The SUV jerked to a halt, slamming Clint face first into the seat in front of him. He grunted and rubbed his face against the headrest, trying to dislodge the blindfold. Someone grabbed him by the collar of his uniform and yanked him back. A gust of air told him that the car door had been opened. His captors seized his arm at the elbow and dragged him out of the vehicle. Clint went limp, forcing them to pull as much deadweight as possible. It meant his knees slammed into the ground hard enough to make his legs go numb for a few seconds, but it was worth it to hear them cursing as they struggled to drag him.
His hands were tied tight behind his back, but his legs were free. When they tried to pick him up to carry him, Clint kicked out. One of them cursed. Clint jerked his head to the side in anticipation, and the blow glanced off, ringing his ears but not knocking him out. He shook his head sharply, and the second hit landed hard. Not enough to knock him out entirely but enough that Clint went limp.
By the time his head started to clear they had him on his knees and the barrel of a gun was digging hard into the back of his neck. Some sucker was reporting the gorgeous mess the Avengers had made of their boss's grand plan, finishing up with, "But we did not return empty handed, sir! We have captured one of the Avengers!"
Clint laughed. Rough fingers scraped over his face and yanked the blindfold off. Boss man glared down at Clint. "You will not think this is so funny by the time we are through with you," he growled. "You are our only prize from this operation. I will wring every possible secret from you and leave you a desiccated husk."
"I'm sorry, a what husk?" Clint said, tilting his head and leaning forward like he couldn't quite hear. He smirked. "I never graduated high school, you know. Sometimes the big words are beyond me."
Boss man's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, didn't your buddies tell you?" Clint raised his eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. "They bagged the one Avenger who has literally no secrets to be wrung! You want my blood?" He laughed. "Take it. Pure, unadulterated human, full of only the really boring secrets. Congratulations, you scored the Avengers booby prize!"
"You still have intelligence we can extract," Boss man said darkly.
Clint snorted. "Do you really think they pull me off the Avengers to run sensitive ops? I work with a god damned bow, I'm not that discreet. If you wanted intel, you should have grabbed Black Widow."
Boss man's face flushed dangerously dark. "If you think we will release you because of this, you are sorely mistaken." He lashed out, his fist connecting with Clint's jaw with a loud, painful crack. Clint couldn’t help laughing as the blows rained down because hey, he's good at playing punching bag.
Been practicing since he was a kid.
Three days later, Clint was deadweight in the guards' grasp more because walking wasn't worth the effort than because he wanted to piss them off. They threw him into his cell, and he managed to turn so that his head didn't slam on the concrete, but he couldn't hold in a pained grunt as the his body came down and jarred new injuries.
Lucky for him, these guys were strictly vanilla when it came to torture: fists and boots, knives, and some electricity when they got excited. They hadn't even broken any bones, though Clint suspected that had more to do with the fact that they didn't have a medic to keep him alive if something broke the wrong way. His value at this point was mostly entertainment.
Groaning softly, Clint rolled onto his back and tried to relax and let the chill of the concrete soothe hot, abused muscles. Nor for too long; he couldn't afford to get stiff. He had to be ready. They were going to give him an opening soon, he was sure of it, and he had to be ready to go when they did.
But not quite yet. He could lie here and ache for a little bit longer.
His captors hadn't taken him at his word, of course. Not at first. They gave him a beating to soften him up--he was almost insulted that they thought that was all it'd take--and then shot him full of drugs, but there isn't a 'truth serum' in the world that does more than encourage you to talk generally, and Clint had never had a hard time talking. He gave them an earful of late night soap opera plots and the highlights of Coulsen's reality shows (they were on the TiVo and Clint got really bored sometimes, okay?) and half the plot of 24 and if a few mission details slipped out in there somewhere, it was impossible to tell them from the drivel. He was no Tony Stark, who couldn't go ten words without talking about work. He was no Tony Stark in general.
Clint forced himself to sit up and start carefully stretching. His body protested, muscles screaming at him from the abuse they'd taken. No Steve Rogers, either.
