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Don't Get Involved

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Blood.

It was everywhere. In the harsh white light, the splatters across the wall looked like some kind of morbid modern art exhibit. Smeared handprints on the doorknob told the story of a desperate escape, the large crimson pool at your feet a monument to the failed attempt.

He’d come in through the front door, kicking it off its hinges and sending it flying across the room with a strength that terrified the scene examiners.

The ballistic team had marked out the trajectories of the whirlwind of bullets which had flown his way upon his intrusion. All had missed their mark save one, which they suspected had scraped his arm based on the evidence and what they already knew of his physical profile.

They’d retrieved the bullet from the wall and the forensic investigators had collected a blood sample but it wouldn’t provide any useful information. All the database would bring up would be matches to the massacres of fifteen other major cartels. You could prove it was the same man responsible for these killings but he was nothing more than a ghost without a record in any database.

The only information you had was a name used by the Japanese underground to describe him: Ronin. A masterless samurai. A lone warrior taking justice into his win hands. Other than that, you were chasing rumours in the hopes of catching a lead.

Ronin had ploughed through the mob, taking them down quickly. Ruthlessly. Painfully. The bodies had been removed not but you’d been one of the first on the scene. You’d seen how he’d butchered them. He’d slit their throats enough to drop them to the ground but not to kill them; instead they choked on their blood, watching him slaughter the others as they died. Or he had stabbed them in the stomach, twisting, incapacitating, but not enough to kill them right away. It hadn’t been confirmed yet but you knew the weapon would match the other crime scenes - the signature katana.

It never got easier to walk onto one of his crime scenes. Over the past year, you’d seen things that had scarred you. You rarely slept now. You used your energy and drive to catch this man. Because yes, he was only killing drug lords and gangsters now but you could see he had a taste for it.

There were enough signs to suggest Ronin took some kind of twisted pleasure in making these men hurt. And there was nothing to suggest that he would stop. Once a person has gotten a taste for this, there was no going back. You couldn’t let it continue. You would catch him before he crossed the line and hurt an innocent.

A gentle tap on your shoulder had you spinning around, fingers tightening around your gun. You instantly relaxed at the familiar face of your superior, offering a shaky smile as you released your hold on your weapon. “Sir.”

“I was going to ask how you were doing but I think I’ve got my answer.”

“I’m fine.”

“The hell you are. Take a break, detective. You’ve been here for hours. Go back to your room. Get some sleep. Come back tomorrow with fresh eyes.”

“Really, Sir, I’m fine. I don’t need to sleep.”

“Well, there’s a bar not far from here. Bit of a dive but cheap and the liquor does the job.” There was no judgement in his voice. Everyone who’d been working this case, especially those of you who had been on it for a long while, had taken up drinking to cope with what you saw. With a tight smile, the lines on his face so much deeper than they had been just a year ago, he said, “I’ll call you if we find something new. Have a good night, detective.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Stepping away from the red and blue flashing lights and into the bright glow of the neon signs that permanently illuminated the night here, you soon found the bar and headed in. It was a bit of a dump; dark and dingy and perfect for your terrible mood. With your limited Japanese you ordered a drink and found a seat in the corner of the bar, silently watching people without any real interest as you drank the night away.

That was until a man walked in and caught your attention. You caught a glance of his face in the reflection on the glass. He wore the weight of the world in the lines around his eyes. Eyes which had seen far too much loss for one lifetime. The Decimation had taken a toll on everyone but there was more to his pain than that.

You couldn’t explain the draw you felt to him. The entire world was hurting and yet you found yourself wishing there was a way you could ease his pain. One man, a stranger nonetheless, over the entire world. Sure, he was handsome but there was more to it than that. You just didn’t couldn’t put your finger on what.

His gaze roamed the bar until it suddenly landed on you. Normally you’d look away but there was something about this man. It was like you already knew him. An eyebrow quirked questioningly as he glanced at the empty space beside you. Can I join you?

A little nod, barely visible in the dim light, but he saw. You introduced yourself as he slipped into the booth beside you.

“Clint.” He smiled, a broken attempt, pain seeping through the cracks. His eyes rolled shamelessly over your body, your skin burning as he practically undressed you with his mind. Lost in the intensity of his gaze, it took you an embarrassingly long time to realise he was actually searching you for weapons - something you should have done immediately but were too distracted to do.

“What brings you here, Clint?”

“Work.”

A man of many words, you mused. It was a nice change from the people you usually surrounded yourself with; eager chasers of justice, unable to let the silence lie for more than a minute. It was understandable. Many people found the silence unbearable now for it, like everything else, stood as a reminder of what had been lost.

Shuffling a little closer to Clint so that you might hear his answer over the noise, you asked, “What kind of work?”

“I hunt people.”

You understood. After The Decimation, there people searching for family everywhere. Some had been lost. Others had run away to deal with the consequences. With families broken across the world, a large demand had grown for private investigators to search for the missing. Especially insurance and debt companies who were keen to prove people were still alive and not just in hiding to get a nice payout or escape their bills.

“That’s good work.” His expression hardened, suppressing some emotion, and you wondered for a moment whether there was perhaps another meaning to his words. Searching his face for answers, you asked the one question that could never be escaped. “Who did you lose?”

“Everyone. You?”

You closed your eyes, taking a moment to picture your family. Their faces were fading from your mind now. In a way, it was almost a blessing. It helped soften the pain sometimes. Other times, it only made it sting more. With the same practised ease as every other survivor on the planet, you answered levelly, “Me too. They turned to dust in my arms.”

“I didn’t even see them go,” Clint muttered, his guilt tangible. “Turned my back for a moment and they were gone.”

“You were lucky then.”

The words slipped out before you could stop them. You weren’t surprised when Clint bit back, “None of us are lucky.”

