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29 January 2015 @ 09:35 pm
fic: and sometimes when you fall, you fly  
Title: and sometimes when you fall, you fly (also on AO3)
Rating/Warnings: R (sex, f-word)
Length: 5,950 words
Summary: “If you could choose – if you’d had the choice – would you have gone with Steve?" Clint asks Peggy Carter, a question that she of all people might be able to answer and one that he hates to ask.
For this prompt for scribble_myname in the 2014 be_compromised promptathon: Clint was a time travel operative [for a future version of SHIELD/any other organization from a different time] who fell in love with Natasha while on a mission and chose to stay in the MCU timeline with her. Every day, he can feel the tug of the timeline to get him back to where he belongs and chooses to stay.
Author Note: With thanks to franztastisch for beta reading this into making more sense! Title is a quote from The Sandman: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman, as per the cut text.

and sometimes when you fall, you fly


“Steve’ll be back in a few minutes,” Clint tells the woman propped up in the bed. “He won’t be long.”

Peggy Carter just smiles at him, her hands resting peacefully in her lap. He has to look away, because Carter certainly doesn’t need reassurance from the likes of him, not for anything, never mind how many years of living she’s managed to accumulate.

For a moment here they are: the last living founder of SHIELD and, at the other end of the scale, the organisation’s most recent recruit. Well, technically he has the latest recruitment date of anyone alive at this point in time. If he uses his actual recruitment, which hasn’t actually happened yet and won’t for quite some time, and not the date of recruitment filed under the name Clint Barton.

It feels like it should be a moment moment, even if it’s just Clint’s turn to accompany Steve in their unofficial Keep Captain America Company team rota; the past and the future together in the present.

Clint clears his throat.

“Do you want some more water?” he asks awkwardly.

“No, thank you,” she says, and then there’s a pause where his name should go.

“Clint,” he supplies, although Steve’s already introduced him.

“Yes,” she says. “Clint.”

He leans on the edge of the dresser, uncomfortable with standing over her but not comfortable enough to take the visitor’s chair as if he were someone she’d invited over for a chat.

The hovering must be irritating her though, because she tells him, “Why don’t you take a seat, Clint,” and she’s definitely telling and not a suggesting, however nicely she says it.

There are years of authority and people-managing in that tone and Clint just knows she can see straight through him. Or maybe he just wishes she could; straight through him to the question trying to escape, one that she of all people might be able to answer, and one that feels like a fucking horrible thing to ask.

Sometimes though, sometimes you just have to take the shot, because what if you never get another chance?

“If you could choose – if you’d had the choice – would you have gone with Steve?” He clears his throat again and makes himself sit down in the damn chair. “I mean, if you could have skipped seventy years, not been in the plane. Just. If someone had asked if you’d want to stay in your time or jump to now, to this time he’s got. Would you? For him?”

***


The first time is an accident. Insofar as the carnival’s mystic rounding up him and three of the other kids to see if any of them ‘have the inner eye’ and him just letting her can be classed as an accident.

He sometimes thinks that his life so far has been made up of a series of things just happening to him and him going along with it, no choices involved. This is just another: following Madam Karacas into a tent filled with smoking candles, smelly incense, and strong perfume – a mixture that forces one of the other kids to leave before they cough up a lung.

She pricks their index fingers, specifically of their dominant hands, with an unsterilized needle and makes their blood fall into a bowl of oils and water, liquids that twist and twine about each other like living creatures. It makes him feel a bit dizzy to watch – the bowl full of gloop, not the blood part – so he tries not to. Then there’s a lot of humming and calling on Saints (from Madam Karacas), and butts shifting on seats (from the rest of them).

He thinks the whole thing is ridiculous, not to mention boring and a waste of time. He could be working (which means earning food), or practising (which should hopefully lead to more work), but he knows better than to ignore what an adult wants, even if that adult is just a second-class fortune teller.

Then he’s falling, then he’s flying, then he’s someone else.

***


Madam Karacas calls it ‘soul walking’ and apparently there aren’t that many people who can do it. SHIELD, who recruit him as soon as they legally can age wise, call it ‘transference’.

