Bruce blinked blearily at the file open in front of him. It was 1 a.m. and only halfway through his shift; it was going to be a long night.
The clinic was dead, which was unusual. Being the only free clinic in the area, they usually had a full waiting room. Never anything exciting, like the emergency room dealt with, but all those other things that brought people out in the middle of the night. Sick kids, bar fights, the occasional drug seeker… Hell, at this point Bruce would even be happy for one of the strange few who often decided they needed an STD test at 3 a.m.
He took off his glasses, tossing them onto the desk and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. As much as working at night could suck, just sitting there not working was a million times worse. Bruce just slipped his glasses back on when he hear the whoosh of the automatic doors opening.
“I got it!” he said jumping up, startling Amy, the nurse who had started for the door.
Taking long strides down the quiet hallway, Bruce made his way towards the intake desk, lurking behind while the receptionist took the patient’s information. His money was on a bar fight, based on the nasty black eye the guy was sporting, along with a couple scrapes and cuts on his face.
“Come on back” he said, taking the file from the receptionist and gesturing for the man to follow him back to an exam room.
“Let me just get your height and weight real quick,” Bruce said, stopping the patient in the hallway in front of the scale. He stood silently as Bruce measured him. Just over 6 feet, 180 lbs., mostly muscle, Bruce guessed, seeing the definition in his arms. “Great, you can have a seat in there, just fill out this form for me and I’ll be right with you.”
The guy nodded, taking the paper as Bruce walked out, gathering supplies to clean and patch up his face, as well as examine the eye. In his mind, he ran through other things to look for, including concussion and any other contusions to the rest of his body. Feeling prepared, he stepped back into the room, taking the paper that the man held out to him.
“Ok Mr. Barton” he said, “I’m Dr. Banner, let’s see what we have here.” He scanned the sheet, seeing that there was a rather extensive patient history, mainly consisting of bumps, bruises, and broken bones. Domestic abuse? Bruce wondered. It wouldn’t be the first case he’d seen and certainly wouldn’t be the last.
He stood in between Clint’s knees as he sat up on the exam table. Grabbing his penlight, he shone it into Clint’s eye, checking pupil response, which seemed good. Gently probing at the deepening bruise around the left eye socket, he felt Clint wince.
“Sorry. So how’s the other guy look?”
Clint looked up, seeing Bruce’s kind smile. He relaxed slightly and shrugged. “Worse than me.”
“Do you feel safe at home, Mr. Barton?”
Clint raised an eyebrow at him, looking amused. It was Bruce’s turn to shrug. “Procedure” he explained. “I have to ask. Especially with injuries like this.”
Clint snorted. “Yeah, sure, I feel safe at home.”
Bruce nodded, his fingers moving from the eye socket to feel around Clint’s skull, running through his sandy hair. “Any sore spots other than the eye?”
“No, not on my head.”
Bruce looked at him expectantly.
“There is this” he said, lifting his shirt, showing a blood-soaked bandage across the right side of his ribcage.
“Burying the lead, Mr. Barton” Bruce said, shaking his head. Carefully peeling away the bandage, he saw a relatively deep, but clean, cut around 3 inches long. “It doesn’t look too bad, bleeding has mostly stopped, but we better irrigate it and stitch it up, just to be sure.”
Clint sighed, looking annoyed. “I was afraid of that.”
“Not a fan of needles?”
“Nah, it’s not that. Stitches are a pain.”
“I did see that you’ve visited us a number of times in the past. Can I ask what it is you’re doing out there?”
“Just having some…disagreements with some of the neighborhood scum.”
“Ah” Bruce said, squirting saline into the cut, making Clint hiss at the pain. “Sorry.”
Holding the two sides of the wound together, he pushed the needle through the skin, pulling the thread tight. “Maybe you need to find a different way to work out your issues?”
“Heh, yeah, I’ve given that some thought. Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea” Clint chuckled.
Bruce continued his work, tying off the stitches before moving on to the lesser injuries, cleaning the tiny abrasions on Clint’s face and applying butterfly bandages to the ones that needed them.
