Clint fought with the controls cursing under his breath as Jackson tried to keep the weapons firing in the seat next to him. The tiny quinjet was bucking and diving as Clint tried to lose the Shield operatives that were trying to kill them. He threw the jet into a steep dive as the targeting system announced yet another lock, ‘Please let this work.’ he prayed sending it out to every deity he could think of.
After Loki he had been grounded for almost a full year while they picked his brain with every telepath and psych they could find while sending him through basic training all over again. He had jumped at the chance to get away from the torture sessions when Fury offered to send him on a low level surveillance run in Africa. Two months in the middle of the dessert with nothing but a five man team and no extraction, it had sounded like heaven at the time, anything to get away from the constant reminders of the attack and the people he had killed or lost.
Most of the team was young and arrogant, proud to have been chosen by Shield from their alphabet soup agency. All of them looked at Clint with a toxic mixture of awe and fear that drove him from any extra interaction. The only one he could stand was Jackson, their communications officer. He was former a former Army Ranger who’d specialized in telecommunications and technology.
Clint had sided up to the man as the rest of the team huddled to one side supposedly talking about the sudden black out with Shield. Jackson was fighting to get back in touch with the local base but hadn’t heard anything after an emergency broadcast had come through asking all Shield members to report to the nearest base.
“Jackson.” Clint said softly, sliding up to the other man so that his body blocked the view of the other group.
“Yeah?” the dark haired man said, shifting in his seat as his fingers fiddled with a receiver.
“Act like you’re trying to contact Shield but be ready to move. I don’t like how things are looking.” Clint said sliding a handgun under a small pile of maps next to Jackson’s left hand.
“Yeah, I’ll move on your signal.”
“I’m hoping this is just me being paranoid. Keep an eye out.”
Clint didn’t hesitate when the first weapon was leveled, he shot to kill. When it was over one of his former team lay gasping for air and the rest lay dead. Jackson cursed softly as he put pressure on a graze to one thigh while Clint stalked over to where Smith lay fighting to breath.
“Why, Smith? What the fuck did I ever do to you?”
“Nothing, you’re an ant beneath our boots.” Smith gasped blood staining his teeth in a feral grin, “Hail Hydra.”
“Fuck.” Clint snarled as the man spat out a mouthful of blood and died.
“I worked with Smith for over two years, Barton, longer with some of the others here. They were members of Shield.”
“They might have been Shield but they answered to Hydra. They were moles in the system and probably not the only ones.” Clint said scrubbing a hand roughly through his hair.
“Who’s Hydra exactly?”
“An old enemy that is supposed to be dead.”
“We need to warn the base.”
“They already know. Why do you think all the communications went down? Hydra stepped into the light and took out Shield.”
“If Shield’s gone where do we go?”
“We still have the quinjet.” Clint said slowly, “We need to get to an unaffiliated base, get ahold of the Avengers, Fury, someone at the top level who knows what’s going on.”
“Alright,” Jackson said starting to gather up gear.
“What?! Why? We might need it. We’re going to be running hard; we’re going to need every bit of luck we can get.”
“Shield puts trackers in most of its gear. Take only the basics; strip down everything you can.” Clint said tossing his com unit and eying his bow and quiver with a resigned look, it would have to be dumped.
They went through the jet stripping out what they could. Once they were in the air they would be sitting ducks for anyone with Shield scanners but hopefully they would be able to get far enough. Going on foot was not an option for two guys in military gear in this area. Jackson might be able to ditch his gear and pretend to be native but that wasn’t an option for Clint.
The sound of the weapons lock droning in his ear snapped him back to their frantic escape. Jackson crowed as one of their pursuers when down in flames but Clint’s eyes were glued to the jet bearing down on them from the other side. Clint jinked side to side making the engines scream but he knew it wouldn’t be enough.
A hail of bullets took out one engine in a ball of flame tossing them against the straps as the plane began to spin. Clint fought them straight just as a second strafe of antiaircraft bullets raked the hull and bounced through the cockpit. He braced one leg against the console forcing the plane to get the nose up by sheer strength of body.
He glanced up from the altimeter in time to see the leading edge of bullets slam though the nose and eat up the cockpit windshield before slamming into him and shaking him in his seat. Don’t let go of the stick. Don’t let go of the stick. Don’t let go of the stick.
The quinjet slammed into a sand dune and skipped across the desert floor, leaving a long scar of burning wreckage in its wake. Clint gasped for air as he forced hands to unclench from the stick, his legs to move, kicking at a panel on the console with everything he had. Jackson fumbled out of his straps and threw up somewhere behind him while jerking down the med kit.
“Where are you hit?”
“Leave it, grab the panel and rip out the circuit board in it.” Clint choked out, fighting to ignore the way black spots were taking over his vision.
“What does it do?” Jackson demanded ripping at wires.
“Inner sensor net; shows heat signatures to other shield planes, they can’t scan us without it.” The console sparked and a small fire broke out to one side.
“We need to get out of here.”
“Not until they leave. They’ll see us if we run. You hit?”
“Arm’s broken and took a shot to the side. I can move, you?” He asked finishing removing the board and crushing it under his boot.
“I’m fucked,” Clint said with a hysterical laugh trying to undo his straps with blood covered hands. “You need to help me into the back and then you take off. You get to a phone and call Stark Tower and then go to ground. Don’t look back. Get to Stark if you can, if not find Hill, she would never be Hydra.”
“I can’t just leave you here.” Jackson argued, cursing as he jerked open Clint’s shirt to reveal the multiple wounds.
“Everything’s going numb, Jacks. I’m not walking out and you can’t carry me. Call the authorities about the crash and go to ground. Get moving, Ranger, that’s an order.”
“Fuck, alright.” Jackson snapped helping pull Clint into the back of the plane. “Gun’s still on your right hip, med kit is on your left. Don’t die on me, Barton.”
“Not planning to, Jacks. Get your ass in gear.”
“Yes, sir; I plan to see you in medical, Barton.” He said as a parting shot leaving Clint behind as he ducked out the hold and started running.
Clint took as deep a breath as he dared and pulled himself up to sit against one bulkhead. He knew he was losing too much blood and fought with a few packets of quick clot tossing the power against the wide holes in his side, stomach, and chest. He had to just hope he was putting enough pressure on the exit wounds. When the black swallowed up his vision this time he welcomed it, he didn’t want to see the headshot when it came and just maybe the gods would pull through and he’d have Phil waiting on him when he next opened his eyes.
Clint came to slowly, the steady beeps and white walls screaming hospital even before he got his eyes to focus properly, guess he wasn’t dead. A nurse came in and gave him some water, asking after his pain. He gave them the honest answer on a ten point pain scale out of habit from Shield. Soon after two soldiers in desert fatigues came in and he knew the interrogation was about to begin.
“How are you feeling, son?” the older man asked, standing just far enough away from the bed that Clint didn’t have to crane his neck to see the tall man.
“Been better, sir.”
“What unit are you with?” the other asked his British accent throwing Clint for a long moment, damn drugs.
“Robert Huntington, former Gunny Sargent with the Army. I’m a contract worker with a couple US agencies now.” Clint said his voice still rough even with the water he’d been allowed to sip.
He was glad he’d gotten Coulson to bury this identity after the last time he’d used it with Shield. It had been stripped from the Shield database but the original build was left linking his DNA and fingerprints in the Army databases to that name. It had been his welcome home gift after a bad mission with the Army left him with second degree burns.
“What was your unit doing in the area, Huntington?”
“Surveillance, sir,” Clint said happily drinking more water when it was offered, “We were wrapping up when Shield went nuts and started trying to shoot us down. Me and one other guy got out. He left me on the plane once we landed; I was too banged up to evac.”
“Not quite what I would call a landing, Gunny.”
“Whatever landing you can walk away from, sir.”
“Not sure I could count this as walking, son. You’re going to need a few surgeries in the next few days. The doctors wanted to see you stable first, you lost a lot of blood.”
“What’s the damage, sir?”
“I’ll send the doctors in when we finish, son. I realize you are under contract to not reveal certain things but can we call anyone for you to verify things?”
Clint blinked at him in confusion as the words stopped making sense. He passed out a second later missing the alarms starting to blare as his blood pressure bottomed out. The hospital staff rushed in pushing the military men out of their way as they worked.
“Do you believe him?”
“He wasn’t lying that I could tell.” The taller man said with a huff, “If he makes it through the night we can try again in a few days. For now let’s ping the US army and see what they know. He was running from Shield so maybe he was just a contractor that got swept up into this mess.”
Clint woke and slept, let the nurses help him eat, clean up, and move around the bed while he had surgery after surgery. He knew he needed to get moving but he’d held on for the final surgery he had scheduled. The local military had verified his contractor status with Shield and he’d pointed them toward where they had been based with a wince. The news was none stop coverage about the fall of Shield and the death of Director Fury and Captain America in the Triskelion collapse.
He knew they had removed the guards from his door after the last surgery did nothing to improve the feeling in his legs. After all, how was a paraplegic going to escape? They really hadn’t counted on Hawkeye being in their ward at all.
It took every black market favor and contact he had to get some basic gear together and get him and a wheelchair into the US without going through a customs checkpoint. Two months after the Shield collapse he was back at a home he’d seriously hoped to never see again. Only Phil had known about the old farm in Waverly, Iowa, it needed some serious repairs but he was willing to invest the little money he had available to make it livable.
Once it wasn’t going to fall down around his ears he started buying electronics and had the neighbor’s young boys help him drag everything into a back room. Within the next month he was fielding ex-shield operatives around the globe, tracking which bases were known Hydra take overs and which were burned down to nothing. He helped the operatives get to safe houses and regroup where he could but there wasn’t much he could do beyond offer information if he even had it when they called in for help.
He forced himself to stay in shape as best he could and knew his next door neighbors were keeping an eye on the ex-soldier with PTSD next door. They sent over casseroles and offers for him to come to church and Sunday dinners that he always declined. The boys watched with wide eyes as he exercised, doing pulled ups and modified sit ups until he couldn’t see straight, pushing himself for miles along the side of the highway when his skin itched too badly to stay still.
The rather severe exercise regimen he’d started was frankly the only way he got any sleep. It was probably only the acres between him and his neighbors that kept them from reporting the screams each night. If it wasn’t Loki or other missions gone bad it was Shield finding him and trying to finish the job. He was barely sleeping at all, keeping hours that would have made Tony Stark proud as he worked at all hours trying to keep his head on straight.
Being in his childhood home wasn’t really helping with the sleeping problems. If he wasn’t dreaming of missions gone bad he was staring at random parts of the property remembering. That was where Dad caught him when he was five and broke his arm. That was where he liked to hide to avoid beatings when Dad was drunk. That was the old barn where Barney beat him up trying to teach Clint to fight. There were no real good memories in this house. If he’d a choice he would have burned it down years ago.
He set up several basic targets for bow and rifle practice in back which led to the boys bringing over their father after he accused them of lying that the cripple next door was the best shot they’d ever seen. Clint gave him a bitter smile and a short demonstration before asking them to leave. He started refusing the boys entry after that even if he did see them sometimes when he was in town for his monthly shopping trip.
He’d ignored the local hunting store shopkeeper’s laughter when he’d bought the recurve and hunting rifle and he would keep ignoring the pitying looks of the locals. He’d mostly picked up the weapons for protection and to prove to himself that he still had the skill. This wasn’t home anyway.
Home had been where ever Strike team Delta was located. Natasha and Coulson had been his cardinal direction. Now Natasha was fighting the good fight alone in D.C. and Coulson was molding underground in some random cemetery in New York under a fake name. Phil Coulson had been his guiding star and without that support and friendship he was lost and wandering, a broken compass that never pointed north.
He missed Natasha but losing Phil was like he’d lost a limb, leaving him aching and reaching for the wound at random moments. They’d been together for more than four years when Loki destroyed everything and he had no idea how he was going to get through his remaining years without him. He couldn’t imagine watching anyone’s six or trailing behind anyone else on an op or even holding hands through one of Phil’s stupid science fiction movies he’d loved. There was a Phil shaped hole in his life and he knew no one could ever fill it and he didn’t even want to try, he’d die mourning the man who’d made him whole.
Six months into his stay he managed to get a message to Hill through a secure message board he had set up. He let her know he was safe, asking that she inform Natasha if she was able before decommissioning the entire thing and scrapping the hard drives on that server. It probably was useless but he had to try. Shield had used him up and spit him out and he had no intention of letting them do it all over again.
He was doing pull ups in one of the doorways absently hoping one of the emergency lines would go off so he’d have an excuse to stop when they arrived. Natasha rapped out their code on the door before pushing it open a second later not waiting on him to open it. He ignored the soft gasps behind him as he finished the set with his back to the door, arms and abs burning as he dropped himself to the floor, chair thumping down with him as he dropped, not bothering with the rope he’d used to get that high.
“Clint…” she said softly taking in the wheelchair he was strapped into, bare torso, and the new scars that cover it with a fractured mask while the others openly stared in shock.
“The computer room’s to the right; take Stark and let him geek out while I get cleaned up.” He said, unlocking the wheels and pushing past them to his bedroom.
He wheeled himself into the small bedroom and pushed the door shut behind him ignoring the harsh whispers that broke out behind him with a soft curse. He cleaned himself up on autopilot and had to force himself out of the room to join the rest of them. One of his burner phones pinged with a message as he pushed himself into his command center.
“Nice set up, Legolas.” Tony said with a grin fingers typing like mad as he sorted through Clint’s main system.
“Thanks, don’t break anything.” Clint said with a frown booting up his backup system and starting to relay messages with the agent who’d contacted him.
“You’re the Handler we’ve been hearing about. You sent a couple former Shield agents to Hill.” Natasha said eying the humming equipment.
“They didn’t have anywhere else to go and it was the closest.”
“You’re not using the farm as a safe house?” Steve asked, glancing around.
“Nope, it’s just for me, sorry.” Clint said finishing sending what information he could and updating his map with the agent’s location and current mission.
“I’m loading a mini version of Jarvis to assist. He can take over things if you get tied up.” Tony said eyeing the wheelchair with a frown.
“Alright,” Clint said with a sigh, spinning to face them and locking down the wheels, “Ask away, I know you guys are dying to know.”
“You don’t have to,” Steve said trying to cut off Tony before he could get started.
“No, really he does.” Tony interrupted eyes blazing. “We thought you were dead. They found the crashed quinjet and several badly burned bodies that couldn’t be identified. Natasha fucking mourned you.”
“It wasn’t safe.” Clint snapped, “For all I knew the news had it right and Fury and Steve were dead. Natasha was in the public eye fighting the legal battles so I knew she was safe but I had no way to get word to her. I took out a few ads like we used to in town but no one responded and I had to keep moving in case Hydra was on my tail.”
“So you never thought to just, I don’t know, call the Tower?” Tony asked, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“Considering every government agency out there probably has your phone lines tapped I couldn’t risk it. It’s not like I’m exactly able to run if they track me down!”
“How did that happen exactly?” Natasha said, eyes flickering over where his scars would be under his shirt.
“My team lost communication with Shield and then three fourths of them decide to kill me. Hail Hydra.” He said with a bitter laugh, “Me and one other, Agent Jackson, got out in a quinjet but we barely got an hour away before we were being shot at by Shield jets. We managed to land and Jackson got away. I told him to call the locals in and get to the Tower; I take it he never made it?”
“No, no one from your team ever tried to contact us.”
“Figures,” Clint said with a huff scrubbing his hands together, he’d tried to track down the other agent but had been hoping that no news meant he’d gone to ground. “I woke up in a military hospital and gave them an old identify I knew Shield didn’t have. I stayed just long enough to get the surgeries I needed out of the way before heading out. I burned most of my contacts getting back into the US and started getting the Farm back into livable condition. I’ve been here ever since.”
“And the wheelchair?” Tony prompted, eye flickering over the Velcro straps holding his legs in place.
“I took six antiaircraft rounds to the chest, shoulders, and stomach. One got lucky and bounced off my spine. I have no feeling from the waist down, hence the need for a chair. Can I ask some questions of my own now?”
“Sure, go ahead?” Steve said waving him on.
“What the fuck are you guys doing here?” Clint snapped, waving one hand to encompass the entire state. “I live in the bum-fuck-middle of nowhere for a reason! You’re going to point a giant target on my ass just by landing on my property!”
“We were hoping you would come back with us to New York.” Steve said slowly, clearly aware that he was going to be hitting a sore point, “You have a floor ready and waiting for you at the Tower.”
“Nope, I can’t deal with this right now. You guys do what you want. I’m going to my room.”
Clint ignored the looks they were giving him as he wheeled himself out of the room. He didn’t bother locking the door and Natasha came in just as he was pulling himself onto the bed. She froze just inside the room watching as he arranged his limp legs where he wanted them. His back was a solid bar of pain sending random zaps of lightening up his spine as he moved leaving him shivering with pain and fighting to even move.
“I’m going to take some pills and sleep, Natasha. We can talk later.” He said fighting with the pill bottle and downing several with a gulp of water from the bottle he’d left by the bed.
“I know you’re not happy here, Clint.” Natasha said taking a seat at the end of the bed, “You haven’t been sleeping and you’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“I can’t go back to Shield, Nat. They took everything I ever had and ground it into nothing. All I have left now are the computer skills I learned and my aim, nothing else. I can’t let them take that too. I can’t.” he said his eyes on the blankets as he fisted them, hands white knuckled as he fought with himself not to snap at her.
“What about the Avengers? Coulson wanted you on the team.”
“A paraplegic super hero? What, are you guys going to dump me on a rooftop and hope no one decides to blow it up? Is Tony going to make me a rocket powered chair?” He asked with a snort, “No, I’m not doing that, Nat. I can’t do that again.”
“You brought me to Shield, gave me a home, Clint. Let me do the same for you.”
“I brought you to Hydra, Nat.” He said with a bitter laugh, “It’s amazing none of us noticed. We should have seen something was wrong. Hell, Sitwell was Coulson’s best friend and he was Hydra the entire time.”
“They got through all the checks because they could honestly say they were loyal to Shield because Shield was really Hydra. It was only the ones not in on the ruse who were still fighting for the rest of the planet.”
“I just need to sleep, Nat. I hurt and I need to sleep.” Clint said trying to keep his voice from breaking, he was worn to nothing and one more blow might shatter him.
“Can I sit with you? I just, we thought you were dead, Clint. I can’t lose you again. Fury swore you weren’t out on a mission. It’s the only reason I agreed to dump the database.” She whispered, leaning towards where he sat.
“It’s going to happen eventually, Nat. You’re the one with the Russian serum in your veins, I’m just a washed up carney with good aim, all too human.”
“I don’t care, Clint. I can’t see you hurting right now and not do something. I need to do something.”
“Just let me sleep, Nat. We can argue in the morning.” Clint said with a sigh pulling off his shirt since it irritated the scars on his back on the bad days and shifting down in bed. He tried to ignore the firm line of body that lay down next to him as he let the drugs drag him down.
The next morning he ignored the way Natasha was following his every move as he got ready for the day. It was only three am but he was up and exercising thanks to a nightmare that had dragged him out of bed screaming. It was either move or lay in the clammy sheets shaking to pieces.
She was a silent shadow as he choked down a protein bar and a bottle of water along with his pills before starting work in the command center. By eight am he finished up his tasks and went to the living room taking in the Super Heroes staggered about the room with a sigh.
“You guys really need to get out of here. Don’t you have an empire to run, Stark?”
“Nope, I’m not picking a fight with you right now, bow boy. Busy.” Tony said not even bothering to look up from his tablet where he was typing away, probably handicap proofing the stupid floor he’d made.
“We just wanted to make sure you were okay, Clint.” Steve said earnestly gaze flickering from person to person like he wasn’t sure who he needed to watch most.
“Well, I’m fine.” He snapped, fighting not to flinch as Tony sprang up and started pacing.
“Yeah, we all know that’s a lie, blue boy.” Tony said with a snort, “Considering who this is coming from I think it’s ironic the kind of schedule you’ve been keeping, on your terminal twenty hours out of twenty four pretty much every day. Frankly, Legolas, you look like shit and need an intervention or something.”
“Nope, Spangles, I’m not talking to you, this is between Merida and me.”
Clint’s phone pinged with an alert as Steve started in trying to get Tony to back down a bit. He checked the message with a curse before wheeling to the couch and starting to pull out weapons. Pulling out a rifle and tossing it to Natasha and a shotgun to Steve he moved to his next bolt hole with Steve looking at him like he’d lost his mind while Natasha simply chambered a round.
