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friendship, deadly weapons, and inhuman amounts of coffee

Chapter Text

Clint’s been in the vents for a solid day and a half before Steve calms down.

Tony hasn’t calmed down, but Clint can handle Tony. Tony’s death glares are nothing compared to the way Steve’s eyebrows get when he’s angry and sad at the same time.

Wait, scratch that. Tony makes a snide comment directed towards Barnes, who’s been awkwardly standing behind Steve the entire time, and Steve starts yelling again.

Well, great. The coffee’s down there, and Steve’s yelling again.

He reaches up to turn his ears off and silence Steve’s righteous, offended shouting when he looks over at Barnes and freezes.

Barnes is looking right at him through the grate.

Well, shit. Compromised again, Hawkguy.

Barnes raises a subtle eyebrow, and Clint shrugs innocently. Clint gestures towards the hallway.

“Stevie, I’m gonna go take a piss,” Barnes tells bluntly, already walking away from Angry Steve.

“Yeah, sure, Buck,” Steve says distractedly, too absorbed in arguing with Tony to actually care.

Clint moves quickly through the vents, pausing briefly when he notices someone hiding out in the pantry — Nat’s casually listening to the ongoing fight, snacking on Clint’s leftover pizza, but Clint’ll let it slide for now, since he’s preoccupied — and signals JARVIS to slide the hallway vent cover open.

AI-controlled vent covers. Who would have thought?

“Fancy meeting you here, Barnes,” Clint greets, blinking innocently.

“You’re the archer,” Barnes recognizes vaguely. “Hawkguy.”

Aw, Barnes… “Hawkeye, actually.”

“Why are you in the ceiling?” Barnes asks, ignoring him.

“Hiding from Steve,” Clint responds casually. “Has he always done the eyebrow thing?”

“Yeah,” Barnes snorts. “Had me wrapped around his finger with the eyebrow thing.”

Clint nods seriously, pledging to think of a better name for Sad Angry Eyebrow Steve, and tilts his head slightly. “You were brainwashed and forced to kill people you care about, right?”

Barnes flinches slightly, and Clint internally curses his lack of a filter.

“Yes,” Barnes says slowly, his shoulders tight and his eyes darting around, obviously identifying his exit points.

“Cool. I mean, not cool. Uncool, even,” Clint corrects. “I just meant that hey, me too. Brainwashed, check. Killed people I care about, check. Traumatized beyond belief, check. Hey, who brainwashed you? I mean, HYDRA, no shit, but anyone in specific?”

Barnes just looks at him for a second, sizing him up. “You’re not afraid of me.”

“Nope,” Clint agrees.

“Everyone else has been on edge around me,” Barnes continues, “watchin’ what they say, but you don’t give a shit.”

“Not a single shit,” Clint confirms with a grin.

Surprisingly, Barnes chuckles. “Arnim Zola. HYDRA scientist. Real piece of work.”

“JARVIS, friend, could you print off a picture of uhh. That name Barnes just said, and get Butterfingers to bring it to the range?” Clint asks politely, never one to disrespect his robot overlord. “Oh, use the fancy printer in Tony’s lab, it pisses him off.”

“Of course, Agent Barton,” JARVIS agrees smoothly. “I must warn you, if you intend to bring Sergeant Barnes to the range—”

“Yeah, yeah, Fury said no,” Clint huffs. “Fury can suck my dick.”

“Wanna tell me what you’re plannin’, pal?” Barnes asks, and Clint suddenly remembers that he’s there.

“Therapy?” Clint suggests weakly.

Barnes looks at him and shrugs. “Sounds about right. I’m coming up.”

“I don’t like people in my vents,” Clint mutters under his breath, shuffling back compliantly to make room, “but my dislike for the eyebrow thing outweighs that. And therapy. Therapy’s important.”

Barnes hoists himself up with his metal arm, clambering into the vents in front of Clint. Once he’s up, JARVIS slides the cover closed again.

Barnes blinks. “These aren’t normal vents.”

“Nope,” Clint agrees cheerfully, “Tony designed them just for me. I basically live up here half the time.”

“Why?”

“Why not?” Clint counters, and Barnes snorts.

“Sounds about right, from what Stevie’s told me about you,” Barnes says with a fond shake of his head, and wow, it’s weird to hear someone call Captain America Stevie.

“Therapy,” Clint says, “C’mon.”

Clint leads Barnes through his vents. He’s surprised for, like, half a minute that Barnes is just as good at stealth as he is, but then he remembers that Barnes is also an assassin, and a damn good one.

They drop down two floors, and JARVIS lets them out at the range, with another warning about Fury and rules and deadly weapons, but Fury can suck his dick.

“Butterfingers!!” Clint exclaims as he spots the bot, who beeps enthusiastically at him. “Barnes, meet Butterfingers, one of Tony’s children. I’m his favorite, don’t tell anyone. You got what I asked for, buddy?”

Butterfingers beeps in confirmation, dropping the picture when he tries to hold it out to Clint.

“Hey, don’t worry about it, bud,” Clint reassures when Butterfingers beeps sadly at the fallen picture. “You got it all the way here, I’m proud of you! Why don’t you head back to the lab now? It’s probably gonna get loud in here, and I don’t want you to get scared.”

Butterfingers beeps happily when Clint pats his head, then rolls out of the lab, either heading back to the lab like Clint told him to or going to find Tony and terrorize him. Clint’s got no preference, terrorizing Tony is one of his favorite things to do.

“Right! Therapy!” Clint announces, retrieving the picture and crossing the range to stick it to the target next to his own Therapy Target, which has a fresh picture of Loki. It’s so fresh, it’s only got, like, three arrows hanging out of it. “What’s your weapon of choice, Barnes?”

