Clint didn’t expect Mjolnir to actually move when he grabbed it.
Really, he honestly didn’t.
After months of watching idiot supervillains try to snatch the hammer from Thor’s grip—and Tony try to steal it from the kitchen table—Clint had figured out that Mjolnir tolerated no one’s touch but Thor’s. And Clint was the kind of guy who respected a magical hammer’s right to choose who in the hell it wanted to be hefting it. After all, Clint hated it when random people started touching him, and his bows liked to snap bruises on the junior agents who thought Clint’s gear was what made him the best and borrowing it would improve their aim. And if Clint and his gear hated it people touching them, he could only imagine how much the thousands-of-years-old enchanted hammer felt about that shit.
But see, for all that Clint respected Mjolnir’s right to be as persnickety as it damn well chose, Clint was a little more focused on the monster about to eat him than he was about violating Mjolnir’s personal space.
His bow was broken—snapped in half by slathering jaws—his knives had all been thrown into vulnerable eyes, and one of these freaking Wargs had eaten his quiver. (And Clint was going to have to punish Coulson for naming these things and forever tainting The Lord of the Rings.) So Clint had grabbed the hammer’s handle mid-lunge away from a gaping maw and just swung.
He’d been expecting the hammer to stay put, a stable bar that Clint could use as a base to maybe kick his heels someplace that might buy him a bit more time to run. But his first touch of Mjolnir had seared the flesh of his whole arm like he’d shoved his way into a burning building; or, he supposed it might have felt just like getting struck by lightning. It hadn’t been the wrenching pain that came from ripping his shoulder out of its socket, which some part of him had always thought would happen if he ever actually got Mjolnir to move. But no matter how strange the pain, it was worth it when one blow from the hammer ripped the open jaw off the Warg’s face.
After that, well… he and Mjolnir just had themselves a good time.
They smashed and bashed their way through ribs and skulls, and Clint even got comfortable enough to start throwing the hammer around. (And for a hefty, square, lump of metal the accuracy on Mjolnir was incredible.) In the end it was an all around good fight, just another day in the life of the Avengers. When the last Warg was down, Mjolnir gave a little tug of warning before it flew away to rejoin Thor. The Asgardian seemed to think his hammer had been off taking down Wargs all on its own, and if Mjolnir didn’t feel like sticking around to tell Thor where he’d been, Clint wasn’t going to be the one to tell.
Clint had silently agreed to pretend like the whole thing had never happened, just a secret between him and Mjolnir. Which shouldn’t have gotten out since Clint had kept some of the world’s most classified secrets while Mjolnir was… well, a hammer. (Though, Clint did plan on tracking down something like hammer polish as a private thank you for saving his life.) Clint had no problem with keeping this stroke of luck all to himself. At least, he didn’t up until he woke up the next morning with a tattoo on the back of his shooting hand.
Or at least, part of a tattoo.
The tattoo’s thick, black lines formed a bird’s head, something with sharp eyes and a hooked beak. But the bird’s body tapered off at the shoulders, like the ink had once stretched along the whole of Clint’s arm but had long since faded away. Or, maybe it was just now fading in. Either way, it didn’t take a genius to connect yesterday’s fierce burn of touching Mjolnir with the sting that had taken shape on his hand this morning.
Clint pressed his thumb into the ink, rubbing away the ache and trying to rub away the color. “Hey, J?” Clint asked Stark Tower’s AI.
“Would you like me to call for Dr. Banner, Clinton?” Which was the most informal Clint had ever been able to get JARVIS to be.
“Nah, let’s keep this between you and me for now. No point in worrying anybody until we know that there’s something to worry about. You happen to notice when this started to turn up, though?”
“Given your propensity to sleep nestled within in a pile of blankets where I am unable to observe you, I would only be able to estimate based upon the growth pattern I have observed since you ended your REM cycle. Is this sufficient?”
Clint ignored the comment about his sleeping habits for the passive-aggressive scolding that it was. Clint was pretty sure that some of Stark’s own voyeuristic tendencies had rubbed off on JARVIS, and if the AI had his way there would be cameras everywhere and all of the Avengers would be forced to roam around naked, just so they couldn’t keep anything from him. “Sure, J. Estimate away.”
“I assume that the mark began to appear after you entered your REM state of sleep. You have proven that without such depth you will wake at the slightest provocation, and based upon the way you are attempting to alleviate pain located in the back of your hand, I presume that whatever introduced the mark to your skin caused some discomfort. Without being in a REM state, you would have awoken during the process.”
