Bird in a Cage
A Word: Avengerkink prompt for an early run in with Ross that leads to the discovery of a mistreated and terrified teen with golden wings in a cage by Bruce/Hulk. Cue saving and reluctant bro bonding as they run from the military.
Clint's life is full of cages and loud men with balled up fists. He's used to it by now, but he's still terrified when he winds up in his newest cage. It's the drugs mostly. The one used to subdue him and the ones that came after. That make the skin on his back itch and his spine feel like its molten fire. Burning hotter and hotter until Clint's clawing at the metal floor through the bars he's lying on and screaming.
The fire licks through him with the precision of a razor blade and spills out. Through his darkening vision, Clint can see a sluggish pool of dark blood spread out below him. Over the roaring in his ears he can hear the excited murmur of the men who did this to him and, fortunately, he passes out before he can make sense of it.
Clint swims in and out of consciousness for an unspecified time that's terrifying to him.
He sees faces over his, feels hands on him, and has one very vivid memory of a needle piercing through his skin. The pain is always there. Duller some times than others.
Clint wakes up on his stomach and it's so bad that he can't stand the heavy weight of the blanket covering him, but his struggles to push it off only make the pain grow worse until he gives up. He lays there on the bars, panting, and dully notes the flaking patches of blood under the bars. Dried and flaky with age, but it's impossible to tell how much.
Men move around his cage, but none of them spare him a look. They're looking at screens and microscopes far more expensive than the kind he used to see at school. A few are writing complex looking numbers on a board and are arguing about something from their sharp gestures.
There's a man in army clothes watching over it all near the door. His face is hard and the fists clenched behind his back look like they'll hurt.
Clint closes his eyes to it all. Too exhausted to do anything else.
There's no blanket on him, Clint finds out when he next wakes and finds the energy to move his head.
They're wings, and they're growing out of two bloody holes in his back.
Clint screams, a cracked wail that doesn't make a single one of the men in the room flinch.
They're brown, the wings, a mix of light browns that almost looks golden in different lighting. Just like his hair. It hurts to touch them, and moving them -forced by two of the men who periodically climb into the cage with empty needles for blood- is absolute agony. Clint passes out the first time uncaring hands impatiently move a wing aside.
They're also heavy and Clint can't stand or sit up with the weight of them dragging him down at first. A humiliating experience when he can't even raise himself up enough to use the funnel strapped to one of the bars as a urinal. It all swirls down to a drain under the bars eventually anyway, and Clint's covered in more than just piss. Eventually it gets too much for the men ignoring his questions and pleas. Another big man in army clothes comes in and turns a hose on the cage.
Clint chokes on the water and a scream as the blast hits the wings and his face full on. It's a horrible relief. The soldier doesn't even really look at him as he soaks Clint from head to toe and chases a filthy stream of water towards the drain. Just like Clint used to do when it was his turn to muck out the lion's cage.
Except he had the decency to not deliberately aim at the lions if they didn't want to get wet. The spray follows him as he crawls as far away as he can. Trying to get some distance to lessen the water pressure, and failing to gain any relief at all.
"We could get some Febreeze," Clint hears one of the men mutter to another when the hose is turned off and the soldier leaves.
Clint curls up where he is, and winces as the wings move jerkily to flop over his pulled up knees. He shiver himself to an uneasy sleep.
The men are scientists of some kind, and they're working with the army guys. Clint sees the severe man again a few times. Always followed by lackeys and pushing for answers he doesn't seem to like from the scientists. He hasn't stopped to look at Clint once.
He can't help thinking that's a good thing.
Words like "radiation", "serum", and "creature" get thrown around a lot when Clint bothers to listen in. He doesn't bother often because he's afraid they're talking about him when they say those words and it scares the living shit out of him.
Clint spends most of his time on the wings he still hasn't quite accepted as his own just yet. He's a freak, he knows it, but his mind reels back from it. Denying that it's real even as he touches the raw area of scar tissue building up around the wings. Slipping a finger painfully into the still torn skin and not being able to feel where they end. Feeling something hard that he realizes with a sick twist in his stomach might be his spine leading seamlessly to them.
