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Title: Heavy in Your Arms (14/15)
Author/Artist: Koren M. (cybermathwitch)
Disclaimer: Not mine. If they were, there'd already be a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie.
Pairing: Clint/Natasha, Coulson/The Cellist, Fury/Jin Mae (OFC)
Rating: Adult 17+
Warnings: language
Spoilers: None
Word Count: 2,168
Summary: Let's stitch the world back together.

Author's Notes: See Chapter 1 for more notes.

kadollan and sweetwatersong make this story so much better. :D



Previous Chapter


The man stood on the tarmac, eerily still despite how the wind from the helicopter blades were whipping at the edge of his coat. He still had the bitter taste of his deposition before the Council in the back of his mouth and still felt the weight that had come crashing down on him when Hill had shown up in his office and thrown a lifetime of grief and pain back in his face.

It was a minor miracle they hadn't just ordered that he be locked away, or even killed for being too much of a liability. He knew now, looking back, that he'd been on the cusp of being completely out of control - she hadn't even been wrong about that - but if it had happened once, there was nothing that would keep it from happening again.

The Council was nothing if not practical. They weren't inclined, they'd said, to get rid of what could still be a useful asset. Just in a different capacity.

They'd made their offer privately, after the more visible offer of full "retirement". He could come and work for them as an off-the-record operative or they could take more extreme measures.

He jumped at the chance, knowing both them and himself well enough to know that any other retirement wouldn't last long enough for him to need a pension.

The door to the helicopter opened then, and he focused his attention on the people being helped down. His new position had come with other benefits besides staying among the living. He had a certain autonomy, a certain leeway to make things happen. This might not've been quite how the Council had intended him to utilize it, but he figured in the grand scheme of things, what was the worst they could do if they found out?

He owed it to her.

He wouldn't go speak to them. There were translators and counselors on hand to help them adjust, a stack of completed, official immigration forms that would stand up to the strictest scrutiny, and he'd already arranged for housing and financial assistance until they were able to get on their feet in their new home. Twenty seven people, all that was left so many years later of her family in North Korea. They'd be safe now. He wasn't sure if he believed in ghosts, or in an afterlife (most days he was fairly certain he didn't) but if there was something else, maybe now she could find some peace in this.

*****

Maria knocked on the door frame more for form's sake than anything else. Coulson never left his door open if he minded having visitors.

"Hello," he said easily as she came into the room.

"Hello, yourself. How's Barnes doing?" she asked and took a seat across from his desk.

"As well as can be expected. They're working with him, seeing if they can recover any more of his memories with a couple of different techniques, and making sure there aren't any underlying triggers hiding in his head. It's better because he's cooperating fully with the psychiatric staff. He's given us a huge amount of information we didn't have previously on the Red Room and their operations. We've already gotten enough intel to clear out at least three additional cells."

"It's hard to believe. That he's really who he says he is, I mean."

"All the records we have for comparison check out, even given the amount of time since most of them were recorded."

"How's Barton holding up?"

"You know as well as I do that he's ready to go back to active fieldwork next week," Coulson replied, and gave her his patented 'I know you're fishing for something' look.

"Bobbi said you were talking about resigning," Maria ventured. "Last time I checked, you said you couldn't imagine working anywhere besides SHIELD."

"I have been thinking about it. I can't go to Madeline and ask her to be involved with me if I'm out here risking what amounts to both of our lives on a daily basis. It's not fair to her."

Maria nodded. "I can understand that."

Silence descended between them, and it wasn't exactly uncomfortable, but it was weighty.

"Is there anything else?" Coulson finally asked, and Maria hid a smile that he'd given in first.

"I'm promoting Chang to Deputy Director and I need someone to head up the Agent training program stateside. It's not terribly exciting, mostly paperwork and planning, chairing meetings and even giving lectures and speeches.

"I need someone I trust to run the program, Phil, and I wondered if you were willing to reconsider your resignation?"

She saw his shoulders visibly relax, more than they had in a very long time, and a real smile crossed his face.

"You know? I think I might."

*****

Three months after they returned, Barnes tracked him down while he was having dinner in the mess hall.

Maybe it was the years of isolation, or maybe the Red Room had just trained them to all be direct, but he didn't bother with pleasantries. "Have you heard anything from Natasha?" he asked in between mouthfuls of the fake mashed potatoes always seemed to be on the menu.

Clint arched an eyebrow, but he'd figured the question would come sooner or later. "Not really, no. Got some intel a little while back she was working in France on a job." It wasn't that he didn't trust Barnes in particular, but if he'd learned nothing else in their stint in Kiev, he'd learned it was better not to talk about what he and Nat could do.

The look he received clearly said that Barnes didn't believe him. "You're just gonna leave her out there, then?"

"I didn't leave her anywhere. I just gave her room to make her own choice about where she goes and what she does. Who she is. Which based on what I've seen, is something precious few people have given her. She wants to be here? She can be here. She wants to be in France doing heists and hits? That's what she gets to do."

"There are still factions of the Red Room left active, you know. They'll be looking for her."

"Some people kind of wonder why you left," Clint said, changing the subject slightly. "All kinds of reasons for you to come in now are running around in people's heads around here. Maybe you just saw and out and you took it, but the way I see it? You did it all for her."

"You're probably not wrong," Barnes responded after a minute.

