His job was to not be seen. If someone saw him, spotted even a glimpse of him, it was already too late. One of them, either the target or himself, was not going to come away from the event unscathed.
He rather liked it when it was them and not him.
Which is why being thrust into the limelight after the events of New York was troubling, to say the least. There were cameras everywhere, interviews with all sorts of media, pictures and talk shows and rumors of action figures and all sorts of other merchandise. It was horrifying.
It saved his life.
Tony Stark, for whom he had very few kind descriptors, was the ringleader of it all. He knew SHIELD needed a patsy to blame for their failure. He also knew a formerly secret organization was not going to be able to throw one of the known saviors of more people than anyone was willing to admit under the bus. He pushed Clint forward, physically as well as mentally, into the spotlight. He personally scrubbed any lurking records so that any searches would only find a loyal employee and pseudo-soldier, who did his job because it was the right thing to do. If SHIELD was to take him down, to take him out or otherwise try to blame him for anything that happened, they would have a lot of explaining to do to say the least.
They liked the light even less than he did.
So Clint Barton the Avenger was a bonafide hero, smiling for the blinding flashes and rescuing kittens from trees and all that jazz. Clint Barton the SHIELD Agent was reinstated with minimal fuss and allowed on the few missions that had a relative guarantee of him staying to the shadows and keeping undercover because sending him in was a guarantee the job would be completed successfully. Clint Barton the human being just wanted to get through a week without another nightmare or feeling he needed to look over his shoulder non-stop, waiting for someone to take him out the way he took out so many others, and hoping they at least got a clean shot because, really, he had trained damn near every sniper in SHIELD’s reserves and knew they were better than that.
His need to slink away boiled over into everyday life from time to time. The entire team knew that, after yet another publicity blitz, he would likely be scarce for days and they tended to leave him alone only to coax him out eventually with good food and bad movies. They also knew he would try for the same after certain missions and that they had a pretty small window to nab him lest he get away. Sometimes he even had help with the escape and those days were the ones where he reminded himself that, yeah, he was where he needed to be.
It was after a relatively uneventful mission that the team was to gather to make a statement and assure the populace that, yes, they really were safe. He had been teased already over the comms, which was usually a sign that he was going to get off easy. Stark hadn’t come up to get him, but his own armor was on the fritz from some sort of residual energy field thingy, so Clint made his way down to street level on his own, almost to the others just as the man in question replied to a particularly annoying reporter that, “Well, if Hawkeye was here, you know he’d just say, ‘I shot some arrows, things went boom,’ or the equivalent, so...”
He took that as an out and ran with it, as in damn near literally. The tower was only half a mile away because bad guys were dumb, and it was easy enough to collapse his bow and grab both a hooded sweatshirt and a duffle from one of the SHIELD vans, and hit the street. The sweatshirts were supposed to be for Bruce, but there was always enough to go around, and the duffles were just because SHIELD needed to carry the stuff somehow and ballistic grade briefcases tended to look suspicious more often than not.
Apparently the low level energy whatever that was screwing with Stark’s suit hit the tower as well. Some of the features worked, and some were well and truly out of commission. He could get in, but the retina scan for the Avengers’ suites was nixed. Instead, he rode the elevator to the lowest unsecured floor, and took to his back roads, AKA the vents and power conduits, and made a mental note to let Stark know of just how easy it was to still get in. Then again, it was only easy because he himself programmed the overrides and security to access the things, which maybe he should keep to himself. Then again, again, Stark’s fancy AI knew everything, so Stark probably knew too and just let him do it and put in his own safeguards against it being abused by outsiders.
He cleaned and put away his gear, and then stripped and showered and looked to the incredibly welcoming bed and the equally welcoming couch with remote. He decided trash tv could wait for now, and plunged face-first into the pillows, pausing only long enough to pull up the blankets before he passed out.
He awoke rested but starving and realized he had missed dinner in his need for a nap. It was three in the morning, which meant the others had eaten without him - nothing new there, though he did appreciate them letting him sleep for a change. His own cupboards were less than full, so he pulled on some sweats and headed for the main level and its usually overflowing kitchen. Some cold pizza, hot noodles, and a fair deal of cookies later, and he was ready for another nap. He left his dishes in the sink because the dishwasher hated him and he liked his fingers not to be permanently scarred, and headed back up to his rooms.
His schedule was completely thrown off by the weird sleep patterns, and so he found himself passing an oddly silent Steve as he left the gym and finishing up at the range just as he heard Tasha come down. He watched her wrap her hands for one of the punching bags, completely engrossed in her work, and decided to let her be. If she wanted to spar, she’d tell him. If she wanted to beat the crap out of a bag, he was out of there because it usually meant she was less than pleased with someone or something. He had learned long ago not to risk being the target.
His dishes were gone before he got to them, which meant exactly two things: one, he didn’t have to fight the dishwasher, and two, he had a little sticky note with a frowny face waiting for him from Steve. He shrugged, grabbed a bottled water and left a note on the grocery list for his requests for the week, and went up to take another shower.
He may have, possibly, gotten caught up in playing video games after said shower. He may have, possibly, sighed when he found he missed dinner again. Normally the others at least tried to call him down if he was on premises, but either they had skipped that part thinking he wanted his space or he hadn't heard their attempts what with his need to save the princess. His individual groceries were delivered right outside his door in a cooler, again with a frowny face note. He put away everything save for what he shoved into his mouth, and jotted a note of his own that he placed on Steve’s door for the morning, this one in apology.
The call to assemble should have been expected, which meant it woke him out of a dead sleep. He slipped his comm into his ear immediately, and pulled on a clean uniform to head on out. He knew he was a few minutes behind his usual suit-up time, but he also knew he was never the last one, so he was rather surprised to reach the deck to find the Quinjet hatch already closing.
Even more surprising were the snippets of conversation he caught through the comm.
“Where the hell is Barton?”
“Well, he’s obviously been around. I’ve cleaned up after him several times this week.”
“Even Clint wouldn’t ignore a call to assemble.”
“Why not? He’s ignored everything else this week.”
“I have not!” he insisted. True, timing had been off, more than usual, but he hadn’t actually actively ignored anyone. That he could remember. He was just dead tired and possibly forgetting the usual niceties when he thought about it, but they should be used to that by now as this was hardly the first time it happened - he was only human after all.
“Barton? Where the hell are you?” Stark demanded.
“Watching you try to fly away without me,” he replied. If he sounded petulant, it was only because he was.
“Try again, rear cameras show nothing,” Tony countered. “If you’re going to lie, don’t be stupid about it.”
“Tony, just go get him. We’ll fly on without you,” Bruce suggested, always the voice of reason. Well, you know, when he wasn’t an irrational green monster.
The jet was a decent ways out from the tower by now, and Clint watched as the back hatch lowered and spit out the bright red armor. Stark landed with his usual whump and then stood there tapping his foot, the reverberations echoing through the bay. “Come out, come out wherever you are...” he called, faceplate now flipped up and a seriously peeved expression on his face. It was followed by, “Seriously, Barton, dick move to be late, call me back, and then not even be ready...”
“I’m ready!” he insisted.
“Where the hell are you?” Tony demanded. “I am not dealing with Fury because you can’t get your crap together.”
Clint took a calming breath, reasoned Stark hadn’t had time to test his suit repairs and maybe they weren’t up to snuff yet which, hey, dangerous to go into the field like that anyway so he was actually doing the whole team a favor. If the suit’s sensors couldn't see him literally right behind him, Stark was no good to anyone. That settled, he slapped the back of the helmet with his bow and said, “Right here, asshole.”
