28 August 2013 @ 03:15 pm
Title: для полета (For Flying)
Fandom: The Avengers
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Clint/Natasha
Wordcount: 2089
Warnings: ANGST. Lots of angst. Buckets of angst. Body horror too, I guess. And did I mention the angst?
Disclaimer: Watch me as I write fiction about fiction. All recognisable characters are property of Marvel and Disney.
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] shenshen77, who has been wonderful once again.
Notes: This is a continuation piece to my story طائر غريب (Strange Bird), and I recommend you read that one first because 1) you’ll understand this story better as a result and 2) it is much, much happier. I would also like to thank [livejournal.com profile] alphaflyer for her kind words and encouragement. Russian translation from Google Translate so apologies if it is inaccurate.

Summary: To love someone is to know when to let go.


She wondered if this would have been easier without so many witnesses. Their team had grown now; the original six from the Battle of New York expanding until it comprised of a rotating team of countless people, all different but all uncommon in some way.

Natasha was still not sure who they were fighting or why, of all places, they thought that New York was the place to have this little turf war. All she knew was that there was magic involved. That or some very advanced technology that even Tony didn’t understand. To be honest, past that she didn’t care, because Clint had been hit.

When she reached him, he was hardly recognisable; a tangled, grotesque bundle of once-man keening like she’d never heard. Natasha immediately called for an evacuation and, thankfully, it was Carol and Tony that replied, flying Natasha and the bundle of agony that was once Clint Barton to the Bruce-approved Hulk floor of Avengers Tower.

The fighting continued without them, though not for long.

When the team arrived back at the Tower, battle sore and tired, it was to find a baffled Tony and a shell shocked Carol witnessing a stoically petrified Natasha attempt to sooth a panicked mass of bone, ripped cloth and feathers.

“What happened?” It was Steve who asked, or maybe Sam. Though Natasha could hear everyone via the intercom, she didn’t care.

“I don’t know,” replied Tony tersely. “But that,” he said, gesturing though the reinforced glass, “is Clint Barton. Somehow.”

He was hardly recognisable. His right arm had disappeared to be replaced by a wing and a second wing protruded from his left shoulder blade; there were feathers in his hair and his face had shifted, human features replaced by a grotesque half-beak. It was clear that his spine was damaged or altered in some way; hips twisted and legs not sitting right. His left leg was gone, replaced by a smaller raptor’s leg complete with razor sharp talons. His right leg was mostly human, but his boot was ruined as raptor claws had burst through the rubber sole, making it impossible to remove.

Only his eyes were completely Clint; storm coloured and terrified.

Natasha refused to leave him, and half the team couldn’t stand to be in the same room as this whimpering, terrified half-man. Bruce took one look at him and instantly left, a rumbling growl too loud and low for his frame following him down the hall. Pepper and Darcy cried. Jane immediately began trying to get in touch with Thor, who was on Asgard at the moment and had “missed the freak show” as Tony put it – only to be punched on the arm by about four separate people, including both Steve and Luke.

SHIELD was called, and Fury came over personally with Coulson, only to leave at once – the vein in his temple threatening to burst – to yell at a long defunct SHIELD department to get their asses in gear and fix this. Coulson stayed, and attempted to talk Natasha into coming out of the room for a while, but she was having none of it, eyes bright with terror.

Just like Fury and Coulson, Natasha had worked out what had happened almost as soon as she saw Clint. And though she could barely stand to look at him like this (her Clint, her hawk, the improbable man who’d saved her life) she stayed, quietly working out the most comfortable way for him to lie, as he could no longer sit or stand. She could tell, by the unfamiliar weight of him, that some of his bones had shifted, hollowed out like a birds, making him unsteady and uncoordinated.

It was through attempting to get Clint to eat that she worked out the worst of it though. Carol and Jessica had brought soup, as he had no teeth anymore, but he threw it up almost immediately. Sam (the Falcon. Ha!) brought raw chicken, which he also threw up. He couldn’t chew and he couldn’t eat and he couldn’t be hooked up to IV lines because he was half bird and half man and it hit Natasha like a punch to the gut.

He was dying; two disparate physiologies at war with each other, attempting to match up and finding no points of common ground.

_

Natasha didn’t know how Jane had managed it, if it was a combined effort between her and that Asgardian Watcher Warden (Heimdall?), or if it was just blind luck, but Thor arrived the day after it happened. He strode into the room, everyone parting for him like Moses and the Red Sea.

Unafraid, he entered the room where Clint and Natasha were, and when it was clear he could get no closer without causing Clint to concuss Natasha with his panicked wing beats, he crouched down and said, in a voice so soft no one would have guessed it was Thor speaking, “What have they done to you, my friend?”

It was only then that Natasha would speak. And though it was breaking hundreds of SHIELD secrecy codes, she answered Thor, because it was Thor, and Thor only ever wanted what was best for people.

“They tried to turn him back.”

_

She knew it was bad because Fury was there. She knew it was bad because everyone was there, even Sif. Pepper and Darcy couldn’t look at them. Rhodey, Carol and Steve were holding themselves still thanks only to long years of military training; control in the face of terrible things. Maria, Coulson and Sitwell were there. Sam and Jessica and Bruce and Luke Cage. Tony and Jane and Sharon Carter. The man who was once Bucky, once Winter, and now just James. Bobbi and Betty and Jennifer and even Erik Selvig, who she was sure was supposed to be in Seattle.