Which was a good thing, Clint reminded himself. They couldn't afford to lose Cap. Or Tony. Or Thor or Bruce or Natasha, really. Which meant Clint needed to get his ass in gear because he knew his team well enough to know they'd be coming after him, the same as they'd come after anybody else. Not a single one of them with a pragmatic grasp of the costs and benefits of a rescue. Except maybe Phil, but Phil was biased.
"Don't think about Phil," Clint muttered to himself. It didn't matter if he was overheard; there was nothing he could tell these guys about his boyfriend that they'd care about. But thinking about Phil made him remember lazy mornings and deadpan dry wit and that time he actually made Phil choke back a laugh in the middle of a briefing. Thinking about Phil made him want to trigger the transmitter implanted in his hip that would broadcast his location and bring his team right to him to get him out. He couldn't do that. Couldn't bring them into a heavily guarded base with so little return.
He'd been here too long already; Clint had to get out before the Avengers got in.
The problem with that plan, Clint had to admit half an hour later, was that there wasn't much he could do with the knife he'd swiped or the miniature computer sewn into his pants or the poison and sedative tabs also sewn into said pants (they were very expensive pants)from inside a locked room. The hinges were on the outside, there was no window, and the single light was out of reach over his head. He could take the sedative and hope they thought he was dead, but it wasn't really powerful enough to pull that off. He could take the poison am hope they didn't think he was faking, but he'd established his worthlessness a little too thoroughly for them to bother reviving him, if they even could. When he was taken out of his cell, he was always covered by at least three guys, one of whom always stood at range with his weapon aimed.
Which was why Clint was still pacing his cell when the ground started shaking, people started shouting, and Iron Man ripped the door off its hinges. "Hawkeye!" he said, voice distorted in a way Clint usually didn't hear; he got it over the comms. "You okay?"
Clint swallowed a sigh and the urge to rub a hand over his face. "Fine. They didn't even break any bones."
They made him check in with SHIELD medical anyway, and the whole team hovered until Clint told them to fuck off (and Phil backed it up with a head tilt). Phil insisted on staying.
"For once," the doctor said, smiling as she removed her gloves, "Mr. Barton is no more injured than he claims. Some pretty severe bruising and a handful electrical burns, but nothing that requires an extended stay. Watch your urine for blood, just in case, and check in again if the pain isn't substantially reduced in a week."
"He needs his transmitter replaced," Phil said.
The doctor's eyebrows went up. "No, he doesn't. It's fully operational; we always check after missions." She nodded at Clint and walked away.
Clint watched her go, then dropped his gaze to the floor.
"Would you care to explain?" Phil asked mildly.
Clint winced. Mild Phil was pissed-off Phil. "Not particularly."
"You were missing for three days and you didn't even try to broadcast your position?"
"You didn't need it, did you?" Clint said. He forced himself to straighten up and look at Coulson.
"We could have had you out on the first day if you'd just swallowed your pride and asked for help," Coulson snapped. "Or did you want to be tortured?"
"I didn't want anyone else to be tortured," Clint retorted. "I could get myself out--"
"Clearly you couldn't!" Phil shot back. "Or we wouldn't have had to waste three days looking for you!"
Clint could feel the angry rush of blood to face, knew he must be bright red. "If you and the rest weren't such bleeding fucking hearts, you wouldn't have wasted resources coming after such a poor goddamned asset. You think I held our rear because no one else could do it?" He barked a laugh. "There isn't anything I can do that someone else can't do bigger and better. I held our rear because SHIELD can't afford to lose any of the others."
Phil's gaze sharpened. "Bigger and better don't always go together," he said, voice low and clipped. "And we can't afford to lose you, either."
Shaking his head, Clint hopped off the examination table and started pulling on the clothes an orderly had brought for him earlier. "You're biased."
"Do you think I'm not capable of evaluating an asset accurately, regardless of my personal feelings?" Phil asked. "You bring precision, subtlety, flexibility, and both operational and metaphorical perspective to this team, Clint. The Avengers can't afford to carry a single member; if you didn't contribute as much as the others, you wouldn't be there."