Barnes blinks slowly at him. “Yes.”

Clint pauses, halfway to the gun rack. “You know what, that’s a valid response. Take a look at what we’ve got and pick something, I guess?”

He jogs the rest of the way to the rack and waits. JARVIS flashes the lights once, Clint assumes as a final warning, before opening it.

“Voila,” Clint gestures dramatically at the well-stocked weaponry. “Choose your weapon.”

He’s already got his bow slung over his back, his quiver stuffed full. Barnes doesn’t need to know that he only carries his bow with him when he’s feeling anxious, not at all.

“You opened the secure gun rack, which contains an alarmingly large amount of weaponry, and you’re telling me to pick something,” Barnes deadpans, looking at him. “You’re not afraid of me at all, are you.”

“Not at all,” Clint cheerfully agrees. “You gonna pick, or am I gonna pick for you?”

“Don’t be impatient, jerk,” Barnes huffs, glaring at him briefly before grabbing a rifle.

“Nice,” Clint comments, “I pegged you as a sniper. ‘S why the targets are so far away.”

Barnes glares at him again, shouldering the rifle and heading over to set up. Clint hurries to catch up with him.

“Lemme know when you’re ready to start shooting,” Clint requests, grabbing his bow and expanding it. “I turn my ears off when there’s people shooting, so you’re gonna have to get my attention some other way if you need something.”

“Turn your ears off,” Barnes repeats slowly.

“Oh, shit, right,” Clint curses, “I’m deaf. I wear hearing aids most of the time, but gunshots at really close range make them go all static-y.”

“Doesn’t that—” Barnes cuts himself off, looking away from Clint and tensing up even more, if that’s even possible.

“Therapy, remember?” Clint reminds. “You can ask. We can talk about our feelings before we shoot these bastards in the face.”

Barnes shakes his head sharply. “Don’t wanna be rude when you’ve been a good guy.”

“I don’t care if it’s rude, Barnes, you can ask.”

Barnes hesitates for another moment. “Doesn’t that— you’re not afraid to be in the same room as me, when I have a gun, without being able to hear?”

“I’m not afraid of you, Barnes,” Clint says for what feels like the hundredth time that day. “The static would fuck with me more than a bullet, so I’m gonna go deaf while you shoot, and I’m not even a little bit afraid.”

“You. You trust too easily,” Barnes says slowly.

Clint laughs. “You’re wrong there, my friend. I don’t trust easily at all. But I trust Steve and Nat, and both of them seem to trust you, so you’re alright in my books.”

“Natalia trusts me?” Barnes asks, disbelief creeping into his tone.

“There’s a tough question,” Clint sighs. “I don’t think Nat really trusts anyone, ‘cept maybe Banner. Dunno how much you remember, but she remembers everything. She knows you, and she can predict you, and that’s the closest she gets to trust.”

“I remember,” Barnes swallows, “a lot. I’ve been tryin’ to forget some stuff, but I remember a lot. Too much. I remember the Red Room. I remember Natalia. She— she was— elegant. Destructive. A beautiful storm.”

“She still is.” Talking about Natasha, talking about her past, isn’t easy. Clint’s mouth is dry, and the warmth of the room is bleeding out of his skin. “I can’t talk about this right now. Sorry, Barnes. I’m gonna go deaf. Let’s shoot things.”

Clint switches his ears off and grabs an arrow. He watches Barnes just long enough to make sure that it’s gonna be fine, that Barnes isn’t gonna freak out once he starts shooting, but the first shot catches the picture of Zola right in the forehead and Barnes looks calmer than he’s been since Steve dragged him into the tower.

They’re gonna be fine.

With that reassuring bit of information, Clint nocks an arrow, pulling the string tight against his cheek. He glares at the hole-ridden picture of Loki, and he pretends that it’s not a picture.

He breathes.

Loki’s left eye gets an arrow.

He breathes.

Loki’s right eye’s gotta match its partner.

He’s completely calm.

Two arrows in rapid succession, and Loki doesn’t have kneecaps anymore.

He breathes.

Suck on this arrow, Loki.

He exhales, and he forgets. Nothing else exists.

Arrow after arrow, he gets his revenge. He takes his frustrations out, he clears his head. He stabilizes.

Before long, his quiver’s empty. He looks over at Barnes and flinches back slightly.

Barnes is sitting there, completely silent, staring at him.

“What are you doing?” he demands.

Barnes says something, but Clint can’t hear him. Clint’s deaf.

“Right, ears,” Clint remembers, flicking them back on. “Same question.”

“Was waiting,” Barnes shrugs. “Didn’t wanna touch you and scare you while you were shooting.”

Clint definitely remembers telling Barnes to get his attention. He definitely told Barnes— aw, brain cells, no. He hadn't told Barnes how to get his attention when he’s deaf.

“I’m an idiot,” he declares. “I didn’t tell you, if you need my attention, just ask JARVIS, he’s got a protocol.”

“The robot?” Barnes asks, looking suspiciously at the ceiling. “He’s here, too?”

“I run the tower, Sergeant Barnes. I monitor every room,” JARVIS confirms.

“That’s creepy,” Barnes says firmly.

“Nah, J’s a good guy. He’s real helpful,” Clint insists.

“Thank you, Agent Barton. I am only here to help, Sergeant Barnes.”

Barnes looks unconvinced, but he lets it go. “So if I wanna get your attention?”

“Simply ask me,” JARVIS says smoothly, “and I will flash the lights once to indicate to Agent Barton that he should turn his hearing aids on.”

“Oh. That’s kinda handy,” Barnes admits reluctantly.

