Friday

Hawkeye & the Black Widow

Among the personal effects of Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye the Marksman, an old, yellowed typewritten letter was discovered that sheds light upon the early days of his career as a costumed adventurer, as well as the beginnings of his stormy relationship with Natasha Romanova, alias the international super-spy Black Widow. We present it here in edited form, to make it appropriate for all ages.


Dear Barney,

I know I'm never going to send you this letter. I don't even know where you are. And if I did, I'd kick your ass, you rat! But I'll go nuts if I don't tell somebody about this girl I met. Gotta get it off my chest, then I'll just burn the letter. Never been much of a writer... but as usual, I'm a little short on shoulders to cry on, so it's just me and this crummy old typewriter in my crummy old apartment. Oh yeah, the girl. A month ago, it looked like my luck was finally changing, brother mine... she had class, style to burn, and she made Sophia Loren look like a donkey! She was a little nympho femme fatale, and she was all mine. Her name? Natasha.

This may surprise you, but old Hawkeye's given up the lousy Coney Island gig to do the Lone Ranger thing. Got myself a sharp-lookin' purple and black costume -- buccaneer boots, mask, cowl with a big "H" on it -- the works. I shoulda done this years ago, made a real name for myself instead of being a down-on-his-luck small-time archer. I'm the best in the world, ain't I? Even you always said so. Now the world better watch out. It was Iron Man that gave me the kick in the pants to do it in the first place. I guess that's ironic, huh? He stopped some runaway ride at the park, stole the spotlight from yours truly. You know how much I hate that. So I figured two can play the hero game, and who could play it better than me? I rigged up a quiver full of trick arrows... nothing too fancy at first, but with aim like mine, I figured I'd still make a splash. Then I hit the rooftops looking for trouble. Trouble and me go way back, and we always know where to find each other.

I got some action pretty fast. Good thing too, 'cause I was freezin' my tookus off out there. Leave it to me to make my debut in January in a sleeveless outfit. What was I thinking? I knew gloves might get in the way of the old bow-and-arrow action, since I'm the touch-sensitive type, but still... Anyway, some fat [EXPLETIVE DELETED] was pulling a jewel heist and I nabbed him. You should have seen it, shot an arrow right through the shoulder of his coat and pinned him to a telephone pole. The look on his face was priceless! Sure, he dropped his bag of loot on the sidewalk, but he managed to wriggle out of his coat and high-tail it out of there. Never saw a fat old bum run so fast. True to form, just as I was retrieving the stolen merchandise, a couple beat cops showed up and pegged me for a cheap crook. They must have thought I was you! I didn't feel like trying to explain it to 'em, and I wasn't too keen on spending the night at the Graybar Hotel. So I dropped the gems and beat a strategic retreat. Maybe it was stupid, but hey, they wouldn't have believed me anyway. Next thing I know, half the NYPD is breathing down my neck. Suddenly this big black sedan screeches to a halt in front of me, and a woman's voice tells me to jump in. I didn't have any better offers, and being one to always leap before he looks, I took her up on it. She peeled out of there and those cops didn't have a chance. Never thought women could drive, but she put paid to that idea. Took me a minute to get a good look at her... but when I did, I mean, wow!

She was the most gorgeous creature I'd ever laid eyes on, and I've been around the block a few times. Those ruby lips! Those bedroom eyes! Those raven-black tresses! Damn! She must've been coming from the opera or something, 'cause she was all decked out. Tight-fitting black dress showing plenty of cleavage, high-heeled shoes, and long black gloves. Her wrists and neck were sparkling with diamonds and jewels, and she was nestled into a mink wrap. She looked like a million bucks, and smelled just as sweet. She had this sexy little hint of a European accent, but I couldn't place it at first. We left the city and she drove me out to her place, a swank mansion way out in the 'burbs. I figured she must have a weakness for guys in tights, 'cause she was giving me the big eye the whole time. She wanted me bad, no question. And who can blame her? It's not every day a rich dame like her meets an honest-to-gosh superhero. Fact is, I was just what the doctor ordered, 'cause she had a beef with Iron Man and needed somebody to set that tin-plated stooge straight. I was happy to oblige, especially when I got the sense she had a soft spot for that jerk's boss, Tony Stark. Figures a posh bird like her would've hooked up with a Daddy Warbucks like Stark. I knew she'd change her tune after seeing a real man -- namely me -- in action.

