Clint Barton – he’d chosen the name because it sounded sharp, like the flint tip of an old arrowhead, like a hawk’s talons – walks down the halls of SHIELD for his briefing. Okay, that’s a lie. In truth, he sulks quietly through the air ducts, for practice, for defiance (claustrophobia was a hard-fought bitch), for the height. But, yeah, sometimes when he glimpses her through the vents, he knows it’s also so he doesn’t have to pass her in the halls and feel the inner flinch only the two of them will know is there.
(In briefings, he can usually pretend that Maria Hill is simply another agent; he almost never has to look at her.)
Coulson and Fury know that his name is a lie, of course; they who and what he used to be. But they don’t know nearly everything. (They weren’t there until the very, very end.) Hill knows what it cost him to relearn how to be in buildings for more than two hours, much less underground, why he crawls through air vents – to prove that he can, to know he’ll be able to when he needs to – and how damned much he misses the open sky.
(In turn, he knows what Hill sacrificed and would sacrifice again. He and Hill will always know where the other stands, and that they will have each others’ backs. He still avoids Hill – neither of them want to remember too much.)
The briefing, it turns out, is Fury introducing him to the idea of the Avenger’s Initiative. Reading the files, the idea, is a gut-punch – swift and breathtaking – but his face stays still just like any other brief. (It’s hardly the first time having to focus to have real facial expressions has helped him. It’s not even in the top ten.) Fury’s introducing the idea to him because he wants Hawkeye on the team. Technically, Clint is being given the option to refuse, but he knows that would give too much away. (He trusts Fury well enough, but he refuses to give the Director any more jesses to hang him with.)
He tells Fury that he’ll think about it, and hides how much he can’t stand the thought of being on a team like that again. (Can’t stand the hope that it will work; can’t stand the fear it won’t, or the dread of it all falling apart.) Clint hides his relief (disappointment) when the project is shelved.
Then he’s assigned to watch the Tesseract while the research team works on it. The similarities to another blue glowing alien cube he once knew are not lost on him, and he tries not to let it disorient him too much. (It doesn’t help that it looks like its opened a portal through what he once knew as Z-space – out to alien stars in the most literal sense.) He learns the compound by heart and finds the best spot to watch the cube from.
(It’s both comforting and unsettling how much this reminds him of a life he left behind, the action of watching from above and paying attention to the details is familiar, possibly the most constant thing in this patchwork life of his.)
And one day, the cube activates.
The hole into empty space was always a chilling sight, and a few hours later he watches as Director Fury strides into the room. He knows from the coms that Ma- Hill is here too, and feels a bit better for that.
He almost can’t believe that he has to explain to Fury – the man is far from unintelligent – that the portal goes both ways, when a strange man appears.
No, wait - he recognizes Loki from the tapes and files and the manic look in his eyes. That look always reminds him of David and Clint shuts the door on that thought but it won’t latch because all this shit is getting too damned similar.
He’s faced worse than this – before he was 15 years old no less, and damn that’s a bitch to try to reconcile when the 20-something soldiers he occasionally helps train look too fucking young.
So when the spear moves towards him slowly he doesn’t move. Because his vest will protect him and it’s too slow to be anything but a bit of grandstanding. The tip presses against his chest and his world melts and explodes at the same time, Loki’s words echoing through his head.
“You have heart.”
It is and isn’t like being infested; like being a Controller. He’d know. It’s more like nothing matters - nothing matters except what Loki needs him to do. There’s no one else in his head deciding how to move or what to say, and Loki isn’t interested in his knowledge except as it pertains to his mission. There’s no rooting around, no painful memories dug up and forcibly relived. No real way to fight back, even for a second. (Except by working within mission parameters?)
He’s cut off from his own body - skills and knowledge unguarded by his emotions and experiences. Anything related to Loki’s orders feels bright, like summer sun on a city skyline, while everything else is gray and unimportant. Even - especially - his own emotions. It feels like depression, major clinical depression, more than anything else. Like floating above himself, disconnected from the world - except that instead of feeling a muddled detachment, he feels the pull towards Loki’s goal. But like his experiences of depression, the small part of him that can think emotionally, that still feels like him, like Clint Barton, the man who carved himself from a life of driftwood and broken wings and the remnants of a secret war, well, that man tries to do what he can.
He shoots Fury in the chest, in the bullet proof vest, where he knows the man will recover easily, both because Loki doesn’t care if the man dies or not and because whats left of him really doesn’t want to shoot Fury - he wants Fury taking care of this FUBAR’d situation.
But really, the most important and hardest thing he does is when they get to the vehicle. Hill is standing there, asking for an update, and the words meant to ease suspicion are accompanied by full on eye contact. Which is something Loki won’t know is out of character and the alien would read as being more convincing, and something he’s been avoiding giving to Hill for almost a decade.
Mar - Hill blinks and turns away, confused. But Clint hears Fury’s voice over the radio and thinks it was enough.
He trusts Hill to kill him.
The next thing he lets himself remember later (though he knows he’ll be having nightmares of eyeballs for years. Again.) is fighting Natasha in the Helicarrier.