“Alright, I think that about does it. Think you can keep yourself out of trouble?” Bruce said, backing away and letting Clint hop off the table.
“Doubt it” Clint said, shaking Bruce’s hand. “Thanks Doc.”
* * * * * * * * *
A month or so goes by before Bruce is once again working the night shift and hears a familiar voice as he’s walking back from the break room.
“Holy fuck!” comes a bellowing cry from one of the exam rooms. Bruce hurried in, expecting a combative patient, but instead finds Clint Barton being held down by two nurses and the janitor, while a doctor grips his arm tightly.
Bruce gaped at the scene before him as Clint gritted his teeth in obvious pain, while struggling to hold still. Walking over, the janitor looked up at him and shrugged.
“Doc waved me as I was walking past. Needed another hand.”
“Thanks Louis, I can take it from here” Bruce said, taking the older man’s place and letting him get back to his duties. Placing his hands firmly on Clint’s left shoulder, he tried to hold him steady.
“Hey Doc” Clint said, recognizing Bruce from his last visit.
“Funny running into you here again, Mr. Barton. More trouble with the neighbors?”
“Something like that.”
“Dislocated shoulder, we’re ready for the reduction” the other doctor explained, preparing to pop Clint’s shoulder back into place. “Ready Mr. Barton? On three…”
Bruce winced in sympathy, knowing Clint was going to be in a lot of pain for a second, but in significantly less immediately after. He gave the shoulder he was holding a compassionate squeeze and Clint caught his eye just as the other doctor hit three.
“Jesus Christ” Clint swore as the joint was manipulated back into the socket. He threw his head back against the bed, riding through the wave of pain.
“I can finish up here” Bruce offered. His colleague nodded his thanks, heading for the break room while he had the chance. The nurses moved off to check on other patients, leaving Bruce and Clint alone.
While Clint recovered, Bruce wrote a prescription for some pain medication and slipped a sling around Clint’s neck, carefully moving the injured arm into it.
“How’s that feel?” He asked, adjusting the straps to the right length.
“As good as it can, I suppose” Clint said, still looking a little pale.
“Well, from here we should set you up with an appointment for physical therapy once your shoulder has had a chance to heal a bit –“
“Nah, that’s ok” Clint said, interrupting him. “I’ve been through this before, I know what to do.”
“Not your first dislocated shoulder?” Bruce asked in disbelief. “I’d think you would have tried to avoid another after the first one.”
“I try to avoid everything that happens to me” Clint laughed, a little color starting to return to his face. “Somehow it just never works out.
Bruce sighed, shaking his head. “Any other injuries to deal with today then? How did you cut heal up?”
Clint lifted his shirt, showing Bruce that the wound had healed nicely, but a faint scar was still visible. Hopefully it would fade away after a little more time.
“Looks good. How about you try to stay out of here for a little while now?”
“Like I said, I try” Clint said, climbing off the bed gingerly. He shook Bruce’s hand with his good arm. “Thanks again.”
“Goodbye Mr. Barton, take care” Bruce said, though he had a feeling that it wouldn’t be the last time he saw him.
* * * * * * * * *
Bruce’s feeling proved to be right when not even two weeks later, Clint came limping in to the clinic yet again. This time it was during the day, so at least there was a slight variation in his pattern.
“Mr. Barton!” Bruce said, walking into the exam room with Clint’s quickly thickening file in his hand. “What can I do for you today? I assume you’re not here because you changed your mind about the physical therapy” he said, nodding to Clint’s arm which was still in the sling.
“Uh, no” Clint said, grimacing as he talked, lowering his voice. “I think I might have a concussion. I wasn’t going to bother coming in, but…”
“But?” Bruce said, pulling out his light to shine in Clint’s eyes. Pupils reacted well, but Clint pulled his head away, closing his eyes.
“Well, I have this killer headache.”
“Headaches can be a sign of a concussion, yes” Bruce said, nodding. “But I don’t think that’s it, is it?”
Clint’s gaze shifted to the floor, a sheepish look on his face. “I think I might have passed out for a little bit too.”