She had a huge laboratory set up in the basement, though she said it actually belonged to the guy who owned the house; she was just renting it while she was in the States. She took me down there and my eyes about popped out of my head. They had the most top-of-the-line equipment I'd ever laid eyes on -- power tools, chemicals, even a computer. She showed me a bunch of plans for miniaturized weaponry that would be perfect for my arrows. We worked through most of the night fixing up some gizmos to put Shell Head out of action. Madame Natasha -- that's how she introduced herself -- made quite an able-bodied assistant, if you know what I mean. While I was going through the blueprints, she went off and slipped into something a little more comfortable, as they say. More comfortable for who, that's what I want to know. Not me, let me tell you. Ever try to play mechanical engineer with a massive [EXPLETIVE DELETED]? I was just lucky the tunic of my costume hid it pretty well. I'm also lucky I didn't blow us both to kingdom come, mixing chemicals while trying NOT to stare at her breasts. But man oh man, what breasts they were! She was slinking around the lab in this lacy black negligee and a black silk dressing gown, and she kept getting in real close to me, you know? I just wanted to grab her and kiss her, but I knew if I played it cool, I was about to hit the big time. I wasn't gonna blow it. About 3 a.m. we called it a night. I'd built enough new arrows to give that armored jackass a run for his money and cooked up a decent plan of action, so I crashed on the couch while Natasha went off to bed. Nobody can accuse me of not bein' a gentleman!

Felt good to sleep late for a change. When I woke up, there was a whole spread waiting at the breakfast table, and Natasha was there sipping her coffee and reading the paper. She was all smiles when I came in, and she told the maid to serve me up some steak and eggs. I ate hearty, figuring I'd need my energy for my big mission later. I asked Natasha about herself, and she told me about her days as a prima ballerina, and how she was part of the old Russian aristocracy. Didn't sound like there was any love lost between her and the Reds, seeing as how they confiscated all her family's property and assets. Man, I hate those Commie finks! She obviously didn't like talking about it, and seeing as how I hate to start the day by upsetting a pretty lady, I dropped it. Instead I asked her what her beef with Iron Man was, exactly, and she told me about how he didn't like the fact that Stark was wining and dining a Russian lady, so Mr. Big-Shot Avenger humiliated her in public and then tried to intimidate her later. What a rat-bastard! I was going to enjoy putting him in his place!

Later that afternoon, as the sun was starting to go down, I got suited up to head for Stark's weapons manufacturing plant on Long Island. Before I got into the car, Natasha grabbed me and planted a kiss on my lips that made my head spin. I kissed her back, hard -- and she loved it. She wished me good luck. I told her to save it for Iron Man, 'cause he's the one who was gonna need it. She kissed me again and I got into the sedan. My heart was pounding as I drove off. What a woman! I couldn't believe my luck. I felt like a knight going off to slay a dragon for the fair damsel. And said fair damsel would soon be mine, no matter what I had to do to win her. A girl like that was worth any risk, I figured. And once I made my bones by beating Iron Man, I'd finally get some respect. I tried to get Natasha out of my mind so I could concentrate. Fat chance.

I parked the car out of sight just down the road from Stark's factory. Right on schedule, a truck rolled up with the last delivery of the day. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and, being the middle of January, it was already getting dark. I hitched a ride on the truck with the help of a suction-tipped arrow. A couple minutes later, I was through the gates and heading for the main building. It was almost too easy! I knew if I created a ruckus, that Shell Head would come a-runnin', so I fired a patented blast arrow to blow the door to the main weapons lab. It worked like a charm! And sure enough, a minute or so later, the sound of boot-jets announced the arrival of Stark's armored errand boy. Sneaky he ain't. I heard him coming a mile away, the arrogant s.o.b. Well, I took him down a peg or two right off the bat with a barrage of arrows tipped with a fast-rusting agent we whipped up the night before. The coward ditched some of his damaged armor and ran off to hide like a little girl. Then it hit me! Just whipping Iron Man's ass was one thing, but if I could crack the secrets of his suit of armor, I could make myself some really powerful weapons -- and in the process make a fortune. Then I'd have it all -- good looks, power, and wealth. How could Natasha not fall for a guy like that? I scooped up the pieces of armor and made a break for it. Naturally, they were expecting me to head for one of the gates, but Hawkeye's no fool. With one of my cable arrows, I was able to scale the perimeter wall right near my car and make a clean getaway. I was laughing at what an overrated clown Iron Man was as I drove to the rendezvous point.