“So, ‘while I was asleep’ is what you’re telling me?”
Clint could almost feel the AI rolling his eyes. “Given your usual post-battle sleep patterns I would estimate the process began sometime around midnight and ended around six this morning.”
That was a large amount of time for a small amount of tattoo, so Clint wasn’t too worried that he’d get caught out today by any unexpected side effects. Instead, he grabbed one of the wrap bandages he’d stolen from medical and bound up his wrist like he’d strained something in the fight yesterday. (Which, considering the rest of the team thought he’d been fighting with the broken shards of his bow, wasn’t too unbelievable.) Clint could feel JARVIS glaring at him through the cameras like he was an idiot. “I believe we should—”
“How about I do my best to keep my arms outside my covers tonight so you can get some better data, and we’ll think about telling someone tomorrow?”
JARVIS gave a longsuffering sigh, but conceded. “If you insist, Agent.”
“Hey man, don’t ‘Agent’ at me. It’s just a tattoo.”
“A spontaneous tattoo.”
“I promise you, J. This is not the strangest shit that I’ve woken up to in the morning.”
“Somehow, I do not find that a comfort.” JARVIS’ retort was dry and snarky, and since that was the basis of their relationship, Clint knew that the AI would let him keep this to himself. For all that JARVIS was a program, he was more observant than almost anyone Clint had ever met. JARVIS knew that despite Clint’s perfect record in the six months since the Chitauri attack, he was still on a short leash, and most of SHIELD expected him to go rogue any day now.
Two days after Thor and Loki had gone back to Asgard (which was a full month before Thor had come back), Tasha had arranged for Stark to swing by the Helicarrier to offer up some suggestions on defense. It took Stark about ten minutes to realize that the same protection he was offering Bruce needed to be offered to Hawkeye as well. Clint had come out of his psych appointment to find that Tasha had packed up all his stuff, and hers, and moved them both into the half-wrecked Stark Tower.
So sure, JARVIS knew that Clint could tell Bruce about the tattoo, but he also knew that Stark would get called in to help with the analysis, and Cap would have to be told since he was the team leader, and then suddenly Clint wouldn’t be allowed to fight. Then Coulson would ask why Clint had been benched, and even if Coulson threw himself on the grenade and kept quiet, eventually Fury or the WTC would demand to know why in the hell Clint wasn’t in the field. Needless to say, SHIELD finding out that touching supposedly-beneficial Asgardian artifacts had left Clint marked, would not be a good thing. Best case scenario, they’d pull Clint off the Avengers until everything could be straightened out, and worse case, they’d amputate his shooting arm to study the tattoo.
Either way, Clint wrapped up the marks and roamed into the kitchen like there was nothing to worry about. Tasha gave him a long look over breakfast, but she knew that despite his hatred of medical, Clint had the foresight to know when an injury might worsen and keep him out of the field, and nothing in medical was worse than being benched. The rest of the team didn’t mention the bandage, though Bruce replaced Clint’s morning coffee with a tea that was good for tension, while Tony started on designs for a sturdier shooting glove, and he knew Cap and Thor would keep a better eye on him in the next battle.
Clint managed two days like that, cajoling JARVIS into keeping quiet and ignoring that on the third morning he had to wrap his arm all the way up to the elbow because the tattoo just kept spreading. (At this point he was pretty sure the bird was some kind of raven. And really, he didn’t know whether to be stoked or panicked that it was a bird of prey.) His forearm was covered in an intricate spiral of wings, like the bird had been captured as it dove to attack its prey. Honestly, despite its Mjolnir-inspired origins, this was turning into the kind of tattoo that Clint might have gotten for himself if identifying marks didn’t get people in his profession killed.
Clint knew the time had come to fess up when he roamed into the kitchen and found Coulson waiting just out of the doorway’s line of sight.
Clint had taken his own sweet time in the shower that morning, spending more than his fair share of it trying to scrub away at the ink, just in case. The Avengers didn’t really plan on getting together for breakfast every morning, and if you missed one or two Cap wouldn’t come at you with the sad puppy eyes. But still, they’d all be there, and Clint wasn’t ready to explain himself. So instead, he camped out on his balcony with a mug of coffee, shooed away the black birds who’d camped out on the railing, and waited until he was pretty sure no one would be in the kitchen, but no so long that it would start looking suspicious.