And in front of them all, Thor, with eyes so kind and sad Natasha thought she would cry.

It had been nearly five days, and Clint was so weak that he no longer panicked. Natasha hadn’t left his side, staying night and day. Singing Russian lullabies and telling him stories, getting him to drink water and stroking his hair (feathers). Now everyone knew Clint’s secret, and she could see behind the hurt and anger and need for revenge, Tony wanted to know how. But Natasha couldn’t say, and SHIELD wouldn’t say, and the files no longer existed.

And now, one way or another, it would no longer matter.

“Natasha,” Thor said, so gentle and quiet. “I am sorry, but I cannot bring back the man you love. None on Asgard know how, and be assured that I tried all I could think of. All I can offer is to save him. All I can offer is to turn him back.”

Natasha’s hand tightened imperceptibly in Clint’s hair (feathers) and he let out a quite coo; a noise she’d heard a hundred times when he was on the range and thought he was alone, when he was half asleep in her bed and she ran her fingers down his back – a quiet, contented sound. Natasha suddenly couldn’t swallow past the lump in her throat, couldn’t see past the sudden burning of her eyes, and she barely felt Thor’s hand on her shoulder.

She nodded once, tears spilling over, and gently kissed Clint between the eyes – the only part of him that still looked like him; storm coloured and strangely full of understanding. As if, somewhere in his addled mind and altered body, he understood what was happening.

She then eased herself out from under his head and Thor helped her to stand, her legs unsteady from days of sitting on the floor. It was just as Sif moved forwards to help Thor with the spellwork that a voice rang out from the group.

“Wait!”

It was Darcy, her voice too loud for the solemnity of the moment. She still couldn’t quite look at Clint but her face was determined.

“Wait. We… we should,” she took a shuddering breath and her eyes filled with tears again. “We should – I – Sam has… for his pigeons. We should…” and she took a deep breath and forced herself to look at Clint. “He’ll. He’ll be a bird. He’ll be… g-gone but… Sam has a tagging thing. We should… Natasha should tag him. She should… she should tag him.”

Suddenly everyone turned to Natasha, and eyes that had avoided Clint for five days finally landed on him, and stayed.

And Bobbi, who had liked Clint, and Jessica, who’d goofed off with him, and Steve, who’d loved him like a brother, and Luke and Pepper and Jennifer and Jane. They nodded. And Sam nodded and disappeared, and Sif said gently, “Yes,” before turning to Natasha.

And Natasha internally cursed Darcy. Darcy and all her nodding friends and Sif and the situation and Thor and the world and whoever did this because what could she say? How could she condense everything he was, everything she was, everything they had been to each other, into something small enough to fit around a bird’s leg?

Sam returned, holding what looked like pliers and a small roll of metal, but no one said anything. Because this was the end; this was goodbye, and no matter what Clint had meant to the individual members of the Avengers and SHIELD, he meant a hundred times more to Natasha.

And Natasha, an intensely private person who worked in the shadows and dealt secrets like currency, had to say goodbye to the most important person in her life in front of all her friends.

Her voice broke the silence.

“Can it be in Russian?” She asked quietly, her voice nevertheless carrying across the entire room.

“It can be whatever you want it to be,” replied Bruce in his measured tones, passing her a pen and paper.

Natasha thought of taped fingers, of gun oil and bow varnish, of the smell of blood and leather cuffs, of Bruce Springsteen and Tchaikovsky, of living and loving and being more than she had ever hoped to be. Then she wrote two words on the piece of paper and held it out.

It was Tony, rather than Bruce, who took it from her – disappearing to the lab a level below and returning ten minutes later with her words embossed on a small piece of metal he then handed to Sam.

Everything was ready. Everyone was ready. Everyone but Natasha.

Her resolve broke when Thor and Sif started ushering people out of the room to begin the spell. Though she knew she couldn’t be in the room when the spell was cast, she couldn’t move; she couldn’t leave Clint. She felt as though her heart was being pried out by hot tongs, and her legs would not obey her. Eventually, she was gently steered out of the room by Betty – the only person present, Natasha distantly acknowledged, who might understand even a fraction of what she was feeling.

Natasha stood with Sam by the door.

When the gold of spell light had faded she walked back in with Sam to find, cradled in Thor’s huge hands, a beautiful tawny hawk with gold eyes and an intelligent gaze. Distantly Natasha realised she was crying but she ignored this in favour of paying attention as Sam showed her how to attach the tag to its (Clint’s) foot. Then Thor gently placed it (him) into her hands before instructing JARVIS to unlock and open the room’s only window.

As she walked to the window and held the hawk (Clint) outside, she could feel its (his) rapid heartbeat against the tips of her fingers and the softness of its (his) feathers.

She didn’t want to let go.

She thought of the bullet Clint took for her in Buenos Aires, of him grinning through bloodied teeth, of him fletching his arrows and sparring in the training rooms and singing deliberately off key and riling Steve and chatting with Bobbi and Sharon and panting above her and kissing her navel and and and.

Natasha choked out a sob.

Natasha let go.

_

A long time ago, Natasha Romanov’s life was saved by a man who had once been a hawk, though she did not know that at the time.

Not so long ago, Natasha Romanov’s life was saved by a hawk who had once been a man, though she only worked it out when it (he) settled on the railing by her head allowing her to read the words on the tag around its (his) foot: для полета.

For flying.


Also on AO3.
 
 
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