I was heading for a small marina near La Guardia airport where Natasha was meeting me by boat so we could slip off down the East River. I'd almost reached it when Shell Head caught up with me. He used some kind of ray to wreck the front end of the sedan, sending me careening off the road and into a tree. Well, it takes more than that to put the kibosh on yours truly, so I was ready for him when he swooped down to have a look. Let me just say I got in a couple good licks before he smashed the dock I was standin' on and knocked me into the drink. I decided to play possum and let him fish me out. What a greenhorn! He fell for the oldest trick in the book! While he was distracted trying to retrieve his rusty armor from the trunk of the sedan, I loaded up a special concussive-blast arrow and let fly. It looked like a direct hit, but my heart dropped into my gut when I heard a woman's scream -- it was Natasha! She'd left the boat for some reason and gotten too close -- she was caught in the blast. I was near-panicked when I ran over to her. She was unconscious, so I lifted her up in my arms and ran to the boat. Iron Man was down, but I wasn't sure if he was out. I didn't really care at that point, all I could think of was Natasha. He didn't try to follow us anyway, as I piloted the boat out into the fog. All I could think of was getting the girl I loved to a doctor as soon as possible. I remember looking at her as she lay there, out cold. She still looked perfectly beautiful. She was dressed to the nines again: black satin cocktail dress, leather gloves, and a fur coat -- sable, I think -- and enough jewelry to finance a small nation. Man, I loved her! I couldn't believe how much I loved her. I would have taken on every costumed do-gooder in New York if she asked me to. She came to before we reached the city, and refused to go to the hospital. She insisted on seeing her own doctor, and she wouldn't listen to reason, so I gave in and steered the boat down past Manhattan, and out along the southern shore of Long Island to a private landing on her estate.

I carried her into the house and put her in bed. Then I called the number she gave me and talked to her doctor, who said he'd be right out to the house. Amazing what havin' piles of money will do for you. Natasha was still groggy, and she asked me to help her out of her clothes. Well, I'd been dreaming of her saying something like that since I met her, but this wasn't what I had in mind. My hands actually trembled as I unzipped her dress. Can you believe it? Me! I've got the steadiest hands since the Two-Gun Kid, and here I'm shakin' like a schoolboy. The skin on her back was like porcelain. I couldn't help caressing it. I turned around as she slipped out of her skivvies and slid into the silk sheets on her bed. I was actually sweating, and I had a raging [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. What a heel, eh? She's hurt and all I can think of is jumping her bones. I felt ashamed of myself, but she was so damn gorgeous, I couldn't help it. The doc arrived in about twenty minutes or so. Big Russian fella. I could see why she trusted him, fellow countryman and all that. It must have been hard for her, I thought, living in another country and not being able to go home. It just made me want to help her out even more. The doc checked her over, but I couldn't understand a word they were saying to each other. I wondered why he kept givin' me weird looks, until I realized it's probably not every day he sees a purple-masked bowman playin' nursemaid. I was so worried about Natasha, I forgot I was still wearing my costume! Anyway, the doc finally told me she had a mild concussion and should be all right after a good night's sleep. After he left, I dozed off in a chair. There was no way I was leaving her side until I was sure she was okay.