“You need to get out.” He said simply, digging for his go bag.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, where’s the fire?” Tony demanded catching the bag of equipment Clint tossed him with grunt.
“That’s backups of most of the intel I have. The parameter just got tripped. You guys need to move now.”
“Tripped how?” Steve asked even as he pushed Tony out the door behind Natasha.
Steve was just reaching the door when the house exploded, blasting him out the door. A missile had taken out the top floor that Clint had never bothered to use. Fiery debris rained down on Clint from where he’d tipped his wheelchair over, a burning beam pinning the chair in place.
“Clint!” Steve yelled forcing his way back into the burning room. Clint cursed breathlessly in the smoke and fought with the Velcro holding his legs down as Steve belly crawled towards him.
“Clint, give me your hand!” Steve coughed, jerking Clint out of the chair and pulling him out by his arms just as the roof gave way. Clint tried to ignore the way he was pressed against the shield in the Captain’s arms, Phil would have wept to be this close to it he thought with a bitter smirk.
“You drop me, Rogers, and I’m going to kick your ass.” Clint coughed out as he was hefted piggy back style onto the man’s back, the larger man taking off at a run as soon as his feet hit the ground.
“What exactly is he going to do with that?” Tony asked as Natasha tossed Clint the rifle and took the shotgun while Tony was suiting up.
“His legs don’t work, Stark, his aim is fine.” She said with a grin as Clint twisted even while they ran and shot down a helicopter that was approaching one handed while he clung to Steve with the other.
Tony took off and rather quickly took out the other two jets circling the property. Clint glanced back at the burning farm house and took a few pot shots at the fleeing hydra goons that had bailed from the helicopter, if they took the bullet to the head, well no one called him on it. They got to the Quinjet with ease and Clint tried to breathe as Steve dropped him into a seat.
Natasha took the bench next to him and helped him buckle in when his hands were shaking too much to even let go of the rifle. They took off fast, cloaking as soon as they were high enough. Tony joined them once it was clear they had lost their tail, the suit folded up and stored as he moved to join Steve in the cockpit.
“You blew up my Dad’s house.” Clint choked out once everyone was settled back down, his tone slightly hysterical.
“I’m sorry about that, Clint.” Steve said with a wince glancing at Natasha with wide eyes for help.
“No, that’s not it. Coulson would’ve said thanking someone for destroying something was bad manners.” Clint continued glancing around him like he had no idea where he was.
“Considering how much of an asshole your Dad was, I’m sure Coulson would’ve let this one slip, Hawk.” Natasha said, double checking that Clint’s straps were tight and forcing him to let go of the rifle so she could stow it.
“Probably,” Clint said, nodding with a small grin, “Thanks, I’d been dreaming about burning it down for years.”
“You’re welcome, I guess.” Steve said slowly shifting in his seat.
Clint gripped the straps hard and leaned into their tight embrace. He forced himself to breathe rhythmically, three counts in, three counts out, nice and slow. He did his best to ignore how Natasha had even strapped his feet down in the foot straps they never used. It left him gripping the straps too hard, forcing himself to breath as they winged their way to the one place he’d said he was never returning to.
New York was where Coulson and Strike Team Delta had worked; it was where their rooms were located when they were in the US and not on the helicarrier. It was where Phil’s apartment was and the restaurants where they had gone out on the few dates they’d managed with how crazy both their schedules were. New York was where Loki had been captured, Phil Coulson died a hero, and where Clint had spent his months in solitary confinement having his head examined when things were finally over.
Now Shield was no more, their rooms were probably rubble or vandalized by now. Not that Shield had been much of a home since Loki and Coulson died but it had been the only home he’d known for the last ten years. The only other place was now a smoking ruin behind them. Steve had said Clint had a floor at Stark Tower but gifts were meant to be taken back at a moment’s notice. He’d learned that lesson early growing up.
They arrived at the Tower with little fanfare, Steve carried Clint to what must be his floor and Natasha helped him into bed. The rest of the team hovered while Natasha disappeared and reappeared clean and changed out of her soot stained clothes. She glared at them until they got moving to do the same as she dropped a spare set of Clint’s clothes on the bed. Tony had spent the entire time on his tablet and phone, Clint was pretty sure he’d have another chair identical to his old one by morning.
“I put some things you might need in the bathroom. How do you want us to get you in there?” Natasha asked, hands on hips as she surveyed him probably estimating his weight down to the ounce.
“Mind if I help with that?” Bruce asked pushing a generic looking wheelchair into the room. “I’m sure Tony’s already ordering one with all the bells and whistles but this one’s from the medical floor. It should tide you over for a few days. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for the fight. We didn’t think the Hulk would be needed in Iowa.”
“Thanks, Bruce. I’m sure we can get the Hulk back to smash the burnt timbers if you really want.” Clint said with a sigh, as Bruce locked the chair next to the bed and stood back watching with wide eyes as Clint dragged himself into it.
“Burnt timbers? Did I miss something? I thought you guys got out without any injuries?”
“Clint’s house didn’t have the same bill of health.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Bruce said awkwardly, “Let me know if you need anything else, Agent Barton. The Hulk was rather put out at the last few fights that you weren’t around.”
“Sorry, I doubt I’m going to be doing much fighting for a while.” Clint huffed, fiddling with the chair.
“You never know, with the way Tony was working you might have an Iron Hawk suit in a few days. Have a good night.” He offered with a small smile.
“You too, Doctor Banner.” Natasha said with a smile, showing the man out.
Clint wheeled himself into the bathroom and started sorting through everything she had left for him. Catheters, lubricant, gauze, and a host of other medical paraphernalia awaited his use. She must have memorized the contents of his bathroom and probably the entire house.
“You coming in?” He asked fighting his way out of his smoke and sweat stained shirt and tossing it to the side as she came into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
“Wasn’t sure I was invited.” She said, hopping up onto the counter next to him.
“Since when did we bother to hide anything from each other?” He huffed, fighting off his boots, pants and boxers while the cheap wheelchair squeaked and rattled in complaint.
He got himself sorted trying to ignore the sharp gaze Natasha had as she watched the entire process. This was how they had adapted after two lifetimes of constant betrayal, neither had trusted the other enough to work together without full disclosure. They’d laid every part of themselves bare to the other and exposed every weakness so they both knew what to protect when the shit hit the fan.
“Sharing a shower with me?” he asked as he wheeled the entire chair into the shower stall, you had to learn to love the extremes when you lived with Tony Stark apparently, at least it was handicapped accessible he thought with a snort.
“You might as well see mine since I got to see yours.” She said with a sly grin, stripping down and joining him. She set a knife next to the gun he’d placed on the low bench before ducking under the spray.
Clint got himself out of the chair and onto the bench with only a minor bit of cursing. Natasha adjusted the water temperature and arranged the jets to wash over both of them. He gave her the same review she had given him and memorized the new scars that marked her arms and sides, knife and gunshot wounds that were already fading away. She’d never been able to keep scars for long, no matter how nasty the injury. She’d been busy to have this many still showing.
They cleaned up quickly and she helped him get dressed. Clint wanted to do nothing more than sleep but they both could hear the others in the main living room banging around and shushing each other. He gave her a resigned look and pushed himself out into the kitchen and living room area.
“Hey, are you up for dinner? It’s become something of a thing that after a battle we do dinner together.” Bruce said with a sigh, gesturing to the mountain of pizza boxes now covering the kitchen table.
Steve already had a plate and was munching watching a baseball game on the couch while Tony paced before the windows with a cup of coffee in one hand. Clint let Natasha get him a plate and drink while Bruce fixed his own plate. Bruce started a pot of tea and settled to one side keeping an eye on Tony.
“So Katniss, do I need to buy you a new farm or are you planning to sue me?” Tony asked finally hanging up his phone.
“The place needed to burn,” Clint said, fiddling with a slice of pizza he didn’t really want and forced himself to take a bite. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“Yeah, we do, we kind of wrecked your place. We need to repay you somehow.” Steve put in setting down his food.
“Then you can get me a new chair and computers here.” Clint said with a sigh, “I might as well stay for a bit until I figure out where I’m headed.”
“Awesome, I’ll get you a tricked out office set up in a jiffy. Jarvis managed to copy most of your systems before the missile hit and he’s running through your backups now.” Tony said happily fiddling with his phone. Steve frowned at the assumption that Clint wasn’t staying but he at least left it alone, Clint didn’t have the energy to fight tonight.
“I’ll get Jarvis a list of things I’m going to need then if I’m going to run everything from the Tower.” Clint said with a sigh dumping his plate after only a few bites. “I’m wiped; I’ll see you guys in the morning.”
They watched him leave in silence, at least giving him a few moments to himself before they started talking about him. He tried to ignore the muted conversation as he stripped to his boxers and pulled himself into bed. His pills and a cup of water were next to the bed so Natasha was at least looking out for him.
“Yes, Agent Barton?”
“Not an agent any more, buddy.” Clint huffed fighting to pull the quilt up over his legs. “Can you make sure no one tries to shake me awake or anything? I’m not reacting too great right now when startled.”
“I will be sure to warn anyone approaching your room if you are asleep.”
“Awesome, thank you.”
“You are most welcome, sir. Master Stark wanted me to ask if there was anything you required?”
“Not right now, I just need to sleep. I’ll make a list in the morning.”
“Very good, have a good night, Master Barton.”
“How about Clint?” He offered with a grunt, “Master Barton just makes me think of my dad for some reason even if he never got called that in his life.”
“Very well, Master Clint.”
“Good enough.” Clint said with a chuckle, “Night, Jarvis.”
“Good night, sir.”
Clint woke sometime later shivering as he pulled himself upright. He should have known that his dreams would be bad after someone attacked his old house, fractured memories and dreams of his Dad and Barney had sent him into nightmares of being beaten as a child which morphed into his Dad setting the house on fire and leaving him to burn. He pulled himself into his chair careless with how his legs tangled in his rush to get to the bathroom. He barely made it to the sink before he was dry heaving, the thick scent of burning flesh in his nose.
He clung to the marble fighting with his breathing. He could hear Jarvis in the background talking but with his heart racing in his ears nothing made sense. He finally managed to unclench his hands and get the water running, rinsing out his mouth several times before he collapsed back into the wheelchair.
“Alright there, Barton?” Steve asked from the doorway.
“Wonderful.” Clint deadpanned, soaking a washcloth and scrubbing at his neck. “I didn’t wake you up did I?”
“No, I don’t sleep much and was up watching TV when Jarvis said you were up. You have any plans for the day?”
“I wanted to get a list of gear together with Jarvis and I was going to hit the gym after breakfast, maybe use the pool.”
“Want to watch a movie with me until breakfast? I normally get up early to run but it’s pouring outside.”
“Too many death marches in the rain during basic training?”
“Too many wet camps and marches in the snow and mud.” Steve said with a snort as Clint followed him out into his room.
“Let me get dressed and we can hit the gym. At the least you can use the treadmill while I do sit ups or something so you get a short workout before breakfast.”
“You sure? I don’t mind taking a morning off.”
“Nah, if you did want a run I don’t mind.”
“Let me go change into some sweats. I’ll be back in a second.”
“Take your time; I’ve got to get cleaned up a bit.” Clint said digging into the bag Natasha had left looking for something to exercise in; he would have to pick up some more clothes eventually. He watched Steve leave with a sigh, “Jarvis, can you make sure Steve doesn’t come back into my bedroom until I’m ready?”
“I will ask him to wait in the kitchen when he returns.”
“Thanks, Jarvis.” Clint said wheeling himself into the bathroom, the last thing he needed was a super solider walking in to Clint catheterizing himself.
Once he was cleaned up and changed Clint steeled himself for an utterly humiliating workout before he wheeled himself out to the kitchen. He should have expected it but it still made him smile grimly when Natasha and Steve were both dressed for a workout sipping coffees in his kitchen. Natasha gave him a challenging smile and finished off her coffee, snagging Steve’s cup from him mid sip.
“Ready to go?” she asked her eyes promising punishment if he said no.
“Sure.” He sighed gesturing for them to go first into the elevator resigned with his fate.
For the next two hours Natasha alternately sparred with Steve and coached Clint into harder and harder exercises with Steve looking on with a slightly horrified expression. Clint grimly tried everything she threw at him since he knew she was testing his new limits. He silently did what she asked and tried to ignore the fact that eight months ago he would have done it without breaking a sweat.
He did six versions of sit ups and crunches with and without a medicine ball, he did toe touches and twists to work his abs until he couldn’t breathe. Then he started on his arms, pull ups and modified pushups, bicep curls and arm lifts with weights. He let her manhandle his legs where she wanted them while testing his range of motion.
“Ready for breakfast?” She asked him tossing a towel onto his heaving chest. Clint glared at her without much heat, he knew she needed to see if he could defend himself; the chocked noise that came from Steve however forced a small grin out of him.
“What are we having?” he grunted as he started to shakily haul himself into the crappy chair.
“I’m having pancakes.” She said with a sniff draping his towel over his shoulders once he was seated.
“I take it I’m cooking?” Clint asked with a small grin already seeing the play she was running.
“You or Steve.” She said carelessly turning her back on them and walking to the elevator.
“Wait a minute, he just got here. You can’t make him cook on his first day back!” Steve snapped hurrying to untape his hands and trailed Clint and Natasha into the elevator.
“Then you’re cooking. Thank you for volunteering. I expect a plate by the time I finish my shower.” She said smugly stepping off the elevator at her floor with a wave goodbye.
“She did that deliberately, didn’t she?” Steve said with a resigned sigh hitting the button for his floor.
“Yep, and you walked right into it.” Clint said with a grin pushing off onto his floor and leaving a pouting super soldier in the elevator.
Showered and changed into clean clothes Clint started working on a list of what he would need in his office with Jarvis. There was a spare bedroom that he could use but Clint decided to put the desk and everything in the back half of his living room so he could look out the windows while he worked.
“I hope you do not mind, Master Clint, but there was a call last night to one of your secure lines. I gathered the information needed and relayed it to the agent.”
“Did you update the database and maps with any new information?”
“Yes, and I also added your database to our Shield information that has been recovered. The integrated map is ready to be viewed if you wish?”
“Sure, throw it up, Jarvis.” Clint looked over the massive map with a frown having Jarvis expand and zoom in on various areas.
“What are the total numbers, Jarvis? What percentage of bases did Shield keep?”
“Currently sixty percent of the known bases have been abandoned, destroyed, or taken over by a different government agency, the rest are unknown. There are three hundred known weapons caches and safe houses however many are thought to have been looted or rigged with explosives. Only the ones from your database are known safe.”
“Great, how many agents have called in?”
“Security Officer Hill is coordinating contacting known former agents and finding them safe jobs and housing or new identities as needed. So far only twenty of those contacted have responded. You have had a larger response rate then Stark Industries’ current efforts.”
He could understand the logic behind putting Shield on the internet but in the process they’d cast thousands of agents to the wind. The one rule Coulson had lived by was that you never left a man behind. Shield had left their entire workforce alone in the midst of the enemy. Coulson must be rolling in his grave.
Clint had started trying to help and track resources after a desperate agent had spotted one of his ads, he’d done what he could and asked the man to pass on the number to other trustworthy agents in case they needed an assist. That had started up his attempt to track which safe houses were still safe, which bases were taken by Hydra or the US government, and which weapons caches were still waiting use. Jarvis could probably take over the system with little issue but getting the agents to trust him would be another story. Not long after he’d started working that morning the agent called back to double check the intel, clearly relieved to get Clint on the phone.
“Sorry for that, I have a new assistant who’s helping to organize the intel. You might hear from him from time to time if I’m busy.” Clint said as reassuringly as he could.
“Sorry, you know how hard it is to find people to trust right now. He had all the right codes, I just needed to make sure before I headed out.”
“Nope, the last intel he gave you is still good as far as I know. If you hear anything or something changes let me know so I can update the active agents.”
“I will, thanks Handler.”
Clint snorted in response and hung up. The agents had started calling him Handler after he refused to give them a name. He never corrected them or acknowledged the title but thought Phil would have approved. Once his information proved consistently accurate he started getting more and more calls. Now he got several a day most asking to confirm the status of a base they were headed to or reporting information about Hydra or old Shield agents they had run across.
Steve brought him a plate of pancakes once they were done but Natasha and Steve were called in to help Hill with something at Stark Industries leaving Clint to fill the rest of the day on his own. He picked at the pancakes before throwing away most of the plate and making himself sip at another protein shake. He hadn’t been eating much since Loki. He knew most of it was depression and grief making everything taste like ash but he just couldn’t force the food down even when he knew he needed it.
It was over two years since Loki, two years since he’d lost Phil and the pain of it still filled his every breath. Sure going through the motions got easier, he even thought Phil might be proud of him for continuing to help Shield even after everything but the pain never seemed to lessen. He was doing better at the farm where nothing reminded him of Phil and Shield. He only hoped that New York wouldn’t rip him open all over again with memories he was trying to forget.
He spent the rest of the day working to integrate his systems with Stark’s. He knew Jarvis could probably do it himself but Clint wanted to understand Stark’s databases better. Clint got two more calls while they worked that he quickly fielded. One had urgent information that he forwarded on to Hill while the other was just updating him on the statuses of two bases in Japan.
“Master Clint, Sir is asking that everyone join him on the common level. He has some news he wishes to share.”
“Alright, tell him I’ll be there in a minute.” Clint said with a sigh finishing up what he was working on and saving the files.
He’d been trying to review the Shield files that had been dumped on the internet, saving everything he could find and trying to cross reference the agents and locations he knew of. He wasn’t sure of it but there seemed to be a good bit missing. Bases that he couldn’t find in the records that he had visited on inspection runs last year, details on agents that were common knowledge on most bases were missing, there were no medical records and even some identifying marks in the files were wrong.
Clint wheeled himself absently into the elevator his mind still on the files. He was missing something he knew it. The elevator doors opened to the team ranged about the room watching Tony pace manically.
“Everyone is present and accounted for, Sir.” Jarvis said jerking Tony to a halt.
“Right, great.” Tony said with a nod resuming his pacing.
“Stark, I have better things to do then watch you panic. What did you want?” Natasha snapped, gesturing for Clint to join her near the bar. Clint shook his head, shifting the chair next to a wall, something had him glancing about the room for exits and he wanted a wall at his back.
“Alright, I’m trying here, Red.” Tony snapped running his hand through his hair and destroying the careful styling. “Listen; when you dumped the files onto the internet did you know what was in that information dump?”
“No, Fury had said it would burn everyone’s covers and we would need to cut and run.” Natasha said watching the man pace with a careful mask covering her reactions.
“Well, I’ve been searching through everything. When Legolas came in I added his files and where he’d been searching through the info dump as well.”
“And I found something!” Tony snapped at her, “Tell me the truth, did you know Agent was still alive?”
“Agent? You mean Coulson?” Clint asked slowly, hand dropping to his knife without really noticing.
“Coulson’s dead, Stark.” Natasha snapped clearly already fed up with the conversation, glancing at Clint to gauge his reaction.
“I really wish I could agree with you but I found several mission files with his ID number attached from right before Shield fell.”
“So you think he’s alive?” Steve asked, shifting so he could watch Tony pace.
“That would be my best guess.”
“Then why hasn’t he contacted us? Even if he was injured he was clearly able to work the last few months if his code was on the files.” Natasha asked softly, eyes watching Clint.
Clint was frozen watching as the other’s debated his dead lover’s existence. Phil had been alive after Loki. He’d been alive and let him think he’d been part of the takeover that killed him. He’d been alive when Shield crashed and burned and he was fighting for every breathe hoping that he’d get to see him if he did die but fighting all the same because Phil would have wanted him to. Phil was alive and hadn’t tried to find him.
Had Phil thought that Clint was dead? Had he mourned him as Clint had or was he just something that Phil had cut out of his life when he faked his death? Was what they’d had not as serious as Clint had hoped? Was he really that easy to toss aside? His past would say yes.
They had let their relationship stay quiet with only a few close friends in the know since someone could argue that Phil was giving Clint preferential treatment as his handler. There were no exchanged vows or paperwork but every day they both were in New York they spent as much time as they could together even if it was just collapsing into bed together late at night and waking in each other’s arms when it was time to head back in.
