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Title: Tangled Up In Blue (Chapter 2: I am a man of constant sorrow) (WiP - Ch.2 of ??)
Author: im_ridiculous
Fandom: Avengers - Clint/Natasha
Genre: AU, angst!crack
Rating: MA - for mature audiences. (Adult themes, lots of angst, vague-ish references to alcoholism and physical abuse, a smattering of f-words (not gratuitous, in my opinion. I swear they're earned!)
Length: ~2400
Disclaimer: I own nothing and no one. ... Except for Phil's bitchy little sister, and I don't think anyone else would want her anyway.
Thanks: You guys, themonkeytwin is the most amazing beta. Let's just all be very clear about that. This chapter was a freakin' nightmare and she stuck with me regardless and for that I am eternally grateful. Her suggestions are judicious and kind, and she is always right. Any and all remaining issues are all my own fault. Also, thanks to anillogicalmind for her encouragement and sympathy! And I think I've *just* squeezed this in in time to make a birthday dedication to anuna_81... because she's been one of the biggest cheerleaders for this stupidly slow series and I love her for it :)

Soundtrack: 'I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow' - Soggy Bottom Boys
Summary: It's a masochistic rite that insists on being observed. So he sings, and he remembers.
A/N: This is the slowest-written fic in the history of the interwebs. It's also a crazy, angsty, AU crack!fic, where Clint is a boozed-up country/folk musician running from a past that includes Natasha. Running to a future that includes her too? ... Time will tell.

It's been a long time between drinks, so here are some links:
The Prologue
Chapter 1

TUIB: Chapter 2 - I am a man of constant sorrow

He sits in the corner of the ballroom and seethes, cracking his neck against tension that’s turning flesh into stone.

He craves the camouflage of darkness and stale haze, protection from stark white cloth and overwrought bows and glittering centrepieces. He tries to focus on his guitar, straining to tune it over clattering cutlery and clinking glasses and strangers who talk their way through generic steak and chicken.

But there’s nowhere to hide. And when he looks down at hard-worn jeans and a least-gray t-shirt, at calloused hands ingrained with sweat and dust, he sees what they surely do: a stain and an intruder. Bad luck.

Someone calls out a toast to the bride and groom, and he raises his fifth beer in mocking salute to a happy couple whose open bar didn’t stretch to hard liquor; thinks that if Phil had told him that “you’re going to do me a favor” meant “you’re going to play at my little sister’s wedding”, then no debt and no loyalty and no hungover disorientation could ever have been enough to make him agree.

Of course, not telling him was all part of the plan, because for Phil, there could be no surviving this wedding on his own. Not the wedding of a younger sister who’d never forgiven him, who called him ‘her abject failure of a brother’. A sister Phil would never stop trying to make it up to.

And so Phil hadn’t said a word about any wedding. Not until they’d pulled into town and he’d been installed in a motel and Phil had taken his keys and driven away, muttering “you owe me” and “you think I’m feelin’ good about this?” and “but if she thinks I’m gonna play Pachelbel’s-fuckin’-Canon she can forget it...”.

And he couldn’t say he was happy about it, but maybe he could have sucked it up if only that’d been all.

“The one thing she asked of me,” Phil had started, breaking a tense silence as they drove to the fancy hotel, “the one thing she wanted, on her wedding day, was that I show up, that I look respectable, and that I get the old band back together to play the party.”

...The band.

The whole band.

“My baby sister, Clint. The one thing she wanted.”

Friend or not, he would’ve let Phil have it then, would’ve told him he was so far out of line... Would have, if he hadn’t seen Phil’s face, pale and pleading, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. Hadn’t seen him look like that for a long time.

“Look, I can’t fuck this up, Clint. I just... I can’t. Please.”

And so he’d taken a deep breath and resolved to try: to be a man, to be a friend, to repay some of his debt.

And he’d got to his feet and offered his hand when the last member of the old trio had walked into the ballroom. And when it was shaken without comment he thought that was probably about the size of it and as good as could have been expected.

They used to say Ol’ Nick Fury hadn’t stopped drinking or scowling since the day he lost an eye in Vietnam. The drink had run dry long ago, but the scowl remained; so did the khaki, army-issue fatigue jacket, the black patch over an empty left eye socket, the banjo slung across his back. He played a mean banjo, did Ol’ Nick. Held a mean grudge too.

