DISCLAIMER: The Avengers is the property of Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Studios, and Marvel Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.

RATING: T (for language, violence)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hi, everyone! In this story, we'll see copious amounts of Steve and Clint getting their butts kicked and kicking butt in return. The idea from this story started out as an excuse to have them running around half-naked and sweaty in a jungle, but it evolved into an exploration of what it means to be good and bad and how difficult it is stand in the middle. Please read and enjoy!



Something was burning.

Clint opened his eyes, the stench of fire filling his nose with every short, miserable breath. Pain rushed through his head, horrible and dizzying and nauseating, and clenching his eyes back shut was all he could do to stop from throwing up. He breathed heavily through gritted teeth, groaning as his body shook against the unbearable waves of agony. When the pain finally settled to something a lot less debilitating, he braved opening his eyes again.

"Oh, crap," he whispered.

He was hanging upside down, suspended in the co-pilot's chair of the quinjet that had been shot down in the middle of the goddamn jungle. Blood rushed to his head, increasing the hammering of his pulse to his skull until it was like thunder, and he groaned against the vertigo, swallowing coppery bitterness in his mouth and bile burning at the back of his throat. His hands, slick with blood, fumbled for the buckles of the harness that kept him in the chair. Finally he found them, pressed the release with shaking fingers, and he unceremoniously tumbled the three feet down to the roof of the jet.

He struck painfully, and he lay there for a minute, gasping. Smoke filled his sight and lungs, acrid and foul and reeking of burning plastic and scorched metal and gas. He coughed. His left shoulder felt like it was on fire, and he looked over it and found a bloody mess of glass protruding from his arm. Just looking at it made him feel like heaving, but he closed his eyes again and steadied his breathing until he could manage a coherent thought. Then he grabbed the shard and yanked it free. He tossed it aside, immediately pressing his right hand to the wound. The smoke shifted overhead as he dared to look up again.

The pilot of the quinjet hung down, just as he had, but very much dead.

He realized that he hadn't been alone, that he wasn't alone.

"Cap!" he called, but his voice was little more than a wrangled moan. He turned away from the grisly sight, scrambling on his belly out the back of the cockpit. Shards of glass from the shattered windshield and bits of debris poked into his skin and cut his hands. Eventually he freed himself from the wreckage and fell haphazardly into the main cabin of the jet. Clint squinted through the oily smoke, blinking tears from his eyes. Most of the cabin was completely destroyed. The entire right side was crushed and punctured by what he belatedly realized was a tree, now ablaze. The fire spewed a choking plume into the collapsed area. Gear lay strewn everywhere. And the entire rear of the quinjet was a twisted, broken hole, the tail having been ripped off by the missile impact. Sunlight streamed in through the gaping wound, and he could see the tangled mess of green foliage and trunks and vines beyond. The damage was unbelievable.

And Rogers had been back there.

"Cap!" Clint cried again, rising shakily to his feet and staggering through the remains of the jet. He could barely hear his voice over the roar of the fire and the racing of his own heart. "Cap, where are you? Can you hear me?" Fear tipped the world into a shadowy, spinning haze for a moment, and he nearly tripped over a mutilated chair. Wires hung, sparking and spitting, from a gutted and shattered computer terminal. Desperation left him stumbling and shaking as he dug through the debris. He was beginning to doubt anyone could have survived this. He leaned upward, breathing as deeply as he could despite the heat and smoke, and strained his ears for any sound, any sign, that Rogers was still alive. "Cap!"

There was a hoarse groan. Clint wrenched around, nearly losing his balance, and scrambled to where he thought he'd heard the sound. The emergency hatch of the jet had been punched in, wrangled and burned, and had slammed against the opposite bulkhead. He reached the wreckage and saw hints of blue and red beneath scorched black. He swallowed his terror and quickly pulled as much away as he could. After a couple of seconds of laboring, he found the Cap.

Steve was crushed up against the bulkhead behind him, pinned in something of a sitting position. Somewhere during their flight before or the crash he'd lost his cowl. Blood drooled down his cheek from a cut along his hairline. His face was smudged with blood and dirt and soot. His jaw was bruised. And were it not for the one inch thick steel rod embedded in his stomach, it might have just looked like he'd settled down for a nap after a nasty brawl.

Clint fought the burn of nausea again. This was very bad. "Cap? It's Barton. Can you hear me?" There was no response. Steve's face was pale underneath the grime. Clint held his ear close to Steve's mouth and felt the light brush of air. At least he was breathing. He jabbed his fingers to the Captain's neck and found a weak and thready heartbeat. "Steve, come on. Wake up." Panic crept into his voice as he glanced behind him to where the hatch had been. There were bent and fallen and trees, likely struck and crushed and left to burn by the tumble of the quinjet through the jungle. But beyond that, there was nothing to hide them. Nothing to protect them.

Not to mention they were stuck inside the burning remains of an aircraft loaded with fuel, ammunition, and other things that might not take too well to fire.

