This is written for the Writers Anonymous Forum 'Broken Object Writing Challenge'
It doesn't tie into my main story Crystallize, except for a very minor mention of one of my OC's that I decided to use.
Clint Barton sat on top of Stark Tower, gazing over the world around him. Of a nighttime the destruction that had taken place a few days before didn't seem so bad. The night lights of New York City still shone brightly enough to block out nearly all the stars in the sky. The sounds of a busy city crept up in the air to him. 102 floors above the sidewalk, he could still hear the sounds of cars honking, people shouting and the general chaos that came with the 1.626 million people all crammed onto the island of Manhattan.
But he wasn't paying attention to the sights of the city below him. Nor the sounds that the wind carried up to him. Clint didn't even notice the brisk night air making goosebumps appear on his muscular arms. The tight grey shirt providing little protection against the early Autumn wind. In front of him being studied carefully with his steely blue eyes was his bow.
The collapsable recurve bow was his lifeline. This particular bow had been a gift from Coulson many years ago. So long ago Clint couldn't actually remember a time in his SHIELD career when he didn't have this particular bow. Of course he had plenty of other bows in his arsenal. The weapons department at SHIELD were all gleeful whenever he had a new design idea. Like an over indulged child he was often accused of being, he got every single design made for him as well. Clint knew he had Coulson, and Paul Lyngley, the head of weapons R&D to thank for it. But despite all the fun 'toys' he'd been gifted with over the years, this old bow still remained his favourite. Both for its functionality and sentimental value.
This had been the bow that had brought down countless people. Drug lords, weapons dealers, assassins and some of the scum of the Earth. It'd done more miles of travel than the common person would see in two lifetimes. Every scratch and chip of paint told a story. Two in particular stood out more than any others. Not in terms of size, or damage. But those who told a particular story.
The small scratch, barely 1/8 of an inch long near the hand grip where Natasha's knife blocked the swing he'd taken at her when they first met. Standing there both dead locked, Clint looked into the green eyes of the woman who was meant to be a killer. Instead of a killer, he saw a young girl who'd seen far too much death and destruction. It was almost like looking into his younger self. The eyes of a killer, but they had the innocence of a youth stolen away from them. The weariness of her face of fighting for a cause she'd long ago stopped believing in. The eyes looking for a chance just escape the nightmare of her own life. That night he'd made a different call from his orders. When he'd brought Natasha into SHIELD there had only been 2 people not mad at him. Coulson and Fury. It was then Clint knew he'd been the one sent in for a reason. The newbie carney kid who had a history of not following orders to the letter. The one person in SHIELD who knew what it was to be given a second chance at life. It'd been a risk on Fury's part. But the risk that had played out well. The events of the last week had only further cemented that decision.
The second was a chip of paint taken off near the tip of the bow. It was near impossible to spot unless you knew what you were looking for. This one had been blocking an arrow from his brother, Barney. The arrow shot that was meant to kill him was a hair width off course. Instead the arrow nicked the bow and had taken out his string. Defenceless, Clint was sure the next arrow was going to hit its mark. But it never came. Barney had melted into the shadows again, long gone from his life yet again.
But the current concern on his bow was new. He hadn't noticed it after the battle in New York. But Clint also hadn't touched his bow in the last few days. It was only the lack of sleep which drove him to the archery range Stark set up. As he went to start shooting he inspected his bow. Like he had a few million times before. But for the first time in years, Clint found something that stopped him dead in his tracks.
A crack. Barely 1/4 of an inch long. But enough to damage the structural integrity of the bow. With the pressure he put his bow under, Clint was first amazed that it hadn't exploded in his hands during the battle. But that crack appearing felt like it was a crack starting to worm its way into his life.
Clint hadn't allowed himself to dwell on what happened. He'd shoved it all from his mind and focused on just making sure he was getting through the day. Train, eat, sleep, repeat. Smiling for the people who kept shooting him concerned looks. Gritting his teeth and lying, something that he was so comfortable with, to all the so called professionals called in to help him.
Help. That word made him snort. The sound carried away by the crisp air into oblivion. How could anybody help? None of them had their brain taken over by an alien. None of them were screaming at his own body to stop while he shot innocent people. They weren't there while he went over a plan to crash the Helicarrier. Along with the 2000 SHIELD agents on it. If he hadn't planned to attack the Helicarrier, so many people would still be alive. Coulson, a man who was closer to him more than his own brother, wouldn't be dead. How could anyone sit there and tell him that none of this was his fault. That he couldn't be held accountable for his actions because they weren't his actions.