It’s what happens when you leave you own body and transfer into someone else’s. You can’t transfer into a body that already has someone inhabiting it though and you can’t transfer into dead ones. That leaves people with brain damage where no one’s home anymore or those that have mentally checked out.

One of the folks in his training group swears that if you’re really good you can transfer into someone who’s sleeping, taking over the parts of their consciousness that they’re not using. That gives him nightmares for a week, the idea that someone could transfer into him, but once he learns exactly how much mental gymnastics is required to transfer he realises that it’s near impossible and the nightmares mostly go away.

He learns a lot more science, philosophy, and mathematics than carnival life had prepared him for, but he never does properly understand the physics of transference, especially when they start getting into how they can transfer into people in the past but not in the future, because of something called the Echo Theory and how it affects timelines. It all gets really confusing. But however stupid he is they never kick him out of the programme, because when it comes to actually transferring he excels.

Some people have trouble with becoming someone else – becoming older or younger, a different gender or sex, or race, or build; just different. It disorients their sense of self or, if they’re not disoriented, they don’t know how to act like the body they’re wearing is their own. But slipping under other people’s skin is easy when you’ve often wished you were anyone other than yourself, and keeping a grip on who you actually are is easy when you’ve always known wishes don’t come true outside of stupid stories for children.

He feels out each muscle group, lets the sensation of muscle memory sink into how he moves, let’s instinctual reactions from the hindbrain be his first response, and then becomes. Tomorrow he’s a banker, tomorrow he’s a carbon factory worker, tomorrow he’s a state actor on the circuits. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, but always himself behind their eyes, the self he can never shake free, the kid behind the carnival mask and no one ever spots the lie behind the show.

***


Budapest is when everything changes.

The mission as a whole is, as always, beyond his security clearance. The only history Agents at his level are taught is how to fit into the times that they’re sent to, not anything that might encourage them to deviate from mission perimeters and change history in ways that they’ve not been ordered to.

The Transfer is a man with severe head trauma and the objective is to keep his partner, Natasha Romanoff, alive.

The file states that she’s been a SHIELD Agent for a mere three weeks at this point, fresh out of training and something called Cognitive Re-Education, whatever the hell that is. He doesn’t know why she’s important; that’s not the point and it’s not information he’s ever needed. The point is that a whole lot of people in Budapest want her very, very dead, and SHIELD doesn’t.

They want the Transfer very, very dead as well, but the poor guy pretty much already is.

He’s flying, then he’s falling, then he’s Clint Barton and his head is killing him. The brain damage will hurt, but remember it’s damage that’s already done. He fumbles for the medical cement stuff in his hip pouch, rips the packet open, and packs it into the gaping wound in his thigh that’s far too close to an artery for comfort. You have thirty seconds before the Transfer bleeds out. He stops leaking onto the cement floor as the mess coagulates, or stops leaking from his thigh at least, and takes a few precious seconds to feel out what this body can do, and then what he’ll be able to make it do without any kind of practise and whilst it’s in this sorry state. Make it work, Agent. Then he analyses his surroundings.

There’s someone with a machine gun behind an overturned car letting off the occasional rattle of gunfire in his direction. In the building beyond that a person with a riffle is shooting out of a second story window and there’s some guys in khaki on the roof. From the rubble surrounding him it looks like someone somewhere also has a grenade launcher, or hopefully just some grenades.

Meanwhile from the building behind him, the one with a collapsed wall that he’s sheltering in the mess of, comes the sound of angry radio chatter and a shot aimed at the car. For a moment he think the radio people are with SHIELD, but then a shot pings close to his head and he realises that he and Natasha are caught in the middle.

He figures there’s probably a grenade launcher somewhere then. It’s that kind of day.

Meanwhile there’s a woman four metres to his left, with a gun in each hand and blood in her red hair, fighting three men in navy tactical vests who’ve ventured in too close. It isn’t a fair fight: she angles one into a blast of bullets from the machine gun, finishes the other two with headshots, and drops to the relative safety of the ground, all in less than a minute.

