A Minor Bird

Stampede

"Come here often?"

She pretends to jump, act like he's snuck up on her, but she's had her eyes and senses targeted on him since the moment she entered the hospital. She came for him.

"Not fond of these places myself," She nods around her, forcing a smile to encourage small talk. The fact that he's found her this time is enough. Already she feels like today is a good day.

"Me neither," He smirks, his eyes quickly dodging around her face, looking for some sign of recognition. A part of her jumps, waiting for him to say something, to realize everything, but instead he chuckles dryly and leans against the railing, turning away from her.

"You're visiting someone?"

She nods slowly.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but they must be pretty lucky, having you as a..?"

She hesitates, trying to decipher what to fill his blank with as much as he is. "Friend," she finally finishes.

"To have you as a friend," He repeats, smiling. She wants so bad to smile back but the corners of her lip won't upturn so instead she stares at him, breathless, waiting.

"Why's that?" She finally asks, because she wants to hear him say it.

He shrugs, nonchalantly, even though he can tell how obvious it is that she's fishing for a compliment. But, that's not the case.

"Because they have someone caring about them enough to visit them," He finally says, and there's not a hint of bitterness in his voice but the emotion is there, laced and intertwined. Her throat knots a little but she's as expressionless as ever. The tip of her tongue lashes out an apology but her voice instead comes out as, "If they were lucky, they wouldn't be here in the first place."

He shrugs at this.

"Not sure we share the same view on luck, then." They never have.

"Why's that? How do you perceive their luck?"

"Without knowing them? I'd say they're lucky to be alive, though I don't know how grave their incompatibility is. I'm just assuming, since you're at my end of the wing and the only few of us this far west are the trauma victims." He again shrugs like it's nothing.

"So, you think he...my friend, is lucky because he's alive?"

He nods hesitantly.

"I assume as much. He could be dead," He knows he's treading on thin ice, and he waits for her to flare up and lash out, but she doesn't. She continues to stare at him.

"How close is this friend to you?"

She smiles, and it's a sad smile. Not fake like the one she greeted him with.

"The closest."

He nods slowly, understanding.

"Well, don't let me keep you from him. Visiting hours are short enough," and he waves his departure, briskly approaching the impending nurses who have already caught sight of him.

"Nate! Nate, you can't walk out like that, it's not-"

Natasha pushes down her irritation that the nurse calls him by that, but without a last name, of course she goes by the only name he remembers.

"Nat..." He'd said. With his accent, of course they'd think he meant 'Nate'. She tries to smirk at the irony-he's taken up her name. But, she doesn't. Instead, she walks out the very entrance she came in from a minute ago.

He notices she doesn't make her way to any other visitors, and a part of him is hopeful that she really meant to see him. The same part of him that screams he knows those red locks, and that he's heard her voice call out names before, but never his, never this 'Nate'. Because as easy as 'Nat' comes to the tongue, it doesn't feel right hearing others call him that.

He wonders why he's been abandoned, and he wonders why he's just that damn good at escaping these nurses and these hospital rooms, and why heights make him feel comfortable when it makes everyone else nervous to see him standing at a ledge. And he wonders why he's only at peace when that mysterious woman comes by to visit a patient who doesn't exist.


"He could be dead," He adds, and she almost challenges him that he is. That the Clint Barton she knew died that night and the man before her is a shell, nothing more than a picture frame of who he used to be without the picture. And if she thought that revelation of his would kill her, she nearly topples over when he asks, "How close is this friend to you?"

A thousand answers fill her mind and a thousand scenarios to match them, but like an inside joke she merely smiles and mutters, "The closest."

When she eaves, just after he has too, she releases the breadth she never meant to hold and once she reaches the hall she's practically sprinting. She shouldn't be breaking down like she is-she should be able to hold it in, together, until at least she reaches Stark's tower, where she can collapse in the confines of her own room.

But, she can't make it there. Not this time.

Because hearing his voice and seeing his face and just knowing that it's him-but him not knowing that...

A nurse stops in the hallway, on her way to where Natasha just came from, and asks if she's alright.

"I-I'm fine," She stutters, and curses inwardly, again, for not holding it together.

Coulson was right-she became too involved with Barton. Damn him, for not stopping it when he had the chance, when he should have. Damn him for dying and leaving her alone.

Except he didn't leave her alone.

He left her with Clint.

"If you say so..." The nurse admits, but she doesn't believe it anymore than Natasha does. Still, she offers a sweet smile and Natasha mirrors the action in the closest way she can. She reads the nurses nametag and commits her face to memory. Lucy. A sweet blonde.

Natasha nods her head and brushes past Lucy. She walks home, composed and calm as ever She doesn't encounter any of the other fellow Avengers and she's thankful for that. She couldn't handle any banter from Stark, if he felt in the mood to offer any (Surprisingly, in the past few weeks, his humor had run dry and he kept most comments to himself; it was unnerving more than relieving, and Natasha almost wishes he would just crack a joke). Steve's innocent, sympathetic face would kill her just now.

Thor's apologies would send her over.

She tries not to think about the moment she reached the tower, only to be met with the unusual silence of the gathered team, save for one. She doesn't dwell on how Bruce had to tell her that an accident had occurred. That Clint had been involved and that they weren't sure where he was. It wasn't one of her prouder moments, storming in on Fury and be ushered away to be told that Fury was doing everything he could, and that Romanov needed to be patient and wait for further instruction involving how Shield would deal with this development. She spoke and saw no one else, and it was peculiar how everyone seemed so calm, like they had no idea that one of their elite was missing.

And she chooses not to even touch on the memory of hearing that he just got out of surgery at a local hospital, and that she can't see him. What hurts worse is she was told he just got out of surgery a week after he'd already woken from his coma.

The elevator dings open and she makes her way to her room.

The moment she's alone in her room, the door locked and closed, she knocks a lamp to the floor. It doesn't shatter but it snaps unplugged and suddenly the room is dark. She collapses against the wall and dry heaves because tears don't come but her body doesn't know that.


Twice a week, she comes by. Every time she does, she walks straight through the entrance doors, exactly three minutes after two, and she walks directly to a chair that faces the doors, back to the rest of the ward. She sits there, back erect and her head looking straight in front of her. And she waits.

The first time he sees her, she catches his eye before she even made it to the chair, turns around, and walks straight out. She already looked to be having a bad day, and he himself had just recovered from surgery. That was a month ago, and as far as he was concerned, that was when his life had begun.

He only remembers glimpses and flashes of memories, like silent movies playing in his head, and he can form words but everything sounds foreign to him.

The nurses were confident that once he woke up from surgery, he'd properly identify himself and they'd have an identity on him, a name and possibly an emergency contact. Strangely enough, he appeared to have come from no where. No files, no records. The nurses only had a single name to go by when he woke up, but even after they reminded him of it, he couldn't recall ever giving them a name.

"Nate", they call him. He tries it a few times on his tongue and it sounds familiar, he's just not sure if it's his name. But, he has nothing else to go by so he just nods his head and now he's "Nate".

A week goes by and the nurses convince him that somewhere, someone is out there, looking for him. They're confident he'll be claimed (like lost luggage) within the week.

A month later, he sits in a ward, the west wing for trauma victims, and watches the beautiful woman with red hair walk in, cry, and walk out.

She returns a week later and this time doesn't seem to notice him, making her way to her seat. She sits there for an hour, perfectly rigid save for her fingers that twitch nervously. After an hour, she stands up and walks out. This continues on for two weeks, twice a week, and finally he approaches her.

And when she leaves, he's convinced it's him she's waiting for. Because it's been three weeks and he's never seen her speak to anyone but him.


He confronts her after that. Nearly a month after that, actually. He doesn't admit that those visiting hours are his favorite, not because he's afraid she'll freak out, but because something tells him those days are the worst for her. He doesn't exactly thrive in the idea that the most pleasure for him is what kills her, and this only further cements his theory that she's here for him.

She doesn't look surprised when he asks her, and she's quiet for a long time before she attempts to half-heartedly deny as much.

"What makes you think I come here for-"

"I watch you from the moment you come in. You sit and wait, and then I talk to you, and the moment I'm gone, you leave. You haven't stepped a foot beyond the waiting room, and you haven't so much as spoken to a nurse or patient other than me."

He's confident, she notes. Good to know that trait was as embedded in him as his eye color, because it'd be such a loss if that was all for show.

"You caught me." She finally smirks, and it's bitter because she knows what he'll say next. He'll demand questions she can't answer and he'll throw a tantrum she can't calm. She can't do anything, except watch the medical staff hoist him at bay and pull him to be bound in his room, home bound. And the visits will have to stop.

