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.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Clint’s mouth fell open in shock. “I…what?” the words were barely audible.
“No one’s saying it was your fault,” Bruce quickly reassured him. “When they found you, there were traces of a drug in your system closely related to a drug that they think played a part in a mutant attack on the White House a few years ago.”
Clint just stared at him. “I don’t…I don’t understand,” he said quietly.
“We know that wherever he was, you were with him,” Bruce explained. “When we found you, you were outside of a ruined building near New Brunswick. The building seemed to have some sort of…self-destruct. The best we can deduce, from what Tony told us, is that someone set it off and…he pulled you out.”
A flicker of hope grew inside Clint. “But…if he pulled me out, he can’t be like…” his mouth turned dry. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words afraid of me. Not when it came to Tony.
“He was not himself. Nor has he been,” Thor said softly.
“He doesn’t blame you, Clint.” Steve’s voices sounded from the hallway and Clint turned to look at him. “He just…isn’t ready to see you…” Steve’s eyes shifted uncertainly and Clint sank his forehead into his hand. He wasn’t ready to hear this. Never in a million years did he expect someone to tell him he had psychologically and physically scarred a man he considered his best friend. He took in a long, shuddering breath.
“Clint?” Steve said softly.
“I…need a minute…”
“Of course,” Thor said. Banner got up, and the three moved into an adjacent room, leaving Clint alone with his thoughts. Memories of Tony’s hands, his bruises, the abject terror in his eyes floated through his mind. He couldn’t have done that. Wouldn’t have. He…he…
Was more than capable of it, he knew. But he had left that behind when he joined SHIELD, and darker memories hadn’t really crossed his mind since he became a part of the Avengers Initiative. He was either too busy, or too distracted in their downtime.
Christ, had he snapped? Was he finally losing it?
No, no. Banner had said a drug was responsible. But where did it come from? He had to talk to Tony, find out what the man knew. But he was afraid to. He felt fear for Tony, but mostly he was afraid to feel the way he did when Tony had looked at him like that, ever again. And it was shameful to admit, even to himself.
Clint noticed Steve’s head peeking out from behind the doorframe a few times, checking on him. God, he wasn’t the one who was falling out his chair in terror, go help Tony, he thought angrily. His gut clenched so hard, it was physically painful. He winced.
“Clint, why don’t you go to your room, get some more rest. You’ve only been awake for two days.” Clint nodded dumbly, putting the glass of untouched water on the floor and shuffling out.
“Well, he didn’t take that well,” Steve mumbled to his teammates as he watched Clint walk slowly out, shoulders tense, and head hanging.
“How did you think he’d take it? He wasn’t even supposed to be out of the infirmary for another three days until we got Tony calm enough to see him. And now we’re left with more questions than when we started. He doesn’t remember anything.”
“Just…give it time. He needs it. They both do.” Steve didn’t miss how Thor’s arm muscles clenched at the statement. The Asgardian wanted to pulverize someone, and he had to agree.
When they had found them, Steve had been taken aback by Tony’s appearance. He was only wearing the pants he usually wore under the suit, and his skin had been covered in bruises except around his stomach where there were burn marks. Dried blood caked his chin as well as his fingers, and one hand was particularly mangled. Clint had been knocked out, seemingly injury-free except for being unconscious. Tony was clinging to his shirt tightly with his better hand.
Steve had just stood in shock before rushing over to help. Tony hadn’t said a word, just looked at him pleadingly, hauntingly, before his eyes began darting back and forth from him to Clint. Steve had seen it before. But he never expected to see that look on one of his teammates. He kneeled down in front of Tony, taking his face in his hands, forcing the other man to look at him. “Tony? What happened? Who did this?”
Steve had to strain to hear his words. “It was…it was Clint…”
Tony had slept for the next two days as his body recovered. When he woke up, he still wouldn’t say much, if anything at all. His hand was casted, his raw fingers wrapped, his missing molar treated and his burns soothed before he had scurried immediately down to his lab like a dog finding refuge in its cage. Steve had to take away his alcohol after he tried to down it with his painkillers. He brought him meals occasionally, and when Tony did venture out, it was just to get coffee. He didn’t think the man was sleeping.
Clint’s sudden appearance had been…shocking to say the least. It took Steve twenty minutes to calm him down enough to get him off the floor, that same haunting look dominating his features.
