Laundry Day

“You have six washing machines and dryers in your building downstairs,” Kate protests, trying to see over the shoulders of the man she’s trying to walk beside.

Clint turns around to face her, nearly taking her out with the massive bags across his shoulders. He shrugs.

“I like this place.”

“But it’s a dump. I did mention you own that building, right?” The younger Hawkeye rushes forward to catch the door and hold it open for him.

The place is humid with hot water, smells like human bodies and clean lint. Kate Bishop tucks a dark piece of hair behind her ear and tries not to think about the state of the floor, or what disease she might pick up from it.

How are laundromats even open anymore, anyway?

“Oh god, it’s so fucking hot in here,” she mumbles, watching Clint pick a washing machine up the back.

The bowman drops the huge sacks of laundry to the floor and empties the contents of the clothes inside.

“Hey! What are you doing? You need to separate those, you idiot!” She stops him before he can insert his coins and starts to separate his black pants from his white shirts, trying to find a pair to several mismatched socks.

“Did you just pick these up last time you were here?” she asks, watching him pull out several quarters from his pocket and start the cycle.

“Probably,” he replies, with all seriousness.

He hops up on the machine and lets it rattle beneath him.

Kate checks her phone, thumb flicking upwards impatiently.

For the other Hawkeye, the hour melts away into watching people walk by, loiter by the door, cross the road. He counts six cabs.

Kate realises, after a time, that he comes here to think. She only hopes he isn’t thinking too much.

When the loads of washing are all done and dried, hot with static, Clint stuffs all his clothes into the two bags again.

“There’s a payphone over there,” Kate says, pointing with her chin. “You wanna use it?”

“That’s not a bad idea, Hawkeye.”

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The Stare

If it’s one thing I avoid when I’m depressed, it’s mirrors, or my reflection.

I clean my teeth and stare at the sink, because it’s easier than looking up. Sometimes, I look up, just to check that I’m there.

Sometimes I am.

Some people are able to stare into the mirror anyway, looking through themselves. They’ve perfected the art of the blank stare, of looking right at yourself and not seeing, or not looking.

I’m not there yet.

But every time I have a bad day or a bad week or a bad month and start to look at the sink when I clean my teeth, I wonder, is this it? Am I back here again?

How much time do I need before I know?

How much longer?

The Black Widow Program

The Black Widow Program – a program that turned women into spiders and girls into weapons.

All throughout history, Natasha learnt that certain cultures regarded spiders as women – Ancient Greek, Cherokee, Hopi. Even fewer believed these women to be old grandmothers who spun the silk of the earth.

The Black Widow program was a program where women became spiders, girls became weapons, dancers became fighters, who turned into assassins.

She didn’t have a name at first. Names were not necessary in her line of work. They were not recommended.

Natasha chose Black Widow because it was dark. It scared her. It was the only thing that came to mind that kept coming back. She’d always wondered, even though she’s out now, even though she’s never been back – how much they influence her.

The ominous they being the people who put her into the program in the first place, so named because she couldn’t remember their names.

The Avengers, though, that was new.

Working alongside Matthew Murdock was even newer.

And he was angry. Nat was always surprised to hear Matty take hits, even though she knew he could defend himself in the very least.

Backed into a corner, shoulder blades pressed into a chainlink fence, sweating and swearing and spitting blood. The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, allowing the underbelly to break his bones.

Helping people is not enough.

Natasha can’t be that angry. Not anymore. They, The Black Widow Program they trained it out of her. She is a professional. She suspects she will be until she dies – she’s not heard of too many retired spies. Or, at least, not ones who didn’t change their name and move to the middle of nowhere in the hope that the effort to get to their homes was too much for their former enemies.

She didn’t have anger. All she had? The threat of her name, a weapon and a web spun so fine it nearly covered the world.

Fog (This post has Mad Max spoilers, so, tread carefully!)

He crouches carefully in the dark, holding the gun with a balanced grip.

The light from the tank up ahead gets brighter and brighter, splitting the fog.

He waits, counting the seconds. He lifts the weapon and aims.

Doubt creeps in, gnawing at his mind and making his blood feel slippery.

She stands behind him, so steady he can almost hear her heartbeat. She watches, silently – even her hands are quiet.

He passes the weapon back to her without a word and she takes it from him, placing it on his thick shoulder.

“Don’t breathe,” she says, words cutting through the mist.

She heaves the gun onto his shoulder. In the stillness, he can hear her inhaling, slow, measured, and exhaling, breath almost touching the nape of his neck. The gun sits heavy on his shoulder. He doesn’t breathe.

She fires with a trigger finger that’s bone dry despite the humidity.

A strangled cry echoes across sunken swamp.

All around him, Max can smell solvent, oil and the acrid, bitter smell of gunpowder. His eyes are ringing in the quiet.

The group sets up to leave, all climbing into the massive vehicle. Max looks over his shoulder at the mess of pale white limbs moving towards the War Rig.

“Go on ahead 500 metres. If I’m not back in 20 minutes, go on without me.”