Instead, he leans back and smiles to himself, only his smile is a bitterly happy one while hers is just bitter.

"You're not-"

"What?"

She only hesitates momentarily.

"You're not going to ask who I am? Who you are, why you're here, why this is happening..?"

He quirks an eyebrow, like it never occurred to him that he wasn't simply born and raised here and never has had any inclinations to the world outside these white, windowless walls. Finally, he cracks another half smile and shrugs again and she wants to punch him for not caring.

"I have a name-"

"That's not your name," she briskly retorts, and she feels and hears tears brimming but she chokes them back.

"-and my reasons," He finishes, looking at her in an odd twist of amusement, "And so do you."

Her breathing is heavier and she's tensed but she says nothing. Finally, she looks away, because she can't hide her guilt.

"Don't you want to know who I am? Don't you want to know how I know so much about you, and why I haven't said anything. Why I've left you here, without so much as your own goddamn name-" Like a confession, her sins and guilt come rolling off the tongue and he just stares at her, his face giving away nothing.

"No."

"No?" She sounds exasperated.

"Because that ends the game."

"Game? What game?" She keeps her voice in check because if she raises it too much or if she's too distrusted, they'll pull him away from her. He shrugs like it's obvious.

"The game that I'm so close to winning. Where I remember your name and who you are to me and why you still lie and smile when what you clearly want to do is yell and hit me. Because I really am so close to remembering, I know it. It's at the tip of my tongue-"

She shakes her head, because this is all wrong.

"Don't you want to know your name? Who you are? Where you're from-"

"-I want to know what's important," he leans back, relaxing just as she tenses up further. He looks content as he just watches her, waiting for her response. She doesn't have one, so she stands up abruptly, trying to decide whether to give him a final look or not, and deciding she isn't brave enough for that.

Then she leaves.

"Nate? Is everything alright?"

He hesitates a moment, because Nate isn't his name and he isn't sure if the nurse is talking to him, or why. Finally, he nods and stands and makes his way to arts and crafts.


Natasha settles in to sleep at night, but as her mind drifts off, wandering through memories and mistakes, she finds herself reliving the moment she landed stateside, demanding Barton's location only to be met with pitiful eyes and silence.

Sometimes the dream mixes and Loki is present, even if he had no hand in Barton's predicament now. Sometimes her mind throws in scenarios yet to happen, fast forwards to a future where Barton doesn't recognize her, starring at her with those icy blue eyes that still haunt her, though she would lie and tell Barton they didn't.

She jolts awake and decides that sleep just isn't going to come to her. She'll train a bit and tire herself out, then fall back onto the lazier insomnia approach; late TV land reruns. The channels are mostly promotionals and eventually she gives up on television until she reaches the movie channels.

It's her luck that there's only a choice between the same six or so movies, half being psychotic thrillers on low budgets and the others being sappy love stories that are more about testing temperaments than testing love (Then again, they're probably the same thing)

She flips a coin and settles for the sappy love story, because she recognizes the actress and that already is plus in comparison to the poor scripting of the lifetime movies.

Ten minutes in and she evaluates that one of the main couple is terminally battling for their life and the other is spewing words that in context are harsher than they mean them to be. The movie reaches the climax, where the couple split and one walks away and for a minute she's almost emotionally involved and her mind screams that it shouldn't end this way, they can't give up.

Just stay and stick it through, just try to make it work.

She nearly throws the remote at the screen when it dawns on her, but then she remembers that this is Stark's TV and while she could care less about his property, she doesn't want to explain herself or her actions (Not that she even would have to, but it still settles her mind when she opts to just turn the screen off instead). She abruptly stands up and retreats to her room to attempt at sleep once again.

That morning, Steve comments on how Natasha looks like she got no sleep last night, and rather than challenge his 'observation', she simply growls at him. That silences him, but it also confirms him.


She doesn't come that Thursday but she comes Tuesday, exactly one week after their conversation. She's as composed and pretty as ever, dawned up in make up and a suit and she's never looked more unfamiliar to him, even though she wore those same shoes last time, too. Her hair is pinned and curled and unnatural and he doesn't recognize her at first. Except those eyes. He knows those eyes.

"Ask me." She demands, because it's killing her. He blinks, then smirks and sits down, offering her some water that he doesn't possess (the fountain is in the hall). She declines his offer by not responding.

"Ask me anything. About you, about me." She tries again. He thinks for a moment, and finally, to satisfy her, he asks without really caring, "What's my name?"

"Adam Hart." She responds without a moment's hesitation. He blinks.

"And yours?"

"Lucille Dodgers, but you called me Lucy."

He nods slowly, like it's all coming back to him when it's not.

"How do we know each other?"

"Childhood friends."

He almost laughs out loud at this.

"And what do we do for a living?"

She catches that he asks 'we', as though he assumes they work together, but she reasons he's merely combining two questions in one because he's more interested in hearing about her than him.

"You're an accountant for a bank. I work at a law firm, in the city."

He doesn't speak for another minute, finally responding, "Do I have any pets?"

She blinks, "No."

He smirks. "Probably should have asked if I have any family first, huh?"

For a moment, he's terrified she'll tell him he's married with a wife and kids waiting at home for him.

"Your father passed away six years ago. Your Mother just last winter. You spoke at her funeral, it was a lovely eulogy." She says it all so quick and heartless that he almost believes her.

"No girlfriends?"

Her knuckles turn white, "Your last relationship ended six months prior to the accident. I wasn't able to get a hold of her. Her name was Madison."

He nods, and finally it's too much and he bursts out laughing.

"What's so funny?" She asks, characteristically hollow sounding.

He shakes his head.

"Lucy, was it? Or Miss Dodgers?"

She nods, "That's correct."

"No it's not."

She says nothing, and he nods towards the nurse standing at the counter in the other room through the glass window.

"That nurse over there, her name is Lucy."

"It's a common name-"

"It's a poor cover," He cuts her off. Briefly, there's a flicker of her holding her breadth, but finally she spits out, "Adam, you're confused."

"Don't call me that."

"Adam..."

"That's not my name."

"Nate-"

"That's not it either!"

And finally he's angry, like she's always wanted. She leans back and he's standing and hospital personnel and approaching, concerned.

"Is it, Nat? That's not my name, right, Nat?" He doesn't even know what he's screaming, or at who, but when he sees her jump he realizes that he isn't 'Nate' or 'Nat'. She is. And when she brushes past him, crying, and the guards restrain him, he all but falls to his knees as realization dawns on him.


"Then get someone else to do it!" She snaps.

She wants off this mission, but no one seems to be understanding that. No one is listening to her. Fury just stares at her with his one good eye, like he sees through everything she's saying, but she ignores it. Hill is unreadable as well, but everyone else is twenty years too early on training to hide their emotions and she sees the pity bright and clear on their faces.

"This is a mission, Romanov, one that you have been assigned to-"

"I don't care!" She finally blurts, because she's already argued a hundred times over her best points and now she's just desperate for someone to hear her. For someone to take that pity on her and say, "Alright, Agent Bridge will take care of it from now on."

Agent Bridge is in Taiwan.

"You know damn well why you were chosen for this-"

"You think he's going to come back!" And now she's exasperated, because she feels exactly the same as they do. She hopes for the same miracle they all want. That if it's her, if she's the one, then he'll remember, he'll come back. He's too good an agent to loose and their only hope lies with her.

But it's not working that way, and it's taking more of a toll on her than him. She has to see him, twice a week, and all she can think is who he was to them, is to her, but she only sees who he is now, in person. Confused and forgotten and normal. He's not supposed to be but he is, and it's killing her as much as it kills him.

"Natasha-" Fury's voice has lowered and for a second it sounds like Coulson. Coulson would have known what to do, he would have talked sense into Fury. He would have explained to him that this was a lost cause, that they needed to move on because Barton was gone, and he would have released Natasha from this mission weeks ago.

Agent Coulson is dead.

"Natasha..." Fury tries again, "Give it some time. He's showing progress, there is a chance-"

"There is none! What's wrong with you?! Why can't you just accept it! He's-"

Worse than dead. He's forgotten. Forgotten everything, forgotten his life and memories and her. He doesn't even know his own name-

"Agent Romanov, this discussion is over. You will continue your observation and report. You will continue aiding Agent Barton's recovery of his memory, and you will do so because he's not lost. Not yet."

She flickers between the others present in the room and sees the dying hope in their eyes. Is she the only one who sees the truth? Reality? That it's hopeless?

She has nothing less to argue, because she can't believe everyone, so she storms off. She runs out, and she desperately wants to find Barton and spar with him, to breakdown and actually complain about Fury about how unfair everything is because for the first time she feels she can't hold everything in or accept things. But Barton isn't here.

Agent Barton is now "Nate".

