Let The Water Lead Us Home
"The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfilment in whatever form. Both are illusions." - Eckhart Tolle
Her eyes remained fixed coldly on him, but Clint could easily make out the confusion in them – the wariness that settled in her shoulders and had her gripping her Berretta even tighter.
"I can help you." He said, not moving towards her, instead keeping his ground. He only had one shot at this.
"Hawkeye what the hell are you doing?" Phil's voice was no longer a comforting murmur in Clint's ear but a booming screech of disbelief that even the Widow could hear despite being at least six feet away.
One of her brows rose questioningly – as if to ask the same thing.
"Look, right now, you and I want the same thing." Clint went on hurriedly, ignoring Phil's vigorous objections, all too aware that they had mere seconds before the firefight in the stairwell found them. "To take down the people who are about to violently interrupt this lovely chat." Her gun still didn't waver from his forehead. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?" He continued more imploringly, all to aware that the gunfire had stopped and footsteps could now be heard climbing the stairs.
For a moment those footsteps were all that could be heard.
"No." She finally answered, her voice clear and strong despite the words being barely more than a murmur. "The enemy of my enemy is just another person in my way."
Without another word she pulled back suddenly, throwing herself into the doorway just behind her – taking cover between the large concrete walls. Without a seconds hesitation Clint did the same just as the stairwell door flew open and a spray of bullets rained down on them both – mussel flashes illuminating the entire corridor.
"Hawkeye report. Now damnit!" Phil's voice was back and even more demanding than before.
"Currently being shot at, but not shot yet." Clint yelled over the gunshots, leaning around his cover to fire a single, well aimed, arrow that took out the gun toting masked-man nearest to him. "So five by five for now, Overwatch."
After several seconds there was a brief pause in the onslaught of bullets and Clint notched another arrow, ready to let it fly, only to hesitate again when the redhead across from him darted out from her own cover.
Clint had never much understood the idea of a fight being similar to a dance. To him a fistfight was too brutal and sharp to be considered anything even remotely close to a dance. Too desperate and messy.
But watching her – Clint began to change his mind.
She darted out from behind the concrete wall with a lunge that had her in front of the closest gunman in only one step despite her small frame. It gave her enough speed to plant a foot on the man's chest before securing her thighs around his neck and twisting. The sound of his neck snapping replaced the echo of gunfire. She gave him no more notice though. Before she even released the dead man from the grip her thighs had on his throat she had seized the next with her outstretched hands and used her momentum to throw him to the floor with her above him, no doubt shattering his skull – killing him instantly as well.
Clint, too, pulled away from his cover and fired two arrows into the men closest to him before using his bow like a staff to knock another to the ground and render him unconscious. With another arrow notched he couldn't help but glance towards the Widow who had hit the ground at the feet of another masked figure that raised his gun immediately only to have her latch onto his firing arm and rise to her feet, propelling the arm to rise further as well so that when he fired the bullets burrowed themselves into the roof above them. She threw on open palm into his throat – much like she had done to Clint – rendering him unable to breathe for a moment before twisting and pulling him towards her so that his chest was flat against her back. Bullets slammed into his limp body as she took cover behind him. While still holding his arm above both of their heads – effectively keeping him upright – she reached one arm down to his weapons belt and tore it from him. She released him a second later, spinning away from him, and using the belt like a whip to knock the gun from the hand of the man closest to her. Her now spare hand drew her Berretta from its holder at her thigh while she readjusted her grip on the weapons belt – grasping a small device attached to it while the rest of the belt fell to the floor. She threw the device towards the lab door without even a glace while she shot dead the last three men in three successive, and well aimed, bullets.
Clint only had a seconds notice to throw himself to the ground, away from the laboratory door, before the device now attached to it blew it to pieces.
Concrete and other debris was still falling when she leapt over him and darted into the lab through the large crater where the door had been only seconds ago. Ignoring his ringing ears and pulling his now crackling and utterly useless comm from his ear Clint lunged after her, catching her around the waist just inside the lab and pulling them both to the ground heavily with him on top of her, pinning her to the ground with his weight.