He strides off into the fog, blood cells chasing each other around his body, pulse thickening as he walks. His tired, exhausted limbs start to hum, fingers tingling at the tips. In the very least, he didn’t have to think. There wasn’t enough time between heartbeats to think about memories, for images of the people he knew to flash before him.

Memories and faces he used to cling to haunt him now. The one thing he tried to remember became the one thing he wish he’d forget.

But if his heart beats loud enough, if his breaths are desperate enough, if his limbs ache enough, he doesn’t think of anything at all.

Max isn’t sure if he wants to go back to the man he was before.

Worse, he doesn’t think Furiosa would mind if he didn’t.

Nosebleed

Clint’s desperately trying not to bleed all over his bathroom floor when there’s a knock at the door.

“Shit,” he says, trying to stem the flow of blood and wondering who the hell was at his door. He pushes past Lucky’s yellow, hairy bulk and opens the door, not even bothering to lean in the doorway.

“Oh, Matt, hey,” he says, with a nod. The archer was relieved Matt couldn’t see that he had a tampon jammed up his nose.

“Hey,” Matt replies, stepping inside. He frowns, puzzled, cocking his head to one side. “… do you have a… what’s up your nose?”

“A tampon,” the other man admits reluctantly, closing the door behind him.

“Oh,” the lawyer blinks. “Nosebleed?”

“Yeah,” he replies, looking over his shoulder at the state of his apartment. Shit. There’s shit everywhere. “Natasha showed it to me years ago, it works,” he says, gathering up loose arrows, boxes, comic books, an old hoodie and – what the fuck is that? – out of the way and against the wall. “All the smoke from the explosions in the city has had my nose acting up. Was that you?”

He takes Matt’s arm and leads him to the couch, sitting down across from him. The string of the tampon tickles the stubble on his chin.

“No. It… It’s a long story,” Matt responds, stuttering, shaking his head. Lucky nudges Matt’s knee with his nose until the dark-haired man reaches out to pet him, stroking his fingers through the dog’s hair. “Hey, buddy.”

“You want some coffee?” Barton asks, standing to make himself some anyway.

“Sure. Coffee sounds great.”

Over the smell of dog hair, old carpet and older paint, Matty starts to pick apart Clint’s apartment. An old, wet fridge, almost empty, old pizza, a cupboard under the sink full of half-used cleaning products – what was that he had up against the wall? Metal, arrows, solvent… poison…?

Something else. It was in the bedroom, too. Perfume, a woman’s perfume. By now, only the base notes remain – sandalwood, musk, vetiver.

“Clint, are you seeing anyone?” Matt asks, suddenly, never sure if he’s asked the statement in his head or aloud.

Shit. “Sorry, what?” he asks, relying on an old favourite.

“Are you seeing anyone?” Matt repeats.

“Uh.” This looks bad.

He pours the coffee into two miraculously clean mugs and walks over back to his friend, handing him a mug. “It’s a long story.”

Cause she’s kinda a morally ambiguous redhead who’s involved with the Russian tracksuit mafia except she’s a really good kisser and the sex is great.

… okay this looks really bad.

“Natasha didn’t send you over here to check on me, did she?” he exhales, leaning back in his chair.

“She’s been getting texts from Kate Bishop about you. She said you were an adult and could take care of yourself. I offered.”

“Oh,” Clint blinks, taking a mouthful of his coffee and trying to decide which is worse – Matt being persuaded to check up on him, or Matt volunteering.

A silence falls between them, mugs of coffee in their hands.

“Hey, do you know anyone in this city who does dry-wall?” Clint asks, thinking of the his list of things to do and picking the one that exhausts him the least.

“I know someone who knows someone,” Matt responds easily.

“Okay, can I get his number or something? One of my tenants was asking me about it.”

“Wait, your tenants?” Matt asks, clarifying.

“Yeah. It’s my building.”

“Who’d you buy it from?”

“The Russians.”

“Bad Dream?”

By the time Matt Murdock was half-awake, her heartbeat was already elevated.

It took him a moment to separate it from the din of New York noise, the cars, the traffic, the hum of electricity in the accompanying buildings, but there it was.

It rose, still, persistent, the rush of blood followed by the hollow sound of her heart. Her breath, too, picked up despite her sleep, lungs filling with air.

She was holding her breath.

Her left arm twitched beside him momentarily, the pads of her fingers touching his leg.

She sits bolt upright like she’s been electrocuted, muscles shivering and twitching as she finds her gun on the nightstand, loads it effortlessly, and points it in front of her.

“Nat,” the young man says, quietly, still listening to the beat of her heart. He listens to its rapid, fluttering beats inside her chest cavity, echoed and echoed throughout the rest of her body.

Her breathing steadies suddenly, shaky breaths lengthened out, long inhales and longer exhales – her training.

Her heartrate drops to an even rhythm. “Yeah?”

“Bad dream?”

“Yeah.”

She removes the gun’s catridge and checks there aren’t any bullets in the chamber before putting it back on the bedside table. Matt protested at first – it was hard to sleep for the smell of the gunpowder and the solvent, but Natasha Romanoff refused to be unnarmed, promising, instead, to leave it on the nightstand instead of under her pillow.

