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Title: The Space In-Between
Author: james
Rating: PG
Pairing: Clint Barton/Phil Coulson
Word Count: 800
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit made
Summary: When everything is quiet and still, Clint draws his bow and sometimes the world just goes away.


There's a space in-between the moment he raises the bow and catches the string. Sometimes it's a conscious moment when he exhales and lets it all go. Sometimes he's barely aware of it, only knowing he's passed through it when it's over and he's lowering his bow and he's finally aware of having crossed back.

It's not a unique space, Clint's never talked about it but he knows many others -- monks and priests and soldiers all over -- know that space. In-between breaths when one world stops and nothing takes its place, that place where nothing moves and nothing breathes and everything just is.

People ask him all the time how he shoots the way he does. He tells them, with varying degrees of sarcasm depending on his mood and who the person is and who's listening in. Tells them it takes hard work, or long hours of practise, or that he sold his soul when he was twelve. That one went to Stark, and the other man had just nodded, serious and not, and Clint knew neither of them cared what the truth was. What mattered was the exchange of words, verbal riposte and it's always fighting with them, with all of them. Gauging and testing and sparring, because someday they will need all their skills as honed as it is humanly -- and not -- possible to be.

He thinks Tony knows that space in-between, when his head is down over his work station or he's in front of his holographic computer screen and lines and numbers and images are all he sees. Clint isn't good with engineering or science, can barely recognise sometimes what he catches Tony working on. But he knows the look on the other man's face, and knows where he goes. In-between. Clint gets lost outside, Tony gets lost inside his own head, but the space is the same, Clint thinks.

Clint leaves it to others to pull Stark back, JARVIS and Steve seem the best at it, and frankly Clint doesn't care if Tony gets stuck for days in that space because Clint knows -- sometimes it's the best place to be.

He wishes he could get trapped like that, sometimes. But he needs his bow in his hand and long distances to watch, and needs to be so still that he can never remember, after, if he even kept breathing. But his body can't physically stay that way long enough -- it's never long enough, and he always comes down too soon as the world starts up again around him and it's choking and thick and loud and hard. Tony can move and create and do and so he can keep going, though Clint suspects he maybe drops in and out of that space while he works.

The longest Clint's ever gone was two days, and that was once, and a fluke, and his knees still ache sometimes at the memory of it. He'd been waiting, settled in his nest and everything had somehow been perfect. He'd forgotten to eat there at the end; it had taken him hours afterwards to get his fingers to uncurl. But he'd lain there, watching, waiting, and he'd slipped through and the entire world had gone away, he had gone away and there had been nothing, just stillness and silence and the utter, complete absence of everything.

He despairs sometimes of finding that luxury again, now that he's been placed with a team and they're the loudest, unruliest, most obnoxious teammates he's ever had the pleasure to work with. He doesn't complain to Coulson or Fury, because he knows they'll only laugh. Maybe say something about karma.

But sometimes, when he's alone, and he's in the training room or outside early enough in the morning that no one else is stirring, he can take up his bow and he can find a spot on the horizon and he can wait. He doesn't know if they know he does it, if anyone's watched him or if they have a clue why his training includes practising standing completely still. No one's ever asked, and if they did, he'd only tell them: hard work, long hours of practise, when I sold my soul the demon said I had to.

He plans on telling that one to Phil, if he ever asks, which he probably won't.

But he likes that space, likes slipping across that in-between place, likes the feel of everything slipping away. He's only ever found it with a bow in his hand, only ever out in the wide clear spaces when he's watching the distance horizon.

He didn't expect to find himself slipping, here, caught up in the sound and the sight and the feel of flesh under him, the press of fingers in his hair and the faint scent of a soap that's not his and as lips press against his throat and he can feel the vibrations of laughter and moans, mixed all together, Clint finds that space in-between and he goes, tumbling down where everything vanishes except himself, and his lover.
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