Pairing: Clint Barton/Natasha Romanov
Notes: The title of this has been culled from the Buddy Wakefield poem of the same name, and this story could not have been produced without: fuck-it-fire-everything, who handily provided me with the soundtrack that got me through; sirona_gs, who checked my Clint characterization with her expert eye; postcardmystery, who is, as ever, my better half in all things fiction and...nope, in all things period, actually; and, of course, Marie, who created the gorgeous piece of art that inspired half of this tale and THEN the un-be-fucking-lievable illustration for the story itself. You guys are the best people on earth, and I seriously would not have gotten through this without you.
Summary: It's not about being unmade; it's about remaking, one aching step at a time.
I grappled, in writing this story, with how on earth I was going to manage the trigger warnings I know it requires. In the end, I've decided to do it this way, since I think those warnings merit some explanation, both of where they're coming from and why I decided to write this in the first place. This explanation contains spoilers for the story, and thus can be found in the endnotes on Ao3, and, additionally, under this cut.
This is a story about the aftermath of brainwashing and memory wiping; to put it another way, it is a story about recovery, a story about losing control. As such, though there is absolutely no non-consensual sex taking place in this tale, there are clear and inherent parallels to a rape narrative. As someone who is herself struggling toward the word survivor, I recognize those parallels intimately, and have dealt with them with as much honesty and respect as I know how. There are, in this story, unstated but clearly apparent manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder; there is a very vivid nightmare sequence; there are any number of moments that deal with the ever-shifting landscape of what "I'm okay," can mean, or come to mean. Because some of the memory loss dealt with herein revolves around a sexual relationship, there is also a scene where a sexual advance is stopped due to fear of lack of consent from both parties, and the physical relationship between the protagonists is very much hinged on making sure that consent is there for the rest of the story.
Of course, this is still a story about codependent assassins in love, hard-edged people who make their living on death. As such, there are additional things I must warn for--there are brief mentions of Clint's canonically abusive childhood, there is the use of ableist language both in dialogue and internal narrative, there are descriptions of the violence that is part and parcel of these character's lives. There is also the affectionate use of the word "bitch" from a male character to a female character who would self-identify as the same, and the use of the word "cunt" in the internal narration of a pornographic scene, because while I object to that word as a gendered insult, I refuse to ignore it's blunt beauty when it's used in context. And, of course, there is tenuous dance of affection between two deeply dangerous and fucked up people, though I'd make the argument that that's true of any love story, one way or another.
I knew I was going to have to write this from the moment I heard Natasha say, "You have to level out," in my first viewing of The Avengers. The first and most obvious of reason for that is simply that I needed to; writing this allowed me to explore and confront things I've long been dodging, and however it's received, I will always be grateful for having had the chance to have put it down on paper. The second, and really more important, reason is that I think there are stories that don't get told, concepts that feel too dangerous to acknowledge, parallels that hurt to draw and realities that we'd rather sweep under the rug. But I know that I yearn for these stories, hunger for them in a way I can't make clear--I know I find myself desperate to see people claw their way to steady ground, whatever might have thrown them off-course in the first place, whichever path they take to get there. If there are those of you out there who feel the same, I can only hope I have done this justice, and wish you all the safety, strength, and solidity in the world, wherever you may be in your struggle, and however long it might take you to level out. <3