giving me a scrutinising look.
There was so much bullshit I could spew right now. None of it would work with Natasha. I was lucky I had managed to avoid an interrogation about the last mission. If I was going to be honest with one thing, it may as well be this.
"I don't want it to stop though," I admitted softly. "I keep worrying it's going to be the other way around. Especially with me doing all this media bullshit."
It was also knowing that running off on missions at Rumlow's command was going to become a regular thing. I had to keep making that happen. It was going to put a strain on whatever this relationship Clint and I had going. I wasn't blind to that. Clint thought he was going to be the cause of this blowing up in our faces. I knew what I was doing for Fury was going to be it.
"You're both idiots," Natasha said with a scoff.
"As are you and Jared."
Natasha responded by tackling me. I ended up on my stomach with a face full of sand and saltwater. At least it made both of us laugh. I didn't want today to end up with me wallowing in the shit storm of guilt. There was going to be such precious little time soon enough and I wanted to enjoy today.
The heat drove us out into deeper water not long after our mini wrestle. Clint, Jared and Coulson all joined in not too long after. The afternoon was spent with us swimming, only surfacing to eat. I was exhausted and far too full by the time the sun was starting to sink down to the horizon. Coulson had packed enough food to feed an entire STRIKE division and I'd been more than happy to try and make a dent in it.
While the beach had people come and go, no one seemed to bother us. There had been an occasional second glance but no one had accosted us for autographs. That had been another nice change from not being able to get my morning coffee without being recognised.
"You know, there are some really nice cabins about five minutes up the beach," Jared suggested as we were drying off. "No one has to work tomorrow. We should see if we can rent one out."
He turned his phone to show us what he was talking about. The three bedroom self contained cabin looked very nice in the interior photos. On the outside, it showed a jacuzzi and a fire pit. The price made me roll my eyes though. Of course, it was expensive and I knew I'd be paying.
"Fine with me" Clint spoke up first. "But I hate to point it, it's summer break. What're the chances of us getting something like that?"
"We're famous. They'll fall over themselves to find us a place," Jared said with a nonplussed shrug. "We can even offer to pay more. This being an Avenger has to have some perks, right? We don't even get a coffee discount."
For once in my life, I couldn't fault Jared's logic.
"I'm guessing I'm paying?" I asked dryly.
Jared's charming smile only made me roll my eyes.
Piling into the car, Coulson drove us to the cabins. He had been quiet for most of the afternoon, hanging back while the four of us talked shit and occasionally tried to drown each other. Even though he had hung back on the edge of the conversations, Coulson had a small smile the entire time.
Getting to the cabins didn't take long. As predicted, the car park looked full. Even with Jared's charm, I had a feeling this was going to be harder than it should. We all sat in the car, looking out over the full spaces.
"If Natasha comes in with her bikini top we may be able to pull this off?" Jared suggested after a few moments of silence.
"You know one day my amazing boobs aren't going to work," Natasha said, kicking the back of the front seat where Jared was.
"But it is not this day," Jared said smugly, opening the car door. "Come on."
I couldn't place the movie Jared was quoting. He always did a stupid voice when he did it though.
"All of us may as well go in." Clint was already halfway out the car door. "Maybe someone will be a huge fan of Hawkeye."
I knew I had to go in and pay for this. As always. I crawled out after Clint with my purse.
As we walked into the reception, the lady behind the desk froze at the sight of the four of us. Any thought of us not being recognised was quickly dashed at the look on her face.
"Oh my god," she said with a breathy giggle. "Hi. Wow, you're even hotter in person."
Jared lent on the desk, flashing a charming smile. I had to hide my eye roll with a slight turn of my body.
"Why does no one ever say I'm hot," Clint muttered under his breath next to me.
Natasha's comment earlier came back to me at full force.
"I do," I said back, just as quietly. I trailed my fingers down one of the muscles in Clint's back. "And I'm happy to keep you all to myself."
Clint looked very pleased with that comment. I was going to have to give him plenty of attention while I had the chance. The longer I could starve of the inevitable fact that this was all going to blow up in my face the better.
Lucky for us there was a cabin available. It was the most expensive one and had just been vacated for the night. As I went to hand my card over, the woman at the desk waved it away.
"Oh no, my manager would kill me if I made you pay," she said with a bright smile. "Can you guys just post some photos and make sure we're tagged in them? Even a good review if you're happy with everything."
This was one of the weirder parts of our newfound fame. Part of me really wanted to refuse and pay them the money. But as Constance had explained once, and I had actually listened, is that businesses we use to get such a huge boost whenever we say something about them. That we actually generate business for them. We shouldn't refuse free things. Even if it was expensive.
Like the well trained monkey I was trying to pretend to be, I smiled and thanked her profusely. Then patiently stood for a selfie with her and the rest of the staff on sight as they all came rushing in. It took us an hour to actually get to our room. Even then we had the manager following us to the room asking if we needed anything.
Jared abused the privilege by getting them to find us a pizza place that would deliver. After eating way too much yet again in front of the fire, we all drifted to our respective beds. Clint was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow, leaving me alone with my thoughts. With those thoughts came back the horrific play by play of the last mission. Especially the part where I'd raised my gun and shot the man point blank in the face.