Tony whipped around, then whipped right back where he started. “Barton?” he asked. His tone ranged from annoyed to mildly concerned in a single word. He turned slowly, eyes scanning, eyes looking right through him as he kept on going.
Clint tapped him on the chestplate with the top of his bow. “Right here,” he repeated, now more concerned for Tony himself than the suit.
Stark flipped down his mask and the eerie eyes lit up in the way that meant he was scanning with anything and everything he had. Clint knew the exact moment he reached the right configuration as the man jumped back and swore. “Can you see me now?” he asked, unable to resist.
“On a modified heat spectrum only,” Tony replied, ignoring the jibe. He reached a hand out tentatively and bumped it against Clint’s shoulder. He flipped his mask up, and then down again and then began to mutter incomprehensible garbage under his breath. The only thing Clint could make out of it all was, “Oh, this is not good.”
“What’s not good?” Natasha's voice cut across the comms.
“Our pet sniper is invisible,” Stark replied. He then amended that to, “Well, mostly.”
Clint waved his hand in front of his face, and saw it just fine. He peered at the golden shiny of the suit, and absolutely nothing reflected back. “I can’t tell if this is cool, or just weird,” he admitted. He thought back to the past few days, and realized he really hadn't bothered with a mirror at all. He shaved in the shower and his hair was short enough to do whatever it wanted to on its own and he had no sign anything was off proprioception-wise as he still saw enough of himself to be grounding.
“Put your bow down,” Tony ordered.
“Yeah, how about no?” he countered. His bow was his life. He could see it, feel it now. If he set it down and it mysteriously disappeared, or if he suddenly could no longer even hold it, there would be hell to pay.
“Fine, an arrow, something,” Tony tried, easily adapting, possibly because he was used to his crazy teammates and their quirks by now.
Clint pulled an arrow from his quiver and verified that, yes, it looked perfectly fine to him. He set it down on the ground before him and asked, “Okay, now what?”
“Take a step back. No, wait, take several. Keep walking until I tell you to stop.”
Clint rolled his eyes but did as asked. He managed about a step and a half before Stark’s muttering changed and he reach down to pick up the offending bit of composite carbon. He then began to babble about localized fields and energy barriers and muse about what caused it and how long it would last and the effects on the human body and was, thankfully, cut off by Steve’s rather exasperated, “Tony, focus. What’s wrong with Clint?”
“Yeah, so you know that residual energy that messed with the suit?” he asked, spinning the arrow in rough turns about his gauntlets. He thrust it forward, and then back again, though Clint could see no discernible change.
“From the incident two days ago?” Steve confirmed.
“The one and the same,” Tony nodded, even though no one save for Clint could actually see him and wasn’t that just ironic? “Something hit Barton. He’s currently in the non-visible, extreme infrared land of light and refraction.”
“Wait,” Bruce cut in. “You’re saying that he’s invisible?”
“Yes, to us mere humans at least, and I believe I said that already,” Tony replied. He thrust the arrow forward again and it stabbed into the outer layer of Clint’s armor.
Clint slapped it away and it clattered on the floor. “Stop poking me!” he complained.
"Stop screwing with the laws of science!" Tony countered.
It was, as always, Steve who cut in before things could escalate to truly childish levels. "We have a situation here and not just with Hawkeye being out of commission," he said in his I-am-the-Captain-and-you-will-listen-to-me voice. "We have a call to assemble and need eyes up high, preferably armed. Iron Man, I need you to report to our location. Hawkeye, I-"
"I'm not out of commission," Clint insisted. "I am in normal working order. It's not my fault you can't see me. Hell, it might even come in handy. I can still call out the angles and make the shots and be out of sight and out of mind to whatever big bad we're fighting this time. And when we fix this, because you know we will and or it will fix itself and probably at an inopportune time, y'all will say just how awesome I was."
"We won't be able to see if you're in danger," Cap pointed out, but even Clint could hear the waver in his tone.
"Tony can see me," Clint replied. "Things get dicey and he gets me out of there, just like usual." He paused and looked to Stark to see if he'd go for it, and received a reluctant nod for his troubles.
He waited a full three-count before Steve caved. "You stay on comms the whole time, and on task on comms. You let us know exactly what your situation is and if you need help before you fire the grappling arrow and hope it holds, do you understand?"
"Sir, yes, sir," he replied. He would have saluted but the action would have been lost on him even if he wasn't in a Quinjet, now miles away.
He hitched a ride on the Iron Man armor to Midtown, and let Stark place him high and dry and only rolled his eyes at the "Stay," he received and tried to ignore the muttered prediction that everything was about to go horribly wrong.
Thor swung by about halfway through the battle and told Clint to duck. A piece of masonry was stopped about a foot above his head and tossed to the side, severely damaging a car below if the resulting alarm was any indication. Clint was going to ask how he could even tell, but the big guy offered him a hand to right himself again and observed, "You appear as if a shade, but I see you well enough."
That, oddly, made Clint feel better. He was outside of human visual range, but at least two of his teammates had the ability to verify his existence, albeit one needed a bit of assistance to do so. He continued to call out baddies and shoot what he could and listened to more than a single bad guy lament their inability to locate the source of all the pointy sticks that kept falling on them.
Of course that changed when Stark caught a bit of a transmission that seemed to indicate Clint was well and truly fucked. It involved the words "triangulate" and "lock on suspected position" and "destroy the entire building if you have to." The giant lasers that were already troublesome for the rest of the team began to cut a swath through all sorts of fancy whatevers and it didn't take a genius to figure out they were headed his way.
The resident genius felt the need to announce the obvious anyway, and shouted, "Hawkeye, get out of there!" and, when Clint fired off one last shot at what they had previously determined to be a primary power source, "Barton, for fuck's sake, run!"
There was no way he could make the stairs in time, so he used his now trademark escape method mixed with a whole lot of best wishes because, if Stark was correct, any sort of grappling hook would be seen and available to target as soon as it was a fair distance away. Stark caught him in a blaze of bruises midair, some truly colorful profanity filling the comm link as he ranted, "I can barely see you let alone your Hail Mary reserves and I have no idea if you have a line or not and you jumped anyway and can you please actually talk to me here so I know if you're conscious or not?"
"I'm fine," he lied, ignoring the rest. His arms ached and there was a gouge in his leg from the masonry earlier and he was fairly certain the rough edge of the armor had torn more than his trousers, but there was no reason to mention any of that any more than usual.
Tony set him down behind the cadre of SHIELD vans. Sitwell threw open a door and demanded, "What's wrong?"
"Depositing one invisible archer. I'd say keep an eye on him, but you can't do that on a good day, so..." Tony pseudo-explained.
"Barton?" Jasper asked, looking in the completely wrong direction.
"Spin an arrow or use your innate talents to offend him enough to know it's you, will you?" Tony suggested. "I've got to go blow up the things that are trying to blow everything else up." He flew off and the line was soon filled with the sounds of inappropriate chortling as apparently the Hulk had taken personal offense to someone aiming for his buddy and was really going to town on their current enemy.
"Are you really okay?" Sitwell asked. His tone indicated he wasn't going to believe any answer given, so Clint felt no desire to be completely forthcoming.
"I'm an invisible assassin - how cool is that?" he asked instead.
He shifted to lean up against the van and Jasper's gaze got eerily close to following him. "You're out of breath and there's spatters of blood where Stark dropped you. I have no idea if they are fresh, or if they are turning red as they congeal, but I'm willing to assume they're yours based upon your record," the agent corrected. "No medic can assist you in your current state, so I need you to actually be honest here: how are you really?"
