Actions

Work Header

There's a Runaway Train I'm On

Work Text:

Clint is a liar. Natasha twists the truth to her own ends, and Clint is aware that's more effective, but he can't help himself. Occasionally he enjoys lying outrageously. If somebody asks him something vaguely personal, he spouts off the most outlandish lie he can think of.

He lies much more now, and in much subtler ways.

In debrief, Hill asks him to detail his time with Loki, and Clint thinks about Selvig, about what he knows and will tell SHIELD about their time under Loki's thrall, and carefully edits his account accordingly. He tells Hill that, for all purposes, he'd been in his right mind. The scepter had simply pushed parts of Clint aside in his own head and replaced them with an unwavering loyalty to Loki. A transcriber takes it all down.

He doesn't say that there was bleed through. Selvig has probably already told them.

“Selvig says you spent a lot of time alone with Loki,” Hill comments, looking at the man's report. “What happened then?”

“He asked me about SHIELD and the Avengers. Wanted to know your pasts and weaknesses and response protocols. I told him.” Clint isn't lying, here. But this is not the whole truth either.

Hill looks him in the face. “Selvig also managed to fight Loki's control enough to insert a backup into the device,” The what about you? that follows that thought is hardly silent.

“I shot Fury in the chest, ma'am,” Clint tells her, and he does not flinch under her gaze. “Not in the head.” And this is the lie. Center mass was automatic. Clint's bleed through was not like Selvig's. Under the table, Clint flexes his right hand.

“I see,” Hill says, and dismisses him. Clint leaves, because he's not allowed back into any SHIELD facilities until the internal investigation is over. He'll have to clear all the tests they will come up with to check for residual programming, as well. Until then, he's in the wind. He doesn't know where else to go. He's always lived out of his bunk, to be ready for an assignment at a moment's notice, but he's not allowed back there now. He has a single bag that someone had delivered to Hill, the entirety of his meager belongings packed neatly by whoever was assigned the task.

He thinks of sleeping in a homeless shelter. It wouldn't be the first time. He gets to one and it's crowded, too many people, and Clint can't stay. The thought makes his skin itch. He doesn't know what else to do except find someplace out of the way to bunk down. He doesn't sleep, though, just gets more and more anxious the longer he's still. Clint roams the streets, sleep deprived, for nearly a week before Natasha tracks him down. Her lips are pressed into a hard white line, and before, Clint would have known what that meant, but now she seems somehow far away, inaccessible to him. Clint is too numb to really care.

“Why didn't you get a motel?” she asks him, and sits down next to him, her shoulder brushing his, and Clint does not flinch. He flexes the fingers of his right hand. He can control his body enough for this. It doesn't stop him from feeling a crawling in that arm, like ants beneath his skin. He has to fight the urge to pull away. It's not easy.

Clint doesn't want her attention. He doesn't want her to know. “My accounts are all still frozen,” he tells her, and wouldn't she be proud, he's learning how to lie by telling the truth.

“Come with me,” she says, and Clint follows her and doesn't think about where they are going.

She takes him to Stark Tower, and Clint musters enough energy within himself to protest, because he doesn't know these people, he doesn't want to be around anyone. It takes all of his effort to stand near them without flinching and Clint doesn't have anything left for things like discussion over breakfast. Miss Potts shows Clint his room and he locks himself in and doesn't plan to come out.

He sleeps a little after that, with trip wires over the door and window, a couple of hours at a time, but it isn't restful. He wakes sitting up with his pistol in hand more often than not, and sometimes his dreams bring him back to aching knees and a bowed head and slender fingers reaching in and brushing him just there, an electric shock of pleasure that Clint is so happy his master is willing to give him.

When he dreams those dreams, he wakes with an aching between his legs and I chose you so well, little soldier echoing in his ears, and it's wrong. Clint gets up and takes a shower, and he scrubs until his skin is red and raw and the patter of water on it is painful.

Another week goes by, and Natasha gets into his room and makes him come out. She stuffs him full of food, but Clint's headache is making him nauseous and he doesn't keep it down. When he comes out of the bathroom, Captain America is making some kind of soup on the stove, and Clint stands for a moment as he tries to reconcile this man with the one that had led them into battle and the one on Phil's trading cards.

