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Matt Murdock was very much aware of the fact that he had died. He felt the burning tears of person he’d loved as he faded from reality, the both of them holding on for dear life. There was nothing that he could forget-- he could practically hear Clint’s breathing grow more ragged as he grew more hysterical, drowning out the echoing screams of New York. Those calloused fingers had faded from his touch, and those strong, safe arms felt numb around him as he tried to focus on Clint, but there was nothing he could have done. He’d slipped through the cracks of those delicate fingers and into the claws of death.

Truth be told, there was nothing on the other side.

It was a hazy state of being, except that he wasn’t being because he was dead. It was muted, with only the reverberating voices of his past coming to haunt him-- Stick telling him to do better, Elektra calling his name, Foggy trying to make him come to his senses, Fisk’s threats to tear his world apart, Frank Castle encouraging him to let his inner devil loose… The continual clamour of muffled voices driving him insane--

And then, underneath all of those voices was a murmur of sincerity that he knew all too well. The cacophony faded into a dull hum in the background, and the voice he’d heard was loud and clear.

I’ll always be here to patch you up. Whenever you drop in. I-If you drop in, of course. You don’t have to, but you’re always welcome to if you’d like t--

Matthew wanted to reach out and feel Clint in his hands, but he couldn’t move. It was infuriating to hear the voice you love but not be able to grasp at something tangible, but the anger gave way to sorrow as he realised that he’d never be able to feel or smell or even taste the archer again.

“Clint?”

What was that? My aids got knocked out and I can’t read your lips when you mumble.

It was just the repetition of things Matt had heard before, like he was speaking to a prerecorded track. Despite no longer living, he felt an ache throb deep in his chest, as if he still had a heart and it was breaking.

If he could have cried, there wouldn’t have been any doubt that he would have. He missed his dumbass with all of his being that was left, and felt himself willing to do anything just to get back and grow old with Clint Barton. Anything to get back to their cramped flat with the chipped mugs and Lucky sleeping at the foot of the bed even though he shouldn’t be there and the sounds of the city below them and the way that the bed slumped in the center because the springs were worn out and the patching up of wounds and the smell of coffee brewing in the morning and--

I love you .”

Matthew had never heard Clint say that before.

Before he could even begin to comprehend the implications of those words, he felt a strong weight press against him and something firm beneath his feet. He felt himself waver, but caught himself on something, disturbing a stack of papers and sending them everywhere in the process.

He was alive .

After doing a self evaluation and patting himself down in reassurance that yes, he was somehow alive, he began investigating the atmosphere. He felt whatever he’d initially grabbed on to, finding a smooth granite covered in a thick layer of dust. In fact, the whole area was musty and thick with the dust of disuse. It only took a few moments to feel around and notice that he was home . He dragged his fingers along the walls, feeling relief crash over him at the fact that he was somewhere familiar. Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. There was no Lucky excitedly sniffing at him or jumping up to greet him, and no Clint Barton to pull him into a tight embrace. Only grime was present. It seemed as though the place had long since been abandoned, and while he shouldn’t have felt disappointed, he did. He didn’t know how long he’d been gone, but he’d guessed it had been a while, judging by the state of affairs. Clint probably hadn’t wanted to stay in the place where he watched someone he loved die…

There came a soft sliding noise, and Matthew tensed. The window in the bedroom was sliding open, and someone jumped in with a heavy noise. He figured the other person was a looter or some S.H.I.E.L.D operative, but upon hearing another person drop into the room, he felt his stomach twist.

“There’s no coming back from this ‘Ronin’ identity is there?” Came the level, unimpressed voice of Natasha Romanoff, but whoever she was with responded not, or responded to where Matthew couldn’t hear him.

“Understandable. Pack it up and meet me back down at the car in ten.”

Romanoff slid back out, and he listened as the remaining operative of some sort began rustling around the bedroom, pulling out drawers and rifling through boxes. There came the sliding of metal against metal-- the distinct sound of Clint’s arrows sliding against one another. Clint never left without his arrows. If his arrows were here, then that meant…

Footsteps approached the door and Matthew listened as the person entered the small hallway, closing the door behind them with a soft clicking noise. The person’s clothing settled, and he could hear the hood over their head being pushed down, just as they turned. There came the unsheathing of a katana, of metal against its holster, but the sudden spike of the person’s heartbeat wasn’t that of someone being threatened by Matt’s presence. There came the sound of a rough swallow, as if the person’s mouth had gone dry, before there came a hoarse, cracked voice laden with shock that was all too familiar.