They’d both kept a separate phone they used just to message each other when they arrived home safe or got back to base. Whenever it was safe they would send messages to the other, sometimes it was the only contract they had for weeks while in deep cover. Clint would return from the final debrief to a phone full of messages of love and snarky comments from his handler, lover, and friend, that phone had been lost at the Pegasus facility. Had Phil tried to contract him only to never get a reply?
“That would be the million dollar question wouldn’t it. We rallied around the man’s corpse to fight Loki, Fury probably ordered him to stay dead to keep the team together.” Tony said with a snort.
“And now? Fury’s dead or at least out of the picture even if he did fake it. Why wouldn’t Coulson come forward?”
“Maybe he’s got his hands full with his own problems.” Clint muttered mind going over the calls he’d been fielding that morning, trying to ignore the gaping hole in his chest that was repeating ‘He left me.’ over and over again. “The agents I’ve talked to are barely getting by. They lost their cover, resources, and were attacked by their own team mates, friends that they had worked with for years. He might not know who to trust. What’s to say that we would be any safer?”
“You’re saying he doesn’t trust us?” Steve protested.
“I’m saying you had to shoot Sitwell, Steve. He was Coulson’s best friend. If you can’t trust your best friend, who can you trust?” He asked watching Natasha, she gave him a bitter smile before coming over to crouch next to his chair offering silent comfort.
“You knew Coulson better than most, Clint. Where would he go to ground?” she asked eyes offering an apology even as she pressed for the information she knew he had.
“His safe house in Portland was burned and I don’t know of any others.” Clint said with a sigh scrubbing at his face not wanting to meet her eyes, it was one of the first places he’d checked when he set up his command post, “I don’t know where he would go but I know where I would go. I found several bases that I visited on an inspection run before I got assigned to Pegasus that aren’t in any of the information you dumped. I would get to one of those and sit tight, gather my resources and get more agents before striking back.”
“Where are the bases?”
“Texas, Colorado, and Canada.”
“The Texas base was a research operation like Pegasus.” Natasha said slowly, “It was shut down a month or two before Loki. I don’t know about any bases in Canada or Colorado but I didn’t get shipped around as much as Clint.”
“The Colorado base was a medical research facility, researching cures for incurable diseases, a massive underground hospital.” Clint said, his voice going flat as he got his emotions locked down and settled into mission mode, “The base in Canada was a supply depot, underground and ridiculously secure. It was completely automated and only had an android caretaker to keep watch. I know which one I would choose.”
“Where was it?”
Clint stared her down for a long moment before letting out a huff and rattling off the coordinates. Tony stormed out of the room dragging Bruce along for the ride muttering about research while Steve blinked at them in shock. Natasha pressed a kiss to Clint’s brow before moving into the kitchen and starting a pot of coffee.
“How did you do that exactly?” Steve asked slowly, “Most people won’t remember the coordinates of a random base two years after the fact.”
“I have eidetic memory; I remember pretty much anything I read.” Clint said with a bitter smile, he’d been seen as the dumb high school drop out for most of his life, no reason for the team to be different.
“So all the files you read for your job?”
“Memorized.” Natasha said handing everyone cups, “It’s why he sometimes looks like he’s not paying attention in mission reviews. He’s already memorized all the maps and data so he doesn’t need to review anything.”
“Good to know.” Steve said simply, Clint could almost see him shuffling future meetings and debrief outlines around in his head to work around that fact. “So what do we do until Tony comes up for air? Are we going to this base?”
“Once Tony gets more information about it we’ll meet up and decide whose going.” Natasha said.
“Probably you, Natasha, and Tony. We don’t want the Hulk smashing anything and I might be a liability in a fight.” Clint said downing his coffee and handing Steve the cup. “I’m going back upstairs to work; apparently everyone who called earlier is calling back to double check the data Jarvis and Natasha gave them.”
“They don’t trust it?” Steve asked collecting the empty mugs and taking them to the kitchen.
“They don’t trust anyone, Steve. They barely trust me and having my phone be answered by random people makes them nervous.” Clint said over his shoulder as he pushed himself to the elevator, Steve hadn’t seen Shield as the home and family that most of its member did he reminded himself to keep from snapping at the super soldier. Steve was just as homeless as they were now that he’d been dumped into the twenty first century alone.
Clint woke with a groan arching his back and twisting as he tried to get the spasming muscles in his back to ease. He laid there shuddering and fighting against tensing up as the pain grew before it finally got to be too much and he dragged himself to the edge of the bed throwing up over the side. He clung there white knuckled dry heaving, fighting the urge to spit.
“Fuck.” He choked out as he struggled not to dry heave.
“Master Clint I have alerted Miss Romanov and Dr. Banner to your situation, they will be here momentarily.” Jarvis said, as the fans in the room kicked in trying to deal with the smell of vomit.
Clint just clung to the edge of the mattress shuddering between waves of pain and nausea. He’d stayed up late working and only went to bed an hour or two ago. His dreams had been full of Loki, Phil, and a scepter that sometimes was used by Clint to kill Phil and other times used by Phil to kill Clint.
“Shit, I got it, Clint. What do you need?” Natasha asked as she quickly tossed a towel over the mess and wiped down his face with a damp cloth.
“Back’s spasming,” He rasped out, shivering as Natasha pulled a knife and cut him out of his soiled sleep shirt, using the remnants to start cleaning up the mess on the mattress.
“He’s not going to be able to take pills like this.” Natasha told Bruce as he hurried in.
“Jarvis, do we have injectable muscle relaxants and anti-nausea drugs?”
“We have them in the medical bay, Dr. Banner.”
“I’ll go get them, you watch Clint.” Natasha said, running out of the room and towards the elevator.
Bruce shoved a trashcan under Clint’s head and finished cleaning once he’d taken some basic vitals. He ordered Jarvis to keep an eye on Clint’s temperature and heart rate while he soaked a washcloth in cold water and placed it on the back of his neck. Natasha returned with the medications and he quickly drew up two shots.
“I don’t want to fight to find a vein if this keeps up so I’m going to put in a port in one arm, alright?”
“Yeah,” Clint rasped, swallowing as he fought with his stomach, shoulders hitching as his back spasmed and jerked a pained whine from his throat. The line quickly went in and was taped down before Bruce injected the drugs.
“Sleep, Clint.” Natasha said once they finished cleaning and changing the sheets. She put a heating pad on his back and dimmed the lights hoping it would help him sleep.
Clint floated on the drugs, happily letting the dark swallow him back down when he woke up as someone checked on him. He woke and slept, occasionally sipping at the water Natasha thrust at him when Bruce gave him another injection. He had no idea how long he’d been asleep before the pressure on his bladder forced him to move. He ignored the random guy in the chair in the corner of his room, if Natasha had let him keep watch while Clint was incapacitated then he was safe.
He pulled himself into the wheelchair with a grunt; the guy at least knew enough to let Clint do the work without offering unnecessary assistance. He did follow him to the door of the bathroom but turned his back once he was sure Clint got onto the toilet okay. Clint took care of pressing business and tossed his sweat stained shirt in the tub, wiping himself down with a washcloth. He would need a real bath as soon as the drugs were all the way out of his system.
“Let me know if you need anything.” The guy said with a grin, as Clint hauled himself back into bed. “It’s why I’m here.”
“Natasha and the team head out?” Clint rasped fumbling for a sip of water from the bottle by his bed.
“About four hours ago now, they wanted to wait until you woke up but Natasha overruled them. Steve called me in to help; I’m Sam, Sam Wilson.”
“Clint Barton,” Clint said with a nod and a yawn, pulling a pillow to his chest, his mind already pulling up random shit from the file he’d read on Falcon, aka Sam Wilson, “I’m good now if you need to be anywhere. I just have to sleep off the rest of the drugs they gave me.”
“Nowhere else to be, man. Anyway, it would take a tougher man then me to deny the super soldier puppy eyes.”
“Those things should be illegal.” Clint muttered before frowning at the IV line still in his arm, “Jarvis?”
“Yes, Master Clint?”
“Has anyone called the emergency lines?”
“There have been three calls, I provided what information was needed but all said that they would call back.”
“Fuck, coming to the Tower is destroying my cred. Wake me up if they call, I’ll set them straight.” Clint said around a yawn.
“So, you’re the Handler we’ve been hearing about?” Sam asked with a grin. “Never would have imagined Hawkeye as a techie.”
“And you’re the Falcon who managed to drop a super hero.” Clint snarked back ready for this conversation to be over, he was beyond tired of everyone thinking he was nothing more than a middle school dropout who ran away to join the circus. “Never thought an air force man would need flight lessons.”
“Hey, don’t be dissing the wings, man. You know you’re jealous.”
“Think my flying days are over, man.” Clint mumbled into his pillow the drugs pulling him back down before he could hear the man’s response.
Clint woke up some time hours later and this time pulled out some real clothes to change into. He took a long shower and brushed the hell out of his teeth before starting to fight his way into his clothes. He managed the socks, boxers, and tee shirt before his arms gave out with the jeans only up to his shins.
“You need help?” Sam asked, leaning against the bathroom door jam.
“Just with the stupid jeans.” Clint huffed, pushing at the bunched material around his ankles. “I might need to start wearing kakis or something.”
“Yeah, cause we all aspire to match Captain America in his downtime.”
“The man has no fashion sense.” Clint agreed as they got the jeans over his hips. “I got it from here, thanks.”
Clint pulled on a black button down and started rolling up the sleeves trying to ignore the small part of his brain that pointed out that Phil would have liked this outfit. All it would have needed was his combat boots and earing to have Phil eying him like he was the desert. Once he was as put together as he was going to get he wheeled himself out of his bedroom and into the kitchen. Sam was perched in a chair at the window reading, he glanced over as Clint entered but didn’t offer to make breakfast, a fact Clint was grateful for.
Grabbing a protein shake he took his pills and started double checking the calls that had come in. Sometime while he’d been sick a desk had been set up along one corner, the screens faced out into the room which meant you sat facing the wall but Clint only had to turn his head to look out the floor to ceiling glass windows only a few feet away. He fiddled until everything was to his liking and settled in to work for a bit.
“Tell Tony thanks for me Jarvis, the system works great.” Clint said when his stomach started protesting the lack of real food for the last day.
“You up for lunch?” Sam asked putting down the book he’d been reading.
“Yeah, whatever you want to order,” Clint said trashing his bottle and getting a Gatorade out eying the shelves full of sports drinks. “I kind of doubt the kitchens been stocked much, I’ve only been here like two days.”
“Sir asked that your pantry and fridge be stocked with your known favorites, Master Clint. I can make changes to the standing monthly order if you need anything specific?”
“No, its fine, Jarvis. I just do take out most of the time. I normally only cook if I have company coming over.” He’d only ever bothered to cook if Natasha or Phil were eating, the rest of the time it just wasn’t worth the effort.
“What, and I’m chopped liver?” Sam snarked from where he was setting up the coffee maker.
“Nope, today’s a sick day,” Clint said with a tired grin sipping his drink, “Means I get a pass on cooking. Order whatever you want, I’m pretty sure it’s on Stark.”
Clint’s phone pinged as Sam started interrogating Jarvis over his options. He hurried back to his desk and pulled on a headset. It was an agent in Africa calling in new information about several bases that had went dark. The two man group was making their way down the coast checking every base they knew about, so far most of them had been burned by either Shield or Hydra hoping to prevent the other from claiming the resources.
He filled the group in on two other bases near them that they hadn’t known about before signing off. Jarvis had been updating the information and maps as fast as Clint typed it in; heck he might be doing it from the phone call itself. Clint wrapped up his notes but left the computer up and running in case he got another call, Sam was unloading a box of Chinese onto the coffee table.
“Have you heard anything from the team?”
“Yeah, they arrived and almost got shot at by part of Agent Coulson’s team before being allowed into the base.”
“Yeah, well Hydra kind of makes you paranoid.” Clint said with a snort, “How’d they ride out the fall?”
“Apparently the guy has a severely injured agent on his team that they’ve been trying to deal with. Tony is arranging transportation for the agent back here for treatment. A couple of the team members will be coming with but not all.”
“Do we have files on them, Jarvis?”
“I will send the files to your workstation, Master Clint.”
“Eat first; you look like you could use the fuel.” Sam said handing him an egg roll and a napkin.
“Yeah, any soup in that mess?” Clint asked scrubbing at his hair, he’d barely been up four hours and he already wanted to go back to bed.
“Egg drop or hot and sour?”
“Crunchy noodles in?”
They ate in silence, Clint sticking to his soup and some fried rice while the news played in the background. At least there wasn’t anything about the team and no new monster attacking yet Clint thought with a sigh. Once they were done he moved back to his terminal to start researching the team that had replaced Strike Team Delta.
The team were pretty standard for one of Coulson’s, misfits and renegades who learned to work together by bleeding all over each other. They’d done well enough until the collapse of Shield only to find out one of their own was Hydra and have him try to kill several of them without warning. Clint had worked with Ward before and while he never liked him or his loose mercenary attitude he wouldn’t have pegged him as a Hydra plant, maybe he got turned after he’d been with Shield a few years.
Clint realized that he’d already talked to the hacker, Skye. She had called in for information a few times in the beginning when he was just getting set up. Had she really needed the info or had it been a test from Phil?
He couldn’t even think of him as Phil right now. He was Coulson. Phil was his lover and friend, not the Agent who had pretended to die, ripping Clint’s heart out in the process.
Clint was used to being abandoned once he wasn’t useful any longer; he’d just never expected it of Coulson. The main reason he’d even joined Shield was because Coulson had sworn to him that he would never be blacklisted or sent in without a possibility of retrieval while he worked for Shield. He’d lived up to that promise, even going out with a team himself to get him when his handler left him behind once. After that Coulson had taken him on and a year later they’d formed Strike Team Delta.
They had worked together growing closer as Strike Team Delta rose in the ranks. Clint had been Coulson’s asset for five years when they fell together after a bad mission. Clint had been ready to write it off as “Thank God we’re not dead.” sex but Phil hadn’t been. He’d started asking Clint out on dates soon after, determined to woo him properly.
Sure, Coulson had probably been ordered to stay dead by Fury but that loophole had been wide open as soon as Fury faked his death. Heck, as soon as Coulson became the Director he could have shown up at the Tower unless there was something else the man was hiding from. Plots within plots Clint thought with disgust.
The Coulson he’d known would never have gone along with this kind of plan unless their lives were at stake, so who was gunning for Strike Team Delta? Natasha would have been in the public eye and needed the cover but Clint had been thought dead. It didn’t add up and Clint could feel his good mood taking a nose dive the more he looked through the files.
“How much do you know about Coulson and us?” Clint asked pushing away from the computer and moving to the windows.
“Not much beyond what Steve’s told me which isn’t much.” Sam said finishing stuffing the food into the fridge and coming to stand next to Clint. “I know you and Natasha worked with him and everyone on the team seems to at least know about it. Tony and Steve seemed really upset when they left but Natasha had her masks up so she must have been upset too.”
“He was Natasha and my handler for Shield. We worked together as a team for years until the Avengers came about. Coulson got stabbed by Loki while I was still under his control.” Clint bit out, fighting to keep his voice level. “Fury told everyone he’d died, probably to get their heads out of their collective asses and into the battle that was coming. Natasha got me away from Loki and we went to war. I didn’t find out about Coulson until I’d been in interrogation for two weeks, no one bothered to let me know.”
“That’s crazy, how long did you two work together?”
“Over ten years, it was almost my eleventh anniversary with Shield when it fell. Hell, Coulson was the agent who brought me in.” Clint said with a grime smile remembering the gun pointed at his chest above the blank mask that Coulson was so good at.
“Doesn’t sound like the kind of guy to cut and run.”
“No, Coulson never did anything without a reason. I just can’t think of anything that would have forced his hand this hard. After gods and aliens, what else is left to scare us?”
“You think he’s scared?”
“It’s the only thing that would have kept him away that I can think of. Maybe its wishful thinking but he was never one to run from a hard fight so how big is the fight that’s coming? What could be worse than Hydra and aliens?”
“No idea, man, I’m just along for the ride with you guys.” Sam said with a shrug. “We’re just going to have to ask him.”
They stood there in silence until another call came in forcing Clint from the window to answer and help the agent who needed a nearby safe house. The only one he had was close but it hadn’t been checked yet and Clint only gave the agent the address after getting him to promise he would proceed with caution. After that Jarvis started working with him to integrate the new information that Coulson’s hacker was feeding them, which kept him busy until dinner.
“Sirs, sorry to bother you while you are eating but I have a call from Miss Romanov on the line. Would you like me to put it on speaker?” Jarvis asked when they were about half way through their plates.
“Sure, Jarvis, go ahead.” Clint said pushing his container away.
“Clint, are you there?” Natasha asked once the line connected, her voice ringing out in the open room.
“Yeah, Sam and I are having dinner. The trip’s going okay? Tony didn’t punch Coulson did he?”
“No, but I may have slapped him. He didn’t know we’d found you and was being rather callous to Tony and Steve.”
“You set him straight?” Clint asked with a frown, that didn’t sound like Coulson.
“Yes, but there’s more to the story then we can talk about here. He wants to visit once we have his agent stabilized. Would you be okay with that?”
“I have no idea.” He said with a small hysterical sounding laugh.
“I’ll explain when we get back but you might need to hash things out with him.”
“He abandoned us, Nat. He let us think he was dead for almost two years. I’m not sure any explanation is going to fix that.”
“We should be back late tomorrow, just don’t do anything crazy until we get back, please.”
“Alright, be safe.” He said not really surprised when she hung up on him a second later, Natasha never said goodbye if she could help it.
“Have they converted any of the gym for you to use it yet?” Sam asked, starting to put the rest of the food away.
“Nah, haven’t been here long enough.” Clint said gathering up the dirty dishes and dropping everything into the sink, they can wash them later. “I normally just do sit ups and pull ups, why?”
“Cause I want to run and you might as well come lift weights or something while I do. I know I’m not going to sleep tonight unless I get some bit of exercise. You in?”
“Yeah, might as well.” Clint said glancing down at his clothes, “But you have to help peel me out of the jeans when we’re done.”
Clint spent most of the night fighting nightmares before finally giving up and moving into the living room to work at his desk until Sam got up. The calls were starting to taper off again so he worked with Jarvis to continue organizing and compiling the files from Shield. Most of the codes were the same all upper level Shield agents used so he was able to translate for Jarvis which sped things up.
“You up for a real breakfast?” Sam asked as he emerged from the extra bedroom in jeans and an Air force tee shirt.
“Sure, you offering to cook?”
“Yeah, you okay with omelets?”
“I’ve never been picky; I’ll eat whatever you put in front of me.”
“You and Steve must be related.” Sam said with a snort.
“Once you starve as a kid you learn to not turn down a free meal.” Clint muttered not sure what it was about the other man that made it so easy to talk, he’d never spoken so casually about his childhood before.
“Sirs, I’m sorry to interrupt but I wanted to inform Master Clint that his new wheelchair has arrived downstairs.”
“Cool, thanks, Jarvis.”
“You are most welcome, Master Clint. Would you like me to have the bots bring it up?”
“Yeah, we can put it together after breakfast.” Sam agreed, dumping a load of ingredients on the counter and a bowl into Clint’s lap.
“What is this for?”
“I thought you were making breakfast?”
“If I’m cooking then you’re helping. Start cracking while I chop. By the time both of us are finished the pans should be hot enough.”
Clint groaned theatrically but started helping glad for the distraction from his thoughts. Sam was a good cook at least and soon they both had heaping plates. They ate quietly only pausing when two bots brought in the boxed wheelchair. Clint took in the flat box with a small sense of dread, there was not telling what Tony might have modified.
“Ten bucks says it has lasers.” Sam said starting to gather up plates and dishes.
“I’m hoping Stark didn’t have time to make any changes yet since it just came in.” Clint said wheeling over and pulling out a knife to start cutting the tape holding the box closed.
An hour later Clint had a really nice, black and chrome version of his old chair. He strapped himself in and started testing out the stability and turn radius around the floor. Sam watched for a moment before disappearing down the elevator.
“Come on; let’s put your chair to a real test.” He said when he returned, tossing Clint a basketball.
“Seriously?” Clint asked turning the ball between his hands.
“You have anything better to do?”
“Point.” Clint said with a sigh.
“I’ll even put a wager to it.”
“What’d you want to bet?”