The familiar silence settled between you as you allowed each other the proper time to remember The Vanished. Once the minimum acceptable period of silence had passed, Clint downed the liquid in his glass and forced a lightness into his tone. “What is a beautiful woman doing in a place like this?”

“Work,” you said, turning away to hide your smile at his compliment. “I’m hunting people, too. Only, we know they’re still alive.”

Clint stiffened, barely for a moment but long enough for you to catch the reaction. He hid it with a lazy smile, the gentle pressure of his fingers spreading over your knee but the wariness remained nonetheless. “You’re a cop.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Who are you hunting?”

“I can’t say.”

“Of course not.”

You expected conversation to turn to lighter topics and for a while they did. You spoke about the normal, pointless things that people did on dates, the distance between you fading away as you bared as much of yourselves as you dared. There was no denying the connection you felt to Clint. He was funny and far from smooth but you enjoyed his company. He made it easy to ignore the many shadows which weighed down on your mind.

That was why you were surprised when he pulled the conversation in an entirely different direction and back towards everything you were here to forget about. “It makes you angry, doesn’t it? That murderers and rapists survived but innocent kids were taken.”

You weren’t certain why he’d asked but there was no denying the truth. “Yeah.”

“You wish they died instead?”

“Sometimes. But I’m not a god. It’s not my place to deal out death and condemn people to an end like that, no what whether they deserve it or not.”

Clint laughed, harsh but also sad. “Idealism. That’s cute.”

“We have to hold on to our ideals or we become the monsters we’re trying fight.”

“It’s a dark world, Y/N. Sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done.”

His words left no doubt in your mind. Your earlier suspicions about his true meaning, his real purpose here, were confirmed. You should have felt angry, you were a cop after all and he was putting you in a very difficult position here, but you understood his reasoning even if you didn’t want to. “The people you hunt…”

He smiled, although it was more of a grimace. You searched his face for shame or regret but there was none. No, that was wrong. It was there but Clint had locked it away in a place where it could never stop him from finishing his task. “Am I talking to you or the detective?”

You rest your chin on his shoulder, breathing in the earthy scent of his cologne. Trailing your fingers down the length of his jaw, the light stubble making the pads tingle, you said, “I’m off duty.”

“They’re bad people, yes.”

“You know him, don’t you?”

Clint frowned. “Who?”

“The man I’m hunting. You must cross paths, share targets and information. They’re calling him Ronin.” Clint flinched involuntarily at the name, giving you the answer you sought. You knew you shouldn’t be discussing the case, not even mentioning it, and yet with Clint you couldn’t help yourself. Leaning back to get a better look at his face, you pressed, “So, do you know him? Or you’ve heard of him? What can you tell me? At this point I’ll take anything.”

His hand found yours in your lap and he laced his fingers with yours. You could almost feel him shaking and wondered what about Ronin could have him so nervous. Those thoughts fell away beneath the intensity of his gaze, though. “Walk away while you can, sugar. You don’t want to get involved. It will only end badly.”

You got the distinct impression that it was not just the case he was talking about anymore. Swallowing deeply, your mouth suddenly very dry, you whispered, “I can’t.”

“I know the feeling.” Clint’s gaze flickered between your eyes and your lips. His mouth parted slightly, tongue darted out to wet his lips as the silent question hung heavily in the air between you. Do you want this too?

Yes.

His lips were soft against yours, a gentle kiss, restrained but somehow still intense. The moment you responded, Clint pulled you into his lap and something exploded between you. You kissed desperately, messily, as you chased the connection, needing to feel less alone for just a little while.

He ran his hands over your body, rough fingers cupping your breast through your shirt as he sucked a dark bruise on your neck. You rolled your hips over his hard length which strained against his jeans, and moaned into his mouth. “More.”

You jumped as a glass slammed against your table. You instinctively reached to your side to grab your gun, despite not being armed. Interestingly, Clint did the same only he reached behind his shoulder to pull a non existent weapon instead.

An angry looking man, one of the owners of the bar no doubt, growled in limited English, “Take it outside.”

With the little dignity you could muster, you grabbed your bag and snuck out the back door. The cool evening air hit your face as Clint backed you against the wall. The fought bricks scratched your arms as he kissed you, dropping your purse at your feet as he sucked another mark on your neck, a shiver running down your spine as he nipped at the sensitive skin.

You slipped your hands under his jacket, beneath his shirt, and ran your fingers over his skin. You felt the raised, uneven edges of scars beneath your touch. Even without seeing the scars, you knew that they extended all over his body. The urge to kiss them all was overwhelming. You wanted to take away his pain.

“Don’t,” Clint breathed, his nose bumping against yours. “Don’t feel sorry for me.”

He dug his fingers into your waist, bruisingly hard and deepened the kiss. You weren’t fighting for dominance over each other. You were fighting for dominance over the world, over your lives. Too much had been tainted, ruined by darkness in the past few years. You wanted, needed, this. You had to feel the spark of a connection, of life, again.

Clint nipped your lip as you fumbled with his belt. You pulled his trousers down and knelt on the floor, freeing his cock. He was already hard, tip swollen and dripping precum. You wrapped your lips around him, the salty taste thick on your tongue.

You pulled off with a lewd pop, taking a moment to glance up at his dishevelled state. The neon lights down nearby streets highlighted Clint’s sharp jawline, shimmered in his dark, lust filled eyes. His lips were parted, his chest heaved raggedly as he fought to maintain control. He was halfway undone and entirely gorgeous.

The heavy footsteps of drunken passersby and screaming arguments floating down from nearby apartment blocks filled the air, a stark reminder that anyone could stumble past and find you like this, on your knees for a stranger in a dingy back alley. A man you’d met barely an hour ago. It was perverse and dirty and thrilling.

You cupped his balls, the sudden, gentle pressure eliciting a deep moan that vibrated through Clint’s entire body. As you licked his shaft, tracing the ridges with your tongue and swirling it over the tip and around the head, Clint’s breathing became heavier, his grip on your hair tighter.