"Why me?!" She finally whines, exasperated. She'd had her fair share of the world being fucked up, but this had to top it all. Every shot-up situation and world-to-hell experience she'd been through, and this surpassed them all.

"Because I trust you," Fury emphasized, more annoyed than understanding. Natasha tried to glare at him but it had little effect on the unshakeable man that he was.

"Because I don't know how many Agents I have left whose loyalty lie with me rather than the Council. Shield is divided at this point and I'm hanging on to the position of Director by the skin of my teeth, after I threw my neck on the line all because I had a slither of hope in you and Agent Barton and the Initiative! And I'm paying for that breach in protocol now. I chose you because you don't have loyalty to me, to the Council, to shield-any of it. Your loyalty is to Barton, and I owe it to Barton and even to Coulson to do everything I can to delay the Council's finding out of Barton. And that means I have to turn to you, the only Agent I can trust to do so."

"What?" She hissed.

"The Council is not aware of Barton's condition. As far as they're concerned, he's currently on a covert mission currently being performed by Hill herself. And when that little stall of ours runs out, Agent Barton will be pronounced "MIA". Why do you think we haven't extracted Barton under our care? Left him in the hands of civilians, hidden and undisturbed? Protocol says that due to his current predicament, he is no better than a defector and must be dealt with as such. That is why you have to do this. You have the standard issued allotted time of any recon mission for any standard MIA case."

He began to turn around, pausing, "Unless, that is, you'd rather let Barton live out his life in oblivion. Or be found out by the Council and dealt with as appropriately. It's your choice."

Maybe it'd be better if she did leave it at that-let him live a normal life. A second chance to actually live.


His focus is trained between her green eyes and she's glaring up at him, all but defeated sprawled on the floor and pinned into a corner. She's wounded and worn and he's only a little better off and after the most grueling fight and chase that he's experienced since joining Shield, it's come down to this last moment, to the final strike.

There's a tension in his fingers, a sense of power and it's unfamiliar to him-whatever he's holding-but it's drawn and he feels the strain in his fingers and knows that whatever he holds is just a twitch away from sending her to her maker.

There's throbbing in his chest, his throat, his leg. He can't identify which is which; adrenaline, pain, a subdued scream. There's sweat beading down his neck but he ignores that too, because at this moment all that matters is that he doesn't take his eyes or attention off of those green eyes.

Her lips quiver ever so slightly-the first time he's seen her show fear that may just be genuine if he fell for it, and then she says something but he can't make out her words. But whoever it is she said, or more accurately asked, he responded somehow, smirking and replying,

"I'm making a different call."


He jolts awake from the dream and reaches for something not by his side. He's perplexed, because he swears that those green eyes are familiar, that they belonged to the girl who visits him, to "Lucy", even if in his dream she looked much younger and her hair was a different color and length and she looked more frail, more ravaged. This dream is different, not because of how real it felt, like it was a memory (Because all his dreams as of late feel so real, like he's reliving some time or other) but because for once it's not a nightmare. It's a pleasant dream, because everything felt so familiar and yet comfortable. His finger twitches from the ghost of a feeling of holding that bow and arrow and without thinking much of it, his elbow props itself up to create a pose. Muscle memory, he thinks.

The word "shield" rolls off his tongue as a whisper but he pushes it aside because it doesn't seem significant. Instead he drops his face into his hands and tries to clear his head of those green eyes.

Most of his dreams are horrors filled with blood and death and things that he knows he shouldn't tell the psyches, because then they'd really sign him off as crazy.

He sees face and horrors and demons and none of it makes sense to him and he probably should write it off as just nightmares, but something tells him it's more than that. Something tells him he's lived through each of those dreams. That that child's blood really did run on his hands, or that the suffocating feeling of drowning isn't just a figment of his imagination being too realistic for comfort.

The morning after that particular dream, of drowning, he fills a sink in the bathroom and submerges his head underneath. Just to see. A nurse walks in on him three minutes into his timing and pulls him out, causing quite a scare amongst the staff. He isn't all that phased because he knows he wasn't trying to commit suicide.

He could have lasted two, maybe three more minutes, he assures himself.

Different things act as triggers. He quickly realizes that he is, in fact, not normal. That his case is beyond simply some freak accident involving some blunt force, a hit and run with no witnesses. He remembers light, for one thing, and the doctors have insisted that the attack took place within an hour of his arrival at the hospital-which was in the dead of night.

But he doesn't contemplate on the fuzzy, hazy memories because he's too busy paying attention to the present. Like when a nurse approaches from behind, trying to stay quiet to not upset the other patients, and this sets him off like she's trying to sneak up on him. And when the doctor approaches with a needle, he isn't sure how or why he suddenly finds himself pinning the white coat to the floor. He fights the restrainers, briefly, until it dawns on him that he's fighting them. That he's actually punching and kicking and tripping the staff around and he doesn't even understand why, or how.

Then there's noises. When an AC unit blows, the sounds echoing like a gun shot, he's instantly whips around, reaching for nothing at his side. His mind reacts, instantly scouting for targets and he's gone into a complete survival mode. He doesn't even recognize himself.

Nurses stare at him like he's a murderer and with the moves he possesses, he thinks he is too.


Since he's in this ward and everyone looks at him like he's crazy, he begins to believe it. So, he sees nothing wrong with blurting the first question on his mind when the girl in red visits him again the next week.

"Have I ever killed someone?"

Natasha finds herself back in the room on the Helicarrier, where an honest and not-Loki-influenced Clint looked at her and sincerely demanded the number of Agents, of comrades, he'd killed.

Just like then, she saw the guilt in his face and the desire, the need, to know the answer. She couldn't lie to that face.

"Why do you ask?"

But she could avoid giving an answer.

He doesn't respond immediately, but then he does something unexpected. He reaches out at her, lashing with a fist, and instantly, before she can even begin to be horrified that he's attacking her, she throws up a forearm to deflect him. But he counters and suddenly they've both jumped up from their chairs and all eyes have turned to them because she narrowly almost pulled her concealed gun on him from her purse and he's toying with the idea of revealing the scalpel he's tucked in his jean pockets, having swiped it from an attending doctor's clipboard.

She doesn't say anything, finally stepping back just as the ward staff run over to her. She insists their fine, but he says nothing and doesn't argue when the men try to pry him towards the doors, towards medications. She sees his fist clench, like he's holding back the urge to defend himself, but he lets himself be taken away.

Because without saying anything, she confirmed his suspicions. Answered his question.


They give him medication which he pops in his mouth but only pretends to swallow. The moment he's clear, he spits it out. He knows he's sane of mind, he doesn't need tranquilizers to cure him of his 'afflicted rage'. He does, however, regret the decision when the nightmares start up again.

After the third night in a row of dreams of carnage and blood and fires and unimaginable horrors that feel more like memories than dreams, he gives up on sleep altogether and stakes out in the lobby, while no one watches. He knows where the camera's eyes don't reach and he perches in those spots for hours, just sitting and contemplating everything he knows and has been told and what doesn't add up between the two.

Everything is so close to making sense to him, and yet nothing does He rubs his eyes and decides he needs more air. e doesn't even bother contemplating just how he knew how to pick a lock, but in roughly three minutes he's on the roof, a restricted area, and he's sitting with his feet dangling at the ledge, pondering if he pushed himself forward just an inch or two if that'd all just be easier.

A janitor spots and reports him a few hours later and nurses coax him back to his room, warning him that he'll loose time during music hour for his behavior as of late.

Oh darn.


Natasha sighs, looking at the pale face in the mirror before her. She has to cake on more blush than she would like, to bring color back into her cheeks. More foundation under the eyes to even out the circles. Heavier liquid liner so her eyes look wider, brighter.

She's used to wearing make up, with all the operations and missions she's taken on as she infiltrates embassies and paints her mask. She's a beautiful woman and make-up just makes her look ethereal. She wears it when she's seducing corrupt men or manipulating boys with guns. She applies make up when she'd dealing with strangers.

She never had to wear make-up with Barton. Mascara would run when they'd dive into rivers, to avoid the hail of gunfire chasing them down Venice. Foundation mingles with sweat and clogs her pores and face while she sits on a stakeout, her sniper trained on the only window of the safe house while Barton takes his turn to sleep.

Barton was the one person she could let her guard down with, not have to dawn make up on to act a part.

Natasha twists the tube of red lipstick, applying a thick line to her bottom lip and smacking the color evenly amongst her lips before snatching her purse and heels, making her way to the elevator.


"Nate" yawns, his eyes scanning across the room, waiting for the doors to open. The moment they do, he jerks upright.

It's just the Nurse, Lucy.