Clint finished lacing up his boots and straightened up. Phil was focused on him. Sighing, Clint ran a hand through his hair and thought about kissing Phil. Thought about leaning into him, holding onto him and letting all that faith and competency sink into him. But they were in the middle of SHIELD medical, so he forced a smile and squeezed Phil's shoulder instead. "Thanks, sir."
Phil called after him as he strode out, but Clint ignored him. He needed to get off the Helicarrier. The Mansion wasn't exactly private, but at least he had a room he could lock himself into where not even Fury's override would pry him out. Tony's would, but Tony understood about needing space even from people who cared about you.
At least, he thought Tony understood.
Clint was forced to reevaluate that conviction a day later when a pounding on his door was quickly followed up by the door opening to admit Thor. At least that meant that the pounding hadn't been an indication of irritation; Thor was just incapable of knocking quietly.
Clint turned his head from where he lay on his sofa--all of the rooms in the mansion had a little sitting area between the door and the bedroom--and scowled at his teammate. "A locked door generally means that the occupant doesn't want to be disturbed."
Thor strode over to the armchair that sat at an angle to the couch and dropped into it. He returned Clint's scowl with a smile. "And you have been undisturbed for a full day, though there were those who wished to breach your rooms earlier. I understand that battle can leave one's mind and heart in strange places. But I would be a poor comrade to allow your pain to continue overlong."
Clint snorted. "Is that your way of saying it's time to stop sulking?"
Thor frowned. "I would not belittle your turmoil so."
Sighing, Clint sat up and swung his legs off the couch. "I think 'turmoil' is a little strong."
"I do not." Thor leaned forward and fixed his gaze on Clint. "Steve and Tony and Bruce have told me that you require only rest and distraction, but I have spoken to the Son of Coul and I think that there are things you must hear from a brother warrior."
"Sonofabitch." Clint shot up off the couch and paced a couple of steps before rounding on Thor. "You talked to Phil? Why the fuck would you do that?"
Thor stood as well. "Who else would I speak to to gain insight into your heart if not your beloved?" He frowned. "He did say your words had not been given in confidence."
Clint had to laugh. "Jesus, big guy. Hasn't anyone told you guys don't talk to each other like that?"
"I am your brother in arms," Thor said, as if that explained everything. "Have I broken a confidence?"
Clint was tempted to say yes, just to cut off this conversation, but he got the feeling Thor would take that a lot more seriously than most people. He might even take Phil to task for it, and then Clint would get called on the lie and...that would suck. "No," he said instead. "I was just on edge and pissed that I couldn't get myself out, you know? Normally I wouldn't have said any of that shit, even to Phil. I don't need a heart-to-heart. I know where I stand." He smiled to show he was fine. "I'm good. And you're right, I've been locked up in here too long." He headed for the doorway.
Thor caught him by the arm. "And you are lying."
Clint bristled. "I'm not a liar."
"No," Thor agreed. "But one need not be a liar by nature to tell a lie. Sit." He dragged Clint to the couch and sat, bringing Clint down with him by default. Clint scowled, but Thor seemed immune to his displeasure, instead regarding him with an intent look. "Is Agent Coulson as skilled in hand-to-hand combat as the fair Natasha?" he asked abruptly.
"What's that go to do--"
"Is he?" Thor gave Clint's arm an insistent shake.
"No," Clint said shortly.
Thor nodded. "Is he as skilled a marksman as you are?"
Clint glared. "No."
"Is he as intelligent as Tony?"
"Not the same kind--"
"Answer," Thor insisted.
Clint looked away. "No."
"Or as strong as myself, or Steve, or the Hulk?"
"Of course not, but--"
Thor spoke over him. "Does he then have less value than we?"
"It's not the same thing," Clint snapped. "He's not an Avenger."
"Ahhh." Thor nodded sagely. "Then all of SHIELD is worth less than we six?"
"That's not what I said." Clint blew out a breath and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "They're on a different scale, that's all."
