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[avengers] gaze

galaxies in our halos and hands

galaxies in our halos and hands
rating: PG
characters: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff
pairings: slight Clint/Natasha
warnings: Injuries
summary: He has faith in miracles. The white horse and the woman who rides him can be nothing less. [Circus AU]

author's note: For videos of dressage, the type of riding that Natasha and San Domingo demonstrate, youtube is a great place to start. :)


Sometimes there are connections you can't explain, can't understand. Five months ago, watching Natasha examine the new horse, Clint had known there was a story there he'd never learn, a bond that he had no claim to. It was clear in the way that she had studied him, fingers running across the tangled forelock, hands cupped so she could blow into his nostrils. Maybe the pair had never met before, but the archer and aerialist could recognize kindred spirits when he saw them. After all, that was how he had loved Natasha before he even knew her name, one leg hanging off the tightrope, an apple in her hand the color of her hair and a laugh on her lips that he had wanted, suddenly, irrationally, to hear again.

There were always stories, not always good ones, not always bad, and Clint knew better than to think he had any right to hear them.

One night, he has the grace to see one instead.

---

It's never hard for a show to go into the red, no matter how good things look. Circuses are all about the performance and parade, after all, the razzle and dazzle. This year has been bad, worse than he's ever seen, and it's all come down to their last hauls to stay above the water. So when Clint hears a strangled cry from the direction of the temporary stables, his heart stops for more reasons than because he knows who is hurt.

She's holding her ankle, face twisted in pain, when he makes his way through the tents and trucks in the back yard to her side.

"Get back!" Marvin snaps, then realizes who it is and waves him through the circle of circus folk with an irritated scowl. "It's broken."

"I'm fine." Natasha grits, her white knuckles giving away her lie. "I can - fuck! Don't touch it!" She closes her eyes, lips pressed together to stop the hiss of agony.

"We're finished," one of the cirkys breathes in the shadows of the tent, echoing what everyone knows. Her act is one of the most popular with the children and women, drawing more than a small chunk of their tickets. If she can't perform tonight, perform in any of their remaining shows...

"You're not riding," Clint tells her brusquely, ignoring the fear in his gut to run calloused hands over the smooth silk of her shoes. Contrary as the mule they named after her, Natasha opens her eyes and stares at him, sweat rolling down her face. She knows what's at stake too.

"Just get me on a horse. Get me on San Domingo."

"Tasha-"

"Horse, Barton," she grinds out, her fingers digging into the straps of her slippers, and the lights of the fair catch in her hair like stars.

----

The Big Top quiets, the audience settling down in anticipation after the aerialists bow their way out. Miguel steps up onto his soapbox, turns as if he can meet the eyes of everyone watching him eagerly.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you have seen the best and the brightest, the most daring acts, the breath-taking thrills that this circus has to offer. And now I offer you our last act, and, truly, our most beautiful. Please, welcome the Ballerina and her partner, the White Ghost." He bows; the lights flash and run towards the back door, drawing the gazes of those watching. The music swells, the quiet dignity of the violins and cellos a marked contrast to the brash, pompous music of the other acts. For a moment there is only darkness in the tunnel and Clint's heart in his mouth.

Then Natasha enters, swept by San Domingo with gravid solemnity into the spotlights. Clint's breath catches when he sees her sitting across the gelding's back, the spangles of her costume glittering until she shines like the white horse that carries her. For a moment, even knowing how much pain she's in, even wondering how she can possibly pull this off, he thinks, she's beautiful.

And from the hushed inhalations from the audience, they do too.

This is not how the act goes, the circus folk know. Natasha's horseback gig has always been the trick riding, balancing on the wide rumps of the draft crosses, spinning and somersaulting from dappled back to dappled back. Not seated, not stationary, not still and serene as she is now. Clint doesn't have the answers, following her stately progress into the ring; he doesn't know what she will do. What he does know is that somehow the pair looks more alive, more connected than they ever were before; that through the flash and glitter there is something more real than anything he's seen when he holds her in his arms.

San Domingo canters to the center of the ring and comes to a halt, holding himself perfectly still. Astride his back Natasha appears to look beyond the circus-goers, into some distant field invisible to their eyes. But even from the shadows he catches the thin lines around her mouth, the beads of sweat making stray wisps stick to her cheeks.

Then the gelding begins to move again, and Clint forgets all thoughts of her injury.

He dances across the sandy expanse; that's the only word for it. Neck arched, head tucked, no reins to hold him steady or saddle to keep her in place, the white horse moves as if to the accompanying music. With no signal Clint can catch, he crosses to the edge of the ring in a smooth canter, seeming to flow sideways and forwards. Then, just before reaching the token barrier, he curves, stretches out until the length of his stride swallows up the ground even as he hangs in the air.

A pause, a careful parade in place, each hoof set exactly where it had been; a circle, a strut, forelegs snapping out impossibly far in front of him. As San Domingo rocks back on his haunches and rotates, rising with each quarter turn and lifting into the air, Clint takes a breath past the tightness in his throat.

Washed out in the pale glare of the tent lights, Natasha's face is beatific.

They dance, the rider and the horse, a lightness in their bodies unmatched by the gravity of their movements. Utterly entranced, the Big Top is completely quiet for the four minutes they move, free and real in the illusion of the spotlights.

At last, an eternity later, Natasha halts San Domingo in the center of the ring and untangles her hands from his mane, shifting them to her thighs as she inclines her head. The applause and cheers that follow when the spell is broken only make the gelding flick an ear forwards, his attention, like that of their watchers, focused entirely on the woman on his back. She smiles for her audience, the hair at her temples dark with sweat, and sends him forward, circling through the ring back to the back door.

