The first thing Clint noticed was that it felt like someone had grabbed his brain and was slowly squeezing it in a vice grip. He moaned a little, opening his eyes. The room he was in was painted a light blue, lit by florescent lights. He noticed with some sluggishness the itchiness of hospital sheets, and he looked down to see heart monitor wires poking out of some sea foam green scrubs he was dressed in.
He started to sit up, but was instantly engulfed by a wave of nausea. Swallowing desperately as he broke out into a sweat, he looked around for a basin. He grabbed one on the stand next to his bed, vomiting into it just in time for Natasha to see as she walked into the room. She stood calmly, waiting for him to finish, and he turned away, spitting into the basin before putting it back on the nightstand.
“I’d ask how you’re feeling, but I think I know.” Natasha quipped.
“What…” he swallowed. His voice felt scratchy from disuse. “What happened?” he whispered.
“You don’t remember?” She didn’t seem surprised.
He sank back into the pillows, trying to think. The last thing he remembered…he crinkled his brow. The headache had gotten worse, and he was straining to think through it.
“There…was a fight…” he started. “I was pinned down by guys with machine guns…Stark came to help.” He remembered flashes of gold and red, and Tony’s sarcastic laughter. “Something…hit me from behind,” he groaned. “I don’t remember anything after that.” That made sense. He was definitely feeling the symptoms of a concussion.
Her eyes glanced to the left for the briefest of moments before settling back on his, as cool and collected as ever. “He’s fine,” she assured him.
“Can I talk to him?” he asked.
“You need your rest. Maybe later.”
“Whatever you say, Mom.” She shot him a small smirk before turning and leaving the room, snapping the lights off as she did so. He was back asleep almost immediately.
When Clint woke up again, Steve was there. “Hey, Cap,” he mumbled conversationally.
Steve nearly dropped the newspaper he was reading. “Clint! How are you feeling?”
He mentally took stock. His head still hurt, but not nearly as bad as before. “Better,” he said.
Steve gave a tiny smile. “Good! That’s good. Uh…” he looked hesitant. “Natasha said you remembered the gunfight? And then you blacked out?” he asked, almost cautiously.
“Yeah,” Clint grumbled. “What hit me?”
“Do you remember anything else?” Steve said, evading the question.
Clint gave him a slightly suspicious look before trying to think back. He was still drawing a blank. “No,” he said slowly, hesitantly. “Why? How long was I out? Don’t tell me I missed elections, that’s our boss I have to vote for.”
Steve gave another small smile. “No, no. It’s only been…a couple of days…”
Clint grimaced. “Really? Shit, Cap, that’s a long time for someone with a head injury, don’t you think?” He grumbled again, starting to sit up. Steve was on his feet in an instant, gently pushing him back down with a hand on his chest.
“You’re supposed to stay here. For observation,” he added quickly.
Clint was getting the feeling there was something Steve wasn’t telling him. He quickly wiggled his toes. Okay good, not that. He raised an eyebrow. “You guys are...all fine, right?”
He saw the corners of Steve’s eyes tighten. “We’re all fine,” he assured the archer. “Just rest up, okay? It was a pretty nasty knock to the head.” Steve gave him another small smile, before backing towards the door.
Clint eased back, still a bit unsettled by the conversation, but soon he fell into a light doze.
When Clint woke up again, the hallway lights were off and no one was babysitting him. His headache had fallen to just sort of a bother, and he sucked down the water someone had left in a plastic cup on his nightstand. It was lukewarm, but still appreciated.
Carefully, he sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed before settling his feet on the cold, wooden floor. He started off at a leisurely pace, almost instantly feeling the dull ache in his limbs that came from days of disuse. His fingers itched to get back to the range.
He instinctively set off in the direction of Tony’s lab. No matter the time of day, the billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist was generally awake, and Clint still had to thank him for saving his ass from assault rifle fire.
The lights were on, and instead of the blaring music, the Cure was playing just quietly enough that it couldn’t be heard far away from the door. He punched in his code, pushing the door inwards as it unlocked.