“Loser has to answer one question honestly and no yes/no thing, a full answer.”
“Deal,” Clint said with a soft laugh, “but you don’t know what you’re betting.”
Four hours later Clint pulled himself shakily onto the couch while Sam collapsed into the chair to one side with a groan. They’d played five one on one games without really bothering to take any breaks beyond slugging back some water. The last game had been downright cutthroat with neither of the men bothering to pull punches since the bet rested on the outcome.
“Jarvis, can you put on a movie?” Clint asked, fussing to get his legs all the way onto the couch.
“Do you have any preferences, Master Clint?”
“Something old, black and white, without explosions.”
“How about Casablanca?” Sam offered with a tired grin.
“Yeah, why not.”
“How the hell did you manage to make that many shots, anyway? That was insane.”
“I did warn you.” Clint said with a snort, “My legs are dead, not my aim.”
“Yeah, well, I’m never betting against you again, damn. What’s your question?”
“Let’s call it a draw. Next time I’ll take a handicap or something.” Clint muttered tiredly, tugging a pillow under his head and closing his eyes.
“Nah, ask me anything. You definitely earned it.”
“What did you want to ask me?”
“Seriously? You can ask anything and that’s what you go with?”
“You have a degree in social work and work at the VA.” Clint said with a snort, “I’ve been psychoanalyzed enough to recognize a play for information.”
“Well, shit. Guess I’m off my game.”
“Nah, I just got psyched to a fair the well after Loki. Shield had me confined to quarters on base for months while every psych and telepath they could scrounge up took a whack at my brain.”
“Yeah, not the best time.” Clint said with a snort, “So what did you want to ask?”
“Two things. One, how long were you confined to base?”
“Eight months with a month of recertification before I got my last mission in Africa. Two months in and Shield decides to go belly up. I spent the next three months rehabbing the farm and myself. Then the team showed up and blew up the farm.”
“They do like to make an entrance.”
“What was the other question?”
“What was Coulson to you? I know he was your handler but you seem a lot more pissed off then Natasha and she worked with him for almost as long, right?”
“She’d been with him six years.”
“That wasn’t my question.” Sam pressed gently when Clint didn’t continue. Clint blew out a breath so he wouldn’t snap at the man, he knew he was trying to help but Clint was just too raw with the discovery that Coulson wasn’t as dead as they thought.
“Coulson brought me into Shield.” Clint said slowly feeling out how he wanted to say things, “I probably would be dead now if he hadn’t, I was a burnt out mercenary who’d bit the hand that fed him too many times. He took me in and gave me missions that actually did good, let me get my GED, two masters degrees, and flight certifications on every jet and plane Shield used. I worked with him for over ten years, we were in a relationship for the last four, and he let me think he was dead for two years.”
“And Natasha thinks he had a good reason for doing that?”
“That’s what she said. Guess I’m going to have to see what he says when he arrives.”
“Guess so. Let me know if you need me to trip him or something for you.” Sam said, grabbing the remote and starting the movie, “You might be owed a few punches.”
“Maybe.” Clint said with a huff. See, he could be normal and pretend like he didn’t hate every second he was strapped into his chair. He could play and joke and pretend to miss a few times to even the score and keep the game going. He was fine, he really was.
“You were deliberately missing some of those shots weren’t you?” Sam asked an hour into the movie.
“They call me Hawkeye for a reason, Sam. I don’t miss.” Clint said with a small smirk sipping at his water.
“You weren’t aiming to even hit the basket. Shit.” Sam groaned, “I’m never playing against you in sports again.”
Clint did his best to stay out of everyone’s way for the next two weeks while Tony and Bruce worked frantically in the lab looking for ways to help Coulson’s team and his injured team mate. He’d been both angry and relieved when Coulson hadn’t exited the jet when they arrived. He didn’t know how he should feel, Phil knew he was at the Tower and hadn’t come. He knew he was here and didn’t even bother to call or send a message back.
Natasha insisted that Phil wanted to explain himself when he arrived but she did point Clint toward a few files from the database dump. The specs for a massive plane called the Bus that was a mobile command / recon station and project called Tahiti. If Phil had been resurrected with project Tahiti he could see him having aftereffects but there was nothing there that would have prevented Clint from trying to find Phil if he’d been in the same situation, there had to be something he was missing.
Clint stayed at the Tower even when Natasha or Sam had tried to get him to go out. He just wasn’t sure he could face being known as the crippled avenger which was sure to happen as soon as the media found out about him. He’d lost everything that had even had meaning to him, Shield, Phil, his job. He wasn’t sure he was ready to face the world knowing just how fucked up he was.
Steve, Natasha, and Sam were with Clint on his floor watching movies while he fielded calls when Tony burst through the door on a mission. He took all of them in with a manic grin and clapped his hands to get their attention.
“Good news everyone!” Tony crowed with an evil looking grin.
“Aw, fuck, please tell me you didn’t kill our guest?” Sam asked, popping off the couch and making Steve jerk into a fighting stance behind him, hand going to his back like he was wearing the shield on reflex.
“Why would you think that? No, we’re going out! Get dressed, Happy has the car ready downstairs and no ducking out Merida, it’s even wheelchair accessible.”
“So Coulson’s agent is doing better?”
“Yep, he’s starting to show some progress. I invited science girl and the Triplet but they declined.”
Agent Jemma Simmons had stayed with Leo Fitz’s bedside since their arrival. Clint knew that Agent Antoine Triplett was making sure the other agent was taking breaks and eating but wouldn’t leave her alone in the Tower even if he was known as a bit of a suck up in Shield’s former gossip column. Maybe he’d mellowed in the years since Clint had met him. He hated the small bit of hope the news brought when his head insisted that Coulson would want to come see the progress in person.
“Where are we going?” Clint asked slowly pulling off his headset and saving the files he was working with.
“Out to dinner, Pepper booked us a room at her favorite place.”
“How formal?” Natasha asked moving to stand next to Clint, he glanced up at her disliking how he couldn’t meet her eyes like they used to.
“Not black tie but not jeans.” Tony said slowly like he wasn’t used to giving that kind of information out, “Get dressed people, ten minutes and we are out of here.”
Tony ignored the protests behind him and the elevator whisked him away without another word. Clint watched the rest of the group glancing at each other with a resigned sigh. He knew that fighting Tony on this would just make him try to throw some other type of celebration at the Tower. The last thing a healing agent needed was a massive party held a few floors above him.
“I’ll do your make up if you pick out my outfit?” He offered to Natasha, glancing up at her.
“I get to fix your hair.” She counter offered with a calm face masking her annoyance.
“You’re both just going along with this?” Sam asked gesturing to the closed elevator, “You can turn him down you know.”
“Would you want to deal with a pouting Tony Stark who will make your life miserable until you agree to go along with his next even crazier idea?” She asked raising one eyebrow, “This way we can tag along and make him happy without him trying to decide what would make us happy, like the time he bought Pepper a giant bunny after they had an argument.”
“There are pictures, I’m sure Pepper will be happy to share. Go get dressed, people.”
“What did she do with it?”
“Donated it to an orphanage.” Natasha said with a sigh, herding the men into the elevator, “I’ll be back in a minute to help, Clint.”
“Take your time.” He said with a snort, he might as well take care of bodily functions since he would have to change anyway he thought glancing down at the sweats he was wearing.
Half an hour later they were all downstairs staring at the converted Hummer that Happy was standing next to proudly. Clint tried not to pull at the cuffs of the button down and blazer that Natasha had stuffed him into. Only the knives she’d strapped to each forearm kept the sleeves where they were, his hands itching to push them up to his elbows.
“Oh, no way in hell! You’re going to take our heads off if you try to go under a bridge or something.” Clint snarled, watching as the entire back of the car unfolded into a wheelchair ramp.
“Happy is a very careful driver, Clint. Everyone will be fine.” Pepper assured him walking up the ramp and taking a seat.
“This is so going to suck.” He grumbled watching as the rest of the team took seats.
Natasha dropped a pair of fingerless gloves in his lap and stared at him until he put them on, the knuckles and backs of the hands were padded oddly and he realized it worked like a pair of brass knuckles. She was making him feel safer by loading him down with weapons, he wasn’t sure it was the best idea but he wasn’t going to complain. It’s not like he couldn’t still kill half the people around him with a toothpick, the getaway was just harder now.
She unlocked the chair and wheeled him up the ramp, the wheels locking once he was in place with a metallic click leaving him facing the rest of the group. Clint fisted the cuffs of his blazer and tried to breathe as everyone chattered around him. He absently noted that Happy tried to park to one side to let them out and avoid the press.
Steve and Tony moved forward to cut the press off before they reached the others but Clint still was barely able to push himself down the ramp and after Natasha as she moved with speed through the crowd and in by a side door. The roar of questions and hands pushing towards him was disorienting and left him fighting not to break the ones that got too close. The next thing he knew they were seated at a table in a back room, Natasha plunking a drink down in front of him.
“Whiskey sour,” She told him with a small wry twist of her lips at diluting liquor in any way, “Sip it and you can have a real drink with dinner.”
Clint took the virgin drink with a smirk knowing the stronger one would never appear. He hadn’t had liquor in years thanks to the many issues he had with alcohol and his family. Natasha would make sure his drinks stayed virgin without the rest of the table noticing.
“The waiter already taking orders?” Bruce asked with small grin as he slid into a seat on the other side of Clint.
“The bar is always serving. What would you like?” Natasha offered.
“Hot tea if they have it, if not sparkling water.”
“Considering who we arrived with I’m sure someone will find you tea.” She said with a grin, turning away and tracking down a waiter.
“She looks like she’s having fun.” Bruce said awkwardly, fussing with his napkin.
“She’s always enjoyed infiltration missions.” Clint said, picking up his drink and slowly sipping letting the lime soothe his throat.
“You’re both treating this like a mission?”
“You’re not? None of us are really into this kind of scene, Banner. We’re all just along for the ride with Stark.”
“Please, call me Bruce.”
“Sure.” Clint agreed with a nod, distracted by Natasha sashaying back with a pot of tea and cups on a small tray.
“Green tea, as requested.” She said, dropping into the seat on the other side of Clint.
“So what kind of mission are you guys playing this as? Seek and destroy?” Bruce asked as he poured himself a cup as Clint quickly signed to one side to fill her in.
“You told him about the game?” She asked with a wicked grin playing along.
“We’re probably going to be playing with him a lot if we hang around the Tower much longer.” Clint pointed out as Sam dropped into a seat with a groan.
“What’d I miss?” Sam asked flagging down a waitress and asking for a beer.
“Bruce was asking about a game Clint and I like to play in situations like this.” Natasha said with one of her patented smiles.
“What kind of game?”
“You turn the event into a mission, plot out ridiculous orders, and the guests become targets.”
“Sounds like fun, what’s on tonight then?”
Clint listened to Natasha keep the table entertained while he slowly got his hands to stop shaking. The team could think it was a game all they liked but it was how Clint and Natasha had stayed sane and not killing waiters or other guests at too many forced social events they were too keyed up to be attending without some kind of structure to guide them. Clint forced himself to assess the room, the exits, what weapons were in reach between the two of them and what on the table could be used in a pinch.
He settled into his normal role dissecting the waiters and waitresses for potential plants or dangers sipping at his drink and making the occasional comment when Natasha prompted. The room was more of a large alcove with one wall missing to allow the diners a view out into the restaurant but it also allowed the diners to see in letting Clint keep an eye on everyone who glanced their way. There were a few professional body guards trailing their bosses about the place but nothing that set off any red flags.
Several waiters came in with massive trays of appetizers that were spread across the table and menus handed out. Natasha snagged several small things she knew he liked and plunked a plate in front of him with a silent order to eat. Clint nibbled on a fried cheese stick while forcing himself to skim the menu, normally Natasha would just order for him but he needed to at least try.
“What looks good, man?” Sam asked reaching for a stuffed mushroom.
“I’m thinking steak since it’s on Stark.” Clint mumbled, taking another small bite of fried cheese trying to ignore how his stomach was already fussing at the fried food.
“Sounds like a plan. Here comes the man himself,” Sam said as Tony, Pepper, and Steve started making their way back. “Who wants to bet on how long before the good Captain snaps and punches Tony through a wall?”
“Suckers bet,” Natasha said with a snort, “He won’t touch him unless he’s in the suit and if he’s wearing the suit then Cap’s working and he won’t do it.”
“How’s everything?” Tony asked helping Pepper into a chair next to Steve before he dropped into the chair next to Bruce.
“Good, we were just about to place our orders.” Natasha offered with a smile handing Pepper the extra glass of white wine she’d ordered.
“What, I don’t get a drink?” Tony asked blinking at the two women.
“You have a drink, Stark.” Natasha dead panned raising one eyebrow at the tumbler that hadn’t left the man’s hand since he arrived.
“Nope, you two are not allowed to conspire against the male components of this team, I will not allow it.”
“Too late.” Clint muttered giving both women a small grin, if Pepper and Natasha ever decided to they could take over the planet in a week, they just needed a good enough reason which Tony would probably eventually provide by total accident.
“No fair choosing sides, Legolas, your Y chromosome forces you to my side in this argument.”
Clint was saved from having to respond by the waitress coming to take their orders. Thankfully Pepper and Natasha skillfully controlled the dinner conversation keeping it mostly to non-Shield and work topics. He even managed to enjoy his drink and the food for a while so the evening wasn’t a total loss. Leaving would be another problem.
“Sorry boss, but you might want to take a separate car. They’ve had the Hummer staked out since I parked.” Happy said when Tony called asking for the car to be brought around.
“You guys go ahead.” Clint said shifting in his chair, fighting the urge to fiddle with his knives. “I can call a cab or something.”
“No, we came together and damn it, we’re leaving together. Bring the car around, Happy.” Tony said fuming, “I’ll distract them at the entrance while Clint leaves by the side door. You get him in and then come pick us up.”
“Tony,” Pepper said, watching Clint fiddle. Clint knew she was trying to keep him from getting hurt and that forced his hand.
“Fuck it. Tell him to pull up to the front.” Clint said tightening the strap around his upper legs, “The media will find out eventually, might as well be on my terms.”
“Are you sure, Clint? You know they’re going to be vicious since they’re used to Tony.” Pepper asked, fiddling with her rings.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
“Alright, you heard the man. Move out people!” Tony said taking Pepper’s arm.
“I’m going to sit this one out; I don’t think we need the Hulk trying to smash stupid reporters. I’ll see you back at the Tower.” Bruce said with a grimace.
“Be safe, Bruce.” Tony said, clapping Bruce on the shoulder as he passed.
Steve stepped in front of Clint to Shield him while Tony and Pepper took the lead hoping to keep the paparazzi’s attention. Natasha and Sam took the rear, covering their backs. Almost as soon as they stepped out the door the questions started flying. Clint put his head down and kept his chair moving towards the car, Happy already had the ramp down and waiting but it took Steve and Sam gently pushing several reporters out of the way for Clint to get his wheels on it.
“Mister Stark, Mister Stark! Any comments on who you were dining with tonight?”
“Just a night out with a few friends.” Tony said trying to wave them away and steer Pepper towards the car.
The back of the Hummer closed behind Clint and shut off most of the sound but he could see Stark giving the reporters several lines they could quote. Steve opened the door letting in the roar of questions as he helped Pepper and Natasha into the car before climbing in himself with Tony only a second behind him.
“Well, that went well.” Tony said making most of the team roll their eyes.
“If it helps, several of them were asking after Hawkeye and Thor since they haven’t been seen since the battle.” Natasha said softly as the others chatted.
“So, they didn’t recognize me?” Clint murmured, keeping his voice low.
“Shield did try to minimize our coverage after the battle of New York. They still think I’m just Pepper’s assistant.” She said with a small smirk at how gullible the general public were.
“Guess we’ll see in the morning.” Clint offered with a tired smile.
The headlines the next morning were a mashup of “Avenger Paralyzed?” and “Stark Dines with Paraplegic”. Clint forced himself to skim the rest of the paper that morning while the other Avengers hovered around waiting on his reaction. He was so tired of having to deal with all this shit.
“Do I really have to make a statement pointing out that I’m paraplegic? I mean, I was only on the team for one battle.” Clint asked tossing the paper to one side, at least all the published photos were mostly blocked by other bodies.
“You’re still on the team; you’ve proved you can do the work even without your legs considering all the agents you’ve helped in the last few months.” Steve said, perched on the arm of a couch to one side.
“Jarvis said you’ve been able to contact and help ten times the amount of agents that Hill’s found.” Tony said from where he was propped up sipping at his ever present coffee cup.
“I just don’t get what the fuss is.” Clint huffed, “I helped with the invasion, I was helping Loki! I was part of the team that attacked the Helicarrier for God’s sake; as soon as we start pointing out that I’m on the team every reporter worth his paycheck is going to point out that fact.”
“And as soon as they do they will be sued within an inch of their lives. I have more than enough documentation about your recovery at Shield after the battle to show them that you were a victim of the alien, Loki.” Pepper said striding off the elevator and kicking off her shoes. “We also have footage and recordings from Jarvis of you fighting in the battle.”
“So, we have to make a statement.” Clint huffed, trying to ignore the fact that Pepper had access to his psych records. “Does it have to be in person? Can I record something?”
“I can work with that. Jarvis can make the recording when you’re ready later today and I’ll call a few reporters we’ve worked with before to get it out.”
“Do you know what you’re going to say?” Steve pressed, “We can help you mock something up.”
Clint groaned and dug out his tablet from the bag attached to his chair. He typed for a moment before handing it over to Natasha. She read it and laughed softly in delight before passing it on.
“You can’t say that!” Steve sputtered face going red, Tony darted over the snatch the tablet for himself.
“Why not? It’s the truth.” Clint said scrubbing a hand through his too long hair. “I got mind fucked and Shield abandoned my team in the middle of the fucking desert. I got out alive by sheer stubborn refusal to die. The fact that I was an Avenger for all of four hours is irrelevant.”
“Do you mind if I make this a bit more PC?” Pepper asked reading over Tony’s shoulder.
“Be my guest.” Clint said with a huff, his phone going off saving him. “I’m going to my floor to deal with this. Just send me what you want me to say and I’ll record a version with Jarvis and email it to you.”
Clint went up to his desk, burying himself in work until Jarvis interrupted him. He reviewed the short statement that Pepper had crafted and couldn’t find any faults with it. It was still blunt and to the point, while sticking to the facts. People had gotten hurt in the fall of Shield; the fact that he’d been an Avenger was irrelevant.
He made the recording and had Jarvis play it back. Natasha came in as he was watching it for the fifth time or so, she watched it in silence next to him. He couldn’t believe that was him. The man on the screen was thin with dark circles under his eyes. He looked broken and exhausted, worn down and bearing the weight of too many hurts on his shoulders.
“What’s wrong? It looks like a good recording. You stuck to the facts and pushed them to remember that thousands of agents were hurt when Shield fell, not just you.”
“I didn’t realize I looked that bad.” He said slowly, watching as the video froze on the final frame, him in mid motion rolling away hunched over his chair, arms too thin to have been the muscular archer of two years ago that fought aliens as a hero.
“No, I mean, you know me, I’ve never been one for mirrors anyway. I knew I’d lost weight and was slow putting the muscle back on but I was doing better. I’m doing better.”
“Tony got a hold of you medical records from the base in Africa, Clint. You flat lined four times on the table and were in a coma for a week after the first round of surgeries. The notes said that they replaced almost half your blood volume in those weeks. You know how long it takes to heal from something like that.”
“It’s been a year since the crash, Nat.”
“And you’ve been fighting and grieving the entire time. You haven’t given yourself a long enough break to completely recover yet. You need to give it time.”
“I didn’t have time! Someone had to help all the agents you and Fury kicked to the curb! They were being slaughtered and no one bothered to even try!”
“Then take the time now! Let us help you, Clint!” Natasha snapped, gesturing to the floor around him, “Say the word and anyone of us would take some of the load! You would have let Shield help you with your injuries before. Well, you’re in the most technologically advanced Tower in the US, maybe the world. Let Jarvis and us help you with the calls; let Tony get you Physical Therapists and Doctors. Let us help you, Clint.”
“You think Tony would pay for Doctors to check me out?”
“I think he would add on to the medical floor if it meant you got the care you needed, and if he didn’t Steve and I would make him.”
”I’m doing okay, Nat.”