Clint sighed and glared at the betraying trail of his own bodily fluids. It answered as many questions as it asked about just what was doing what and what part or parts of him were actually invisible, but it was far above his pay grade to figure that sort of shit out. "I just got caught by a chunk of flying metal about ten stories up so, yeah, getting my breath back. I've got a cut on my thigh that shouldn't need stitches and that's probably what's leaving the trail. Get me some water and a first aid kit and I should be fine."
Sitwell looked doubting because he wasn't actually stupid, but relented. Water, Gatorade, and a first aid kit were laid out on the bumper, and more than a single agent watched as things randomly disappeared only to return with less than when they started. He kind of hoped no one was actually keeping track of just how much gauze he used because, after Alice expressed concern with the first blood-soaked pieces appearing, his shoved the others into his pockets to dispose of later.
Gauze wasn't cutting it and the tiny little bandages were worthless. He found the field sutures kit and prepped the needle with a frown because he hated getting sewn up, especially sober, and hated it even more when he was the one doing the sewing. Of course, that's when Thor appeared, took one look at him and whispered in his ever not so quiet voice, "Wrap it soundly and I will assist you shortly."
Sitwell wanted to know what was being wrapped but Clint wasn't dumb enough to look a gift horse in the mouth, or Norse god-like thing with the ability to fly him home as the case may be. He tossed a pressure bandage around the worst of it and pocketed the kit and let Thor carry him back to the tower because traveling with him never got old.
Thor was a warrior and was actually fricken awesome at patching people up, even though he rarely needed the skill for himself. He brought Clint to his room, pausing only to grab a bottle of Jack to split between them, and created a neat row of impossibly small knots along the injured thigh. He had once explained how the knotted sutures had been found to created patterns on the skin and how the addition of dyed thread spawned the traditional Norse-style tattoos. Basically, listening to him was like listening to a living, breathing, history lesson, only cooler because it usually involved booze. True, it also usually involved the patching of wounds which led to stories of similar wounds which led to said lesson, but it was still cool in a roundabout sort of way.
This time while Thor stitched, Clint listened to a combination of voices through the comm and tried to figure out how screwed he was. Sitwell was listing the missing supplies and threatening to send pictures of the bloodstains left behind while Rogers was smoothly explaining to the press that Hawkeye suffered a minor injury during the debacle and Thor had left to see to his treatment, which is why neither were available for comment. Stark was pissed because he had to verify to the gathered agents that he wasn't the one who stained the arm of his suit a rusty red, and Nat was pissed because she was Nat.
By the time the team came home, Clint was feeling no pain, though he suspected that would change with the hangover in the morning. Thor could always be counted on to downplay an injury as insignificant and, as he was the only one who could actually see Clint with some semblance of accuracy, the rest of them had to believe him. Tony augmented JARVIS' sensors to verify that, yes, the archer was on the premises, but that said archer was now laying really still on his bed to prevent the room from spinning. Vitals were still beyond him, so Tony had to be happy with the reports of the fluctuations signifying Clint was still breathing.
Steve insisted on both food and interrogation and, if Clint was in no state to come to them that they would come to him. This meant a distinct lack of passing out, and a distinct annoyance of Bruce's enhanced senses smelling the blood and Tasha finding the discarded bandages and Steve frowning mightily at the prevarication of the extent of the wounds.
It did, however, mean that Bruce and Tony and no doubt the cadre of SHIELD techs could use the bandages for testing instead of blindly shoving needles in the direction of an invisible body, so there was technically an up side to the whole thing.
Clint shoved a few egg rolls in his mouth and debated using the chopsticks for nefarious means, but was stopped by Tasha's unnervingly knowing, "Don't make me hurt you, Barton."
She made him drink tea to counteract the effects of the Jack Daniel's and pointedly left a huge bottle of water on the side table near his bed. Bruce added some analgesics, right before he started to snore, propped up against the side of said bed. Exhaustion was a known thing post-transformation and Clint was not above using his teammate to aid his cause, so Steve left the questioning to a hushed minimum and strongly implied more was to come later.
He awoke in the morning to find Banner still passed out on the floor, a pillow and blanket gifted to him from somewhere and Tasha curled up at the foot of the bed with a single hand wrapped soundly around his ankle, apparently not bothered in the least that at least a portion of her own body would have joined him in invisibility with that proximity since he hadn't been walking around naked the past few days yet no one had seen his clothes wandering off on their own. The message was clear: if he tried to sneak out, there would be hell to pay. There was a rumpled blanket that bespoke of Stark, but JARVIS cheerily informed him that he had already disappeared down to his shop to work on the problem when advising as to the status of those he couldn't see for himself. Of course, said announcement woke the others, and Clint had the sneaking suspicion that that was the whole point in the first place. It turned out Steve had taken the couch in the other room and Thor a chair beside him and he was soundly surrounded with no place to hide despite the fact no one really knew where he was.
Tasha followed him to the shower reasoning that, even if he were to suddenly become visible, she had seen it all before. Thor checked the stitches because no one else could and no one trusted Clint himself to be honest about them, and declared him healing sufficiently for whatever that meant by Asgardian standards.
His leg hurt as did his head, but there was the promise of something fried and wonderful for breakfast, so he joined the others around the table to dig in even knowing he was just setting himself up for more questioning. He found that he actually didn't mind it as much as he thought he would though. It was clear that the experience was awkward for everyone save for himself, but they were making an active effort to include him even as they continued to ask questions that he had no idea how to answer including everything from if he saw things differently through the field to if he had used his new trick for nefarious means. It made his mind drift back over the past few days and his lack of human interaction. He could go for days avoiding anyone and everyone and be fine, but he hadn't actually been trying and so it had felt more than a little like he had been getting the cold shoulder, that he had unknowingly stepped on toes or some such thing and pissed them off and had been paying the price. Somehow the idea that his teammates hadn't been ignoring him but simply didn't know he was there was reassuring.
Not that he told them as much. Not that he told them much at all. He had already done a verbal walk-through of the original attack and nothing stood out as an exposure source. He didn't know what happened, just that it did, and left it at that.
Tony wandered up around lunchtime. He pointed to an empty spot on the couch and raised his eyebrows and Steve shook his head in reply that, no, Clint was not there as far as he could tell. Of course, Clint was there, but no one left knew it. Thor had gone to do whatever he did away from the others and Clint had originally planned on just hanging out in his room or on the range, but knew it was BLT Day and wasn't going to miss out on that so he had come back. He had plopped down on the ottoman in the corner right before Steve took his usual comfy chair to watch the midday news and apparently the super soldier hadn't sensed him and Tony hadn't been bright enough to verify with JARVIS, so it was totally not his fault that he stayed perfectly, quietly still and listened in on the conversation.
Tony scrubbed his hands across his face and the ran them through his hair and stalled and stalled until finally he sighed, "I don't know if I can fix this."
"It's only been a day," Steve tried. His usual pep talk face was on, but Stark was having none of it.
"Three, almost four," he corrected. "We've only known about it for a day, but Barton's been gone for longer than that."
"Not gone," Steve protested. Clint would have applauded his anti-fatalistic attitude, but it would have given him away, so he refrained.
"Gone," Tony confirmed. "We can't see him, he's gone from us, and, if the simulations regarding the radiation that destroyed the armor are correct, he'll be gone-gone sooner rather than later. Don't ask about the virtual mice. Really, don't ask. Just know that I'm really glad I didn't use a virtual Barton because I'll be having nightmares from this shit as it is."
Clint made a mental note to try to hack the file. It was about him, so he totally had the right. Then again, since he had this argument with Stark before, he might just be able to ask JARVIS nicely and have it delivered to his personal server.