He anticipated the elbow that shot up to meet his face and dodged it sharply. What he didn't anticipate was her other hand seizing a hand full of his hair and wrenching forwards so that he had no choice but to follow or be scalped. She flipped him easily over her shoulder before following him in a graceful front sault that brought her to her feet while he was still kneeling in front of her. He used his bow to deflect the fist she threw down at him and then seized her roughly and practically threw her into a nearby storage compartment – its glass doors shattering upon impact. She didn't so much as wince or stumble. The glass hadn't even hit the floor before she was on him again.
He rose to his feet in one motion, hands outstretched and ready, but she flew straight passed him without even a glance. She vaulted over the first of the lab benches and threw herself at the second, sliding along it until her hands met a silver briefcase that lay abandoned and still locked.
"Drop it." She turned her head slightly to look at him again as he stared over at her, arrow notched and bow tensed to fire. She held the case with both hands and made no move to release it despite his order. "I mean it. Drop it, or I'll drop you."
He never found out whether she would have done what he asked or continued to fight. Before he could even take a step towards her there was a shuffling of steps outside the lab door and something metallic was thrown inside. It clattered along the floor until it came to a halt between Clint and the Widow.
All hostilities momentarily forgotten they sprinted, side by side, to the window on the opposite side of the lab – throwing themselves through it as the laboratory exploded forcefully.
After a moment of free-fall they landed side by side on the roof of a car that had been parked just below the lab as rubble rained down on them.
Clint lay still for a moment, hands over his head to deflect falling debris, attempting to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him during the fall. She, on the other hand, sprung up almost immediately as if not bothered by the almost three story fall. She slid down the hood of the car and onto the street, limping slightly for only the first couple of steps, making her way to where the briefcase had fallen only a few feet away.
"You can't run forever." The words came out raspy and almost inaudible as Clint continued to fight to get his breath back. He struggled pull himself up and slid down to the hood of the car just as she had done. "It doesn't matter who you are, who trained you, or how strong you are. No one can run forever." He went on. "No one can survive alone."
She had paused when he spoke, but hadn't turned to face him, and she didn't now either. "I can." There was no pride or arrogance in the words. She truly believed them. If anything the statement was almost dejected.
Clint slid from the bonnet of the car to his feet but moved no further, instead remaining where he was, leant against the car. "You don't have to." He said, staring intently at her while she continued to stare at the case at her feet. "Come back with me. My organisation, it can protect you."
Her head tilted slightly in his direction as he spoke and silence fell for a few moments. "Why?" Was all she asked when she finally spoke, confusion breaking through her monotone.
"Because you know them, you trained with them." Clint explained, nodding towards the building they had just leapt from and the men inside. "They may not have had your skill, but they knew your moves." He clarified. "Stuff I've never even seen before. You must have been trained by the same people, and we need what you know about them." He didn't even bother to hide the truth of what S.H.I.L.D wanted from her. He had a feeling that she would know straight away if he lied to her. And the consequences would be dire.
There was another silence that lasted several, long, seconds but this time he was the one to break it. When he went on his voice was gentler than it had been before. Less demanding and more earnest, but still utterly honest.
"And not so long ago I was where you are, running, when someone offered me another chance." He thought back to how Phil had found him, the kind of man he had been and where he might have ended up without him, and kept going. "You left them – whoever they are – for a reason. You wanted something different. My organisation can give that too you." He offered moving a couple of steps towards her hesitantly. "Maybe even help you find whatever it is that you're running towards."
He was getting through. He was sure of it. Could see her indecision in the set of her shoulders and the mere fact that she had yet to just grab the case and take off.
He was getting to her.
Or so he thought.
Before he could say or do anything she spun to face him and a gunshot echoed around them. In the same moment a burning sensation spread across his lower side and he felt himself falling to the street, limbs unresponsive no matter how hard he tried to move them.
Yep, he thought sourly, as the world around him grew darker, worst and last decision. Ever.
