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Where You Draw Your Strength

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Phil's got a visual on Clint Barton, and he doesn't like what he's seeing.

Clint is on a harshly-lit rooftop overlooking the nighttime street, bow drawn and crossbow at his feet. He looks poised and ready for action – or, at least, he would if Phil didn't know better, couldn't see his lips just barely moving as he mutters to himself, couldn't see him occasionally break off and squeeze his eyes shut like a small child counting out hide-and-seek.

He turns up the gain on Clint's mic until it picks up a broken string of words, keep it together, Clint, got a mission, eyes on the street, yeah, that's it, c'mon – in the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced, nor cried aloud – the street, Clint, watch the goddamn street – bloody, but unbowed – street, Clint –

Whatever's going on, it doesn't sound good. Phil frowns, gnaws on the ragged edge of a nail he's been swearing to himself for weeks he'll stop biting.

He looks back just in time to catch Clint's hands jerk upward and hear him mutter, the mission, Clint, what the fuck are you good for, anyway, get your head in the goddamn game, you useless – and the archer pulls the mic from his earpiece and shoves it as far away from his mouth as he can, so that Phil, or whoever else he thinks might be on the headquarters end of the line, can't hear him anymore.

Phil can't hear, but he can sure as hell see. He can see the edges of the bow riser cutting into Clint's hands where he's gripping it; he can see the set of Clint's jaw and the way the cords of his neck stand out; he can see when Clint's eyes flick away from the street below and up to the left, rapid calculations whispered loud enough that the mic picks up the trailing ends of them just a little.

He sees when Clint puts down his bow on the concrete surface of the roof and presses the heels of his hands hard into his eyes. He sees those hands shaking, and he knows it won't end well if he leaves Clint out there like this.

"Abort," he says crisply into the mic at the computer. "Barton, I want you back in here. Now."

"Sir," Barton says, "mission conditions are still ideal."

"I'm in charge of this operation," Phil replies, "and that was a direct order, Agent Barton."

Clint snaps his mouth shut so quickly Phil can hear it over the mic. Seconds later, the archer and his gear have vanished from the rooftop, leaving no trace of the fact that they were ever there.

Phil finds him at the door to the briefing room forty-five minutes later, hair damp and tousled from the shower, thick S.H.I.E.L.D. hoodie pulled on over his clothes and zipped all the way up. His arms are crossed, fingers tapping out skittering patterns on his ribs, and Phil catches the last of his words, Barney – Barney – Barney – as he stares at the closed door without seeing it and waits for debrief.

He's not being debriefed in this state. Phil considers sending him to his quarters to rest – for about five seconds before his brain catches up and tells him exactly how effective that will be.

"Come with me," he says.

Clint shoots him a wary look, and really, what else should he have been expecting?

"Offsite," he explains. "To my apartment." Clint's never been there before. Hell, Phil's hardly ever been there. It's a safe house, really, just a cover story, nothing more; he lives at headquarters like the rest of the Initiative, but unlike them, he has a bolt-hole if he wants one.

He doesn't particularly want one now, but he has a feeling Clint might, and the apartment has a pretty comfortable (plain, generic) couch. It's probably good for sleeping on.

It takes them four minutes to get from the briefing room to Phil's car, twelve minutes to drive from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to Phil's apartment (the traffic lights are in their favour; Phil rides the gas pedal a little hard and Clint whispers, Barney, Barney), three more to climb the stairs to his floor (Clint's so tired he's stumbling a little), and forty seconds to unlock the door (the lock sticks; Phil jiggles the key until he hits it at just the right angle). Clint times all of it.

It's a mark of how worn-out Clint is that he doesn't protest at all when Phil steers him in the direction of the couch and leaves him to fold in onto himself alone in the quiet for a minute or two while Phil rummages through his linen closet.

As he's carrying in an armful of blankets, he hears Clint whispering again, "Barney – Barney – Barney…" and, like the other times, it trails away into silence after a moment, leaving Clint looking more miserable than ever.

"What's that?" he asks gently.

"What's what?" Clint returns, confused.