Clint has to white-knuckle the doorway for a second to keep himself from throwing up again, because Phil is still in the ICU with a machine breathing for him, and that is Clint's fault. He has to push thoughts of Phil away in his head.

(That night, when he dreams, Clint is kneeing at Loki's feet and Loki asks him who do you love the most in this world? and Clint says Phil and then he says Natasha and he is confused, because he loves them both equally but not the same. Loki rubs a thumb across Clint's brow, soothing, and lays a heavy, possessive hand on Clint's head. Tell me about them both, Loki orders him, and Clint does.)

Captain America makes a mean chicken noodle, apparently. It settles Clint's stomach and that is such a relief, he compliments the man. Rogers gives him a smile and says he learned it from his grandmother.

Clint goes back to his room and sleeps, and dreams, and he wakes with his covers wrapped around him and his pistol in hand, and tries to remember where he is. He doesn't go back to sleep. The bed is suffocating.

The soup is some sort of catalyst, because Rogers is suddenly knocking on his door every morning and inviting him to the gym, where he spends a lot of time breaking heavy bags, and Clint runs himself ragged on the treadmill. He does the stretching and the weight exercises that he needs to stay in form, and all of it gives him respite. It empties his mind.

Natasha sits him down in a small living room area and turns on the television, and Clint never has any idea what he's watching, because he can't remember ever owning a TV, but this is a day where he is afraid to be alone in his head, so he settles in and-

A possessive hand falls heavy on his shoulder. I chose you so well, little soldier. You please me.

-Clint blinks open his eyes to Natasha screaming his name, and beneath him a man is struggling to breathe around the forearm crushing his windpipe, and Clint realizes that's his, that he has his right hand holding down one wrist and his left knee is pinning the man's other arm. Clint doesn't know what's happening, where he is, but his mind says potential hostile, extremely dangerous and for a second he's resolved to push down with his left forearm and end the threat, and then pain bursts in the side of his head and he's hitting the carpet.

And, “What?” Clint says, sitting up. He's in a living room, not one he knows, though he doesn't know many, and Natasha is very carefully talking to a man curled up on the ground.

The man coughs and sits up and says, “I'm good, I'm good. You should check on him.” His voice is hoarse but recognizable. Clint blinks, and the man is suddenly Bruce Banner. Bile climbs up Clint's throat, and a sucking guilt is tearing at his insides, because he'd been too weak again, had let Loki get to him and almost killed Natasha and everyone else in the building. Phil, he thinks, and has to push it away.

“Clint,” Natasha says, and she's suddenly too close, and Clint flinches and pushes himself back into the wall, too raw and wide open in his head not to, and she jerks back in response. Natasha stares at him for several long moments, eyes wide and very still, before she settles herself down cross-legged, far enough away that Clint feels safe from her, and places her hands on her knees.

“Hey,” She says. “You with me, Clint?”

“I'm-” His answer sticks in his throat, because he doesn't know, so he watches Banner rub his neck and pull himself up onto the couch. Clint's body is thrumming. Everything feels suddenly very real.

“Do you know who I am?” she asks.

“Nat,” Clint says.

“Good.” She smiles at him, and that makes him feel a little better. “Do you know where you are?”

Clint has to think, because he knows she doesn't want 'living room' as an answer. “Stark Tower?” he asks, because that's the last place he remembers being.

“That's right,” she encourages. “And that's Doctor Banner on the couch. You remember him?”

“Yeah,” Clint manages, mind pulling up files on the man's work and the various damages and devastation his other side had wrought. It was hard to forget Dr. Banner. He'd just had a second where he couldn't connect the man's face. Clint had just woken up. It's understandable.

He doesn't like the way Natasha is looking at him. Clint looks at Banner instead.

“Sorry,” he says to the man, who shakes his head.

“I should have known better than to startle an assassin while he slept.” Clint glances at Natasha, because she knows that they have those sorts of responses trained out of them. She doesn't say anything.

“I'm going to...” Clint gestures in the direction of his room, and Natasha continues to stare at him. Clint leaves.

He turns Rogers down on the exercise three days in a row and spends most of his time curled up in the bathtub with a pillow and blanket. It gets harder to make himself sleep, and the headaches get worse. Eventually, Clint has to venture out because he needs food and painkillers. Outside the kitchen, he hears Natasha and Miss Potts talking.