The shrill ringing of his cell phone broke Phil from his empty stare down at the file on his lap. He hadn't bean able concentrate long enough to read a single word for hours. "Coulson." He answered, rubbing his eyes.
"You better sound like shit because I've just woken you up, not because you still haven't slept Phil." Fury's voice met his ear with all its usual directness, but Phil could hear the slight undertone of concern. "You got anything new""A migraine." Phil sighed.
"Don't we all." Fury replied without a pause, sounding like he too could use some long overdue sleep himself. "Been able to verify anything your boy figured out yet?"
"You mean whether she's really defected?" Phil clarified, attempting to get his muddled thoughts to cooperate. "No. The second explosion wiped out everything inside the facility – bodies and all – so we're still searching." He reported. "But as far as we know the corpses had no kind of identification on their tac-suits."
Fury was silent for only a moment. "And your boy Phil, how's he doing?" He went on more softly.
Phil looked up to the infirmary bed barely a foot from him and at his worryingly pale agent that lay unmoving upon it, just as he had for the last three days. "His fever broke this morning so doctors are hopeful he'll wake up soon." Phil said, not taking his eyes off the young archer.
"They find out what it was that poisoned him?"
"No. They think it must have been the bullet. That she coated it in something, but they have no idea what. Apparently they couldn't isolate it in his blood so, we still have no clue." Phil sighed trying his best to keep his frustration from filtering into his voice. He had yelled for so long at the infirmary staff when they told him they had no idea why Clint was getting sicker that he had almost been forcibly removed. "But it looks like it's wearing off, not getting worse, so that's something at least." Phil doubted his frayed nerves would have been able to take much more bad news.
"Glad to hear it." Fury said. "Barton's one of the most stubborn bastards I've ever met Phil, he'll be fine."
"Yeah, I know." Phil agreed, his eyes still on Clint's bed-ridden form, nodding despite that Fury couldn't see him. "Thank you, sir."
"You keep up this 'sir' shit Coulson and he'll be the one sitting by your hospital bed." Fury threatened, but the exasperated affection in his voice took any real bite from the words and brought a small grin to Phil's otherwise exhausted face. "Or worse, fourth floor cubical, because I've demoted your ass so far down the food chain that lunch-ladies will be giving you orders."
"Duly noted, sir."
Phil just caught the muttered, damn kid's wearing off on him, before Fury disconnected the call. He slid the phone back into his pocket before finally closing the un-read file in his lap and standing to lean over Clint's cot to get a better look at him.
The bullet wound itself had been fairly superficial – burrowing shallowly in the lower left side of his abdomen without hitting anything major – and to be honest when Phil had found him he hadn't been all that worried. His agent was known to get worse paper-cuts than the shallow wound. Phil had merely credited the kid's unconsciousness to the fall from the third story and far too little rest over the last few weeks. He should have known better.
Clint never did any injury half way.
It wasn't until Phil was riding with him in the med-evac on the way to the Berlin base that he noticed the fever that was growing, and later when the med-team unwrapped the wound that they found the black discolouration to the veins surrounding it. That had been when Phil's fear really set in. He hadn't left the infirmary since.
In the days that followed Clint had only gotten worse. His fever had risen to dangerous levels and the discolouration to his veins had only spread, but none of the doctors had been able to find a single trace of poison. No trace of anything at all.
It had been infuriating.
And as if Clint's deteriorating condition hadn't been enough the teams that he had searching the entire city had yet to dig up a single thing on the Black Widow. She had fled the facility without a trace and the briefcase had yet to be dug up in the ruins so Phil was left with no assumption but that she somehow managed to grab it.
He continued to lean against the infirmary cot for several minutes, taking in with relief the colour that was steadily returning to his agent's face, before running a hand through his own abused hair and turning to sit back down in his abandoned chair.
Half way down into the chair, however, a soft groan caught his attention and Phil's head snapped back to his agent.
"Clint?" He asked, springing back up to beside his cot with more energy than he knew he had. "Clint can you hear me?"
"-son of a-" The words were garbled and barely comprehensible but something.
"Clint." Phil put on his best 'boss voice', as Clint called it. "Open your eyes."
