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Worthy of an Encore

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Tony's party goes off without a hitch, which, honestly, is kind of a bummer for Clint.

He's heard all kinds of things about world-famous Stark parties, but this one is elegant and simple, calm, quiet but for a bit of raucous laughter and the occasional booming cry from Thor.

He'd been hoping for a little more excitement than that, something, anything...

He's been living in a bubble, a cocoon of muffled sounds and muffled emotions ever since he and the other Avengers found out that Phil was alive.

The only thing that pierces the numbness is fighting.

Natasha puts most of it on him. He never tried to become a part of the group after she released him from Loki's grip, never tried to deal with his grief after learning that his husband had been killed. Instead he withdrew, kept to himself, shored up his walls and retreated back into the cold, hard shell of a merc he'd been so long ago. It got worse when they found out, three months later, that Fury had brought Phil back, that he had used some crazy alien juice to revive him and that something had gone wrong. Tony hacked SHIELD's mainframe, Fury's personal files, and then all there was was a fuzy grey camera feed that showed a wane and sallow Agent Coulson, thin and weak, unconscious in a hospital bed.

Clint wasn't sure if he'd come alive or died all over again.

All he knew was that ever since, he felt like he was suffocating, being swallowed by the icy blue.

Nat was the only thing that anchored him, her and Stark.

Kept him from going off half-cocked, going on another murder-rampage.

In fact, it was the billionaire genius that stopped them all from charging off to liberate Phil from the deceptive hands of SHIELD, pointed out that they didn't yet know Phil's true condition or what moving him could do.

So they waited.

Didn't let on that they knew he was alive, didn't go after him.

It's hard, maybe the hardest thing Clint's ever had to do, and none of the others understand.

Nat tries to. She's the only one who knows that Clint and Phil were married, that they were anything more than handler and agent. She loved Phil too, in her own way, but it's just not the same and she admittedly can't understand the depth of what Clint feels for the man, what they mean to each other.

It's always been more between them than just husbands, just lovers, just friends.

They've saved each other – without Phil Clint's just uneducated circus-trash, a weapon to be used and discarded.

Everything Clint is is because of Phil.

But no one knows that.

They see him sullen and isolated, see him refuse to wear his hearing aids and think he's a dick, but he has been trying.

He goes to Stark's party, tries to mingle and make small talk, accepts the single drink that he clings to all night so no one will press more alcohol into his hand.

That's the last thing he needs.

He tries.

He's just not very good at it.

They end up sitting around in the common living room; the Avengers, Jane, Darcy, Hill, all of them, pleasantly drunk and relaxed and joking, for the moment living in suspended reality where things aren't so bad. Stark and Cap are keeping up their usual banter, Nat and Bruce are edging closer and closer to what they've been circling and refuse to see, Jane and Darcy bicker good naturedly, and Clint, he's lost, his eyes blank and his mind far away, in a grey and white hospital room at his comatose husband's bedside, where he should be.

The conversation turns and suddenly everyone's yammering about Mjolnir, Thor grinning proudly after placing the hammer on the coffee table. Someone asks for Clint's opinion and he'd dragged unceremoniously from his thoughts, Natasha glaring at him and warning him not to run, so he bluffs and pretends he was paying attention, makes a loud, blustery accusation that it's all a trick.

This leads to a friendly competition – Stark and Rhodey teaming up, Natasha declining demurely, even Bruce giving it a go trying to lift the magical hammer. Thor's a smug little bastard about it and Clint holds his tongue, remembering a dark night and a warm summer rainstorm, how, the very first time he had met the god, Thor hadn't been able to lift it either.

He's amused when Cap actually manages to budge the hammer a fraction of a millimeter, when the smile slides off Thor's face for all of a second before being replaced by joviality and poorly hidden relief.

No one else notices, but Clint sees more than most, doesn't he?

Not enough, but a little more than most.

The next thing he knows, the whole group is clamoring for him to give it a try, and when shaking his head and trying to brush them off good-naturedly doesn't work, he climbs reluctantly to his feet.

It's stupid, why they think he could lift Mjolnir when not even Captain America could do it, and seriously, it sucks. Clint knows he's a human disaster, worse, a piece of shit since Phil was murdered by Thor's brother, brought back to semi-life by his best friend. He knows he's not worthy of anything he has right now, a place on this team, these people.

They don't have to rub it in.

But Clint was raised in the circus – if there's one thing he knows how to do and do well, it's put on a show.

Approaching the hammer with dread and self-disgust sitting heavy in his belly, Clint plasters on a smile and raises his arms, reaches for the handle theatrically.

"Whosoever be he worthy..." he booms, wrapping his fingers around the handle, "Only he shall..."

The hammer comes up off the table so easily he staggers backward and lands on his ass, narrowly avoiding broken toes as he drops the thing as fast as he'd picked it up. The others are on their feet and babbling like it's the second coming but he's scooching backward in a panic, sliding across Stark's shined marble floors as fast as his feet can kick. He's staring at that stupid fucking hammer like it's poisonous, his heart pounding in his chest and all he can think is Loki.

Fuck, he thought it was gone, he thought he was ok.

They took the Tesseract, they snapped Loki's staff, got rid of the magic and destroyed the link that bound him to the mad Godling and all things Asgaurdian.