A sharp pain as he tugged on the strands of your hair urged you desperately for more. It went straight to your core, heat and wetness pooling between your legs. Clint pulled harder, arching your neck back so that he could slip his cock between your lips and into your mouth. Slowly, he went deeper, your eyes watering as you took him as far as you could without gagging.

His thrusts lost their strict rhythm as Clint got closer to his release, eyelids fluttering shut as he fucked your tight mouth. His thighs trembled beneath your fingers, the strong muscles tightened and his moans grew in volume as the salty taste of his cum coated your tongue.

Pulling you to your feet, he wiped his thumb along your lips, cleaning the spilled drops, then kissed you bruisingly hard. You grunted as your back hit the wall but Clint made it up to you by sliding his hand beneath your waistband and drawing a finger through your slick folds. He hummed against your mouth, praisingly, swallowing every moan as he circled your clit.

You rolled your hips against his hand, the blissful warmth spreading through your body not enough to satisfy your desire. Catching his bottom lip between your teeth, you gave a playful tug, the look in your eyes anything but playful, and breathed, “Fuck me, Clint. Please.”

“Y/N…”

“I want you, Clint.” You sucked a mark on his neck, beneath his ear, and you feel his defences dropping with every passing second. “I know you want me too so take me.”

He didn’t argue that. He didn’t need to. Pushing your trousers down below your knees, Clint pulled your panties aside and slowly slid his thick length into your wet hole. Once you had adjusted to his size he thrust deep into you, his hands sliding around to your ass and squeezing hard enough to make you squeal.

The sound of your bodies together, of your low moans and groans, were drowned out by the noise of the bustling city. Your desperate cries as you chased your pleasure were indistinguishable from the cries of pain and loss that hung heavily like a cloud above the world.

Your core tightened as the tension inside you built. Clint was close, too. His thrusts were becoming frantic, no longer deep and slow but rough and desperate. You rubbed your clit until your pussy clenched around his cock, orgasm wracking your body and simultaneously pushing him over the edge.

Breathing heavily, you clung to Clint and buried your head in his chest. His hand snaked up your back and tangled itself in your hair, pulling you closer to him. You lost yourself in the beating of his heart, clinging to each other. You were together but somehow still alone in the world.

He finally pulled out of you, your combined juices dripping down the inside of your leg. As you slowly untangled yourselves from one another, tugging your clothes back into place, you couldn’t meet his eyes because you know what you’ll see. The pain, the loss. It had been three years since The Decimation but the shadow still hung heavily over life, tainting every pleasurable moment with sadness and guilt for what you were trying to leave behind.

Clint brushed his lips over yours, softer than any touch you’d shared. His forehead resting against yours, he muttered, “I hope you catch your man, Y/N.”

With that, he threw up his hood and walked away, disappearing into the night.

Chapter Text

You overheard it in a bar.

It was the kind of bar that anyone who worked for the law would be stupid to enter. The local gangs and cartels stowed their weapons at the door and gathered in temporary truce to sample a selection of the highest quality alcohol, drugs and prostitutes. Girls in their laps or between their legs on their knees, these powerful men bartered deals for the latest weapons and made shaky alliances which lasted only as long as the drinks kept flowing.

Under normal circumstances, you would never have dreamed of entering a place like this. However, your investigation had hit a wall and you needed new intel. If you didn’t get a tip on his location soon, you would lose Ronin forever. This was the best, the only, place to get it and you were desperate enough to risk being caught out as a detective.

The only saving grace was that you were new in town and, dressed up to the nines as you were, the men around you - viewing the world through a drunken, drug fuelled haze - focused their attention on very specific parts of your body. Men could be so easily distracted by a small amount of skin. The chances that they discovered you were law enforcement were slim enough to risk the grisly end which would come if they ever did.

Thankfully, news travelled fast here and there was one tantalising piece of information making its way around the tables, passing from group to group at an unparalleled rate. That elusive tip you’d been hunting came at just the right time, less than ten minutes after stepping foot into the extravagant parlour.

He’d taken a child.

The people here weren’t stupid. Ronin was gaining a name for himself in the underworld. After he’d arrived in town, all the major gangs and cartels had gone deep underground in the desperate attempt to avoid being the subjects of another of his massacres. It had been quiet for weeks now, the biggest lull in criminal activity that the city had seen for decades, with only the bravest venturing out to this neutral ground to share news of the lone samurai.

However, now apparently tired of waiting, Ronin had taken the child of the area’s largest cartel’s boss and was using him as bait to pull the entire gang out of hiding, knowing they would come for him. It was almost too audacious to believe but you knew it was the truth. You’d seen the fear in the man’s eyes as he’d shared the news. The anger.

Moral codes were hard to come by in places like this but there were still codes of honour. Twisted, highly selective rules but rules nonetheless. Children were absolutely not fair game and anyone who dared to cross that line did so at their own risk. It was practically a death wish.

Death would come, you were certain. However, it wouldn’t be to Ronin. Whichever gang found him, because one would find him, was going to find themselves in the centre of a ruthless massacre. Not even a righteous army of professional killers was a match for Ronin. Of that you were sure.

You left almost immediately after, narrowly escaping the attentions of a group of low level drug dealers. Certain no one was listening, you called your supervisor to rely the information. However, he did not receive it well.

“They’re criminals, detective. We don’t help them or risk the lives of our officers on gossip. A few dead drug lords isn’t going to be a loss for anyone.”

“But the child,” you tried, practically pleading.

“Drop it, Y/N. Don’t get involved in things that are outside your remit. Report tomorrow afternoon for a briefing.”

“Yes, sir,” you grumbled, closing the phone before slumping against the hard, uneven wall. You were a detective. You were supposed to help people. It didn’t matter whether they were criminals or not. The law was meant to be indiscriminate. Enough people had been lost during The Decimation and you’d sworn to help all those that survived, regardless of whether they deserved it or not.