He continues to follow her, watching to see whether he's her next victim, but it turns out to be a patient named Lloyd, who Nate has only spoken to once since being at the ward. Lloyd seems to be in fine health, until he blanks and forgets even who he is. He'll throw fits, and suddenly be perfectly fine and hold a conversation about his uninterrupted attendance of 40 plus years as a school bus driver.

He likes Lloyd, the old man.

The doors open again and this time it's Ms. Nelson, with her separated husband Mr. Nelson in tow behind her. They're visiting their son, who after a traumatic car crash is paralyzed and hasn't spoken more than three words since Nate's been here. His parents divorced years before the accident, but they've become closer since it, visiting together in hopes that a more complete family will better appeal to their son and just might make living worth while for him. They haven't argued in over four months and they actually support each other, now.

Mr. Nelson is going to ask Ms. Nelson on a second first date that afternoon.

Finally, the door opens and in she walks. She looks frantic and briskly looks for him, spots him, and makes her way towards him. He smiles in a warm greeting at her, but her smile is so forced and painful that he drops his own and doesn't bother to pretend like he fell for it.

"What's wrong?" She asks suddenly, and she seems to be looking extra hard at him, like she'll find something in his eyes if she looks long and hard enough.

He gives nothing away, and merely shakes his head.

"Nothing."

She nods, somberly, and sits down.

"I thought I'd bring some things from your place, maybe help you remember-"

"Alright," He cuts her off, because he's curious to see what she's brought. She rummages through her purse and produces a small snow globe.

"Your father gave you this, when you were, I think, eight? You'd gone skiing in Colorado, remember? And this-" She pulls out a picture frame, recently polished but obviously still worn and old, as much as the picture inside it was gradiated, "is a picture of you and your dog, when you were twelve."

The kid is cute, the dog more so, and he raises a brow at her.

"Is that all?"

She jumps a bit, searching through her purse some more. He catches a glimpse of a handheld hidden in it, but says nothing. She pulls out a candy bar.

"This is your favorite candy. I snuck it in here, I'm not sure how the nurses feel about outside food and your diet-" She offers the candy, but he hesitates to take it. Finally, he sighs and relieves her of the candy, turning the wrapped over in his hands, staring at it.

"Is anything coming back...? At all?" She asks, hopefully.

"Why are you doing this?" He mutters, so low that she doesn't catch all of it.

"Excuse me?"

He sits up and snatches at the snow globe.

"My dad never took me anywhere. I don't think I've ever been to Colorado..." He pauses, "But I have skied before." He looks at her, but her face has hardened again and she won't give him any clues, any hints. He sighs.

"And-" He picks up the frame. "This isn't me. This isn't my dog. I never had a dog. I never had a house with carpet," He points at the background of the picture, "and at twelve, I didn't even have a house!" She looks startled when he says that, and even he isn't sure how he knows that. Suddenly he wants to ask if his father ever took him to the circus, because he remembers going there, but he knows he wasn't lying when he said his father never took him anywhere. For good measure, he almost adds his father never gave him anything but stops because a pulsing in the side of his head reminds him that his father did in fact.

"And," He motions the candy bar.

"I'm not sure if this is my favorite or not, but I'm taking it all the same."

He rips the wrapper open and takes a bite of the chocolate. It's stale and has nuts and he's almost positive it's not his favorite.

"Why are you doing this?" He finally asks, bewilderment and even anger seeping into his tone. She doesn't move.

"These fake memories...Lies...Are you trying to help me, or..? Are you feeding me these fake past lives because you're hoping I'll believe them? Why? What are you doing-"

"Nate-"

"My name isn't Nate."

She winces. Not this again.

"Please, just-"

"You wanted me to ask you who I was. You were so adamant on me getting all the answers I could from you. At first I thought because maybe it was killing you more than me that I don't remember who I am," That hit a nerve, he noted when she ever so slightly flinched, "But now I think you just wanted me to hurry up and ask, to want to believe in you, so you could feed me these false lies and be done with me. If you're in such a rush to abandon me, which you already did, then why bother showing up still?"

The accusations he makes pierce her and his voice has raised. The nurses already were watching him carefully and all they need is for the girl to burst into tears as their cue to subdue him.

But, she doesn't. Instead, she slowly nods.

"You're right," but he already knew that. "And you have been to Colorado," her voice sounds scratchy so she coughs to clear it, her eyes looking anywhere but at him.

"You're not allergic, but you don't care much for nuts. You prefer something with a lot more sugar," she smirks, and that he does believe.

They don't say anything and the staff wise up enough to come between them, ushering "Miss Rushman", he catches, out as visiting hours have expired and "Nate" needs his medication. The woman nods and never looks as him as she leaves, but he can't take his eyes off her.


Lloyd is talking to Andrea, another nurse who fears Clint with a passion (He can tell by the way she looks at him), retelling a story about how he once stopped a school bus to the side of the road to let some drunkard pass, reporting him on his emergency line so some local cop could take the creep off the road at eleven in the morning. Clint is listening from across the hall, sitting perfectly still in his chair with a scowl present on his face, though he doesn't mean it.

Today the psych started the session like he always did-useless questions about health and feeble attempts to conjure up any past memories. Curiously enough, the doctor mentioned the green-eyed girl.

"I hear you've been speaking to a visitor."

He bets it was Andrea, that damn gossip. No, it's probably his job to be alerted of any development in his patient's behavior or routine.

"Is she a friend?"

Clint shrugs, because to be honest he's not even sure. Then he smiles and thinks to what she said the first time they spoke (That he knows of). She'd called him a friend then, hadn't she?

Now that he mentions it, she did say they' been 'the closest'.

"I guess," he responds, like a disgruntled teenager.

"What's her name?" The doctor asks, looking through his clipboard because he genuinely doesn't know.

Clint can't help himself and smiles.

"I think Lucy called her 'Miss Rushman'."

The doc looks up from his papers.

Clint just shrugs. It's not like she ever gave him her real name. Even if he does have a pretty good guess of what it is.


"You're Nat, aren't you?" He asks bluntly when they meet again a week after her last visit. She immediately looks on edge but nods slowly. Realizing he won't take bullshit answers anymore, this conversation looks to be headed in a direction that they've avoided. An honest one. No more dancing around the topic.

For a moment he doesn't know what to follow up with, so he reaches for his back pocket and produces a folded piece of paper.

"Arts and Crafts hour, they had us making Valentines. That holiday is coming up, isn't it?" It passed two days ago. "We were supposed to make a Valentine for someone-a visitor, or a staff member. I originally thought to give this to Lucy, because she sneaks M&M's in with my medication when I don't act up that day, but I thought you might appreciate something also, given as how you waste two days a week on me with what must be the most uncomfortable hour for you."

She doesn't deny it, her eyes trailing the paper as he hands it to her.

"I don't have any talent for art," he chuckles, "But Cindy, that's the volunteer who runs arts and crafts, kept nagging me to just 'reach deep inside' and draw something 'of my self conscious'. To me, it sort of looks like a map...Cindy says the splashes of red are abstract, but I don't..."

He trails off because she isn't paying attention to him anymore. The picture itself is a blur of blues and grays, with lines running interconnectedly and the shape of it all is a peculiar polygon. There are three red dots splattered meticulously on the paper, small blurs that stand out against the cool back ground. He doesn't quite get what it means-he's no art or dream interpreter. But it's the image he saw and it stood so vividly out in his mind. Like he'd memorized it.

Natasha holds back a chortled laugh, because it is in fact a map. Of Baltimore. Some streets are inaccurate, but she recognizes the landmarks and she knows this pattern They'd both spent a week overlooking the map, memorizing every escape and entry point and learning the map inside and out. The dots through her a bit, because she only recalls one target on that particular mission, but then she remembers that he had set up at least three vantage points, in case their target tried to run. She recognizes the dots to represent the roof of a motel and the penthouse of an apartment, and the attic of a store complex with a coffee shop on the ground floor.

It's just the kind of twisted valentine she'd expect from an assassin, from him. No 'roses are red' poems or heartfelt messages with floral decorations adorning the spine of the card. It was a target map, a visual belonging to a mission. And it was perfect.

"Thank you," she remarks earnestly. After another pause, she adds, "Natasha." He looks up at her, and she smiles at him. It's not forced, not even a bitter smile. It's a little sad but there is true happiness behind it and he barely whispers out "Natasha" on his lips, and it sounds perfect and feels right.

Breaking some of the tension with that, he leans back, turning his attention towards the nurses before asking, "What's my real name?"

She shouldn't, but she smirks.

"I thought you wanted to figure it out yourself? A game, wasn't it?"

He shrugs.

"I figured I guessed one thing right, I earned the other. It's a game of exchange."

She frowns.

