Hello! I've done! I've finished it! I don't know what to say, other than I didn't let this one get too carried away (it's just over 4K) and that the next one up will be 'The cousins' and thank you for reading, please enjoy and don't forget to review!
Also, in England they're called tights, but I don't know what they are in the US- someone told me 'pantihose,' but if it's wrong then drop me a line and I'll correct it.
He is sat in the hotel, trying to fight a rising queasiness that is threatening to throw the crappy aeroplane meal all over the walls.
Coulson, bless his creepy little heart, booked him three days in a hotel, so that he and Tasha have time to talk and reconcile and all that stuff before he has to try to convince her to come back with him. If she doesn't- well, he doesn't know what he'll do then.
At one point, she was the only constant in his life- the only thing he could trust to be there, always, ready to help him. After what happened with his parents and with Barney, he needed that more than anything.
And for a long while he hated Coulson, for tearing them apart, for trapping him in a house and at a school; he felt like the man had been making him to pretend his life was normal, was sunshine and lollipops when it clearly wasn't.
Now he realises that Coulson catching him that day was probably one of the best things that ever happened to him; he just has to hope that she understands that.
It has been nearly six years since they last saw each other, and now Clint wonders, once again, what she has been doing these long years. Despite his friends at school and his life at home with Coulson, he has never stopped thinking about her, wondering about her, hoping that she is managing, wishing he could talk to her. He hopes that she is okay, and that she will be there tomorrow. If she isn't... well, he'll just have to wait another nine years.
He doesn't know if he could bear that.
"Hey, pretty girly. Want to come back to my place tonight?" The man is drunk, propping himself against the wall as he leers down at her. She bares her teeth back at him.
"About as much as I'd like to contract the plague from one of these rats." He fumbles for an answer, but is quelled by her vicious stare.
"S'yer loss," he mumbles, staggering away, but Tasha is just relieved it didn't come to a confrontation.
This city is amazing, and though she has been here for three days now she is still trying to get her head around it. There are so many homeless people that no one gives a second glance to a teenager sleeping rough. She has never felt more invisible, and it is both relieving and an awful feeling at the same time. People's eyes slide right through her, except when someone pauses to drop a quarter at her feet or to make a comment which she ignores. She still has twenty dollars left, so if Clint manages to escape from whatever prison Coulson locked him away in then they could make it out of the city by tomorrow evening. Or they could blow it on a big meal- she's happy either way. So long as he's there.
Clint's absence has been like a papercut these past six years- just when she thinks it might be healing, something happens to rip it open and start it stinging again. Their quick, friendly banter and his general silliness were what kept her from getting too wrapped up in the past. His steady gaze kept her grounded when she thought the tides of life would sweep her away, and oh gods, is she really getting this sentimental? It sounds like she's writing fucking poetry or something.
Shaking her head, the young runaway draws her knees up to her chest and wraps her coat more tightly around herself. New York in January is one of the last places you want to be when you're homeless, and sheltered though she is by the alleyway, she isn't completely protected from the wind and the sleet.
Just one more night, she tells herself. One more night, and then they can work something out; maybe she can take Clint to meet Andre and the gang; maybe they could find their way back to the Hillock, see if Pepper and Steve and Bruce aren't still around. Or, hey, they're in New York- didn't Howard Stark recently buy a luxury flat up here? She saw the article in the newspaper she was covering the floor with last time she died her hair- perhaps they could go find Tony.
So long as they're together, she is happy to do whatever, no matter how clichéd it sounds. And tomorrow, hopefully, they'll finally be together; it is this fact that gets her through the freezing night.
They had never specified what time they were going to meet, so Clint finds himself at the base of the statue at 8:30, bundled up in his thick coat and his scarf, his stomach a churning mess of nerves. Around him, the shivering tourists throng, smiles brittle as they throw up peace signs and have their friends or strangers take photos for them.
By half past eleven his fingers are burning and his face has gone numb with cold. Catching sight of a street vendor at the end of the block, the younger Barton realises that a hot dog has never before sounded so appealing. For a moment, he hesitates, but it will only take a minute- she won't come and go in that time. Clutching his coat to himself against the wind, he begins the trek through the muddy New York slush.
It takes her longer than she expected to get there- the buses are all down because of the snow, and she doesn't want to waste valuable money by taking the underground.
By the time she arrives, Tasha is frozen to the bone, and really, it's hardly surprising. She hasn't had any proper winter clothes since she left Russia, and what she brought up from the gang hasn't really left her equipped. Traipsing along the streets of New York in a tiny black dress, pantihose full of tears after sleeping on the streets for the past two weeks, stilettos and a thin cargo jacket certainly gets her a lot of wolf whistles, but doesn't do very much in terms of keeping her warm.