Clint's eyes twitched before one inched open slightly, taking in the room around him. "Phil?"
"Yeah, it's okay." Phil assured him, placing a restraining hand on his shoulder as he attempted to sit up. "Just relax. You're a little banged up, but you're going to be fine now."
Clint's brow furrowed as he blinked several times in order clear his head. "Now?" He asked, confused.
"It was touch and go for a little while." Phil admitted while Clint got his bearings, glancing around the room and scowling when he realized he was in the infirmary.
That scowl only grew when a realization dawned on him.
"She shot me." Clint said, his voice much clearer. "She shot me." He repeated, furious, as he sat up despite Phil's restraining hand. "That bitch." He hissed, "Please tell me you have her."
"No. And we don't have any leads either." Phil said, feeling just as frustration as Clint currently looked. "She got the case." He added after a moment.
"I know." Clint sighed as he pushed himself up further on the bed. Phil straightened up from his position leaning over the cot so that the kid could swing his legs over the edge and test his weight on them. Countless arguments over the years about Clint taking it easy after an injury had taught Phil that he had to wait until Clint collapsed on his own before he would follow any sort of medical advice. The best thing for Phil to do was stay close enough to catch him when that inevitably happened.
Which, going by the flicker of pain that passed through Clint's face as he leant against the bed, was not far off.
"What?" Phil asked at once. Clint wasn't the kind to show pain – in fact he found the idea of sharing one's suffering almost personally insulting – so Phil knew something must be very off. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Clint assured him. "It just…feels strange."
"Painful?" Phil pressed only to have the archer look over at him condescendingly."It's a bullet wound, Phil," He pointed out. "It's painful." He shook his head for a moment before continuing. "But usually its like a stabbing pain, this one…it kinda burns."
"That would probably be from the poison." Phil said only for Clint's eyes to flash up to his in alarm. "You were poisoned." Phil added, realizing that he hadn't mentioned that yet.
"By what?" Clint asked heatedly. Phil merely shook his head and let the frustration that had been building up in his chest since he first asked the same question shine through. Clint huffed. "Seriously, this assignment Phil…"
"I know." Phil said – the entire mission had been one answerless question after another. "Hopefully they'll get her and we'll get some answers."
Clint's jaw flexed. "They'll get her?" He asked slowly.
"You and I are booked on a flight back to the New York base tonight-" Phil began, his voice leaving no room for argument.
So naturally Clint ignored every word he said.
"What?" He argued at once. "No. We're not done-"
"You were shot, poisoned and have been unconscious for three days." Phil told him evenly. This was not a topic that was up for discussion. "You're done, Clint."
"I was getting to her, Phil." He said earnestly. "I was getting through to her."
"Right up until she shot you?" He asked, his voice becoming condescending now. Clint had the sense scowl at the truth in Phil's words but said nothing. Clearly he wasn't backing down that easily. Phil tried a more gentle approach. "She doesn't want your help." He said solemnly, before adding, "Besides, the woman shot you, you shouldn't even want to help."
"I tried to shoot you when we first met." Clint reminded him with a small grin.
"The significant word there being 'tried'." Phil pointed out.
"So what?" Clint's grin grew. "If I'd hit you, you would have left me for dead?"
The kid laughed outright, wincing slightly as the motion jostled his wound. "You're all heart Overwatch."
There was a silence between them as all humour faded away and Clint's expression fell.
"She doesn't want your help." Phil said again. "And even if by some miracle she did, you can't honestly say that you would be up for it." The archer said nothing – which in Clint's language was as close to an agreement as Phil knew he would get. "Sometimes you got to know when to walk away kid."
"Yeah." Clint said despondently. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"So he's fine." Phil clarified one last time.
He had stayed with Clint until his agent fell asleep once more and then set about gathering the latest information on his condition now that he was awake and functioning.
"Yes, Agent Coulson." The doctor nodded slowly, "Technically he's fine."
"Technically?" Phil repeated irritably. "You'll have to forgive me if that's not very comforting. Is it even safe for him to be transported?"