And so the myriad of emotions being held back over the last few days started to come through. Like the crack on his bow, nothing could now be stopped.
Guilt. Rage. Sadness. Horror. Exhaustion. But especially the guilt. It weighed down on him so heavily he felt like he could barely breath. Sitting here on the roof, Clint could feel his chest constricting as the thoughts rushed through his head.
He felt like he shouldn't be here. Sitting up here still alive and being celebrated as a hero after all he'd done. Clint knew he wasn't a good person. The blood of too many were on his hands. How many lives had he ruined with a simple pull on his bowstring? How many families mourned loved ones while he sat here right now, alive and well. How many people out there tonight didn't have a home to go to. All while Clint sat here in overindulgent luxury. All because people thought he was a hero.
The sound of the fire escape door opening brought Clint's attention back to the present. A weak light briefly appeared before disappearing just as quickly as the door shut. Footsteps that wouldn't be distinguishable with normal hearing padded over towards him. It was only out of his own paranoia at the moment he kept his hearing aids turned up as loudly as possible without hurting his head. A mess of curly red hair came into his peripheral vision before Natasha jumped up and sat beside him. A bottle of half drunk vodka hung from her fingers. Wordlessly she handed it over.
Clint acceptable the bottle, taking a long drink. It went down the way a good vodka should. Far too easily. Definitely easily enough that even Natasha was going to regret the bottle in the morning. If he kept drinking like he just did, Clint would be regretting it too. After he finished his drink, Clint handed the bottle back to Natasha.
No words were needed as they passed the bottle between themselves. A few drinks later Clint could feel his head start to spin. It was a reminder that he hadn't had dinner. Or lunch. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember if he'd actually had breakfast either. The vodka was enough to loosen his tongue. The words spilled from his mouth before his brain registered it.
"My bow is broken."
His voice was scratchy and hoarse. His own voice still sounded so foreign to his own ears. The ability to speak his own thoughts felt odd. Clint dropped his eyes down to the object still in his lap, fingering the crack in it.
"Then get Paul to have a look at it," Natasha said bluntly. "He'd be glad for something to do."
Clint chewed on the inside of his cheek instead of replying. That was the simple answer. Instead of sitting up here mulling over the broken object, he could just hand it over. Even if Paul wouldn't fix it, he'd had an exact copy made for him in days. This bow could be put on the scrap heap. Thrown away like so many things he'd broken over the years. No one else would notice the difference. It'd look exactly the same as his one. But Clint would know. He'd know every scratch and chip of paint that was missing. Everything would be the same, but completely different.
"He's got enough on his plate at the moment," Clint deflected running his fingers over the crack. After all these years, one small crack was going to be the end of the bow. After all they'd been through together, this was it. Clint was already mourning the loss of his bow as much as he was mourning for Coulson.
"Show me it," Natasha asked. She didn't give him an option to say no with the tone she used. Unlike everyone else tiptoeing around him, Natasha was still to the point.
Clint handed the bow over carefully. Out of all the people in the world he could count on one hand who he'd trust with his bows. Natasha was one of the privileged few who not only was allowed to hold his bow. But he trusted her enough to fire it too.
Natasha's fingers gently traced where Clint's had just been moments before. Clint couldn't stop his eyes following those fingers. Her hands were scraped, bruised and a few missing fingernails from the battle. But still had the beautiful ease of grace that was Natasha. She could be covered in blood and mud and still look graceful.
"You know what you should do with it?" Natasha didn't look up from the bow. She didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "We could mount it and set it above your bed. Just because something is broken it doesn't mean its useless."
At the end of her sentence Natasha looked up, her green eyes boring into Clint. He fought the urge to look away, fidget or just do something to avoid her piercing gaze.
"Sometimes when things are broken they can't be fixed the exact same way they were before," Natasha handed the bow back to Clint. "But they're still the same object you've had for years. Just a little different."
"Are you talking about the bow or me?" Clint asked gruffly. He wasn't feeling like this little pep talk was going to go anywhere. Nothing was ever going to fix what he'd just done. Loki was going to haunt him for the rest of his life.