Another problem presents itself when she arrives: despite the snow and the wind, it is packed. She doesn't know how she'll ever find Clint in this crowd, seeing as she doesn't even know what he looks like anymore- can only remember a little boy with dark hair and darker eyes, tanned gold by a summer spent next to the lake.
She gets there just before half past eleven and spends a couple of minutes just stood in the centre of the square, turning in circles and craning her neck, hoping to somehow spot him in the crowd. Suddenly a heavy hand clamps down on her shoulder.
"Ma'am," says the voice of a very annoyed and very cold looking policeman, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"What?" She tries to break away, but the grip is strong. "Why?!"
"There's no loitering allowed, not here." His voice drops. "Do you know what sort of reputation pickpockets will get us? You need to go."
"What? But I'm not a pickpocket!" She twists and struggles as he begins to drag her away. "No! Listen to me! I'm waiting for a friend, I'm not going to steal anything! Let go of me!"
"Tasha?" asks a voice, and both she and the policeman freeze. There, with a very confused expression, and a hot dog in one hand, is Clint.
They go back to the hotel as soon as they've sorted things out with the policeman, and Clint's mind is reeling, trying to grasp the fact that Tasha is right here.
She is completely different and completely unchanged, and it's making his head hurt to look at her- or maybe that's his heart? Whereas he had always been taller than her, he is now looking up to meet her eye, and though he knows it is because of her scary tall heels, it is still a disconcerting feeling.
Tasha's hair is no longer ginger, though due to dye or it just naturally changing, he doesn't know; it is a darkish brown, though still coppery in certain lights, and swishes down to the middle of her back. Her every move is graceful, fluid, like a mountain stream, but her eyes are shattered, as though the stream had turned to rapids.
"Nice place," she mutters, gazing around the hotel room. "Who'd you have to kill to afford this?" Before she can say anything else, however, he has wrapped her up in the most massive hug he has ever given anyone in his life. Her arms wind around his neck and she hugs him back; for a long time they are just stood there, taking comfort in the other's presence.
"So," he says when they finally break apart. "I suppose we have a lot of catching up to do?"
They sit on one of the beds- because this room has two of them, two doubles, and she still can't get her mind around the fact that Clint is staying here instead of out on the street- and they tell each other everything about the last six years. She tells him about running away, away from the backwater town, joining the gang and rooming with Sadie and teaching Gracie ballet. In return, he tells her about Coulson adopting him, and how he's been going to regular school, and while he talks she watches him.
He is completely unchanged and completely different at the same time, and it fills her with a hollow longing, a bitter nostalgia of past lives, time slipping through her fingers before her very eyes. He has filled out- his shoulders have broadened and he's put on weight. The hollow cheekbones and jutting collarbones are gone, replaced with an aura of ruddy health, and while he is still slim, it is in a wiry, toned way, as opposed to malnutrition.
After talking for hours they go downstairs, where Clint tells her the dinner is included with the cost of his room. It is an all you can eat buffet, and Tasha hasn't had access to this much food since her father had died. Clint has a plate of roast, a plate of pasta and a bowl of desert before declaring himself full. She has pasta and roast, soup and bread and rice and vegetables, fruit from the fruit bowl, cold meats, hot meats, fish, cheese and grapes and salad, and four different types of ice cream before the meal is over, and if some of the other patrons frown at her outfit, well, they can go fuck themselves.
"So, Tasha," he says when they are up in their room, and she is wrapped in one of the hotel's fluffy dressing gowns because she doesn't have any night clothes. "I have to check out tomorrow by eleven. I've got a flight to catch home that leaves at twelve." He sees her eyes widen and her lips purse as she braces herself for what must seem like the inevitable. Instead, he pulls two plane tickets from his bag. "And I want... I need you with me when I go."
The ex-ginger's eyes widen, and she nibbles her bottom lip in an old nervous habit he remembers from when they were young.
"You want me to come visit you?" He smiles and takes her hand, because she needs to know how important it is that she says yes.
"I want you to come stay with me."
"But what about Coulson?"
"Coulson said that you're allowed to stay for as long as you want; he even said..." suddenly Clint was nervous- what if she laughed in his face? "He even said he would be happy to foster you. You know, if you don't want to be on the street anymore. I mean, I get that you have your gang and stuff, but Coulson has a house with a spare room, and there's always food and it's warm and, well, we would actually be together." She looks at him, large eyes conflicted.