Steve never thought he would say it, but he’d give anything to have the old, mocking, snarky Tony back.
Clint hadn’t been able to sleep, his thoughts consumed with trying to piece together what happened. His headache had come back, so after a few hours he got up to shuffle to the kitchen, in search of some sort of sports drink.
He got to the refrigerator, pulling out an orange Gatorade and drinking it illuminated by the appliance’s light. He heard a moan from the couch, and turned around slowly.
Tony was there. He looked like he had just…fallen there. His legs were hanging onto the floor, like he had just tipped sideways, and he was holding his casted hand protectively over his chest. Clint noticed a few of the gauze pads had a slightly pink tinge. But his eyes were closed, and Clint edged closer as he began to twitch.
Clint hesitated. It was obvious he was having a nightmare, but after today, he didn’t think he should be the one to wake him up. He was debating who to call, when Tony began mumbling.
“No. No. No, stop. Stop. Stop, please,” the last word came out as a pained gasp followed by a choked sob, and Clint unwillingly took a step backwards. The movement had made Tony unconsciously pull up on his shirt, and Clint’s breath caught in his throat as he saw gauze patches taped all over his stomach. One had come loose to reveal an angry, deep red, blistered burn.
Suddenly, Clint was somewhere else. A dark hallway, except for light and heat coming from below him. His fingers were wrapped around warm metal, and he looked down to see the end of a metal rod glowing white hot in his hand. A scream echoed in his ears.
Clint stumbled up from where he didn’t remember falling on the floor, running over to the sink and vomiting up all the Gatorade he just consumed. Sweat ran down his head and back as he continued to dry heave into the sink, the images and sounds too hard to ignore. Tony was still behind him on the couch, pleading with some unknown force to stop.
Him. He was pleading with him.
The thought sent a fresh contraction of agony through him as his hands gripped the edge of the sink and he heaved.
An overhead light flicked on. “Clint, what-”
Natasha ran over to him, placing a hand on his back, one that was much gentler than he expected, before she caught sight of Tony. She promptly left Clint and he heard her softly call Tony’s name. He heard Tony come awake with a shout, gasping for air, and Clint slowly sank to the floor, hoping he would remain unseen.
“It’s okay, let’s get you to your room,” Natasha said commandingly, but soothingly, not unkindly. Clint closed his eyes as he heard Tony take a few more deep breaths.
“Co-coffee,” Tony said, his voice cracking.
“No, you’re going to bed. No more work. We’ll give you something to help you sleep.”
“Damn it Natasha, I DON’T. WANT. DRUGS.”
Natasha’s soothing voice was gone in an instant. “This isn’t a discussion.” Clint heard them both stomp off in the direction of Tony’s room, as he sat on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest.
I honestly don't mean to mind control Clint in all my fics, it was just...convenient. In any case, since I wrote this before the movie came out, obviously there's no mentions of his time with Loki, so sorry about that.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Stark was sitting against the wall when he came in, the dark bruises on his arms, chest and face standing out in the harsh florescent light of the bare, concrete room. His wrists were chained to the floor behind him, allowing for little movement other than leaning forward and leaning on the wall.
When he heard the door open, he opened one eye warily.
“Why are you doing this, Clint?” The question was asked tiredly, as he had been asking it every time for two days. But that didn’t stop Stark from trying. “Who’s making you do this? What do they want?” His voice was scratchy; they hadn’t given him any water since he’d been there.
Clint answered only by pulling a pair of pliers out of his waist band. He had been ordered not to tell Stark anything, only to carry out his assignments. Upon seeing the pliers, Stark’s eyes widened considerably, and he pushed himself further against the wall. “What are those for? Clint, what are you doing? Don’t do this, please...”
Clint again said nothing, moving over to Tony and pulling his legs out in front of him where he sat on them. “Don’t move too much. I don’t have much practice doing this,” he told the other man plainly. He grabbed his chin harshly, forcing his mouth open. Stark’s eyes rolled wildly and he tried to thrash with his legs and shoulders like a trapped animal. But he couldn’t get his legs out from under Clint, and the archer used the elbow of the hand grabbing his chin to force him against the wall, leaning all of his weight on the other man.
He stuck the pliers in his mouth.
