Where's your heart gone
And where's your soul?
Where did all of your faith go?
And where's that old spark, a failure stole?
Well I bet we'll find it in no time at all
-In No Time by MuteMath
Natasha entered the command center of helicarrier as if she owned the place, making a straight line for Maria Hill who was studiously examining the screen in front of her.
"Have you seen Clint?" Natasha asked quietly, not wanting her voice to carry.
"Can't find him?"
Natasha rolled her eyes. "Obviously. I've looked in all of his usual spots and he's not in any of them." Natasha did nothing to hide the worry that had seeped into her tone. It had been two months since the attack on New York and Clint had been distant. Natasha did everything she could think of to try to illicit a genuine emotion, negative or positive, from him. She went as far as to insist that the two of them move into Stark's tower, assuming, incorrectly, that being surrounded by the group would help draw him out. Instead, he found small nooks and crannies to hole himself up in.
Maria sighed heavily as she tapped her screen a couple of times, drawing up security camera footage. It took Natasha only a second to recognize the area in which Loki had been kept and another second to spot her partner's dangling legs up in the corner of the screen.
"Anytime he is called back here he is always up there," Maria explained.
Maria hesitated which was all it took for Natasha to clue in on the significance. "Because that's where Coulson died."
"Damnit Clint," Natasha hissed. She was torn on how to respond to the news. Part of her wanted to shake him and tell him to stop carrying around the guilt over what happened. Another part of her wanted to cry for what they both had lost. A bigger part of her just wanted to wrap Clint in her arms and try to protect him from himself. However, she knew none of these were options.
"We should all go out, like we used to," Maria offered, seeming to sense Natasha's desperation.
Every couple of months Clint, Phil, Natasha, and Maria would go out together and do something completely normal like go to a movie or go bowling. Part of her wondered if it would be a reminder of what was missing. Or it could be something that snapped Clint out of this daze he'd been in. She figured that Clint couldn't get any worse. "Why the hell not. We should go to a bar or something, hang out and play pool."
"Maybe we could invite others, like Steve."
Natasha pursed her lips in order to contain the smile that threatened to emerge. It had become clear in in preceding weeks that Maria may have a thing for a certain super soldier. "Sure. We can invite Tony and Bruce as well."
"Tony? Really?" Maria asked in disbelief.
Natasha shrugged. "He may be the most obnoxious man on earth to me, but I have a feeling he and Clint would get along, if given the chance. Do you think you can get a hold of them and work out the details? I need to convince Clint."
Natasha gave a small smile in thanks before heading back down the corridor. She didn't know exactly what she needed to say to Clint but she knew that it would be hard to persuade Clint to come out that night.
She entered the area that held Loki's cage. Clint's legs dangled from the catwalk he was currently perched on. She didn't see any ladder to get up there and figured he probably just climbed up, so that's what she did. She stealthily scaled the wall and support beams before taking a seat next to him.
"So, how did your appointment go?" Natasha opened the conversation with the easy question.
"Fine. I'm cleared for active duty. You?"
"Sometimes you have to wonder how desperate they have to be to clear such fucked up people as us."
Natasha laughed. This was the same conversation they had after a traumatic event and they had to undergo reevaluation. "We are just too damn irreplaceable."
The conversation stalled and Natasha actually paid attention to what Clint was staring at. She realized his gaze was focused on a slightly off color part of the wall, stained by Coulson's blood.
"We always promised we had each other's back. That's how he brought me in. He told me I had never had anybody looking out for me, not even my brother had been that person. But Coulson said that if I agreed to come work for S.H.I.E.L.D that he would have my back, as long as I had his. It took me months to figure out that I had finally found someone that I could trust and it turned out that I was the one that couldn't be trusted."
"You know he wouldn't blame you."
Clint snorted. "Of course he wouldn't have. In fact he would have chewed me out, telling me to get over myself and stop thinking that this was all about me."
"And he would be right. You haven't been yourself since New York. Maria and I were thinking of going out to a bar tonight, grab a few drinks, maybe play some pool."
"I don't know Nat."
"Come on it will be fun. Maria wants to invite Steve. Think of all of the fun you and I could have messing with them."
Clint turned towards Natasha, examining her. "It means a lot to you if I come."
It was more of a statement than a question, but Natasha answered anyways. "It really does."
Something flickered across Clint's face and he gave a small smile, leaning forward and briefly kissing Natasha. "Then I'll do it."