He’s never admired those who deal in death, perhaps because he often falls into that category himself, but the competence with which Natasha Romanoff delivers it is an art form.

He spits out dust and blood and calls out to her, “Nice.”

Her head jerks in his direction and he can tell she’d written Clint Barton off.

“Hey, no need to give me that look. I’m dying, not dead.”

“We both are,” Natasha tells him calmly, and sure, this looks bad, but she’s wrong. If death doesn’t come quickly, if there’s time, he can transfer out of this body before it gets to that point. There’s time yet, he’s had enough practise at this dance that he can feel it. It’s Natasha who’s in danger, but there’s time enough for him to live and to complete the mission so that she can as well

“Let’s not and say we did.”

Natasha does not look impressed by this witty comeback.

He closes his eyes for a moment to help him visualise as he dredges up the plans of the surrounding area that he memorised for this operation. He doesn’t know how he carries memories with him when he’s outside of his own brain, doesn’t know if that’s part of the ‘self’ that transfers, but he leaves that kind of thing to the experts. All he needs to know is the way out.

“Tunnels,” he says, opening his eyes and smiling, tasting blood from his split lip. “Under the building behind us. So that’s just one group we need to fight off, not two. And not even fight off, just fight through.”

A grenade arches over the car and lands within reaching distance, and maybe it’s a lucky day after all. He grabs it, just able to stretch far enough, and throws it as hard as he can through the gaping hole in the building behind him. The hope is that it’ll clear out the bad guys without causing so much damage that the lower levels, and their escape, becomes inaccessible.

When the dust clears Natasha is beside him, helping him to his feet.

“Your plan leaves much to be desired,” she tells him.

She goes along with it anyway.

***


He wakes up in a medical facility and Natasha Romanoff is there with him, watching him from a plastic seat near the foot of his bed. He’s still Clint Barton, with no pull of being called back to his own shell and time and no push-pull of being called back so someone else can transfer in to replace him. And there are drugs, which is nice, so he does his usual thing of going along with it.

Natasha watches him blinking into awareness and taking stock of the room before asking, “How are you feeling?” She says it in a way that makes it sound like she doesn’t care about the answer. Not because she doesn’t care, although she probably doesn’t, but because she already knows the answer and is asking to be polite, as if someone has told her that that’s what she’s supposed to do in this kind of situation.

“High,” he says truthfully and smiles, because high is way better than ‘everything fucking hurts’ which he strongly suspects is going to be the case when the high wears off. “Hey, Tasha, how come you’re not in a hospital bed?”

She raises her eyebrows, ever so slightly.

“Because a wall didn’t fall on me? Because I didn’t head-butt a man when I already had a head injury? Because I didn’t fall into the drainage channel of a sewer?”

“But I remember you being in the sewer,” he says, frowning. “Weren’t you in the sewer? I told you not to. You got wet hair. It washed out most of the blood.”

“I helped you out of the water,” she allows. “I didn’t fall.”

He thinks he remembers it being more like she jumped in after him actually.

“And you got shot!” he adds, pleased to have remembered this extra detail.

“Grazed.”

“You still got shot.” He yawns. “Not by the machine gun though.”

“Go back to sleep, Clint,” she tells him, and he does.

He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s just gained a partner, and it isn’t because he gave her an escape route and encouraged her to live when she was resigned to dying, and it isn’t because she dragged him to safety with her after he’d told her to leave him behind. It’s because of this moment, when he calls her Tasha. It’s because he calls her by a diminutive of her chosen name when in the three weeks that she’s been with SHIELD she’s yet to have been afforded anything other than a label, either Widow or Agent.

It’s because of this moment, where in turn she calls him Clint.

***


He practices on the range, matching up the calluses, the strength of these arms, the precision of his eyesight. It’s almost meditative, the draw, sight, and release. It feels like something this body could do without him, without anyone inside the shell; like he’s just there to make the decisions of when to draw, what or who to put in his sights, and if and when to release. It’s power through being in control of an ability, something he’s had precious little of.

He practices tumbling, teaching this body his old carnival skills. It’s adequate enough but out of practice. It’s never walked a tightrope and it’s too late for it to learn, but the archery is a fair enough trade off and there’s no fear of heights.

