She walks like a woman who’s trained herself to take up space without being seen. Japanese-Chinese American, her first language at home was Mandarin, but her first word was English. A contradiction in all forms, boyishly beautiful and alone in a world large enough to swallow her whole.
and he was warm
she smelled like woven bamboo, washed cotton and blade oil
he tasted like sweat, coffee and stubble
in fogwell’s gym he danced around her
like a hummingbird
just out of her reach
in fogwell’s gym she went after him
like a feline — elegantly
she blooms like a lotus blossom
and he has the pleasure of watching it — of feeling it, feeling her
and she has the pleasure of not having to prove herself
of sparring someone who is her equal
braid stuck to the nape of her neck
his legs melting into the mat
if you told me i could fly
i might just believe you
she hovers over the threshold to his bedroom a week later
hand in her pocket
thumbing the braille on his business cards
the way she thumbs his dimples
and when he tilts his head to kiss her
she tastes like new york city rain
and he kisses her in the same way that he welcomes the rain
with violent relief and a half-finished prayer
she can’t find her grip amongst the silk sheets until the length of her spine sticks to them and won’t let go
he maps out the shape of her with his fingertips, savouring her until she cries out in frustration
condensation on the windowsill,
made from a collection of breaths
she watches it drip
while she slides back into herself
the tender parts of her made tender to the touch
tender-touch, tender-walk, tender-talk
he asks her if she’s okay
and she says
“Hey, what are you up to out here all on your lonesome, huh?”
He crouches down, closer to the dirt and the dust and waits. There’s dirt under his fingernails, and his boots started off an ochre colour and now they’re black. He hasn’t shaved in a few weeks, and he favours one arm over the other, but there’s no mistaking him.
There’s no mistaking eyes that dark.
The dog moves towards him, body posture relaxed, sleek, lean.
You shouldn’t pet dogs you don’t know, or so the old mantra goes. But he did know dogs. He’d grown up around them. On a farm, if you can believe that.
“Hello,” he says, trying a smile through his gristle. “My name’s Frank Castle. What’s yours?”
The dog, ears forward, tail wagging, moves forward close enough to close the gap between them and lick his face.
“Ah so it’s like that, is it?” The former marine says, sinking his hands into the creature’s fur. He has no collar, no tag, not from where Frank’s standing.
“C’mon, you gonna show me round or what?” he stands, wipes the dust from himself and starts walking again.
It’s twilight, and the last of the sun is shining through the stark, brittle trees.
The sky is the colour of honey.
When Frank whistles the dog comes quickly, neatly by his side. He’s sleek, and lean, a German Shepherd, and he looks like he could run for days.
So they do.
Natasha pulled out her mobile phone and said something under her breath in Russian.
Matt guessed it was a swear, or a string of swears, but he wasn’t sure which ones.
“What is it?”
“Clint’s been in a fight. Idiot,” she murmurs to herself, already standing and going to the door, needing nothing other than her jacket, her weapon and her phone. “Some mafioso fired a gun at his head – he missed, but he’s temporarily lost his hearing in one ear.”
Matthew can almost hear the roll of her eyes alongside the static of her hair.
“Is he okay?” he asks, walking towards the sound of her voice and finding his things, taking his stick in one hand and her arm in the other.
“Yeah, he’s fine, but he’s not speaking or signing.”
The ride to the hospital is fairly short, but crammed with New York traffic and the rumble of Natasha’s bike.
She doesn’t stop or slow her stride through the long halls of the hospital. She doesn’t sound like a lady – not at first.
Then, comes the swish of her thighs, the sound of her hair sweeping across her shoulders, the smell of her lipstick.
Matt allows himself to get lost in the noise of the hospital – the din of noise, coughs, splutters, groans, lungs learning to breathe. The phone ringing, constantly, call after call, being answered, being transferred, being put on hold. The sound of the machines, humming, beeping, monitoring, clicking. The vibrating, buzzing and droning of various vending machines, fish tanks and television sets set to mute. The echoes of chatter, talk, orders, requests, threaded through the rest, floating loose, waiting to be caught by an ear.
Crying, tears, stifled sobs. A whispered prayer.
No matter how many times he tries to avoid it, he’s taken back, right back to a too-big hospital bed with awful, awful cotton sheets and lights so loud and so bright he can feel them.
“Hey,” comes a soft voice beside him. “He’s right in here.” Nat leads him in and sits him down beside the bed, letting go of his arm.
Natasha leans over the bed and looks Clint square in the eye, starting to sign the first thing that comes to mind.
What the fuck is wrong with you?
He looks at her reluctantly, somehow avoiding eye contact, only watching her mouth.
“You’ll be fine, Clint,” she says, voice tight. “They’ll discharge you tomorrow morning, you know that.”
And Clint did know that. But he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help how vulnerable or scared he felt. He felt like he did when he was little, when he’d first sustained hearing damage. Alone. Isolated. Hurt. He didn’t want to look at anyone. He was too ashamed. He felt stupid.
Nat decided, after the better part of an hour, to leave.
“Want to come with?” she asks, looking at Matt, chin over her shoulder.
“No, no. I’m okay. I’ll stay here,” he replies, giving her the best smile he can.
“Okay. I’ll come back later,” she answers, putting on her jacket and pulling back the curtain.
“Rough day, huh?”
Clint know the question is meant for him. He tries to speak, clears his throat and tries again. “Yeah. Something like that.”
Matty reaches carefully for the other man’s hand, and Barton closes the gap, linking their fingers together.
“You’re going to be fine.”
Clint knows he can’t argue with him. He’s been through the same, or worse, and survived. Thrived, even. They both have.
“Yeah. I know.”
“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.”
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.
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?”