Tony screamed as Clint began wrenching loose one of his back molars. It was high and shrieking, hurting Clint’s ears. Tears ran down the other man’s face as he continued to move the pliers back and forth, Stark trying to thrash his head around. Blood began pouring down Stark’s chin and the hand holding it, his screams becoming more garbled. Finally, Clint felt the tooth give, and he yanked it out as Stark shuddered violently, then fell to his side, moaning. He kept his eyes shut, and blood continued to run from his mouth, pooling on the floor under his chin.
Clint got up, took the pliers, and left.
As Clint finished, he looked pleadingly at Coulson, who was just sitting there, chin on his hands, looking back gravely.
“And those are the only two things you remember.”
Clint nodded, unable to speak. His voice had cracked at the end of his story to Phil, and he angrily wiped the moisture away from his eyes. He had gone to bed with the memory of the smell of burning flesh in his nose, and woken up with this memory in his head. He had promptly gotten sick again.
Coulson tapped a pencil against his desk, thinking over his words carefully. Clint had had to go to him. Coulson would be sympathetic, but also treat it as business. The only other person he thought he could tell was Natasha. The others would ostracize him.
“You know I’m not a psych,” Coulson started. “But…I can refer you to one if you need someone to talk to about this.”
“I know, I just…can’t tell the others. Not right now, anyway. Stark’s still…” he trailed off, staring at his boots again.
“I understand.” Coulson wouldn’t make him see a SHIELD psychologist. Not yet, anyway. He understood about wounds still being fresh, understood when the team needed time to pick up the pieces themselves. “I appreciate you telling me, Agent Barton. If you remember anything else, feel free to contact me.”
Clint nodded solemnly, taking the comment as his cue to leave. He reached the door, his hand on the knob, when he heard Coulson’s voice again.
“Barton…take care of yourself too. This wasn’t your fault.”
Clint paused, gave a half-hearted nod without turning around, and left.
Over the course of the next few days, Clint had started checking rooms before he entered them, to make sure Tony wasn’t in there. Usually he wasn’t. The man had well and truly holed himself up in his lab. Harder to do was try not to run into him at off hours in the kitchen. Both of them didn’t eat with the rest of the team, but Tony was unpredictable when it came to his schedule.
It felt shameful, but now he was the one who didn’t want to see Tony’s face. He was scared of more memories it might trigger. So far, it had only been the two, but none were helpful in determining what had happened to him, and both made him break out in cold sweats the minute he thought about them.
He loathed himself for being taken advantage of. He loathed himself for avoiding Tony. But mostly he loathed himself for breaking his friend and teammate so completely, the man couldn’t see his face without having a panic attack.
The others had no idea what to say to him. They were nice enough to his face, trying to be supportive. But they only knew he had hurt his teammate under the control of some drug. He wasn’t responsible, and he seemed back to normal. So they treated him as such. Clint found himself retreating more and more into his old habits of avoidance and isolation. Even Natasha left him alone, only sensing that he needed time.
Surprisingly, it was Bruce who approached him one morning on the range.
Clint had let his thoughts float away. All that existed was him, the bow and the target. He would knock an arrow slowly, taking his time snapping it onto the bow string. It was perfectly parallel to the ground as he raised it with his right arm, twisting only his wrist to hold the bow so his elbow was out of the way of the string. He carefully wrapped the first three fingers of his left hand around the string, one over the knock of the arrow and two below it. Pulling with his back and shoulder muscles, the pressure of the bow was intense, but in the satisfactory way hard labor is. His thumb locked into place against his jaw, the worn polyester material touched his nose.
He breathed out, stilled his body, and let go. The arrow made a satisfying thunk in the foam target.
It was comforting to go slow once in a while. Going through the movements. It was not only his livelihood, but his therapy.
Bruce watched him fire a few more shots before Clint finally turned and acknowledged him. “Nice shooting,” he said.
Clint eyed him warily, but didn’t say anything.
“I know a little something about what you’re going through,” Bruce said, his voice much less pleasant this time. Almost…haunted. Clint stilled, looking at the floor. “The terror of hurting someone you care about. The helplessness of not being in control.” Clint’s fists clenched around his bow. Bruce leaned back against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. “It can be…soul-crushing,” he said quietly.
Clint took a shuddering breath. “So you want me to talk about my feelings with you, Doc?”
Bruce shook his head. “Not unless you want to. But you need to talk about it some time with Tony.”
“I can’t even look at him,” Clint whispered.