He practices hand-to-hand with Natasha, who is far superior to him, but both he and his body know how to fight dirty and occasionally he can surprise her. She never smiles when he does, but there’s a light in her eyes that makes him think she’s smiling on the inside.

He practices as he heals, and then he’s sent on missions. Strike Team Delta is just the two of them and it’s a new enough partnership that he isn’t on the back foot, isn’t having to pretend to be someone she already knows. This is what he tells himself: that Natasha is getting to know him-as-Clint and never Clint-as-Clint, that he can be himself around her.

He reads all the files that he can discreetly get his hands on, asks around with a drink or two as a sweetener, and he learns a few things about Clint Barton. He knows that Barton had a fucked up childhood (who hasn’t), knows he was a carny (same old, same old), that he joined the army (sign on the dotted line), and then SHIELD.

Shit childhood, carnival, SHIELD, sign on the dotted line, rinse and repeat.

He knows that Barton has a reputation for being a crack shot and a joker on the comms during missions, that he tends to keep himself to himself, that he joins in large group nights out where no one really gets to know him but never an intimate gathering, and that overall Clint Barton isn’t that much different from him.

And the little people know about Clint makes it easy for him to slip into Clint’s skin and be him, as if there’d never been another.

Draw, sight, release.

He is Clint Barton.

***


He doesn’t know when it starts, the insistent, nagging feeling that he needs to be elsewhere, or if it’s always been there since the Budapest mission was completed and he’s only just noticing it.

Maybe it was when the drugs were finally cut down to nothing. Or maybe when he was finally finished with physical therapy and done with collapsing into bed at the end of the day, brain blank as soon as his head hit the pillow. Maybe Natasha hit something loose when they started practicing together. Maybe it was on their first mission post-Budapest, when he was hyped up on adrenalin and finally focusing, alert to everything again.

It pulls, it irritates, it’s the loose tooth or itching scab that you can’t leave alone. It’s like knowing that you’ve forgotten something but being unable to remember it, or having a thing on your to-do list that you’re putting off and putting off but you know you need to do. It’s an evaluation looming on the horizon and procrastinating instead of practicing and studying, even as the day of reckoning speeds closer and closer…

But he has a partner who watches his back, awake and asleep. He has a partner who knows what it’s like to hurt and be hurt, to kill, to lie and want to be honest. He has a partner who has become other people, walked in their skins better than anyone he’s ever met who couldn’t transfer and better than some who could. He has a partner who reminds him to complete mission reports and then checks his spelling, who does the best deadpan jokes ever, who dumps her feet in his lap when they share a couch to eat takeaway and watch shitty television shows.

He has a partner and it’s a two-way street. His mission is done and he’s being called back, but surely he’s needed more here than there and he doesn’t want to go. Not yet.

***


In mathematics a tesseract is a four-dimensional shape that when represented in three dimensions looks like a cube inside a cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square.

He is a him inside a Loki-him inside a body shell. Someone else has transferred in here with him, but not really, not wholly. They haven’t forced him out so much as forced themselves in around him; forced him to fit inside their shape. He is a square inside a cube inside a tesseract, and he can’t find his edges, can’t find the part that’s just him.

He’s falling, and he’s falling, and he’s falling.

All SHIELD Agents, right from the very beginning of the agency, sign on the dotted line that they’re willing to be involved in experimental procedures. SHIELD did, after all, grow from the Strategic Scientific Reserve. When Clint signed up – or rather when he will sign up – there were tick boxes to say what things the Agency isn’t to do to you after you’re dead and what you want the definition of dead to be (and he never wants to know what precedent led to that), but it’s always been the case that when you sign up to SHIELD your life is theirs to do with as they will.

Every Agent from the start has signed to say they can be used which makes them a consenting potential transfer. Obviously they haven’t always known this is what they’ve consented to, since in the early days they had no concept of technologies that would be developed in the future. When the original owner of this body shell signed up he probably thought ‘you can use me if I’m brain dead’ meant ‘use me as an organ donor’ or ‘use me for weird science experiments’ and not ‘fill my shell up with someone else’.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They all sign up to be used and it’s not like anyone expects that to mean becoming the next Captain America.

