Clint Barton has seen a lot of shit in his time, both before and after joining SHIELD, but the magnitude of the situations he wades through as a member of the Avengers is pretty impressive, even to him. Take right now, for instance.
There's another alien invasion going down, this time in Detroit of all places, and they're all together again. Clint is oddly excited to be reunited, which, when did that happen anyway? He's worked with teams before but he's never been excited to work with them. If anything he's just tolerated them. But somewhere between the chaos of New York and those subsequent missions they'd served together before going their separate ways, they'd become something more than a team. Clint would never say family- he doesn't know what a real family is like anyway- but they aren't just a team anymore.
Sometimes, when he's drunk and feeling philosophical, Clint thinks that it's because they're all broken in one way or another, and maybe all those broken bits together can make a whole. Or something like that.
Right now though, he's neither drunk nor philosophical, he's just methodical, allowing instincts and adrenaline to take over as he fires off arrow after arrow, covering Rogers' back and trusting that Rogers has his.
It's a nice feeling, trust.
"Clint!" Steve yells, and then Cap's shield whizzes past his face, connecting something behind him with a satisfying clang before flying back.
"Thanks!" Clint yells. Cap nods at him and then soundly thwacks another alien with his shield.
"They're starting to retreat," Tony's voice says over the comms. "They're heading back toward the ships on the western edge of town. Maybe I'll get home in time for The Bachelor after all!"
"It is because of our excellent fighting prowess," Thor booms with a laugh. "They cower in fear!" Hulk chimes in with a deep roar.
"We aren't done yet guys," Steve says. "Stay focused."
Clint grins at how typical of his teammates the exchange is- confident-bordering-on-arrogant Thor, snarky Tony, grounded Steve. And, of course, Hulk growling.
"Barton, Steve, there's a group of a dozen or so aliens heading your way," Natasha says. She's camped out on top of a building- usually more Barton's forte than hers, but she's still recovering from a torn ACL and Rogers forbade her from being on the ground. (Surprisingly, she grudgingly listened to his order, though with more than a few glares, and that if nothing else convinces Clint that the Avengers are now a fully functioning more-than-a-team.)
"Got it," Clint says as he and Cap automatically turn to face the coming onslaught .
"You ready?" Cap asks, glancing towards him and flashing the grin that drives girls crazy.
"Hell yes," Clint says, pulling an arrow from his quiver. He smiles too, lets his fingers dance over the smooth length of the arrow, nocks it to his bow and loses himself in the rhythm of battle, breathing in and out and bracing for whatever comes his way. It's a beautiful thing, really.
And then the aliens are there and he gets into his draw, nock, fire mode. From the sound of Steve's shield clanging merrily behind him, Clint figures the super soldier is in his own groove.
It's all going remarkably well, actually.
Then, of course, it all goes wrong in one catastrophic second. Clint has just turned toward Steve in time to see a bolt of alien ray or laser or whatever it is hit him smack in the chest, dead center. The archer in him is impressed with the aim but the rest of him is horrified and he hears himself calling Steve's name even as he runs toward him, barking into his comm..
"Rogers is down!"
Maybe he's overreacting. Rogers is a super soldier after all, and surely he's going to pop up any second now…
"He'll pop up any second now," Stark says. "Just give him a second."
"He isn't popping," Clint mutters, skidding to a stop by Steve's still form. He turns and fires another arrow off before dropping to his knees by Steve. Cap is lying face down, and he isn't moving. At all.
With a sinking feeling Barton realizes it doesn't even look like he's breathing. Damn it. .
"Holy shit," he mutters, pressing two fingers into Cap's neck. Nothing. Taking a deep breath and steeling himself from the onslaught of emotion that threatens to overcome him, Barton rolls Steve onto his back. The captain's face is peaceful and blank.
"No, no, nonononono," Clint whispers, digging for a pulse again. Nothing. He crouches over Cap's face, then his chest. Nothing.
"Cap's got no pulse," he says woodenly, then uses an arrow tip to rip open the front of Steve's shirt. No blood, no burn, not a mark to indicate something that could have stopped Captain effing America's heart. Clint wonders if this wasn't some kind of freak accident.
"But- but he is superhuman," Thor says. His voice sounds much smaller than usual.
"Even a superhuman needs a heartbeat," Tony says. "What's going on Barton?"
"I'm starting CPR," Barton says, "and I need cover."
"Already here," Natasha says, and suddenly she's standing above them, gun drawn. Somewhat dazed, Clint realizes she's been there for a few seconds at least, covering them. Normally he would be alarmed at his lack of awareness, but right now he honestly just doesn't give a shit.
He nods and takes a deep breath and then levels his hands over Steve's chest and tries not to think about it. About what he's doing.
"We need a medic," he mutters, starting the mental count in his head. –two and three and four and- "And a defibrillator. This won't work without one."
"We can't let civilians back here yet," Natasha says, "and SHIELD medics are still ten minutes out."