Next morning, the maid brought Natasha breakfast in bed, and even had a cup of joe for me. She did seem to be feeling better -- what a relief that was, let me tell you. Then I got to read about myself in the morning paper and my "daring raid" on Stark Industries. Naturally, Iron Man made himself out to be a big hero. What a crock o' [EXPLETIVE DELETED]! They even called me a "new super-villain!" Hey, I'm not the one pushin' around defenseless women 'cause I'm a paranoid bully who takes his job way too seriously! And this was the Times! I could only guess what a rag like the Bugle said about me! They even had a bit about the jewel heist. They caught that fat [EXPLETIVE DELETED] and he blamed it all on me, said I forced him to help me do the robbery. What a [EXPLETIVE DELETED] liar! Yep, it was lookin' like Hawkeye's reputation was in the toilet from the get-go! But Natasha batted those eyelashes at me, and I couldn't have cared less about some bad press. I may not have gotten hold of Shell Head's armor, but that wasn't part of the original plan anyway. I went there to give him a good thrashing, and mission accomplished. I could see the gratitude in Natasha's eyes as I told her all about it. I had her eatin' out of the palm of my hand, that sweet little thing.

I got out of my costume and took a shower. The maid brought in some clothes for me, and so I spent the day with Natasha to make sure she was back on her feet. By suppertime, she said she was feeling fine, and I'd say she was feeling a mite better than fine, the way she was putting the moves on me. It looked like my plan was a success -- she'd obviously forgotten all about that cheap womanizer Tony Stark. After supper we retired to the main living room and I built a raging fire in the fireplace. They had an honest-to-gosh bearskin rug and Natasha curled up on it with a bottle of vodka. She didn't have to ask me twice, let me tell you, about joining her there. I was never too big on the stuff, but that vodka was like mother's milk to her. I wasn't complaining, though, 'cause it certainly seemed to relax her. She was snuggling up to me like a cat. She asked me to put on some music, so I turned on the hi-fi and looked through the records. Mostly classical stuff, but I found some Johnny Mathis that I thought would fill the bill. Yeah, that did the trick. She started kissing me, nibbling on my ear, unbuttoning my shirt. I thought I must have died and gone to heaven! She was kissing my chest and I slid her silky robe down off her shoulders, revealing a little black lace teddy underneath. I took in a lungful of the sweet smell of her hair and the world seemed to melt away. Next thing I knew she was undoing my trousers and [REDACTED]. It had never felt like that before. I laid down on the bearskin rug and she kept [REDACTED] till I thought I was going to lose my mind, then she climbed on top of me. [REDACTED]. Oh, man, Barney, you've never had it so good, believe me. She [REDACTED] like a wildcat until I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. She [REDACTED] again and again. I tell you, I know when they're faking, and there's no way she was faking! Finally I [REDACTED]. It was incredible. Stick a fork in me, Barney old man, 'cause I was done for.

And that was just the beginning. I didn't even go back to my apartment for a week. We stayed in mostly, making love as the spirit moved us. The girl was insatiable! We must have done the deed in every room of that house, and there was nothing Natasha wasn't willing to try. I didn't even have to ask her most of the time, she'd just come up with these crazy positions and toys and things. She knew how to please a man, that's for damn sure, and I was feelin' like the king of the world. At night, she'd slide into those silk sheets, wrap her long legs around my waist and pull me in close to her. [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. There's no other word to describe it. And the rest of the time, we worked out in the mansion's little gym, experimented with new designs for trick arrowheads in the lab, ate, slept -- we even went cross-country skiing. I was living the life of Riley, no question about it. Of course it couldn't last.