But this isn’t SHIELD; this isn’t who he signed up to be used for.

Cognitive recalibration and he wonders if she got that from Cognitive Re-Education and Do you know what it’s like to be unmade?

She does.

Natasha knows what it’s like to be unmade and remade and every which way, and she doesn’t hold it against him now. And if she doesn’t hold it against him now why would she for being someone else inside this this body? Why would she when she’s been so many shades inside her own, and it’s fine. It’s fine and he doesn’t have to say anything, because it’s all fine. Because she says so.

Then they’re Avengers and it’s new all over again and he is Clint Barton.

***


The first time they sleep with each other, as in having sex and not actually sleeping, is in a motel with suspicious stains on the ceiling, bare beige walls, and plain blue sheets.

He doesn’t tell her she’s beautiful, like that’s something she should be proud of and not just something she won in the body lottery. If you asked him to map her freckles, describe the weight of her breasts, he couldn’t say. Locker room talk would have it that it’s a cliché to find someone attractive regardless of their looks, that anyone who tells you that can’t be serious, but Natasha would still be as dangerous in a different skin. Natasha trusting him would still give him this heady rush. Natasha looking any other way but still looking at him like that would still make him this fucking hard.

Sex is a body act, messy and sweaty and making you aware of your skin, your muscles, your bones, every small hair that stands on end. He’s attracted to her, and that sounds so simple, but he’s transferred into people from many points on the sexuality scale – aromantic, asexual, demisexual, bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, he knows the labels – and there’s all kinds of ways to be attracted to someone that do and don’t end in sex and, even when it does, it’s not body all of the time. He won’t say the shape of her, the smell of her, the feel of her, doesn’t speak to his body and his to hers, but it’s her, the danger, the trust, Natasha, that makes this what it is.

It’s Natasha spreading her legs and letting him taste her. It’s her hands fisting the sheets as she lets him take her apart.

It’s Natasha.

And the need to be elsewhere almost blurs with the need to come; he can almost lie to himself that it’s gone and he’s free of everything except his want for her.

“Thank you for hitting me really hard in the head,” he tells her in the quiet moment of after, mashing his face into the side of her neck, and she laughs, and that’s what he finds beautiful.

“Any time,” she says, amused, and brings her hand up to rest on the back of his neck. Then, softer and serious, “Don’t make me have to do it again.”

***


It should take months, years even, and therapy and more to learn to live with having had a god in his head, and that’s without anyone knowing about the nightmares of someone else transferring into him that return in full force, screaming in his cranium every time he tries to sleep.

(He sleeps fine when he sleeps next to Natasha, as he always has.)

What it actually takes is seeing their new team send Loki packing. It takes being invited to live in a broken tower, no recriminations and no questions asked. It takes a weeklong road trip with his partner and enough closeness that by the end of it the label ‘partner’ can no longer cover everything that she is. It doesn’t take much and at the same time it takes everything.

(And if when he sleeps alone he still gets the odd nightmare that’s a cheap price to pay.)

He weighs up these gifts that he’s been given against the undertow of need to be elsewhere but he doesn’t know, not really, what the other side of the balance sheet looks like. He doesn’t know by staying here what orders he’s missing, what missions, what futures he could be changing, and what he’s changing by staying. He doesn’t know, can’t know without going back.

(He lies, he has nightmares sometimes when he’s with Natasha too, but when he wakes up to her being there it’s fine, it’s good, it doesn’t matter.)

He can’t go back. He can’t. Not yet.

***


After New York, after aliens and monsters and magic, after Natasha stabs a portal device with Loki’s spear to end it all, he wonders if this is what he needed to save her for, if this is the important thing she needed to be alive to do. After Washington DC, after she’s key in stopping Hydra from killing millions of people, people with the ability to change the world for the better, he wonders if this is it. After he realizes that in exposing Hydra she’s also brought their own Agency down, that SHIELD is over and done, he wonders if actually he’s just ruined everything. Maybe he’s destroyed timelines in which SHIELD exists, or broken physics. Maybe he’s not going to be here in the morning, just vanished out of existence. Or maybe rebuilding SHIELD was always the point.