"You guessed my name."

"So I deserve mine."

It takes her longer than it should, but finally she answers, "Clint."

He nods his head because that makes sense.

Finally, he scrunches his nose and asks, seemingly out of nowhere, "Do I know Russian?"

This causes her to laugh out loud, but she answers just as quickly, "Yes. How did you..?"

"I'm not sure. I was thinking, and all of a sudden it hit me that I wasn't thinking in English...How do I know Russian?"

An answer for an answer. She smiled, "It was part of your job description."

He could ask her about that, but he seems satisfied, or in any case bewildered, that he knows Russian. He seems lost in thought and occasionally his face changed to express surprise, and she figured he was discovering a whole lot more than Russian.

She shouldn't be as surprised as she is when it happens, catching her off guard, but she's let that slip and her own memory is drifting away to some long since mission in Moscow when he suddenly dropped his head into his lap, rubbing his forehead as his eyes shut tight. She thought little of it until he started shaking, and then without warning convulsing. Shivers ran up and down him and an uncharacteristic whimpers escaped him.

In an instant, the mood had died and suddenly he was shouting. Barking, he seemed to be spitting vile at her.

"Is that so?! Is that what you think?"

By his side instantly were the attendants, restraining him to the chair. Natasha had gripped the arms of the chair, watching in horror without the ability to turn away. Here was Clint, looking so weak and vulnerable before her. She'd never seen this side of him, and right now it was playing out before her. He lashed just outside of the nurse's grip, his fist almost reaching her. She didn't flinch away, didn't move.

And then he froze, as recognition reached him. This was Natasha, Nat, he was trying to reach. To hit.

For a moment, she searched his eyes for that electric blue, just as foreign and unfamiliar to him as he was now without his memory.

All she found was empty eyes, unable to register just what he was doing.

Clint was hauled away, again no longer resisting the doctors but desperately wanting to.

Natasha didn't realize she had been crying, reaching up to wipe away the tear tracks, only to realize what was crumpled in her hand was not a tissue. It was Clint's valentine.


The Ward itself all takes place on one floor of the hospital. There are no windows except in the lobby, which he's only allowed in during visitor hours but manages to escape to at least once a day. He hates that there are no windows in the rooms at the back of the ward, but he understands the precautions that the hospital has to take. His days consist of a rotation of music hour and arts and crafts. He begins his mornings waiting in line for medications followed by a visit of the shrink.

The meals taste like paper, but he has a handful of skittles that he'd saved from medication this morning, which Lucy had snuck in for him (He mentioned the other day how, while he appreciate the M&M's with nuts in them, he liked skittles more, or at least he guessed he did; Lucy saw to it that the candy exchange was upgraded, and as he popped a green skittle into his mouth, he confirmed that he liked skittles more).

Lights out is at nine for the better-off patients, and while you're not required up at an exact hour (This isn't the military) it is recommended to be up at least by eleven, else you'll miss the breakfast served.

Clint, because that's his name, goes to bed at nine like everyone else, then slips up onto the roof roughly an hour or two later. He slips back into his room around 4 and on good nights he'll find sleep for two or even four hours. While on the roof, he either finds himself standing a the ledge, just watching the city go by, or he works out. It doesn't occur to him the first few weeks why he feels so sore or tight, but the moment the idea occurs to him to try a push up or two and suddenly things fit into place. His fingers still itch to feel something between them, his muscles anticipating something he can't quite put his finger on, but he finds some comfort in what little wok out he can produce while on the roof.

He really wishes he could go for a proper jog.

At dinner, he sits by Lloyd because occasionally the old man will tell a story that Clint hasn't heard a hundred times over, and as of late even the Nelson's boy has started joining them, though he says nothing and simply stares at the excuse of a meal. Clint offers Nelson one of his skittles and the boy's mouth twitches, like he's about to smile.

Across the room, Angie has started spasming again so the other patients are ushered from the cafeteria. Clint doesn't mind, he was already finished with his meal anyway.

The phone is open for anyone to make a call, though it's an unwritten rule, a courtesy, that you spend no more than thirty minutes because others need to use the phone as well.

Aside from Nelson, Clint is the only person who never uses the phone. Lloyd is usually right of mind enough to call his family, and even when he's not they're patient enough to listen to him anyway.

Nelson's parents tried calling him, before Clint had arrived (Lucy told him), but Nelson never spoke on the other line, so they stuck to in person conversations only. Clint watches Nelson sit mindlessly on a couch. It's not that he's damaged, so much as he's unmotivated, unwilling. The trauma eats away at him and he's broken down once or twice, but he never says a word.

Lucy is a nurse, a pretty girl with blonde hair and a short demeanor. Clint has never seen her outside of scrubs, but can tell by her calves that she's the type who wear heels frequently to try to give herself the height she was deprived of at birth. When he saw her, she had hair down to her waist and was dating a mechanic. This was when he'd first woken from his coma and she was the first nurse to positively inform him that he'd be claimed n a week or so. Two weeks later, she came into work with a bruise around her eye and long sleeves under her bright scrubs.

It didn't take a genius to piece two and two together when another nurse asked Lucy how she got that bruise, followed up with how was she and her boyfriend. Both answers were sad excuses of lies and Clint felt an anger swell in him that was scary cold. He should have left Lucy's situation alone, but fate wasn't about to let him.

It happened while Lucy was alone in the lobby, at the front desk. Visiting hours weren't until tomorrow, but Clint had snuck into the lobby simply to stare out the windows. Lucy hadn't noticed him, headphones in and her eyes down on a document. She also hadn't noticed when her boyfriend, of the time, entered the lobby.

It all happened rather quickly. A harsh exchange of words and then a punch was thrown. The boyfriend's fist didn't land, however, as Clint had beat him to the attack and suddenly the bastard was sprawled on the floor, Lucy caught between his shock that her boyfriend tried to hit her, at her workplace no less, and that Clint was in the lobby. She hasn't even registered that Clint just punched her, now, ex.

The fallout resulted in security rushing in and Clint doesn't remember much else that happened. But, he does remember waking up from a dosage of tranquilizers with a smiling Lucy standing over him, thanking him and assuring him she was going to 'cut that bastard from her life'. Clint never asked her about it, but after that incident was around the time the candy started sneaking its way into his medication cup. This also started the unspoken agreement that if Lucy was the only one at the desk, Clint was safe to sneak into the lobby and not have to hide himself in the blind spot of Lucy's desk between the vending machine and sink.

Lucy will always think of Clint as a sort of guardian to her, but all Clint can think of is how it felt waking up to having someone by your side, but knowing that it shouldn't have been Lucy.

A few days later, he met Natasha.


Her stomach is corroding itself from the inside out, the acids churning in nerves as she clenches her fists and sits perfectly still, straight, across from him. He looks as relaxed as ever and has his eyes trained on her, which makes it all the more unnerving.

Because everything about him is the same. His stance, the way he slouches slightly and favors one shoulder in his lean, and how his hands grip each other in his lap. The way he watches her like he's expecting her to make a move at any given moment and yet at the same time he wouldn't flinch or react. His hair is longer than usual but it's not the first time she's seen it this long or unruly-there's been a mission or two where hygiene took a back seat.

It's the recognition in his eyes that's so foreign. She hasn't seen him look at her with such little emotion, without an array of words and conversations hidden behind those pupils in years, if even. When she first met him, saw him, even then his eyes rung an unspoken promise to spare her, a small hope that she'd clung to since. Now, they were empty and as dumb as any other mindless set of eyes she came face to face with on any given mission or day.

They weren't his eyes.

He might as well have been controlled by Loki again.


"Why do you carry a gun?"

That catches her off guard, because he opens a conversation with that? Maybe this really is him, deep down.

"It's not illegal, with the proper license," she hand waves. He's not thrilled with her answer and he doesn't fall for it, but he also doesn't pursue it any further.

She also notes he doesn't ask why she 'has' a gun. He asks why she carries it, and while she doubts he's being all that particular on his wording, she does try to make a mountain out of the mole hill in the fact that it's his gun she's carrying. A part of her dreams that he recognizes that, but the sensible side of her recognizes he probably doesn't give a damn.


Eric is helping Angie with the tambourine, leaving Clint unattended on bongos for music hour. He checks the clock.

Still twelve minutes left.

If he's lucky, Angie will throw another fit and that will eat up Eric's time, leaving Clint to get away scotch free.

His mind wanders to the scars, multiply, that run across his torso arms. He counted four gunshot wounds on his back, but during medical examination, when he asked, the doctor reported he had five. The fifth must be low in the center of his back because no angle he can twist in front of the mirror reveals it to him.