So, against a direct order, you returned to your hotel and began calling around to investigate the rumours.

If Ronin had moved into kidnapping, risking the life of a child to achieve his goals, that meant he’d let go of another strand of his humanity. You’d always believed, or hoped beyond reason, that there was some part of him which was still good. That his righteous anger against the world was limited towards those who did wrong. However, now you couldn’t be so sure.

It didn’t take long to trace him. You’d already been following his movements here and it only took a small leap to find him. To others, the trail of clues might seem sloppy. Like he was losing his touch. You knew better, though. He wanted to be found. That was the entire point of this exercise, after all.

He was holed up in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city. They weren’t an unusual sight. Huge, brick buildings stretched out in long rows, each practically identical to the others save for the tacky, flickering signs above the doors. The lights of the city shimmered in the distance, lighting the sky and blocking the stars. Sounds of far away sirens drifted on the wind, a far cry from the empty silence around here.

There was less deduction and more an educated guess when it came to deciding which warehouse he had made his own. There was one building, far more run down than the others. The metal window bars were thick with rust, the bricks crumbling as vines began to grow through the mortar which held them together. The only light came from within the building, shining bright up above, tempting people in like moths to a flame.

The metal door creaked as you pushed it open, using your entire body weight to shift the thick, heavy door. The sharp sound of the corner scraping against the concrete echoed up the stairwell, no doubt alerting Ronin to your presence. It didn’t matter, really. He must already have known you were there. Throughout the entire walk to this warehouse, you’d felt the distinct burning of eyes on you from above. No, he definitely knew you were there now.

You reached down to grab your gun from your waistband and swore under your breath. In your haste, you’d left your weapon in the hotel room. Stupid. Reckless. But your thoughts remained on the child, not on your own safety. They were no doubt scared out of their mind and you would die before leaving them to suffer.

A disconcerting silence surrounded you as you climbed the stairs. The only sound of movement came from near the ceiling but no person could be that high, balanced on such thin cross beams without losing their balance. It was ridiculous. You put it down to bats, as if that would make you feel better.

Your muscles were tense, coiled tightly, prepared for a surprise attack which hadn’t yet come. If you didn’t know better, it was almost like Ronin was luring you to the child. Perhaps he wanted to give you hope. Maybe he was waiting to kill you in front of the child. Or he might really have wanted you to save the child, to get them out of there before the true massacre began.

You pushed the thought aside. You couldn’t risk allowing yourself to think that way. To give yourself hope that there may truly be a man inside Ronin who wanted to stop, who wanted to be saved.

Well aware of the vulnerable position you were in, you stopped and waited for him to come out and face you. However, after an entire minute of waiting there was still no sign nor sound of him. You expanded your attention to your surroundings, tuning in and listening for the quietest sound. Then you heard it.

A child screaming.

You raced towards the sound, tripping over your feet as you rounded a corner. There would be a thick bruise on your knee tomorrow, assuming you lived long enough to see another sunrise, but you didn’t let the searing pain stop you. All pretence of being sneaky thrown aside, you stormed down the hallway, pushing harder and harder as you heard the child shout, “No, no!”

The door was locked but you were certain this was the room. With a pin from your hair, you crouched down and picked the lock in record time. Even unlocked, the door was in too bad a state to push open but a carefully places kick was finally enough to get it open.

Braced for the worst, you were surprised to find the child sat on a tatty sofa, headphones on, swearing at a game on the TV. Unaware of your sense of urgency, the young boy looked over at you curiously before turning his attention back to the game.

Around him, there were food packets littering the sofa. Crumbs and scraps of food covered the cushions and floor. His hair was greasy as if not washed for a few days but that was hardly an unusual sight for a teenage boy. Aside from an irritated expression at being interrupted during what appeared to be a boss level, he seemed completely fine.

You crouched down in front of him, blocking his view of the TV and knocking the headphones off his head. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

He stared blankly at you, either not understanding or too busy wondering why a strange woman had broken into his room to register the words. Another check yielded no evidence of injury but that didn’t mean you had the time to sit around.

Gesturing towards the door, you said urgently, “We need to leave. Vamos. Now.”

Lamenting having to leave his game, the boy eventually did as you said and left. However, the moment you were in the hallway, you could hear footsteps coming at you from both directions as they stormed the building. Shouts from down below, a mix of many languages, each more aggressive than the last as the men demanded the return of the child.

You pushed the boy towards the stairs and urged him to go, well aware that even his safe return wouldn’t stop them from seeking out Ronin and finding you instead. Unarmed and pretty much out of ideas already, you sprinted the other direction to the child in the hope that you might find somewhere you could hide or, if miracles were real, perhaps even a way out of here.

Luck was, however, not on your side.

The room you chose to enter was a complete dead end. A window looked out on the other warehouses but the drop was far too high to risk. With your only exit the door through which you’d just come, you were trapped.

For someone whose life was in the balance, you were remarkably calm. Sure, your pulse was racing. You could hardly breathe after pushing your body for that quick sprint and your muscles were screaming out but your mind was clear. You would face death with dignity and join your family, wherever they were now.

Drawing on your strength, praying that this calm would hold in your heart, you stepped towards the door and went to meet your fate. However, before your foot had even crossed the threshold, a heavy hand shoved your shoulder and pushed you back into the darkness of the room. The door was slammed shut behind you and all you could do was sit there and wait as the deafening sounds of bullets and screams slowly died away.

A few seconds passed before the door reopened, a large figure dark against the artificial lights. The katana in his hand was dripping blood, the thick red liquid joining the large pool on the ground. The streaks on Ronin’s hood were shining, shimmering like liquid gold. Only his eyes could be seen but from this distance, with the light as it was, you couldn’t make out their colour. Just that they studied you with curiosity, not menace.