This is the problem: he doesn’t know.

***


It’s such a hard thing to ask.

“If you could choose – if you’d had the choice – would you have gone with Steve? If mean, if you could have skipped seventy years, not been in the plane. Just. If someone had asked if you’d want to stay in your time or jump to now, to this time he’s got. Would you? For him?”

“If I’d had the choice to go with Steve?” Peggy Carter peers at him. “Are we putting aside the issue of duty and orders in this instance?”

Clint opens his mouth to reply, but can’t make his mind up about what to say and ends up doing some kind of half shrug instead. He pretends not to notice how amusing Carter seems to find this even as he feels pleased to have made her smile.

“Regardless,” she says, the corners of her mouth still curled up, “you can never know, when given a choice, what all of the eventual outcomes may be. At the time choosing to go with Steve, if there hadn’t been the matter of the war and we could have just stepped into the future like Alice through the looking glass, I would have been choosing to give up my life, my career, everything. Did I even know him that well?”

Her expression grows serious and she leans forward.

“Don’t mistake me. I loved Steve and there are wartime marriages built on far less time spent together, but I can’t say if I was in love with him or if I would have given up everything that I had worked towards for a man. I’ve had my eventual outcome; I’ve had a husband, I have children and grandchildren, and I like to think that I’ve had an impact on the world, however small.”

“You have,” Clint tells her, because he has to, because it’s true, and not because she needs to hear it.

“Well then. I’ve lived a life; who’s to say another would have been better?” Carter settles back and smiles, somewhat sadly. “I know that’s not what you want to hear.”

It isn’t. The answer he was hoping for was what choice she would have made, not that there’s no knowing where a choice might lead. It seems such a big deal, being Peggy Carter, but she’s a person, she’s another person who signed on that dotted line for SHIELD; a potential transfer just like anyone else he could slip into. She’s a person, not a fortune cookie, and he makes himself remember that as he swallows down his disappointment.

“I guess we only ever know the roads we take,” he says, keeping his tone light.

“Anything else would likely drive us to distraction.”

She takes a drink of water from the glass on her bedside table and they settle into silence. Carter doesn’t seem to mind it, but quiet outside of a sniper’s nest tends to make Clint uncomfortable. It means he has nothing to distract him from the constant fight against being pulled back to his own time and it makes him tense.

“Steve’ll be back in a minute,” he repeats, just to create some noise.

“Steve? Steve died a long time ago.”

***


Clint waits for Steve by the reception, to give him and Carter some privacy and also because listening to Carter break down at the realization that Steve is still alive is not something that Clint ever needed to hear let alone what comes after.

They’re walking out of the care home, at a brisk pace to match the brisk bite of autumn in the air, when Clint just blurts out, “If you’d known that you weren’t going to die, if you’d known that you’d end up in the future, would you have wanted Director Carter to come with you?”

Steve doesn’t miss a step, but he does slow down as he turns to look at Clint.

“Fuck. Ignore me, I’m full of shit.” He rubs his hands together as if to warm them, trying to get rid of some of the restlessness caused by the call to return and using it as an excuse to look down, avoiding Steve’s eyes.

“You mean if crashing a plane and seventy years on ice, and needing the serum to survive those, wasn’t an issue?”

Clint just nods, feeling sorry he asked and yet grateful Steve doesn’t just tell him where to shove it, and grateful that Steve trusts him enough not to try to pretend that what Clint’s just asked is okay when it really, really isn’t, like what Clint’s just asked doesn’t hurt. After Loki too many people pretend around him and he’s never worked like that, always preferred to be straight up told when he’s made a mistake so he can be damn sure not to do it again.

“To follow me to a whole different world and time? To leave everyone else behind? For me?” Steve faces forward again, thinking about it. “It’s hard, Clint. I’m not saying I’m not learning to live with it, or that there’s nothing good about the future, but it’s hard and I couldn’t ask that of anyone. And you never know how things would have turned out if you’d done them different. Least I know Peggy had a good life.”