“-normal to have some kind of reaction to trauma,” Potts is saying.

“This wasn't that kind of trauma,” Natasha tells her, and no, no, this is not how this is supposed to go. Clint has a handle on himself. Natasha isn't supposed to think anything of it. “This was-”

She makes a choking sound, as if she can't get the words out, and Clint's right fingers curl into a fist and then flex back out again. This isn't what he wants. He just wants his headache to go away.

“Oh, sweetie,” Potts says. Natasha sounds like she's crying, and Clint can't, he can't go and comfort her, because the thought of giving her that brings the crawling beneath his skin back. He can't tell her the truth. Clint turns around and leaves.

He runs into Stark still searching for a bathroom with a stocked medicine cabinet. Stark's hair is standing on end and he smells like he hasn't taken a shower in a few days. Clint wonders vaguely, in the back of his head, how he hasn't run into the man until now. Clint's been living in his tower for three months.

“Hey,” Stark says, already looking past him at something else.

“Hey,” Clint responds. “I can't find any painkillers in this place.” Because Stark owns the building, so he must know where the painkillers are. Stark waves his hand at him.

“Pepper knows where all that stuff is.” Except the very last thing Clint wants to do right now is talk to Pepper Potts. Even if she wasn't with Natasha anymore, what Natasha had said to her...

So he says, “She's doing something with Nat.” Because Stark's file is extensive, and Clint has read it.

“That's a scary thought,” Stark says. “Or hot. Mostly scary though. Come on, I've got a stash somewhere around here.”

Stark takes him into the main room of the suite level, the one where they'd captured Loki, and it looks like construction on it is finished. Stark fishes around behind the bar, and then throws him a bottle of ibuprofen. It seems woefully inefficient a painkiller for Clint's headache, but he doubts Stark would give him codeine even if he had some.

“Thanks,” Clint says, and then retreats back to his room. The ibuprofen helps a little, and Clint manages to fall into an exhausted sleep curled up in his tub, and You're very good at this, Loki tells him. He's heavy and deep in Clint's mouth, so Clint can't smile, but he moans a little at the praise. He wants to put his hands on himself, to relieve the pressure between his legs, but his master has already told him no. He wants to be given the permission, for Loki to tell him he's worthy of it.

Then Loki is asking him where did you learn to do that? flushed and sprawled in a chair, and Clint aches but Loki hasn't given him permission. He wonders what he did wrong. SHIELD missions, mostly. Some boyfriends, Clint tells his master. Did you want it then? Loki asks, and it's twisted up in Clint's head but he says no because that's true. He'd never really wanted it. Do you want it now? Loki asks, and Clint says no, and Loki smiles, and that must have been right, because his master lets him finish himself.

Clint wakes up and his headache is pounding out the sides of his head, and it's useless, all of this is useless, and he just wants the headache to go away, so Clint grabs the bottle of painkillers and fumbles the lid off and swallows a handful, two, he doesn't know how many, he just wants the pain to stop.

Clint lays down in his bathtub and holds his head very still. He closes his eyes and waits for the pain to go away. He picks up his pistol in his left hand and feels himself fall, and it is blissfully black. There is no Loki whispering in his ear.

Clint blinks heavy eyelids open when someone pulls his pistol out of his hand, and his fingers are sluggish and unresponsive and he can't hold on to it. He looks up with blurry eyes and Stark is grabbing him under his arms and heaving Clint out of the bathtub, face pinched and saying fuck, fuck, fuck, and Potts is in the bathroom doorway with her hands over her mouth. Clint drops away again.

The next time he wakes, his throat feels like it's lined with broken glass. There's a pinch in the back of his left hand, and he shifts, disoriented. He pulls his arm up to feel for neck damage, but it stops short, restrained, and in a moment he knows his other arm and both legs are being held down the same way.

“Easy,” someone says. Clint opens his eyes.

He's in an unfamiliar room. There is an IV and several monitors on his left side, and on his right Phil is sitting in a chair a good six feet away from him. He's pale, and his left arm is strapped to his chest to prevent movement that will aggravate his chest injury. Clint blinks at him. He feels numb.