“Matt?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Clint Barton had scarcely been a sentimental man these last three years of his life, especially after the initial plummet into the downward spiral that had put him in this place to begin with. He’d witnessed the one of the most important people he loved slip from between the cracks of his fingers, despite clinging on as if his life depended on it. There hadn’t been any time to recover from the initial shock and trauma he faced-- one of his nephews had also been victim to the strange phenomena, he found, after a hysterical phone call from Laura. He’d moved his sister and the remaining company to the Barton family farm with Lucky, moving in with them to escape the apartment. He’d consoled Laura to the best of his abilities while he also was dealing with the fresh weight of losing Matt on his conscience. The tears only came hours after the initial ordeal, when the shock finally gave way to the grief of losing someone who he’d thought about spending the rest of his life with.

Nothing he’d felt in the past could hold a torch to what he was feeling, or rather, what he wasn’t feeling. His mind felt blank. His hands shook. Everything he ate tasted like the way that SMPTE bars sounded on the television. His limbs were heavy and he stumbled through the first few days feeling weak and numb. Had he been cognitively aware, he would have noticed that he was lurking in the ‘denial’ stage of grief.

When he wasn’t staggering around in a daze, he was plagued by night terrors.

It was always Matt clinging on to him and digging his nails into Clint’s skin with no mercy. Incoherent screaming that sounded vaguely like, ‘you could have saved me!’ The grip on his arms only loosening to snake up to his throat…

Waking up with tears streaming down his face and a strangled cry stuck in his throat became a common occurrence, and it only worsened his state of grief. He would take deep breaths and tell himself that this wouldn’t happen because Matt was alive, and that this was all some sort of sick dream. The automatic denial of losing his other half was beginning to take its toll on Clint, however. Thankfully, his time spent in this stage of grief was cut short when the fury settled in that something or someone had done this on purpose .

He went on a rampage searching for loose threads that could lead him to the source. Having left his bow at the apartment and not wanting to return to face the reality of the situation, he turned to an illegal arms dealer who handed him a samurai katana of sorts. The days bled together in a maroon-lined fury that drove him further into unravelling the mystery surrounding death of his loved ones. No one stood in his way as he hunted down leads in Kostinbrod, Budapest, Mumbai, Sapporo…

Almost a year into the search, Natasha had tracked him down and called him in.

The bargaining stage began its course as he did the best to his ability to assist the remaining Avengers to fix the problem. Despite all of the red that had begun dripping from Clint’s ledger over the past year, his old teammates needed all of the help they could get. What he didn’t count on, however, was the fact that he was going to be travelling back in time with Stark to the Battle of New York. Nothing had prepared him for the fact that he’d be feeling the tug of Loki’s magic at the edges of his mind, or the fact that he’d be staring the bastard in the face and encouraging him to help the Avengers.

If his life wasn’t already unnecessarily difficult, this was the icing on the metaphorical cake.

His nightmares involving his mental manipulation had long since faded, and only in the recent year had his terrors come in the form of Matt Murdock crumbling in his hands. With the reintroduction of Loki and reopening the wound of the Battle of New York ordeal, his hours of sleep dwindled into nonexistence. He became too petrified to shut his eyes because of the horrors that would greet him, his hands slick with all of the blood he’d shed. All the arrows through eye sockets. All the pleading echoes of desperation. All of the snapping bones. All of the sudden last breaths stolen from chests.

There wasn’t much keeping Cling grounded, and he was fairly certain that if S.H.I.E.L.D were still standing, they’d’ve sent him to an asylum and deemed him terminally unfit for active duty. There was nothing keeping the slowly creeping insanity from penetrating his human person, but there had been an instance of when he felt some sanity restored.

Upon return to their normal time with the magically-inclined bastard god, Clint was able to find the semblance of good in his life, but only after he’d been knocked off his ass and thoroughly discombobulated.

“You didn’t see that one coming? Keep up, old man.”

To say Clint hadn’t missed the smart mouth on Pietro Maximoff was an absolute lie, and upon hearing the voice of the mildly irritating speedster, he may or may not have pulled him into a hug. Pietro returned the embrace, and there may or may not have been a few murmured words that may or may not have induced a few tears. The reunion was not exactly long-lived, and with the introduction of Carol Danvers on Fury’s dying orders, the ‘real shit’ began.

Clint had never seen a harder fought battle, with everyone putting everything on the line, even knowing that it would result in certain death.

When all was said and done, the Earth and its people were once more saved, but at the cost of some of its greatest defenders. A memorial was in loving memory of Steve Rogers, and he was buried in a casket alongside the other war veterans. The body of Tony Stark was never found, and his memorial service was held by Stark Industries at the street level of Stark Tower. Those who had been lost in the snap of Thanos’ gauntlet were slowly restored, including his nephew, Hill, and even Fury (Clint wasn’t surprised that the stubborn bastard had lived). Life seemingly continued after a somber few days of adjustment, everyone struggling with their own internal battles.