He's hyperventilating, seeing blue, but then Natasha's kneeling in front of him, all flame colored hair and heat, her fingers tight on his wrist and his chin, coaching him through his breathing exercises. By the time he comes out on the other side the others have shut the hell up but he doesn't look at them, doesn't want to see the looks on their faces. Thor's standing over him though, looming, and when he reaches down one huge hand to help him up, Clint flinches hard and jerks away, snarls under his breath and shows his teeth.

"You have nothing to fear, Eye of the Hawk," the man assures, his voice strangely low and soft. "You are among friends here. There is nothing left of my brother's will in you. It is your own worth that allows you to wield Mjolnir."

Clint chokes.

Rolling to his knees he hugs his ribs, swallows down the sour taste in his mouth that warns him to either breathe or puke.

"No," he mutters, shaking his head, "No, I'm not. That... that's not right, I'm not... I never have been. Was just a dream..."

Clint freezes.

No.

It's not possible.

That night, it wasn't real, hadn't really happened.

But how...

Lifting his head, pale and cold and wide-eyed, Clint stares at the hammer, extends his arm and lifts his shaking hand towards it. It doesn't sail to him like it does to Thor, hell, for a minute it doesn't move at all, but then, before god and everybody, with a reluctant, grating sound, it creeps slowly across the floor toward him until it slides against the tips of his fingers.

The breath he releases is pained and disbelieving.

"It was real," he whispers into the silent room. "It really happened. She... she was real."

"Clint?" Natasha murmurs uncertainly beside him, reaching out hesitantly to grip his shoulder, and that touch, her slim fingers biting into his flesh are the most real thing he's felt in months.

"I've got one left," he breathes. Turning his head, he meets Nat's eyes, dark with worry. "I've got one left!"

Shoving to his feet, he bolts for the stairs, shouting as he goes.

"Jarvis, I need a Quinjet!"

"Quinjet is prepping Agent Barton," the cultured British voice replies, even as the Avengers burst into noise. "Dock three will be ready for flight in less than seven minutes."

Seven minutes.

His jump-kit's already packed – he can make that time.

Taking the stairs three at a time, shouts and calls of his name don't slow him down. He hauls ass to his floor, doesn't bother with the elevator, practically breaks the door down in his haste to get through it. His boots and spare tac suit are in his duffel, waiting quietly by the door for the day he can't anymore, nearly everything he needs for the day his patience or his heart breaks and he runs.

The rest is all close by.

Going to his knees in a skid he slides across the carpet, knocking into the bed frame as he dives underneath. There are two cases there; hard, light-weight protective plastic, one long and narrow, the other much larger, its square, blocky shape hiding what's inside. The first he slings over his shoulder by the strap – his first, most favorite bow. It won't work, not twice, but he needs it, needs the comfort and the familiarity. The second he hesitates over, fingers trembling as his breath catches in his chest.

No one knows he plays the cello.

Only Phil.

He'd made a joke the first time Clint had told him, some crack about how he'd always been a prodigy with a bow. He'd learned at Carson's, at the knee of the bearded lady, who'd told him that music was nearly all that separated them from the animals and the heathens of the world. Keep music with you and you'd always have something to hold on to.

He wished it were true.

But since Phil's death, his botched resurrection, he hasn't been able to bring himself to play.

It hurts too much, memories of long afternoons sitting in the sun that crept in through Phil's living room window, private concertos that left the older man in quiet tears.

He's good.

Really good.

He only prays he's good enough.

Hefting the cello he grabs his bag from the floor and trots to the elevator, jabbing the button that will take him to the docking bays. His mind is racing a hundred miles a minute, but all he can think is that he's got a chance, a real chance.

He can get his husband back.

He's not surprised when the elevator doors open and the Avengers are standing there assembled. Tony's got his armor, Steve his shield, Nat's slid into her catsuit and Thor's cape has magically appeared. Even Bruce is there, sitting quietly on a bench with his eyes closed, no doubt practicing his meditation.

"We're not here to slow you down," Nat says as Clint shoulders through them and she falls into step at his side.

"So we'll let you tell us in the air."

Clint turns a glare on Tony, who's smirking at him from his open helmet, but all of them are looking at him earnestly, willing to help, even after the way he's acted. It strikes him and he falters momentarily, feet stuttering to a stop on the tarmac as he looks around at them all, wondering when he'd earned these friends, when he'd become worthy of them.

Then he remembers.

He can pinpoint that shit down to the hour.

"Fine," he agrees, and it's short and sharp but they fall in behind him like soldiers taking an order and he can work with that. "But I'll say this once and only once."

Turning on the gangplank, he looks at each of them, meets their gazes one at a time.

"Get in my way and I'll kill you."

They blink, some of them pale, some of them flinch, but every one of them believes him.

They don't understand, but they believe him, and every one of them still follows.

"So uh, where we headed Katniss?" Tony asks cautiously as the team straps in and Clint stashes his bow and cello, stepping up into the cockpit and taking the controls as Nat slides into the copilot's seat beside him.

Snorting, Clint flips a couple of switches, nods to the flight crew out the window, and slowly lifts the jet into the air.

"Georgia."