“You're awake,” he tries to say, but his throat closes up in agony around the words.

“You shouldn't speak,” Phil tells him. “We had to put a tube down your throat to pump your stomach. I have some ice chips that will help. Is it alright if I come closer to give them to you?”

Clint stares at him for a minute, trying to process. His throat is raw and painful, so Clint flexes the fingers of his right hand and pushes at himself in his head, and then nods. Phil gets up slowly and crosses the space to Clint's cot, and Clint doesn't flinch. Phil picks up a cup with his right hand and then transfers it to his left, against his chest, and takes a spoonful of the ice and holds it up to Clint's mouth. He doesn't once make skin to skin contact. Clint is unaccountably grateful, even though he has it under control.

“You're awake,” Clint says again, and this time the words come out.

“Eleven days now,” Phil tells him, as he retreats back to his chair.

“No one told me.”

“SHIELD had other things on their mind,” Phil says. He looks at Clint, and just like Natasha he seems distant and unreadable. “If you'd known, would you still have done this?”

“Done what?” Clint asks, because he is honestly confused. Phil stares at him without saying anything for a long time, and then he stands up and leaves. Clint looks at the ceiling and counts the tiles. He falls asleep.

Clint wakes up struggling against his restraints, panicked, before he remembers where he is. The IV is gone. Someone is having a hushed conversation outside his door, and it's closed, but Clint has always had good ears.

“We can't bring him into SHIELD,” Natasha is saying.

“In case you hadn't noticed, we're not exactly equipped for this sort of thing here,” Stark snaps.

“Then hire somebody,” Rogers says. “Hire whoever he needs. After what happened on the carrier, SHIELD will be no good for him. Even if no one there blames him, which I doubt they'll be able to manage, it'll be too much of a reminder of Loki and what he did under the thrall. He can't get better there.”

“And what, my tower is somehow not a reminder of Loki?”

“We defeated him here,” Banner says. “That's not the same. It might be better.”

“It will go in his file if we bring him in,” Natasha says, harsh.

“'Tasha.” It's softer than the others, but Clint can make out that it's Phil. “That might not be a bad thing. This might be something that needs to go in his file, even if it's just Eyes Only.”

“Maybe,” she admits. “But if we bring him in, it won't just be a note in his file. Everyone will know. You know him just as well as I do, Phil. Tell me we won't lose him that way.”

“Fine,” Stark says. “Fine, okay, fuck. You've convinced me. I'll get Pepper to find someone.” Clint hears them leaving in different directions and stares some more at the ceiling. He's not sure how to feel. They're trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Phil comes back in and sits down in the chair, still six feet from the railing of Clint's cot.

“What's all the fuss about?” he asks.

“You,” Phil tells him. Clint stares at the ceiling. The concept seems far away and impossible.

“Why?”

“You tried to kill yourself, Clint,” Phil says. Clint turns his head to look at him. He'd been thinking Natasha told them what she'd told Potts. This is something else.

“No, I didn't.”

“Then what were you trying to do?”

“I had a headache. I was trying to make the pain stop.” To Clint, it seems to be the most obvious thing in the world. If he'd wanted to kill himself, he'd have put his pistol in his mouth.

“Okay,” Phil says, and then he doesn't say anything else. Clint closes his eyes and listens to the other man breathe.

It's not long before he has to get up and use the bathroom. Phil pulls out his phone and calls somebody, and then Natasha is there loosening his padded restraints, backing up when she's done to give him room to get himself up. She stands in the open doorway of the bathroom and watches him, but they have seen each other naked enough that this doesn't bother him. He washes his hands, and then his face, and then his hands again. His cuticles are starting to bleed by the time Natasha grabs his wrist, pulling him away from the sink, twisting his arm so that the underside of it is facing up and he can't use it to get leverage on her.

Clint's knees buckle and hit the tile, and all his breath leaves him. He can't move, he can't, his master hasn't given him permission. And then Loki backs away with quick steps and leaves him there, alone, and Clint must have done something wrong. He tries hard to please, to be the best, he's always worked to be the best. But it must not have been enough, if Loki backed away. Clint has never really been enough.