He knows he wasn't an accountant. Of everything that is coming back to him, sitting at the counter of a bank and tallying up numbers isn't one of those memories. He does surprise himself with a calculator, however, during some basic math seminar to prep patients like wounded birds to be re-released into the wild world. Clint's skills seem to multiply each day, to the surprise of himself and everyone. He almost wants to test his theory that he's probably a grand pianist, but he's concerned that he'll be right and will attract attention from Eric and then he'll actually have to participate during group numbers.

Clint should be more curious about what he did, what with these wounds and skills and the itch in his fingers and the twitch in his shoulder. It should concern him how many times he's apparently been shot, cut or bruised, but the only concern he has is whether that gun Natasha has somehow ties her into this all as well.

He wonders if she's ever shot him, if she's bullet wound number five on his back.

His dreams still whisper of heart pounding chases and cold sweat and shots in the dark. Sometimes Natasha is there, other times she's not. Sometimes he hears a voice in his head- no, his ear- and it's not his own but it's just as familiar. And he'll wake up to the feeling of a piercing in his back, an old wound flaring up and he knows he just relived the memory of obtaining that bullet wound. But still, nothing makes sense and that word 'shield' keeps slipping in between conversations and it makes no sense in context but it doesn't need to because as long as Nat was there, and he's alive now, he knows everything is fine.

Clint is stirred to attention as Eric taps his shoulder.

"Nate, it's a simple beat, alright? Let's try it again, okay?"

Damn it.

There's still eight minutes.


Clint watches through the glass as the Nelsons sit across from their son, nervously attempting at small talk. Their son isn't looking at them, but he does nod at least twice throughout the conversation, and his eyes dart from the window once or twice to glance at Mr. Nelson, who is holding Ms. Nelson's hand and gently stroking his thumb across it. Their date the other night went well. Mr. Nelson has since invited Ms. Nelson to accompany him to a company diner, which he insists isn't very formal but she'll still wear her new red dress to it, because weight watchers has paid off these past few months and she wants to look her best (Or show off what he let go).

Lloyd's adult son and his wife and their only child currently still at home are expected to visit soon as well. Clint sighs, drumming his fingertips on his knees impatiently. Lucy walks by and smiles at him, to which he politely smiles back at. She's about to clock out early. She's having Andrea cover the rest of her shift so she can shower and get ready for her date tonight. Eric, of music hour, asked her out last week. They're going to see a movie together, maybe dinner afterwards. She told Clint, because he had time and was willing to listen to her, that they were just going to go as friends and that she didn't really see this as a date at all.

Clint knows she really likes him, but he keeps this observation to himself because hey, what the hell does he know about love?

After Lucy leaves, Clint wonders if he ever was in love. He's almost certain that Natasha was lying about 'Madison', but a part of him wonders if there ever was a Madison, or a Lucy or a Barbara. He tries to imagine what it was like in a relationship, tries to imagine some pretty, petite blonde clinging to his arm like Lucy, swooning over his every word.

But instead, all he can imagine is Natasha giving him a look that seems to both insult and assure him at the same time, and he can imagine her cursing him out for being an idiot for whatever quip he just said and then walking past him, expecting him to catch up.

And he'll take that over Lucy any day. No offense, Lucy.

Natasha doesn't show up, and Andrea ushers Clint from the lobby around the same time that Lloyd's son and daughter-in-law leave. Mr. Nelson holds the door open for Ms. Nelson and their son watches his parents leave, never taking his eyes from them. When they disappear down the hall, he smiles.


She's standing between Fury and the recently returned Hill, who looks like she hasn't slept in weeks and there's a cast on her wrist. All three of them are standing at attention, and the mood of the room reads of a funeral.

"Hill completed the task...we can stall the report for a few hours, but within the next twelve, it'll go down that Barton is currently MIA. Standard protocol given his last known check in and whereabouts being within the limits of the target give us exactly 72 hours the relocate Barton before he is declared KIA. You have this time limit, Agent Romanov, to-"

But Natasha's already shaking her head.

"It can't be done," she cuts him off. "He can't remember everything in three days, he barely just learned his real name-"

"-Do whatever it takes-"

"-You're asking something of me that isn't possible! There's no key word or single trigger that will bring everything back! It's a slow process, if possible at all! There's a chance he'll never remember anything more than what he does-"

"Then you have three days to evaluate as much," Fury snapped.

"What?"

"You have three days to give me an answer on whether you think there's hope for Barton, or he's a lost cause. If, at the end of those three days, you come to the conclusion that there's still hope, that there's a piece of the old Barton left in him, then I will do whatever it takes and do everything I possibly can to stall the council's knowledge of Barton until you can break through to him. Because I have that much faith in Agent Barton and even some in you, Agent Romanov."

Natasha felt the swelling in her throat but said nothing. Fury sighed.

"If, however, you determine that Barton has no hope in regaining his memories substantially enough, then I'll leave it to your call as to what direction to be taken after.'

"Sir?"

"I know what you're thinking, Romanov. That if you leave him alone now, he'll eventually be cleared by the ward and set off into the real world again. That he'll drift somewhere in life, perhaps find a comfortable setting of a suburban home and picket fence and that he'll live the life that you both were deprived off."

Fury wasn't as oblivious as he pretended to be.

"There's also the chance that he'll even feel satisfied with such a life, that the 'Old Barton' won't seep through and remind him that he was meant for so much more. Hell, there's also the chance that the Council finds out and within twenty four hours of your decision, he's extracted like any other target."

Bitterly, Natasha reminded herself that maybe that was the ultimate mercy call.

"I'll leave that up to you to decide," Was Fury's final words as he left, Hill trailing somberly behind him.


"Lucy?" He smiles, happier today than usual. It's Tuesday and he missed Nat last week.

"Yes, Nate?"

"Call me Clint," He winks. Lucy looks perplexed but slowly nods, because it's custom to just give in to what a patient asks. He's confused and if he wants to be Clint this week and Charlie the next week, she won't tell him no.

"Alright, Clint," she answers as she opens the door for him.


All his fears of Nat not being there, waiting for him, are pleasantly pushed aside as he instantly catches sight of her violent red hair. Her back is to him and he purposely steps louder so she'll hear him coming. He doesn't want to spook her, but even then he doubts he would have anyway.

When he rounds to see her face, she looks more uptight than she ever has and he instantly looses his smile.

She wastes no time in speaking.

"I've arranged that our visiting hour has been extended to three, uninterrupted, hours for the next three days."

It sounded like an exam date, he thought.

"Is...there a reason?"

She says nothing and that confirms that there is.

"I'll start. I need you to try to remember anything you can. Anything will do, just...try to think about who you were, what you did." There's a plead in her voice and the Natasha he'd met over the past few weeks has never looked so desperate, he thinks. She sounds like his psych and the thought crosses his mind more than once that she secretly is a governmental evaluator.

That sounds closer than working for a law firm, he thinks.

"I don't remember working at a bank," He jokes, but her face flashes a warning that she's strict business at this moment.

"I'm serious. Please," she adds.

He sighs and finally complies.

Ten minutes later he's convulsing from pain and she's yelling at the nurses to stand down because he needs this and she has at least two more hours with him.

Fifteen minutes later, it's too much for anyone to bear to watch and she gives up, sprinting from the room as nurses restrain him. His head hurts so much that he doesn't fight the medication they push down his throat, like a dog, and when he wakes up, it's the middle of the night and all he can think of is the flash of horror, of disappointment, on Natasha's face when nothing came to him.

He closes his eyes and tries to sleep again.


He dreams again that night. It's flashes of memories, or flat fields and chasing a kid no older than him. And of hiding under tables as crashes surround him on the hardwood floors that are most certainly not carpet.

Adorning crowds and audiences cheer and the scent overwhelms him of horse and animal, and he feels air underneath him and his balance threatens to roll him off the bed but still he doesn't wake up.

Then there is fire and death and nothing makes sense and he's running through streets and cities and yelling things in languages he never knew he knows. And it makes no sense but in the middle of it all is Natasha.

At first she's looking at him with those eyes, with desperation and fear and at the tip of his hands, he holds her fate, her life. And again she spits something at him, a question or a threat.

And again, he smiles and lowers his hands and responds, "I'm making a different call."

And then he's back in those streets and there's still fires and he's perched up on roofs, but it's no longer as confusing and overwhelming as before because now Natasha is with him.

He wakes up in a cold sweat, the images still clear however.


He doesn't expect her back the next day, and is even more so surprised when he sees her standing there with a man by her side.

Any theories he has of their relationship fade when he notices how tense she is standing by him. There's trust there, and also fear. Something about this shaggy, poorly suited man both unnerves her as well as comforts her. He can't quite put his finger on why he, either, feels a bit afraid standing by this man. He looks harmless.