Since his duty as an Avenger had been completed and he’d found the source of Matt’s death, he considered his mission accomplished. Unfortunately, this still didn’t bring back the delicate hands or the soft quirk of a smile of his love. Life was a bitch, and Clint had to live with the repercussions.

He’d only decided to return to the abandoned apartment to grab a few items of sentiment weeks later, and hadn’t been surprised that Nat had followed close behind with her mother-henning.

“You loved him.”

At ass o’clock at night, Clint didn’t want to have a heart to heart. It was already difficult as it was to fight back the sharp lump that threatened to stab through his throat, so he just signed to her instead. A halfhearted fist shake at shoulder level to indicate affirmation, and Natasha fell silent for a while as she followed him the remaining three blocks to the apartment. When they reached the fire escape, however, she began speaking again.

“You went hunting to seek revenge on the person who killed him.”

Clint just pulled himself up the ladder, letting his silence speak volumes for him. He hesitated upon reaching the bedroom, feeling the nostalgia wash over him.

“For what it’s worth, I think you’re one of the most capable people on the team.”

Matt’s delicate hands had roamed his face, trying to see him without actually seeing him. Calloused fingertips had brushed against his lips, and Clint had smiled at the warmth in his lover’s cocoa eyes. He had leaned in and placed a kiss to Matt’s lips…

And as cliché as it sounded, that was the day that Clint stopped living.

Now, the bedroom was dimly lit with only the glow of the streetlamp. The sheets were rumpled and wrinkled around two spots in the centre of the bed, completely untouched from the last time he’d been here three years ago. It was as though he was looking in on a museum display that was encased in a glass box with a ‘do not touch’ sign. It was beautifully tragic to see the exact moment of when his life had fallen apart now frozen in time.

The benefit of the bad habit of never locking the bedroom window was the fact that Clint was able to slide it open with only minimal difficulty. He dropped into the room and Natasha followed suit with much more grace and less noise than Clint had.

“There’s no coming back from this ‘Ronin’ identity, is there?”

He turned to find her looking at his bow, and he shook his head. There was no way he could hold his bow with trembling hands with the memories of life at the circus, Loki’s mind manipulation, Pietro’s death after Ultron, and the fights alongside the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen all attached to his old gear. There was no way he could have continued using his bow after the severe trauma.

Nat seemed to get it, or was reading the pained look on his face.

“Understandable. Pack it up and meet me back down at the car in ten.”

She slid back out the window and disappeared, leaving Clint to himself. There wasn’t anything really to pack. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but rustled around the boxes of things that he and Matt hadn’t bothered to ever unpack when he moved in from his place in Hell’s Kitchen. He took a moment and turned toward his old quiver, sliding out one of his arrows and examining it, as if he was seeing it for the first time.

They’d been sitting in a diner booth after fighting the night before…

Clint let out a shaky breath and slid the arrow back into his quiver, before standing. With dread, he opened the door. Biding his time before exploring the rest of the apartment, he closed the bedroom door with great care, sealing the room and freezing time once more.

As he stood in the hall, he pushed down his hood, as if unmasking himself for the first time in the comfort of what he’d once called his home. It hadn’t been home since Matt had died in his arms, because wherever Matt was, that’s where home was. Now the apartment was just a heartbreaking reminder that Clint wouldn’t ever be able to truly feel what home was again.

There came a sudden noise from the kitchen that startled him from his thoughts, and Clint unsheathed his weapon, mentally preparing himself for the intruder. It wasn’t a hobo come to ransack, no, the person was too quiet. More than likely it was someone sent to kill him, which, it wouldn’t be the first time, nor would it be the last.

He turned, weapon at the ready, fully prepared for some bullshit monologue about how he was going to be killed.

What he didn’t expect was a shadow of his past.

In the muted marmalade light that streamed from the streetlamp outside, there stood a brunette with a case of bedhead that would have been horrible if it wasn’t so endearing. Stubble dusted his rather chiseled jaw, and his dark eyes were blank as they stared off into nowhere in particular. His body language was slightly stiff, and his lips were neither curved in a smile nor a frown.

Clint swallowed, his mouth having run dry. There was no way. Everyone else who’d died in the gauntlet snap had come back weeks ago. People who came back always returned to the exact spot they had crumbled in, and the apartment hadn’t been touched. This wasn’t possible. This couldn’t be real…

But he felt his cracked voice betray him.

“Matt?”