“Right?” Clint agrees.

Barton!”

Clint blanches. “Shit. Therapy’s over, time to go. JARVIS, let us up. Into the vents now.”

“What’s the rush?” Barnes demands, but he abandons the rifle and follows Clint.

“That, my friend, is Fury finding out that I let you shoot,” Clint tells, not a hint of guilt or regret present as he laces his fingers together. “Ceiling’s high here. I’ll boost you, then pull me up.”

Barnes doesn’t argue, stepping into Clint’s hands and pulling himself up into the vents. He reaches down with the sick metal arm and easily pulls Clint up. Impressive. Clint’s not light, and Barnes lifted him one-handed with ease.

The cover slides shut just on time.

Fury storms into the range, looking back and forth and taking in the state of the range. He hones in on the discarded rifle, the destroyed picture of Zola, and Clint’s standard arrow-filled picture of Loki.

“Barton, I know you’re in the vents,” Fury calls, his voice cold steel. “Barnes does not have clearance to be in here, nor does he have clearance to carry or use a weapon.”

“Clearance?” Barnes mutters under his breath. “I’m carrying twelve knives.”

It takes everything Clint has to suppress a snort.

“It’s therapy, Fury,” Clint responds innocently. “Barnes and I, we had a great therapy session. We talked about our feelings and everything, promise!”

“Barton,” Fury says warningly.

“Is there a problem, sir?”

“You. You’re the problem,” Fury sighs. “Pain in my ass. I don’t know how Coulson put up with you for as long as he did.”

“Phil’s a saint,” Clint says with a shrug.

Fury snorts. “That, he is.”

Chapter Text

The sun isn’t even up yet and Clint’s already having a shit day.

He wakes with a scream he can’t even hear tearing its way out of his throat, drenched in sweat and cold as ice. His heart is beating like it’s trying to escape his chest, and his whole body is shaking violently.

He wakes up like this more often than he cares to admit, and it really sets the tone for the rest of the day.

He glares at his aids, sitting innocently on his bedside table.

“Tell me something, ears,” he says. “Is today a ‘wearing ears reminds me that he never let me take them out’ or a ‘not wearing ears sends me into a panic attack’ kind of day?”

The aids don’t answer. They sit there, mocking him.

“Fine, be that way,” he huffs, crossing his arms. If his ears are gonna be jerks, he’s not gonna wear them. He can always retreat back to his floor if it’s too much. Besides, it’s not like anyone else is gonna be awake at half past ass in the morning.

That’s not even true. Superheroes? More like Super Fucked Up Sleep Schedules.

Glaring at his aids one last time, he slings his bow and quiver over his shoulder — isn’t that a fashion statement, deadly weapons with Iron Man pajama pants — and heads down to the communal floor in search of coffee.

Luckily, the communal floor is empty when he gets there. Maybe everyone’s actually getting a decent night’s sleep. Or maybe they’re just being awake and sleep-deprived somewhere else. He doesn’t know. He also doesn’t have the mental capacity to care, not today.

He stares at the empty coffee pot for a few seconds, trying to figure out why it doesn’t have any coffee.

Probably because it’s half past ass in the morning.

Grumbling to himself, he fills the water thing with water and turns it on.

“C’mon, coffee, love me,” he whines, shifting from side to side as it takes an agonizingly long time to heat up. “Love me like I love you.”

JARVIS flashes the lights once, and Clint turns around slowly, blinking at the person who dares to intrude on his coffee time.

“You look like shit, Tony,” Clint says, faking cheer.

Tony says something, but Clint’s too tired to read his lips.

“No ears,” Clint says quickly, cutting Tony off, “and can’t read lips right now.”

I don’t look like shit, Legolas, you look like shit, Tony signs.

Tony definitely looks like shit. The permanent bags under his eyes look even darker than usual, his hair’s sticking up, and there’s grease on his cheek.

I probably do look like shit, Clint shrugs, but don’t try and deny it. You look like you haven’t slept in a week.

Lies and slander. I slept— Tony hesitates. What day is it?

Thursday.

See? I slept on Sunday. Sunday wasn’t a week ago, Tony argues, but it’s weak.

Have you considered sleeping more than twice a week?

Tried. Failed. I’ll sleep eventually, Tony shrugs. Your coffee’s ready.

Clint spins around and glares at his coffee, which didn’t beep when it finished brewing. Wait, it probably did, but Clint’s deaf. Sorry, coffee, that was rude.

He pours Tony a generous mug, taking the rest of the pot for himself and handing the mug over.

Thanks, Tony signs.

Clint hops up onto the counter, sipping from his pot of life.

They sit in silence — well, of course they do, but Tony doesn’t try and talk to him again — for a few minutes. Closer to an hour, probably. Clint’s sense of time has been screwed up since…

Well. Since.

A shiver runs down his spine, and he takes a large gulp of coffee to banish the chill.

Dunno if you wanna get your ears, Tony says, but Thor’s coming in today. Should be here in a few minutes.

Clint inhales deeply, thinking. On one hand, he likes Thor, and he wants to talk to Thor, but Thor doesn’t sign. On the other hand, Thor’s loud as all hell, and Clint’s not sure if he can handle that today.

Might just leave when he gets here. Not in good shape right now.

Fair enough. He’s apparently got something important to talk to us about, but I can pass the message on to you, Tony offers.

This is why you’re my favorite, Clint grins, except Nat, of course. And Barnes.

You’re not so bad yourself, Katniss.

The elevator chooses that moment to slide open. Clint can’t hold back another grin at the sight of his favorite alien.

Thor comes out of the elevator with an expression of pure glee, saying something that Clint can’t focus well enough to make out.