"Thank you," Natasha whispered, reaching up to hug Clint. She held him tightly, trying to convey her love for him in the unspoken language that only the two of them knew.
"So you're telling me you can't get drunk at all?" Tony exclaimed as he led the group into a local bar.
"My body metabolizes it too fast or something. It's a side effect of the super serum."
"Well, that just depresses me. This means the rest of us will have to drink more to make up for you not drinking."
"I'm pretty that is not what it means," Bruce chimed in.
"Look, are we here to play pool or discuss the science behind Steve?" Natasha broke in.
When there was no disagreement, she led the group to the back of the bar where there was a solitary pool table. Luckily the place was dead owing to it being a Tuesday evening. One of the bartenders, a petite brunette came over to get their orders. She froze when she got closer, her eyes locked on Tony. She eyed each of them suspiciously, pausing on both Steve and Natasha. Clint was about to suggest maybe they find a different bar, not wanting to be reminded of that day, when the woman plastered a smile back on her face and cheerily asked for their orders.
"Hey, my name is Lyla. What can I get started for you guys?"
"Let's see, I'll have a whisky neat, the best whisky you have," Tony started.
"Just a Coke for me," Steve added, causing Tony to roll his eyes.
"Vodka tonic," Natasha ordered.
"Screwdriver," said Maria.
"A beer for me, any local brew you might have."
"I'll have the same as him," Clint tacked on, pointing at Bruce.
"Are you all going to be starting up tabs?"
Tony quickly reached for his wallet, pulling out a card to hand to Lyla. "It's on me tonight. Any of them can order on my tab."
"Got it. I'll get those drinks started," Lyla brightly responded, bouncing off to start their drinks.
"Since we only have one table, do you guys want to do a tournament?" Bruce asked.
"Sure, let's do teams," Natasha suggested.
"Oh, I call Clint!"
There was silence as they all stared at Tony for his outburst.
"What? Like you weren't all thinking it. You can't tell me that his ability to aim and figure out angles does not transfer to the game of pool."
"Are you sure you just don't have a crush on him? You seem pretty excited," Natasha teased. "Is this your excuse to finally get closer to him?"
"Do you feel threatened Natasha? I mean I'm pretty much the complete package brains and beauty."
Everybody laughed, including Clint, and just like that the ice was broken.
"Come on Bruce, we can take them." Natasha nudged Bruce's shoulder.
"I already know Tony can't play worth a damn," Bruce replied.
"I guess that puts us together," Steve told Maria.
"Don't look so pained by it."
Steve looked aghast. "No, I didn't mean it like that."
Maria laughed, putting her hand on Steve's arm. "I was just kidding."
Natasha met Clint's eye, her eyes lit up with amusement. It felt familiar to see Natasha gazing at him as if they were in on some great private joke. Something settled in Clint and he allowed himself to relax.
"Here are your drinks." Lyla came over with a tray full of beverages, passing out each to their respective owner before going back behind the bar.
"Okay, who's up first?" Maria asked, after taking a sip from her drink.
"You four should go first while Katniss and I pick out some music."
"If I'm going to be on your team there can be no archery related nicknames," Clint ordered Tony, following him over the jukebox.
"Have it your way Bozo."
"My personal file is supposed to be sealed. Is there any file you can't hack?"
"I haven't found one yet."
"Well, no circus related nicknames either."
"Okay Featherhead what kind of music do you like?" Tony asked as he fed a twenty to the machine. "Mind you I am going to judge you based on your choice so now is not the time to reveal your secret love for Justin Bieber."
"God, you need to get out more."
"Take it up with Fury."
"I will. Now pick some tunes."
Clint pressed the button that allowed him to peruse the music selection. Luckily there was a decent variety of music. He made his first selection and the opening of "Oh Darling" filled the bar.
"Not bad. You'll find no complaint from me."
They took turns picking out songs, mostly staying within the classic rock category, although Tony added Sir Mix A Lot's "Baby Got Back" citing that their mix needed a touch of whimsy.
They headed back to the round of pool in progress, surprised to find Steve and Maria dominating the game. Clint knew that Natasha was a good player, so he was shocked to see that her team had only two balls in while Steve was already aiming for the eight ball.
"Corner left pocket," Steve declared, setting up the shot. He stilled, aiming, before decisively hitting the cue ball, sending the eight ball in the designated pocket.
"I'm impressed," Bruce told Steve.
"Bucky and I used to hustle unsuspecting pool players. I was so scrawny; people never guessed I could play."
"Shit, you better be as good as I suspect you are Robin," Tony said as he started to set up the next game.