"Too long," Tony says. "Maybe Thor can call down some lightning-"
"Are you seriously suggesting that?" Clint demands (and seven and eight and nine and COME ON, Steve) as Natasha dispatches two more aliens.
"Would that not harm him?" Thor asks. "I fear the lightning would be too uncontrolled."
"Can't be worse than being dead,"Tony snaps.
Barton tunes them out and focuses on the rhythm of the task at hand. It's not so different from the rhythm of battle, just an order, a command to be followed, except that it's his teammate. Steve has a bit of a strange spot on the team, simultaneously their leader and their little brother- sometimes it's easy to forget that he is actually the youngest of any of them. But whatever his role is, he fits it seamlessly and maybe Clint didn't realize how much they need Captain America in their midst until this moment.
"We need a fucking defibrillator!" He screams, abandoning all pretense of calmness. "Right the hell now!"
There's a momentous pause and Hulk roars, and suddenly an ambulance is smashed down in front of them. Hulk roars again and then seems to look expectantly at Clint.
"Right," Natasha says. "I'll get the defibrillator. Hulk, cover them!"
Hulk complies with another of his grimaces that is supposed to be a smile, and Natasha wrenches open the slightly crooked ambulance door, disappearing inside.
Clint keeps doing compressions.
Natasha comes out quickly, a portable defibrillator in hand and rushes to Steve's side, dropping to her knees and tearing open the bag in her hand.
"Clint, let me, just a second-"
She reaches around his hands and presses a pad to Steve's chest, above his heart, then a second on his left side.
"Okay," she says, and Barton continues the compressions. Natasha presses a button on the AED and Clint stops as the machine reads Rogers' pulse.
And then advises a shock.
Natasha looks to Clint and then presses the button. It isn't dramatic and jolting like in the movies, just a tiny, minute jerk, but Steve still isn't moving and the AED blurts out in that painfully high voice that the compressions need to continue.
Suddenly the exhaustion of the whole situation seems to catch up to him and Barton realizes how damn tired he is. But Steve needs him, so Clint dutifully gets into position to start again.
"Let me," a voice says, and then Bruce is there, taking over with precise movements.
"I don't- but- the aliens?" Clint stutters.
"Taken care of," Thor says, and Clint hadn't even realized he was there.
"But- how long?"
It feels like it's been hours. Lifetimes.
"Ten minutes," Tony says.
Long enough for there to be permanent damage. Long enough for there to be very little chance of Steve coming back from this.
"Gone," Tony reaffirms. "And you look terrible."
Clint doesn't bother answering and watches instead as Banner continues doing compressions.
"Bruce?" He says quietly. Bruce looks up and makes eye contact, shakes his head once, then looks back down.
"Damn it," Clint whispers.
Natasha brushes past him and with a start Clint realizes she had returned to the ambulance.
"Nat?" He says.
"Adrenaline," she answers, and Clint finally notices the handful of items she is carrying. She tears one open and hands it to Bruce, who levels it over Steve's heart and then gently presses it through the skin, depressing the plunger before pulling it out again and resuming the CPR.
"Shit," Barton mutters. "I should've- I should've thought of that as soon as the ambulance got here."
"Don't start, Barton," Stark says. "Don't. You did what you could. One little oversight-"
"That oversight could've just killed Steve!" Clint barks. He's starting to get fired up now, can feel the helplessness and rage growing inside him. "And I-"
"Don't be so dramatic Clint," Tony snaps, eyes alight. "Rogers is going to be fine."
The vehemence with which he speaks is enough to cut Barton off midstream.
"You don't know that," he says quietly.
"Hell if I don't!" Stark says. "You think Stars and Stripes is going to let one little alien keep him from his sworn duty to protect America's citizens? Not a chance."
"Not. A. Chance."
They stare at each other for a long moment.
"Got a pulse!" Bruce cries, and Clint blinks, then looks toward Steve. Banner is sitting next to him squeezing an ambu bag over his mouth with a look of utter relief on his face. Clint's bones turn to jelly and he slides to a sitting position, legs extended in front of him.
"Holy shit," he says, wiping a shaking hand across his mouth. "Holy shit."
"Told you," Tony says, but Clint doesn't miss the slight quaver of his voice, nor the relief in his eyes. Thor lets out a strange sound from the back of his throat that sounds like a cross between a growl and a sigh, and Clint notices that Nat briefly presses a hand to Steve's shoulder, closing her eyes.
"He will be alright?" Thor questions, looking to Banner.
Bruce inhales deeply, then exhales audibly.
"He was down for a long time," he says finally. "And he still isn't breathing on his own. He's got a long way to go before he's even in the vicinity of 'alright.'"
Bruce's honesty is startling, and more than a little disheartening and Clint almost wishes he would have just said everything was going to be fine.
"But he's alive," Natasha says lowly. "And that's something."
"Yeah," Bruce says, "that's something."