So of course, Coulson was waiting for him. Coulson’s position meant that Clint had to come all the way into the kitchen before he could spot his handler, tuck tail, and run. If Clint had seen him any earlier there was a good chance he might have actually made it into the vents and away, but trapped in the same room with Coulson meant that there was no way he was getting out without doing serious damage. Damage that he would never allow himself to do to his handler. Well, not when he was the one in charge of his own body, anyway.
(Still, he might have given running a shot if Natasha hadn’t appeared behind him and murmured, “Don’t be even more of an idiot.”)
Coulson wasn’t even pretending to be there for some reason other than interrogating Clint. There was no paperwork laid out before him, no bowl of oatmeal, and even worse, none of the donuts he reserved for breakfast on bad days. There was nothing there but a mug of still-steaming coffee and Coulson’s unflinching gaze.
Clint rolled his eyes and flopped down beside his handler, not wasting the effort to settle in on the opposite side of the table when he knew Tasha would just haul him over anyway. However, that concession didn’t mean he was going to tell Coulson the truth and put him in a position where he had to lie to SHIELD. Clint and his heart had already put the poor bastard through enough. “It’s fine, Sir. I wrenched my wrist trying not to get eaten but I can still shoot.”
“And yet, my concern for you still extends beyond your ability to pierce things with arrows.” Phil drolled with the same kind of dry viciousness that made him and JARVIS such good friends.
Natasha, of course, didn’t give a shit about letting them have time for their usual verbal sparring. “This is the third day his wrist had been wrapped and each day the bandaging gets more extensive.”
“You know you can’t wrap on the same spot every day, Tasha. It can cut off blood flow and damage the nerves, and I need the nerves in my wrist.” Clint made sure to look her dead in the eye while maintaining his slouch. The former said he wasn’t lying, while the latter said he hated that she was fussing. About half of the time he got Tasha to believe his lies about the little things, and when you were lying to an internationally acclaimed assassin those were spectacular odds. (Though, he was never really sure if she was just humoring him when he actually managed to get away with it.)
“I believe everyone in charge of your continued existence could agree that you could do with a little less nerve.”
Clint kicked his feet onto the table and gave Coulson a jaunty smirk. “My nerve is what you love about me, Sir.”
Natasha smacked his feet off the table before Clint got his retort all the way out. He righted himself in time to see Coulson smooth out his expression, from what he figured was a smile at Clint’s scramble. “You’re not adjusting the wrapping, you’re extending the wrapping up your arm. You’re not heating, you’re not icing, you’re not stretching, and you haven’t spoken to Bruce. Something is wrong.”
“Seriously, Tash? Banner’s not that kind of doc, and you can’t expect me to run to him every time I twitch a muscle.”
Natasha pressed close to his side, all silent support against whatever he thought he had to hide. “You don’t spend three days wrapping a twitch.”
“And even if you do,” Coulson interjected, “Dr. Banner is probably the best medical professional in the world when it comes to keeping your condition quiet. He wouldn’t betray your trust.”
“And he’d smash anyone who asked.” Somehow Nat and Coulson managed to wrap Clint up in the safe space between them, firing back and forth supportive common sense that chipped away at the isolation he always carried with him. Clint saw things better from a distance; that was his catchphrase and his ultimate truth. But always they reminded him that there was no point in being distant here. They wouldn’t tell, and they wouldn’t turn, but they’d keep pressing until Clint pulled his head out of his ass and accepted that they were right and he was an idiot.
Before the two most important people in Clint’s life had met and decided to gang up on him, Tasha had taken the bludgeon approach while Coulson had been like a never-ending drip of water. (In other words: Tasha would ride him until he agreed just so he could come, and Coulson would give him that sad, half not-smile that said he would follow Clint into this idiocy and pull him out when things were done.) Now they combined their skills and twisted it into a hodgepodge of comforting words and warm touches that slipped past Clint’s finely-honed walls and let them in close.
He tried to pull away, he really did. But Tasha’s hand was in his hair and Coulson’s thigh was pressed up against his, and the greater part of his brain still couldn’t believe that they were both still with him after everything he’d done. “I’m fine. Really, my wrist is fine, you don’t need to check it.”
“Of course your wrist is fine.” The “idiot” went unsaid by Tasha.
“You’re not injured. You’re hiding.” Coulson added with his usual calm certainty.
“I’m not faking a wrist injury to keep away from my team!” Clint’s affront was totally genuine, which both Nat and Coulson could hear. They locked eyes and Clint could tell from their eyebrow argument that Nat wanted to pin Clint down while Coulson ripped off the bandage, and Coulson wanted to cajole him a bit more. Either way, Clint knew the wrap was coming off before he left this table. Clint huffed out his most put upon sigh and grumbled, “You both suck.”