Speaking of Stark, he was still talking. He had moved on to all sorts of randomness like he usually did when he was nervous, but did hit a few key points worth mentioning. The first was that the suit that had been hit and gone all wonky during the attack that had likely changed Clint was degrading, as in the metal itself crumbling away. That was of the not-good and hopefully the difference of organic versus inorganic versus please-don't-be-the-same-field. The second was that Fury wanted an update and had an odd gleam in his eye about the whole invisible assassin thing because, like Clint himself, the concept was far too good to be ignored.
"He wants to use him, doesn't he?" Steve asked resignedly.
Tony rolled his eyes at the naiveté. "Wow, a spy agency wanting to use a trained spy and assassin that's now damn near undetectable? Whoever would have guessed it?"
Steve leaned forward in his seat and rested his elbows on his knees, chin against his folded hands. He was actually quite close to Clint, but Clint didn't dare move, didn't dare risk giving himself away. He had stayed in far more uncomfortable positions for far longer in his time as a sniper, and used those skills now to their full advantage. "They would send him in alone," Steve finally sighed. "They would send him in alone with minimal backup. They would have him march right out in the open and take down a target with no regard to the fact that he'd be at risk, that he could turn back to being visible at any time, that he could be caught and killed and we would never be able to do a damn thing about it."
His tone had changed from resigned to angry in the span of a few simple sentences, and Clint was torn between the possible adrenaline rush of such a mission and the way his erstwhile team leader's voice broke a little at the end, like putting an asset at risk in such a way was something he could never bring himself to do, not unless it was truly a life or death situation. It reminded him of how very different the Avengers were from SHIELD as a whole, and once again made him question just which one he would side with if it ever came down to it: the ones that took him in, saved him, and gave him purpose, or the ones that treated him like an equal and like something or someone who deserved to have a say as much as the rest of them.
"He is an assassin, Steve," Tony pointed out. "His job is to slink around and make the shot others can't." He ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up even more before he added, "It's just that this time he has one hell of an advantage, or one hell of a detriment if whatever this is wears off on its own or whoever he gets as a mark has the sensors to find him."
And that would be why Clint put up with Tony, despite the attitude and arrogance and everything else that usually drove people away. He was smart, like dangerously so. He thought of not just how to do something, but what could go wrong and how before he even started designing whatever hit his fancy this time. When it came to things that could and would have an impact, possibly literally, upon his team or his friends, he looked at all the angles before some even knew the rough shape. Clint was honestly tempted to take whatever job Fury threw his way. Knowing the risk of returning to the normal visual spectrum didn't exactly make him change his mind, but it did make him think of different backup plans and escape routes than he would have otherwise bothered to consider.
He let Tony and Steve argue the point back and forth for another ten minutes or so, until one stormed off to his workshop and the other stormed off to the kitchen to start lunch. He slunk off to his rooms and found the waiting message from Fury. It asked if he could come in for a covert op or three and/or if there were any extenuating circumstances about his current condition that the others were keeping under wraps. He typed a quick response back confirming interest in the ops, but warning that his situation was considered unstable at the present and that standard exit strategies would be necessary. He was in no way surprised to get a near immediate request to report to Fury's office for review as soon as possible. Clint being Clint, he of course waited until after the BLTs were done.
There were enough agents milling about various sections of the tower on a given day that it was easy enough to slip away and sneak a ride without much of a fuss. He left a note for Tasha because he wasn't stupid, and made sure it was a hard copy placed some place that she'd actually have to look for it because, again, not stupid and she couldn't stop him if he was already gone.
Getting past the security protocols within SHIELD was scarily easy. Mind, he had experience doing most of it to start with, but he even walked right past an armed squad without a single one having the faintest idea that he was anywhere nearby. It was enough to boost his confidence so that he was tempted to do something insanely dumb. Of course, he had worked for a major spy organization long enough to trust absolutely nothing, and so he didn't do anything rash like take a suicide mission under false presences after a few guards were perhaps instructed to look the other way in order to convince him of a certain feeling of invincibility.
His meeting with Fury was scheduled for 1530 and so he was there at 1400 to snoop around. This meant that he happened to be in an ideal position to listen in on something he clearly was supposed to know nothing about. He followed the Director into the nifty little room where he held all his private conferences with the WSC. Shadowed figures hunched menacingly from dimly lit monitors and he rolled his eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. It took a hell of a lot of willpower to stay still and listen and in no way mess with the controls and hack to see exactly who was where and how they thought they were hidden.
He heard them detail their want of, surprisingly enough, him. They wanted him tracked and tagged and damn near dissected to find out how he turned invisible and how they could turn an army to the same. Fury pointed out the futility of tagging an invisible soldier as, eventually, someone would figure out the signal and leave the men and/or women both exposed and overconfident. He talked them into sending Clint on a milk run mission first, just to see how effective the cloaking truly was. They agreed, but with the caveat that the extraction team was not SHIELD standard, and that Clint was to physically and not just verbally report to them upon completion, at which time they would then subdue him to take him in for examination.
Fury agreed, and even managed to sound reluctant about doing so. The screens blinked off and he hit a button to cut his own feed. He stood there a moment, fists clenching and unclenching before he took a deep breath and stated to the room in general, "Barton, if you're where I think you are right now? Run."
Clint raised his eyebrows and said, "Yes, sir."
He had to give Fury credit for barely flinching. Instead, the Director unlocked and opened the door to the main hallway, taking his own sweet time to walk through it, giving Clint plenty of opportunity to exit. He did, but stuck close to Fury himself instead of making a dash for it. This proved prudent when said hallway was suddenly damned near crawling with armed guards, all of whom stepped back and stood at attention when they saw their very pissed off supposed leader stomp on by. "He's due in an hour. This is Barton who was practically born late. Be ready," he ordered.
They nodded as one and fanned out, blocking damn near every exit. Fury just continued to stomp around until he got to his very own office. Sitwell was waiting at the door and asked, "Want me to call Stark?"
"You want that headache, you go right ahead," Fury snorted. "He comes through that doorway and every guard will be on him, assuming he's there to defend Barton and preventing us from getting our hands on him. You want that press, because there will be press with that little AI of his, by all means be my guest."
Sitwell nodded and seemed to consider that for a moment before he asked, "Can I assume Barton is already in the building?"
Fury pushed open his door and leveled the senior agent a glare, which served to give Clint time to slip inside one of the most secure areas in the building. "We assume nothing," Fury eventually declared. "The Council claims they want to see him in action before they make any final decision. If Barton is brought in, we render him no aid - is that understood?"
Sitwell tilted his head slightly to the side and agreed, "Perfectly, sir."
Clint was touched, really. The phrase "render no aid" was a code very few knew, and essentially meant "help in any and every way possible that will not leave any evidence that can be traced back to us behind." Fury was worried. More concerning, Fury was worried about him.
Sitwell closed the door behind him and the Director stormed over to his desk and ripped open a drawer. An old model Gameboy appeared in his hand, which he immediately flicked over to the couch on the far side of the room. He continued to dig and toss things about and muttered under his breath, "Sound off, or so help me..."
Clint smiled, but knew better than to comment. Instead, he picked up the toy, pleased to see Tetris already loaded, and huddled down in the space between the couch and the wall on the off chance someone came in and chose to sit on top of him. He stretched out his leg to take at least some of the pressure off of his injury, and settled in for the long haul.
Two hours later, and Clint had moved on to a Pokemon game that had been dropped nearby, and Fury still worked steadily away at something probably below his pay grade, but at least wasn't above Clint's own. A knock on the door revealed Sitwell again, and Jasper was trying hard to look annoyed. "No sign of Barton yet, sir," he reported. An armed guard paused slightly outside the door, but eventually moved on.