Clint wondered if he ought to feel threatened, but the feel of Natasha in his arms was still fresh from his dreams the night before and the sense of their bond was rock solid. So it was mostly simple curiosity that had him asking: "Are you in love with her?"

Barnes thought about it awhile. "No," he finally said, with a level of certainty that came from really having considered the issue. "I don't think either one of us knew how to be in love. Maybe neither one of us was even capable of it, back then. But she was... is important to me. Sometimes she was the only thing that felt real, and she's closest thing I've got to a family. So I guess this is where I give you the big brother speech, and tell you if you ever hurt her... well, you'd answer to her first, and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, but if there was anything left of you, then you'd have to answer to me."

He offered a smile, and Clint thought maybe he could see a little bit of the cocky young soldier he'd been in the black and white photos from his file.

"She doesn't remember a lot of things," Barnes finally said when the silence started to feel like it was going to smother them both. "We were their top team for a long time. I helped train her, and she was flawless. Unparalleled in her skills and her follow-through. But she had this rebellious streak. She was smart about it, kept it quiet, but the more we were alone together on missions the more she opened up about it. She knew I was different than the other operatives they'd trained. By then... I'd already been worked over for years. The mind can only take so much, you know? It was harder and harder for them to turn me into someone else, so they usually resorted to more mundane tactics. And hell, where was I supposed to go, anyway?

"I'd tried to run away, before. They always found me. The could track me through this," he held up his arm, the prosthetic, and the shiny surface reflected the light. "Not the part on the outside that I could get rid of, either. The stuff they stuck in my brain to make it work right. So after awhile, I guess I just believed they were invincible. But she didn't. She talked me into trying it again, and one night we just left. Finished the mission and walked away. We got as far as Iceland before they found us."

He pushed the remaining food around his plate, then abruptly shoved it all away. "They couldn't really make me forget anymore. So they made her forget, instead. Then they put me under for a very, very long time. She never forgot that she wanted to leave though, did she?"

"No. She had a plan. I kind of upset things a little bit," Clint admitted.

"I bet," Barnes deadpanned, and Clint couldn't help but laugh. "Look, I don't know how you're talking to her, and it's none of my business. But if you have a chance, could you give her a message for me?"

"Sure," he said, mostly because he was curious to see where it was going.

"Tell her that promise I made her make? She can forget about it. I'm good, and I don't need her to hold up her end of the bargain anymore."

*****

The reception area of the Symphony Center was packed with concert-goers, patrons, and musicians. The charity gala had been a huge success, and the after party was a sparkling black-tie affair.

The symphony center was packed with visitors, but the orchestra liked to foster goodwill among the community and encouraged its musicians to mingle with the after-concert crowd. Since they'd just finished a benefit concert for the children's wing of a local hospital it was virtually mandatory, and Madeline had rushed through putting her instrument away and changing her clothes.
He was here.

She knew it, right down to her bones. She'd known it from the moment she'd set foot on the stage, and her certainty had only grown with each passing minute.

He'd been there before, but he'd always left before the end of the last piece. Juliet called her crazy, when she'd tried to explain what it felt like, but she believed in that feeling, and in him, more than she'd ever believed in anything else in her life. And tonight, instead of leaving, he'd stayed. She'd lost her sense of him when she'd gone backstage, and that had been wrenching. It was an aching relief when the feeling settled back over her as she moved back into the crowded reception area.

She had no idea how to find him in the crowd.

"Maddy!" Juliet called from several feet away, and she walked over to join the small crowd that had formed near the fountain. Juliet handed her a glass of champagne.

"He's here somewhere, Julie," she said a little breathlessly. "He stayed this time, and he's here."

"Mad-"

"Miss Hargrove?" the voice cut through the sound of voices swelling around them, and she felt her heart jump in her chest. She had to force herself to turn around, equal parts hopeful and afraid that it might be true.

He looked, if not exactly like she remembered him from ten years previous, then still just like she'd expected him to. He stood like he had that night so long ago, hands clasped easily behind his back, casual, but still with a slightly military air about him. She'd often wondered if he were ex-military, and not just because of how that particular night had turned out.

She could feel how much she was smiling, and could see the hopeful, eager expression he was trying to hide under a mask of calm control. "I'm afraid I don't know your name," she blurted out. "I don't think it's really Reinhardt."

His grin escaped then, and it made his eyes light up. "Phil. Phil Coulson," he introduced himself, but still didn't hold out his hand.

Juliet was gaping like a fish beside her, and Madeline not-so-subtly elbowed her until she closed her mouth.

"I'm Madeline, but everyone calls me Maddy. I've been waiting for you."


Epilogue

Comments

( 1 comment — Feedback is an Act of Love )
crazy4orcas
Apr. 23rd, 2014 02:17 am (UTC)
I've got little hearts and sparkles in my eyes. I adore endings like this -- well, almost-endings, because I know the Epilogue is coming up, but I think you know what I mean. I'm glad Fury is getting some closure and peace of mind. I'm loving Phil and Maddy being together. Director Hill is made of awesomesauce. And James is on the road recovery.

"I didn't leave her anywhere. I just gave her room to make her own choice about where she goes and what she does. Who she is. Which based on what I've seen, is something precious few people have given her. She wants to be here? She can be here. She wants to be in France doing heists and hits? That's what she gets to do." -- favorite line from this chapter.
( 1 comment — Feedback is an Act of Love )

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