Thor doesn’t sign, so Clint should take his leave, before Thor thinks that

he’s

     being

          rude—

Thor’s not alone.

Clint can’t breathe.

Piercing blue—

     cold

          too cold

               blood turning to ice

          numb fingers

     numb

Clint feels himself let out a terrified scream

     it’s not enough to properly convey his pure

          fear

He doesn’t remember moving, but he moves. His bow is in his hands.

Time is moving at half speed, and his bow is in his hands, and he has an arrow nocked.

Time crawls as Thor meets his eyes. He says something. His lips are a blur.

Clint lets the arrow fly.

Thor gives a rough shove. The arrow wouldn’t have missed, but Thor gives a rough shove.

The arrow would have hit right between the eyes. Clint was aiming right between the eyes.

               cold

               he can’t feel his fingers

               a violent shudder, a violent shiver

Loki blinks.

Loki looks at the arrow embedded in the flesh of his shoulder.

          ice

Loki looks at Clint, meets his eyes.

          piercing blue—

Clint’s bow hits the ground.

Clint can’t

          breathe.

Clint bolts.

He’s in the vents.

Comforting metal is burning, blistering ice against his palms.

cold cold cold

     he’s dying

He can’t—

At the next opening, he throws himself from the vents. His one safe place, turning his skin to ice, freezing his blood. Frost creeping along his arms, trying to reach his chest, his neck, his head

He doesn’t know where he is. His vision is blurry. His head is spinning.

He stumbles along, clinging to the wall.

A bedroom. Clothes strewn on the floor. Silence.

Always silence.

He stumbles along.

There’s a bathroom. He doesn’t know where he is, but there’s a bathroom.

He locks the door behind him, he blindly shoves a cabinet in front of the door.

He

     is out of control

     don’t let him hurt anyone

     please

     not again

He stumbles into the shower. He turns the tap on. He turns it as hot as he can stand.

His head spins. He tumbles to his knees.

He throws himself back, into the corner, knees to his chest, safe, safe, no one can reach him here.

The water is hot, he should be hot, he should be safe

he’s cold

he’s freezing

he’s numb—

he’s alone.

     he can’t hurt anyone.

he can’t move.

The lights flash. He feels like that means something, but he can’t remember. Everything’s foggy, he can’t remember, he can’t move.

The water gets colder, too cold, but he hasn’t moved. He didn’t turn it down.

He presses himself further against the wall, shivering, as he looks up.

     piercing blue—

Red.

A spot of bright red standing out from the blue, from the cold, from the endless darkness.

“Tasha?” he mumbles.

She smiles sadly as she kneels in front of him, ignoring the steady stream of water hitting her. Hey, Clint, she signs.

“Cold,” he manages to say, his hands trembling too badly — numb — to sign.

Sorry. Had to turn the water down, too hot for me to handle. She looks at him, assessing. What’s your status?

“’M cold,” Clint repeats. “Didn’t get him. Sorry.”

You don’t need to be sorry, she signs firmly. Tony’s having words with Thor. That was out of line.

“Glad I’m not there,” he chuckles weakly. “Don’t wanna hear that conversation. How’d you find me?”

She raises an eyebrow. This is my room.

“…Huh. Imagine that.”

You gonna be okay?

“You know me,” Clint shrugs, plastering a grin on his face. “I always bounce back.”

You’re using full sentences now, so that’s something, at least. Her hair is drenched, clinging to her cheeks as she runs a hand through it. I’m soaked, let’s go. Dry clothes and Dog Cops.

“At least four sweaters,” Clint insists, allowing her to help him up. “And a blanket. And fuzzy pants.”

Yeah, yeah, I know. Tony had Bruce bring some stuff down when he found out where you were.

“Tony’s a good guy. I didn’t say that, but he is.”

Of course you didn’t. She carefully drapes a towel around his shoulders before wrapping one around herself. Dry off, I’ll grab clothes.

He obediently peels off his soaked shirt and drenched Iron Man pajama pants — aw, now he’s gonna have to do laundry — and wraps the towel around himself. It’s big, and soft, and warm. He’s stealing this towel.

Natasha returns from the bedroom with an arm full of clothes, gently tossing him his favorite fuzzy pants and one of her sweaters. The pants are black with little Black Widow logos on them, and Natasha pretends to hate them, but he knows that she’s secretly happy that they make Black Widow merch.

The pants are warm, as if they just came out of the dryer, and they clear some of the fog out of his brain.

“Did Banner grab my ears?” Clint asks as Natasha strips her own clothes off.

Yeah. On the counter if you want them, she signs before pulling a long sweater of her own over her head.

He quickly rubs at his hair with the towel and makes sure his ears are dry as he heads over. He stares at the aids for a second, contemplating. Will his ears make things better or worse?

Better, he decides. Natasha’s voice always calms him down. Natasha always calms him down. He carefully inserts his ears, flicking them on.

“Hearing is now a thing. How long was I in there?” he asks.

“10 minutes? Maybe 15? Not long.” She shrugs. “I was asleep, but Tony woke me up when JARVIS found you.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she says softly. “If you need me, I’m there, no matter what.”

“Still.”

She sighs. “Forget it. We’ve got a date with a pile of blankets and Dog Cops.”

“Perfect.” He follows her out into the bedroom, immediately crawling into her bed. She grabs her laptop from the bedside table, sliding in next to him and setting it on her lap.

“This enough blankets?” she asks softly.

“Yeah,” he says, “so long as I get cuddles.”

“Who do you think I am?” she teases, curling up and leaning into his side as she pulls up the latest Dog Cops episode.

He’s warm. Natasha’s with him. He’s safe.