They needed to get out of here.

"Come on, Cap," Clint said, turning back to his pinned teammate. Rogers groaned again, shifting a little against the burned bulkhead, and winced. Clint glanced at the rod again, feeling sick. He grabbed both sides of Steve's face. "We need to move. You have to wake up."

Steve's eyes snapped open and he sucked in a breath. Agony struck him, and he screamed and slumped. His hands immediately came to grasp the metal impaling him. "What–"

"Easy. We're in some trouble here," Clint said, trying to hold on to some measure of equanimity. His head was pounding and he could barely breathe for the heat and stink of smoke. He tried to remember the emergency medical procedures he'd been taught by SHIELD, but his brain was too muddled to really concentrate. He didn't see much blood at first, but as Steve shivered and struggled, the glistening pool of dark red under the Captain's rear was revealed. He was losing it in a torrent, probably because the rod had passed straight through him. Clint crouched at Steve's side and tried to peer between his back and the bulkhead and saw his fears were correct. The damn thing was lodged in the metal wall.

This was very, very bad.

Rogers needed a surgeon and a hospital, but he was going to have to make do with Clint and hoping for a miracle.

There was the sound of gunfire outside. Clint swore under his breath. "Hold on," he said to Steve, who really didn't have much of a choice, as he staggered to his feet and looked around frantically. Usually the emergency medical supplies were located under the bench in the quinjet, and he staggered to its bent remains along the left side of the cabin. He stood on his toes and pulled at the seat above him as hard as he could. Thanks to its damaged state, he was able to yank it free. Stuff fell down on him, supplies mostly, and he gratefully grabbed the medical kit. He rushed back to Steve, flipping open the steel case and searching desperately for bandages. He found an ample supply.

Steve was making an admirable show of staying calm, but Clint could see his pallor worsening and his eyes losing their vigor. With the amount of blood pouring from his wound, it would only be a matter of minutes before hypovolemic shock consumed him. Captain America boasted innate healing and regeneration that was pretty much beyond belief; Clint himself had seen it after the Chitauri incident. Rogers walked away from that battle bruised, battered, and shot, and the next day any evidence that he'd been hurt at all was only lingering stiffness and a few fading bruises. But he didn't think Steve would survive this. Not with that damn rod still inside him.

Clint tried to think but he couldn't. Everything hurt too much and was too jumbled. He just acted, not knowing what to do but knowing they couldn't afford to wait for him to come up with a plan. "Cap, we need to get it out. I think they're coming. We need to move."

Steve was losing consciousness fast, which meant they needed to move faster. Normally Clint wouldn't have remotely considered extracting an impaling object from a wound without the help of a doctor. He didn't know what internal organs had been damaged, how bad the blood loss truly was (although it looked pretty damn bad), or if the rod had hit his spine or his lungs. But there wasn't time to hesitate. "It's stuck in the wall behind you."

Steve said nothing, did nothing. Clint felt his chest tighten in rising worry. He threw caution to the wind and grabbed the end of the rod. He pulled as hard as he could, baring his teeth and throwing all his weight into it. But it didn't budge. He choked on his breath, glancing around outside. He thought he heard a rumble, like a truck. "Cap, I can't get it. Steve!"

The other man's head lolled to his chest. Blood slipped from the corner of his mouth. "God," Clint moaned, lifting Steve's chin and listening for his breath again. It was still there, but weaker than ever. "Come on, Cap! I need your help here."

Steve's eyelids fluttered and Clint caught of glimpse of blue. "Just… you go. Now."

He tried to sound like Captain America. He tried to make it an order from the leader of the Avengers. But it came out as a weak whimper, so it was easier to ignore it. "You think I'm leaving you here? Hell no. I'm gonna get your hands on this and then you need to pull it out. I can't do it alone."

Asking a man impaled by a metal rod to assist in said rod's extraction was a little hard-core, even for Clint, and he'd seen and done some hard-core stuff in his life. But there was no choice, so he ignored the rising voice of doubt and guilt and horror in his mind and tried to be strong for them both. He gathered Rogers' blood-slicked hands from where they'd fallen in the other man's lap and held them around the rod. But the Captain's fingers were limp. Rage and frustration filled Clint, hot and strong, and he rounded on his fallen leader. "Damn it, Steve! Help me!"

Thankfully, his plea seemed to orient Steve enough that his hazy blue eyes opened and focused for a moment. Clint wasted not a breath, keeping it simple so the agonized soldier could understand. "You need to pull this out or you will die." Steve swallowed thickly, seemed confused a moment longer, and then nodded. His grip firmed up on the rod, and Clint laid his hands over the other man's in the best show of comfort he could manage. "I'll help you. Okay? On three. One. Two. Three!"