"Aren't they the same?" Natasha cocked her head to the side, studying her long time partner intently. "Besides, I wouldn't say you're broken."
"Then what would you say?" Clint snapped a little harder than he truly intended. He winced and was about to apologise when Natasha quickly cut him off.
"Maybe bent, not broken," Natasha gave a small smile. "Perhaps you can learn something from your terrible taste in music."
Clint barked out a short laugh. He didn't mean to. But it came out anyway. The strained muscles on his face relaxed from the tightness they'd had over the last week. Natasha never missed an opportunity to tease him about his pop music taste. Especially when she found out he secretly loved Pink. Especially that one song that he loved to put on repeat over and over again just to annoy her.
In a rare show of affection, Natasha reached over and put her arm around his shoulders. She squeezed him hard, laying her head against his shoulder. Clint wrapped his arms around her body, hugging her back. The feel of human touch was sudden and felt alien, but welcome. Having Natasha here in his arms made him feel the most grounded in days. Hugs from Natasha were rare and special. Clint planned on enjoying it while it lasted. Strangely enough a hug made him feel human again. A few words from Natasha was worth more than hours of lectures from psychologists. She was the only person who knew him well enough to get straight to the point of the problem. A hug from Natasha almost felt like it could solve all the problems with this world. And perhaps those of the 9 realms as well.
"You've got this Barton," she whispered against his skin. "It won't get better today, maybe not tomorrow but eventually it will. Just give it time."
Clint heard his own words echoing through Natasha's words. He'd said sometime similar to her many years ago while she was still coming to terms with being free from the Red Room. Natasha hadn't ever been free to be her own person. Clint had been the one to help her gain her own sense of autonomy after so many years. He was the one who covered all her social quirks, sometimes at his own expense. In a rare show of vulnerability, Natasha had confessed to feeling so out of place she didn't know if she'd ever fit in enough to be a part of SHIELD. Clint had said nearly those exacts words to her all those years ago.
"When did you become to voice of reason?" Clint grumbled. There was no argument he could think of. She was right. Even when she was wrong, she was still right. Clint learnt to live what that a long time ago. Along with all of her little quirks and things that weren't the social norm, they'd forged a strange bond that could never be broken.
"One of us has to be," Natasha gave him another squeeze before letting go.
Clint felt cold at the sudden loss of body contact. But his heart felt a little lighter. Not much, maybe just a feathers weight. But it was a start. He looked back down at his bow still in his lap, fingering the crack once again. He'd do like Natasha said. Maybe mount it in the wall above his bed. Maybe he'd have it melted down and made into something. A memento of all the memories of the years the bow had faithfully served him. Something that could be carried around all the time as a reminder. Only something that Natasha would know what it truly meant.
"Come inside," Natasha picked up the forgotten bottle of vodka and took a quick drink. "I hear Stark has a bottle of Diva Vodka in the downstairs bar. Once we finish the bottle we can sell the gems in it on Ebay."
Clint groaned at Natasha's plan. If his memory served him correctly, Diva Vodka retailed for a cool million a bottle. No wonder Natasha wanted to go in search of it. Not that Stark would miss it. On the search for something to drink the other night Clint found a bottle of 1955 Glenfiddich whiskey. A rare blend with only 15 bottles ever filled. The temptation to crack that one open had nearly been too much for Clint. Instead he settled on a bottle of Johnnie Walker green label instead.
"Sure," Clint couldn't refuse Natasha. He climbed down from the perch, stretching out his stiff legs. Crashing through that glass window the other day hadn't done any of his old aches and pains any favours. At least he'd walked away with nothing more than scrapes, bruises and a few scratches. He held out his hand to help Natasha down from where they'd just been sitting.
Natasha took his hand and jumped down with her usual grace. Her hand lingered in Clint's for a few moments before brushing her thumb over his hand.
"We're not broken just bent," she murmured before dropping her hand.
And we can learn to love again.
The well known lyrics echoed around in Clint's head. He managed a genuine smile for the first time in days. In another rare show of affection Natasha returned the smile. Her soft and gentle on her face. That rare smile that Clint felt like he'd do anything to make appear. It melted even the frostiest of hearts.
The stirrings of an idea appeared in Clint's head. His eyes dropped to the bare skin around Natasha's neck. Maybe he wasn't the only one who needed a reminder of his old bow.