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A Step to the Left

Chapter Text

“I spy with my little eye-”

“The gray thread the guard picked off his cuff last walk through,” Barton answered, sounding bored enough that he just might be talking in his sleep. Scott smacked his hand against a bar on his cell in frustration.

“Seriously! You’re not even looking, man,” he groaned and pushed away to try and pace, which did nothing but amp up his agitation since there was no room in this fucking white box. He went back to the front of his box and glared at Barton across the way. The guy was still in a freestanding handstand in the middle of his cell, where he’d been for at least an hour. With his eyes closed. “You could at least pretend to be interested in the game.” Scott absolutely did not whine, noting that at least Barton’s arms were shaking, his face was red from the inversion, and he was sweating.

“You can at least pretend to be less predictable,” Barton answered with the dry tone he’d apparently adopted for the day. Scott pressed his lips together in an effort to prevent saying some pretty rude things to the asshole.

“How the hell did you even spot the thread? It’s in front of Wanda’s cell and, as she’s beside you, there’s no way you can see it.”

“I see everything,” Barton disagreed. Scott looked to Wanda, who glanced up from where she was huddled on her bed just in time to catch his eye. She had a knack for knowing exactly when to look up, which was creepy, but he’d take that weirdness over the active avoidance she’d engaged in almost exclusively their first week here. The worst had been right after Stark’s visit.

Now, she seemed amused. It was a muted look; even he could tell this despite only knowing her for about two hours before the power-sucking collar was slapped around her neck. Muted or not it was always a pleasure to see. Except…he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her, and then looked at the wall to his left where he just knew Sam was looking all smug on the other side.

Scott turned his glare back on Barton, who was still shaking in his stance, but holding. He must be tired; it generally took a lot longer for the shakes to kick in. “You set me up,” he claimed, playing up his outrage just a bit and pretending he didn’t notice the momentary curl to Wanda’s lips. “What the hell? Sam, you are literally on my side here, metaphorically and physically. Is it too much to ask for a little solidarity?”

“Is it too much to ask for a little peace and quiet?” Sam’s sarcasm was heavy. After so many days of being holed up together Scott liked to think he had a pretty good read on the guy’s voice, even though he sometimes wished he had a better memory of his face. Sam was amused.

“I’m surrounded by liars and cheats,” Scott scoffed, throwing his hands up for dramatic effect because why the hell not? It’s not like there was anything else to entertain them in this fish tank of a prison.

“I didn’t realize they’d put that many mirrors up in your suite.” Barton’s raspy voice carried over, humour clear. Then the asshole began to do very slow dips while still in his handstand, lowering himself until his hair skimmed the ground and straightening his arms once more. Such an exhibitionist. Still, they’d all been exercising daily since they’d been shoved in these cells and Scott couldn’t recall Clint ever labouring this hard after only an hour. Sam had asked if he was sick after hearing his voice, but Barton apparently hadn’t heard him the three times he’d been asked. Still, guy was a show off, sick or not.

“I didn’t realize your face-” Scott’s amazingly witty retort was cut off as the doors to their contained cellblock slid open. A faint hydraulic hiss reached his ears and Scott moved to the right side of his cell and practically collapsed on his bolted down cot. It was the best vantage point to watch people enter their block and he’d never cared to stand at attention unless he wanted to. Generally it was a pair of guards arriving on their hourly walk through. Scott literally set his clock to them, seeing as he wasn’t allowed a watch. He could argue that having at least three guys on the other side of the wall watching them on live surveillance, at all times, made the walk-through overkill, but they broke up the monotony.

Sometimes it was the Warden stepping in to observe them, like an evil overlord surveying his prize possessions. He typically didn’t stay long, just came in to glare at them all self-importantly. Scott couldn’t decide if it was Wanda’s blank stare or Clint’s piercing glare that generally chased the guy out after only a minute. Frankly Scott knew his own glare kind of lacked that murderous edge the archer had and while Sam could look badass when angry he kind of just lacked the…inherently lethal vibe…or whatever.

This time, though, he watched as the Almighty Secretary of the State Ross himself walked through the doors. He was broad shouldered and oozed authority. Scott slouched a little further on his uncomfortable cot as he watched the man strut into the room; self-importance and pride clear in every step. He stopped in their four cells while three guards armed with stun batons spread out to the corners, like this would be the moment one of them made a break for it after almost three weeks of imprisonment. Scott looked to share an unimpressed look with Clint, but the guy was still doing his handstand exercises.