For a little while, years ago now, Phil had convinced himself that he could hold them together; that by sheer force of his will, the trio would actually amount to something. He’d called them ‘The Constant Sorrows’ and booked every slot he could find and told his surly bandmates they couldn’t say the name wasn’t appropriate.

And they were good. Real good, as a matter of fact. But no two men were ever less built to suffer each other’s constant company than the Old Man and him, and an optimistic violinist was never going to be enough to hold that storm at bay.

He hadn’t seen or heard from Ol’ Nick since it all fell apart.

Not until today.

And so he sits in the corner of the ballroom and seethes, downing another beer and pretending he can’t feel the Old Man’s disgust, breaking over him in waves like the high tide.

*****

Later, with music and beer swirling in his veins, he’s bulletproof.

Phil calls out song after song from a list the bride taped to the floor by his microphone. Each one’s familiar, many are old favourites, but he’d forgotten just how good they are, how full of joy they could sound, how they could make him feel even now, after everything.

They feel their way through the chords on instinct and muscle memory, his driving melodies against Phil’s soaring fiddle, the banjo running rings around them both. And it’s like the old days; those brief, truly good old days, when everything fit and the music was grace come to save them all.

The closing chords of ‘Chattahoochee’ fade and the wedding guests collapse against each other, laughing and whistling and catching their breath. But the bride marches up to the stage, grabs her brother’s elbow and pulls him aside. Her vicious stage whisper carries easily in the lull: “This is my wedding and it’s my husband’s favourite song! It’s just a song, Phil! A song he is famous for, by the way - what is his problem?! Just play it!”

Phil looks over at him, stricken. His expression is enough to confirm which song she means, and that skipping it was no accident.

He looks back at his friend, at the bride turning to her husband with a too-bright smile, at the crowd peering expectantly at the stage. Hot blood is throbbing in his ears, adrenalin surging, heart pounding, itching fingers already starting to trace the chords.

And he’s bulletproof. He’s bulletproof, and what the fuck is she? Nothing. No one. A million years ago.

The crowd is clapping now, slow but building, bored of waiting.

He drinks them in, their adulation. Gestures like he can’t hear, makes them scream louder.

And... fuck it.

Fuck it, and fuck her.

He smirks at Phil, frowning and concerned. At Nick, scowling and indifferent. It’s just a song.

He starts to play, picking out notes until the others find the key and join in, and for a clear, shining moment it’s ok. He turns to grin at Phil in triumph...

But then Nick starts up that banjo riff and the crowd howls in recognition. Triumph twists into bitterness and the tight-locked door deep inside of him is thrown wide open and he realises, too late, what he already knew. He’s wrong. It’s not just a song. It never was.

The rush of images starts, and this time there’s no stopping them.

It’s a blade he pulls across his own flesh, a litany of everything that ever mattered and was lost, a masochistic rite that insists on being observed.

The ballroom dissolves around him, and he surrenders to a black fog of grit and heat that billows up to surround and consume him, to carry him back there.

And he sings, and he remembers.

I am a man of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days


Long days on the road and campfires at night. Worn, smiling faces of the circus crew lit up in soft shades of green and red and yellow and blue. His heart singing when they echo the last line of each verse, tossing the words off their tongues like they were nothing.

The place where I was born and raised
The place where he was born and raised


The old man taught him the song, but hated to sing it. He’d laughed like a young man buzzed on beer will laugh. Pity in the old man’s eyes, trying to make him understand: be faithful in your sorrow when that’s the only way you have left to be loyal.

And he wants to tell the old man he’s sorry, that he understands now. But colored lights are shifting and swirling and the words pouring out of him, unbidden now, conjure another bar and another stage and another crowd.

For six long years, I’ve been in trouble
No pleasure here on earth I’ve found


An unremarkable open mic night, an unremarkable bar, an unremarkable town whose sheer lack of distinction made it the perfect location for a movie that eventually made a lot of money.

For in this world I’m bound to ramble

A man bought him a beer: how’d he like to be a star? Cruising through Manhattan in a flashy record executive’s custom red and gold convertible. A glass tower and a crystal tumbler of well-aged bourbon. Signing his recording contract with a pen worth more than everything he owned.

I have no friends to help me now

A tiny desert town shimmering before him as if through a heat haze, obscured by time and memory now. Arriving high on possibility and promise at the home of a famed and reclusive producer. First steps on the path to greatness.

Pretended reluctance in the bar that night. Teased and taunted, then gave them what they all wanted to hear.