"Barney," Phil says, setting the blankets down on the couch. "Why are you…"

"… saying my brother's name?" Clint finishes for him, and Phil nods. There's a hesitation, and Phil is about to jump in, remind Clint that he's under no obligations here, he doesn't have to answer, but Clint speaks before he can.

"I used to… back when all of this started," Clint says, making a broad gesture at all of this that Phil understands without asking, "I used to pretend it was someone else making me think those thoughts. I knew it wasn't – I'm not delusional – but it helped to act like it was. It helped."

"Helped you believe it wasn't your fault," Phil fills in the gaps, carefully not thinking about why it is his brother's name that Clint uses for this.

"Mmm," comes the almost-negligent reply, but Clint nods. Phil's right; it was a way to shield himself from his own guilt and shame, and it worked. It still works.

"So now it's kind of a… safeword," he explains. "For when I need not to think something. It's faster than poetry. Like an emergency button."

"You've been saying it a lot today," Phil observes.

"Yeah," Clint agrees, but doesn't elaborate.

Phil doesn't push. That's the last thing Clint needs right now.

Instead, he nudges the stack of blankets in Clint's direction. "Take what you need," he says; means far more than the blankets, but doesn't say so, and Clint doesn't move.

Phil hesitates for a moment, deliberating between leaving to give Clint some space and staying to make yet another misguided attempt at helping, but then he sees Clint twitch, blink his eyes tightly shut, and whisper sharply, "Barney…"

That makes his decision for him. He sits.

He also makes sure that the pile of blankets is next to him, solid physical barrier between him and Clint so that there's no danger of overstepping boundaries. He doesn't really know what to do, other than that, but he's trying to make this a safe space – whatever that really means – and he's hoping Clint will take it from there.

Maybe he isn't being direct enough. "What do you need?" he asks.

Clint, eyes still closed, mutters something he doesn't catch. He leans closer.

"Say something," Clint tells him hoarsely. "Anything, doesn't matter. Distract me."

Phil considers for a few seconds. "You owe me seventeen missing mission reports," he says, because it's all he can think of, and because it's true, at any rate.

It makes Clint laugh, although it skips beats and doesn't sound quite like laughter, and his fist curls into the blankets so that the fabric pillows around his fingers. "I'll get right on that."

"Really?" Phil asks. "Because if so, you also owe me seventeen expense reports, not to mention four munitions requisitions and, Clint, over a hundred asset status reports. Over a hundred."

"I owe you a hundred things of paperwork?"

"For as long as I've been working for S.H.I.E.L.D., no team has ever lost or destroyed as many items as the Avengers Initiative."

"Isn't that going to be hell for you?"

"I would be worried if I thought you were ever going to turn any of it in."

This time, the laughter sounds a little more like it's approaching something natural; not there yet, but Clint's fingers relax on the blanket just enough that the skin on his knuckles isn't white and bloodless anymore, just enough that Phil can't see the tension in the tendons of his hands. He wants to ask if it's helping, talking about trivial things like paperwork, but asking seems like it would defeat the purpose, so he stays quiet.

It occurs to him to wonder when over a hundred missing documents became 'trivial' to him. He thinks it might have happened about the time he brought Clint over to his house to get some sleep instead of leaving him at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, or maybe about the time he sat down on the couch instead of heading for his own room. He also thinks it might have happened much earlier than that, but that's a possibility he'll wait to touch with careful fingers when Clint's there beside him; not before. Not now.

Clint hasn't said anything in a minute or two, so he remembers, distract me, and says, "Do you speak Latin?"

It earns him a significant look, because of course Clint doesn't speak Latin. That might not matter as a distraction, though, so Phil says, "Amissa solus palma superabat Acestes,
qui tamen aerias telum contendit in auras
ostentans artemque pater arcumque sonantem.

"What's that?"

"Virgil," Phil tells him, "the Aeneid."

"What's it mean?"

Phil smiles and says, "Acestes, grudging at his lot, remains
Without a prize to gratify his pains,
Yet, shooting upward, sends his shaft, to show
An archer's art, and boast his twanging bow. It's an archery competition. Do you want to hear the rest?"