They hurt less now and Clint gets a confusing sense of feeling from them. He can feel them dragging when he crawls around, can flex them up and out of the way if he really tries. They're big though. Far too big for the cage he's in, and flexing them always ends with more pain when he does it too hard and they smack into the metal.
He'd stop, but it lets him sit up for the first time in a long while. Gets him off his bruised hands and knees. Eventually, he manages to stand. His back screams in protest as the wings shift and are dragged down by gravity. Something pops audibly in his back and Clint clings to the bars as his vision swims with a sudden rush of pain that leaves him breathless and near tears. It fades fast, like a nose getting reset, and all he's left with is a dull ache and a sense that something has settled into proper alignment.
His new mobility doesn't gain Clint anything other than a bit of relief.
For the first time, he wonders if Barney is looking for him. The wings -his wings- twitch and Clint remembers the last time he'd really talked to his brother. Weeks before any of this. Of the sneer he'd had for the new talent for the circus' freak show. Minutes before he brushed Clint off, again, for Duquesne and one of his scams.
Clint doesn't think about Barney much.
They're not feeding him anymore, and the bits of water he can choke down when the hose comes out doesn't do anything for the knots turning his stomach into a yawning chasm of pain.
They used to throw a fruit or bar of some kind near him when they drew blood every day, but they've stopped that now. The conversation is shifting in the room and there's excited mutterings about getting their hands on the "original" that don't spell anything good for Clint.
He shivers in the corner despite the added insulation of the wings he can now clumsily wrap around himself, and watches as the board gets wiped clean. The vials and slides of his blood get boxed up with all the paper and files they've been passing around, and get carted off by blank faced soldiers.
The guy in charge is there. Watching with a slight smile Clint doesn't like. He stops by the cage on his way out and looks at Clint for the first time.
Clint's tired and hungry, the only relief he gets is from sleep. He doesn't sleep at all after that though, too terrified he'll never wake up.
They bring a hobo in chains in. The man's clothing is worn but cared for, and his shoes show the kind of hard use that's only had from traveling on foot. His eyes aren't really open and he staggers under the very cautious grip of the soldiers leading him up to an examination table that's been brought in.
It's a massive slab of metal with restraints at the place of hands and legs big enough for Clint to get free from if it was closed around his chest. With the wings.
One of the soldiers hooks up a pole he was carrying to the edge of the table. It holds a series of bags that feed into the man's pale arms. Probably the drugs making him blink slowly up at the ceiling in confusion. There's three of them, and one of them looks like it's glowing a pale blue.
Clint edges toward the bars to get a closer look between the flurry of activity as the scientists start hooking up all kinds of things to the man. The soldiers step back, and take up a guarded position by the door. Out of the way but their eyes firmly fixed on the table as the scientists get to work.
Something goes wrong. Clint doesn't know what happens just as the first blood draw gets started -they'd all gone so silent, almost reverent when the needle pierced the skin- and there's no time to process anything as the man arches on the table and roars.
Face flushing red with blood and a dark rage that sends Clint scrambling back. Copying everyone in the room as panic breaks out. The scientists are shouting and the soldiers are yelling. Pushing forward against the wave of men who only seem to want to get away.
He sees why when the man's skin goes right past red to green. When his face bulges and shifts. When he starts to change and grow. Clothing ripping and table groaning under the mass of him.
The room goes deadly quiet as the man -"creature", "original", they'd all tossed those words around and it wasn't just about Clint- glares around the room once, before bellowing and sweeping a large arm forward. Slamming a wave of scientists into the far walls with final sounding cracks that leave them limp and most likely dead.
An alarm screams through the air and it's chaos as bullets rip through the air. Clint presses himself as close to the floor as he can, feeling his heart trip almost too fast, because the bullets aren't even aimed! Two scientists fall with bullet holes in their heads, and the ones that are on target?
The green man shivers and shakes them off like they're flies before ripping the sturdy looking table up and crushing the soldiers with it.
"God, oh, god no," one of the scientists backs up to Clint's cage and his hands scrabble at the bars. Looking for an escape that Clint already knows isn't possible as the green man lays waste to the room and its occupants with only a few more flicks of his massive arms. His head turns at the sound of words and Clint can smell it when the man pisses himself. "No! Please, don-"
Fingers the size of Clint's forearm engulf the man's head and he's yanked away like a rag doll and tossed. Clint doesn't care about the cut off scream, feels a little burn of satisfaction at it that dies as the green man turns around and Clint's looking up into the angriest eyes he's ever seen. And Clint's had his fair share of stare downs with angry men.