“Clint,” someone says, and Phil is in the doorway, how did Phil get here? Loki drops a heavy hand on Clint's shoulder and says I want to kill him, and because you love him I won't make you do it. Is that what you want? and Clint hears himself say yes because he's grateful to be spared that, and he wants anything that will keep him getting that approval from his master. But nothing comes out of his mouth, and the disconnect is jarring.

“Clint,” Phil says again, and there is tile under his knees, and that's not right either, and there's no hand on his shoulder.

“Where?” he asks, confused and disoriented, and Phil is injured from Loki's attack (Clint's attack). Only, how could it have already happened, if Loki was just planning it?

“You're in a bathroom in Stark Tower,” Phil says. “We captured Loki. You're free of his control. 'Tasha and I are the only ones here right now.” Clint looks around and that's right, he's in a bathroom, and there's no Loki. Natasha is crouched by the door, hands open and visible by her knees. Phil is standing in the doorway behind her.

“Okay,” Clint says, and eases himself backward against the bathtub, legs out in front of him. He doesn't stand up, because he's still not sure he can. He starts pushing things around in his head, putting everything were it needs to be so that he has control again. He rolls his shoulders back, flexes his right hand.

“Do you want to go in the other room?” Phil asks.

“I'm good here,” Clint tells him. He likes having the bathtub pressing against his back.

“Is it okay if I come over there, then?”

“Of course.” He has enough control back that he won't flinch, so he'll be fine.

“Of course,” Phil repeats. “'Tasha, why don't you go get me a chair. I'll stay back here.” Natasha gets up, and when Clint looks, her cheeks are wet. His toes curl, because he wants to go to her and tell her she's wrong, but he can't tell her the truth. The truth is so much worse.

Phil sits down, and Clint can tell he's still being careful about his injury. The reminder makes his chest hurt. Clint looks away.

“Will you tell me if I ask?” The walls are a light blue. The rest of the bathroom is done in tones of yellow. Clint wonders who did the interior decorating. Potts, probably. “Clint,” Phil says. “I need you to answer that question.”

“You're wrong,” Clint says, and he's not sure why he's telling them. He was never going to tell anybody. But they're treating him like a victim, and he's not. He doesn't deserve this care and attention from them. He doesn't deserve to have them at all. “I know what you think happened, and you're wrong.”

“Clint,” Natasha says. Clint fixes his eyes on the doorjam to her left. Her face is wiped dry, and the hand gripping the back of Phil's chair is white with strain.

“How are we wrong?” Phil asks.

“I wanted-” It sticks in his throat. He flexes his right hand. He can do this. They deserve to know. “I asked him to.”

They're silent for a moment, and out of the corner of Clint's eye, he sees that Phil is staring at his right hand.

“Clint,” Natasha says again. “You were compromised. Mind controlled. You did what Loki wanted because of that, but that doesn't mean-”

“I asked,” Clint cuts her off, because he can't stand the thought of her making excuses for him. “I... initiated it. Every time.” Phil makes a sort of strangled noise in the back of his throat. Clint turns to look, because he deserves what he'll see on their faces.

Phil's face is blank. Natasha turns away from him and paces to the wall opposite the bathroom doorway. She plants both hands against it, and Clint can see her shoulders flex as she pushes.

She obviously can't look him in the face. That's okay. That's no worse than he deserves.

“Clint. That's not your fault,” Phil says. His voice is hoarse.

“It is,” Clint tells him. “Selvig told you. There was bleed through. We could push at ourselves, if we wanted enough. That was what I wanted.”

“Then why can't you stand to be touched?” Natasha accuses, whirling around. “You can't convince me that reaction is because of anything but forced contact.”

“Fuck you,” Clint tells her, suddenly angry. “That was once and I'd just had my arm around Bruce Banner's throat.”

“You flex your right hand.”

“What?” Clint asks, looking at Phil again.

“When you're bracing yourself. You flex your right hand.” Clint shuts his mouth, because he's not sure how to respond to that. Phil looks like he's in pain. Natasha's face has shut down.

“You've done that before this,” she says, and it's emotionless, without inflection. Clint isn't sure what to say.

“It's a bad habit,” Clint says eventually. “It doesn't mean anything. It's from gripping my bow.”