"I don't suppose there's any chance in the world you would run away with me instead?"
She regrets it as soon as she says it, because now his brow has crumpled in confusion and uncertainty and, gods, it was such a stupid question!
"Forget it," she tells him, "forget I ever asked. Just... just forget it." And his eyes are such an intense mixture of worry and hope that it breaks her heart when he looks at her.
"Tasha- we don't have to run away. Not any more." No, she doesn't have a lump in her throat, and no, her eyes aren't watering when she nods.
"Okay," she manages, nodding. "So long as you're there."
When the taxi drops them off to the house, Clint could swear that Coulson actually looks slightly awkward as he shakes hands with Tasha. He asks her if she has any luggage, and the younger Barton's heart gives a lurch when he suddenly realises that she's carrying Barney's beat up old school bag.
Finding out that all she owns in the world is in that school bag, Coulson immediately takes her shopping, same as he'd done with Clint. They get dresses and jeans, shirts and skirts, shoes and, yes, Coulson is definitely blushing when he gives her $200 and shoos her off in the direction of women's underwear.
At home, she doesn't seem to quite know what to do with herself, and Clint can relate, remembering how he was when Coulson first fostered him. So he shows her how to play second player on all his video games, and teaches her to cook an omelette, and sometimes, when she just needs to get out of the house, get away from the walls and Clint, I can't do this then they'll go for a long walk around town or through the park, no matter what time of the day or night it is.
When school starts up again and Tasha finds out that she is expected to go, she doesn't quite know how to feel.
On her first day, people make a fuss, but not in the way she'd expected- there is less stupid Russian, Russian drunk, go back to your own country than she expected and a lot more ooohhhhh, are you and Clint dating? I bet you are! Look, you're blushing! (she most certainly was not blushing).
It is strange and different and decidedly uncomfortable, and the teachers are weird and they treat her weird, but the work itself is oddly invigorating, and soon she is in mainly AP classes, though every now and then a gap will appear in her knowledge that everyone will look at her funny for. She finds that she actually loves language classes, and soon she is doing French, German and Latin, as well as already speaking both Russian and English fluently.
It takes all of three days for people to find out that she's lived on the street for the past six years, but no one says anything, not except for one guy called Chris, who makes a habit of cornering her when Clint's not around. One day he goes too far, and a mean right hook has him curled up on the ground, blood pouring from his nose. His girlfriend Jennifer hates her for it, but everyone else just seems to find it funny. It isn't until Clint explains to her that he did the same that she understands why.
The main thing she dislikes about school is how much time she has to spend away from Clint- though they spend every break and all their free periods together, the only class they share is sport, in which they both kick ass. The redhead- because she has cropped her hair short, and died it back to its original colour now that there's no need to worry about being ginger- can understand why people might think that they're dating; they probably spend more time together than most couples. However, it isn't like that. It's that she's got his back, and Tasha knows that he's got hers. So long as they're together, nothing bad can happen.
Aside from that one little incident with Chris, which the school administration barely bothered wasting their time with, Tasha takes to high school a lot better than he had been worried she would. She fits in relatively well with his group of friends, and even makes some new friends of her own, which he is proud of her for.
And if she sometimes slips into his room in the middle of the night, trembling like a leaf and blinking back tears, he doesn't say a word. He just wraps her up close in her arms, and when he wakes up next morning she's always disappeared again.
A year after Tasha moves in, Coulson adopts her as well, much to the apparent displeasure of his boss, Nick Fury. Clint vaguely remembers the man- the one with the eye patch who interrogated him when he was first caught. Fury didn't seem like the sort who would be happy about anything.
And then all of a sudden they're meant to be thinking about college and careers and their lives as adults, and Clint's panicking because he doesn't know how he's meant to do this stuff.
Coulson sits them down to have a long talk with them, and Clint admits that he doesn't want to go to college and Tasha admits the same. The agent nods, face closed off.
"Well, then, what do you want to do? Because without college, you may find your options are... limited."
Clint tells them how he wants to go into archery professionally, and Tasha explains that she wants to teach mixed martial arts- but she also wants to do online courses at the local community college. Coulson nods.
"Well, it's not what I would have chosen for you... but I suppose that why their your lives, not mine. If you change your minds, though, don't hesitate to tell me."
"Oh, yeah, by the way," Tasha slips in, expression supremely hopeful and more than a little pleading.
"We were wondering... you know, since we've been saving our money and stuff..." continues Clint, and Coulson appears to brace himself.
"If we could take a gap year?" Tasha finishes, and Coulson relaxes again, relief crossing his face.