They usually end with their fists in Clint's face.
"Hi," Clint's voice is hoarse from disuse and the fact that he hasn't had water in way too long. The hose had stopped being pulled out when the table was brought in.
The man growls and it's hostile and full of violence. The smart thing to do would be to look away. To curl himself up into a tiny, unspeaking ball and hope all that anger and hostility get turned away from him. Clint knows this, it was taught to him early on by his dad and reinforced by years of foster care. Keep your head down and your mouth shut, and you won't make yourself a target. Won't draw in the hits as much.
Clint knows this. Clint's just never been a very smart guy.
"Hey, big guy," Clint gets up into a crouch, and can feel his wings arch away from his back to give him the room. They quiver slightly in anticipation. "Don't suppose you could open the cage and let me out of here?"
He's asked the scientists too even though he knew it'd do no good. Never hurts to ask after all. Usually.
The man takes a sharp step forward that has Clint flinching and roars. Loud and angry, and Clint's convinced he's going to die right then and there before the clicking noise registers. There's wires coming out of the man's back that fall away as he turns back to the door and it's fresh supply of soldiers who have just tased him.
Clint doesn't think that was such a good idea on their parts when the man runs forward. Low like a linebacker and smashes through them, and what sounds like a wall or two after.
He's alone in a wrecked room full of corpses now, with only the sound of distant screams and gunfire. It's probably the best place he's been in since he wandered a little too far from the circus.
The cage has a door that's operated by an electronic lock. No buttons, just a card reader. Clint can pick a mechanical lock in a matter of seconds like any other carnie, but anything with computers is more than a little beyond him. Doesn't mean he isn't going to try though.
There's a nice looking curl of sharp metal on the floor that looks like it'd be great for cutting things open, and Clint's on his stomach trying to get it. His arm is jammed as far out of the cage as he can get it, face smashed against the cold bars as he squints at the metal. He's close, so close he swears he can feel the tips of his fingers brushing the edges. "Come on, come on."
The shard wiggles, away from him. "Aw, man no."
Clint's contemplating how much life sucks when he realizes there's more green in the blurred out periphery of his vision than there was before.
"Uh, hey," Clint draws his arm carefully back into the cage and looks over to find out that the extremely large man has somehow managed to sneak back into the room and is now crouched near the cage. Looking at him. Silently, creepily. Clint gets his feet under him and wraps his wings tight around his chest to make a smaller target.
The man's eyes seem to zero in on the movement and he frowns. An expansive thing given the size of his face. There's not much rage in his face now, Clint notes, anger is still there but it's not focused. If anything the man looks kind of curious.
"I'm Clint. Are the-" soldiers, scientists, actual government agents? Clint's still not sure what the hell he's been brought into. "The bad guys all dead?"
"Dead," the man says, and it comes out as a deep growl. His lips twitch with satisfaction and he rolls up to his feet. He's taller than the cage and can actually look in it from above. Two massive hands thread through the bars and Clint should be more afraid right now than he actually is. "Bird boy go now."
The cage lurches and squeals as the man easily pulls the bars apart. Creating a hole large enough for Clint to climb out of. The man steps back then and hunkers down again. Watching quietly as Clint moves forward.
It's obvious the cage wouldn't hold the man back if he didn't want it to, and Clint hesitates for only a second. He's known a lot of men with angry eyes and large fists in his life. Looking at the green man again, Clint remembers that not all of them had been cruel to those who didn't deserve it.
Clint breathes easier the second he's out of the cage, and he stretches the way he couldn't while inside of it. His wings stretch too, and Clint winces at the brief pain of a few more things popping and sliding into place.
Something hits his right wing and Clint looks over, startled, to see a single large finger poking carefully at him. The man looks wholly fascinated now, and that only spells good things for Clint in the long run so he lets it go on for a while before carefully bringing his wings back down. It's still odd and takes concentration, but they flatten against his back in a way that's almost comfortable. In a way that makes walking a little easier.