"Hello, Clint," the man awkwardly greets, looking between Nat and Clint, as though for confirmation that this is alright.

"He's a doctor," Nat offers as Clint hesitantly sits across from them.

He's unorthodox as a doctor, and Clint suspects that if he is such, he's not one of the psych field. His questions are peculiar and Clint isn't sure where he's going with this.

"How are you feeling today, Clint?" He asks, like he's trying to establish that he's a friend and that Clint shouldn't feel guarded around him, but Clint still does.

Clint tries not to look at Natasha and slowly nods, "Fine."

"You look pretty thin...have you been eating much?" the man asks, trying to sound concerned. It works, because Clint is almost fooled for a moment into thinking that this man knows him, knew him, from before the accident.

"Three hours with me and you want to spend it with formalities about my health while we're sitting in a hospital?"

The doctor chuckles, "You sound alright."

"I'm sorry, who did you say you were?" Clint asks.

The man rubs the bridge of his nose.

"I didn't. Alright, let's get to it then."


The doctor didn't ask a lot of questions for awhile. He dropped the generic approach, but he still spoke conversationally to Clint. The jumped topics between weather (From thunderstorms to a dislike of the cold, Clint admitted) to music (Clint scratched his head and admitted in all honesty that something about ACDC annoyed him; Eric, the music hour volunteer, always had a ringtone of their song and while the music itself wasn't bad, Clint always felt like he had to be on guard, not for a threat, but just to brace himself for some irritation. Whatever he'd meant apparently was like an inside joke to Natasha and the doctor, because they both smiled and Natasha shrugged).

The doctor then pulled a move that Clint had to admit was choreographed but interesting. He handed Clint a marble and bet that he couldn't make a shot of the marble into the trash bin from across the room. He bet a dollar, to which Clint shrugged and thought he had nothing better to do. The man didn't even have to bet him-if he'd have asked, Clint would have tried to make the shot simply because this guy was telling him to do so and he was, apparently, a doctor.

Clint lined up the shot, found that almost too easy, and instead aimed for a trick shot, bouncing off Lucy's desk, the ceiling corner, and finally into the bin.

The doctor didn't look all that surprised, or impressed. Wordlessly, he pulled forth his wallet and opened it.

Something, however, wasn't quite right, because Natasha instantly tensed as the doctor chuckled a bit to himself.

"Well, what do you know," he added, almost to himself. "Here, take a look at these-" He added, addressing Clint as he pulled something out along with his dollar. He plopped it onto the coffee table between them, and spanned out in front of Clint was a set of cards.

"I borrowed these from a friend not too long ago; must've forgotten to give them back..."

But Clint wasn't hearing him. The cards were vintage, with designs of a goofy looking fellow, dressed in red and white and blue, posing victoriously and striking out at the border of the cards. A few cards were stained, and with horror Clint recognizes the crusting stains to be blood, and one even had a scribbled signature scribed on it.

Clint held the cards in his hands and stared at them for a moment. He'd seen these somewhere before.

"Clint..?" Natasha asked, but Clint said nothing.

Finally, he stood up, dropped the cards onto the table, and walked away from the duo. Lucy waited just outside the doors, jumping when Clint pushed his way past the doors and her. He made a straight line towards the shower, throwing himself inside one and pushing the cold water on. He didn't bother stripping of his clothes, slamming his fists onto the wall as water rained over him and an overwhelming grief filled him.

He knew who once had owned those cards, and it killed him that he couldn't remember.


"There's definitely hope. I'm not sure how much is coming back or has always been there, but there's some form of recognition, Natasha."

She inhales sharply.

"You think he'll ever come back?"

"I think miracles can happen once in a lifetime," he responds honestly. She bites her lip.

"What do you think?" She begs finally. "Honestly, what would you say?!"

"Honestly?" Banner shrugs. "The life you both lived, the one you're living...it's filled with death and missions and you're robbed of so much experiences and in return there are risks like this one-where either one of you can return or can not, and die in the field or return like Barton did. It' not much of a life. Can he come back? I think there's a possibility. Do I want him to?"

He hesitates. "I want Barton back just as much as we all do, maybe even as much as you do. But I don't want to see him come back just to watch him leave and have the same thing happen again. I couldn't take watching that again. I don't think you could, either."

He was right.

Maybe she should leave him as he is.


"Today's our third day. What happens after this? Do you stop coming to see me?"

She says nothing, standing at the center of the roof. He doesn't even acknowledge what happened yesterday.

"Exactly why are we here..?" He asks. He doesn't know how she got clearance to set up these three days, three hours, and it shouldn't surprise him so much that she's managed to arrange their third day on the roof.

In her hand is a bow and a quiver lay beside her feet.

"You're going to shoot this."

It's perplexing how she can assume he's ever wielded a bow and arrow before (what an odd weapon choice-does he hunt often?) But he says nothing and the moment the bow is in his hand, everything feels natural again.

"What's my target?" Is all he asks. She points at the rafters of a billboard and wordlessly he lets an arrow fly flawlessly where her finger indicates.

There's hope.


After an hour and a half of silently pointing to targets, the arrows have dwindled to none and his fingers are bleeding without guards. He hasn't noticed, though. He's never felt more like himself, more comfortable, and it isn't until he reaches behind his back and comes up empty handed does he remember where he is, standing on the roof of a ward, and who he is, still a disappointing no idea.

Nat doesn't lift her hand to point, waiting as Clint turns around to face her and anticipating what he'll say.

"Do I hunt a lot?" He asks, and it sounds like a stupid question and he thinks she must agree because she laughs as an answer.

"You could say that."

He lowers the bow, and his eyes darken.

"What was his name?" He asks.

She knows exactly who he's talking about.

"Phil."

Clint nods because that sounds about right.

"Tell me about the night..." He motions to the sides of his head, "Happened"

She hesitates because there's only so much she can tell him without giving away too much.

So, she opts for a very broad interpretation.

"You were caught in an explosion," She finally admits. It's vague, but it explains the flash of light he remembers.

"Shrapnel caught you in the side of the skull. I believe it was your temporal lobe..?" That doesn't sound right, and all too late she wonders if he'll ask how she knows so much about the attack, about his incident, and yet why she didn't show up until weeks after it happened. Why did she leave him?

Before he can ask that, before he can tear her apart for that disloyalty, she adds, "I wasn't there at the time." She swallows a knot, of regret and grief. "I was overseas..." She doesn't say why. "I came once I heard, but-"

She doesn't finish with the weak excuse, 'but I was too late'. But that still doesn't excuse why she wasn't there to have his back. To warn him that someone was out for revenge, that he'd been tagged and that fate would work against him in that he'd survive by the hair of a miracle but that it'd cost him.

And she couldn't explain just why Shield didn't know about the attack until he was already in surgery and that Fury was keeping the attack confidential for reasons only his secrets knew the answer to. That Fury couldn't extract Barton to fall under Shield's medical care because that would alert his condition to the Council and that was to sign away his own life.

He looks at his fingers, but they went numb awhile back. He wonders why she didn't bring him a guard or something for his hands, but he doesn't condemn her for not doing so. If at the end of this day, he looses her, at least these scars will stay with him, for a little while.

He thinks back to the past three days.

"Will you be back? Tuesday, I mean?"

She hasn't lied to him since he called her out on it, so she answers honestly, "I don't know."

He nods, accepting that this could very well be the last time he sees her, before sighing and turning his attention up to the sky.

"I guess if this is it, then...can I ask you something?"

"You always can."

He nods.

"Am I ever going to remember?"

That was the question she had to answer.


"Sir, I've made my evaluation. I believe Agent Barton-"

"They know."

Natasha freezes, shaking her head. "I don't understand..?"

"The council found out about Barton."

Oh.

"Extraction will take place tonight, at 0300 hours."

Natasha slowly nods.

"I see."

The council had mad their call.

"They've assigned you to back up the operation."

Fury shot her a look that seemed to challenge her. Seemed to tell her-

It's your turn. What's your call?


Ever since that last day he's been deteriorating. Whatever memories he was grasping at were slipping farther and farther from him. Nightmares made less sense and he woke up on more than one occasion having forgotten half the dream, or key components of it. By the third night, he stopped having dreams altogether.

Worse of all he was forgetting her. He couldn't picture her face, the details of her eyes and lips, as well as before and he had trouble deciphering what shade of red her hair had been. He almost mistook a brunette to be her, one afternoon

He felt disgusted with himself for that mistake.

"Nate?"

Lucy looks concerned, placing a hand on Clint's forearm. He's in physical therapy, at a set of weights. Normally, this is his favorite two hours of the week. It' a part of his recovery and while he's already cleared every test and excels with the basic weights and equipment that he's been cleared to use (under supervision), his progress has seemed to back pedal since Natasha stopped coming by.