“Melissa Fields, mission,” Coulson says, and his voice is hard and matter-of-fact, the way he sounds during a debrief when he's angry. “You reported initiating sexual contact and spent one week after flexing your right hand whenever someone came near you. Jose Santiago, mission, three days. Henry Warren, boyfriend, for the duration of the relationship, five weeks, and then for another week after. Bolivia, mission, fifteen days.”

“Stop,” Clint says. He's terrified. This isn't how this is supposed to go. It's spinning out of his control.

“Jeanne Camille, mission, four weeks. Carmine Messer, boyfriend, nineteen days and then two more weeks. I should have noticed before - there's an obvious correlation. I can go on.”

“No. Please don't. Please-” Clint has to put his head between his knees and force himself to breathe very slowly.

“Did you want it with them too?” Natasha asks.

Yes,” Clint tells her, but his voice sounds high pitched and unconvincing.

“Liar,” she accuses, and yes, yes, Clint is a liar. Maybe they will shun him for that. Maybe they will go away. Clint can't take much more of this.

“It's been nearly three months. What's different this time?” Phil asks.

“I need to be alone. Please leave,” Clint forces out, hands gripping the hair on the back of his head.

“No,” Phil denies, blunt. “We're not leaving you alone. What's different this time?”

Clint- breaks. Comes unglued. He's not sure. Something crawls up his throat and he has to gasp in to get air, and his exhale comes out as a sob. He can't stop himself from flexing his right hand where it has a grip in his hair. The pain is sharp and satisfying, but it doesn't help. He swallows around the lump in his throat and locks his teeth together, but he's still shattered. He can't stop sobbing.

Clint doesn't understand why they're doing this to him. He'd had a hold of himself. He'd been fine. The weight of their eyes as they watch him come apart is terrible. His skin starts to crawl again, but this time it's like the open air itself is causing it. Like he needs some sort of protection from the world.

Except he doesn't deserve protection. “Go away,” Clint gasps at them. “Go away.”

“We can't,” Natasha says. “We can't leave you alone like this, Clint. You've already tied to kill yourself.” And maybe he had. He certainly hadn't cared if the pills killed him. Whatever made the pain stop, whatever made the truth go away.

The thought makes him cry harder, because now he wishes he'd done it right. Anything is better than this. Anything is better than the sucking darkness in his chest.

“Clint. Tells us how we can help. Please,” Phil asks. Clint wants them to leave, but he's not strong enough anymore to make them, and he needs-

Clint reaches out blindly with his left hand, head still buried in his knees. Natasha's slim fingers have a grip on his hand in an instant, her other arm wrapping around his shoulders, and Clint leans into her and lets her protect him from the world.

Eventually, Clint manages to stop crying. It feels like an eternity and his face is a mess and he has another pounding headache, but the pain in his chest is a little less. He sits in Natasha's arms for a couple more minutes, and then Phil is running the tap and handing him a glass of water. He doesn't give Clint any painkillers, which is understandable. Clint drinks the water and when he's done the crawling shiver under his skin has made itself known everywhere Natasha is touching him.

“Natasha,” Phil says, but she's already pulling away. Clint looks down at his right hand, half curled up. It's a tell. Natasha and Phil are using it to help.

Clint can't think of anybody else in the world who would do that for him. It makes him feel a little sick.

“Can you tell us now?” Phil asks.

“I'm... not sure,” Clint says, and his voice sounds weird, distorted.

“How about we start smaller. Why did you initiate those relationships, if you didn't want them?” Phil sits carefully back down in his chair, in the doorway of the bathroom. Natasha is sitting on the far side of the sink. They are still giving him space.

“I did,” Clint says, and then scrunches his face up, because he's not sure how to explain how he could want something and not want it at the same time. “Even though I didn't want them, I wanted it. I don't- I don't know how to explain it.” Clint rubs at his head and tries to repress the urge his words have created to cry more. He doesn't want his headache to get any worse.

“So what did you want out of 'it'?” And there it is. The answer Clint doesn't know how to give. Phil has asked just the right question to get to the heart of the matter. Clint can always trust Phil to know what he's doing.