"So," Clint says after a few off balanced steps gets him a snort of amusement from the man. "I'm Clint, or Bird Boy I guess, whatever. Who're you?"
"Hulk," the man says clearly, and Clint's starting to think the growl is just his natural voice. That the roars and non-vocal noises are what he mostly uses.
"Hulk, got it. So where-" Clint finishes his sentence with a strangled yelp as he's suddenly picked up by a hand that can completely encircle him with ease. "Hey!"
He's pulled in close to Hulk's chest and ends up cradled there in a weird football carry that he gets exactly two seconds to get angry over before Hulk starts running. Fast. As fast as the trick horses he was learning to put to their paces, maybe even a little faster actually.
The base blurs by him and he picks out only a few details. Wrecked walls and streaks of blood. Hulk roars and his free hand flies out, smashing into a wall, and Clint flinches as they barrel through the flying debris before it has a chance to settle. Two more walls sees them outside, and Clint shivers hard at the sudden drop in temperature when a breeze hits him.
Hulk crouches down for a few seconds and Clint realizes he's looking at something. What becomes apparent when Clint catches the faint sound of a helicopter. Helicopters, maybe. "Oh, shit, backup."
Hulk growls and deliberately turns away from where the helicopters are coming from. His crouch gets deeper and before Clint can ask anything, he jumps.
Hulk's jumps can eat up miles of space at a time when he really gets going. It's uncomfortable as hell though and Clint's just glad his back isn't as bad as it was before as he grits his teeth through each landing.
They've left the base far behind them, and Hulk's making so many direction changes that Clint doesn't think he even knows what direction it was anymore. They're in a very green area, forests that give way to areas that might be farms of some kind, so Clint thinks they might still be in California.
Hulk eventually stops in a line of well-maintained trees, and puts Clint down after he paces off a large circle. His head turning back and forth. Looking, Clint realizes, for a threat of any kind.
Clint's knees want to fold under him when he's on the ground, but he sees something that immediately overrides it. Hulk's stopped in a grove of apple trees. He stumbles a bit before his wings flare out to steady him, like a drunk man holding his arms wide for balance. Clint doesn't even care as he reaches the closest tree and reaches up for an under-ripe apple.
It's a little bitter and makes his teeth itch, but Clint's stomach doesn't give a damn. He finishes it in three bites and reaches for another that actually looks like it might be alright.
Clint manages to stuff three more apples into himself before his stomach rebels. Clenching and turning in a way that warns him not to eat anymore, despite how very hungry he still is. Clint's got a nice red apple in hand already though and he'd hate to see it go to waste.
"Hey, aren't you hungry?" Clint asks in surprise when he turns to offer it up and finds Hulk just sitting and watching him. "I don't know how long they had you, but I know they didn't feed you at all where I could see."
He reaches up for another apple, and ends up just picking what he can carry because the apples are small and look like they'll be single bites for Hulk. The man looks at the first one Clint holds up to him like it's something new, and Clint wonders if he's just not seen a whole apple before or something.
"They're not ready, so they're a little sour, but that's," Clint stops as Hulk plucks the apple up to look at it closer. He studies it the way Clint used to study the soup Malika the strongwoman makes when it's her turn to cook. With suspicion, dread, and no little bit of genuine curiosity. Clint shrugs and offers up the wisdom Malika would utter every time when someone would deride her soup. "It's better than nothing, right?"
The apple crunches between Hulk's teeth in one bite like Clint suspected. He doesn't look overly pleased but that doesn't stop him from eating the rest of the apples one by one. Clint hands over the last one and sits down on the ground. Feeling exhaustion creep up like something physical. "You think it's safe to sleep here?"
Hulk sneers and growls at him before turning to eye the trees speculatively.
"Point," Clint admits as he flops over onto his stomach. He's having a hard time imagining anything being more dangerous than Hulk too, and that's enough of a comfort to put Clint out fast.
Clint wakes up to the sun high in the sky, and completely alone.
He panics and claws his way to his feet. The wings flap and get in the way before he arches them up further away, and then he's got some lift that helps pull him up. Clint almost gets distracted by the sudden realization that he can probably fly now.