“I’m not saying it needs to happen today, or even tomorrow. But it’s going to get worse if you let time move on. It needs to happen soon, for both your sakes. I’ve seen you hiding from the team. More so than usual.” Bruce moved to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He placed his hand firmly on Stark’s shoulder, pushing him to the side to allow access to his hands. Stark’s cheek had swollen from his earlier pulling of the tooth, and he was unable to speak except moan in fear and pain as Clint grabbed his hand.
He used the same bloody pliers to yank out his thumbnail.
Stark uttered a choked scream, thrashing wildly, but he didn’t have enough strength or leverage to kick Clint. The archer moved on to the next finger, and the next until the whole hand was done and bleeding. Each time Stark jerked and moaned, until he finally grunted out “Why?”
In answer, Clint grabbed his other hand.
Stark didn’t even try to fight as he moved from one finger to the next. Only whimpers of pain escaped his body and he jerked each time. The archer was cold, and efficient. Clint was about to do his last thumb when a voice spoke from the doorway.
“I think that is enough for today, Agent Barton.”
Clint turned to look at Tony’s face, barely conscious as the man focused on breathing. His eyes fluttered towards the voice, but before he could get a good look, Clint moved to the door and shut it.
“Clint! Clint, look at me!”
Hands gripped his face, and Bruce’s wide eyes met his. He was on the floor and shaking, the now too-familiar feeling of bile rising in his throat. He pushed Bruce out of the way, falling on his hands and knees to vomit on the floor.
When it was over, Bruce helped ease him back into a sitting position, leaning against the wall. He was still trembling, sweat coating his forehead. Bruce was looking at him with concern.
“God, GOD, I did…I can’t…” Clint turned his head away.
“Clint, what happened?” Bruce asked gently.
“Been rememberin’…parts…” Clint whispered shakily. “God, I tore out his teeth…and fingernails…with pliers, Bruce…” A shaky, half-sob escaped him. “Christ, I can’t…how can I…”
“I’m taking you to the infirmary,” Bruce said, getting up.
“No! No, I mean…I don’t need…”
“Yes, you do.” Bruce said it matter-of-factly, taking a hold of his bicep, but Clint shrugged him off, getting to his feet himself.
“Don’t touch me! Just…don’t…” Clint practically ran down the hallway, back to his room.
Bruce didn’t chase him.
Coulson unlocked the door to his office after his lunch break, only to find Clint sitting on the hard, vinyl couch. He knew better than to ask how he had gotten in. The man was one of SHIELD’s best. “Agent Barton,” he greeted. Clint nodded in return. Coulson frowned. He had an idea of what this was about.
“I’m officially requesting a transfer.”
Coulson sighed, sitting down behind his desk. “You know I can’t do that.”
“I’m a liability now. You can’t risk having me on the team.” Clint sounded like he had a list of responses ready to rattle off.
“You don’t think Stark’s a liability? Or Thor? Or The Hulk? Barton, you know almost better than anyone this whole team has been as shaky as Richard Nixon’s defense council since it started.”
“I can’t be here anymore,” Clint mumbled. Clint had dosed off from lack of sleep at lunch, only to have a nightmare that involved him unchaining one of Tony’s hands only to break the fingers one by one. At that point in time, Tony didn’t even seem to have the will to fight anymore, only letting his body react naturally to the pain.
“Have you talked to anyone?” Coulson asked quietly.
“Not really,” Clint said, rubbing a thumb absentmindedly over the vinyl. “Just you, Banner a litt-”
“Stark hasn’t either,” Coulson interrupted him.
That hadn’t been the reply he was expecting. “What do you mean?” He asked tentatively, guilt starting to twist his gut.
“He hasn’t said a word to anyone beyond saying he doesn’t want to eat, or take drugs, and that he doesn’t blame you. It’s been almost two weeks.” Coulson sighed heavily, looking at his monitor. “I’m not sure if he’s been this quiet since he was in the womb. He won’t talk to Rogers. Or Banner. Or Romanoff. Or Thor. Certainly not to me or Fury. He hasn’t even been talking to Pepper Potts back in LA. I’ve been fielding calls every day from her office demanding to know what’s going on. She’s been trying to get here, but I’ve had to tell her Stark is in lockdown mode for a contagious flu virus he contracted and she can’t see him.”