“But you could be doing better.” She said firmly, “I’ll sick Pepper on Tony if he refuses. None of us want to see you in pain, Clint. You scared me when you had the muscle spasms; I’ve never seen you in that much pain and I’ve had my hands in your gut holding you together.”
“If he agrees then get the appointments set up but I don’t want you guys hoping for a miracle cure or anything.” Clint said with a sigh, fussing with a fold in his pants.
“Thank you, Hawk. I know you hate medical but I think you need this.”
“Yeah,” Clint said, she gave his shoulder a pat and headed to the elevator, Natasha’s version of a hug.
He knew she meant what she said, she didn’t want to see him in pain but doctors had never meant good things in his experience. Doctors meant pain and shouting when he lived with his parents. The orphanages and circus weren’t much better since no one had the money to pay for a doctor.
Shield had been his first experience with competent physicians who only wanted you to heal and do better. He’d run from the medics the second he could the first few years, too used to dealing with his own hurts to trust them. Phil had been the one to force him to stay when the wounds warranted it. He’d put up with the poking and prodding because Phil insisted and he’d wanted to make Phil happy. He could do this a while for Natasha to take the pained look from her eyes.
The next few weeks were a blur of doctor’s appointments, tests, and dealing with issues from the calls that came in to the Handler. It was official that he was never getting his legs back unless someone came up with a miracle. He was sure Tony and Natasha were still discretely researching experimental options but he was done looking for a miracle cure, he had enough issues just getting through the day and hoping for a magical fix was never on his to do list.
Natasha was busy preparing with Steve and Sam to start tracking down the Winter Soldier most days which left Clint alone in the Tower with only Bruce and Tony for company. The two scientists spent most of their time in the labs or working in Tony’s workshop.
Just because she was busy didn’t mean that Clint was far from her attention however. He wheeled into his rooms to find her and Steve, well Steve mostly doing something to his bed while Natasha rearranged his clothes in the dresser. Clint wheeled over and watched as she added thick wool socks, thermal undershirts, and sweaters to his mostly empty drawers.
“Do I even want to know why you decided to rearrange my bedroom?” He asked picking up one sock to feel the soft material.
“Your feet are cold.”
“Steve is adding an electric blanket to your mattress that Jarvis can control so when you get cold at night he can turn it on for you.”
“I always get cold at night, Nat, this isn’t exactly something new. I’ve been in too many nests for days on end in subzero weather to really notice it at this point.”
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t fix it while you’re staying here.” She said firmly starting to unload another bag of clothes, “The doctor said your extremities might get cold and we need to take precautions since you won’t notice it.”
“So since I won’t notice my feet getting cold, you went out and got me socks.” Clint said slowly hoping he was dreaming this.
“And a few other things since you didn’t bring very much.”
“Right,” Clint said with a nod surrendering the sock back, “Thank you.”
He watched Steve finish remaking the bed and tucking in a new down quilt while Natasha seemed determined to fill out his wardrobe with fluffy things. With a sigh he pushed himself out to his workstation and fiddled until they finished. Natasha had always seen him as some kind of pet to be fed and watered but apparently he’d hit a new low if she was picking out clothes for him.
“You’re upset with me.” Natasha said as she dropped into a tailor’s seat on the floor next to him.
“I’m upset with myself.” Clint said with a snort, leaning back in his chair.
“You don’t have any reason to be upset with yourself.”
“Really, I’m pretty sure I have plenty. I can’t even make myself leave the tower to go shopping for things I need. I’m mooching off Stark for everything right now, hell, I’m not sure I could even afford anything right now since my savings were pretty much sunk completely into renovating the farm which is now a pile on uninsured rubble.”
“Tony wants to hire you to run security and maybe act as a liaison between the team and Shield.”
“I can’t pay Tony back with his own money.”
“Then let me handle paying Tony back, I have the extra right now.”
“I don’t need charity, Natasha! Hell, you just bought me an entire wardrobe since all my other clothes burned down with the farm! Just stop, please.”
“You agreed that we were allowed to help you.”
“I still have to do something on my own! I don’t need you doing everything and I can’t even pay you back for any of this.”
“We don’t want you to pay us back, Clint.”
“Well, maybe I do.” Clint said scrubbing a hand through his hair and grabbing a handful in an effort to let the pain ground his anger. “I want to be able to pay for my own clothes, things I picked out. I want to pay Tony back for at least some of this, hell, I want to pay him for letting me use a damn floor of his tower.”
“And if you can’t afford it?”
“Then let me pay what I can afford! Let me do something, Nat, anything. I sit here all day and feel utterly useless and you guys are getting me all this shit and I can’t ever do anything to pay you back. I need to do something so I don’t owe you for everything, Nat. I can’t owe the team for everything.”
“You don’t owe us anything, Clint. We want to do these things for you.”
“But I still feel like I owe a debt I need to pay back, I don’t like feeling like I owe something to everyone around me.”
“What if were able to pay us back in small ways, would it help?”
“I don’t know, I think so.”
“Let me think on it and talk with Pepper, we’ll come up with a list you can look at.”
“All right,” Clint huffed dropping his hands into his lap and trying to think of ways he could pay the team back, nothing was coming to mind, the debt was simply too huge.
Natasha tugged a blushing Steve out of the other room and to the elevator. Clint huffed, slightly annoyed that the super soldier had been listening to them fight but he knew Steve wasn’t the gossiping kind. He’d wait for whatever list Natasha was formulating but that didn’t mean he couldn’t crunch some numbers himself.
“Yes, Master Clint?”
“Can you set up a spreadsheet for me with an itemized list of everything that Stark has spent on me since I got here?”
“I can however most of the items would be considered a tax write off or simply part of running the tower.”
“Then make two separate lists, one with everything that’s a write off and one that isn’t.”
“Very well, sir, the lists are ready would you like me to display them for you?”
“Please.” The screens lit up and Clint spent a few long moments seeing how each item was sorted.
“Why is my chair a write off?”
“Sir had me scan your wheelchair when it arrive and after it was assembled so that he could work from electronic blueprints to optimize the construction. If the new designs show promise they will be patented and marketed under Stark Incorporated.”
“So, I got a free chair because he’s working to redesign the thing for his company?”
“Essentially, Master Clint, if I may the food is also listed as a write off since it is bundled into the living expenses of the guest floors.”
“What if I wanted to pay Stark rent, how much would that run me?”
“A luxury apartment in a comparable building on this block would cost roughly four thousand dollars a month for a 700 square foot apartment.”
“And this floor is twice that so I would be paying seven to eight thousand a month to stay here?”
“That would be a rough estimate however since Stark Tower is a private company they can control what they charge if anything for those staying within the tower.”
“So none of the team is currently paying rent to stay here?”
“Captain Rogers insisted on paying rent and is paying the same amount he was paying previously for his apartment in Brooklyn each month from Shield, which Sir then has transferred to a fund that is donated to several charities once a year in the Captain’s name.”
“And Shield was probably undercutting the cost since today’s costs would have been shocking to the man after he got deiced.” Clint said with a snort, “Can you tell me what Stark would allow me to pay for? I mean, I get that electricity is free since it’s coming from the arch reactor downstairs but what about water, cleaning supplies and such?”
“I would have to ask Sir or Miss Potts however cleaning supplies and water are customarily included in the costs of cleaning and maintenance for the areas.”
“Ask Miss Potts for an estimate for what I could pay her each month for rent and to cover general expenses, please.”
“Very well, sir.”
“I have to do something, Jarvis; I mean surely you understand about earning your keep, right? How would you feel if Stark had built you and then never used you to do anything? If he just kept you around as a pet or toy?”
“I can understand the need to repay a debt such as to a creator or parent however my observations of the team and Sir would indicate that they do not wish to be repaid in this instance. They would not desire any reciprocation from you.”
“Well, I need to be useful, Jarvis. They’re helping get back on my feet here and now that I’m doing better I want to repay them.”
“I can understand the need to be useful, Master Clint. May I check with Miss Potts for things that you might be able to assist in for the team and Sir?”
“Yeah, that would be good, thanks Jarvis.”
“You are most welcome, sir.”
Clint wheeled himself into his closet in a bid to find the boots he hadn’t used since he arrived. He dug through the new clothes but realized that he didn’t have a jacket. He settled for pulling on one of the black wool sweaters that Natasha had added over his button down.
If everyone was going to insist on helping him nonstop then they couldn’t complain if he started to help himself as well. He gathered up the small amount of cash he had and his phone while absently noting he needed to get new IDs made. He might as well get new cards for his real identity along with a few fake ones while he was at it.
The media were still trying to get interviews with Clint and the rest of the team. The last time Natasha had tried to get Clint to leave the building for a walk he’d been swarmed within blocks, resorting to calling Happy for a rescue when the reporters doggedly followed him along the sidewalk. The fervor seemed to be trailing off but anything with the Avenger’s caught the public’s interest which kept the reporters at their door. Most of the team could sneak out the back without too much trouble but Clint was stuck using the lobby entrance thanks to his chair.
This time Clint was determined to actually get somewhere even if it was just a few blocks away. He tucked a Bluetooth clip on one ear and chatted with Jarvis as he wove his way through the back maintenance areas of the tower. Jarvis directed him to an old little used freight elevator that dropped him right at street level, the door opening right into a back alley.
It took more time than he would have liked but he got out of the building without a gaggle of reporters trailing him and headed for a nearby subway entrance. The chair seemed to make everything take twice as long but Clint forced himself to ignore the small slights and stares as he got a pass and waited for his train.
Jarvis kept up a soft running commentary on his surroundings and small tips on things that might be useful such as where the handicapped entrances were and if there were elevators available. Clint only responded when he was alone, not wanting to draw any extra attention as they moved into rougher parts of town. Four hours later he had two fake IDs and one for his real name and picture that he used to transfer funds to his new bank account.
Once Jarvis realized Clint was consolidating his accounts he offered to assist with the transfers to speed up the process which knocked several stops off his list. Next he made his way to a lesser known weapons dealer for several unregistered guns. Natasha had loaned him a few but he liked to customize his own weapons.
With the weapons weighing down the bags in his lap he started making his way home. He ignored the toughs that eyed his bags, no one willing to risk trying to take one after he’d broken a young teenager’s hand when he tried to run by and snatch one. He slug his new jacket around his shoulders and pushed his way out into the cold, he would be fine.
He hadn’t expected to feel alone in a Tower full of people but he did. He looked forward to the calls that came in since it gave him a way to connect with the outside world. He’d struck up a tentative friendship with a few of the callers who reported in a several times a week.
Surprisingly, the one who he enjoyed talking to the most was Skye. She clearly hadn’t been informed that the Handler was Clint Barton as she’d asked for some dirt on the agent since her boss was hung up on the man, asking for status updates on the former archer. Clint felt like an idiot telling her about the interview and a bit about his past for her to pass it on to his former lover.
“Seriously, Handler, do you not sleep or something?” Skye asked once the line connected making Clint grin.
“You’re the one who woke me up, Skye. What’d you need?”
“Safe houses in Lima,” She said laughing, “But seriously, are you the only one manning the fort? My coworkers are going nuts since I haven’t been able to hack or trace back your calls.”
“I have help when I need it.” Clint said laughing, “Did you seriously just admit to trying to hack me?”
“Well, I am a hacker by trade and no one’s been able to figure out who you are. Everyone’s kind of paranoid right now.”
“Yeah, I can understand the paranoia. Listen; tell them I was a former agent who got burned when Shield fell. I’m just trying to make sure no one else gets sent out without at least someone to call for information even if I can’t run out and help physically.”
“I get it. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a tired smile, “You should be getting the files now. Give me a call back if you need anything else.”
“I see them. Thanks, Handler. Hope the rest of your night goes smooth.”
“Stay safe, Skye.”
Clint leaned back into his chair with a groan. He was glad his paranoia was paying off as well. A top of the line voice synthesizer distorted his until not even Jarvis could get a match but left him sounding human while all calls and file transfers were handled by Jarvis, rerouted all over the planet until it was impossible to trace back to the Tower.
Natasha, Steve, and Sam had left a few hours ago to start tracking down a lead on the Winter Solider. If it panned out they could be gone for weeks. He’d stayed up to see them off and just never bothered to go back to bed when the call came in.
He just wished he could wrap his head around Phil. Was he glad he was alive? Yes. Was he pissed that he’d hidden that from Clint? Yes. Was he devastated that he’d never bothered to contract him even now that he knew for a fact that Clint was alive? Yes. Did he want him back in his life? He had no idea.
Phil had proven to Clint just how devastated losing someone you love could be. You’d think with how many times he’d been left behind he’d be used to it by now. He’d rewritten his life over and over again with each abandonment until he wasn’t even sure who the hell he was supposed to be. Was he the washed up carney or the abandoned and abused brother? One of Shield’s top agents or was he back to an anonymous mercenary? Was he the Handler or an Avenger? Did he even want to be any of that anymore?
He’d been Barney’s brother and Trick Shot’s apprentice only to be left for dead in the dirt. He’d brushed off the dirt of their leaving and once he was healed up he’d started selling the only skills he had left. He’d been a mercenary with a conscious only for every door to be slammed in his face when he refused one hit too many.
He’d left that life for Shield and thought he’d found a real home for the first time in years. He’d been a Shield agent who was trusted and respected until Loki proved to everyone just how efficient a weapon he really could be. He’d lost their trust and hadn’t realized just how hard it would be to continue to walk the corridors of Shield without Phil and with every agent’s eyes filled with a mixture of fear and pain.
He’d busted his butt proving himself to Fury and the other agents only to have Shield crumble to dust around him. He’d fought to keep Jackson and him alive to no avail. He’d survived and done his best to help the others that were fighting the war he no longer could.
He was a survivor. It was what had defined him for his entire life. He’d survived his drunk, neglectful parents in spite of themselves, he’d survived his brother and his betrayal, he’d survived the backstabbing black market dealers he’d worked with as a mercenary, and he’d survived every shitty situation Fury decided to throw him into. He’d given ten years of his life to Shield and right now he couldn’t say if it was a good trade or not.
He wasn’t given up, not be a long shot, but he was tired. He’d do his physical therapy and get back into shape for Natasha because she’d lost as many people as he had. He wouldn’t let himself be added to the red in her ledger. He’d be the voice in her ear as long as Tony let him stay but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to give his heart to anyone else every again. It was just too painful.
He got up each morning and went to his appointments and physical therapy sessions without complaint, pushing though the exercises but not making an effort to do more. Tony kept trying to hint about the range he’d installed on a lower level but Clint felt no pull to see the place. He’d left his bow in Iowa and had no desire to try another. It was just yet another thing that reminded him of Phil and he needed distance from that pain if he was going to make any decisions or changes.
“Hey, Legolas! Join us for dinner! It’s like we never see you anymore.” Tony crowed quickly moving to intercept Clint when he kept heading towards the elevator to his rooms after his last PT session of the day.
“I need to get cleaned up, Stark. Let me go.” Clint bit out as Tony grabbed the handles to his chair and started pulling him backwards, Clint twitching as he fought his training not to lash out and break something. “I need to change clothes, I reek.”
“Nope, you’ve been holed up too long. I’m not letting go without a promise.”
Clint grabbed the wheels, snapping himself to a stop. With a twist of one wheel he slammed the right wheelchair handle into Tony’s stomach. He let go with a grunt as Clint spun the chair and took out his legs with the edge of the chair leaving Tony sprawled on the ground blinking up at him.
“Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t change my skill set, Stark. I can still kill you with one hand even without my legs. Don’t tempt me.”
“He does have a bit of a point, Clint.” Bruce said coming forward to help Tony up as Clint made his way to the elevator. “We haven’t seen much of you the last few weeks.”
“I’ll come back down once I get cleaned up.” Clint said with a sigh, pushing his way into the elevator and not bothering to look up as he hit the button for his floor.
Clint made his way into his bedroom and started peeling himself out of his sweat stained workout clothes. The main problem was that he had no idea how to interact with the two scientists. They had nothing in common besides crummy childhoods and none of them were going to talk about that over dinner. The last few times he’d come down dinner had been the two of them going on and on about their experiments while Clint silently picked at his food.
He took a shower and forced himself to dress up a bit just to put off the inevitable for a bit longer. Finally with nothing else left to do he grabbed his phone in case someone called the Handler and headed to the common level. Jarvis took him silently down without him even having to hit the button for the floor; Stark must have been bugging him about when Clint would arrive.
Downstairs the long bar was again full of different dishes but now Clint was too low in his chair to serve himself from the containers on the high bar. He snagged a bottle of water and a plate before eyeing the long row of foil containers that he couldn’t see into. It smelled like Italian at least.
“Here, I got it.” Bruce said rushing forward to help. “There’s a little bit of everything.” He said rattling off the dishes while pointing.
“Anything’s good. I’m not picky.” Clint said fiddling with his water, come see the helpless crippled former archer, unable to even feed himself.
He trailed Bruce back to the table and wheeled into the open space where a chair had been hastily shoved to the side by Tony. He locked his wheels as Bruce set two plates in front of him full of food. There was no way in hell he was going to be able to even eat half.
The other men started eating and chatting idly as he picked at the pasta before him. Clint watched the play of interactions between them, they really were well suited to work together, Bruce tempering Tony’s wild leaps of logic and pulling him back to the real problem at hand.
“So Merida, what are your plans for the rest of the night? Hot date?”
“Not so much,” Clint said with a snort, “Just planning to man the desk for a few hours before bed.”
“Oh, hell, no. That is just pathetic, you’re coming with us. We’re going out.”
“Tony,” Bruce said a resigned look on his face, once Tony got going very little could deter him.
“Nope, executive decision. We are going out.” Tony said tossing his napkin down and striding from the table his phone to his ear.
“Does he even hear himself?” Clint sputtered as Tony talked in the background ordering a reservation at a local bar and for Happy to bring the hummer around.
“You don’t want to go?” Bruce asked fiddling with his glasses.
“It’s true that none of us have gotten out much.” Bruce said with a shrug. “It can’t hurt.”
“Trust me, it’s going to hurt.” Clint said fingers twitching with the need to have a weapon.
“Alright! Happy’s waiting downstairs. Let’s go people!” Tony said with a manic grin. “God, you two look depressed. The first thing we are doing is getting drinks.”
“I don’t drink.” Clint mumbled as he pushed his chair into the elevator already envisioning how the rest of the night would go. If they ended up at a strip club he was pushing himself to the nearest hotel and boycotting the tower for a while. A year sounded good.
“You don’t drink.” Tony repeated numbly, “Seriously?”
“Why? I mean, I get Bruce’s excuse but what could possibly be yours? If anyone you have the ultimate pass.”
“Yeah, because every crippled soldier wants to be known as a raging drunk. No thanks, Stark. I’ll come along but I’m not drinking.” Clint said as he wheeled himself to the back of the car where Happy was just dropping the ramp.
“Pfft, that’s not an excuse! You have to! I need a copilot since Green Bean here can’t.”
“My father was a mean drunk who beat the shit out of me, my mother, and my brother. My brother was a mean drunk who tried to kill me before leaving me for dead in a ditch. I really don’t think I want to continue that tradition, Stark. I don’t drink and won’t be drinking with you tonight or any other night. Find a new wingman.” Clint spat out, grinding his teeth as he pushed himself into the Hummer, locking his breaks in place harshly.
The others climbed in and they were on their way almost before everyone had buckled in. He ignored the whispered conversation between Tony and Bruce as he tried to calm down. The last thing he needed was to hurt the guy who was paying for all his bills and giving him a place to live and work right now. They arrived at the bar and Tony went back into his normal showman personality even if it was a bit lower key than before.
“What can I get you gentleman?” their waitress asked as the extra chair was moved away by a busboy so that Clint could wheel up to the table.
“I’ll take a scotch on the rocks and we’ll have one of every appetizer you have. What would you guys like?”
“Club soda with lime, please.” Clint said with a sigh, his gut was saying that tonight was going to be painful no matter how he looked at it.
Bruce ordered an iced tea and the table descended into silence. Clint made no effort to ease the awkwardness, scanning the bar for threats out of habit more than need. Tony started up a conversation with Bruce about some project they were both working on and Clint let himself tune them out.
Once the food arrived he forced himself to nibble at a few things but wasn’t really hungry. Bruce tried to pull him back into the conversation a few times by bringing up the upgrades that Tony had made to the range and the new bow he was working on but Clint couldn’t make himself put much effort into the conversation. He simply didn’t have the energy to care. He spotted the reporters just as the last few plates were being ferried away.