“After I got home, I don’t remember laying down, but woke up on the couch, so maybe not passed out so much as lost some time? I don’t know, just seemed a little squirrely.”
“Dare I ask what happened?”
Clint mumbled something too low for Bruce to make out.
“What was that?”
“I got thrown out of a window.”
“Mr. Barton!” Bruce exclaimed, frankly shocked at how calmly Clint related the story and by his increasingly serious injuries.
“You can just call me Clint. Mr. Barton is so formal” he said jokingly.
Bruce huffed, “I am very concerned about you Mr. – Clint, sorry. Clint, I’ve only seen you three times, but in less than two months and these are not small injuries. I know it’s not my place to say anything, but someone needs to show some concern about your well-being, since you clearly aren’t!”
Clint smiled at him. “I appreciate the concern Doc. –“
“Bruce. You can call me Bruce.”
“Ok, Bruce. I appreciate it, I do. I’m not out there doing this for fun, I assure you.”
Bruce just sighed, throwing up his arms in frustration. “Fine. But I’m going to have to admit you overnight to get a CT scan and maybe an MRI. I’ll need you to sign some forms, so just give me a second and be right back.”
When he returned a few minutes later, the exam room was empty. Heading down the hall, Bruce peered into all the other exam rooms, but there was no sign of Clint.
“Excuse me, have you seen Mr. Barton?” he asked, stopping a nurse who was headed in the opposite direction. “6 feet, light brown-ish hair, right arm in a sling?”
“No, sorry Doctor” she said, continuing on her way.
“Shit” he cursed to himself under his breath.
Making a last ditch effort to find Clint in either the bathroom or waiting room, he came up short. If Clint had a concussion, or worse, he needed to get checked out in the hospital, but apparently the overnight stay had scared him off. At the very least, he needed to have someone there to keep an eye on him. Idiot, Bruce thought to himself, checking the rest of his schedule. He couldn’t leave the clinic until his shift was over, but he’d do his damnedest to track Clint down afterward.
* * * * * * * * *
The rest of Bruce’s day dragged by as his attention kept wandering back to Clint and how he was doing. Bruce couldn’t help but picture him lying by the side of the road unconscious or wandering disoriented into traffic. As he finished the last of his paperwork for the day, he bolted out of the clinic, typing Clint’s address into the GPS on his phone.
As it turned out, Clint’s home wasn’t too far from where the clinic was located. According to his phone, he would be there in just over 10 minutes. As Bruce drove, he kept an eye out for any bodies lying on the sidewalk, but was relieved to not find any.
Arriving outside of an apartment building that the address said was Clint’s, Bruce parked his car and got out cautiously, making sure to lock the doors behind him. The neighborhood wasn’t a great one, but the building seemed to be well taken care of. Walking in the front door, he found Clint’s mailbox, indicating that he lived in apartment H. Taking the stairs, he found H on the top floor, down a short hallway past two other apartments.
Raising his fist to knock on the door, he paused, wondering if he was going too far. Leaning in, he pressed his ear to the door, listening for any sounds from inside. Hearing nothing, worry twisted his stomach into knots. He raised his hand again, but before he could knock, the door swung open in front of him.
“Can I help you?” Clint said, looking at Bruce with a bemused smile. He still looked a little paler than usual and was leaning against the doorframe, which could be a sign of dizziness. Bruce took a step back, caught off guard.
“Um, yeah, s-sorry” he stuttered. “You left the clinic before –“
“Yeah” Clint said, waving a hand dismissively, “I don’t need to spend the night in the hospital for a little bump on the head. I’ll just handle it here.”
“You fell out of a window!” Bruce said in exasperation. “And god knows what floor, since, if I recall, you didn’t specify.”
Clint wisely kept his mouth shut on that point. He didn’t need the Doc bursting a blood vessel; he already seemed worked up enough.
“You want to come in? Cup of coffee while you berate me?”
Bruce shut his mouth, embarrassed at his small outburst. He just nodded, walking in past Clint as he held the door open.