Hulk is gone. The grass is flattened in a few areas and Clint sees that some of the trees have been cleaned of any apples. The branches are bare, and some of the trees have broken stubs near the top where it looks like the man just ripped the top halves off to get at the apples. Clint wonders what the owner of the field is going to think about that as he moves around a pile of treetops, following a trail of flattened grass.
He finds Hulk on the other side. Laid out on the ground, dead asleep, and back in the form of the hobo he'd worn when they first brought him in. Clint relaxes a bit and walks over to him. Noticing the way his pants haven't changed back with him.
The torn cloth hadn't really been doing much to preserve Hulk's dignity before, and it's doing an even worse job now that he's smaller. Clint snickers and crouches down to poke at his strange looking -now that Clint's gotten used to the green- face.
"Hulk," the man twitches and flinches away from the prod. Clint tries again, poking his cheek this time. "Hey, Hulk, wake up!"
Hulk wakes up with jerk and a startled gasp. Bolting upright and looking around wildly. Clint goes very still and waits for the man to settle down, waits for dark brown eyes to turn to him, "Uh, hello?"
He's completely human looking and sounding now, which probably helps more in the long run. Clint shrugs it off and settles back as Hulk casually gathers the shredded pants in his lap more securely. "You want some more apples before we get going? I don't think it's really safe to stick around here."
Clint doesn't think it's safe to stick around in the country actually, but he's trying not to think too hard about that.
"Yes, yes, of course," Hulk's more talkative now too, and Clint wonders if that has something to do with his throat or something else. His eyes track Clint as he stand up again, lingering on the wings, and Clint can't say he really blames him much.
They look good in the sunlight, Clint runs a finger down the edge of one feather and it catches the light. There's a shimmer to the feathers that makes them look gold and flashy. Like the ravens that Clint used to see so often at one of the homes he was put in. Their wings looked oily and shone with more colors than just black.
Clint pulls down another apple and cautiously bites into it. His stomach doesn't rebel much so he eats it slowly as Hulk stands up and does something with the cloth to keep it up. It looks kinda like a kilt now. He doesn't take the apple Clint holds out though. Fixing him with that suspicious look he'd given the apple last night, "Uh, who are you?"
"Clint," he says slowly and takes back the apple. Hulk looks at him blankly, and there isn't a single bit of recognition in his eyes at all. "Bird Boy?" Clint tries but that only gets a confused frown. "I told you this last night after you tore that base apart. Do you even remember that?"
Hulk's eyes are distant and Clint remembers the bags of liquid that were pumped into him. The man was drugged up to his eyeballs, he probably wasn't firing on all cylinders despite how precise his actions were. "Oh, they had you on some heavy drugs didn't they? I think one of them was glowing..."
Clint trails off as another possibility comes up that he really should have thought of before. Those men had something that made Clint grow wings. Who's to say they didn't have something -maybe blue and glowing in a bag- to make a man turn green and big?
"I got angry," Hulk says. Soft and so tired sounding that Clint doesn't know what to say back. The man's eyes are closed and he's pinching his nose like he's got a headache. "I got angry and then he came out. How many people did he kill this time?"
This time. Clint doesn't know what the hell that means but it relaxes something that'd tensed up at the thought of the two of them being completely new to these- changes. "Not enough."
"Excuse me?" The man asks in surprise, and it is a man. Not Hulk. Not from the way he's acting and the way he's talking like last night there was a different person around. Clint's starting to get an idea on this mess.
"There was enough to chase after us, so, not enough," Clint shrugs at the horrified look the man gives him and feels the wings move with him. "What? You want me to feel sorry for the fuckers that kidnapped me, made fucking wings grow out my back, and were going to let me rot in a cage? Yeah, no, not going to happen."
"They experimented on you?" The man takes a step forward and takes his first good look at Clint. Eyes taking in the sorry state that Clint knows he's in. Thinner than usual, wearing jeans still stained with blood, and sneakers that have grime and filth caked into them. Clint can only imagine what his face and back look like. "You, how old are you?"
"What's that matter?" Clint asks with a roll of his eyes. Like age mattered to fuckheads who wanted someone to punch around or just run through their mad scientist experiments. "Look can we just get out of here since Hulk," the man flinches when Clint says the name, "didn't take care of all of whatever evil organization it was that had us? Or branch, I guess, are they really the army?"
