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The Archer and the Monster

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Clint looks up at the soft, “oh,” from the doorway to his right. “Sorry, I didn’t realize anyone was still awake.”

“It’s—” he clears his throat when his voices comes out, raspy with exhaustion and disuse, “it’s fine.”

Doctor Banner hesitates just inside the doorjamb. “I can go back to my floor.”

Clint sits up, biting back a wince at the strain in his back, putting his feet on the floor to make room on the couch. “Public space, Doctor Banner. I’d be up in my own living room if I minded company.” When the Doctor doesn’t move, Clint raises his eyebrows and pats at the cushion beside him.

“It’s Bruce,” Doctor Banner tells him, not for the first time, letting out a sigh and ruffling his own hair before making his way slowly toward the couch.

Clint moves further back, toward the armrest, and leans against it as Bruce sits down, steaming mug in hand. “Kinda late for coffee, isn’t it?”

Clint glances at numberless analogue clock on the opposing wall; Bruce follows his gaze before looking back to his cup. “It’s decaf,” he says, shrugging a shoulder. “I can’t do caffeine anymore.”

“Right,” Clint says around a yawn. He rubs hard at his face until spots appear on the backs of his eyelids. Bruce is staring at him when he opens his eyes again.

“You look tired,” Bruce offers gingerly after a moment.

“I feel like shit,” Clint tells him, scratching at his stubbled jaw.

“Sleep, is my professional recommendation,” Bruce says into his coffee.

“Doctor’s order?”

Bruce rolls his eyes but there’s a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips; Clint has to forcibly turn his gaze away. “Something like that.”

“What about you?” Clint asks, turning the conversation away from himself.

“No rest for the wicked?” Bruce says, though it sounds more like a question than anything else.

“Yeah, okay,” Clint snorts.

Bruce lets out a quiet sound, something bordering on a laugh but far too self-depreciative to be anything of the sort. Clint rubs at his eyes again.

“Can’t sleep?” Bruce asks before Clint can even open his mouth again. “Or avoiding sleep?”

Clint sits up straighter and leans his forearms against his thighs, looking down at where his fingers are twining together between his knees. It’s been weeks since the Chitauri. Weeks since Loki’s mind control turned him into an unwitting killer. Weeks since he was able to lay his head down at night an actually get his brain to shut off. It’s been weeks since Clint has been Clint and he doesn’t know how to rectify any of it.

“Both,” he says eventually, glancing briefly at Bruce. His eyes are dark and soft and Clint looks away immediately, back to his own hands, tightening his grip on his fingers. He huffs a breath. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?” Bruce asks quietly, leaning forward to place his mug on the table in front of them.

“Like you understand.”

Bruce is quiet and Clint rubs at the rough skin covering his knuckles until he can bring himself to raise his head again. Bruce is watching his hands. “I won’t pretend that I know exactly what you’ve been through,” Bruce tells him after a moment, lifting his gaze to Clint’s own, “but I do know what it’s like to not be in control of yourself.” The skin around Bruce’s eyes is tight, like his entire body, as though it physically pains him to say any of this. “I know what it’s like to do things, hurt people, that you’d never hurt, never do, and not be able to stop it.”

Clint’s heart picks up in his chest and he feels the rush of guilt to his stomach as much as he would a fist. He drops his face into his hands for a second before he rakes his fingers through his hair, body moving with the momentum and leaning back into the couch cushions. Bruce watches him silently.

“I’m sorry,” Clint tells him seriously, feeling somehow even more deflated and resigned than he had before Bruce sat down beside him.

“You don’t need to apologize. I’m just saying…” Bruce trails off, biting at the corner of his lip before returning his gaze to Clint’s. “I can relate.”

Clint doesn’t know what to say so he says nothing, even though his mouth opens a few times because he wants to say something to make this okay for Bruce too. He’s heard the stories, read the files, he knows Doctor Bruce Banner as well as anyone can, on paper, but this small, quiet, empathetic man sitting next to him in plaid pajama bottoms and a soft-looking v-neck is someone he knows nothing about.

Bruce shifts forward like he’s going to stand and Clint moves without thinking, putting a hand on his bare forearm to keep him there. Bruce looks at it like he can’t quite comprehend what he’s seeing before his gaze flicks up to Clint’s.
“You don’t have to go,” Clint says.

“You should go to bed.”

“I don’t know what I should be doing right now.” Clint’s not even sure what he expects Bruce to do with that because it isn’t one of his more composed thoughts, but suddenly the idea of being alone right now makes something cold blossom painfully in his chest and he doesn’t want to let go of the body beside him.

Bruce rubs his palm over his thigh but doesn’t dislodge Clint’s hand on him. “Mediation,” he offers after a moment. “It’ll clear your mind.”

“I’ve never meditated before in my life,” Clint laughs but it sounds as hollow as it feels; he lets go of Bruce.

“Tell me something,” Bruce says, waiting until Clint lifts his eyebrows before he continues. “Do you remember… what happened while you were under Loki’s control?”

Clint’s stomach twists unpleasantly. “Not really. There are times, flashes really, where I can feel it, like déjà vu or something. Like it’s right there but I can’t catch onto it, bring it into focus.”

Bruce nods like he understands and Clint has more than a sneaking suspicion that he does. “Do you want to remember?”

“No,” Clint says without a moment of hesitation. “No. None of it.”

“Some honest advice, then?” Clint nods. “Whatever it is you’re doing, not sleeping, not eating, picking at the mental block you have up… stop it. Remembering will only make it worse. It wasn’t you.”

“It was my—”

“It wasn’t you,” Bruce says slowly, carefully enunciating each word.

Clint takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, running a hand through his hair and tightening his fist a moment before letting go. He meets Bruce’s gaze and he nods. He doesn’t know if he should offer his thanks to Bruce or attempt to pick up a new conversation, or anything really, so he doesn’t say a word. He’s too tired to try.

Eventually Bruce pats him on the thigh and Clint thinks that he’s going to leave him alone with his thoughts once more, but Bruce doesn’t. He leans forward to pick up his coffee mug before he sits back against the cushions and takes a drink.

Clint mirrors his position, kicking his feet up on the coffee table before he slouches low enough to rest his head on the cushions and closes his eyes. Bruce doesn’t speak again but he doesn’t leave either. Clint drifts without sleeping, more relaxed than he’s been in longer than he can remember. His entire body still aches but he thinks that he could get used to this.