"How many bird related names have you got saved up?" Clint replied.
Tony smirked. "Since you vetoed the circus and archery ones, I will have to rely on my bird material. Don't worry, I have plenty. I stay up late at night coming up with different names for all of you."
"And if you use any on me you may find yourself on the receiving end of a chokehold," Natasha threatened.
"Oooh, kinky Charlotte."
Clint couldn't stop the snort that escaped, earning him a glare from Natasha.
"If I'm going to have to keep putting up with this I need to be drunker. Anybody else want another drink?"
Both Tony and Maria raised their hands. Clint and Bruce were still nursing their beers.
"Are you ready to take them Tweety?"
"Let's do it Tin Man."
The game came down to Steve and Clint with Maria and Tony cheering on their respective partners. They each had a shot at the eight ball. Steve went first, and overshot by an inch, his ball bouncing back across the table. Clint called a side pocket, sinking it confidently.
Tony whooped, pumping his fist in the air as if he had been the one to land the game-winning shot.
Clint smiled as Steve came over to shake his hand, saying it had been a good game.
"Okay, I have to redeem myself here. Steve and Clint are now banned from the game since they apparently can kick all of our asses," Bruce exclaimed. "Come on Natasha, you and I can take Tony and Maria."
"In your dreams," Maria taunted.
"I don't know. I think you two were coasting on the skills of your partners," Natasha responded.
"Oh it's so on," Tony called out.
Part of Clint wanted to watch this showdown, but he needed a little air. "I'm going to grab a beer and go out for a few minutes."
"I'll join you," Steve said.
Clint internally groaned, not really wanting the company, but Steve was too nice to say no to. "Sure, let me just grab my beer."
After getting a fresh bottle from Lyla, Clint headed out the side door to the small beer garden. Clint threw himself into one of the metal chairs at the large metal table. There was a light breeze on the late summer evening. Clint pulled a pack of smokes along with a lighter from his pocket. He pulled out a cigarette, lighting it up and taking a long drag before exhaling.
"I didn't know you smoked," Steve commented neutrally.
"I don't usually. Only when I drink or I am really stressed."
"So which one is it tonight?"
"Look, I know you've been taking Phil's death hard and it probably wasn't your idea to come out tonight."
If nothing else, Clint appreciated Steve's straightforward manner. His voice wasn't accusing, but he wasn't beating around the bush either. "You're right. Nat wanted me to come out."
"She's been worried about you."
Not many people could say they could read Natasha's emotions. It took Clint months to slowly chip away at her façade. "How can you tell?"
"Natasha is probably the most guarded person I have ever met, but she loses that whenever you are mentioned or discussed. It's written all over her face the concern she has for you. I think the rest of the group is ignorant of it, but I see it."
Clint exhaled deeply after taking another drag from his cigarette. "You're right, she has been worried and I haven't known what to do about it. I trust her with my life and we usually can talk to each other about anything, but this is different. I know she is grieving in her own way and I can't bring myself to add to that."
"Then tell me about it. Tell me about Phil," Steve urged.
Clint hesitated, but there was something about Steve that Clint trusted. "Years ago, I was going down a bad path. I was pretty much a gun for hire and I was…well, I was in a dark place. And then this mild-mannered agent popped into my life, beat the crap out of me before offering me a job. I thought he was crazy. I took the job, but even though I left that old life behind me I still bore the scars from it. Phil helped me work through my issues and along the way taught me how to trust and live some semblance of a normal life. It's because of him that I saved Natasha. I saw in her what I used to be and I thought if Phil could help me, maybe I could help her. Phil was the first person that I could actually rely on. He was like a brother to me."
There was a long pause before Steve spoke, his voice somber. "I lost my best friend, Bucky, during the war. He followed me into battle and I wasn't able to protect him, like he'd done for me for so many years. I was wallowing in self-pity when someone very smart said that Bucky had chosen to follow me and I shouldn't dishonor his memory by denying that it had been his choice. Phil chose to go after Loki that day. He knew the risks."
"I know he did and I've always known the inherent dangers of our line of work. But, I always figured that Nat, Phil, and I wouldn't die alone, that if nothing else, we had each other's back until the end. But, I had been off trying to kill Nat while Phil lay there dying."
"It's not your fault," Steve whispered.
"No, but it doesn't make the situation any less shitty. It doesn't mean I don't miss him every single day."
"No it doesn't."
"Do you still miss Bucky?"