My first clue, I guess, was when I noticed she still had it in for Iron Man, poring over reports of him tangling with some Captain America impostor, a would-be conqueror named Kang, some nutcase called the Black Knight, and that piece-of-[EXPLETIVE DELETED] nazi Baron Zemo. Then, one night, after I'd been down in the lab for a while, I went to find her, and I heard her voice upstairs; she was angry and yelling in Russian. I went up and found her with a short-wave radio. I'm no expert, but it was clearly a Soviet model. She freaked when she saw me and I about [EXPLETIVE DELETED] my pants. Had I been snookered by a [EXPLETIVE DELETED] Commie spy?!? She switched off the set and begged me to listen to her explanation. I was mad enough to break her neck, but I got one look at the tears in her eyes and I just turned to jelly. Then I learned the truth. Yeah, the Reds had blackmailed her years ago into low-level spying, mostly by cozying up to industrialist types. That's how she got her codename: the Black Widow. But she hated everything they stood for, and had only given them enough to keep herself alive. But now, all that had changed -- she had stumbled on some information that made her betray her Iron Curtain masters. She had become a rogue agent trying to maintain the balance of power between East and West. She told me that the world was teetering on the brink of nuclear war, all because of Tony Stark. Yeah, you heard right. Turns out that Stark's weapons were so advanced that the Russians were afraid they were falling way behind in the arms race, and they were getting desperate. If she couldn't keep Stark in check, the USSR was going to launch a full-scale nuclear strike. She had tried to warn Stark, but he laughed at her and said the profits he was making justified the risk. That's when he had Iron Man try to shut her up. I just had to sit down. I couldn't believe it, and yet it was so obviously true. Leave it to a crumb like Stark to sell out the future of humanity just to line his own pocket. What a scum-sucking son of a bitch! I took Natasha in my arms and told her she could count on me. She broke down crying and just held on to me. Well, I spent the night giving her comfort the best way I knew how -- by [EXPLETIVE DELETED] her brains out. And every time I finished, she begged for more.

The next morning she showed me some intercepts that proved her story, and that was good enough for me. Stark was working on some secret super-weapon, and we needed to get the plans. Sure, it made me a little uncomfortable. Beating up on Iron Man is one thing, but stealin' secrets from a major military contractor kinda smacks of treason, you know? But Natasha promised we would just make the plans public, so neither side would have an advantage. I had to trust her... after all, I loved her, didn't I? And she loved me. I couldn't just stand around and let the Kremlin drop the big one on everything I held near and dear. All we needed was an opportunity, and a couple days later it came wrapped up in a big shiny ribbon. Stark had gone missing suddenly, under very mysterious circumstances, according to the newspapers. And then we heard a radio bulletin that the shadow of suspicion had fallen on Iron Man himself! Had that armored goon offed his own boss? That's what everybody was asking, and Shell Head wasn't answering. When the cops started leanin' on him, the Golden Avenger took a powder. So, with Stark gone and Iron Man hiding under a rock someplace, Natasha decided to seize our chance. I still had my doubts about the whole treason angle, though. You know me, Barney -- never could take the plunge into a life of crime. I leave that to bums like you. But Natasha took me in her arms, and the next thing I know, she's stretched out under me on the sofa. She had pulled up her skirt and was [REDACTED], and with my tights on I could feel every move she made. I was kissing her neck and shoulders as she [REDACTED]. But then she stopped me and told me to pull on my mask. I guess she wanted her superhero to give her a super [EXPLETIVE DELETED], and I was only too happy to oblige. And needless to say, she wasn't disappointed.

She kissed me goodbye and I headed off to Stark's factory. Sorry to say the mission was a total disaster. I ended up having to get a little rough with Stark's secretary, and then I couldn't find any plans or blueprints, just a lot of half-built pieces of junk. His Gal Friday told me Stark didn't write things down at that stage, but just kind of improvised. Then Iron Man showed up, of course, and I had to fight him to a standstill. When I used up my blast arrows, I decided to make a strategic withdrawal. So I got out of there empty-handed. I was disappointed that things had gotten out of hand, but that was nothing compared to what was waiting for me when I finally got back to Natasha's mansion. She was gone. Just gone. Vanished without a trace. Her cars were all present and accounted for. Her closets were full of clothes and shoes. Even her jewelry was still there. I couldn't understand it. There was no note, no sign of struggle, not a clue. The maid didn't know anything, hadn't seen anything. I even called her doctor, but the number had been disconnected. I was at a complete loss. I hung around there for two days, hoping she'd come back, or at least call. Finally, I just went home. There was nothing else I could do.

That was a month ago, Barney, and there's been no word from her. I don't know what happened. Did she ditch me? Was my mission that big a failure? Was it something I said or did? Or did the Reds get her? She could be dead somewhere or in a Siberian gulag or something, and I might never know. That's the worst part. But I'm not gonna give up on her. I've been training, developing new and better trick arrows. The world hasn't heard the last of Hawkeye the Marksman, you can count on that. And when I find out what happened to my beautiful Natasha, there's gonna be hell to pay.

Your brother,

Clint


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