"Yes. We think so." The doctor said, again not sounding very ensuring. "But you have to understand Agent Coulson that we still have no idea why he wasn't fine to begin with. We've sent samples of his blood to specialists at the New York base to have them further examined but we haven't received any definitive results yet."
"So what do you know?" Phil asked, pinching the bridge of his nose to keep him from exploding at the man in front of him. He was just so damn tired of having every single medical professional he approached tell him they had nothing.
If he ever gets his hands on Natalia Romanova, he's going to throttle her.
"We know that the discolouration to his veins is fading and that his vitals are returning to normal." The doctor assured. "We also know that his wound is actually healing at an incredible rate – we think that might be a side-effect of his prolonged fever – and that there doesn't appear to be any brain damage due to it."
"So basically we're assuming that he's fine because he looks fine." Phil concluded.
"At this point – with nothing else to go on – it's all we can do." The doctor said before continuing much more eagerly. "But if you would let us keep him here for a little longer-"
"No." Phil ordered. "If he's fine enough to go back to New York then we're leaving tonight. Like you said there are specialists there."
"Agent this poison could be incredibly valuable. It had practically healed his wounds. If you let us take more samples and experiment with-"
At that Phil finally snapped.
He seized the man by the collar of his lab coat and pulled him closer so that when Phil spoke even, and with enough malice to render the man terrified, no one else could overhear.
"I don't care how valuable," He spat, "This poison could potentially be. My agent is not going to be your lab rat. He is going back to New York tonight where there are doctors who will actually treat him rather than hope that whatever nearly killed him gets them a promotion."
The doctor had enough sense to say nothing more. He nodded vigorously at every word Phil hissed and then fled the corridor the moment he was released from Phil's grip.
The doctor had no sooner fled from sight than another voice called out to him. "Agent Coulson?" Phil turned, half expecting to find a terrified medical intern, only to see Clint's nurse down the hall looking less than pleased.
She didn't need to say anything more. Her irritation said it all.
"He's gone, isn't he?"
Clint was getting really sick of ruins.
He had spent hours looking at the ruins of the Consulate and now he had been wandering around what was left of the lab facility that had been blown to pieces for almost as long.
He was just about to give up and head back to the wraith of Phil when he felt it – the tingling sensation in the back of neck.
He pivoted, notching an arrow as he did, so that when he came face to face with her he was once again staring at the Black Widow along the length of a drawn bow.
"How did you know I would come back?"
Her voice held the slightest amount of surprise, but going by what Clint had seen of her emotional range so far she might as well have fainted in astonishment.
"Because I may not know you, but I do know you're not stupid." He said keeping his bow raised as he walked slowly towards where she stood beside a half collapse pillar. "Whatever it is that's coming for you, you can't handle it alone. So despite how royally pissed off I am with you right now, I thought I would give you one last chance. And I am serious about the last part." His voice darkened. He paused leaving around eight feet between them, the perfect firing distance. He was so done with her shit. "Either you walk out of her with me, or you leave in a body bag. Is that clear?"
She didn't answer. Instead she looked him up and down slowly, taking him in, eyes lingering on his side where she had shot him.
"You look okay."
"No thanks to you, yeah, I'm feeling much better." He snapped, rightfully angry, and ready to dish out a whole new level of sarcasm and unpleasantness that he saved for people who shoot him until he finally noticed her appearance. "You on the other hand – at risk of sounding like a hypocrite – look like shit." The bags around her eyes rivalled even his despite that he hadn't slept soundly in months. There was also a paleness to her skin that hadn't been there the last time he saw her. And the slightest blue taint to her lips that left her looking even worse than he did. "Rough few days?" He asked, keeping his voice easy. In all honesty she actually looked like she might keel over at any second, and he couldn't deny that it was a little disconcerting. "Look, you came back here because you know I'm right. You need help. And judging by your prickly personality there probably isn't a long list of people who are willing to help you-"
"-Actually," She cut him off slowly, her eyes focusing on something directly behind him just as the tingling sensation in Clint's neck returned in full force. "I came back to for her."