Tony’s back was to him, as he sat tinkering with something on the desk in front of him. Clint was about to say something, when he took notice of the yellow of fading bruises up and down his bare arms, against unusually pale skin.
“Go away, Steve, I said I’m not hungry.” Tony said quietly.
“Um…” Clint replied.
Tony turned, and Clint immediately saw the gauze taped over all of his finger tips, plus a short white cast stretching down most of the length of the fingers on his right hand over his wrist. Clint caught more yellow bruises on his face as Tony’s eyes widened in genuine shock, before he fell backwards in his chair with a crash.
Clint took one step forward, but froze at seeing the complete and absolute terror befitting a trapped animal in Tony’s eyes. Clint was literally at a loss for what to do. He’d never seen Tony like this. Ever.
Tony continued scooting backwards away from him on the floor, his breathing quickening, his eyes never leaving Clint’s face. “Nononononono,” he rattled off. The words were like lightning through Clint’s body.
The door behind him slammed open, and Clint turned to see Steve and Bruce running in. Steve immediately ran to crouch down in front of Tony, blocking Clint from view. Banner hurried over to Clint, grabbing his wrist and swinging him around towards the door. Before Clint knew what was happening, he and Bruce were heading back up the stairs, Steve’s mumbled “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…” still ringing in his ears.
Clint was terrified.
Bruce hustled him over to the couch upstairs. “Sit down,” he ordered, before moving to the kitchen. Clint heard the ping of him grabbing a glass out of the cupboard and the rush of tap water as he filled it up. He brought it over, holding it out for Clint, who took it numbly, not looking at it.
The pain in his head was forgotten. All he could see was Tony’s terrified face, haunting him.
Bruce sighed, sinking down into the armchair across from him. “Clint…” he began.
“Clint Barton! It is good to see you up! How are you feeling?” Thor asked from the hallway. Clint turned his neck slowly to look up at Thor as he approached him.
“Uh…what?” he said quietly. Thor frowned.
“He just walked in on Stark,” Banner told Thor.
Thor’s face instantly darkened, and the Asgardian hesitated. “I…see…”
“I…I don’t understand…” Clint said, turning back to Banner. “What’s wrong with him? Why does…” he trailed off, not even able to find the words. It was normal for any one of them to suffer ugly physical injuries, but this… Clint couldn’t wrap his brain around it.
“What do you remember?” Banner pressed, leaning forward. With his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped together, he looked for all the world like Clint’s shrink. Clint might have laughed, but the terror he felt at seeing Tony in the state he was in hadn’t even begun to leave him.
“I…I just remember the gun fight…and getting hit! I don’t…those were just guys with assault rifles!” he said desperately. “I…how could he have gotten that bruised under the suit? What broke his hand? Why is…why is he acting like that?” Clint’s voice cracked at the last question, and he took a painful swallow as he stared at Bruce, eyes pleading for answers.
Bruce sighed seriously, glancing at Thor again.
“He wasn’t in the suit when it happened,” Bruce explained.
“What do you mean?” Clint pressed.
“He was captured,” Bruce said patiently, leaning back in his chair to regard Clint seriously.
“What? When?” How long had he been out?
Thor interrupted quietly. “A week ago.”
Clint’s eyes widened. “A w…a week? Christ, Bruce, how long was I out?” Bruce looked at Thor again.
“About the same amount of time.”
“Why don’t I have like…brain damage? And do you mean someone tortured him?” Clint was livid, remembering the cast and gauze he saw, in addition to the bruising. The gauze probably meant someone had ripped out his finger nails, and then broken his fingers, at least on the casted hand. There were so many unanswered questions, the greatest of which was who he’d have to kill over the condition of his friend.
“We’re…not entirely sure,” Bruce said carefully, looking at Thor. “Tony hasn’t exactly been…talkative about the whole situation. We were hoping you might have been able to clear some things up.”
“What? Why? Just tell me, who did that to him?” Clint demanded.
“Well…according to him…you did.”