Clint looked down as his insides twisted unpleasantly. “Why-”
“Am I telling you this?” Coulson interrupted him again. “Rogers has to threaten to feed him intravenously to get him to eat. Romanoff has to threaten him with a gun to get him to sleep.” Clint winced as Coulson got up and moved around his desk, heading slowly towards Clint. “It’s become a problem. We can’t send him out into the field if he’s having a psychological breakdown. But we can’t send you anywhere if you’re having one.”
Coulson put one hand on the armrest of the couch and leaned down, his face inches from Clint’s. “We have a planet to protect. I need my guys. So you’re going to talk to him.” Suddenly, Coulson looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He straightened up tiredly, leaning on the edge of his desk to look at Clint who was staring back with wide eyes. “I am truly sorry for what happened to you both. It was a failure on our part. Failure to keep track of our team. But we need you. Both of you. I…can’t stress that enough.”
Clint slowly nodded towards him, standing up slowly to leave. As he opened the door, he turned back to look at Coulson with an unreadable expression.
“You both are capable of overcoming this. I know you are. And deep down you know you are too.”
Clint nodded silently again and left, closing the door quietly behind him. Coulson sunk his head into his hand.
After his conversation with Coulson, Clint slowly made his way back to the mansion, a whirlwind of emotions. He was angry at Coulson for shooting down his emotions. He was angry at himself for giving into his emotions. He was determined to talk to Stark. He was scared to talk to Stark.
But he knew Phil and Bruce were right. He had never been good with the whole, emotion thing. But knew, more than understood, that to start the healing process he would have to speak to Tony. He owed him that, at least.
He was making his way down the stairs to his lab when he was floored by another flashback.
A man stood in the shadows in front of him. They were outside the open door to the room where Tony was moaning in pain. Clint dropped the cooled metal rod on the floor in front of him.
“Well done, Agent Barton. I think Mr. Stark understands. Kill him.”
Clint nodded, turning back towards the room.
“Agent Barton,” the voice insisted. He turned back around. Zheng Tong stepped into the light. “I’ve set a bomb on the floor above. When you’ve finished, I want you to go stand next to it. Is that clear?” Clint nodded. “I will take my leave, then. Goodbye, Agent Barton.” The Mandarin smiled wryly and walked away.
Clint approached Tony warily. He stood, looking over the man. Tony’s eyes were closed, and his body was shaking uncontrollably. Clint supposed he was approaching shock. A sudden thought pierced through the fog surrounding his brain and suppressing his emotions. It had been a while since Tong had given him the drug. He didn’t have to kill this man. The bomb would do that. He turned around, preparing to leave to meet his own fate.
He suddenly felt a force crushing his windpipe and holding one of his arms above his head. Stark. Somewhere he had found the strength to retaliate. Of course. He had taken one chain off when he broke his hand. It was enough for him to get free. The edges of Clint’s visions were darkening.
Clint came to sluggishly, and found himself unable to move. The apathy that had been his only emotion for the last few days returned, and he found he didn’t much care. He was on his back, and Tony was standing above him, holding his legs as he pulled him down the hall. Tony grunted each time he shuffled along. Clint watched through half-lidded eyes, unable to fight, or help, or really contemplate the situation. Blood still covered Tony’s hands, and instead of holding Clint’s ankle with the broken one, he was keeping it pinned between his torso and his elbow.
Clint felt himself beginning to slip away again, as the other man pulled him down the hall.
“Clint?” a hesitant voice asked. The archer looked up from where he was lying at an awkward angle on the stairs. The soreness in his back and one arm pointed to him falling. He was surprised to see Tony with his head poking out of the lab, looking at him, not with fear, but with concern.
“You…you saved me…”
Tony regarded him for a moment with an unreadable expression, before ducking back into his lab. However, he left the door open, so Clint took that as an invitation and scrambled to his feet.
Tony was sliding into a chair at a table that had a number of tools and metal pieces Clint didn’t recognize. None of them had the familiar gold and red sheen he had come to expect from armor repair though. Clint slid in an empty chair some distance away from Tony. It didn’t feel right…to get close to him. But this was the first he had seen Tony in almost two weeks, and the man seemed infinitely better than the last time he had seen him.
“You remembered,” Tony said, still not looking at him.
“Parts,” Clint admitted. “I’m…shit, sorry doesn’t even begin to cut it. Look…” Clint rubbed a hand over his face, trying to push back the feeling of nausea he got every time he thought about the things he did. It didn’t help Tony was sitting right in front of him. “I’d understand if…if you don’t want me here anymore,” Clint mumbled.