"Considering he's currently invisible, I'd be more surprised if there was," Fury retorted. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Something scared him off. It could be a rumor or the damned Avengers talking him out of it. If he was here, we'd know it by now because the man would not be able to resist pulling pranks in his current state."
Sitwell smiled in a way that Clint took to mean he had found the surprise left in his desk drawer earlier. "I'm going for coffee, would you like one, sir?"
"This dreck?" Fury asked snidely, hefting a mug that had long ago gone cold.
"No way," Jasper agreed with a face that expressed his lack of love for the sludge usually served in the break room. "I missed lunch and am grabbing some from that place on Third. I'll pick you up a cup on the way back."
"It'll be much appreciated," Fury sighed. "I have a feeling it's going to be a long night."
Clint knew a cue when he was given one. He slid the games and controller under the couch for a plausible location to find them later, and walked silently up behind his newfound guard dog. The two men talked a little more, door still open and guards still blocking the way while trying to seem like they weren't listening in. A few more minutes of nothingness, and Sitwell left with a promise of premium caffeine and one invisible archer right on his heels.
There were a few close calls, with random people randomly finding a reason to swing an arm this way or that in both an obvious attempt to check the area around the wandering agent and in ways that Clint had to dodge more than once, but they escaped the building easily enough and soon were in line at Cafe Mode, the smell of dark roast filling the air. "You're very good at shadowing," Jasper said, apropos of nothing.
"Thank you, sir," their tail said, clearly beaming. "Want me to get this one for you?"
Clint slid a twenty into his friend and occasional handler's pocket, who then immediate removed it to say, "Nah, I'm good. Besides, the Director is picky about his lattes, just don't tell him I said that."
"Of course, sir," the man laughed in a way that Clint assumed meant it was going word for word into a report.
He stepped away then, not needing to be anywhere near Jasper while the asshole of a tail did the poking thing again and tried to cover it with expansive gestures and shifting feet. The smell of coffee was driving him nuts and he would have loved one for himself, but was not low enough to steal from a random person needing their fix on a late lunch break. That said, when the barista called tail-guy's low-fat fancy something-or-other order and he was still trying to suck up and take down Sitwell at the same time, Clint may have, possibly, added about five packets of sugar to it because, really, he was low enough for that.
He made it back to the tower about an hour later, only to find it crawling with agents. The subtlety was less than subtle, and rather pissed him off. The private elevator to the residential levels was clearly under watch, as were the doors to the stairwells. He ducked around the corner towards the public restrooms where, remarkably, no one thought to look, and whispered, "Come on, J-man, help a guy out?"
The sconce next to the door to the men's room flickered for the briefest of moments, and then righted itself and shone just fine. The emergency lighting near the floor then flashed in a quick one-two pattern that damn near pointed back to the main lobby. Clint got with the program and went back out to face the crowds. He dodged two agents and headed towards the elevators on a hunch, not at all surprised to see the doors to the private one open and spit out one Captain Steve Rogers.
There was no way he could make it in time, not without the doors hanging open suspiciously while they had already attracted the attention of half the floor, but it turned out not to matter. Steve snapped his fingers and turned in a quick circle before he headed right back where he came from.
"Something wrong, Cap?" Reynolds asked, clearly suspecting something was up.
"Cell phone," Steve sighed. "I've been told I'm not allowed to go anywhere without it." He shrugged apologetically, all apple pie and honesty and totally playing up his image and every rumor about him, a point driven home when he even went so far as to add, "Some day I'll get used to carrying that dang thing around."
He stepped back into the elevator, and Clint slid right in with him. The doors slid shut and Steve lost the dopey smile and snapped, "Please say you're in here, Barton."
"I'm here and whole, unlike how the WSC wants me," he promised.
Steve let out a slow breath and seemed to actually slouch for a moment. "I'm not going to lecture you because there's a line waiting upstairs to do just that. I will tell you that we were all worried and that I expect to be filled in about your little adventure when I return," he warned.
"Return?" Clint asked, confused.
The doors opened to reveal a crowd of teammates as predicted, one of which held out the missing cell phone. "He's all yours," Steve announced. He took the phone and stepped back into the elevator. "I'm going for a run, anything anyone needs?"
"Just for you to know you're going to be followed," Natasha replied.
"Kind of figured that," Steve shrugged. His white tee shirt slid up and down with the action, and Clint finally noticed that his friend was dressed in his usual exercise gear, or at least close enough to pass a rough inspection.
"And for you to know you can't kick any of their asses based on principle," Tony added while Rogers made no move to pocket the phone. He probably planned on keeping it readily visible when he returned to the masses downstairs.
Steve frowned, complete with a hint of a mock pout, which told Clint that they had spent far too much time together if the team had already corrupted an American icon. He turned to leave and Natasha nodded to Thor and Clint cursed himself for not seeing it coming when the big guy latched on to his arm with his usual unbreakable grasp and said with absolutely no sympathy, "My apologies, but we must ensure you do not venture off again."
Natasha reached out and the back of her hand smacked against Clint's shoulder before she figured out exactly where he was. Her hand darted upwards and her fingers latched on to his chin, yanking it to the side to face her as she leaned close and threatened, "Do not do that again." Her gaze was still five degrees off of where it should be but, considering she was apparently looking into nothingness, still unnerving in its accuracy.
"Hey, I figured out several important pieces of data with this little adventure," he protested.
"Such as?" Bruce prompted. Clint knew he was in trouble when Mr. Mellow looked pissed.
"Sitwell is an excellent liar, Fury still has the Gameboy I gave him for Christmas like six years ago, and the World Security Council wants to carve me up like a lab rat," he recited. He considered it an accomplishment that he was able to get any words out at all the way Nat still held him in place, fingertips carving into his skin.
Tony leaned back against the nearby counter and mused, "We figured out some stuff while you were out too, wanna know what?" He didn't wait for a response before he ticked off on his fingers, "One, you're an asshole. Two, the field around you is shrinking. Three, the World Security Council wants to carve you up like a lab rat, or possibly a frog because I doubt they've made it past sixth grade Biology, let's be honest here."
Clint took the first as his due, and the third as the obvious, but latched on to the second and asked, "Shrinking?"
"We can see Natasha's arm up to almost her wrist," Bruce explained.
"Whereas before there was a good eighteen to twenty inches around you, though it could still be different with the touching versus not touching versus living versus inorganic aspects," Tony continued. He motioned to Natasha and said, "I know you like manhandling him, but could you release him so we can do a visual check?"
She released him after a brief, warning squeeze, and took several slow steps back. The way she swore, low and harsh and not in English, was telling enough as to her mindset as far as Clint was concerned.
There were tests, plural, all thankfully noninvasive, that followed. Stark and his machines ran scan after scan and various objects of various makeups were either tossed or handed to him. He took maybe a little too much pleasure in tossing them back, especially when none of the people gathered knew who he was going to aim until it was already flying at them. The most worrisome of the findings was that, when held outstretched in proper form, the tips of his bow were already visible. Well, that, and Tony wasn't sure if the fatigue was related to the injury or a biology issue or not.
"Hey, here's an idea," Clint yawned after what he felt was a reasonable time of playing test monkey. "How about I finally fucking eat because I've had nothing since lunch and then I take a nap or sleep or something to see if I feel any better?"