He’s asleep before the intro finishes.




Clint slowly wakes up to the sound of hushed voices. Natasha hasn’t moved, although he can’t see the laptop anymore, and the lights are on low.

“’Tasha?” he says groggily.

“Hey,” Natasha says softly. “How are you feeling, Hawkguy?”

Hawkeye,” he protests, rubbing at his eyes. “I’m feeling pretty eh. How long was I out?”

“Around four hours,” Natasha shrugs. “Bruce was just here. Tony’s still chewing Thor out.”

“After four hours? Damn,” Clint whistles.

Natasha hesitates for a second before continuing. “Bruce just told me something important that Thor said. It’s about Loki. I don’t know if you want to hear it right now.”

“I probably don’t want to hear it,” Clint sighs, “but I think I need to.”

Natasha sighs as well. “I thought you’d say that. The people who sent the Chitauri, the people who gave Loki the scepter… Clint, they used it on him.”

Clint blinks. “What are you saying?”

“Loki was brainwashed, just like you were. He was controlled by the scepter, just like you.”

“…Huh.”

Well. That’s. A thing.

Natasha twists to look at him. “Are you okay?”

“I. Yes?” Clint says slowly. “I’m gonna. This is gonna take some time. To process. I need to think about this.”

“Loki wants to apologize to you,” she says, keeping her voice soft and level, “when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be today, or tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be ever.”

“I need to process this,” Clint repeats, looking at the ceiling. Aw, Loki, no. Now he kind of feels bad for shooting Loki.

Kind of.

“Take all the time you need,” Natasha says.

“Thanks for telling me, Nat,” Clint says, kissing the top of her head. “And thanks for staying with me.”

Natasha smiles genuinely. “Any time, Clint.”

Everything is different now, and this timeline is fucked, but that’s fine. He’s got Natasha, and he loves her, and everything’s gonna be okay.

Chapter Text

Clint needs to get out of the tower.

He’s stuck in a weird space between totally okay and breaking down, and he needs to get out. He needs to breathe, needs to get some of this conflict out of his system, needs to get away and pretend like everything’s the same as it was before.

Loki was brainwashed too.

He needs to go shoot something in the face.

“JARVIS,” he says decisively, “let me into the vents and tell Barnes I’m on my way. And have Barnes’ guns brought up to the Quinjet.”

He grabs his bow, slinging it across his back with his quiver, and clambers up into the vents.

Three floors down and two left turns later, he’s above the living area on Steve and Bucky’s floor, staring down at Steve. Steve, who seems to be reading a book while doing sit-ups. Weird. Steve is weird.

“Knock, knock!” he calls, and Steve startles, looking around as the vent opens above him.

“Clint?” Steve asks slowly.

“That’s my name,” Clint confirms, “I’m here to collect a man with a metal arm.”

“You know,” Bucky yawns, rubbing at his eyes as he comes out of his bedroom — Steve’s bedroom? There’s some saucy gossip for Nat — and looking up at him, “when the robot said you were comin’ here, I kinda expected you to use the door. Which is what most folks do.”

“I’m not most folks, am I?” Clint says with a wink and a grin. “Get up here, loser, we’re going out. There’s a HYDRA base with our names on it.”

“I’m not cleared for missions,” Barnes says.

“It’s not a mission,” Clint shrugs. “It’s stress relief. I got some news, and I need to process it by shooting some assholes in the face.”

“Clint,” Steve says warningly.

“Why, I never!” Clint exclaims in mock offense. “Captain Rogers, are you trying to say that shooting HYDRA is bad?”

“Well, no,” Steve admits awkwardly.

“And are you saying that shooting HYDRA isn’t the way to deal with stuff you don’t wanna think about?”

“Yes, actually,” Steve says. “Clint, talking about your feelings can really help. You should consider it.”

“I’ve considered it, and I reject this option.” Clint looks at Barnes. “Steve said that shooting HYDRA is good. You coming or what?”

“I didn’t say—”

“Sure,” Barnes shrugs, “why not.”

“Wait—”

“Cool, suit up. You comin’ up, or you going around? Quinjet’s on the top floor,” Clint asks, ignoring Steve’s protests.

“I’ll meet you up there,” Barnes says.

“Hang on—”

“Sorry, Steve, you said shooting HYDRA’s good,” Clint shrugs. “See you in a few, Barnes.”

Tuning out Steve’s halfhearted protests, Clint ducks back into the vents. He doesn’t run into anyone on his way up to the Quinjet. Of course he doesn’t. No one else uses the vents as a regular means of travel.

Barnes beats him there, just barely. He drops gracefully from the ceiling and nods at the jet.

“Let’s go, there’s a smaller base about ten minutes away that we haven’t hit yet,” he says.

“You’re a pilot?” Barnes asks, following him in and dropping into one of the seats along the walls.

“Pilot, assassin, spy,” Clint confirms. “I’m whatever I need to be.”

The Quinjet’s powered down and locked out, so he pressed his hand to the console.

“Welcome. Voice activation required,” comes the cool tone of the onboard AI.

“Legolas.” Clint sighs to himself. Tony, why.

“Welcome, Legolas.”

The jet lights up, powering itself on, and Clint grins.

“Legolas?” Barnes asks slowly, not getting the reference.

“Tony likes to think that he’s funny,” Clint explains. To be honest, Tony is kinda funny, but he’d never admit that.

He slides into the cockpit, starting the jet up with expert ease and taking off with the same ease.

It’s a short flight, and it doesn’t even take ten minutes to get there. He lands just out of sight of the base, taking a second to get into mission mode. Not that this is a mission. It’s an exercise in stress relief with a dash of therapy. But even if it’s not a mission, he’s gotta be Super Cool Badass Archer Hawkeye and not Certified Human Disaster Clint.