"Well, I don't see why not," he says, and the two teenagers cheer. For the next few weeks, around homework and studying finals they can always be found sat up in the dining room, pouring over maps and looking at hiking trails, tourist destinations and youth hostels to stay in. They decide on Europe, on a four month back-packing trip across Europe, and three weeks after the end of high school, they head out.
They start in England, rushing around to see the sights of London, and Tasha remembers Tony talking about when he came here- Big Ben isn't as tall as he described it, and she wonders if it is because he was exaggerating or if it was because he was young.
They then head down to the British coast for two days by the sea, followed by a ferry to France. They visit the Champs Elysees and the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the palace of Versailles, Tasha doing all the talking for them while Clint just grins and nods along. After France, it's through Belgium and Holland to Germany, dropping down to Switzerland and then into Italy, followed by Austria and finally Hungary.
On the train between the final two, Tasha eats something decidedly 'off' (Clint has been a very fussy eater most of this journey, claiming that the majority of European food is decidedly 'off') and by the time they get to the hotel in Hungary's capital, Budapest, it is all she can do just to crawl into bed and pass out.
Clint, with a couple of hours to kill before any sane, healthy person would even think about going to sleep, decides to find a way to keep himself entertained. Despite the fact that he doesn't speak a word of Hungarian and the only German he knows is 'thank you' and 'I'm a donut,' he grabs the Hungarian money- Forint, or something like that- and makes his way down to the hotel bar.
Five drinks in and he is cheerfully babbling away to some new friends of his, who are not so cheerfully growling back in... he doesn't even know what language he himself is speaking, let alone what they're saying (and, notes a small part in the back of his brain, that could be a fun experiment with Tasha- get her drunk and see what language she speaks).
Somehow, despite the language barrier, he manages to deeply offend them, and while he may be the best boxer in his club, seven glasses of Hungarian beer can slow a person's reflexes down quite substantially- not to mention that there are five of them.
"What happened to you?" asks Tasha next morning when she wakes up, looking much better than before. He groans, head pounding.
"I went to the hotel pub-thing whatever they call them last night... I told you all European food is dodgy. She looks concerned.
"Well I suppose it's a good thing we're heading home tomorrow, then, isn't it? Come on, I know you're feeling shit, but let's at least try and see some of the sights before we leave?" He groans again, but lets her drag him out of bed- it looks like, hungover or not, he has to go and see the city.
After their gap year, she and Clint make sure to follow up on their promise to Coulson it terms of getting a job. Clint works as a shelf stacker during the day and a bartender in the evenings, while Tasha's 'good looks and toned physique' have landed her a job as a personal trainer in the local gym.
"You know, it's not just because I'm pretty!" she heatedly tells Clint when he teases her for it. He pulls a face back.
"Sure it is- all bosses rate the girls on their looks, even if their girls themselves!"
"I like your nail polish, Clint," says Coulson at breakfast the next morning, peering at it over the top of his paper. "I have to say, it's different to your normal style- but I've always thought that purple does suit you." Clint flushes and Tasha smirks.
"I'm glad you like it," she tells the agent, "because Clint's going to be wearing it for the next three days- aren't you, Clint?"
"I hate you both," is all he snaps in return, storming off to get changed for his job.
"You know what I think we should do," he says one day, when they're sat in the lounge playing videogames.
"What?" replies Tasha, huffing as she dies yet again.
"I think we should probably move out soon- you know, give Coulson some peace. How much money do we have in our savings?"
"Shit- see? We could get a flat! You could start your classes, and I can find another job and train until the Olympics comes up." The red head pauses the game and turns to look at him.
"Yeah, I'm game for that. A flat just for us, somewhere in the city."
Coulson takes the news well- they're twenty, he's probably been wondering if they'd ever move out- and they begin house hunting... with little success.
"Too expensive... too big... no way are we getting a flat next to an airport..." Tasha keeps up the running commentary as they skim through ads in the paper, and as the months pass he wonders if they'll ever find something.
"Coulson?" asks Tasha at breakfast one morning. "Are you done with your paper?"
"Nearly," hums the man, "I just want to finish this article- it's about the town where you two were staying."
"Really?" asks Clint, because he's heard nothing about there since he got caught. "What's it say?"
"Nothing I expect you'll be interested in- just that there was a problem with some wiring, and that a house burned down. Two people were killed. Maybe I should get someone to recheck our wiring- it's been a few years since I last had it done..."
"You do that," says Tasha, teasing the paper out of his hands. "Come on Clint, we've got a flat to find!"
Five days later, he opens the door to a pair of very familiar cousins.
How do you touching moment?