Entering the apartment, Bruce looked around. He wasn’t sure what he was expected, and he barely knew Clint, but it seemed to fit him perfectly. It somehow managed to seem spartan and cluttered at the same time. There was plenty of stuff around, but decoratively, there wasn’t a lot happening. A plant here, a haphazardly hung picture. There seemed to be shooting targets in one corner, which was interesting.
Clint just shot him a skeptical look, pouring two cups of coffee and sitting down on the couch.
“Oh hey buddy” Bruce said, seeing a dog trot out from behind the kitchen counter. “C’mere.”
“That’s Lucky” Clint said, taking a sip from his mug.
“Lucky huh?” Bruce bent down, holding a hand out to Lucky who wandered over for a sniff. “Must be nice to have a dog around. I wish I could have one, but the hours at work…wouldn’t be fair to it.”
Giving Lucky a few scratches behind the ear, Bruce made his way over to the couch, settling down on the opposite side from Clint and picking up his coffee. “Thanks.”
“So, should I be concerned that you tracked me down?” Clint asked. “Isn’t that some sort of invasion of privacy or something?”
Bruce couldn’t quite discern the expression on Clint’s face. He didn’t look completely serious, but then again, it was a valid question. If one of his doctors showed up at his home, Bruce knew he would definitely be a little thrown. And concerned.
“Yeah, probably” Bruce answered honestly. “I shouldn’t have, I know. And I am sorry for that part of it. But if you do have a concussion, you really do need to be checked out.”
Clint thought about it, seeing how earnest Bruce was. He seemed to really be concerned.
“Alright, I guess I won’t have to have you arrested or anything” Clint said with a chuckle. “I still think I’m going to have to pass on the hospital thing though. I’m feeling mostly fine.”
“Mostly?” Bruce asked, instantly back in doctor mode. He leaned closer, trying to look into Clint’s eyes. Grabbing his arm, he checked Clint’s pulse, silently counting the beats. “What’s not fine?”
Clint sat passively, letting Bruce do his thing, knowing it would make him feel better. “Head still hurts. I guess when I stand up, I’m a little dizzy, but only for a second.”
“Hm.” Bruce stared at Clint, thinking. Sighing, he shook his head, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to talk Clint into anything he didn’t want to do. “Fine. If you won’t go to the hospital, you at least need someone to keep an eye on you for the next few hours. Make sure you stay awake, don’t lose consciousness, that kind of thing.”
Bruce looked around the apartment again carefully. “Do you have someone to do that? A significant other or…?”
Clint gave him a curious look. “I could ask Kate, but she’s busy. Other than her, a neighbor I guess? Seems like a lot to ask…”
“Kate?” Bruce asked, knowing he was being nosy. “Your girlfriend?”
Clint snorted. “No, she’s a – coworker, I guess. And friend. Definitely not my girlfriend.”
“Oh, ok.” Bruce was pleased to hear that there was no one in the picture for Clint, but also knew that he shouldn’t be interested in a patient. He should just insist that Clint go back to the hospital, let himself be checked in, and get all the recommended testing. Instead, he heard himself offering to stay.
“I don’t want to sound like a creep, but if you didn’t mind…and didn’t want to ask anyone else, I could stay and watch you. Watch over you, I mean” Bruce stammered. He felt his face grow warm and prayed that he wasn’t blushing. He was just trying to be a good doctor and uphold his oath, he tried to convince himself. It definitely wasn’t because he couldn’t stop thinking about Clint.
Eyeing him carefully, Clint considered the offer. It was a little weird, yeah. But Bruce did seem genuinely concerned and his head was killing him, the pounding making it a little hard to concentrate.
“Fine. But two important questions first” Clint said, setting down his mug and looking at Bruce seriously.
“Sure, of course.”
“First, are you going to let me pass out and then rob me?”
“What? No, of course not” Bruce said, shocked.
“Good answer. Second, are you going to try and drug me and chop me up into little pieces, hiding me in the walls?” He tried to stay serious, but could help cracking a smile at the appalled look on Bruce’s face. He was just too easy.
Seeing Clint laugh, Bruce let out a rush of air. “Not funny.”
“It really kind of was.”