They called Steve back for dinner. Clint really wanted pizza but they weren't sure that they could trust any delivery not to be switched either with or by an agent not loyal to Fury, and no one wanted to have to test every piece before digging in. Bruce made something involving a lot of chopped vegetables and a decent amount of meat considering who he would be feeding. Tasha made a huge pot of couscous to go along with it, and Clint reluctantly admitted it was good as he finished his third bowl.
He knew sleeping alone in his own bed was not going to happen after the stunt he pulled, but was lucky enough to have only Natasha curl up next to him and Thor sit on the couch and watch bad cartoons with the sound turned low. He couldn't quite get comfortable no matter how much he tried, and was in no way surprised when she sat up and huffed, "Just how bad is the leg anyway."
"It's not like I'm going to lose it or anything," he answered less than straightforwardly and possibly more than a little petulantly.
She got up and shuffled over to his bathroom, rummaged around, and came back with a glass of water and some painkillers. When he didn't immediately reach for them, she said, "Don't be a baby and don't play the poor me routine. Take the damned drugs and get some sleep."
He did as directed because he knew better than to fight her, even if she couldn't actually see him to hold him down and force them down his throat this time. "I'd kinda like to actually be conscious for my last few hours before the field collapses and eats away at my skin the way it ate away at Tony's suit," he grumbled.
"Two things," Tasha said as she settled back down beside him. "First, I'd prefer not to have to listen to you whine and lie and pretend you're fine when you're obviously not. Second, the field collapsing has Stark completely confused because it's giving off exactly none of the radiation his suit did when it disintegrated."
"Well, that's worrisome," he mused. He punched his pillow into place while he laid down to thing about that.
"Or possibly helpful," she corrected. Her hand found his arm and her fingers curled lightly around his bicep, both keeping him in place and letting him know she was there. "This could be something completely different than what hit the suit or, like he said, have a completely different effect on organic versus inorganic material. As it stands, you haven't melted or burned away yet, and that can only be a good thing, right?"
He nodded even though he knew she couldn't see him, appreciating her version of a pep talk even though it wasn't exactly reassuring. If it wasn't the same thing, then what was it? If it was, what would it do to his clothing or any gear around him when it shrank further? And what would that in turn do to any skin it happened to be touching at the time? He thought about these and more troubling thoughts as he slowly drifted off to the sounds of Thor's chortling at Tom and Jerry and what he was definitely not dumb enough to call Natasha's snores, the painkillers of course being more than painkillers because Tasha was just as devious as he was, if not more.
He woke up the next morning not because the sun was coming in or Thor was really liking Sponge Bob, but because the annoying red emergency lights were flashing and JARVIS was calmly and efficiently telling them to get their asses out of bed. He really wished Tasha hadn't forced the sleeping issue because he still felt a little lethargic, but it wasn't enough to really slow him down when there was an actual emergency at hand, so he knew better than to bitch about it.
"What's up, J?" he asked as he rolled out of bed and found his stuff. Nat had already done the same, both giving him room and grabbing for the spare gear she stored in one of the closets.
"The tower has been infiltrated," the AI said crisply, clearly displeased. "The assailants have been confined to the lower levels, but are attempting to work their way to the residential suits."
"WSC?" Natasha asked at the same time he did.
"I believe not as the assailants targeted the questionable agents prior to attempting to expand their attack."
"Visual," she demanded, turning to the wall that doubled as a display when needed or wanted. "Let's see what we're dealing with."
"I am unable to comply at this time," JARVIS said apologetically. "Had my sensors not recently been calibrated to recognize Master Barton, I would have been unable to detect them at all. I can show you the aftermath, and the current locations of the heat signatures, but nothing more."
"Well, that's problematic," Clint said unnecessarily. "Tell Stark to get the suit, Thor and I will investigate," he ordered.
"I'm coming with," Natasha interjected.
"You can't see them," he protested. He reached for his bow and she handed him his quiver even as they continued to bicker.
"And you can?" she countered. Two more guns were tucked about her person and he opened a drawer so she could help herself to some of his many blades.
He paused only slightly at that. "I can see myself, which stands to reason I can see whatever spectrum they're in. If I can't, that means they can't see me either. Thor and Stark can call the shots and I can assist."
A glare was her only response to that. She led the way out the door to where Thor was waiting. "Call out the visuals and don't let this idiot get killed," she ordered.
Thor was wise enough a man not to try to stop her, but he did warn, "If the enemy has taken the state of our friend, there may be an additional danger to yourself."
She checked her gear one last time and shrugged, "Tell me something I don't know."
"The Lady Sif once bested Fandral in such a way that he had the armorer create her a matching sword to commemorate the event," Thor replied with a hint of a smile.
That smile was matched by Natasha and Clint felt the message was clear: don't underestimate her. Ever. And that went for Sif as well.
They took the elevator because they figured they were screwed enough anyway and they had already ordered the stairwells locked down as far as they could. The doors opened and Nat didn't even have to be told to duck as Thor swung outward and there was the resounding sound of a body bouncing off the opposite wall. Clint took a moment to appreciate two things: one was how well the team knew each other, and the other was that he could see the fuckers and attack.
He fired off shot after shot before they even knew what hit them. One lunged at Natasha who grappled with him while she shouted, "Get the others, I at least know where this one is."
It didn't take long for the roughly dozen hooded men to realize Clint could see them which, really, if they were already invisible he felt the ninja gear was a bit overkill. Needless to say, he soon became a primary target. Thor and Iron Man did what they could, but they were working with less than optimal visuals. Cap and Banner stayed up top; Banner because they did not need Hulk-sized damage to the tower, and Cap to make sure they did not receive Hulk-sized damage to the tower when Bruce inevitably lost it anyway.
Clint dodged and ducked and shot and hit and unfortunately took a few hits of his own. He didn't know if it was from the interaction of whatever fields were around each of them or not, but there was the sensation of a sort of electrical charge every time one landed. Not extreme, and more like an annoying static discharge than anything else; definitely not debilitating in any way despite its distraction. Eventually, JARVIS announced, "The remainder of the assailants have fled."
"Remainder? How many are there?" Clint panted. He leaned against a wall to try to catch his breath before he realized a scrape down his forearm meant he was going to leave a mark that would need an explanation. He scrubbed it with the bottom of the tee shirt he wore and hoped any remaining smears would be attributed to the bad guys.
"Eighteen men remained," JARVIS replied. "Of concern, agents on the entry level seem to have cornered one, and Sir is following the others aerially to confirm their point of origin."
"I've got the loser downstairs before the WSC tries to replicate this," Clint sighed. With luck, they would think it was one of the attackers freeing their cohort versus a visible Avenger breaking them out. "Try to contain these guys until we can figure out what to do with them."
It turned out that the figuring was remarkably easy, as in scarily so. They confined them all to a holding room after stripping them of weapons and cuffing them in place. Tony was already back and stripped out of the suit by the time the first unconscious body turned visible, and Clint was surreptitiously nursing an ice pack by the time the next three faded into sight.
They kept the audio on within the cell, and listened in as one complained that they should have used a higher dose and another pointed out that it wouldn't have made any difference because they were caught anyway.
"So this?" Clint prompted.
"Was intentional, yes," Tony confirmed. He sipped from a tumbler of amber liquid and asked, "So, like, after that last mission - not the one with the lasers but the one before that - did you happen to skulk off? And take the route on Sixth past that new fancy private gym?"
"A gym that's a cover for an illegal operation?" Steve guessed.
"The one and the same," Tony confirmed. "I wasn't able to get any real readings, but our little assailants both match the energy readings I've been getting from Errol here, and they all neatly filed in through a back entrance and then disappeared behind some shielding that blurred anything useful from that point on."
"They are going to report that we have their men," Steve pointed out.