“Time to shoot things,” Clint says with a grin. “I know you’re usually a sniper, but do you mind taking point? I’m not suited for close combat.”

“Sure,” Barnes agrees, hesitating slightly. “I gotta ask you somethin’, though. I— HYDRA’s still in my head, can’t get ‘em out. If they manage to take me again—”

“I’ll shoot you before I let them take you,” Clint promises, and some of the tension in Barnes’ shoulders bleeds out. “So long as you do the same for me.”

“I will,” Barnes agrees.

“Fantastic. Now that we’ll both be dead before in HYDRA custody, there’s a spot up on the hill there with a good line of sight. I’ll be there. Base is about 300 feet west, just past the hill. You got an earpiece?”

“Got it,” Barnes confirms. “And yeah, borrowed Stevie’s.”

Clint snorts. “Stark’s gonna get you one of your own eventually, but Steve’s works for now. Stay in touch, let’s light this place up.”

Trusting Barnes to figure out his own tactics, Clint jogs up the hill, settling into the undergrowth that provides him a perfect line of sight to the base whilst concealing himself from view. Seriously, finding a spot this perfect is just sloppy. HYDRA deserves to get shot if they leave such gaping holes in their defenses. Well, they deserve to get shot anyways, but for this, they deserve to get extra shot.

Clint expands his bow, nocking an explosive arrow right off the bat.

He breathes.

“I’m in position,” Clint murmurs, “I can blow the door in one shot. That’s your signal to go in, and I’ll cover you.”

Confirmed. I’ll move in when it blows,” Barnes says.

There’s three guards at the door. They aren’t looking around like they should be. They aren’t focused.

Clint’s arrow takes the guy in the middle through the chest. He waits just long enough for the remaining guards to raise an alarm — he’s gotta draw them all out, since he can’t really cover Barnes if they’re all inside — and then he detonates.

The door blows wide open, and the remaining guards go flying.

A wailing alarm starts, loud enough to make Clint wince, and HYDRA grunts start pouring from the door.

There’s not as many as he was expecting. Aw, understaffed base. This isn’t gonna take as much time as he was hoping.

He sees Barnes moving in, sunlight gleaming off his arm. He moves mercilessly, opening fire and giving no quarter.

The guards seem to freeze as they realize who they’re dealing with. Freezing does them no good. Barnes can shoot them if they’re frozen or moving.

Желаниe!” Clint hears over the comms, and Barnes stiffens. Clint quickly locates the guard that spoke. Clint quickly puts an arrow through his eye socket.

Thanks,” Barnes sighs.

“No problem,” Clint says, hitting a small cluster of guards, hiding behind a chunk of building and taking shots at Barnes, with an explosive arrow. “No brainwash-y HYDRA mind control on my watch, no sir.”

Barnes snorts, taking out the last of the guards with a single shot.

Think there’s any more inside?” Barnes asks.

“Dunno, but we gotta check,” Clint sighs, setting his bow down carefully and drawing one of his many handguns. “Go slow, I’ve got your six.”

Clint jogs towards the base, swiveling back and forth, keeping his eyes open and covering Barnes’ back. He makes it to the destroyed door a few minutes behind Barnes.

“I’m about fifty yards behind you,” Clint whispers, “Any activity?”

No. Place looks empty,” Barnes says. “Shit, someone activated the self destruct. Get out.

“Shit,” Clint agrees, but he doesn’t move. “I’m not leaving without you, get out here. How long do we have?”

About thirty seconds.” Barnes curses. “Don’t wait, just go.

“You telling me you can’t run fifty yards in thirty seconds?” Clint teases, but he’s completely serious. “I’m waiting for you.”

You’re an idiot, Barton.” Barnes comes into Clint’s view as he turns a corner. “I’m here, now fucking run!

“Yeah, now we run,” Clint agrees, booking it in the other direction. They’ve got, like, ten seconds left. The Quinjet should be out of range of the explosion, but they are totally not out of range yet.

The hill’s right in front of him, and Clint can hear Barnes catching up. They’ll make it. Yeah, they’ll make it.

The explosion is loud, and it’s close enough to knock Clint off his feet.

“Ow,” he complains, not moving.

“The fuck, get up,” Barnes demands, and when did he get right next to Clint? “You’re good. Let’s go.”

“I could be injured,” Clint whines as he picks himself up.

“You’re not,” Barnes huffs. “Let’s go.”

“Wait, just gotta grab my—” Barnes grabs Clint’s bow and heads for the jet. “Bow. You got it. You in a hurry to get back or something?”

“Not supposed to be here, remember?” Barnes calls over his shoulder. “Gotta get outta here before anyone shows up.”

Clint tilts his head as he jogs to catch up with Barnes. “You’ve got a point. Yeah, you’ve got a really good point, actually.”

They get to the Quinjet, and the console immediately lights up with a new notification.

Fury’s tried to get them on comms seven times in the last four minutes.

“So, uhh,” Clint blinks slowly, “we might be in trouble.”

Chapter Text

Apparently ‘Steve said that shooting HYDRA is good’ is not a good enough argument. Pun intended.

Fury chews them both out for more than an hour, and by the end of it, Clint almost regrets going out.

Almost.

Not really.

Not at all. Clint regrets nothing.

It’s nearing midnight when Fury finally lets them go, disappearing to wherever spy leaders of supposedly disbanded intelligence agencies go at midnight. Fury’s got a floor on the tower, but Clint still has no idea if he actually uses it or not. He can’t get into the vents above Fury’s floor, which is truly the greatest tragedy of their time.

