Author's Note: This is my first Avenger's story so please be kind and reviews are much appreciated! xoxo
I would have run with him.
Not for forever, but I would have run. We would have run. Until the next crisis, until the next disaster loomed on the horizon, I would have had just a little bit of peace for myself. A tiny taste of what Clint has with Laura. A chance to be normal, whatever that means.
It's selfish to want that. I never thought I could have that with anyone. I thought Clint was crazy for having a family. I thought he was selfish. How could he put their lives in danger every day by doing what he does? I always thought you could only have one or the other. A life or the job and there's no in between, not in this line of work. I was wrong. He keeps them secret, keeps them hidden and safe, and lets the whole world believe that he and I are more than what we are.
I want to be selfish.
I am tired of pretending. I let everyone believe that Clint and I are lovers because it's easier that way. I become the default target for anyone that wants to hurt him, and I can take care of myself. No one wonders if there's a family or a girlfriend hidden away somewhere, all they see is what we want them to see. I'm happy to do that. I'd place a big bull's-eye on my back for any one of them. They're my family too and I thought it would be enough to have the friendship of Clint and Laura and to be Auntie Nat. But I want more. In spite of everything I've always thought about myself - I want more.
The job is not enough. I told myself that I was going to spend the rest of my life doing what I could to erase the red from my record. If I just throw myself into enough missions, give it everything I've got every single time it will give me some peace.
All I want is a little bit of peace.
I fall into bed exhausted. Another day spent with the trainees and I find myself working myself so hard that at the end of the day it's all I can do to make my way to this small room and collapse onto the bed before I fall asleep on my feet. Not tonight, the minute my head hits the pillow I feel inexplicably wide awake and I sigh, rolling over so that I can stare at the ceiling.
My mind immediately, purposefully, goes to tomorrow's training plan and the exercises we need to do again and again until they're right. I've been working one-on-one with Wanda. Agility exercises, strength training, tactical maneuvers, she needs to learn it all. She has no end of raw power but she lacks discipline and training, she's no fighter, not yet anyway, but she's getting there. I'm hard on her and I'm pretty sure she hates me but what I'm teaching her is going to save her life someday.
Sleep. I'm so tired, I've got to go to sleep. Counting little Avengers in my head isn't going to cut it.
I can't believe he left.
I roll over again with a groan, unable to make my mind focus on anything but him. I can compartmentalize my feelings, even parts of myself, but I can't shut him out. I want to be angry. I want to be so angry that I build up walls of fury to block out the thought of him. I know how to handle my anger. It's this sadness that gets me every time.
We're both monsters.
He understands me in a way that few other people do. We're different from the others. We fear what's inside of ourselves so we try to make up for it, to balance the scales.
Tony has his gadgets and his money and his fame. He wants to do good and look good while doing it. He always knows he's right even when he's wrong.
Steve wants to make the world a better place because it's all that he knows. That's what he holds onto. Thor wants to keep his people safe and be honorable. They're both leaders, they're always looking to do what's best for the people that they've committed to protecting.
Clint wants his kids to grow up in a better world.
Bruce and I, we want to keep our darkness inside of ourselves so that it doesn't pollute the dreams of the good guys. We're the other guys.
I'm being hard on myself. I know that. I'm a different person now, I'm not who I used to be but that doesn't change what I've done. It doesn't change who I am or the person that I know still lives inside of me. I'm going to have to live with the things I've done forever. So will he.
He came along and made me realize that I'm not alone. There's someone else out there that really gets it, really understands that there is a struggle for is in being "good". It doesn't come naturally. It's not who we were meant to be. It's who we choose to be and some days it's hard.
I took his choice from him.
He's angry at me for forcing the Other Guy out. The moment I pushed him into that hole I knew that he'd be angry… no, not angry, hurt, and that was worse. I didn't know it would be the end. I should have known better. Bruce yearns for control like I yearn for peace and I took that from him. I thought it would be a forgivable offense, saving the world and all of that, but I should have realized what I was taking from him in that moment. Trust.
I wish I could take it back.
A life or the job and there's no in between. I made my choice, and his too in that moment. It was the right thing to do, I have to believe that, but I wish there would have been a different way.
My eyes close and my brain sluggishly reimagines the past, wondering how it would have been if I'd made one different decision. Eventually I fall asleep and I dream about him.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" he asks, laughter in his voice as I lead him out into the open field. It was a surprise trip, I ambushed him in his lab an hour ago and told him that I thought I had something that might be able to help him with his control issues.
"Not at all, but it's worth a shot isn't it?" He's being a good sport. I drove him to the middle of nowhere and he hasn't batted an eye. He even let me pick the music in the car. They've been trying for months to figure out a way to control the Hulk. There have been special suits, tranquilizers, stun guns, drug cocktails, specialty made bindings and all of it has failed miserably.
Now it's my turn.
He doesn't say anything and I know what he's thinking. He wants to be back in the lab. He thinks this is a waste of time. He's afraid. I know that I would be if I were him. He's not afraid of me, he's afraid of himself. He's scared of this not working, and he's scared that he might hurt me.
He looks tired. I don't know if it's the torture he's been putting himself through in the name of control or long hours in the lab but he looks like he needs a week-long nap.
"I promise, this will be painless." We've been walking for a good five minutes. There's no one for miles around but that doesn't really matter, we won't be seeing the green machine today. We're here for the atmosphere.
"Alright, let's sit down. Sit across from me," I say sitting down on the ground unceremoniously.
"Here? On the ground?" he asks a little perplexed as he looks around wondering what I've got in store for him. There's no back up, no tanks, no one on stand-by. It's just him and me.