Ronin wiped his blade and sheathed it behind his shoulder, still not tearing his gaze from you. He was searching you for weapons, no doubt believing you to have one hidden beneath your thin jacket. After all, no-one would be stupid enough to come here unarmed. The lines around his eyes softened slightly and for a brief moment you thought you caught a flash of amusement, an almost familiar interest, in his gaze. Whatever you’d seen quickly vanished beneath a fine tuned mask of feigned indifference. “You need to leave.”

“You didn’t hurt the boy.” It was a statement but the question in your tone was obvious. Why?

He seemed hesitant to answer your question but did so anyway. “There are some lines even I can’t cross.”

Perhaps you had been right about him all along. Beneath all that pain and anger, there was a man that was hurting. A decent man who had lost his way. Maybe he wanted to change but didn’t know how to go back. It wouldn’t be easy but it was possible. People reformed every day. He could too.

“You can stop this. There are other ways…”

Ronin laughed, harsh and cold and desperate. He wanted to believe you, you could sense it. He was reaching out to you. A heavy, deliberate step as he crossed the threshold to the room, Ronin stalked across the space, backing you into a far corner. “There is no other way, detective.”

“You don’t have to keep doing this,” you whispered, your earlier courage evaporating. The air of danger about Ronin was tangible. Gone was the earlier curiosity, the amusement. Now he regarded you as a problem, one that was easily solved. Just another victim of the night.

Trapped between Ronin and the solid wall behind you, you had nowhere left to go. If you tried to run for the door, he would catch you. If you tried to fight, he would kill you.

You closed your eyes. Something about Ronin was far more unnerving that facing down an entire band of pissed off mobsters. An unpredictability that made him more dangerous than any sane man. He’d lost so much, had been broken into so many pieces that pulling himself back together in any recognisable form was a distant impossibility.

He was right against you now. His body pressed against yours, warm, all encompassing as he hid you from the world. It was just the two of you here, nothing else mattered. In this tight corner, caught in the shadows, the limbo between his world and yours.

An arm over your chest kept you from moving; the strength he possessed was unimaginable. You were completely at his mercy. “Are you scared, detective?"

There was no point lying to him. This close up, he would be able to tell anyway. "Yes.”

“Good. Perhaps you’ll finally understand that this is no place for you."

You shuddered at the sudden coldness on your cheek, a sharp blade scraping down your flesh and landing directly over your pulse point. The pressure wasn’t enough to break your skin but the threat was ever present. One wrong move and that would be it for you.

Turning your head away from him, the weight of his arm on your chest making it difficult to draw even a short, shaky breath, you felt a cool tear roll down your cheek. No doubt a product of your panicked mind but you were certain you felt the knife against your skin lift ever so slightly. "Please, Ronin, you don’t have to do this.”

“I know. And I’m not going to,” he muttered, stepping away. Ronin turned his back to you, hiding his expression but the indecision was clear in his voice. You were a loose thread and leaving you hanging, letting you go free, was dangerous. Stupid, even. “Go home, detective. Stopping me won’t bring them back.”

You lifted a hand to your neck, rubbing the spot where the cold blade had nearly broken your skin. “Murdering people won’t bring back your family either.”

“No but it’s fun,” Ronin replied, less than convincingly. “You won’t stop me, detective. I have to do this. Walk away before it kills you. Next time, I might not be around to save you.”

Your quick retort died on your lips. There was no denying, you had needed saving. Unarmed, stupidly arrogant, you’d put yourself in a dangerous position. Before The Decimation, you would never have risked your life so recklessly but what reason did you have to be careful now that you family were lost? Tonight, Ronin had saved your life and that left you in a very difficult position.

“Thank you.” Your whisper was so quiet that you half wondered whether Ronin had heard it at all. You called his name, surprised when he actually paused in the doorway. “I won’t stop, either. I understand why you do this but I can’t let you continue. If I stand by and let you murder these people then…”

The unspoken words hung heavily in the air. Then I’d be no better than you.

“Can’t become the monster you’re trying to fight, right?” he asked. “Your idealism is going to get you killed, Y/N.”

With that, Ronin strode out the room, disappearing into the night. You should have chased after him, done something to stop him leaving, but you were too distracted by his words. For one, he’d known your name. Ronin had known your name. Perhaps it wasn’t a surprise. He was highly intelligent. He knew he was being hunted. You would have been more shocked if he hadn’t have known you were one of the team trying to bring him down. But it was more than that.

Those words, those specific words, had been spoken with intention. Ronin had intended them to make an impact and they had certainly hit their mark. Your memories of that night were blurred from alcohol and disgust over the horrors of the crime scene you’d been investigating but those particular words shone through loud and clear.

Idealism. That’s cute.

We have to hold on to our ideals or we become the monsters we’re trying to fight.

Your legs gave way beneath you and you hit the ground with a loud thud, the chill you felt in your chest completely numbing you to the pain. Ronin was Clint. Clint, the broken man. Ronin, the ruthless murderer. One in the same.

To say that this was a fucking disaster was the understatement of the century.

Chapter Text

You pounded down the street, desperate not to lose sight of the golden striped hood in the crowd around you. In a perfect world, the masses would have parted and made way for you and your team. However, this was far from a perfect world and not a single person so much as looked up from their phones (save for in horrified disbelief when you shoved them aside).

Puddles splashed up beneath your heavy steps, the cold water seeping in through the thin leg of your trousers. The wet fabric clung to your skin, heavy and uncomfortable but not enough to slow you down. Desperation to catch Ronin far outweighed the discomfort of pushing on through the torrential downpour.

It was months since you’d heard anything more than a whisper of his movements. After the kidnapping and the massacre that followed, Ronin completely dropped off the grid. All sorts of rumours had circulated, postulating what could possibly have caused him to go underground.