"They are going to report that Barton can see them," Natasha said instead.
Clint knew where she was going with that, and didn't like it. She would try to get him off any sort of infiltration team just the way he had tried to get her off of the counterattack team earlier. They would know to target him first, and had already seen how Stark was iffy with his own attacks, which meant they would only have to deal with Thor, who was a sizable obstacle, but not if they could separate and do as much damage as possible before he came into play. It also meant that they may try to refine whatever technique they were using on their men to eliminate the weaknesses they had just exploited.
"If we go now, we have a chance at stopping them before they upgrade," he said.
"We'd be going in blind, pun not intended," Steve reasoned. He shook his head. "We don't know anything about the facility, how many people it holds, or what equipment they have. We could be outmanned and outgunned and completely vulnerable."
Thankfully, Thor at least was on Clint's side. "They attacked with limited weaponry, relying upon their stealth. It is unlikely they have developed additional methods when their focus was on infiltration. Perhaps they know the limits to the range of their cloaking abilities, or that such additional weaponry would leave them exposed."
"We're talking about their potential base of operations here though," Natasha argued. "SHIELD may send a spy in for a covert op, but would still be able to neutralize a threat outright if needed." She crossed her arms in front if her, one of the few outward tells of her aggravation with the current situation. Limited intel on a limited timeline was never a good thing to work with. Mix that with all the other crap that was going on in the background, and Clint was surprised she wasn't methodically cleaning her knives by now and daring someone to become a target for her.
Tony pulled up a schematic of what he had been able to see of the building in question. He also pulled up the original blueprints and any pictures of the area at the time of construction to see if there were hints of additional levels or even rooms hidden outright. Given that it was built downtown, where space was a premium and cost was exorbitant, it at least appeared that there was nothing hidden outward as the existing buildings on either side were still standing and in use by their original owners, but the possibility of hidden levels was troublesome.
Something keyed a memory in Clint's mind and he said, "Oh, hey, I remember that place..."
Stark was still scrolling through the various images and barely paused to point out that they had a fully equipped gym right here in the tower, with state of the art facilities and many things that were not and should not be made available to the public. Tasha, who knew him possibly better than anyone else gathered around the table, asked, "Which hole in the wall food place is near by?"
"Petey's Calzones," Clint replied, and tried not to lick his lips in memory of their awesome sauce. Then again, the only one who would have been able to see him was Thor who likely would have agreed had he tried such a creation, so he had no idea why he held himself back. "Except he wasn't there. I overheard Junior from Junior's Dogs say that he had a heart attack about two weeks back and they closed up shop while he recovered."
Bruce's head snapped up at that. "Why do I have a feeling that 'Petey' didn't just have issues with his cholesterol?" he asked, almost resignedly.
Tony set a hack into private medical records as if it were nothing, which it probably was for him. He then ran and reran the energy readings for a three block radius of the suspected stronghold. Bruce, meanwhile, simply searched for news articles on Petey's possible return to see if there was anything public about his condition. It was him who hit paydirt first.
"Pietro Algonza is suspected to make a full recovery once his new pacemaker is fitted," he summarized the findings. "Of note, his family has no record of his whereabouts for forty-eight hours prior to the attack and he claims he never left and never will as his shop is his life. His family hopes any residual confusion is temporary and a result of the illness and promises it will in no way change how the business is run." He took off his glasses and stared roughly in Clint's direction pointedly, the implications speaking for themselves.
"Petey got hit, didn't he?" Clint sighed.
Stark still had half a dozen screens lit and scrolling information, but paused long enough to say, "Good news is that it doesn't appear what hit the suit is what hit you. Better news is that it looks like it's survivable. Not so good news is the heart attack part of it."
"So I didn't get hit by Energy Weapon Number One, I got hit by Energy Weapon Number Two?" Clint confirmed.
Tony nodded. "What can I say? Manhattan is full of assholes. Though it looks like they improved the shielding and the process as a whole since then to prevent accidental exposure of others, so there's that."
Steve held up a finger, always a sign he was going to interrupt with something important and possibly less than fun. "Are we ignoring the part where Petey nearly died from this?"
"Yes, yes we are," Clint said, hoping his tone did the whole stop the argument before it started thing but knowing he was never that lucky. "I'm not an eighty year old man and we have a lead and a chance to attack now. We need to take it before we lose the lead and any possible advantage we might have." He slammed the ice pack down to make his point, then regretted it when he remembered no one other than Thor really knew he had one in the first place.
"Because taking an injured, invisible, and possible tachycardiac agent into a potential combat situation is always the best choice," Tasha said dryly.
Bruce, of course, pointed out, "Pietro wasn't eighty, he was more like forty-five..."
"The guys we caught-" Clint started, ignoring Bruce's panache for the facts, but was cut off.
"The guys we caught were already unconscious when the effects wore off, and still flinched like it hurt like hell," Tony said, almost even smoothly for him. He snapped his fingers and added, "Sit down before I have JARVIS lock the place down on you."
Clint reluctantly sank back into his chair, but didn't let go of his bow.
"How did you know?" Bruce asked.
"Because it's Barton and if there's a dumb way of doing something, that's going to be his preferred plan of attack," Stark said. He rolled his eyes and Clint thought that, maybe, it was telling that he didn't even have a counter-argument to that. Instead, he listened while Tony continued, "There's a smarter way and it won't take much longer. Give me twenty more minutes and the fabrication units should have modified goggles for those of you who are not Iron Man, a god, or a moron. We hit the place, take down the bad guys, and save their tech and records in hopes of keeping Barton's ticker ticking so that we can bitch at him for his stupidity and point out that none of this would have happened to him if he had just joined the press conference with the rest of us."
"And then we wipe any and all records before the WSC can attempt to replicate the project," Steve added. It wasn't a suggestion and nobody treated it as such. Also, nobody objected to his addition, likely because they had all been thinking it and just figured they'd have to go about it covertly and not blatantly tell the others they were going to do it.
The twenty minute wait was more than enough time for SHIELD agents to storm the bottom of the tower and block the main entrances while they cared for their fallen comrades that never should have been there in the first place. This meant that the team used the secondary exits and damn near walked right past the very people who would have tried to stop them, had they been able to see through a single wall.
"You look funny with glasses," Clint said apropos of nothing while they waited for the signal to attack.
They were less glasses and more slightly colorized goggles with all sorts of hidden tech involved and he could see one elegantly curved eyebrow when Natasha raised it and countered, "And you look funny as a vibrating heat signature that's clearly favoring his left side."
He scowled, and almost wished she could see it. She had assigned herself to his team or, more specifically, him. On the off chance the goggles worked less than perfect, they were each teamed up with someone who could at least shout a warning for them to get the hell out of there. Tony had Steve, Thor had Bruce who insisted on coming from a medical standpoint, and he had her. It was like the buddy system, but with artillery and a crap ton of skill capable of a crap ton of violence.
It turned out that the signal was a lot less covert than originally anticipated and a lot more of Stark yelling, "Incoming!" when they were spotted pretty much as soon as they got next to the building.
Clint put himself in front of Nat, not because he didn't trust Stark's tech, but more because he had the chance to take out threats before they got close enough to need to more directly engage them. She was less than pleased with the scenario, to say the least. He had managed four shots before she tossed him down with a warning of, "Duck!" followed with a reminder of, "If you can see them, they can see you."
It was kind of odd, really, after so many days of people misjudging where he was and what he was doing, for someone to be able to spot his tell and see his obvious wounds and go after those as weak points. They were unsuccessful, of course, because Clint was actually trained and had had far worse in the past, but it was enough to keep him on his toes if nothing else.