"Yes, and it is just as painful to remember him. But, the frequency of missing him has lessened, leaving room to remember the happier memories."
Clint nodded. "That's good."
"Look, all I can say is that there is no easy fix. But I hope you know you can talk to me or any of us really. Tony and Bruce aren't too bad once you get to know them."
Clint smiled. "I'm starting to see that."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the evening. As Clint finished his cigarette, he felt something settle in him. The pain was still there, but the feeling of loneliness was gone. Clint knew that was what Natasha had intended in wanting him to come out.
"Let's go back in. They are probably wondering what happened to us," Clint said as he stamped out his cigarette.
"You're probably right."
They stood and started to head in but Clint stopped Steve with his arm, remembering his earlier conversation with Natasha. "Maria has a thing for you, ask her out."
Clint didn't wait for an answer before going back inside. He entered the bar to the noise of Maria chanting Tony's name loudly while Natasha and Bruce booed obnoxiously. Tony was lining up a shot, although his hands didn't look the steadiest. When Tony missed the shot Bruce and Natasha broke out into cheers. It looked like another round of drinks had been ordered judging by the noise level.
Clint laughed, walking up to put his arms around Natasha and kissing her forehead. Natasha giggled, and hearing such a sound, even if it was induced by liquor, come from her made Clint's feel warm inside. "Come dance with me."
Natasha nodded, letting him lead her out onto the small wooden dance floor near the jukebox that was currently playing an old Johnny Cash tune. The song wasn't really made for slow dancing to, but they made do, like they always did.
They moved in small circles, holding each other close. He raised his hand to trace her cheek before pushing a stray curl back from her face. Her skin was slightly flushed and her eyes were bright. He could tell she wasn't completely drunk, just happily buzzed. She looked beautiful like this, uninhibited. In that moment with her in his arms he was content.
Natasha seemed to read his mind. "You look happy."
Natasha raised her own hand up to trace his jaw line. "I'm glad."
The relief in her voice was impossible to miss. "I'm sorry that I've been worrying you. I know you miss Phil too and I haven't been there for you."
"It's okay. I've had the rest of the group. Bruce is a surprisingly good listener."
"So is Steve I've found."
"I've realized that we don't have to just have each other anymore. There's room for more people in our lives."
"I'm starting to get that," Clint admitted, looking out at the rest of the group. Tony and Bruce were having a very animated conversation about physics while Steve pulled Maria to the dance floor. Clint caught Maria's eye and he gave her a smile and a wink. She returned his grin before focusing her attention on Steve.
"Thank you for forcing me to come out tonight."
"I didn't force you," Natasha huffed, dramatically.
Clint chuckled, pulling her closer to kiss her softly. "You know what I mean."
Natasha laughed in return. "I do. I don't expect tonight to fix everything, but I just want to remind you that you aren't alone."
"I know that. I just didn't know how to talk to you about it. I promise though that I'll come talk to you or Steve the next time I feel the urge to wallow." Clint kept his tone light, but he held her gaze to let her know he was serious.
"That's all that I ask." They were quiet for a moment; Natasha's eyes wondered, lighting up when she spotted Steve and Maria dancing. "Finally, those two have been dancing around each other for weeks. I wonder what changed."
"I may have just told Steve that Maria had a thing for him."
Natasha snorted. "Very subtle Clint."
"You know me, I have no patience for subtlety. They both liked each other. There was nothing stopping them from doing something about it."
"You're such a romantic."
"I won you over didn't I?" Clint cheekily replied.
"I wouldn't call drunkenly kissing me after a successful mission as winning me over."
"Fair enough," Clint admitted, laughing. They lapsed into silence, letting the music wash over them. Clint pulled her closer, leaning his head against hers so her scent enveloped him. He glanced over to see Maria and Steve laugh while dancing. Tony and Bruce were still talking, although their conversation seemed to have calmed down. Tony caught his eye and made kissing faces at him. Clint just shook his head, already coming up with more nicknames for Tony. Yes, he could get used to this.
A/N: Written for the Be_Compromised Secret Santa Exchange for Tielan. I kind of modified the prompts but basically she wanted them doing something outside The Avengers and Steve and Maria involved. Okay, I've never written such an ensemble heavy story before so this was new for me and I am not sure it struck the right tone. I wanted them to have fun, but also show Clint becoming comfortable with the rest of the Avengers. Also, unfortunately real life kicked my ass recently so I was unable to get this beta'd, so all mistakes are my own. I really would appreciate feedback on this, positive or constructive. Merry Christmas everybody.