Death was the favourite. Odds on that were 2:1 around the office. Most figured that Ronin had finally met his match and the next time you saw him would be in a shallow grave. There were those in the team that took far too much pleasure from that idea. You weren’t one of them.

Sometimes, though, you couldn’t help but think that his death would simplify matters. Nobody knew that you had spoken to Ronin, let alone slept with him - a secret you most certainly wished to take to the grave. If anyone found out, your career would be over. It didn’t matter how you framed it.

So, yes, when Ronin had all but disappeared a weight had lifted from your chest. His name stopped appearing on the office reports and it was almost as if his entire existence had been forgotten. Even some of the investigation files vanished, his name wiped from several important documents and databases.

You should have let it drop like everyone else but you didn’t. With no case to focus on, you felt the hole in your chest grow larger every day. The disconnect you felt between you and the world intensified, the overwhelming sensation of drifting through a sea of disillusioned faces and losing yourself in the emptiness almost too much to bear.

You had nothing else. You needed Ronin and you knew he needed you too.

The others knew about your obsession with the rogue vigilante. How could they not? They were beginning to worry, to watch a little more closely and take a greater care in examining your cases. They saw you were slipping. It was only a matter of time before they realised just how far you’d fallen.

When word had come that Ronin had been spotted in your own city, you’d dropped everything to find him. Less than two hours later here you were, adrenaline pumping through your veins, on the edge of exhaustion as you chased him through the city centre.

“Where did he go?” your deputy asked, his eyes frantically scanning the crowd for any sight of Ronin. It was a foolhardy exercise; if Ronin wanted to disappear then he would without leaving any clues. Realising as much, he and the others took a moment to double over and catch their breath.

“There! In the mall! I’ll take the front. Everyone else split up and block the exits,” you yelled over the thundering storm. The rain trickled down your face, dripped from the tip of your nose and clung to your eyelashes until you could barely see. The hairs on the back of your neck stood high as the storm electrified the air. “Stop Ronin from leaving the building at all costs.”

Your deputies stared open mouthed, confused by your orders. Even now Ronin was dangerous, deadly. The investigation had dragged on for too long and funding was dwindling after his disappearance; your numbers were smaller than ever and breaking ranks to cover the exits would leave everyone alone and without backup. This was a risky move but there were no other options.

Through gritted teeth, aware that every second spent arguing was another second in Ronin’s favour, you hissed, “Now!”

They scrambled away, their mumbled objections lost in the hustle of the crowd. You waited in position, muscles aching as you clenched them tight against the cold, until your team were out of sight. Against all sense, you removed your radio and set it down on the ground. Then, after a quick check to ensure you weren’t being watched, you turned on your heels and slunk down a darkened alley.

A foul stench of vomit and rotten food burnt your nostrils, churned your stomach and left you gagging. It was almost enough to turn you back around, to convince you to drop this once and for all, but you proceeded nonetheless. Taking short breaths through your mouth, covering your nose with the soaked fabric of your coat, you crept forward into the shadows.

The ground was soft beneath your feet; you tried hard not to think why and ignore the squelch of something decidedly not concrete as you closed in on him. Quietly, barely audible over the rain, you said, “I know you’re here.”

No answer came your way, not that you’d been stupid enough to expect one. Instead, you simply took another few steps into the darkness and waited for a sign, anything to prove you weren’t alone. You closed your eyes and listened, through the interference of the rain and thunder, usually a symphony you loved to hear but today nothing more than an irritance, for him.

A ragged breath to your left. There. You’d found him.

You waited for the panicked skuttle of movement, a desperate attempt to escape capture no doubt, but there was nothing. Merely another strained breath, a sharp hiss through the teeth followed by a metallic clattering as something hit the cold, hard ground.

Fingers twitching on the grip of your gun, you rounded an overflowing skip to where Ronin was hiding. Even in the dim light, he was obviously in bad shape. You couldn’t make out his expression beneath the cover of his hood. His leg, though, was bent at an unnatural angle, the slabs on the ground around him glimmered red beneath the moon.

“Good job. You caught me.” Ronin groaned, the tiny readjustment he made to face you causing him immense pain. Clearly a glutton for pain and punishment, he stretched his arms out and offered you his wrists. Blood dripped from his fingers, his hands trembling as his bit back whatever curse was about to fall from his broken lips. “Take me in, detective.”

You couldn’t believe what you were hearing. “You want me to arrest you?”

“You’ve know what I’ve done. Don’t pretend you don’t want to see me behind bars. Take me there.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. Ronin wasn’t supposed to just give in, to surrender without a fight. He wasn’t supposed to be weak. This wasn’t how it was meant to be at all.

“Get up,” you ordered. You grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. You ducked down beneath his arm to balance it across your shoulder, grateful for the heavy rain as it washed away the warm blood that trickled down your neck. Ronin was heavy, barely able to stand straight and support any of his own weight, but you pushed through.

“What are you doing?"

"You’re injured. I’m going to patch you up.”

“Why?”

If anyone found out that you were helping a fugitive, the fugitive as far as Interpol were concerned, then that would be it for you. The best case was you’d simply lose your job. The worst case was you’d go to prison for the rest of your days, framed as an accomplice to his terrible crimes. Neither was an inviting option but you had no other choice. You couldn’t leave him now, not when he was in such a terrible state.

Knowing you were going to regret this, you said, “Shut up and let me help you.”

Your apartment was barely a block away but the trek back was the longest few minutes of your entire life. Sirens wailed in the distance, a constant reminder of everything you were risking for a man you were meant to be hunting. They grew louder with every passing second but were still far enough away to know you were safe - for now.

Three flights of stairs weren’t easy with a deadweight on your side but you persevered all the way to your apartment. The keys scratched the metal around the lock as you fumbled. When you finally managed to unlock it, you stepped inside then kicked the door shut behind you, the impact shaking the thin adjoining walls.