He heads up to his own floor, really starting to feel the effects of a week with no more than two hours of sleep a night. Surprisingly, that’s not enough sleep to function. He mechanically gets ready for bed, Iron Man pajama pants and all.

He doesn’t even get his aids out before he realizes that he’s not gonna be able to sleep.

More specifically, he knows that if he does get to sleep, he’s gonna wake up screaming, if he’s lucky enough to wake up from the nightmares that are almost guaranteed to occur.

Well, sleep’s out, then. Sleep has betrayed him. The only remaining option is coffee.

“JARVIS, is anyone on the communal floor right now?” Clint asks, suppressing a yawn.

“The communal floor is currently unoccupied,” JARVIS tells, and Clint sighs in relief. No people, just coffee.

“Perfect, let me know if that changes.”

Clint glances at his bow, debating, but he decides to leave it behind. He’s not that on edge right now, and he’s gotta start convincing himself that he’s just being paranoid.

He’s safe in the tower, nothing’s getting past Tony’s defenses. Plus, Nat checks the defenses at least twice a week. He trusts both Nat and Tony enough to feel safe, at least most of the time.

Vaguely reassured by his own reassurances, he leaves the bow behind and actually takes the elevator down to the communal floor. See? He didn’t use the vents, that’s progress. His totally-not-SHIELD therapist would say that’s progress, except he doesn’t have a totally-not-SHIELD therapist anymore. He scared them all off months ago.

Grinning to himself, he enters the communal floor, immediately heading for the coffee pot.

Which is empty. Again. Aw, coffee, no.

“Why is there never coffee?” he whines to himself, knowing full well it’s because no one drinks coffee this late at night, at least not on the communal floor. Clint knows that both Tony and Bruce have their own fancy advanced coffee-providing machines in their respective labs, so they don’t need to head all the way up and lose their focus when they need coffee.

Grumbling under his breath, Clint fills the water thing with water and switches it on.

“Agent Barton,” JARVIS says suddenly, startling Clint. “Apologies for the disruption. Mr. Loki would like to speak with you, if you find it acceptable at this time. He will not enter the communal floor without your permission.”

A wave of ice rolls down his spine, and he forces back a shiver. He’s gotta talk to Loki eventually, he can’t keep putting it off. He knows that the longer he waits, the more intrusive his feelings are becoming. Intrusive feelings suck.

Clint thinks for a moment. He’s having a decent day. He got a lot of stress out of his system earlier with Barnes, and his anxiety is fairly quiet, but even the thought of facing Loki, of looking into piercing, freezing, blue, makes him balk.

He doesn’t want to face Loki, not now, but he groans internally when he realizes that he has to. He has to hear what Loki has to say, not for Loki’s sake. For his own.

Would it be selfish to ask Loki to wait until his coffee is ready? Eh, he doesn’t really care, he’s allowed to be selfish once in a while.

“He can come in if he waits ‘til the coffee’s done,” Clint says decisively. “And can you turn the heat up a bit?”

“Of course. I shall alert him when you are ready.”

It’s a tense couple minutes, waiting for his coffee to brew. On one hand, coffee is warm and good and great at preventing nightmares. On the other hand, he feels a Serious Conversation coming, and Serious Conversations are stressful, difficult, and great at causing nightmares.

He doesn’t need anything else giving him nightmares, that’s the whole reason he’s down here in the first place.

The coffee pot beeps cheerfully at him, and he sighs softly, pouring himself a generous mug because he’s not gonna drink straight from the pot around a stranger. He has some manners. Take that, Natasha.

“Tell Loki,” Clint says, struggling to keep his voice from cracking as he says Loki’s name, “that he’s good to come in.”

He grips his mug tightly as he takes a large gulp, trying to stop his fingers from trembling as the elevator slides open.

He takes a deep breath as Loki steps out.

“Agent Barton,” Loki greets as he approaches.

“Loki,” Clint responds carefully, his heart rate quickening at the proximity. “How’s your shoulder?”

“Better than I deserve.”

“Don’t,” Clint says sharply. “Don’t do that shit. I shouldn’t have shot you.”

“And my brother should not have brought me here without warning,” Loki counters. “You were well within your rights to respond as you did.”

“I was out of line.” Clint takes a deep breath. “I don’t wanna argue with you, that’s not gonna end well.”

He may not have his bow, but he’s got three knives on him, and he’s twitchy enough that his hand’s creeping towards the one strapped to his thigh. He doesn’t wanna stab Loki, not really.

“That is not my intention,” Loki agrees, taking a small step back. “I wish to apologize to you, Agent Barton.”

“I’ll hear you out,” Clint says, going to drink his coffee but finding the mug empty. When did he drink it all? Whatever, he can just have more. He pours himself another mug. “Coffee?”

Loki blinks in surprise at the offer. “No, but I appreciate the offer.”

“Suit yourself,” Clint shrugs, sipping at the new coffee and nodding at the couch. “Let’s sit down, I’ve got a feeling this is gonna take a minute.”

Loki obediently follows him to the couch. Clint sits in one corner and Loki sits in the other, keeping a fair distance away from him. Clint appreciates that. He’ll be able to grab his knife on time if Loki lunges at him, and he’s pretty sure Loki knows it.

“Natasha told me that you were brainwashed,” Clint says bluntly. “She told me that you were controlled by the scepter. Is that true?”

“It is the truth,” Loki confirms. “My mind was not my own when I brought the Chitauri here. I was sent to retrieve the Tesseract.”

Clint’s not sure if he’s relieved or disappointed to hear the confirmation. He doesn’t want Loki to have been controlled. He wants someone to blame, as selfish as that is.