As soon as they're in the safety of darkness, she leans forward and clutches Domingo's mane again with an agonized gasp. Clint's there with a dozen other people to help her down, to take her to the truck waiting outside and the hospital ten minutes away. Natasha doesn't seem to notice them, instead pressing her face into San Domingo's foam-flecked neck and slumping into the steady support of his body. Clint watches her lips move as they lift her off of the gelding's back into his arms.

Good boy. Good boy.

The horse curves his head around and blows into her limp hands as if he understands. And maybe he does; Clint believes in things he can't explain, in a ballerina of the air and ring who dances without a single step. He can believe in fate, too. Then someone grabs hold of San Domingo's halter, someone else pushes Barton towards the exit, and as the lights in the Big Top fade and are replaced by the pickup truck's brakes, Natasha feels just a little more real in his arms.


Comments

Oh, this is marvelous. The description is so well done that I can just see it. And really, just beautiful writing altogether.

Also, I love that they named a mule after Natasha. Ha! Thanks for the great Monday read!
Thank you! It's a very visual moment, so I'm really glad it came across well.

And yes, there's a mule out they named after her; I don't know why or when, but she's out there. :)

Thank you for reading!
there needs to be more circus AUs. this was wonderfully quiet and gorgeous.
I was skimming through the requests for the Secret Santa exchange last week and 'circus' kept coming up, so it appears my subconscious and other fans agree with you. :) Thank you very much!
Love love love. Awesome AUs are awesome. I love how Natasha can be sneaky awesome, but there is that element of performance there that she brings to the table in any incarnation.
\o/ Thank you so much! I've been learning indirectly about the circus for my work, so it seemed like a good AU to tackle. Especially since my muse was more than happy to cooperate. :)

And yeah, I think there are hidden depths to Natasha that most people don't see because they don't look, and depths that even those who know her don't always catch. I'm glad she stayed true to, well, herself!
Oh yay, Circus AU :) But this is wonderful, so quiet and meaningful - I love how you manage to create such a tangible link between the two of them despite limited dialogue, and a questionable closeness between the two of them. The imagery is beautifully painted, you really get a feel for what's happening here. Love this so much ♥
I really wondered how much of the relationship people might get out of this, what with them having three lines of actual exchange and so much of the focus being on the visual. You can guess that I'm delighted! :D Thank you very, very much for reading, and for such a lovely comment. <3
OH MY GOSH. You wrote a dressage fic. I am in the twelfth level of heaven.
You know what dressage is. This makes me deliriously happy. :D Win/win, then?

(Also, I fully intend to work horses into more Clint/Natasha fic because one, horses, and two, I can! Maybe. We'll have to see.)
Eeeeee, you are awesome.

The one horse I ever owned was an enormous, elderly former dressage horse who had been downgraded into a riding hack before I bought him. We used to duff around together and every once in a while I would give him one of the two utterly basic dressage cues I knew and he would do it (probably eye-rolling all the while) and I would be terribly proud of the both of us for the rest of the day.

Have you ever read Mary Stewart's Airs Above the Ground?
Heh, let's see how it works out!

I've never owned my own horse, but if there was a dedicated dressage barn or horse anywhere in my area I would be there in a heartbeat. As it is, I spend my time trying to coax school horses into appreciating the subtler side of things... and, for the most part, failing. I'm glad you had more success with your old man. ;)

Actually, I haven't - nor have I ever heard of it before. But the summary sounds fascinating enough that I'll see if my library has it. I presume it's a good read?
Lovely. ♥

After all, that was how he had loved Natasha before he even knew her name, one leg hanging off the tightrope, an apple in her hand the color of her hair and a laugh on her lips that he had wanted, suddenly, irrationally, to hear again. My fav line.
Thank you very much! <3

(That's one of my favorite lines too, and I fought with the story to make sure it stayed in. I'm glad you liked it!)
CIRCUS AU, CIRCUS AU, CIRCUS AU, ohmygosh gorgeous Circus AU! I love circus AUs, so I was sold *grins* but the writing in this is gorgeous. I love the contrast between a lifestyle that means Natasha has to go into the ring with an injury and realities like San Domingo's foam-flecked neck, and then the glitz and the magic of the showbiz side of the circus, brought to life in an almost supernatural or otherworldly way with Natasha and San Domingo's performance, but also phrases like the lights of the fair catch in her hair like stars. The ending of as the lights in the Big Top fade and are replaced by the pickup truck's brakes, Natasha feels just a little more real in his arms fit this perfectly as well. And it is, after all, a huge theme in circus, the contrast of the show and then the realities behind it.

Fantastic and wonderfully and, excuse me, I need to reread :D
You know, there were a few lines like the lights of the fair catch in her hair like stars that came out when I was writing it and stayed there, even when I eyed them and wondered if they should go. And you pin down the exact reason for their existence. <3 How do you manage to do this? Thank you for making this better.

I'm so, so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you!
This is just gorgeous -- I'm completely captivated by the visuals in this!

Love this bit:

Then the gelding begins to move again, and Clint forgets all thoughts of her injury.

He dances across the sandy expanse; that's the only word for it.


I was into horses in middle school, but never had the opportunity to do any riding. For several years in a row I was able to persuade my parents to take me to see the Lipizzaner Stallions perform and they were ... magical. This fic gives me that same awed feeling from watching them perform. =D
<3 Thank you so much! I absolutely love writing visual-heavy stories, and it always makes me happy when they work well. :) And having seen the Lipizzaner Stallions once, to be compared to the feeling they gave me is... wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Also, late reply is really, really late. Whoops!)
*claps* That is so beautiful. I love this slice of their life! What a wonderful AU.
Better late then never? Thank you so much! I love my AUs, yes I do, and am overjoyed when other people like them too! :D