Barely five seconds later, there was a frantic knocking on your door: Mrs Fisher, the little old lady next door who didn’t seem to realise the world had moved out of the 50s. “Do you have any idea what time it is, Miss L/N? The hours you keep, no respectable woman should be up at this time!”

“Then why are you?” you shouted back.

She spluttered on the other side of the door before settling on, “I am merely trying to protect you young people from the dangers of the world.”

“You’re a little too late for that. Go to bed, Mrs Fisher. Oh, and if you hear noises, don’t panic. It’s just me having a wild, passionate affair with a married man. He only makes me scream when I ask.” You waited a moment for her reply but none came. You weren’t surprised. However, victorious as you felt now, you knew you’d pay for the comments the next time she caught you alone and gave you another of her unbearably dull talks.

Ronin still an uncomfortable weight on your shoulder, you shifted beneath his arm and hissed, “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“I can hear you smirking. Sit down. Try not to bleed out on my sofa,” you grumbled, hovering long enough to see Ronin set himself down before turning your back on him. You threw your soaked coat over the back of a chair, relieved to be free of clinging fabric, then headed to the kitchen.

“Do you trust me, Y/N?”

You wanted to say yes. You really did. You wanted to believe that you were right about Ronin and that there was still a decent man, the family man that Clint had once been, inside but you’d seen what he was capable of. Over and over again, he killed mercilessly and he’d never once explicitly expressed remorse for any of his actions.

He was a dangerous man and you were playing a dangerous game. You couldn’t stay away. It was beyond an obsession, now. You wanted to be the one to fix him, to bring him out of the darkness and find the man he’d been before. To heal his heart and fill the hole in your own. Your selfish desire made you so desperate to see good that was no longer there that you were willing to forgive the unforgivable.

Deep down, you knew that naive hope was what was keeping you alive. As it was, you currently weren’t a threat to Ronin. He knew you wanted to help him, whether he accepted it or not. You’d brought him to your home when any sane person, let alone a servant of the law, would hand him straight over to the police. For now, while a minor irritation to his grand murder plan, you weren’t a threat.

The moment that changed, the second you showed a sign of losing faith in him, it would be over for you. For him, too, you suspected. So, yes, your hope was keeping you alive in more ways than one but it didn’t mean you were going to let it blind you completely.

You eyed the knives in the chopping block but decided against grabbing one. This situation was delicate enough as it was without introducing any other variables, especially ones so deadly.

Collecting the first aid supplies, a bowl of warm water precariously balanced under your arm, you returned to the living room and perched on the coffee table beside Ronin. His eyelids had drifted shut but shot open when you accidentally knocked his knee. He watched you carefully as he grabbed the painkillers from your hands and swallowed them dry.

Strong as they were, they wouldn’t kick in for a good ten minutes so you handed him a bottle of whiskey to dull the pain until then. He drank straight from the bottle, a hiss escaping his lips as the liquid burned his throat. Ronin settled back into the cushion, pretending that the long swig had helped, and let the bottle rest against his thigh.

Eyes drifting shut again, he muttered, “You didn’t answer my question. Do you trust me?”

“No. I don’t,” you answered honestly. It was harder to admit than you cared to dwell on. “Do you trust me?”

“Should I?”

“No, I suppose not. Sit up and take off your coat.”

If Ronin was surprised by your sharp tone, he didn’t show it. He leant forward and made an attempt to pull of his coat but failed miserably. You caught the bottle of whiskey before it hit the ground then sit it aside before assisting him. The thick fabric of his coat clung to his body, drenched with blood (his or others’ you weren’t sure but it was warm and clearly fresh, staining your hands red).

You continued to peel layers of bloodsoaked fabric away from his skin until none remained and his chest was bare. In other circumstances you might have taken the time to appreciate his physique. Ronin was, after all, an incredibly attractive man and his body showed the clear signs of a man who trained hard and pushed himself beyond what should be possible in the name of a far from valiant cause.

However, tonight, you had greater concerns than running your fingers over his scars and feeling his tight muscles tremble beneath your touch. There was no time to waste in gentleness or exploration. Ronin was barely clinging to consciousness. He’d lost a lot of blood and the closer you examined his injuries the worse they became.

Practically every inch of Ronin’s skin was blackened with bruises, swollen lumps soft to the touch despite the painkillers and alcohol. His injuries weren’t clean, either. The blades that cut him were jagged and had torn more of his skin than a usual weapon might. They were nasty wounds, the kind that required far greater medical skills than you possessed.

However, taking him to the hospital was out of the question. They’d arrest him the moment he stepped through the door. You couldn’t let that happen. All your dirty secrets would come to light and your life would be over. It was self preservation, keeping Ronin out of jail. So long as he was free, so where you. There was nothing else to it.

“What happened to you?” you asked, refocusing on the task at hand. With minimal movement on his part, you positioned yourself beside him and began to clean his chest. Since he flinched beneath every touch no matter how gentle you were, you moved quickly and efficiently with all the pressure you dared to remove the blood and dirt from his skin. You’d barely finished one arm before the water became too dirty to continue using.

“Got in a fight. You think this is bad then you should see the other guy.” Ronin coughed, not fast enough to wipe the blood from the corner of his mouth. You reached up and ran your thumb over his lips, effectively silencing the man.

It wasn’t pain you saw on his face; it was something far worse. Hope. You saw him, the broken hearted man, unforgivable in everyone’s eyes but your own. It was barely a flicker, a burning beacon which over the years had been forgotten and left to die, yet that single spark continued to shine. It was reaching out to you, he was reaching out to you. So close to making that single connection that would save you both from the freefall into madness, the moment snapped and his guard shot straight back up.

Ronin pulled away, gaze fixed on the ground. He grabbed a bandage from the table and wrapped it haphazardly around his wrist, the white gauze immediately turning pink. As he fiddled with the tape to fasten it in place, he said, “I’m sure your colleagues will find the body in the morning.”