“There are reporters outside and a few trying to get a table near us, looks like the hostess is ignoring them for now.” Clint pointed out before draining the last of his drink, it was time to go.
“Nope, we’re just getting started. They’re going to have to wait.” Tony said happily waving his newly refilled glass and turning back to Bruce.
“You have fun with that, Stark. I’m heading back.” Clint said tossing down his napkin and some cash for the bill.
“Take the Hummer; I’ll call Happy to come around.” Tony said with a frown tossing back his glass and waving for another.
“Nah, I’ll make my own way back. See you in the morning, Bruce.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for Happy, Clint?”
“Nope, I’m good. You guys have a good night.” Clint said pushing away from the table and heading for the back of the restaurant.
Fifty buck later a bus boy held the back door open jaw hanging in shock as Clint manipulated his chair down the four steps into the alley balancing on the back wheels of his chair. Ten seconds later he was out on the sidewalk without a single reporter noticing his defection, amateurs. He pushed himself down the sidewalk without any real direction; he just didn’t feel like any more forced social interaction. He’d always been a bit of a loner and many a team he’d worked with had learned the hard way that trying to force him to interact outside of mission parameters was an iffy proposition.
He missed Phil fiercely as he remembered how often they’d ended up together after a mission, the loner and the boss no one really wanted to cut loose around. They’d started sharing rooms long before they fell together in bed since Clint and Phil tended to be the odd ones out in any group. Clint didn’t know how to readjust now that it was just him. Was Phil as lost as Clint felt?
Clint pushed himself for miles letting the steady motion sooth his mind, pushing his anger and frustration into every thrust of his arms. He had every possible reason to be pissed off at his former partner, lover, and better half. Natasha might be his soul mate but Phil had been his matching half. He was all the things that Clint was lacking and the driving force for him to be better.
When Clint had thought Phil was dead he’d kept going through the motions with Shield because he thought that was what Phil would have wanted. Phil had lived and breathed Shield for over twenty years, he would’ve wanted Clint to keep up the good fight and keep as many people safe as he was able. Yet now he knew that Phil had never left Shield, instead Shield and Fury had flat out lied to him about everything that had ever mattered.
Clint’s chest felt hollowed and empty as he pushed himself up to the main entrance of the Tower. He was sweat and rain soaked and could not care less how bad he looked. He ignored the security guards wide eyed glances and went straight to the elevator. At least the heavy rain meant that there were no reporters waiting to snap his picture.
“I’ve turned up the heat on your floor, Master Clint. Is there anything else you need?” Jarvis asked once the elevator was in motion.
“Not unless you have a bot that knows how to dry out a wheelchair, Jarvis.” Clint said with a laugh, there was pooled water in the seat and he was sure the fabric was soaked, not that he could feel it.
“I will have one of the bots bring it down to the lab for maintenance once you are in bed, Master Clint.”
“Thanks, Jarvis, I appreciate it. Are Bruce and Tony back yet?”
“Sir and Dr. Banner have yet to return to the tower. Do you wish me to alert you once they do?”
“No, that’s fine, Jarvis, I was just wondering.”
“Very good, Master Clint; Please let me know if you have need of anything else.”
“Nah, I’m just going to get cleaned up and go to bed.”
“Very well, have a good night, sir.”
“You too, Jarvis.” Clint said starting to fight out of his sopping clothes as he reached the bathroom.
Clint laughed softly to himself as he changed and took a shower, getting himself ready for bed. The longest conversation he’d had since he returned to the tower and it was a tie between screaming at Stark and talking to an AI butler, he thought with a bitter smile. He pulled on some warm sweats and socks before getting himself into bed. God, he missed him.
“Pardon the intrusion on your sleep, Master Clint.”
“What’s up, Jarvis?” Clint asked, rubbing at his eyes as he pulled himself up to sit at the headboard.
“Sir has asked that I alert you to the fact that he and Dr. Banner are headed in the quinjet to a nearby disturbance.”
“What kind of disturbance?”
“Robotic machines of some kind are being reported in Brooklyn.”
“Pull up everything in the living room, Jarvis. Give me as many views as you can.” Clint said as he got himself into the thankfully dry chair and started strapping himself in.
“Where exactly is Stark, give me a map if you can to one side?” Clint asked eyes darting over the shaking video footage playing on multiple screens around the room.
“Why exactly is Bruce headed in there, how large are the robots?”
“Most are being reported as about the size of a Great Dane however there are several larger ones that appear to be based off of rhinos.”
“Robotic dogs,” Clint said with a small laugh, Phil would have loved this.
He scanning everything and forced his body to relax, taking deep breathes as he forced himself into the still calm mindset he used during a battle. He watched as more and more information was put in front of him. He absently noted that his mouth was calling out commands and strategies for Stark and Bruce but he was too busy calculating lines of sight and noting patterns of movement to fully comprehend what he was saying. Suddenly the patterns snapped into focus, jerking him out of his zone.
“Stark, three to your right, the one with the antenna on its back, take it out.”
“Kind of busy here, Katniss.”
“It’s acting as a transceiver, Stark. Take it out and the rest won’t have any orders.”
“Well shit.” Tony said scanning the machine as he blasted two more that were crowding him, the schematics showing exactly how different it was from the others.
Five minutes later the battle was over with only minimal damage done to the city. Tony used the crippled transmitter to track the signal back to its owner and Shield quickly picked up the troubled young grad student with little problem. It was the quickest fight Stark had been in yet, with everything wrapped up and clean up started in less than an hour.
“May I ask how you noticed that, Master Clint?” Jarvis asked as Clint chugged down a bottle of water.
“The other machines were protecting it; several threw themselves in front of it to keep Tony away. It seemed random but no other machines were protecting each other so it was worth a shot.”
“Still, few humans could have processed the angles and trajectories as the speed you did today. I am not sure even my servers could have done as well.”
“I doubt that, Jarvis.” Clint said with a snort, “I’m just a guy with good aim; I used to run scenarios like that for Shield all the time. I do better from a distance and they liked to have me on high playing traffic cop during fire fights. It’s the same kind of thing.”
“I will be analyzing the footage of the battle for Master Stark, would you like me to include the recordings of your commentary?”
“Only if you want to, Jarvis, I didn’t exactly do much.” Clint huffed, tossing the empty water bottle in the trash from across the room. “I’m going to get cleaned up and get some breakfast. Ask the others if they want anything, will you?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Sir, I believe there is something that you need to see.” Jarvis said once Tony was back in his workshop.
“What’ve you got, Jay?” Tony asked as he stripped out of his sweat soaked tee shirt. “I need to get cleaned up.”
“While you were in battle, Master Clint requested footage of every angle of attack and a map showing the locations of all robots as well as Banner and yourself.”
“Wonderful, so that’s where he got that one was a transmitter?”
“Yes sir however I think you need to see the footage yourself.”
“Fine, queue it up, Jay.” Tony said with a huff pulling on a slightly cleaner shirt and taking a seat at his workstation.
Tony watched in silence as Clint sat staring at the screens for several long moments before he started calling out angles, wind speed, lines of sight, and velocity of the robots. The running commentary continued switching to possible shots and patterns as the archer continued to mutter at the screens before him. Tony started trying to check his math but the man was already off and listing new calculations and attack scenarios before he could even finish the first calculation.
He used Jarvis to run these kinds of calculations in the suit because he just couldn’t do them at the speed needed in a battle yet here was the middle school dropout, Hawkeye, rattling off the numbers like it was child’s play. Tony used enough processers in his suit to run every computer in his tower and here was a human brain out performing them. It was utterly impossible.
“We’re sure he’s not a mutant?” he finally managed to ask as he started going through the breakdown of the fight, comparing Clint’s calculations to Jarvis’ and noting where there were differences.
“Shield’s files say that he was tested for the gene on intake and found lacking. The only abnormality they found was his eyesight being 20/4. The average eyesight of a bird of prey is 20/2.”
“2 points off, huh,” Tony muttered, flipping through screens as he broke down exactly what Clint had been working on for the hour long fight, “Pattern analysis, the birdbrain might not be so dumb. Is there an IQ test in his file?”
“Not that I have been able to find but much of his file has been sealed at a very high level. I have not yet tried to access the sealed files.”
“Start breaking those seals, I want the full file as soon as possible.”
“Very well, sir. Would you like me to attempt to gather information on his pervious missions as well?”
“Anything and everything, Jay, I want everything Shield has about our Hawk.”
Four hours later Tony had a copy of the last ten years of Clinton Frances Barton’s life and everything Shield had been able to glean of the years prior and he wasn’t sure what to make of things. Clint had been a bit of a fuck up when he’d started working for Shield, rebelling against every agent and handler he was assigned to for months until he was given to Agent Phillip J. Coulson. Coulson had taken Clint under his wing and polished his rough edges until he was one of the best agents Shield had ever seen.
Barring a few random incidents, one of which meant Clint spent a week in the brig for attacking another agent, Clint was a model agent as long as Coulson was around. It was when they were separated for long term missions or sent to different bases that things fell apart. Apparently, Fury had realized this and worked to keep the two on the same base at all times if not working the same missions.
Four years before the Battle of New York, Agent Phillip J. Coulson had submitted paperwork listing Agent Clinton Francis Barton as his partner and changed all his medical files to allow Clint to make decisions about his care should he be incapacitated. Clint had filed the same files listing Phil as his partner the same day. Agent and the Hawk had been together for over four years and now both knew the other was alive.
“Has Agent Coulson contacted Clint at all?”
“No, sir, there has been no contact between Agent Coulson and Master Clint.”
“Okay, I can see Clint not wanting to contact him since he thought he was dead for almost two years but what’s going on with Agent; he should have been here as soon as the Spider Woman told him. Huh.”
“May I ask why you think it makes sense for Master Clint to not contact Agent Coulson, sir?”
“Just look at his file, Jay! The man’s been a survivor from the start! Something happens and he picks himself up and keeps right on trudging. He’s been abandoned or had everyone he’s ever looked up to try to kill him for most of his life, having Agent brush him off is probably just status quo to him.” Tony said with a frown. “I get him not going after Agent but Agent should have come or at least called or something.”
“Miss Romanov seemed convinced that the Agent had his reasons that he would impart to Master Clint on his own schedule.”
“Yeah, I’ve never exactly been one for keeping with a schedule.” Tony said with a snort, “Do a full data pull of everything we have on Agent and cross reference it with the Hawk’s file. Let’s see if we can find what Agent’s hiding.”
Clint sighed as he finished cleaning up the little there was left for him to clean. No calls had come in for the last two days and he was running out of things to do. Most of the maintenance and cleaning in the tower was automated though he’d had to apologize for killing one of the stupid vacuum robots with a throwing knife the first time they came out while he was working late at night.
He watched the one that did his rooms start its meandering path around the living room with a small grin. He’d named the thing Dave and had even gotten it to beep at him when he’d fed it bits of orange peel after it had looked mournful to see the spotless rooms one night. It bumped into his chair with a beep of greeting before heading on its way.
“Night, Dave.” Clint said softly as it trundled back into its hidey-hole in the wall a little while later.
“Jarvis? Are you busy?”
“Do you need something, Master Clint?”
“Is Tony still bothering you to bug me about the range?”
“Nearly daily, sir,” Jarvis said with a sigh of his own, “He wishes for everyone to be happy and healthy while they stay with him and seems to believe that time at the range is essential for your wellbeing.”
“I know there are paraplegic archers and shooters, hell, I’ve volunteered at a few of the para-Olympic training camps when I had down time several years ago, and I’m just not sure I want to go back to that life. I mean, I’m doing okay being the Handler and helping other agents, I don’t need to keep my skills up to that level if I’m not in the field.”
“While I know Shield is a tender subject, may I ask a few questions about their policies?”
“Policies about what exactly? Shield isn’t’ exactly around anymore to enforce any policies, Jarvis.”
“Even so, what would Shield have done for an agent injured while doing his duty?”
“I see where you’re going with this,” Clint said with a snort, “and it would depend how injured the agent was.”
“And if an agent received injuries similar to your own?”
“If they were incapable of continuing in the same position then they would be transferred to a more suitable position unless they were no longer able to do the work, then they would be sent to a care home or to their family if they had any with all bills paid for by their Shield pension. One agent I know who lost an arm became an instructor.”
“So if Shield still existed today you might have become a weapons instructor?”
“Or maybe a flight instructor, I was certified in about every aircraft Shield used. I would have been manning a desk most of the time probably or watching video doing nonstop lip-reading, they asked me to do that a few times for different missions while I was down with a broken leg. I went stir-crazy barely a week in. Phil almost had to tape me to the chair.”
“Would say you are still fit to use a weapon?”
“If you are asking if I can still shoot then yes, I used both a rifle and a recurve when I was staying at the Farm. I’m sure both you and Tony are aware that I have several guns hidden around the floor in case we get attacked and yes, I can use them.”
“If you have no issue with using and maintaining your skills then I’m afraid I don’t see why you are insisting on refusing to use the range that is only a few floors below?”
“I don’t want to use it because it will just remind me of exactly what I’ve lost, Jarvis. I spent most of my time at Shield on the range working to learn every weapon they had and their quirks. I tested weapons for R&D and designed my own. The last bow and quiver I used with Shield was my own design. I can still design weapons and shoot all I want but I can’t get back in the field like this.” Clint said pushing away from his desk and wheeling himself to the windows, he watched the rain streaking the glass for a long moment before he was able to force himself to continue. “I’m grounded and the fieldwork was what I lived for, Jarvis. The most alive I ever felt was running an op with Coulson in my ear and Natasha at my side but I have to accept the fact that I’m never going to get that again. Shield is dead and Strike Team Delta disbanded. If it takes never touching a bow again to get my head to accept that fact then that’s what I’m going to do and no prodding from Tony or even you will change that.”
“I apologize if I have offended you, Master Clint.” Jarvis said after a long pause.
“Its fine, Jarvis, I’m just tired. Can you try and explain that to Tony? Play him the recording if you want, I really don’t want to have to say all that again.”
“I will attempt to explain to Sir but I cannot promise that he will stop his attempts to get you to use the range.”
“Maybe I can go shot or something if it will get him off my back, just not today. I’m going to head to bed.”
“Have a good night, sir.”
“Yeah, thanks Jarvis.”
“Thanks for coming down to the sendoff, Hermit.” Tony said with a smirk as they waved one last time to the Quinjet as it ferried Coulson’s team back to him.
“I’ve been getting out.” Clint said with a huff fighting the urge to fiddle with his cuffs.
“Once a week doesn’t count my friend.” Tony said with a sniff, “Any way, I wanted to talk to you about a possible treatment for your back.”
“I’m not letting you inject me with experimental nanites, Tony.”
“Hey, Coulson and his girlfriend signed off on the experimental procedure and you’ve seen the results. The guy went from comatose to only having to relearn how to walk and fine motor skills. I’m calling that progress.”
“Give it to Stark Industries R&D and when they get to human trials I’ll use it.”
“You do know that could be five to twenty years down the road if not more.” Tony said seriously.
“I’m not in a hurry.” Clint said with a snort as his phone went off, “I’m busy enough as it is. See you later, Stark.”
“I expect to see you for dinner tomorrow, Legolas, no exceptions.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Clint said waving at him as he got onto the elevator.
The call was at least a quick one. Word had gotten out to the retired agents and their families and many were offering sanctuary to agents in their area if it was needed. Many of them were in the same situation as the active agents however.
When Shield fell so did the pensions and insurance coverage that many retired agents were dependent on. Their cover identities that they had been living with for the last ten or even twenty years had been blown and some needed help getting to better situations. Clint couldn’t help them with money but he gave them the names of reliable identity fences for those that could afford to drop everything and start over again.
Clint wasn’t sure how to categorize how he felt when the Quinjet had arrived and only May had exited the ramp. Phil hadn’t come in person to collect his injured agent and that wasn’t like him at all. Clint had lost count of the times Agent Coulson had waded back into enemy territory to pick up an injured or captured agent many of those times with Clint at his six or Clint being the one rescued. Had dying really changed him that much?
He’d forced himself to be polite to the agents and shook Trips hand, giving a nod to May and Fitzsimmons. He wanted with a burning need to send Phil a message back with them but couldn’t figure out what to say. “I miss you and hate you right now.’ Just didn’t seem to cut it.
“Jarvis, please tell me they’re not converging on the tower? Can we lock down everything?”
“I’m sorry, my servers are cu… currently be… being attacked. I can… can’t lock…”
“I get it, you concentrate on the cyber hackers, I’ll deal with anyone that reaches this floor.” Clint said reaching for the emergency communicator he’d set up as part of his system. “Okay, can’t reach Tony, Shield is half a country away, Steve and the rest of the team are out of town, and the tower’s being attacked. Time to ask for help.”
“This is an emergency notice, if any agent or former agent is in New York get your ass to Stark Tower. It is under attack and Hydra has gotten into the building. If any agents are in New York get to Stark Tower, Hydra has taken over the building.” Clint said hopping the signal would get out, he had no idea how long his system would keep working with the lights flickering like they were. A screech of metal heralded the forcing of the emergency stair door.
Clint didn’t hesitate and three shots later the door was blocked by three bodies clad in black. With a curse, he pushed away from his console as the lights finally gave out and his computer died. He pushed himself behind the couch and waited for the next wave that he knew had to be coming.
“Hey Guys, we have a situation in New York.” Skye yelled, pulling up news footage as she fought for control of a camera near the tower.
The scene didn’t look good, smoke was billowing from the building in several places and several jets and helicopters were circling the building and firing into its reinforced windows. As they watched one landed on the roof and disgorged lines of weapon laden men in black combat gear that disappeared inside. Her computer sudden gave an eerie klaxon before blaring a message.
“This is an emergency notice, if any agent or former agent is in New York get your ass to Stark Tower. It is under attack and Hydra has gotten into the building. If any agents are in New York get to Stark Tower, Hydra has taken over the building. Fuck.” The three gun shots followed before the message cut out with a squeal of feedback.
“Holy shit, the Handler’s in Stark Tower.” Skye yelped, covering her mouth in shock as windows started popping up on her screen.
“What?” May asked leaning forward to see the girl’s screen.
“I’ve had a program trying to hack his signal running constantly for weeks now. It broke through right as the alert played; his equipment probably got damaged in the attack.” She said slowly watching as an explosion took out a floor with flames and black smoke belching out.
“There’s nothing we can do from here. We don’t even have any agents in the area that I’m aware of.” May said with a frown watching as more windows shattered.
“Well, the Handler’s network was a lot bigger than ours, he might have some agents make it in.”
“Where is Ironman right now?” Phil asked moving farther into the room.
“He’s just outside of town fighting some giant robotic dogs that popped up.”
“And the Hulk?”
“No one’s seen him yet but it doesn’t look like he’s at the tower.”
“Who are supposed to be at the tower? Is Barton there alone?”
“Dr. Banner and Agent Barton are supposed to be at the tower with Tony Stark. Captain America, Falcon, and Agent Romanov are out of the country right now tracking the Winter Soldier.”
“The tower is supposed to have more internal defenses then I’m seeing, could something have taken them out?” Phil asked as May moved to another computer and pulled up the files they had on Stark Tower.
“You said you were able to locate the Handler inside the tower because his equipment was damaged, the same system might be controlling the defenses.” May offered, glancing at Phil.
“If Stark’s internal AI is offline then nothing inside the tower is going to be operating correctly.” Phil said with a frown.
“I might be able to help but if he’s set up systems run by an AI there’s a chance I could just be getting in its way if I start hacking into the tower’s systems.”
“Do it but if it looks like the systems are recovering back out.”
“You got it, A.C.” Skye said with a nod, several windows opening on her screen as she got to work.
They settled in to watch and do what work they could as the attack on the tower continued. Who was supposed to save the super heroes when their home was attacked? Phil started making calls trying to see if any of their few allies were close enough to assist.
Clint coughed as the fire to one side got worse, the windows had already been blown thanks to the choppers that were strafing the tower seemingly at random. He’s taken out sixteen hydra idiots before they started targeting his floor with the choppers.
The initial explosion had flipped his chair and made him see stars for a long moment before he’d started fighting his way out of the straps and towards the kitchen bar for some cover. Two more goons had gone down as he crawled his way through the scattered glass and debris assuming he’d be too disoriented to shot straight. After practicing for weeks doing fifty cartwheels and firing an arrow every ten flips without pause, a blow to the head was nothing.