"Afraid of getting a little dirty?" I ask with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
He smiles at me and pushes his glasses farther up on his nose in a nervous gesture that causes me to smother a smile. He sits down on the ground across from me.
"Alright, now what?" he asks, crossing his legs and looking at me. He's not wearing his lab coat and it's strange to see him without it. He's dressed casually, like your average guy and I'm surprised at how much I like seeing him like this.
"The Red Room Academy where I was trained taught me a lot of different things. I needed to know how to manipulate people, to get information out of them. It wasn't all about killing and torture. Sometimes you need to be able to get people to do what you want without letting them know who is in control. We had to learn how to get close to people and how to get them to trust us within in a short amount of time. We also learned something called subliminal influence," I explain. I don't like talking about any of this but for this to work he needs to trust me.
"Like subliminal messages?" he asks curiously and I nod.
"Specifically they taught us neuro-linguistic programming—"
"Wait, wait, wait. You want to try to program me? Like mind-control?" he asks and he sounds equal parts appalled and interested.
"It's not mind control. Not exactly. To simplify it, I ask you to think of a feeling. When you start feeling it I repeat a phrase and then touch you. This is called anchoring. It creates an association with my words and with the gesture that allows you to easily access that feeling."
I look at him and he runs his hand through his curly hair causing a bit to stick out at an odd angle. He looks tired, disheveled, and confused. Most guys I know are always so aware of me. They're fixing their hair, standing up straighter, putting on that air of confidence, whether it's to impress me or because they're threatened by me or because it's just who they are. Bruce is just… Bruce and I like that about him. It's refreshing.
"Go on," he says slowly.
"When someone comes up to you and gently squeezes your shoulder the first thing that your brain connects that with is comfort."
"Is that really the first thing you think of?" he asks.
"Well, no, I generally wonder whose arm I'm going to have to break but the theory is the same. Our brains associate certain gestures with certain feelings. We're going to create a gesture that causes your brain to make a specific connection."
"It's not the strangest thing I've tried," he says with a little shrug. "Do you promise you won't try to make me cluck like a chicken on command or anything humiliating?"
"I promise, no chickens."
"I trust you," he says mirroring my smile.
I want to tell him that he shouldn't. Trust me that is, not this easily. I don't because that defeats the purpose of us being here. I need him to trust me. I wonder if he trusts me because he's trusting or because it's me.
"Alright," I say, trying to get my thoughts back on topic. "Take several deep breath, as many as it takes for you to feel completely relaxed, and tell me exactly what you think and feel right now. Go through all of your senses and all of the things that come to mind, all of the things that you feel in the moment."
I watch him as he closes his eyes. He's taking it seriously, I wasn't sure that he would. He breathes slowly and deeply and I watch his chest rise and fall as I listen to his inhalations, breathing with him in spite of myself.
He stops and opens one eye. "Can you uh… close your eyes too? It's hard to concentrate when I feel like you're staring at me."
I realize that I was staring at him so I close my eyes. "Okay, they're closed." When my eyes closed my senses sharpen and I realize that we're sharing this experience of breathing with our eyes closed. It makes me feel strangely vulnerable and my awareness of him heightens. He's quiet for about a minute. Breathing in. Breathing out.
"The sun is setting on the horizon, it's disappearing behind the trees in the west."
I realize that his eyes are open but I keep mine closed, letting him sink into the moment and giving him the space for his mind to focus on everything around him, like I'm not here.
"The sky is a brilliant orange tinged with pink and there's a deep blue overtaking the sky. The clouds look still, I can barely see them moving. We're in the middle of a field and I can feel the lightest breeze on my face and the grass and weeds are swaying with it. The air is warm and so is the ground beneath me. I hear birds in the distance, they're quieting now and I heard a cricket a few seconds ago. I smell earth and grass and summer and you." He takes another deep breath.
I open my eyes and see that his are closed again. I reach out and gently grab his hand, holding it so that his palm is facing the darkening sky. "Sun's getting real low." I murmur softly. "Keep talking," I say gently.
"I feel… good. I don't get outside often, not like this and it feels nice. It's peaceful and I feel relaxed, everything in me feels relaxed right now. I'm so tired. I feel like I haven't slept in days."
While he talks my fingers travel up his forearm and gently touch his warm skin before traveling down to his wrist.
"Your fingers are soft. Your touch is light. It almost tickles," he says sleepily.
To his palm, moving straight down the middle of his hand, down his finger until mine reach air. We're both silent for a few moments.
He opens his eyes, his hand still held out to me, and there's a small smile on his lips. "Was that it?"
"That was it. I'd like to do it again tomorrow. The deeper that feeling of peace and quiet is anchored in your mind the better. Being tired will help too. The theory is that when you are touched like that your mind will immediately go back here, to this place. It will calm you and hopefully it'll calm the Other Guy too."
"Thank you. This was much more pleasant than the tranquilizer gun tests," he says standing up and holding his hand down for me.
I don't want to take it. I can get up by myself, and any other time I'd do just that for principle's sake, but I find my hand outstretched towards his, reaching for him. He pulls me up and that smile is on his face again. I realize what it is about that smile that gets to me like it does. I rarely ever see it.
We walk back the way we came and it's quiet and peaceful as the sun sets completely and the stars start peeking out as we get back to the car. I drive us back and within minutes Bruce is asleep, his head resting against the window. He looks peaceful and I turn my attention back to the road, not bothering to turn on the radio.
This is just what I need.
Just a little bit of peace.