Clint thinks about the Winter Soldier, who didn’t, and tries not to let that show on his face.

Then Steve smiles as he adds, “Mind you, it would have been Peggy’s choice.”

***


It seems the logical next step to ask Natasha and he couldn’t say why he hasn’t before, unless because he’s not sure he wants to know the answer.

They’re on a couch in their rooms at the Tower, some shitty reality show playing on the television and Natasha’s feet in his lap. He likes having her weight on him, grounding him. Absently he starts kneading her soles whilst he thinks.

“If you were given an order,” he starts, speaking slowly and choosing his words as carefully as he can, “but you didn’t know if it was a good order or not. I mean, you know that it’s a SHIELD order and not a Hydra order or anything, but you still don’t know if it’s a shit order or not. And if you didn’t have the information to figure out which it was, and you couldn’t get that information. If your choice was to follow that order or not just because of one person…”

His hands still on her feet as he struggles for the right words and he sighs in frustration.

The thing is, he’s not sure how to phrase it without it sounding like he wants to know if she’d choose love over an order, because if he’s honest with himself then that’s what he’s doing, and Natasha doesn’t believe in love. She says it’s for children and Clint agrees. Eyes meeting across a crowded room and all that, it’s fairytales and innocence.

Clint believes in trust, respect, being vulnerable in front of someone else, putting yourself and everything that you are in someone else’s hands, living with someone and letting them see all your dark corners. Only love, like sex, comes in so many variations and Clint thinks maybe what he has with Natasha is something that could be labelled love, maybe, and he values it as much as anyone who ever went on a fairytale quest because of it.

The thing is he’s never needed to know the physics of what he can do or the history of a mission. He just focuses on what he needs to know, and what he needs to know isn’t the whys and wherefores, or the what’s happening whens, but just if staying with Natasha is worth it, worth anything. And that, that isn’t in question.

Maybe that’s why he’s never tried to ask before.

Because he’s already chosen, chooses everyday, and the question is if Natasha would choose the same or think he’s an idiot for it. If she’d tell him he’s making a mistake.

Natasha pulls her feet off him and sits up, putting them both at eye level, then tucks her toes under his thigh and wraps her arms around her knees.

“Is this about today, with Steve and Peggy?”

“Sort of.” He lets his head, throbbing with the need to return, tilt backwards to rest against the couch and closes his eyes. “I asked Carter if she would’ve chosen to come with Steve to the future, if that’d been a choice, and she basically said that she didn’t know. And then I asked Steve as well, because apparently I woke up a fucking moron this morning, and he said that he couldn’t have asked that of her and then he said it would have been her choice anyway.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know.” He just breathes for a minute, telling himself that the answer doesn’t matter, and then asks, “What would you choose?”

“Clint.” He feels her fingers tilting his chin towards her and she waits until he opens his eyes, until he’s looking back at her. “I’m not going to leave you. Ever.”

And that insistent pulling back to his own time that never goes away, not even now? Yeah, Clint can ignore that forever, because it’s fine, it’s all fine.

“Me either,” he tells her.

He won’t.
 
 
 
sweetwatersong: [AU] alternate universessweetwatersong on June 3rd, 2015 10:32 pm (UTC)
Holy frack, lady. It's like you went for my heartstrings right through every scifi romance vein in my body. Just - I have tried to figure out what I can say in a comment, but nothing seems appropriate enough to encapsulate just how much I love this. That we never know Clint's first name, that Natasha grants him the name for herself (and in doing so, for him), that we never know if it was supposed to be this way or if he's changing everything too far sideways, that the pull will tug on us as well as we wonder but that we won't answer it.

LADY, MY HEART. What have you done to it?
inkvoices: avengers:assassins smileinkvoices on June 9th, 2015 10:01 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU and thank you for your lovely comment :D I had huge trouble trying to make this fic say what I wanted it to, and I'm still not entirely happy with it - I wanted more things in there about the age gap for a start - so to hear that the parts I wanted to come across did is fantastic, I'm so glad you liked it!

Yeah, sorry not sorry about the heartstrings ;D