A shiver goes up his spine, and he takes another large gulp of his coffee, letting the scalding, life-giving coffee warm him from the inside.

“Who sent you?” Clint asks.

Loki breath stutters and he flinches slightly, a motion that would have gone undetected to most.

“A being more cruel and more powerful than any other I have encountered,” Loki says slowly, reluctantly, swallowing hard.

Shit, that’s a thing. Clint curses himself internally.

He hadn’t even considered that Loki could be traumatized from the shit he’d been through, and he’s a total asshole for that.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Clint says quickly, trying to remedy his mistake. “You’ve been through shit, just like I have, and I’m not gonna push for answers you’re not ready to give.”

Loki stares at him, confusion clear on his face. “You do not desire answers?”

“I didn’t say that. I wanna know, sure,” Clint shrugs, “but I don’t wanna push you to talk about shit that you’re not comfortable talking about.”

“I do not deserve the kindness you are showing me, Agent Barton,” Loki says slowly. “After what I have done, I do not deserve your compassion or consideration.”

“It’s not your fault,” Clint says firmly, and it’s probably the hardest thing he’s ever done. It physically hurts him to admit it, but it’s the truth. “The things they made you do? None of them were your fault.”

“I cannot believe that,” Loki argues. “I should have fought. I am a god, I should not have allowed another to twist my mind.”

“Should I have fought you?” Clint demands.

“What?”

“Should I have fought you?” Clint repeats.

“You did fight me,” Loki responds slowly, “I could feel your will pressing back against mine. You fought with everything you had.”

“And it didn’t make a difference,” Clint says. “I had no chance. I was out of my league.”

“You were,” Loki agrees cautiously, “but I am a god. I—”

“No,” Clint interrupts sharply. “You were out of your league, just like I was. You told me that the one who sent you was more powerful than anyone you’ve met, right?”

“I did, but—”

“Were you more powerful than him?”

“I was nowhere close to his strength,” Loki admits reluctantly.

“Exactly!” Clint says, gesturing dramatically for emphasis. “You were stronger than me, so I couldn’t fight you. They were stronger than you, so you couldn’t fight them. You can’t argue with that unless you wanna imply that I didn’t do everything in my power to fight you, which would be rude.”

Loki lets out a surprised laugh. “You attempt to manipulate me?”

“Yep,” Clint agrees, surprising himself with the cheer in his voice. “Is it working?”

“I will concede this argument,” Loki agrees.

“Great! It’s not your fault, just like it’s not mine,” Clint says with finality.

“It does not cause you distress to accept that I am not at fault?”

Clint lets out a long sigh. “Not gonna lie to you, it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long time. Maybe ever. I’m really fucked up from what you did to me, but in the end, it’s not on you.”

“I do regret my actions. I take no pleasure in your trauma,” Loki says, and his tone is genuine.

“I shoot pictures of you,” Clint blurts. “When I get stressed, I go down to the range, and I pretend that the pictures are you. I’m probably not gonna stop, but I’m gonna actively try not to actually shoot you again.”

“I appreciate your effort,” Loki acknowledges, “and I would not attempt to stop you. If shooting my image is of help to you, it does not bother me.”

“That’s a relief.” Clint drains his mug, setting it aside and turning to face Loki directly. Looking into his eyes — piercing blue — is fucking hard, but he shoves his anxiety as far away as he can. He wants to make an effort. Loki deserves for him to make an effort. “I’m not gonna be completely good with you right away. There’s gonna be days where I can’t be in the same room as you. I know that it wasn’t your fault, but I’m dealing with trauma, and trauma doesn’t give a shit about rational thoughts.”

Hey, that sounded self-aware. He just acknowledged his trauma. His totally-not-SHIELD therapist would be proud of him, if he had one.

“I would not expect you to forgive me immediately,” Loki says. “I would understand if you were to never forgive me.”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Clint sighs, searching for the words. “I dunno how much you deal with mental health stuff on Asgard.”

“It is taught that if pain is not visible, it is to be controlled,” Loki admits. “I never did agree with my father in that regard, but I am lacking a knowledge of mental health.”

“Yeah, that’s bullshit. Mental health’s just as important as physical health.” Suddenly, Asgard sounds a lot less advanced to Clint. Fuck Asgard. “In simple terms, my brain’s associated you with the source of my trauma. When I’m feeling anxious or afraid, I’m not gonna be able to be around you because of that association.”

“You are afraid of me.”

“Yeah,” Clint admits, “I am. Rational thoughts, irrational emotions. But I’m recovering and shit, in my own way. I’m never gonna be completely over it, to be honest, but I’m getting better.”

“I swear to respect whatever boundaries you deem appropriate,” Loki promises honestly. “I do not desire to hinder your recovery.”

“I believe you,” Clint says, “and that’s worth a lot to me. Thank you.”

“And thank you for hearing me,” Loki says, standing up. “I will not occupy any more of your time.”

“Wait,” Clint says quickly as Loki walks away. “One more thing.”

Loki pauses. “Yes?”

Clint swallows hard, forcing himself to speak before he chokes on the words.

“I forgive you.”

Loki dips his head respectfully, smiling gratefully, before he leaves, and the second he’s gone, the anxiety Clint’s been pushing away hits him all at once.

Struggling for breath, he signals JARVIS and dives into the vents.

The vent is solid around him. He presses back against the cool metal, focusing on his breathing. He tries to calm down. He tries to slow his breaths.

He pulls his knees to his chest, closes his eyes, focuses on the sensations around him. He’s safe here. No one else will enter the vents. He’ll be okay.

He doesn’t move for hours, and eventually, he lets himself sleep.

He doesn’t have a single nightmare.