“I promise I’m not a serial killer or anything. Just a doctor trying to take care of my patient. I was so sure you were going to be lying dead outside the clinic doors…”
“You always so worried about your patients?” Clint asked, seeing the concern on Bruce’s face.
Bruce shrugged, looking away, eyes flicking around the room.
“Ok, a for real serious question” Clint said, seeing Bruce’s discomfort.
“Yeah?” Bruce said warily.
“What do you want for dinner? Pizza ok?”
Bruce’s shoulders sank in relief, afraid he was going to ask a more probative question.
“Sure, pizza is always ok.”
* * * * * * * * *
The evening passed quickly as the pair ate their pizza, chatting comfortable about this and that. Bruce made Clint do some memory exercises to test his cognitive functioning, just to make sure his brain wasn’t liquefying in his skull, but he seemed to be holding up well.
Clint had tried to grab a beer from the fridge to go with his pizza, but after a stern look from Bruce, he settled on a glass of water instead. Bruce told him entertaining stories from work, delighting in making Clint laugh as he recounted some of the crazy patients he’d had.
Clint told some stories about his various adventures, though Bruce couldn’t pin down exactly what his job was. All he knew was that it sounded exciting, but dangerous, as there was a lot of fighting, and injuries, involved. But he seemed like a good guy who was trying to fight the good fight out on the streets.
The night wore on until Clint and Bruce both caught themselves yawning.
“I didn’t realize it was so late” Bruce said, checking his watch.
“Yeah” Clint agreed. “You probably have to be up early for work, huh?”
“As always.” Bruce smiled at Clint, “You seem like you should be in the clear now though. I’m pretty sure if I leave you, you won’t die in your sleep.”
“Wow, that was comforting” Clint laughed. “Pretty sure?”
“95% sure” Bruce said, laughing too. “Anyway, I’ll leave you be now, you’ve had to put up with my mother-hen act for long enough” he said, getting up off the couch, picking up his garbage and heading for the kitchen.
“I don’t know how far your drive is” Clint said, sounding a little awkward, “but if you just wanted to crash here, that would be alright with me.” When Bruce didn’t respond immediately, he rushed on, “Or not, just thought that it might save you some time…you probably need some sleep…”
“Sure, if I’m not imposing. I’m in the opposite direction of work, so it would be a little bit of a drive.”
“Cool” Clint said. “Uh, you want to borrow some clothes to sleep in?”
“That would be great, thanks.” Bruce cleaned up while Clint headed off down the hallway to where he assumed the bedroom was. By the time everything had been put away, Clint was back with a pair of gray sweatpants and a white tee.
“Thanks” Bruce said gratefully, “I appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it. Especially since you’re the one keeping me alive and all.”
“That’s what I do” Bruce said with mock arrogance. He tossed one of the couch pillows over to one corner, preparing his bed for the night. “Do you have an extra blanket, by any chance?”
“Uh” Clint ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t really have any extra anything.”
“Oh, well, that’s ok. I’ll make do.”
“You could share the bed” he offered tentatively, not wanting to seem like a freak.
“That’s ok, I don’t want to impose” Bruce protested, “and I wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable…”
“No really, it’s fine with me, if it is with you” Clint said. “If not, I get it, whatever you want to do.”
Bruce hesitated, knowing what he wanted to do, but what he should was probably another matter. “Ok, sure, thanks.”
Clint smiled. “Cool, well, help yourself to the bathroom, down there on the left. I’m gonna go change, bedroom is right across on the right.”
Bruce headed for the bathroom, rinsing his mouth with mouthwash to make up for his lack of toothbrush. Changing in Clint’s clothes, he rolled up the waistband of the sweatpants so they weren’t dragging on the floor. He splashed a little water on his face, staring at himself in the mirror, marveling at the strange turn his day had taken.
Leaving his clothes neatly folded in the bathroom, he padded across the hallway to the bedroom, knocking lightly on the partially closed door.
“C’mon in” Clint called out.
Bruce pushed the door open, walking in to the small, but clean bedroom. The bed was made and there was less clutter than had been in the living room. He laughed as Bruce tried to shoo Lucky off the foot of the bed.