Tony gave a snort before looking at him again. “Why would you think that?” Clint avoided his gaze, looking around the room studying the untouched parts of the Iron Man armor. He heard Tony sigh. “I wasn’t gonna leave you to let yourself get blown up. Clint, we’re been subjected to the whole mind-control thing before. I know the difference between that and…and real betrayal. I…”
Clint waited for him to continue, still looking around the room, anywhere but at Tony. But the other man didn’t continue, and Clint hesitantly brought his gaze back.
Tony had one hand covering his eyes, his mouth set in a grimace and Clint could see a few tracks of wetness running down his face. He opened his mouth to say something before closing it again. He had caused this. He didn’t know what to do. Tony was an intensely private person when it came to actual emotions and Clint felt like he was invading a scene he shouldn’t see. His chair rolled across the floor in his haste to get up. “I’ll just-”
“No. No, it’s fine,” Tony interrupted him, sniffing loudly and wiping his hand across his face. Clint slowly eased back into his chair.
“It was Tong,” Clint finally blurted. “The Mandarin.”
“I know,” Tony sighed. “I recognized his voice probably the…second? Third? Time. I was a little out of it.” He went back to fiddling with the equipment on his desk, avoiding Clint’s gaze again.
“Why haven’t you told anyone?” But even as he said it, Clint knew the answer.
“It’s between me and him. And you, I guess. It’s personal.”
In his position, Clint would probably have said the same thing. But he didn’t know if Tony could do this alone. Tong had evaded him before. But Tong had also underestimated both him and Clint. He probably wouldn’t make that mistake again. “So…are you going to put that away and work on your armor?” Clint asked.
Tony looked up at him, giving him a smirk. “Was waiting for you. You okay?”
Clint should have been asking Tony that. But in a way, Tony was already communicating that he was better. “Not really,” he shrugged. “But I will be.”
“Good.” Tony picked up the thing he was working on and hurled it across the room. “Time to start over then.”
I guess this is the part where I tell you this is officially the sequel to "Five Times Clint Saved Tony's Ass".
Tony let Clint spend all his time in the lab for three solid days, so they could…get used to each other again, was how Tony put it. It was still uncomfortable for both of them, but it was getting better. Especially when they put their heads together and came up with a plan.
Tony had sent everyone away, pulled some strings to get everyone out on missions, or off, or back to Asgard so that the only people in the house were him and Clint.
He made sure it was known by letting the information out on some of the SHIELD frequencies he knew to be not as secure. He wasn’t putting a billboard up advertising to the Mandarin or anything, but he didn’t want to make it too easy for him.
They waited, Tony in his lab and Clint in his room. Jarvis would check in with Clint every ten minutes to inform him that it was situation normal.
Until 2:40 in the morning when Jarvis missed his check in.
Clint grabbed his bow and quiver, moving quickly and quietly down to the lab, not bothering to try and contact Tony through Jarvis.
He already knew the Mandarin was here.
As he shuffled down the stairs, he heard a crash and flattened himself against the wall. He carefully moved his head so he could see with one eye through the glass windows into the lab, inwardly cursing the plan. This was a terrible view, he knew he should have hidden in the vents, but Tony had insisted.
He saw Tony pick himself off from the floor, Zheng Tong standing over him. The Mandarin’s back was to the windows, so Clint silently slid over to the door. It wasn’t locked, and without Jarvis online to control it, it swung inwardly at his gentle push.
The Mandarin grabbed Tony around the neck, holding the choking man upwards. Clint straightened, holding his bow up. Tony’s eyes glanced to him before flicking back to Tong. If his friend hadn’t been choking to death, Clint would have been glad to see the normal anger back, and the fear gone.
He supposed he’d have to reflect later on his personal definition of “normal anger”.
He pulled back the bow string, this time aiming for Tong’s head. He gave a smug smirk as he released, the arrow a whisper in the air.
Mandarin dropped Tony, spinning and swatting it out of the air. Clint’s eyes widened but he reached for another arrow, letting fly again.
Tong swatted it out of the air again. “Did you think I’d fall for the same trick twice, Hawk?” The man was furious. He began to step towards Clint, but there was a deafening bang, followed by a cloud of smoke that immediately consumed the coughing man.
Clint saw Tony scramble away from the cloud on the floor before leaping to his feet and running over next to Clint, grabbing one of his guantlets off the table and hooking it up to his arc reactor quickly. “Kinda, yeah,” he taunted.