Sweat and smoke and screaming girls. Heat from bodies rushing forward, pressing against the stage.

On another stage, in a ballroom a thousand miles away, he looks above the crowd to a bar that isn’t there.

And sees her, again, for the very first time.

So, it’s fare-thee-well, my own true lover
I never expect to see you again


Pale exposed arms and denim-clad ass and dark red hair tumbling in waves to her shoulders, glowing like flame in the reflected light. Elbows leaning on polished timber, right hand cupping her chin, face turned to him. Ghost of a smile on full lips.

Her eyes on him; the only girl in the bar not singing along.

Sidling up to her and asking why. Looking deep into those green eyes and turning on the charm and smiling the smile that should have been enough to make her melt, that had always been enough before.

It didn’t work.

“I don’t sing. It’d be something very special to make me sing.” She smiled, sickly-sweet. “And sadly, I just don’t think you’re that special.”

Turned back to her drink like that should have been enough to get rid of him, like it had always been enough before.

That didn’t work either.

For I’m bound to ride that northern railroad
Perhaps I’ll die upon this train


And he’s dancing with her again; hot, smooth skin under fingers, hips under palms, breasts against his chest. Swinging her around. Laughing in spite of herself. Pulling her close.

Tumbling and fracturing images: her face flushed - no - pale and falling. Fleeing. A barman steering him out into pale morning light. Leave well enough alone.

You can bury me in some deep valley

Heat and dust and agonisingly slow hours in a soundproof box. Songs worn out of meaning. Music bleached of all feeling. Mounting frustration and the inevitable explosion. Loading up his newly restored pickup for the escape. Pulling into a truckstop on the town limit. Finding her there in a greasy, butter-colored uniform. Changing his mind about leaving.

For many years where I may lay

Pieces of her. Dreams of Europe and South America and poetry and writing and life, all of it, out there, just waiting. Smart and interesting and overwhelming. Conversations over cold coffee long after midnight, a forgotten tray resting on her hip. Words and their weight, her sympathetic smile: you just can’t feel everything every time or you’ll wear it out; pretending gets you further, mostly. An album emerging out of the dirt.

And you may learn to love another

Out of town, hidden from the road by a towering mesa, a ridge looks out over the desert plateau.

He walked to the edge as the sun broke the horizon; sky like liquid gold, sand like hot coals.

She was beautiful and terrible and aflame, bathed in the red dawn. Achingly close, fingers digging into his shoulders. Green, green eyes.

When she kissed him, he was lost.

He knew it then: that like fire, she would consume him and he would let her. He wanted her to.

While I am sleeping in my grave

She flinched and he saw the bruises. His mouth pulled desperately to hers, like she was drowning and he was air.

He promised: if she’d let him, he’d take care of her. No one would hurt her.

He would never let her down.

The look that damn near broke his heart.

Maybe your friends think I’m just a stranger

She was frightened and that made him afraid. Held her. Told her he was almost finished in this godforsaken town. That he couldn’t leave it without her. That he wouldn’t.

That he loved her.

My face you never will see no more

Lightning spears overhead, the heavy sky splitting open in relief for the monsoon.

She stands on the ledge facing the desert plain, arms out wide, head thrown back to greet the oncoming storm.

But there is one promise that is given

Soaked and shivering in his arms, telling him, yes. “Yes I’ll come.”

I’ll meet you on God’s golden shore

Bile in his throat.

Through black fog, he can see it: night torn open by a crash louder than thunder, a flash brighter than lightning, a car flipping over and over before coming to rest against ancient, unmoved stone.

She had stilled against his chest. Fate sure had one helluva sense of dramatic timing.

He’ll meet you on God’s golden shore

It’s a shock to feel the dying note in his throat, and as suddenly as it started, the spell breaks and it’s over.

Phil and Nick beside him, but it’s a few seconds before he can remember where he is.

The details of the ballroom start filling back in, the bride and her groom whirling around the dance floor, wine flowing, people smiling, laughing. It’s all he can do to make it to the bathroom.

The litany complete, his miserable rite ends as it always does. He grips the porcelain near hard enough to break it and vomits beer and bile into the bowl, retching again and again until his muscles give way, as if his body could purge itself of the memory, of her.

He slumps to the floor. Wishes it could be that easy.

Comments

angela_n_hunt
Jan. 15th, 2013 03:44 pm (UTC)
LOL Got it.