Clint looks at Phil and realizes for the first time that he is blocking the only exit. He sucks in a breath and tries to force the thought aside. They don't mean anything by it, Clint tells himself. They're doing what they have to because he'd tried to kill himself. Natasha said it already. They can't leave him alone. He doesn't deserve an escape from this anyway.

They are both still watching him, waiting for his answer. Clint's doesn't think he even knows it.

“Clint,” Natasha prods.

“I wanted the attention, I guess.” Clint knows it's not the whole truth as soon as it's out of his mouth. He looks away at the memory of I chose you so well, little soldier. You please me. The pleasure and despair the memory causes makes him feel like he needs a shower.

“And what was the difference, this time?” she asks.

“I told him the truth,” Clint hisses, angry at himself. Because this, this Clint knows. This is the cause of the hole in his chest, the overwhelming guilt. “I couldn't lie. Anything he asked, I told him the truth.” Loki had cracked him open, and Clint had shown him his insides without reservation. And because of that, because of him, Phil had-

“Clint?” He looks up at Phil.

“I thought I'd killed you,” Clint tells him, his face wet again. Everything else Loki had taken from him he'd wanted, deserved. Clint doesn't care about himself. But Phil Loki had torn from him, had targeted because of him. Phil who doesn't deserve any of that, who's worth more than Clint is. And it's his fault.

“Clint, Loki attacked Phil,” Natasha argues, except it's a lie and she doesn't know it.

Because of me,” Clint tells them, because they have to know now, they have to know what he did. Once they know, they'll leave, and that will be better. That way Clint can't hurt them. It's not like he deserves them in the first place. “Loki attacked you because of what I told him. Because I told him the truth, and I agreed, I wanted it as long as-” He can't even get the words out.

Natasha and Phil are both silent for several minutes as Clint breathes into his knees. This is him trying to tell the truth, and it's almost impossible, and that makes Clint hate himself even more, because it had come so easily to Clint's lips for Loki.

The only thing Clint can get out is, “I love you, Phil.”

Phil grips his knee with his free hand, so hard his knuckles turn white.

“Christ, Clint,” he says, and “I love you too,” and “How long-?”

Clint just looks at him. He can't manage much else. He feels hollowed out and empty. He watches Natasha get up and leave and can't fathom what's going on.

“Clint.” Phil gets up out of his chair and sits carefully on the ground, so that they're eye level with each other. “I love you too.”

“What?” Clint asks, because that's all kinds of absurd. Clint knows what he can and can't have. Phil has always been far beyond his reach.

“I love you, and I don't blame you for what happened. I'll say it as many times as I need to.”

“I don't-”

“And I'll still be here when you're ready.”

“When I'm ready?” That's not how this goes. If Phil wants him, the thought of which sets Clint's heart into a panicked pounding, then shouldn't that be right now? Phil deserves right now. He shouldn't wait on Clint. That's stupid.

“No,” Coulson says, sharp like they're in the field. Clint freezes on instinct, halfway across the bathroom floor. “That's not what I want.”

“I don't understand,” Clint admits, sitting back on his heels. They're only a foot apart. Clint could reach out with an arm and give Phil what he wants. But that's not what Phil wants. It's confusing.

“You said you love me,” Phil repeats.

“Because I do,” Clint confirms.

“Love isn't about sex.”

“I know that,” Clint says, annoyed.

“And I love you,” Phil tells him again. “So it's not about sex, between us. And because of that, I don't want it if you don't.”

“I do want it,” Clint argues.

“Not the right way.” Phil looks broken. Clint wonders if it's his fault. “If you can't see it like that, for now just- think about my injury. I can't. We'll talk about this again when I'm healed, alright? Maybe then I'll have the right words to explain it.”

“Okay,” Clint agrees, because that makes sense. He moves back towards the bathtub, because now he feels exposed and itchy beneath his skin. “Can I sleep in the tub?” The porcelain walls make him feel safer, for some reason.

“You can. I'll get you some pillows and blankets. You can stay there as long as you need.”

Something else rises up into Clint's throat, some other emotion. For a second he thinks this must be a dream, because it's too good to be true, but his dreams never end this way.

“Thank you.” Clint chokes out. His eyes are tearing up again and he doesn't know why, but right this moment he feels good. He feels great. He doesn't remember the last time he's felt like this.

“I love you.” Phil tells him again. Clint cries.