Clint smirked. There was a roar as Tong hurtled out of the smoke towards them, but Clint released another arrow at the same time Tony lifted his repulsor and fired.
The Mandarin was hurtled through the air before he smacked into a wall and slid down, an arrow sticking out of his forehead.
Clint lowered his bow as Tony lowered his arm, and they both moved together towards the body on the floor. Clint leaned down, suppressing a shutter, as he placed his fingers on the dead man’s neck. “I kind of wish it hadn’t been so easy,” he muttered. “After…after everything.” He straightened as Tony regarded the dead man on the floor thoughtfully.
“Life’s unfair. And in our line of work, we’re going to see the worst of it.” He whirled around and didn’t look back, instead moving over to a computer as he began to try and get Jarvis back online. “All you can do is even the odds,” he said quietly. “And hope you have friends to catch you.”
Clint looked back at the dead man, before taking out his cell phone and calling SHIELD.
Steve, of course, had been livid when he found out Tony had sent everyone purposefully away to deal with a dangerous psychopath he knew would break into the house with them gone. Clint had been killing time in Tony’s lab, repairing arrowheads as Tony worked on something. Both had heard Steve storming down the stairs, and both had said nothing.
“What were you thinking?!?” he demanded as he burst into the room. Both of them ignored him, but he continued anyway. “Just letting the guy who tried to kill you both, twice now, into the house? Without backup?”
“Didn’t need it,” Clint mumbled.
“Not the point!” Steve shouted.
Clint slammed his arrows down on the desk in front of him before glaring at Steve. Tony raised an eyebrow looking over his shoulder.
“It was for us to do. No one else. Us. We had a score to settle, a debt, and we weren’t bringing anyone else into it.” He got up and stalked over to Steve, staring the bigger man in the face. “Don’t you dare tell me you never took care of anything yourself because it was personal.”
Steve opened his mouth to say something, glanced at Tony, then shut it again.
“That’s what I thought,” Clint muttered before moving back over to the desk he was working at.
“While we appreciate your concern, Cap,” Tony said. “We’re both cool now. Really. So you can take your babysitting to someone else. Oh, and neither of us are getting psych evals. Just so you know.” Tony smiled blandly as Clint smirked and Steve huffed, narrowing his eyes.
“Fine,” Steve acquiesced. “Just…don’t do stuff like that in the future…please.” His voice softened at the end, and Tony gave him an actually serious nod.
“Deal.” Steve walked out of the lab, the fight having left him for the time being. “See? He really does care,” Tony said to Clint who smirked.
10 days later, both Clint and Tony found themselves back in the field.
Hawkeye was perched on some scaffolding on 5th avenue picking off A.I.M. agents who got too close to Iron Man as he was trying to dismantle the bomb that would level five city blocks if it went off.
At first the A.I.M. agents had been confused as to where Hawkeye was hiding, but they figured it out quickly enough. They were scientists. Or so they said.
But these scientists still carried grenades, and he scrambled backwards as one pinged off the bars about six feet in front of him before it blew.
The building exploded behind them, pushing them forward. Clint, barely conscious, felt Tony’s grip tighten around his shoulders. They hit the ground hard, Tony crying out painfully.
They lay there for a few minutes, and Clint thought he heard the sound of something massive and very far away steadily getting closer. A plane, maybe. A cough sounded from next to him, and he saw Tony’s face swim into view from half-lidded eyes.
He felt Tony’s hand on his face, saw pain in his eyes. But mostly he saw concern and worry. For him.
“You’re gonna be okay, buddy,” Tony breathed. “We’re gonna be okay.”
Clint shook his head, a little dismayed but not surprised to find a ringing in his ears along with shouting. He was still on the scaffolding, but he could see where part of it had been blown away. A red, metal hand gripped his wrist, and he followed it upwards to see the golden faceplate in its open position and Tony staring at him worriedly.
“I’m okay,” Clint assured him, sitting up. Tony gave a smirk, before the face plate popped down and he floated backwards away from the scaffolding.
“Hey,” Clint said, seeing more A.I.M. agents run towards them from up the street. “Weren’t you diffusing a bomb?”
Tony flew back towards the device in question. “Relax, this is chump change. Besides. Just had to make sure.”
And Clint knew then for sure they were going to be okay.