“Let me.” Your fingers were trembling too, although for an entirely different reason, but you had far more luck taping the bandage into place. The rest of his wounds needed some kind of stitches; not a pleasant thought but he’d lost too much blood already to risk more. “You shouldn’t joke about things like that.”

He caught your hand before you could grab the needle and thread and said sharply, “I’m not joking, detective. I’m just trying to remind you exactly who you have sat on your sofa.”

“I know who I’ve got sat on my sofa. It’s Clint Barton. Avenger. Legendary marksman. A good, decent man."

He stiffened, fingers digging hard enough into your wrist to bruise. His eyes darted towards the door and the window. The latter was closer but you were on the third floor and his body likely wouldn’t survive the drop as it was. Chances were you’d beat him to the door, too.

You rest your hand on top of his, careful to avoid putting pressure on the broken skin. Ronin could easily have pulled away if that was what he truly wanted to do. He didn’t. Wasting no time, you assured him, "No-one else knows. Just me.”

“How did you find out?”

“I put the pieces together. You have friends in high places, Clint. They’re wiping the records. Once I worked out what they were doing, all it took was a little digging and some creative reasoning to work out exactly who you were.”

“Exactly. Who I was.” He threw your hand aside and shook his head despairingly. Clint reached out for the bottle of whiskey but changed his mind. “I’m not that person anymore, Y/N. That man, with his beautiful wife and kids, died with everyone else when Thanos snapped half the universe out of existence.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Then you are more stupid than I thought.” He huffed, a harsh laugh that quickly descended into breathy coughs. Clint held up a hand to stop you from doing anything to help.

You realised your earlier assessment was accurate: he really was a glutton for punishment. He wanted to feel the pain. Perhaps that was all he had left. It didn’t have to be, though, and you were determined to prove that to him. “Let me sew you up.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you aren’t, Clint."

Relaxed was not quite how you’d describe him as Clint sat back into the sofa and closed his eyes, preparing himself for an inexperienced medical novice patch him back together. He held dangerously still as you cleaned and closed the worst of his wounds; multiple times you checked to see that he was actually breathing.

Once you’d bandaged him up and covered the worst of the damage, you helped Clint with his shirt and jacket. He resisted the help to begin however eventually relented, unwilling to risk pulling a stitch or ten for the sake of his pride. It was a silent procedure, neither one of you brave enough to speak your minds.

A brief examination of his lower half showed far fewer wounds. The worst injury was on his left leg which, as you’d noted before, stuck out at an odd angle. You weren’t brave enough to watch him click his dislocated knee back into place. The sound alone was horrible. You imagined the visual was far worse.

Clint carefully pushed himself up from the sofa and caught your hand, fingers barely brushing yours as he turned you back towards him. An unfamiliar intensity shone from his eyes, the kind that would have a sensible person running. It held you in place, though, powerless. "I should go.”

“You don’t have to,” you whispered, heart racing in your throat as your fingers locked with his. You were treading a dangerous path, one that could only lead to destruction and yet you couldn’t bring yourself to care. “Please don’t.”

“I have to. The cops will be looking for you. I can’t be here when they come.”

You had completely forgotten about your team, how you’d left them in the rain without warning. When you’d left your radio on the ground, you hadn’t considered the consequences of that action. How it might look. What it would say. Maybe, if you were lucky, they’d believe Ronin had taken you with him. Maybe they’d guess the truth; that you’d sought him out, abandoned your duty and run away with a vigilante. Either way, there was no coming back from this now.

“You can’t go on like this, Clint,” you said, lifting a hand to his cheek and tracing one of the many scratches on his face. The way in which he wore his pain, his dark desperation, the emptiness that called to your soul, it was beautiful. He was beautiful. You wondered how anyone could ever call him a monster. “You’ll get yourself killed."

"That’s the job. Let me go, sugar. Please. I can’t lose anyone else.”

“You aren’t going to lose me, Clint. Let me save you.” You brushed your lips over his, stomach leaping when his hand curled around your neck and drew you in for another. Clint deepened the kiss, backing you up until your back hit the wall. You raked your fingers through his hair, tried to pull him close, but he pressed his hand to your shoulder and stepped back. The centimetres between you felt like miles.

“It’s too late for me, Y/N. I’m sorry.”

“What are you saying? Clint? What do you mean?”

He cupped your face kissed you again, soft and slow. His lips lingered, forehead pressed against yours, savouring your taste and the gentle warmth of your breath on his cheek. Committing you to memory. “It’s too late for me, sugar, but you can still have a life. Let me save you.”

It all happened so fast.

Clint reached down and stole the gun from your waistband. He pushed the barrel against your side, the cold metal sending a shiver up your spine. You looked up into his eyes, scared and confused. Then a sharp pinch and a burning sensation. An explosion in your abdomen, the most intense pain you’d ever felt, blinding and entirely overwhelming.

He caught you as your legs gave way, wrapping an arm around your waist to set you carefully on the ground. You were breathing erratically, struggling to draw in air with your chest so tight. You could barely think. It didn’t even occur to you to shout for help. The entire world was growing fuzzy around the edges, slipping out of focus. Everything except the face before you, that gorgeous face with those sad, sad eyes. “Clint… Clint, I…”

“It’s okay. It’s alright, you’ll be fine. Keep your hand right here,” Clint soothed, pressing your hand over the bleeding wound. He pushed the hair from your face, warm blood, your blood, smearing across your skin then kissed your forehead. His voice sounded far away, distant both physically and emotionally. “I wish things could have been different but this is for the best. You can move on now. Forget me, sugar. You’ll have a better life without me in it, fucking it up and dragging you down. It’s for the best. Goodbye, Y/N.”

By the time you’d drawn the strength to respond, he was already gone.