They both pulled, and with a sickening squish and a miserable wail from Steve the rod came free. Steve immediately went limp as Clint tossed the rod away into the shadows, struggling anew to fight the urge to vomit. Immediately he pressed the bandages to Steve's front and back, pulling the other man's large frame away from the wall. He laid Steve flat and held his breath as he felt for a pulse. Alive, but barely. And not for long if they didn't get out of there.

He thought quickly and moved even faster, a primal instinct to save their lives guiding him. His shaking fingers attacked the buckle of Steve's utility belt, unsnapping it from his waist. Underneath Steve's uniform the hideous hole pulsed, veritably spilling Steve's life onto the ceiling of the quinjet. Clint gritted his teeth and packed the wound as best he could and shimmied Steve's belt higher up his belly and tightened it as far as it would go. It wasn't much, but hopefully it would hold the pads in place and maybe even slow the bleeding. He quickly checked Rogers over for other injuries, but aside from a few lacerations, abrasions, and minor burns, he was alright. It was a small shred of relief, but the puncture wound alone was enough to kill him and fairly quickly.

But that wasn't going to happen. Not if he had anything to say about it.

He scrambled then. He found an abandoned pack in the weapons supply area and filled it with as much stuff as he could find. The medical kit. Water. Guns and ammunition. He glanced around quickly but couldn't find Rogers' shield. It must have been lost when the tail of the jet had been torn off. For some stupid reason, that nearly upset him more than their likely impending doom. He crawled back through the debris to the cockpit and found his bow (thankfully undamaged) and quiver, which he strapped on. The smoke was very thick, almost suffocating.

The radio in the jet spluttered. A rush of static loudly assaulted his ears, and hope rushed warmly through him. "… Bart… hear… copy?"

He couldn't make out the voice. Somebody from SHIELD, he hoped. Somebody to help them. Exhilarated, he stood and reached as far as he could to procure his headphones that had been shaken from his head in the impact. He hit the push to talk button. "This is Barton," he gasped. "We've been hit by enemy hostiles. The jet is down. Agent Farris is dead, and Captain Rogers is badly wounded. Request immediate extraction, over."

There was no answer other than garbled static. The radio was probably shot to hell. Unwilling to admit defeat, Clint tried again, wiping the sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand. Even if the radio was transmitting, there was no way to know if SHIELD could make out his response. It was a touch of consolation that every quinjet was equipped with an emergency beacon that transmitted the nature of any damage the aircraft had sustained and its last location to the helicarrier. But they were in the middle of the Amazon; it would take some time for SHIELD to get to them.

Time they didn't have.

Clint dropped to the ceiling, his blood running cold with fear, as he heard trucks ahead and the shouts of men. He watched the black-clad soldiers appear in the trees some hundred yards before them. "Shit," he whispered, and he turned and scrambled back to the cabin.

Steve was where he'd left him. For a moment he feared he'd made a mistake in turning his back on him even for those short minutes. But he was still alive. "Cap," Clint gasped, winded as he slid down next to Steve's motionless form. The bandages were already saturated with blood. His uniform was purple, and there wasn't a speck of white left in the stripes. "Cap, we need to get out of here. They're coming."

There was no response. Steve was ashen, his eyes ringed in darkness. Shock had claimed him. Death was probably not far behind. Clint swallowed his anger and fear, slinging his pack over his good shoulder. It would be impossible to get Rogers out of there without his help. The man was significantly larger than he was. "I can't carry you. You gotta get up. Come on."

Nothing. The shouts were louder and louder. "Come on!" Clint roared in desperation and fury. "On your feet, soldier!"

Steve awoke with that, giving a bloody cough. Clint was shaking almost as badly as he was. Any other man would have died from his injury. But he was aware enough to keep fighting, to plant a red hand on the ceiling and shove himself upward with an agonized grimace and moan. Clint was there immediately, slinging Steve's arm over his bad shoulder and attempting to take some of the other man's weight as they shakily got to their feet. He staggered, nearly losing his balance under his burden. His shoulder burned and bled. Steve's left arm was wrapped around his side.

They said nothing else, escaping through the wreckage and out into the unbelievably humid jungle air. Clint nearly choked, ignoring the pain and fear as he pulled Steve with him. As quickly as they could, they put distance between themselves and the burning remains of the quinjet. Clint's lungs and legs burned and ached and threatened to fail at any moment. He couldn't stop, though his body begged for reprieve. He had to keep going, because if he didn't, they would die. It was the only thought tumbling around his aching head.

They pushed deeper and deeper into the thick and grasping vegetation. And then there was a horrific boom behind them, and a shockwave that toppled their meager balance. They both went down into the damp soil and plants, Clint barely getting his bad arm under him in time to break the fall. The blast deafened them, rushing over them furiously and violently. Clint covered his head and tried to protect Steve as much as he could.

It was quiet.

He dared to open his eyes, to lift his head. He was moderately surprised and greatly relieved to find them alone.

But his relief died as suddenly as it came, doused in icy horror.

Steve wasn't breathing.