Thor tilted his head. "Are you not one of SHIELD's best?"
"I guess," Clint muttered.
"If you are the best of SHIELD and you are less than the other Avengers, then so must the rest of SHIELD be," Thor pointed out.
"That's not-- Listen, you know I'm not saying that. But you and," Clint waved to indicate the rest of the Avengers, "you're irreplaceable."
Thor nodded. "And so is every life, Clint. If this were not so, then we would not place ourselves in harm's way to shield citizens who are, by the thousands, far weaker than we in every way you described to your Agent. It is not our unique attributes which make us Avengers."
Clint smiled wryly. "Okay, I'll bite. What is it that makes us Avengers, then?"
Thor beamed and clapped Clint on the back. "Our warriors’ hearts!" he declared. "Our willingness to face great defeats, and our joy in great victories. We have faced many who have used the artifacts to be found in this realm to raise themselves up for selfish reasons; any one of the thousands could do the same for good purposes. But the fire that drives one to such dedication is a rare thing." He shook Clint by the shoulder. "That is what binds us together and makes us, not greater or lesser than the those we protect, but different. And you share that heart, without any doubt. Do you see? You are just the same as I, or Steve, or any of the others."
Clint had to laugh. When he went to return Thor's pat on the back, Thor pulled him into an awkward seated hug. Clint patted him on the back until Thor let go and nodded briskly at Clint. "I have said my piece. I leave you now to your contemplations."
"Contemplations," Clint muttered, shaking his head and chuckling again.
He sat there for a long time, occasionally reaching up to rub at the knot of tension in his shoulders, and thought. About uniqueness. About the Avengers being like each other, instead of unlike anyone else. About being bound together.
That thought was what made him stand and find his jacket. When he emerged into the living room, Steve and Bruce were there; they went abruptly quiet when he appeared. "I'm just...going to talk to Phil," Clint said. He got out the door before they said anything.
Phil had an apartment, not that he spent much time there. He probably wasn't there now, but Clint didn't want to see him next on the Helicarrier. He could wait.
Except he didn't have to. When Clint used his key to enter the apartment, he found Phil on the sofa, staring at an episode of Hoarders. He's had his fingers pressed against his temple and there were lines around his eyes. He took a second to look up--only because he heard the key in the lock, Clint knew--and didn't smile.
Clint sat down on the sofa beside him and looked at his hands for the long, long moment it took him to cough up the words. "I'm sorry."
"Are you really?" Phil asked, but he put the remote on the coffee table.
"Yeah." Clint looked up at Phil so that he could see he was serious. "I didn't think--Thor has a different way of seeing things."
"He does," Phil said carefully.
"I'm not going to promise I won't get all sacrificial," Clint leaned a little closer to Phil, intent, "because if it keeps any of you safe I will, in a heartbeat. But, uh," he smiled wryly, "I promise not to jump the line."
Phil smiled at that, a real smile, and leaned in and kissed Clint deeply. "I'm going to remind you of that."
Clint leaned his forehead against Phil's. "I'm probably going to need you to."
They sat there and listened to each other breathe. "Is there more?" Phil asked finally.
"Uh. Yeah." Clint swallowed. "Why do you still have this apartment? I know Tony offered you a room in the mansion."
"Call me old fashioned," Phil said dryly, "but if someone is going to ask me to live with my boyfriend, I think it should be my boyfriend. So you tell me: why do I still have this apartment?"
"I thought you ought to have a little, ah, perspective. On us. Me. It's easier to see things clearly," Clint said quietly, "when you've got a little distance. Easier to get out when it goes south, too."
Phil kissed him again, and spoke against his mouth. "I don't need distance, and I don't want to get out."
"So," Clint smiled, then turned it into a smirk. "You wanna shack up with me?"
"Living with you is going to be like living in a frat house, isn't it?" Phil asked, but the corner of his mouth quirked upwards.
Considering he got all of the Avengers as housemates in the package, Clint couldn't argue with that. "Secretly, you love it."
"No," Phil said, "that's not a secret at all."