Ross set his focus on Sam first, his unnervingly cold eyes assessing him, before he shifted his hard stare to Scott. Scott had a lot of practice being stared at through bars, though these ones a bit less dingy and a lot more difficult to break free from than normal. He was just getting his own glare on when Ross turned his back on Scott and set his cold gaze on Wanda; Wanda who was collared, her hair limp and eyes dull from the drain of being contained down to her core.

Scott’s entire body tensed and he readied himself to slap the bars to try and divert the mans attention when Clint abruptly rolled out of his handstand and pulled to his feet at the front of his cell. The movement was effortless and he stayed exactly where he stood, still silent, and watching Ross. After what felt like a really pointed moment, Ross’s assessing stare turned away from Wanda and on to Clint.

Scott narrowed his eyes as Ross took a few steps to stand before the archer. Clint regarded Ross with such blatant contempt it almost made Scott feel defensive. Shit, he had never seen Barton pull out that look before. Not even when Stark came by, and they all knew how Clint felt about him at the moment.

“See something you like,” the archer asked, voice dry as the desert, sweaty patches saturating his shirt. He narrowed his slightly bruised and tired eyes at Ross.

“The infamous Hawkeye,” Ross said and Scott tensed right up. The one time this guy had stopped by for a visit, only an hour after Tony had left them here, he hadn’t spoken a word; just watched as they’d been transferred from the general cellblock to this more privatized version. Ross and Clint had had a bit of a stare down then, but as far as Scott knew nothing had come of it. “Rumour had it you’d retired before finding your way here.”

“Even retirees need vacations,” Clint said coolly.

“You’re awfully young to retire,” Ross tilted his head in assessment and Scott kind of wished he could see the guys face to get a read on him. “Barely a day over thirty and running off to become a farmer.” Ross waited for a reaction but Barton just stared with cold focus. “I have to say, I’d find it a bit more believable if you had a family to run to, maybe a dog or even a girlfriend. But you don’t, which makes me curious about how you spent your retirement…” he trailed off, false curiosity dripping from his tone.

“I like tractors.” Clint said plainly.

“What a delight,” Ross stretched the last word out, and turned to leave. He stopped after two steps and looked over his shoulder at Clint, his salt and pepper hair the one thing Scott could make out clearly. “Get some rest Mr. Barton, you’re looking a little tired.”

Clint grinned suddenly, wide and disconcertingly friendly.

“Could use an extra pillow” he hedged.

“I’ll see what can be arranged,” Ross sounded like he meant it too, and if Barton got an extra pillow out of this Scott was going to be so pissed. As soon as the doors closed after the last of the guards Scott was on his feet and at the front of the cell, slipping his arms through the bars for a better lean.

“What was that?” he asked, not bothering to lower his voice as he was pretty sure the audio recordings on this place could pick up a whisper.

“A pain in the ass,” Barton said as he began stretching his arms.

“Almost sounds like you two have a history,” Sam’s voice carried from beside Scott and Clint seemed unconcerned as he shrugged.

“Never met him before this thing with the Accords.” Clint rolled his shoulders a few times, and then he lay down on his bunk. That was as good as a conversation-door closing in the faces, because after three weeks here they all knew that when the archer lay down he stopped talking altogether.

“Pull the other one,” Scott muttered, and looked over to find Wanda had also curled up on her cot. “Hey Sam, Prime-not-prime?”

“You want to play another game you can’t win?” Sam asked, and it was on.

When the guards came by a little later to begin their daily “yard walk,” which was a fancy way of saying they took them one at a time for a thirty minute visit to a slightly larger room so they could walk in larger circles, Scott went first. Three guards flanked him, which was kind of flattering he guessed, except that Sam got four and Barton typically got around five or six. Wanda was never taken on these excursions, and since Scott overheard some muttering about special treatment he figured this kind of exercise was not standard procedure in this place. Yay for being special. Apparently now being an Avenger meant he got all the perks.

He spent his time basically sprinting back and forth, trying to stretch his legs and put a burn into them. When he was escorted back to his cell, still panting a bit, it was to find both Barton and Sam’s cells empty. This was new, because they’d only ever gone one at a time before. He frowned and looked at Wanda, who was sitting close to the front of her cell and watching him. He raised an eyebrow in question and she shrugged in response. She hadn’t said a word since they’d put the collar on her.

His internal clock said fifteen minutes had passed when they marched Sam back. He seemed fine as he and Scott did their traditional once over for the few seconds a day they could see each other. It was another half hour before Barton was brought back, two guards in front and three behind. His hands were locked in the serious-overkill cuffs: two-inch wide bands that locked hands in a cross at the wrist. Scott hadn’t seen the restraints in use since their first three days here. Barton sauntered into his cell and obediently waited for the door to close before he turned and stuck his arms through the horizontal bars. The bindings were quickly removed with a beep and a click.