He fought to keep his eyes on the door as another barrage ricocheted around his rooms. This wasn’t Africa, he just had to keep his eyes on the door. He could do this. A distinctive whine of repulsors overrode the thump of the helicopter blades for an instant before the plane went up in a massive ball of flame crashing into the window and spilling flames and burning fuel into the room.
“Fucking Tony.” Clint gasped as he started to pull himself to the stairs, this was going to hurt.
He’d made it half the distance when Steve burst through the door. Clint barely managed to jerk his hand to the side sending the bullet into the wood paneling instead of through Captain America’s eye. Steve barely blinked before he was hauling Clint up onto his back and starting back down the stairs at top speed.
“Hydra?” Clint asked with a cough.
“Still in the building, Tony’s doing a scan and we need to get all friendlies out before he turns on the defenses.”
“Alright,” Clint coughed keeping one gun trained over Steve’s shoulder while he held on with the other. “but I’m shooting anyone who gets in our way.”
“Someone just got carried out of the building!” Sky said fingers flying, “I’m dropping out of the tower defenses since they’re booting back up. Give me a sec and I’ll have a camera on the friendlies.”
A moment later they had a camera view of Captain America jogging out of the building with someone clinging to his back. He was carried over to the ambulance that was sitting to one side and eased onto a gurney. Agent Romanov stepped up from seemingly nowhere to steady the downed man. Steve said something before jogging off and back into the tower.
Phil frowned to see how thin Clint was. The scars covering his chest and abdomen were worrying as well as Natasha started to help him undress. With that kind of damage even a year later he might be still having issues and pain from the damaged nerves.
“One sec, let me see if I have enough to get audio.”
“You can do that?” May asked raising an eyebrow.
“With the super spy gadgets we have around here? Hell, yeah. Ta da!”
“What’s your status, Hawk?” She asked tugging at the charred sweater he was wearing with a frown.
“Inhaled some smoke, beyond that I’m good.”
“You wore the sweater I got you.”
“Between Jarvis and Bruce I didn’t exactly have a choice.” Clint said with a snort that turned into a cough as she helped him out of the sweater and the shirt underneath. “I basically wasn’t allowed to get cold no matter what I was doing.”
“How was your count?” She asked as the medic came up and started checking him out. He had a few shallow cuts from glass and small burns on his arms and legs but nothing major.
“How did the mission go?”
“We think we know where he is. We just came back to resupply the jet before heading out again.”
“Lay back and let the oxygen do its work.” The medic said giving him a pat on one shoulder as she moved on to the next patient. Natasha simply hopped up onto the gurney letting him lean against her as he coughed the smoke out of his lungs, the oxygen mask making his responses muffled.
“So, I finally have you alone for some girl talk.” Natasha said with a grin.
“Oh, come on. I am not your random gay friend and we are not going to braid each other’s hair.”
“Bisexual is not gay, Nat.”
“You’d let me paint your nails if I asked.” She said with a smirk.
“Mostly because you normally have a sneaky mission based reason for learning how to do something as stupid as that. Last time you had me teaching you how to sword swallow and I really don’t want to know what you did with that.”
“You do my make up all the time when we’re both on missions.”
“I learned that in the circus and I don’t mind, it’s not like I’m wearing it.” Clint said with a cough.
“Why did you wear the sweater?”
“I was cold and it’s a warm sweater. Thank you for buying it for me, I’m sorry it got ruined.”
“I’ll make Tony replace it.”
“Tony owes me a house, an apartment, two wheelchairs, and a new command center. I don’t think he’s going to blink at a few sweaters.”
“The helicopter crashed into your floor.” She said glancing up to where the wreckage was hanging out of the building.
“Yes, it did. Everything I own is going up in flames as we speak, again.”
“I’m sorry the team keeps destroying your stuff.”
“You would think I would be used to it by now. See, this is why I keep saying we need to keep it light.” He said poking her in the leg with one hand until she bopped him on the head.
“Ow, why do I always get to be the one hurt anyway?”
“Because you’re adorable when you’re all drugged up and happy, like a puppy.”
“Great.” He said with a sigh as she carded one hand through his hair.
“When are you going to start dating again?”
“What? Where did that come from?” he asked twisting so he could look up at her.
“It’s a valid point. You technically been widowed for two years now. You can start do a lot of things you couldn’t not that you’re not an agent as well.”
“We weren’t married, Nat.”
“You were together for almost five years and never even looked at anyone else. You were married.”
“Doesn’t matter. You still need to start doing all the things you couldn’t do before. You’re not an agent any more, you can go a bit wild.”
“You could get nipple piercings.” She said with a grin tweaking one just to hear him squeak.
“Hell no.” Clint coughed, covering his chest with one arm to prevent a repeat, pulling the blanket the medic had given him tighter across his shoulders.
“Tattoos,” She offered tapping one bicep, “You would look good with a sleeve.”
“Okay, I might give you that one. I don’t have to worry about identifying marks now at least.”
“You could grow your hair out.”
“I did that before Shield. It just gets annoying after a while and untangling it from a bow string was a bitch.”
“How exactly do you see that happening? Yep, all the woman are going to come running when they find out that an ex-carney, ex-assassin, ex-government agent, and cripple is now on the market.”
“You always did better when you dated men.”
“Yeah, well, woman are complicated, as I keep finding out over and over again.” He said with a grin poking her.
“You’re saying men aren’t?”
“Depends on the man but most are simpler than women.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“How many of my ex’s do you know?”
“Personally or just about?”
“And of those women how many would you classify as easy to date?”
“So you’re saying the three or four men you dated since I’ve known you were easier?”
“If you ignore the last one, yes.” Clint said going still under her hand.
“He was in his own category.” She said softly as an apology.
“Yes, he was.” Clint said with a nod.
“You still need to think about dating again.”
“Why? I’m perfectly fine without having a significant other.”
“You’re lonely and I don’t like seeing you this way. You were happy before.”
“Yeah, well, right now my ex’s out number my potential dates. No one is going to want to date me, Natasha.”
“I can think of several agents who expressed interest over the years.”
“Half of those are dead or were Hydra sleeper agents and the other half think I let Loki in willingly, Nat. I’m not going to be dating an agent.”
“It’s been two years, Clint. You officially have the worst case of blue balls I’ve ever heard of if you haven’t had sex in that time.”
“I’m pretty sure there are some Tibetan monks who would disagree with you. Anyway it’s been longer than that.”
“Loki was over two years ago.”
“Two years and almost six months but I hadn’t seen Phil in two months before Loki. We were supposed to meet up for our anniversary two weeks after that when my shift at Pegasus ended.”
“Five year anniversary?”
“Okay, but you have been jerking off right?”
“I cannot believe we are talking about this.” Clint muttered pulling himself up, “Why the hell do you even want to know that?”
“So I can plan. You know I need to know every variable before a mission.”
“You start setting me up with random people again and I will shoot you.”
“That didn’t work the last time, I will put more thought into it if I do decide to set you up.”
“Are you going to answer my question?”
“Fuck,” Clint braced himself and started manhandling his legs until he was almost in a tailor’s seat, Natasha copied him frowning when he pulled off the oxygen mask. “No, I haven’t been jerking off.”
“Hell, Nat! After Loki I was fucking gutted. I was mourning the one guy I thought I would get to have for the rest of my life. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get it up if you paid me without bursting into tears! Then I got sent to Africa and was in too much pain to do shit after the crash. I’d barely finished rehab when you guys crashed into my house. I’ve been at the tower what, two months, three? No, I haven’t been jerking off when the last person I’ve thought about while jerking off was dead.”
“Honestly, it hasn’t even been remotely on the To Do list.”
“Alright, what?” Clint asked exasperated. She merely smiled at him and jumped off the gurney to greet Steve and Bruce who were bringing the old wheelchair he’d used when he first arrived at the tower. “This is exactly why I stopped dating women. I swear to god one day she’s going to make my head explode.”
“Hulk have a good time with the mechanical dogs this time?” She asked as Steve picked up Clint and helped him into the chair.
“Too good a time,” Bruce offered with a smile, “Sorry I’m late to the party. Apparently I slept through the entire attack at an old military base outside of town.”
“Here, looked like you could use some clothes.” Sam said jogging up and tossing a tee shirt to Clint.
“Very funny.” Clint huffed as he pulled on the air force shirt.
“Looks good on you, man.” Sam said with a grin digging out his phone and taking a picture.
“See if I make you any pancakes in the morning.” Clint snarked as he wheeled himself after his team.
The feed cut out as the started back into the tower. Phil nodded thanks to Skye before heading to his office. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Clint starting to date again. He wasn’t sure if he could justify dragging him back into the danger that dating the Director of Shield would put him in. He wasn’t exactly safe at the tower but no one was specifically gunning for him either. As soon as word got out that Phil wasn’t dead it would paint a giant target on anyone who spent time with him.
He’d just found out that Clint was alive, he wasn’t sure that he could risk losing him again. Not that he even had him but just seeing him alive and snarking at Natasha had soothed some of the weight that had been pulling at him. Would it be enough to just watch him from a distance if he was safe without adding aliens and codes to his troubles?
That was it, Phil wasn’t coming. He hadn’t come to the tower for his agent or when the tower was attacked for Clint. He wasn’t coming and Clint didn’t think he could make himself go to Canada to beg to see him. Phil had given up on him and he’d just have to accept it. He’d written out a letter saying goodbye but hadn’t been able to send it yet.
He’d been trying to help out around the tower with random success. He found out quickly that the kitchens were a no go with the counters and cabinets too high for him to reach anything. He’d made sandwiches a few times for lunch for whoever was in the tower at the time but everyone seemed too busy most of the time.
He went over security changes with Jarvis a few times a week that could be made to the tower and the other Stark properties hoping to make his current home safer. He tried to give back the exorbitant consulting fee that Stark had put in his accounts when he received the file of potential changes but even when he went to the bank in person and tried to transfer it back he was refused.
Pepper had pulled him into helping redesign his new apartment to be more handicapped friendly and more to his liking but he’d never been one to put down roots for long and had no idea what to do with color palates and interior design. He tended to just go with whatever Pepper recommended as long as it wasn’t too girly or extreme. The only thing he approved of was the pale greys, greens, and purples that made up the bedding and wall colors.
He was trying to keep busy but the days ran long and all too often he could be found curled in the couch or next to the windows staring at nothing while he tried to figure out to do with a life without Phil in it. He’d based his every action around Shield and Phil for more than ten years, now they were both gone permanently and he had no idea how to rebuild.
He knew he would eventually, it was what he did best, surviving when everyone around him had abandoned him. For now he worked at everything he could and tried to stay busy. His new nightmares were filled with Phil walking away from him face full of disgust.
Clint got up every morning and exercised before cleaning up and wearing the warm clothes Natasha approved of. He worked as the Handler and did what he could for the tower and team but it never felt like enough. He was lonely with Natasha, Steve, and Sam out hunting while he was forced to wait behind and worry. Was this how Phil had felt when Clint went out alone on missions without him?
He fingered the letter one last time before leaving it on the counter top, he would find a way to send it in the morning. He went and started getting ready for bed trying to ignore the time, it was too early but he had nothing better to do. He dawdled in the shower and getting dressed. He was just pulling himself into bed when Jarvis interrupted.
“Master Clint, Miss Romanov would like to enter. Is this acceptable?”
“The mission was successful and the soldier is below with Captain Rogers in the rooms Sir prepared. Would you like me to allow Miss Romanov entry?”
“Yeah, let her in. Thanks, Jarvis.”
“It is my pleasure, Master Clint.” Jarvis said sounding smug. Clint heard the doors to the elevator open and the distinctive click of her boots as she headed towards his room.
“I thought you would be back in your old rooms by now.” She said pausing at the door and scanning him for any changes in the last few weeks since they’d seen each other.
“Pepper wants to make sure it’s perfect before I move back in.”
“I bet Stark gives you a golden toilet.” She said stripping out of her boots and crawling into bed with him.
“Don’t say that where he might hear you.” He said with a laugh, poking her in the side which led to a small wrestling match which she of course won.
“You look tired.” She said when they were curled under the blankets spooned against each other.
“I missed the company, it’s too quiet here without you and Steve flirting.”
“It’s just too fun, making a 90 year old man blush.” She said with a soft laugh and they fell silent for a while enjoying being held.
“So, you brought the soldier back?”
“Steve was right, we ran DNA and he is James Buchanan Barnes.”
“And your James.”
“I was a child then.”
“And love is for children.” Clint said with a sigh pulling her to him in a light hug, “Does he remember you?”
“Not yet. Steve’s been trying to get him to remember the 1940s and their missions together but they didn’t just suppress some memories, they wiped him clean between missions. Bruce thinks the longer he’s out of the ice the better his memory will be.”
“Three assassins in Stark Tower.” He said with a small grin, “Want to take bets on how long it takes for us to burn it to the ground?”
“Idiot.” She said punching him in the arm, “He’s going to be confined for a few weeks at least until Tony finishes looking at his arm.”
“And builds him a better one.”
“It was a hard run, wasn’t it?” he asked playing with a long lock of red hair.
“Very hard, I’ll tell you all the details later, for now I just want to forget for a while.” She said with a sigh, “How has life at the tower been?”
“Not much to tell, I’ve been working calls as the Handler but nothing major’s happened. Tony went on a short business trip but the team hasn’t been called out at all.”
“Bruce said you were hiding.”
“Not hiding, just not up to dealing with anyone right now, I’ve been thinking about things.”
“Anything I should know about?”
“I wrote a letter to Phil, I just need to figure out a way to get it to him.”
“I can take it if you want.”
“Yeah, alright but not right now, you deserve a bit of a break.”
“So do you.”
“I am taking a break.” Clint said with a huff.
“Thinking about things.”
“You didn’t run.”
“Nowhere to go.” He muttered into her hair.
“That never stopped you before.”
“I’m doing something good with the network and being the Handler. No one else thought about the agents out there and they need the help.”
“They need you.”
“Yeah, and I need Stark’s equipment to be able to do more so I have to stay.”
“Do you want to stay?”
“I don’t know yet.” He said with a sigh, tightening his hold for a long breathe.
“Why are you in bed so early? You’re normally such a night owl.”
“Nothing to do so I might as well get some sleep.” He said with a shrug.
“Do you mind if I stay?”
“No, you know you’re always welcome.”
The next morning she silently followed him throughout his day watching his routine. She followed him to his PT appointment and he couldn’t make himself not try to do a bit better with her eyes watching his every move. He got cleaned up and they joined Bruce for a light lunch with the topics staying to safer subjects instead of the soldier they were deprograming only floors below. Steve came in when they were just finishing to fetch two trays of food.
“How is he doing?” Natasha asked eyeing what Steve was stacking on the tray.
“About the same. He wants to remember but it’s painful for him and he’s not sleeping. Sam’s down there talking to him now.”
“Sam’s good at getting you to talk.” Clint said with a snort, “Ask him if James is up for basketball, I’ll go another few rounds if they need a spotter.”
“You played basketball with Sam?”
“When you guys had a mission and Sam stayed because of my back. He’s not a bad guy.”
“I’ll ask when I head down but I kind of doubt it’s an option right now.”
“Did he ever play before the war?”
“We played baseball mostly. Stick ball with whatever we had on hand, we almost never had a real ball.”
“He was a sniper right?” Clint asked helping to stack plates together on the table.
“Yeah, best I’d ever seen, might have even given you a run for your money.”
“Get him a replica of his old rifle. Just the gun, no bullets. He can practice sighting and breaking it down. Once he’s a bit more stable we can let him have the range for an hour or two a day. If he’s really a sniper it should calm him down some.”
“It might bring back old memories.” Steve said slowly fiddling with a spoon.
“It never did for me but it’s just an idea. It can wait until he’s doing better anyway.”
“I’ll ask him.” Steve said with a frown picking up the trays and frowning at the bottles of orange juice that had appeared without him noticing.
“James loved orange juice, we only got it rarely and he would savor it.” Natasha said sipping at her own bottle.
“Yeah, Bucky liked it as a kid but we only ever had the powdered stuff. Oranges were a Christmas treat but not something you got during the year like now. Thanks.” Natasha merely nodded and they watched as Steve plodded to the elevator with his burden.
“I’ve got the cleanup if you guys need to head out?” Bruce said gathering up the last of the plates and dumping them into the sink.
“You sure? I can’t reach the cabinets down here but I can dry at least.”
“No, I’m sure you and Natasha have things to talk about. I need a break from the lab anyway.”
“Alright.” Clint agreed slowly following Natasha into the elevator. She hit the button for the range and raised an eyebrow daring him to change it.
“You just said the range always calmed you down. I won’t make you use your bow but we are going to shot for at least an hour.”
“Only hand guns.”
“Very well.” She agrees with a nod.
The smell of gun powder and oil as soon as the door open made muscles he hadn’t realized were tense relax as he pushed himself out into the gun locker. Natasha was already opening one storage compartment and pulling out guns and ammo to one side. He picked up one of the guns and weighed it in his hand before sighting along the barrel, he absently wished he’d brought his new guns down to test them out.
They took two hand guns each and broke them down ensuring everything was in working order before putting everything back together and heading for the lanes. The table running inside the lane is of course too high but Clint was getting used to small annoyances like that. The paper at the other end of the lane was set at average chest height of a standing man so he’s going to have to angle his shots.
Two hours later the ammo ran out and they stripped down the guns and cleaned them before returning everything to storage. Clint absently watched a bot happily hoovering up the spent shells they had left in the lanes. He’d have to check with Jarvis and see if the casings were reused, maybe he can help by making bullets if he can get a gun press brought in.
He spent the rest of the afternoon working at his desk on a few small issues with the network. Natasha chimed in with new information when he started updating the map and he filled in the weapons caches they’d used and burned safe houses they’d seen. He’s tired by dinner and lets the talk flow around him when he’s dragged down to eat with everyone.
The next day is enough of a repeat of the previous that he started when Natasha threw a black fleece pull over at his head and declared that they are going out for lunch. She stormed away to arrange things while Clint investigated the jacket. It’s oversized and fuzzy, not something he would normally wear but he realized that someone’s altered it to allow it to buckle around two gun holsters and the pockets were cut to allow access to a weapons harness.
Clint laughed softly as he dug through his closet for the weapons harness that she had left him before her last trip. He put his two new guns and extra clips in along with two larger knives and a few throwing knives before slipping the entire thing on. It took him a while to get all the straps adjusted and tight enough but it was invisible once he pulled the jacket over everything.
He pulled on the fingerless gloves she’d given him before and make his way out of his rooms. Everyone one minus Steve and the soldier were waiting for him with Bruce and Tony lost in some discussion of mechanics while Natasha is talking to Pepper to one side. She gave him a grin at seeing the gloves and he know she was eyeing where each of his weapons were placed the same as he was absently cataloging where she’d hidden her bites and knives.
“Well, are we ready?” Tony asked with a grin moving to collect Pepper and give her a kiss while everyone trooped to the elevator, minus Bruce who was staying to keep an eye on Steve and the Winter Soldier.
“Where are we going exactly?” Clint asked as he stuffed his chair to one side and tried not to flinch as everyone crowded in.
“It’s a surprise, a new restaurant you haven’t been to yet.” Natasha said simply.
“Not sure I want a surprise.” He muttered barely audible.
She followed alongside behind the others when they left the elevator and once Clint was settled in the Hummer dropped into his lap ignoring the way his body jerked to have her suddenly against him. She draped across him like he was a lover, one hand caressing his neck and the sensitive skin behind one ear.
“Thank you for wearing the pullover.” She said loud enough for the others to hear while Clint fought with the blush that wanted to burn his cheeks.
“Oh, is it new? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear fleece, Clint.” Pepper chimed in with a smile, she had worried about the former archer.
“Fleece doesn’t handle water well and tends to pick up a lot of trace.” He said trying to ignore small innocent touches that Natasha was brushing against his neck and chest, playing his body like only an old lover could.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about most of that now,” Natasha said pressing a kiss to his temple. “And it’s a very warm coat.”
“Yes, it is. Thank you.” He said with a tired smile, he was so tired of having to play a part to everyone around him. See the amazing crippled agent, watch him try to dance without any legs.