Sleep was a futile effort. After an hour of staring at the ceiling replaying the events of the last mission over and over in my head, I gave up. Being careful not to wake Clint, I crept out of the bed. Clint stirring made me pause a few feet from the bed, looking over my shoulder. He settled down without fully waking leaving me to quietly pad out of the room.
It was freezing out on the porch. The fire had died down to glowing embers, only giving off a small amount of heat. I snagged up one of the throw blankets that had been left out there and curled up in one of the chairs.
Taking in a deep breath, the salty air cleared my mind. Today had been a wonderful day. I needed some room to breathe. I knew the peace wouldn't last. My mind from moments before was proof of that. As soon as I stopped, the post mission horrors would haunt me for weeks.
"Mind if I join you?"
Coulson's voice made me look up. He had two steaming mugs in his hands.
"Sure," I said with an easy smile.
If anyone could keep me out of my own head it would be Coulson. I gratefully took the offered mug and inhaled the scent of the contents. Hot chocolate with heaps of marshmallows. Just the way I liked it.
Coulson settled in the chair across from me. The embers from the fire lit up his face, framing how tired and drawn he looked.
It was another bit of guilt to add to the growing pile that wanted to crush me. I pushed it aside yet again. It was going to all catch up to me but right now I didn't want to think about it. Coulson was here and we'd had the perfect day. I needed to cling to that and nothing else.
"I need to ask you a favour."
There was very little I could deny Coulson. Having him back meant I would do everything in my power to give him whatever he wanted. Just like Clint.
"I think it would be a good idea if Clint brings Lucky home," Coulson asked tactfully. "He's a registered service dog for Clint."
"Sure. You know I love Lucky."
That wasn't quite what I expected. It was an easy request. Lucky was the most placid and easy going dog I had ever met. I could understand why Coulson suggested it. Having Lucky would make Clint get out of bed every day. The logistics of having a dog in our small apartment could be worked out later.
"How was your last mission?"
Coulson's tactful tone wasn't lost on me. I looked down into my cup of hot chocolate. I didn't want to talk about it. But Coulson knew better. What other reason would I be sitting out here by myself?
"I missed having you there," I said honestly. "In usual STRIKE Team Delta fashion, it went sideways in a big hurry."
Coulson's soft chuckle made my lips quick up a little.
"Next one will be better with you back on board." I took a drink of my hot chocolate. "And it won't be just me to fuck things up."
The silence that followed made an uneasy feeling settle in my stomach. Coulson was never this quiet. He'd either be scolding me for things going wrong or being a mother hen, asking for details on what went wrong.
"I have something to tell you," Coulson said softly. "The others already know."
"Okay?" I drew out the word in confusion.
The silence that stretched between us felt unbearable. It didn't help the uneasy feeling in my stomach. The butterflies turned into knots of unbearable tension. The smell of the hot chocolate that was once comforting now added to me feeling sick.
"I'm not coming back as your handler," Coulson's voice cracked as he broke the silence.
I had to grip the chair to stop myself from falling off it. For a moment I thought I'd heard him wrong. But even in the low glow of the embers, I could see the raw emotion over his face.
"Fury is giving me a new team," Coulson's voice was rough with emotion. "Along with a plane and my own autonomy with missions. He said it'd be less stress."
The knots in my stomach only increased. Was this to do with me? Did Fury get Coulson out of the way on purpose so I could do what I needed to do?
It would make sense. Coulson would sniff out a rat very quickly if he knew what I was doing for Fury.
This was all my fault.
"After being stabbed through the heart and that receding hairline, I think it's fair enough that Fury is giving you less stress," I tried to keep my tone light. The lump in my throat was making it hard to keep my voice steady.
Coulson chuckled again, this time sounding much more strained.
"How did Clint take it?"
Now the question about Lucky coming to live with us made a lot more sense.
"Not well," Coulson's honest answer nearly broke my heart. "But he's got you."
I wasn't going to be enough for this. Clint needed Coulson a lot more than he needed me. Voicing that opinion stuck in my throat.
"And he's got Nat and Jared. He's got Laura and his two beautiful children," Coulson continued softly. "He has all the support he needs."
"You'll still be here, right?" I asked tentatively.
If Coulson was going to be out of the picture completely, I wasn't going to cope. I needed him. A selfish part of me wanted him to stay with us. To be our guiding hand and the one always keeping a watch on us. I'd give anything for him to chase us out of his office when we raided his coffee and scotch supply on more time.
"Of course," Coulson reassured me. "I'll always be there for you guys. No matter what."
My smile was far too wobbly to look to be genuine. The good day felt like it was slipping through my fingers.
Was this going to be my life from now on? To have every bit of support slowly pulled away so nothing but my mission with Fury was left?
"Hey, come here."
Coulson mistook my silence for something else entirely. I looked over to see his arms open. He always took my need for hugs very seriously. I wasn't going to turn down what might be the last one I'd get from him.
I didn't hesitate to take it. I was going to need it to get through the living hell I knew was going to be my life.
And we're back! I know I'm really slack with updates with this but life is really getting in the way. I honestly can't wait for my summer break both from Uni and competitions.
Poor Kari, she just can't get a break can she?
I hope everyone enjoyed this small but mostly happy update. We're going to need it in the coming chapters.
Until next time.