Sam was on his feet, pressing up to the bars so he could see better; Scott could hear his efforts.

“What happened?” Sam asked in the quiet way he had. Barton looked out at Sam, his eyebrows raised in slight amusement.

“I went for a walk. Was yours more interesting than mine?” Scott didn’t know Barton all that well, even after all this time locked up together the guy didn’t let anything slip he wasn’t okay with sharing, so by tone and posture he couldn’t tell what was off in that statement. He just knew something wasn’t right.

“You were gone a long time,” Sam said, all casual and easy going and Barton smirked and pulled away from where he’d still been resting against the bars.

“Extra time for good behaviour,” the guy said and then walked the three steps to his cot. His movement was wrong. He was too stiff, his steps were a bit too short, and when he sat he did so smoothly and without any sign of pain, but he also did it slowly.

Shit. Scott had seriously hoped that being locked up in such a crazy, tightly run prison would be the only issue they’d have to deal with. Barton was moving like a man trying to hide the fact that he’d maybe had the shit kicked out of him.

“How bad is it?” Sam asked, and Barton cut him a quick, dismissive look.

“I’ve never had an issue with a bit more exercise,” Clint said, and lay down on his back, swinging his legs onto his cot in one swift, efficient move. He made a show of getting comfortable before going still.

“Don’t think I didn’t see the bruises around your wrists Clint. What happened?” Sam asked again, voice deeper than usual, most likely because he was feeling the same concern and anger that was coiling in Scott’s own chest. And worry. Let’s not ignore that.

“Clint?” Sam asked after a stretch of silence, but Clint didn’t shift from his place on the cot, and he didn’t answer. Shit. Scott sat down on his own cot and basically failed at not worrying about what this new turn of events meant.


When Scott was taken for his next round of exercise he was tense and ready. He waited for a surprise hit, or an unearned shock from the batons. He kept waiting throughout his sprinting routine and march back to his box, but they didn’t lay a hand on him unless they were working his restraints. When he was back in his cell he turned and looked first to Wanda, who seemed fine, and then to Clint, who had been taken first today. Instead of finding the guy doing a thousand burpies or one armed push-ups like usual, he found him on his side on his cot, almost curled up.

“Clint?” he asked softly, trying not to sound too alarmed. Clint was apparently not interested though, as he waved off Scott’s concern.

“Clint, what’s going on?” He tried again, but apparently the wave was all they were going to get from him right now.

Across the way Wanda’s eyes darkened, her hands clenched, and they all spent a quiet evening hating the fact that at this point there was nothing they could do.


Every breath he sucked in, deep and panting, made his mouth ache with dryness. It burned down his throat and sat heavy in his chest as he rolled his head from side to side. His head felt heavy, so heavy, it was hard to pick up, hard to see. He forced his mouth closed, forced his eyes open. He couldn’t be blind, he needed to know who was there.

“Wha-” his tongue was gummy, he swallowed, tried to lick his lips. There were people around him, surrounding him, tall and looming. He jerked back and didn’t get anywhere.

“Relax,” someone, a deep voiced male, said. He tried to lean away again, his wrists caught, his body hurting in so many places, he yanked at the restraints, feeling metal dig thickly into skin… “You’re okay, hey?” a large hand grabbed his jaw, forcing his head up and he got his eyes open all the way now, seeing a face way too close; square jawed, gray moustache, cold eyes.

“Fuck you” he snarled, because it felt like the right thing to do, and twisted his head sharply out his grasp. Pain radiated up his neck, into his head, making him dizzy. “Get away from me,” his words were slurring and his focus was swimming. “Get ‘way.” But the pain was too much and his awareness fled.


The following day Clint was silent in his cell. He sat on the floor in the back corner, arms around his knees, and apparently spent the time breathing calmly. Scott couldn’t see him properly at that angle, so he only knew what Sam told him. Apparently the archer was not interested in speaking, which wasn’t unusual but wasn’t usually this…all-consuming quiet. When they took him to wherever the hell they went with him now, because it was definitely not to the yard, he was gone for over an hour. When he came back the look he gave Scott before he was turned into his cell was…it wasn’t right. It was cold and assessing, and unfamiliar. Clint didn’t speak a word to them the entire evening, ignored every single demand to answer their questions, and sat back in the corner so that only Sam could see him completely. All Scott got were his feet.

It was, frankly, fucking unnerving.

Whatever was happening to him, it was not good and it was getting worse.

Fuck Stark for putting them in this position. This was bullshit. This was such utter bullshit, and all Scott could do was pace and talk, talk and pace, while across the way Barton shut them out and Wanda watched Scott and Sam with eyes that grew more hollow every day.