"Yes, they are," the man says and Clint groans, because army means government and he's seen enough to know that you can't actually hide from them if they really want to find you. "Alright, look, I know some people," Clint perks up because this is sounding like the start of a plan and he's got no idea beyond run. "They can take care of you. Get you set up with a new name. Maybe even see if," his eyes flicker and pause on the wings, "if you can be fixed."
"What? Are you," Clint gapes because the man's sounding a lot like the cop that had come to tell him and Barney that their parents were dead, and that bastard had lied. "Oh, hell no. That's the worst plan I've ever heard! How is that supposed to do anything but make me a sitting duck for them?"
"They're not really looking for you," he replies with a sigh that Clint doesn't like at all. "You'll be safer the farther you are from me."
"Says who? You? You don't even remember what happened! It was just me and the big guy busting out of there," it's a good point though. The scientists had gotten so much more interested when Hulk and this man were brought in. "I like my odds with you two better than off fuck knows where."
"No," the man looks up at Clint, and he looks stricken. Almost afraid. "You can't do that. You'll be killed by him. I know you got free and you think you owe him, but the Hulk is not safe to be around, Clint. I'm not safe to be around."
"Fuck you!" Clint snaps, hard and angry on the Hulk's behalf. "I was in a fucking cage! Who the hell do you think let me out of it? One of the soldiers who stopped trying to shoot Hulk, or one of the scientists after they tried to suck blood out of him? No, they were all busy dying! I saw what he did, and I watched him come back to let me go!"
"I, no, look," the man looks aggrieved in a way that'd be funny if he weren't doing his best to piss Clint off. "Hulk is dangerous-"
"Really?" Clint puts as much scorn as he can spin into the word. He doesn't know this man, doesn't know his story, but he'll be damned if this man bad mouths Hulk in front of Clint. "I didn't get that when he wasted an entire base of people who strapped me, and you by the way, to a table to pump full of glowing blue shit. You know they were going to kill me, right? Once they had you going I was just a waste of space," it'd never been said aloud where he could hear it, but Clint's always been good at reading between the lines. At knowing when people don't want him around anymore. "Here's a newsflash for you; anyone can be dangerous. Should I go all crazy cat lady and not deal with people to stay safe?" Clint lets his wings flare out to their full length. "It's a bit late for that anyway."
"I," the man closes his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest. Hunching down over them and breathing loudly. Measure breathes like the kind Trick Shot taught him when Clint was first learning to shoot.
Clint pulls his wings back in and watches warily for a bit before feeling something sticky trail down his fingers. He looks down and his fingers have dug into the apple he was holding before he started yelling. Clint drops it and wipes the juice off on his jeans, for all the good it does. It just seems to rub the top layer of grime on the jeans off on his hand.
"Bruce," Clint looks up and the man looks resigned to something. "I'm Bruce Banner, and," he sighs deeply, "you're right Clint."
"Course I'm right," Clint quips back as Bruce turns and starts to look around them. Taking in where they are or something. "So, what are we going to do?"
"First," Bruce seems to see something he likes because he starts to walk off in one direction. Not even flinching as he walks barefooted right over some broken branches. "We're going to get some clothes, and then we're going to get cleaned and eat something."
"In that order?" Clint asks as he follows behind. "Think we'll be able to get any of that with one of us looking like such a freak?"
Bruce doesn't stop but he looks over his shoulder at Clint with a faint smile that grows larger when Clint fails to properly account for the height of his wings and gets jerked back by a low hanging branch. "Yes, I know of places that will help," Bruce turns back to the path only he seems to see, "besides, I think you'll find that far fewer people will find you freakish than you fear."
"Whatever you say," Clint mutters doubtfully, but doesn't actually stop following Bruce.
He doesn't know the man at all, doesn't really trust him that much, but Hulk's did him right when he gave the big guy a chance. It's only fair to give Bruce the same one. They can't be all that different where it matters since they're- Sharing the same body? Mind? Are the same person, like that one black and white movie about the doctor he saw last year? Something like that.
Clint doesn't know, he just knows that all the other choices he's got right now don't look as good as this one. Story of his life really. What's one more loud man with big fists after all? At least this one -two?- doesn't seem to want to swing them his way.