Clint nods.

"In English or in Latin?"

"Both," is the answer, twice, so Phil keeps going.

"Hic oculis subitum obicitur magnoque futurum
augurio monstrum; docuit post exitus ingens
seraque terrifici cecinerunt omina uates.

Clint waits, eyes fixed on Phil, for a translation, so Phil gives it. "The feathered arrow gave a dire portent, and latter augurs judge from this event. It's not a direct translation."

"Judge what?"

Phil takes a deep breath and tells him the rest all at once. "Namque uolans liquidis in nubibus arsit harundo
signauitque uiam flammis tenuisque recessit
consumpta in uentos, caelo ceu saepe refixa
transcurrunt crinemque uolantia sidera ducunt
attonitis haesere animis superosque precati.

"Bless you," Clint replies, and they both chuckle a little – and then Clint abruptly drops his head into his hands again, mutters and swallows hard so that Phil can see the movement of his throat against the skin of his wrists and guess at what he's saying.

He translates quickly, "Chafed by the speed, it fired; and, as it flew,
A trail of following flames ascending drew.
Kindling they mount, and mark the shiny way
Across the skies as falling meteors play
And vanish into wind, or in a blaze decay."

Clint repeats after him, "It fired, and as it flew, a trail of… flames…"

"Following flames ascending drew."

"How do you know all this stuff?" Clint asks, like he doesn't have dozens of poems at the ready in his head for the moment he needs them.

Phil doesn't answer, because there's really only one reason he spends time memorizing archery-related poetry, and it's not something he's quite prepared to put into words yet. Instead he says, "You know the Etruscan god of archery is the same as their god of poetry?"

"Really?" says Clint, and it comes out forced between his teeth, a substitute for something else he's trying not to need to say.

"Really," Phil says earnestly. "And there's a Norse god of snowshoes."

There's a quick grin that never makes it to Clint's eyes, more a programmed response than a real reaction, but he moves enough to pull the blankets off the couch between them and wrap one around himself like armour against his thoughts.

Phil's been trying to distract him from the whole situation, but maybe that's not the right approach.

"You should get some sleep," he says, and doesn't miss the flare of fear in Clint's eyes before he tamps it down under a calm, steady archer's gaze.

"Okay," is all Clint says. His voice is barely audible, but to his credit, it doesn't waver. "Okay."

Phil waits for a moment, but Clint only hunches lower, pulls the blanket tighter around him, drops his gaze to the carpet between his feet. He's definitely not making any effort to sleep, and Phil suspects that if he went to bed right now, when he got up in the morning, Clint would still be here, staring into the space just in front of him, shoulders tense and hands twisted into the edges of the blanket.

He gets up and heads for his bedroom, slipping through the half-open door and flipping the lightswitch as he enters. Once he's inside, he shucks his jacket and tie over the back of a chair, kneels by the bookcase, and pulls out an old, scarred, leather-bound book, cradling it carefully so that the loosest pages don't fall out.

When he comes back to the living room, Clint is exactly the way Phil left him, exactly the way Phil knew he would be. He looks up when Phil settles back onto the couch.

"You can tell me to leave," Phil says.

Clint looks at him.

"If you do, I'll go. But if you don't, I'm not going anywhere tonight."

Clint looks at him, but doesn't say anything.

Phil opens the book, brushing away the glue that flakes off over the word Virgil, faded on the cracking spine, and holds it out in Clint's direction. It's long moments before either of them moves, and when they do, Clint is the one who shifts closer to Phil and leans over the far edge of the pages.

"Soon all with vigour bend their trusty bows
And from the quiver each his arrow chose," reads Clint. "Why don't they each have their own quiver?"

"Don't question the great classics," Phil says wearily, but he's smiling.

"I'm just saying," Clint argues, but he's almost smiling too, and Phil thinks, This is better than it was.

They aren't fixing anything tonight, not really; the inside of Clint's brain is complicated and there are no maps, and triggers like these are not a quick patch job. But they're here together with a book and a couple of blankets and Phil's flawless Latin pronunciation like a shield against the night, and it's enough, at least, for now. They'll go from here.