“Don’t laugh, he’ll be back soon enough. You’ll wake up clinging to the edge while he hogs the rest of the bed” Clint said, giving a firm look to Lucky, who just wagged his tail.
Bruce and Clint both climbed in their respective side, pulling the covers up. They rolled over, their backs to each other, and Clint flicked off the light. Streetlights from outside cast dim light through the blinds that were cracked open.
“Thanks again, seriously” Clint said, speaking into the darkness. “You went out of your way for me and I do appreciate it. I’m not always great at showing it…”
“Just doing my job” Bruce said lightly. “I was worried when you left and kept thinking about you, so I had to make sure you were alright.”
“Kept thinking about me, huh?” Bruce could hear a teasing note in Clint’s voice, but there might have been a hint of something else too.
“Professionally, of course” Bruce added.
“Mhmm” Clint grunted. Bruce felt the bed move as Clint shifted. “Well anyway, thanks.”
“Goodnight, Clint. If you wake up feeling nauseous or your headache comes back, wake me up and let me know” Bruce said, “just to be safe.”
“You got it, Doc” Clint said, laughing softly. “G’night Bruce.”
* * * * * * * * *
Opening his eyes the next morning, Bruce was momentarily disoriented. It took him a minute to remember where he was, and when he rolled over to check on Clint, the bed was empty. He sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, still getting his bearings.
The smell of coffee and bacon wafted towards him from the kitchen and Bruce followed his nose, finding Clint at the stove, flipping pancakes.
“Mornin’” Bruce said blearily.
“About time” Clint joked, sliding a couple pancakes onto a plate, adding bacon alongside.
“Sorry, what time is it?”
“Only 7, I’m not usually such an early riser, but I figured you needed to be up early. Didn’t want ya to be late for work.”
“Thanks, I should have just enough time. My phone died, so my alarm wouldn’t have gone off.”
The two sat down at the counter and dug in to their breakfast.
“This is really good, thanks” Bruce said, chasing a piece of bacon with a swallow of coffee.
“No sweat. I’m not much of a cook, but thought I’d whip up a little something for this morning” Clint said, a little bashfully.
“How’s you headache? Feeling back to normal?”
“Headache’s gone as long as I don’t rattle my head around too much.”
“You should probably try not to rattle your head around too much just in general” Bruce laughed. “As nice as it is to see you in the clinic, maybe you should start being more careful.”
Clint just stared at him for a minute, making Bruce squirm.
“I mean – as your doctor, I should –“
“I’ll do my best” Clint said, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. “I’ve never been good about staying out of trouble though.”
“I’ve gotten that feeling about you, yes” Bruce said, chuckling. “Well, I better get going. Let me go change and then I’ll finally be out of your hair.”
“No hurry” Clint said with small smile. “It’s been nice having some company.”
Bruce put his plate in the sink and drained the last bit of coffee before heading to the bathroom to wash up and change back into his work clothes. When he came out, he found Clint still in the kitchen, cleaning up the dishes.
“Alright, I’m off” Bruce said, putting his shoes on near the door. Clint rinsed off his hands, coming over to see Bruce out.
“You’ll let me know if you have any other symptoms come up that could be related to your concussion?”
“Yes sir” Clint said, mock saluting.
“Smartass. Seriously though, don’t make me worry about you” Bruce said, wagging a finger at Clint like a disappointed parent.
“Ok, good. And try not to get injured in the near future, maybe?”
Clint just shook his head.
“Maybe you should give me your number?” he said. “You know, in case I have any medical questions…”
Bruce blinked in surprise, but held out his hand for Clint’s phone. “Yeah….of course.” Tapping in his number, he handed the phone back to Clint, their fingers brushing against each other.
“Ok, well, see you” Bruce said, opening the door. Stepping out, he turned back to look at Clint. Clint caught him by surprise though, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him in for a brief kiss, pressing their lips together.
Bruce pulled away, flustered, but with a grin on his face. Clint grinned back.
“K, see ya, Doc.”