He tried to perk up a bit when they reached the restaurant, they would be eating outside on a fenced terrace that faced a large park like area. Clint kept his eyes mostly on the trees noting spots that would make a great sniper’s perch and good lines of sight. He still felt too raw and depressed from his realization that Phil had given up on him to really participate.
He stuffed his hands into the fleece and tried to keep up with the conversations flowing around him enough to be polite but his mind kept wandering. He hadn’t really slept in the weeks since the fight and the exhaustion was pulling at him. He shifted in his chair and tried to keep his eyes scanning his surroundings, just in case.
It was nice being outside with a good view and people to watch his back even if it would be twice that with Phil at his side. He couldn’t seem to stop viewing everything around him through a filter of what Pihl would have liked or done. Phil would have liked being here even if he didn’t contribute much to the conversation, Clint knew he’d be sitting back watching with that secret smile of his like he did after a mission that had went particularly well.
Even more than two years after Phil’s supposed death, and now resurrection, Clint found himself looking for him at the edge of every group. Phil had always strove to be the unremarkable one, the one who was so average he faded from your mind a few moments after he left. Clint had never thought him average, the first time he saw him chasing him down an alley and later over rooftops he knew there was more to the bland mask and suit then he was presenting.
Phil had been one of the few people to really see Clint, in all his faults and promise. Clint had always felt laid bare under his gaze and sometimes wondered if that was how people felt when he stared too long, half of Shield had complained at one time or another about the sniper’s intense gaze. Phil however seemed to be able to turn it on or off like the masks he exchanged depending on the situation he was in.
The mask most people had seen was one of polite disinterest, he was there for a job and nothing else, forget me and move on. Clint had never understood how it worked on others, he would see the way Phil was perfectly balanced as he walked, nearly silent no matter the surface. He was a lion hiding in plain sight yet no one seemed to see the spark that marked his interested in whatever held his gaze.
He’d argued with Natasha about it many times over the years. She believed that people saw what they expected to see. Most people looked at the thin, balding man in a plain suit and saw a harmless accountant instead of the trained agent and former Army Ranger. Clint just didn’t know how they could ignore it, to him it blazed out like the man hid the sun beneath his skin.
Natasha was much the same, he noted turning his gaze back to the table. She was a master of masks and deception, able to convince anyone that she was the exact opposite of her training. She used her looks and people’s expectations to take them apart in a sudden explosion of movement or words. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
She too burned with her own inner light but while Phil was a star, she was a roaring forest fire out of control. Right now it hid itself in the banked glow of her eyes and the too sharp smiles that she graced Stark when he said something crass. Her gaze snapped over the waiters as their food was served but there were no threats in sight and her mask slid back in place as she turned back to Pepper and their previous conversation.
Clint toyed with his dinner and sipped at the sparkling water but something kept drawing his gaze out past the iron work fence and to the forest beyond. He felt like he was being watched but couldn’t see anything in the trees as darkness fell and the restaurant’s outdoor lights destroyed his night vision.
“Something wrong?” Natasha asked relaxed casually in her seat so that no one would take notice as she scanned the terraced area.
“Thought I felt someone watching but I can’t see anything.”
Natasha hummed to herself but pulled out her phone and sent several texts. The phones of people around the table went off one after the other as everyone blinked in shock at whatever message she’d sent.
“Right,” Tony said pulling out his wallet and extracting a credit card. “Pepper, let me walk you to the car. Happy should be pulling up any minute.”
“Has something come up?”
“I’m afraid so, head back to the tower and check on Jarvis for me, please?”
“Alright, but you’re not allowed to destroy anything until I get back.”
“Yes, dear.” Tony agreed readily quickly handing his card to a passing waitress and helping Pepper inside.
“Did you text Steve and Bruce?” Clint asked softly, one hand drifting back to unclip a gun in case he needed to make a fast draw.
“Yes, Steve is going to meet Pepper half way and make sure she gets home safe before coming to join us.”
Clint pushed away from the table, eyes on the woods behind the others while Natasha scanned the restaurant and its patrons and staff. He’d drawn and fired before his brain fully realized what was flooding down the hill towards them. The polite iron fence did nothing to stop the wolves, mountain lions, bears, and birds that swept towards them like a wave of teeth and claws.
People ran screaming while Natasha started tossing tables aside to give them more room to move. Tony activated the suit and it started to enfold him just as the first birds descended. Natasha was lost in a spiraling cloud of crows and song birds while Tony was throwing wolves and bears as far as the suit would allow sending everything in their path cartwheeling away at high speed.
Clint had his own hands full with two mountain lions and several wolves that seemed determined to single him out. He shot to kill without thought aiming for eyes as he tried to thin the herd and clear a path for Steve as he waded into the fight shield ringing as it took out animal after animal. There seemed to be no end to the flood.
Clint was pinned as bodies fell around him with no clear path for his chair. Tony took out the fence letting the others fan out to fight but Clint was stuck on the stone terrace as several helicopters started circling above the fight. He emptied the last three bullets in his clip to take out the final mountain lion just as the wolves struck.
One wolf slammed into his chair flipping it on its side teeth savaging the back material even as Clint buried a knife in its chest. The next wolf lunged in snapping and Clint hit it with a rod from the fence before cutting its throat. Two more circled him growling when a clamp reeled out of the sky and hooked onto his chair, he was jerked skyward with a yell, flinching as the wolves jumped to try and reach him.
Clint gripped the chair hard with one hand and prayed the thing stayed together as he rose higher and higher. He palmed two throwing knives as he reached the helicopter and hoped that whomever was at the wench knew what they were doing. He let himself sag, feigning unconsciousness, against the chair restraints as arms pulled him into the helicopter and strapped his chair down.
He lashed out with both hands, knives hitting the two Hydra operatives and send one tumbling to a messy death. He leaned forward and took the gun from the other goon and waited to see if anyone from the cockpit would come back. One dead man later it was just him and the pilot and he had no way to get out or up into the cabin to the man.
The helicopter swayed crazily as the pilot started evasive maneuvers and Clint started trying to reach the parachutes stored to one side but the plane was tilting and turning too much for him to risk unstrapping the chair or even getting out of it. The entire plane shuddered as they were jerked to a violent stop.
“Stark air at your service. Time to get out, Legolas.” Tony said through the suit speaker barely audible over the scream of the helicopter’s engines.
“How exactly are we going to do that?” Clint yelled over the rotors.
“Leave that to me.”
Tony grabbed the chair by one wheel and cut the restraints with a laser as both of them launched out of the plane. Clint waited for Stark to grab him with both hands before he sighted and shot the pilot between the eyes. He felt Ironman jerk in reaction but Clint was running calculations and had already fired a second time, taking out the plane’s gas tanks and making it crash into a mostly empty parking lot to one side. He took out two more helicopters before Stark got him to the tower and dropped him the last few inches with a bone rattling jerk.
“Stay safe, Merida; we’ll finish the cleanup.” Tony said giving Clint a mocking salute as he dropped his chair onto the tarmac and jetted away.
“Fucking Stark,” Clint snarled as he fought with his now broken chair thanks to Ironman and Hydra bending the frame and wheels.
He finally gave up and got himself onto the concrete, slowly pulling himself along trying to ignore the way his combat boots were catching on the pavement. He blinked as the armor removal arms slid out of the flooring and started constructing a new chair for him. He had just reached the first mechanical arm when a quinjet touched down briefly letting Phil jump from the ramp before it blasted back towards the battle.
“Are you alright?” Phil asked hurrying to where Clint was clinging to a mechanical arm as it lowered him into his new chair.
“I’m fine.” Clint said blinking as he let himself stare at the man he was starting to think he would never see again.
“You’re bleeding.” Phil said gesturing to the wide swath of blood that Clint had left smeared across the concrete.
“Most of it isn’t mine. It’s just a few scratches.” He said getting his legs settled and strapped in while Phil hovered. “Let’s go inside and you can check me over or something.”
“Alright.” Phil agreed falling into step beside Clint like they had done hundreds of times before but his eyes never strayed from Clint.
“Thank you for the chair, Jarvis.” Clint said once they were in the elevator headed to his floor fighting the urge to pluck at the blood soaked pull over.
“You are most welcome, Master Clint. Please let me know if you need anything.”
“Where’s the first aid kit?” Clint asked as he pushed off onto his floor trying to ignore the way he was leaving small drips of blood behind him, Dave was going to be busy tonight.
“The medical kits are located under the sink in the main bathroom of every floor.”
“Thank you, Jarvis.” Phil said with a sigh walking quickly into the room Clint pointed him towards.
Phil came out with the kit and ripped it open, laying out supplies while his gaze flicked over Clint. Clint knew he was just looking for injuries but he couldn’t keep himself from trying to memorize the differences in Phil as well. The lines of exhaustion on his face were deeper than Clint ever remembered seeing them and even his suit was wrinkled and stained in places, something that Phil would never have allowed before.
“They messed with my memories.” Phil said finally ripping off his coat and tossing it to the side. “That’s why I didn’t come before.”
Clint watched him frantically rolling up his sleeves and fighting off his tie with concern. He hadn’t seen Phil this worked up since the time Clint had brought in Natasha. Clint had gone radio silent for hours while he tried to convince her to come in. When he’d brought her in to the safe house Phil had been pacing a hole in the floor, hair mussed and eyes manic.
“You’re missing memories.” Clint repeated slowly, peeling off the blood soaked fleece while Phil washed his hands in the kitchen sink.
“Yes, the process tends to cause memory loss so they went in and replaced the missing memories with mission files. They also created some new memories to cover gaps or things they didn’t want me to remember. Nick thought I was still with Audrey. I never corrected him since we’d agreed to keep things quiet at work.” Phil said as he fought open the first aid kit.
“So they erased me. They took over four years of your life away?”
“Not everything, it was just random holes. I’ve been having dreams. I mean, I’m starting to remember small things but my head insists that it happened with Claire. I have to break down the conditioning.”
“What do you want with this, Phil?” Clint asked letting Phil dab at the cuts and scrapes along his arms with a cleansing wipe.
“I want back what they took from me. When we heard that you’d died it was devastating. I knew my reaction didn’t make sense even if we had been best friends but I mourned you. I’ve just been going through the motions since I died and now that I know the truth it’s just getting worse.”
“I thought you were dead, Phil. Fury and Shield took you away from me.”
“Fury and Shield are gone.”
“If that’s true then why didn’t you contract me once you knew I wasn’t dead?”
“I didn’t know what to say. I mean, you thought I was dead for years at that point. I wasn’t sure if you’d moved on or not.”
“I hadn’t.” Clint said swallowing before he forced out the words in a chocked rush, “I never wanted to move on. I never thought both of us were going to make it to retirement but I always thought I would go first, never that I would be left broken without you.”
“Neither of us managed to leave Shield without scars. I know Fury thought he was doing the right thing bringing me back but I’ve had my doubts.”
“Don’t say that.” Clint snapped fiercely grabbing onto Phil’s arms. “Don’t ever say that. You being dead was never a good thing.”
“They pumped me full of some kind of alien blood and erased my memories. I don’t know if my reactions are off because of the blood, the mind tampering, or because of my injuries. I don’t know what to do.”
“Stay.” Clint said fighting to keep his tone even.
“Stay with me, just for the night.”
“The battle,” Phil said moving to stand only for Clint to jerk him back down refusing to let go of his arms.
“Jarvis, how’s the team doing?”
“The animals have been subdued and Agent Coulson’s team is assisting with the cleanup.”
“Is everyone okay?”
“There are a few minor injuries but most are nothing more than scraps and cuts, much like your own wounds, Master Clint.”
“Good, thanks Jarvis.” Clint said blowing out a breath, and turning back to Phil, “See you can stay, just for a few hours.”
“I need to get back to my team.”
“I just got you back, Phil, don’t make me let go right now.” Clint said fighting to keep his tone level, Phil looked at him in silence for a long moment before nodding.
“Alright, what do you suggest?”
“Both of us are covered in blood. You can change into a pair of my sweats while I take a shower then I’m going to bed. I haven’t been sleeping the best lately and I’m about to crash now that the adrenaline is wearing off. Stay, just for a little while.”
“Alright, let me contact my team and get things straightened out while you take your shower. I’ll be here when you get out.” Phil said with a tired nod making Clint wonder what he’d been doing before the animals attacked.
“Yeah, alright.” Clint agreed, forcing himself to let go of the bruising hold he had on Phil’s arms.
Phil pulled out a phone and stood moving to the windows to pace as he talked to his agents. Clint let himself watch for several long breathes before he forced himself to push his chair into the bedroom. He shoved a pair of boxers, shirt, and socks for himself in the bathroom before leaving a pair of sweat pants and a tee shirt on the bed for Phil if he chose to use them.
Clint let the shower run long as he made sure all the blood was out of his hair and from under his nails before he pushed himself out of the shower. He got dressed and toweled his hair dry before he acknowledged he was dawdling and pushing himself out into the bedroom. Phil was waiting sitting on the bed still in his suit, the clothes Clint had left set to one side on a chair.
Phil stood as Clint came out and watched in silence as he locked his chair next to the bed and pulled himself into place. With a nod and the micro frown that normally meant someone was about to die Phil disappeared into the bathroom for his own shower taking the sweats with him.
“Jarvis, is everyone back at the tower?”
“Indeed, Master Clint. Agent Romanov has left a message that she will speak with you in the morning. Agent Coulson’s team will be staying on one of the guest floors until their plane is repaired.”
“What’s wrong with the plane?”
“It appears that the engines were over worked in order to arrive at the battle in time.”
“Yeah, May always had a deft hand with planes. She always could get more speed out of just about anything.”
“Sir is looking into the situation and wishes to discuss upgrades with Agent Coulson in the morning.”
“Okay, good. If anyone asks I’m fine and I’ll see them in the morning.”
“Very well, sir. I hope you and Agent Coulson have a good night.”
“You too, Jarvis.” Clint said with a sigh hoping Phil would actually stay the night.
He got himself under the covers and settled into wait for Phil. Sometime later he jerked awake as Phil took a seat on the edge of the bed. They watched each other silently for a long moment before Phil reached out and ran a barely there caress along Clint’s arm.
“I missed you.” Phil said his voice barely a whisper, “I was so afraid of bringing more trouble to you if I tried to keep you in my life. It terrified me that you’d been hurt and I hadn’t been there to help, what if it happened again?”
“I’m in just as much danger living in the tower as I am being with you, Phil.” Clint said, reaching out and gripping his other hand. “I’m more terrified that you’re going to jet back to Canada and I’ll never see you again. I almost died the last time you left me, I’m not sure I can do that again.”
“I don’t want to leave you but both of us have our work and our own teams now.”
“I know. Can we talk about this in the morning? I just… Will you hold me for a while?” Clint asked thickly, swallowing as Phil climbed under the covers and pulled him into his arms.
They clung to each other as the tensions and fears they had been carrying since Loki slowly melted away. This was what had been missing, this was what they’d needed. Clint buried his nose into the side of Phil’s throat and shoulder and let himself just breath for once, lost in the scent he thought he would never smell again.
Clint woke with a soft hum of happiness pulling the warm weight of his lover closer. The arms around him tightened in response as a mouth pressed soft sucking kisses to his shoulders and neck. He felt them rock against him and he groaned softly in delight, yes, this was what he wanted.
“Why is the mattress warm, exactly?” Phil rumbled in one ear before pressing a kiss to Clint’s temple.
“Because my feet get cold and Natasha needed to fix something.”
“Hmm, weird but nice in a way.” He said giving one final thrust against Clint before starting to pull away, “Sorry.”
“No, don’t. Did you want to?”
“I don’t want to hurt you.” Phil said pulling back only to kiss Clint like he wanted to memorize every inch of his mouth and lips.
“You won’t, I want it, please.” Clint gasped when they broke apart.
“Where are…?” Phil asked uncertainly as he turned on the lamp next to the bed.
“Lube and condoms are in the bedside table, I live with Stark.” He added when Phil glanced back at him with a raised eyebrow.
Phil stripped back the sheets leaving Clint sprawled in bed only wearing socks, a tee shirt, and boxers that did nothing to hide the erection he was sporting. Phil tossed the supplies to one side before sliding between Clint’s legs and reclaiming his mouth.
“You’re wearing too much.” Clint managed, breathing hard when they finally broke apart.
“I have a few scars from the battle.” Phil said hesitating when Clint tugged at his tee shirt.
“So do I.” Clint reminded him tugging up his own shirt and fighting his way out of the suddenly too tight material. Phil sat frozen against him until Clint tugged one of his hands down against an entry wound.
“They don’t hurt, they’re just scar tissue.” Clint said running his hands up Phil’s arms and whimpering when the man ducked and began placing soft kisses along each divot and ridge.
“So beautiful,” Phil said his voice husky with want, “Wanted to never let you go the moment I saw you again on the tarmac.”
“Fuck, Phil.” Clint whined fisting his hands in Phil’s shirt as he lathed a nipple and started to suck.
“What position would be best, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Like this, I want to see you, touch you.” Clint groaned as Phil shifted back and eased the boxers off his lover, quickly stripping out of his own clothes.
“Want to touch you, please.” Clint whined tugging the other man back down against him so they were skin to skin, Clint stroking every inch he could reach.
They kissed for another long while before Phil forced himself to back off and reach for the lube. He fingered Clint open slowly was they kissed, stroking his cock and giving teasing caresses along his chest and stomach. He waited until Clint was moaning and begging for his cock before he slid on a condom.
Phil hitched Clint’s legs against his arms, folding him in half as he braced himself and started to slowly push in. They both moaned as Phil slowly sheathed himself to the hilt. Clint was fighting back tears as he watched his lover lose himself in the slow slide in and out of his body.
“God, Clint, you’re so good. Been dreaming about this.” Phil panted as he sped up, starting to thrust harder, each motion rocking Clint and drawing small grunting moans from his throat while he fisted Clint’s cock and pumped.
“Need you, fuck yes.” Clint whined, panting as his skin flushed with sweat.
It felt like every nerve ending that he could feel was working overtime to replace everything from the waist down. The rough scrub of the sheets against his back, the muscles in his chest and abdomen flexing, the jolt up his spine with each thrust that left him a withering mess underneath the relentless onslaught. He moaned and gasped, hands clenching and nails scraping along Phil’s shoulders and back as he fought to stay grounded.
Clint’s vision whited out as he came hard, splattering his chest and stomach with cum. Phil kept fucking him through it while Clint went limp with pleasure, his body shuddering and shaking as each brush of skin on skin he could feel set off new twitches of pleasure. It didn’t take long for Phil to come with his own cry gripping Clint’s hips hard enough to leave bruises before he shakily pulled out and collapsed against his side.
He watched blurrily as Phil fumbled his way upright and to the bathroom coming back out with a washcloth and wiping Clint clean before he tucked them both back under the covers. Clint gripped at the sweat slick skin and tugged Phil back into his arms ignoring the soft complaints about needed a shower. They dozed together for a few more hours before Jarvis alerted them to breakfast being served downstairs.
They showered together in silence, slowly helping wash each other and knowing them memorizing the new scars they each had. Phil dressed in his now pressed and cleaned suit out in the bedroom while Clint took care of his morning business and then got dressed himself. They rejoined each other outside the bedroom.
“We still need to talk, Clint.” Phil said watching Clint approach with a stressed look.
“Do you want to break things off?” Clint said bluntly hitting the button to call the elevator.
“What? No, I don’t.” Phil said blinking down at him in shock.
“Then whatever it is we can work it out. I’ll come see you at the base when you have a down swing and you can come visit the tower when you’re nearby. Between that we can video chat or something.”
“Do you care who knows about us?” Phil asked slowly his mind still piecing things together.
“I’m pretty sure the team knows we were together before Loki, it’s not a big stretch for us to be getting back together.”
“You’re taking this very calmly. I honestly expected a punch as some point.”
“If you’d found me before Africa I probably would have. Now I’m just glad to have a chance again. Do you want to be with me?”
“I’ve never wanted anything more.” Phil said simply with a smile.
“Then the rest of it doesn’t matter.” Clint said tugging at Phil’s hand until he was low enough for him to press a kiss to his lips.
The elevator doors opened and they stepped in together in perfect sync like they had never been apart. Clint knew there would be issues, with how crazy both their lives were there were bound to be issues but for now he was willing to embrace whatever he could get if it meant that he was back at Phil’s side. He’d gotten his miracle and he would deal with whatever consequences happened but until then he was just happy to be back home.