Lucy seemed horrified by the scars and blisters on his fingers after hours of archery. His fingers haven't healed since, and he has trouble gripping anything. Whatever fatigue he's built up from lack of sleep seemed to catch up to him all at once, and he's lost much of the drive to even perform the basic therapy repetition.

Lucy sighs again, leaning back in her chair when Clint flinches out of her grip. He almost yells at her not to touch him-that she's not Natasha and only Natasha is allowed to grip his arm like that.

"Let's...let's try it again, Nate," She encourages, speaking softly like he's a child. She's forgotten to call him Clint, but he stopped correcting her because what's the point. Natasha left him. All he has left is her name.

Again, the dumb bell drops to his feet and clangs on the floor and Clint pushes his back against the chair.

"Are you getting any sleep..?" Lucy asks, grasping for some explanation.

Clint brushes her off, and no, he isn't. Because if he falls asleep, he'll forget her.


So he finds himself wide awake, because he's afraid to fall asleep. He's afraid he'll fall asleep and wake up, one step farther from remembering anything and from remembering her.

It's because he's wide awake that he hears the shuffle of boots. It's quiet and faint, but his ears pick up on it and he knows it's not his imagination when he hears the light click of the door. Someone is entering his room. He darts his eyes to his roommate, a kid hardly over twenty-one who is fresh out of drug rehab and is moody at best on his three-month clean streak. He's sound asleep and, thankfully, for the first time this week, not snoring.

Clint stiffens but tells himself to relax his muscles. His eyes have long since adjusted to the dark, starring abysmally into it for the past four hours, and it takes whatever control he can muster not to jump upright when sure enough, in steps several heavily armed and guarded men.

One signals with his finger to approach the bed, and in a few quick steps, Clint is surrounded. He wants to panic but keeps his heart rate slow, appears to still be asleep. He watches the first man, the one who signaled, slowly lift a gun, pin-pointed for Clint's head. It's an odd muzzle and Clint is almost certain that it's not an ordinary bullet waiting for him.

He counts and he's surrounded by at least six men. That alone should unnerve him, but he still is having difficulty overcoming the fact that most definitely someone wants him dead, rather than someone wants him dead and is willing to send in six fully armed men to get the job done.

He reacts in seconds, throwing his feet up to knock the gun just as his hand throws up the sheet to blind and distract the other men. Leaping off the mattress, he lands a kick at the leader's gut, knocking him backwards. He whips around to punch the next assailant down and another kick narrows the field down further. Someone shoots and sure enough it's no bullet. A dart lands in the wall and Clint only spares a moment to admire it before defending himself.

The Kevlar these men wear is thick, but Clint aims for their arms, bare except for sleeves, and their necks where the helmets fall short. He's pretty sure he hears the sound of something snap and he wouldn't put it behind him if he'd just managed to kill one of them. He hopes he hasn't, but he doesn't spare much thought else on it.

The kid, who goes by Roland if Clint is not mistaken, is still asleep. He must have doubled the medication, or he's a heavy sleeper. Clint doesn't wait for any of the men to come to. He runs from the room, from Roland and the armed men.

Apparently he miscounted because in the hall, and already stirring to action, are at least four more men (Or women; it's dark and their forms are distorted by armor). Again, the sound of guns go off but the shots are all silenced, pressured by air rather than explosion and Clint can feel the darts whizz by him, barely missing.

He dives at the feet of the nearest attacker, kicking from underneath him. With a yelp, the man falls ad Clint waists no time in disarming him of his gun.

The fallen man reaches to his shoulder, still wincing in pain at his legs, and shouts through his muffled mask, "Shield, come in-requesting back up, immediately! Target is hostile, repeat-"

Clint takes aim and lets loose three bullets, all which hit directly square in the chest of the remaining three. He then turns and drops the but of the gun against the head of the fourth man, knocking him unconscious.

He finally breathes, eyeing the fallen men sprawled around him and he throws the gun carelessly to the side, standing and quickly building up a sprint down the hall.

His mind races to that dart, and at what he just survived. His reactions, how he defended himself and how he knew how to react, what to do. He knows that dart was meant to kill him. Those men were meant to kill him.

He feels bad, knowing Lucy has the early shift tomorrow and will walk in on at least three corpses just outside his room. He feels worse for Rolland, who will have to wake up to that sight, unless back up arrives and cleans the hallway and room and retrieves the men before Rolland (Or maybe Reggie..?) or Lucy see it.

He hopes that whoever wants him dead will have the decency to wipe their tracks and clean any evidence that they were here this night.

He knows that he's checking out tonight, whether he survives it or not. He can't stay here. That's the only thing that makes sense at the moment, that driving need to survive and escape. This isn't a dream, no matter how similar it feels to one (The rush of trying to survive, of running through the dark and defending himself without thinking; the feel of a gun in hand and the trigger at his finger). He isn't going to just wake up in the morning to the sound of Rolland (He's sure it's Rolland) snoring, and be greeted by a cheerful Lucy who just clocked in an hour ago and hands him a cup of anti-depressants and skittles. Lloyd will have to sit alone at the breakfast table, and Clint won't get to overhear how Mr. Nelson's business dinner went, or hear the whispered compliments because Mr. Nelson just cannot get over how stunning Ms. Nelson looked last night ("No, really...").

But he can't think about Lucy and how she'll feel when Clint isn't there and how Eric will have to replace him on the bongos for the group performance or how Andrea will finally feel at ease because Clint has unnerved her ever since he came here.

He can only think about what's happening now and how he's going to survive it.

The word 'shield' resurfaces in his mind and so do all those bullet wounds and nightmares. He still doesn't know who he is, but everything around him is starting to click into place that at least it's all interconnected.

And somewhere, in all this, Nat comes to mind. He knows he needs answers, and he knows she has them.

He thinks back to what Nat wanted of him, that first day of their final three. To think, to remember. His head is pounding and he's panicking, he has no time and this is all so fucked up, but he has to concentrate. He knows that, for sure, someone wants him dead. And if they were willing to send that squad in to do it, it wasn't beneath them to send back-up. He makes a sprint for the lobby and from there he thinks he'll check the visitor sign in, try to get a full name on Natasha or even that doctor. Just something to go by, to contact.

As he rounds the corner, he finds he doesn't need to.

There, standing before him, and most certainly not a hallucination, is Natasha.


Natasha tries to smile at him, but gives up as her lip quivers and the smile breaks. She's dressed like the men were-suited and in all black. She no longer wears the excessive make up and heels, and the gun sits on her hip. Clint's eyes dart to her shoulder, where a patch of some symbol is. He's seen that symbol before and it dawns on him.

Perhaps all it took was the trauma of nearly being assassinated, because suddenly a lot more is coming back and she almost wishes she'd tried to spar him that first day because if she had, maybe none of this would have happened and they'd have ended this mess a long time ago.

"You're working with them!" He snaps, and he's breathing heavier than she's ever seen him. He's never been this panicked, this uncontrolled and hysteric. He's forgotten all his training and he's fooled himself to think he has emotions.

Confirmed, she really does wish she'd left him alone all those weeks ago. That she'd told Fury to stick it when he assigned her this task, and to let Barton live on obliviously in this new world, this second chance at life.

"Y-you're working with...Shield, was it? And they're trying to kill me...you were sent to kill me?!"

She shakes her head but words fail her at the moment. Is that tears welling in her eyes? Or his? She isn't sure who feels more betrayed at the moment.

How could he ever think she'd be capable of killing him?

"They...your people, tried to kill me-you're an agent of theirs, aren't you? You're here to finish the job?! They sent you, the best, the infiltrator-the Black Widow."

He hasn't called her that since he first met her. After seeing her, she was no longer the Black Widow to him. She was a person. Natasha.

A bitter part of her is almost happy that he's remember Shield, at least.

"Why'd they send you? Exactly what'd I do to land on Shield's radar?"

It's so painful because he remembers nothing.

"You're here to kill me, aren't you?!" He shouts, desperate for her to say something. Answer him.

She wishes she could just nod, lie to him and get this over with. Put them both out of their miseries. But she's frozen and can't even give him the satisfaction of that.

"Then why don't you?! Just do it already, kill me!"

Suddenly her spine shivers alive and she's out right laughing, and this causes him to flinch to attention. She's actually crying, it's so funny. Their situation, the reversal of roles. She finally relaxes her body and grips her stomach, because it's so painfully funny. His eyes dart about her demeanor, and he finally asks, "Aren't you going to kill me? That's why you were sent, wasn't it?"

And she genuinely smiles at him, replying, "I'm going to make a different call."


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