One of the ninja wannabes managed to actually land a punch and the weird static discharge hit again, only this time the feeling did not immediately dissipate. Of course, that could have been related to the fact that he had grabbed the guy, spun him around, and held him up against a wall long enough to disable him - or, in other words, had prolonged contact with him. Whatever the reason, Clint resisted the urge to twitch even while he watched the guy collapse to the floor and convulse for thankfully only about ten seconds before his body remembered it was unconscious and it wasn't worth the effort.
He whipped around when he heard a far too familiar grunt, and saw Natasha get knocked from behind while she dealt with one of the guys in front of her. Possibly more troubling than the way her eyes flickered and rolled as she hit the floor was the way the men themselves flickered.
His skin felt as though it was on fire, every nerve ending lit up at once and he needed to consciously both force his muscles into action and force himself not to hurl. The men were fading fast and with the weird lights and shadows of the building he was going to lose them quickly, too quick to be able to stop them if he didn't do something now. So he shot one so that he'd at least leave a blood trail, and whacked the other with his bow far enough back from Nat to steal her glasses with a huffed, "Sorry, but apparently I need these now," before his world was filled with the weird technicolor of heat signatures.
She groaned in response which at least meant she was on her way to consciousness already if she had actually fully left at all, but he didn't have time to check on her fully as the guy he hit was both back and had brought a friend. The guy he hit was shaking his hands and cracking his neck like he felt the charge as well, but his friend had no such limitations and outright attacked. At least both men still had that whole ninja-obsession thing going on, and their dark clothing served as a contrast against the technicolor for it to show up all nice and bright like for however long it lasted.
Clint blocked a blade with his bow and returned it to its owner with interest, estimating where it would end up based upon its launch point more than anything else. He then had to toss said bow to the side when the sharpened edge nicked the string enough for him to know he was screwed and would get one shot, maybe, before it snapped completely and that thing hurt when the alloy tore through your skin. The bullet was harder to block, though the barrel of the gun now glowed bright with the heat of the shot and he could track that easier as well. This was good as the black fabric was already turning to an opaque gray and he was cursing the timing of the change back even as his mind assumed the interactions of the fields must have been making the difference.
That in mind, he decided to use the weapon he currently at his disposal that the rest of his team did not and charged the one that was not currently bleeding out on the floor. He wrestled the gun away, pointing the barrel outward to avoid a pointblank shot to the chest when his opponent managed to get his finger on the trigger and then immediately tried for a sleeper hold. Even if the hold itself wasn't successful in knocking the asshole out, it should have been enough to short out the field around the guy and make him at least partially visible again. The downside of this was, of course, that it hurt like a son of a bitch to do so, and Clint tried to guide his seizing muscles into at least tightening the hold versus giving it up completely.
He finally gave up with a strangled yell, collapsing to the floor while the man still struggled to suck in a single gurgled breath. He could see him though, in that strange sort of semi-phased kind of way. This was good as he had lost the glasses around the time he dodged a broken nose, so now he could watch as the man flailed and his muscles betrayed him even as Clint's own did the same.
He'd say he couldn't move, but that wouldn't be accurate. He was moving, arms shaking and legs kicking fitfully, just not in a coherent manner or one that was in any way under his control. He had to admit it rather scared the crap out of him - his teeth ground together and his muscles tightened enough that he feared his bones would break beneath them and his heart wasn't pounding but he figured that was because it was doing its damnedest to try to curl in on itself and give up the ghost.
He heard his name and forced his head to turn to the side to see Natasha use one of her many knives to stab the idiot he shot before he could strangle her, and then flip over and drive that same blade into the one Clint had thought was out for the count but was actually only pausing to rearm himself. It was doubtful the shot would have hit its target the way the guy was still convulsing, but he would have tried really hard and possibly managed to either wing him or hit someone with the ricochet. Clint knew his luck enough to know that someone would probably have been him.
Natasha crawled over to him now, even as she called for medical assistance. She slid her hand beneath his skull, providing a cushion between the bone and the concrete floor, but in no other way tried to restrain him, her other hand occupied with weaponry anyway. Instead, she looked at him, as in really looked at him, met his eyes and everything before she zeroed in on each and every wound he could no longer hide, and sighed, "Idiot."
He figured that was fair and also figured that, given the sounds coming from the comm he still wore, the worst of the fight was over, at least until the WSC found them and fucked it all up again. Tasha was there though, and Cap was helping Stark both download and destroy the records on how the whole invisibility thing was done in the first place, and Hulk and Thor were just destroying things based on principle at this point. He closed his eyes to speed up the way his vision was darkening around the edges anyway, and gave in to the overwhelming urge to let go of consciousness, knowing he was in the safest hands he could be.
Recovery sucked. He wasn't exactly bedridden, but he wasn't exactly extremely mobile either. There wasn't exactly a treatment because there wasn't exactly a case just like his, even in the files and records Stark stole. So he had to deal with each annoyance as it came up, knowing the damned AI was filing away everything he wasn't saying into the appropriate database to be picked at and probably yelled at about at a later date.
Petey had gotten hit with one of the prototypes while the bad guys were still in the testing stage and before they had fully shielded the facility. It wasn't quite a raw energy blast, and they had cleaned it up quite a bit by the time Clint had been hit with a stray happenstance of his own, which explained why his symptoms weren't quite in the "needs a pacemaker" range. The attackers, the ninja wannabes, had both a pre-treatment and a far more refined delivery system, as well as knew approximately how long the effects would last for each exposure. They suffered minor discomfort from the field dissipating each time, but nothing like what Clint or Pietro had gone through, and nothing like what happened when Clint's rogue field came in contact with their controlled own and shorted the whole thing to bits.
Stark was, of course, poking at the process with a giant stick to see what he could get out of it. Stark was, of course, also vehemently denying having any evidence whatsoever as to what had happened, and was verbally lamenting the baddies' stupidity and strongly implying that it was the energy fields that they had created themselves that had backfired and destroyed all the data and a fair portion of the facility itself. It was remarkable how focused the damage was, if one knew what to look for.
Thankfully, the WSC were idiots and did not.
Meanwhile, Clint still tired easily and randomly felt like his fingertips and toes were being stabbed with pins and needles and randomly felt like his heart wanted to crap out and give up the ghost. These detriments were, in truth, a godsend however. The WSC saw them as a liability, not enough to make their interest in the process wane, but enough that they settled for a single vial of his blood versus whatever the hell they were doing to those exposed to the more refined process. His guess was that they would still try to duplicate what he had been capable of, even knowing the cost and even knowing that the Avengers and anything Stark-related had a way around it, for single usage missions. The possibility of something better and bigger and shinier meant that he was pushed to the side like a broken toy for the moment though and he really could not have lucked out any more than he had.
For now at least, he played bad video games and watched worse movies and ate the heart-healthy crap Bruce cooked up for him while he snuck the junk food from everyone else. His bow was returned to him restrung and clean even though he wasn't sure he was up to using it quite yet, and he poked at a tablet to design prototypes of new and ridiculous arrowheads that Tony would either laugh outright at or get a speculative look in his eyes over. At night Thor would come by for illicit booze and chocolate, and in the morning he would wake to Natasha's tousled curls and bland face as she would shrug and deadpan, "Just checking."
After his first mission upon his return to the field, he readily walked up to the flashing lights and cameras and watched more than a single teammate quirk a relieved smile in return. When they returned to the tower, he stripped down and washed up and joined the others where they just happened to order his favorite takeout for the victory feast. He felt five sets of eyes upon him while he used his chopsticks to steal an egg roll, and knew all was right in his crazy little corner of the world.