The part of him that’s locked out of control, flying above himself, knows and curses that she’s holding back. She’s trying to find out how to get him back without killing him, and yeah, she’s holding her own nicely, but he can tell there’s something wrong with her ankle and he literally can not stop, can not see reason.
Pain knocks him back into himself somehow. “Tasha?” he mumbles, trying to regain control of the body he’s made his as he blinks dizzily.
She knocks him out. Thank God.
He wakes up, strapped down. Somehow he’s free of Loki’s spell, and stuck on solid earth again. He knows he killed people, and he pushes it mentally aside to deal with later as Tasha helps him clean up and get ready in case they’re needed. Clint has no forgiveness left in him for someone who takes his freedom so wholly and completely.
But, hey, he gets to meet Captain America properly. And then he gets to crash a jet. With no one getting hurt, too. (And he knows no one else could have pulled that off, especially in the middle of Manhattan.) So no matter what else, at least the day isn’t an entire loss.
His life has been kettling spirals of warring against hopeless odds, so the situation is oddly familiar as they look at the alien force invading New York City. Right now, what he wants to do most is get Loki, destroy that damned staff, and not let anyone be controlled by it again. Ever.
But he knows the job in front of him. He’s working with a team - fuck , with the Avengers team - and he knows exactly what’s needed of him before Captain America (CAPTAIN AMERICA!) gives the order. Iron Man gets him to a good, high perch with excellent sight-lines as more and more aliens pour through the hole in the sky. Clint looses his arrows and gives the information needed to his allies, even as he gives the closest thing he can to a prayer for the enemies dying, that he’s killing. He’s seen the chains on some of the sky jets the Chitauri ride, and saves his cold anger for Loki and whoever else is making them do this.
(He shuts out the memory of gentle bark-eaters used as shock-troops and a baby girl born into freedom to die for freedom and focuses on the mission.)
Clint reads the air currents and follows the winds and watches the aliens fly. They seem awkward - used to a different atmosphere? To space? Just shitty vehicles? Any way, he tells Stark to find a tight corner because they’re Golden Eagles to Iron Man’s Peregrine Falcon and really can’t bank worth a damn.
Hulk hardly needs help and doesn’t have a com anyway, and neither does Thor but he gives heads up to Natasha and Cap as he can and - SHIT. There’s civilians, cornered in a bank down the street. He tells the Cap and the man’s on it. Clint knows a normal human would never be able to see that far away, but his existence has never been normal.
It’s almost over but then there’s a fucking NUKE - a NUKE - heading straight for MANHATTAN - and what pig-fucker was stupid enough to come up with that fucking piece of shit idea and who the hell agreed to it? But Tony says he’s got it and Clint can read the air/speeds/signs and knows that it’s a one-way trip for Iron Man no matter how you cut it.
He bites his lip as Ra- Natasha waits as long as she can and finally has to cut the portal. But he still watches. He almost wishes he couldn’t, but his eyes see clearly that while Stark’s falling closer and ahead of the explosion behind, there’s no way he’ll make it. But then there’s a fraction of a second where the portal closes slower, and that’s enough.
As the remaining Chitauri collapse he thinks of hive minds, and he knows it’s all but over.
Clint doesn’t shoot Loki for what the guy’s done, but Thor is right there and... he’s killed enough people today and Clint once had to kill a man in front of his brother already in his life and he has absolutely no desire to repeat that experience.
They get Loki secured.
They’re recovering (as a team, and damnit he didn’t want this but they’re his team now) by eating shawarma at Tony’s insistence, and since Tony almost died and is the one paying, they all agree.
Everyone’s bone tired. Adrenaline crash. Clint eats his shawarma slowly and takes a few minutes to look around the table. He closes his eyes, opens them again, and for just a few minutes (while he’s too exhausted to care, to break down, to cry) lets himself remember.
And then in the Cap he sees Jake, head in hands, thinking about the orders he gave and the ones he didn’t, and how he could have been better, done better. Tony just sits there and stares, like Marco after a really bad fight - not that they weren’t all bad - when they all came way too close and there was nothing left that was funny enough to cut through the exhaustion. Natasha looks comfortable even after the fight - exhausted but knowing she did her job - so much like Rachel sometimes. (And yeah, he knows, he has a type. He’s told her the bare bones about Rachel, and she understands when he slips sometimes.) Thor is somehow the easiest to place - the alien shoving as much food into his mouth as possible, like he might not get to taste it tomorrow, is so much like Ax that a small part inside Clint smirks. Bruce just sits there - the hardest to place. But the man is relieved. Relieved he didn’t hurt any civilians, relieved he had some measure of control and tomorrow he could go back to his day job, trying to heal people instead of hurting them - so much like Cassie could be sometimes.
Tobias sits there and brushes the hints of saline from tiny down feathers that surround his eyes. Its different - and Hill would choke if she knew he compared her to Stark - but they’re a team now.
He thinks he can live with this. The only family he ever knew was a team like this, and he’s starting to get the same vibe sitting here now. He’s hurt, and worried, and knows all of them have scars out the wazoo. But, maybe. Maybe, he hopes, this won’t be so bad.