Natasha propped her chin up on his shoulder. “You enjoy it when I do, and we’ve both heard excellent things about Coulson.”
Together they turned matching leers on their handler, but the man refused to be baited. He always refused to be baited.
(Every member SHIELD knew to leave their comms on during on-the-job sex where something might go south. The first time Coulson had been to the mark’s taste Clint and Nat had babied him like a junior agent on his first mission. They didn’t want their stoic handler to feel awkward about people listening in on him having sex. Coulson had taken it with his usual grace, then proceeded to—quite literally—blow the target’s mind, and then fuck him into the mattress with the best dirty talk either of them had ever heard. When Coulson got back to their safehouse, he’d just smirked at them and gotten back to work. Despite the subsequent years of poking and teasing, that’s all the information they’d ever got about Coulson’s sexual habits.)
It was clever of Nat to turn it on Coulson—which shouldn’t have thrown Clint since she was always clever. Coulson-baiting was one of their favorite games, and with Nat’s warmth at his back and Coulson’s dry smile before him, it was a subtle reminder that for everything else in the world that had changed—the Avengers, SHIELD, Stark Tower—they were still the three of them. Tasha would always be beside them wherever the wind blew, and Coulson would always be the tether that gave them roots. She pressed her hand to Clint’s bicep and slid down his arm to brush against the bandage’s edge, asking silent permission to peel it away and show what he was hiding.
Clint sighed, not quite a word, but close enough to “yeah,” that Tasha untucked the loose end. Her soft hands shifted his wrist to her lap, bracing it while she methodically unwound the bandage, wrapping it back up into its neat little cylinder, giving Clint time to brace himself for the reveal. It was good of her to try, but there wasn’t much point. Two turns of the bandage peeled back the outermost layer and revealed the top of Clint’s forearm.
The part of his skin lined with the fading wings.
Tasha paused at that sight, then abandoned all pretext of catering to Clint’s emotions and ripped the rest off in a fury. Soon enough his arm was laid bare, in all its black-inked glory. She traced her fingers over each and every line, feeling for what, he didn’t know, but he knew better than to interrupt her perusal. Over the last few days Clint had paid only the barest amount of attention to the marks, just enough to make sure everything was properly covered but not enough to take in any particulars. Even now he paid more attention to Natasha’s fingers than he did to the spiraled wing tips that she was tracing. Clint thunked his head against the back of his chair and caught Coulson staring. Only, like Clint, he wasn’t looking at the tattoo, but instead he was staring at Clint.
A normal person would point out that Clint didn’t like tattoos. That the last time they’d mentioned them Clint had said he had too many aliases to ever want to mark his skin in a way that anyone would still be able to know him no matter how far he ran. Clint could see Coulson forming and discarding half a dozen scenarios for how that ink might have ended up on Clint’s skin beforehe landed on, “Magic?”
Years they’d known one another, and still Coulson’s ability to know everything managed to surprise him. Clint gave him a pained smirk and replied, “What in the hell else would it be?”
“What did you touch to make a raven turn up on your arm?” Natasha wasn’t in the mood for banter.
“You didn’t just touch it though, did you?” Coulson asked.
“When had my life ever been that easy? My bow snapped and I ended up throwing all my knives because trying to stab a Warg is a stupid idea—” Tasha squeezed his wrist with the kind of viciousness that meant she was about three seconds from ripping off his hand to get him back on target. “I didn’t touch the hammer, I used it.”
“But…” Coulson stopped himself before he said that only those considered ‘worthy’ could use Mjolnir. Clint still heard it though.
At least, he heard it for about two seconds before Coulson quirked his eyebrow in a way that clearly said, ‘Stop this right now or I will give you a lecture on how much I value your existence and input, just see if I won’t.’ Clint had called that eyebrow’s bluff before, and afterwards he’d spent three days unable to look Coulson in the eye without blushing. Clint shrugged off the threat and answered the question Coulson had actually been meaning to ask.
“I’ve got no idea how it happened. I grabbed Mjolnir, felt like my arm had been struck by lighting, and then got back to the fight.”
“You’re assuming that the pain had something to do with your mark?”
“It started turning up the first time I slept post-battle, and nothing else about the night was off. And since Stark hasn’t complained about the hammer attacking him after all those times he’s touched it, it’s the only thing I can think of. Though I have no idea what in the hell the raven means, or why using Mjolnir means I get way more ink than I ever wanted.”
“It is not ink.” A foreign, female voice interrupted their conversation.