“Same one?” he asks, reaching for her in the dark. He doesn’t know what she dreams and thinks that if were ever to ask, she wouldn’t tell him anyway.

“Similar,” she murmurs, in reply, sliding back under the covers. Ever since her confrontation with the Scarlet Witch, ever since the young woman had pressed her long, pale fingers to Natasha’s temple, she had been having nightmares.

Or were they nightmares? Could they be called that, if they were memories? Some memories she didn’t even know she had.

She’s moved from a bed to a long, cold metal table. The clock is right in her line of sight. The time says 8:15. She clings to it, wondering if it’ll be the last thing she sees.

“Lie back,” a voice says, even though she has a feeling she’ll be restrained anyway. “Count back from ten.”

The sting of the needle, the fight to stay awake, to keep staring at the clock. That fucking clock.

Then she wakes up.

It’s not always the same dream. Sometimes, it’s the first time she killed a man. They don’t always start out the same way, but they end the same way. With Natasha Romanoff lurching forward in her sleep and gasping for breath, reaching for her weapon.

She only ever dreams about the missions that went wrong. The split second after she’s lept off a ledge, waiting for the fall.

All the memories she’s ever repressed, back to haunt her, after so many years.

The Scarlet Witch said the nightmares would fade soon, but soon was a little too vague for Natasha Romanoff, who had a history as murky as the water in the Thames in London.

Matt holds her against him, tuning out the churning sounds of the streets outside, listening instead, to her steady pulse beneath his lips, mouth in the crook on her neck.

“Matty?” she asks, unsure if he’s asleep or not.

“Yeah?”

“Come here.”

Man of the Hour

Matty’s the last to arrive, reaching the doorstep just as it starts to rain hard.

“Hey!” Clint raises his glass, grinning. “It’s the man of the hour.”

Matty grins back, shrugging out of his wet jacket and hanging it up, knowing, by touch and by smell, that his coat hangs next to Natasha’s.

The apartment is neat, if sparsely furnished. Nat never needed much. The couch was an off-white colour, a mistake, she realised, when she saw how often she had to clean it.

The chairs she’d bought not because of their shape or colour but because they had nice tapered legs. Other than that? A TV she rarely used, a coffee table, a rowing machine, a dresser with secondhand books.

She didn’t have any photos. Or, in the very least, she didn’t display them. She wasn’t in the habit of displaying them either.

“Hey,” Natasha says, smile in the corner of her mouth. Her voice sounds warm, and rich, like butter.

“Hey,” Matthew replies, setting down his cane and taking a seat.

“Beer?” The redhead offers, handing him one.

“Thanks,” the lawyer says, nodding.

“To taking down Wilson Fisk,” Natasha says, holding up her drink. The bottles chink merrily, while thunder continues to roll on outside, rain hitting the windows.

A companionable quiet falls between the three of them, Clint regarding Murdock from the corner of his eye.

“So, uh, most rookie vigilantes don’t take down a kingpin like Wilson Fisk on their first big case.”

“Rookie lawyer, you mean?” he asks, not missing a beat.

“What did I say?” Clint asks, taking a mouthful of his beer. He considers another thought and makes an affirmative noise when he decides to bring it up. “Does, uh, whatshisname, Froggy know?”

“Foggy?” Matt clarifies, setting the bottle down on the table.

“Yeah, yeah, Foggy,” Clint nods, wishing he wasn’t so terrible with names.

“He knows,” Natasha responds, smirking in the corner of her mouth. “He’s not really happy about it.”

“Have you met him?”

“Yeah, he dragged me to this shithole bar, Josie’s. He then spent the next two and a half hours getting really drunk and telling me about how much he misses his college days with Matt,” she rolls her eyes.

“Hey!” Barton speaks up, over the lip of his beer bottle. “I like Josie’s.”

Matt smiles.

“So, Clint, you live in Brooklyn?”

“Yeah, yeah. I mean I also have a house out west with my girlfriend. Big, old, beautiful thing. Couple of kids, chickens,” he shrugs.

Murdock pauses. “Really?”

“Nah,” Clint breaks out in a grin. “Nearly got you, though. I haven’t been seeing anyone. I got divorced last year, so.”

“Have you tried internet dating?” Matthew asks, wryly, half-joking.

“No, why? Should I?”

“You don’t even have internet in your apartment, Barton,” Natasha adds.

“I do. It just doesn’t work,” the other man murmurs defensively.

The three of them talk until it’s late and Clint decides he has to go home and feed his dog.

“My place next time, okay?” he offers, as he pulls on his jacket.

“Your place? Are there poison-tipped arrows still on the floor?” Natasha asks, conversationally.

“That’s a work in progress,” he replies, waving, before scolding himself inwardly. “Bye, guys. Good to see you.”

“Matt, are you hungry?”

“I could eat,” he says, in reply. They find their coats and head out onto the pavement, debating about what to eat.

Bagels, felafel, Sicilian pizza, Korean barbecue, souvlaki, jerk chicken, waffles… they walked and walked, her arm linked with his.