It was a few months after the Battle of New York the first time Clint sought out Bruce for medical treatment. Aside from the few times they were in the field together, Bruce hadn't seen much of Clint. To be perfectly honest, Bruce hadn't seen much of anyone beside Tony, and that was only because Tony sought him out regularly to "science".
Although invitations had been extended to everyone who'd fought as an Avenger in New York, Bruce was the only one who'd taken up Tony's offer of residence in the Tower. The Tower had the dual appeal of being the "Candyland" Tony promised as well as being nearly impregnable to outside forces. Bruce still wasn't in the habit of sleeping well, but at least in the Tower he was sleeping more.
Bruce wasn't sure where Steve was located, but he was around enough that he had to be local - if not Manhattan, probably somewhere in Brooklyn, the home of his heart. Natasha and Clint were around much less unless there was an Avenger-level emergency; then they seemed to materialize, almost always arriving together. So it was a genuine surprise when Clint showed up, somewhat worse for wear, in Bruce's lab.
Clint leaned heavily on the door jam as he knocked to announce his presence. That seemed to be about all he could manage. He didn't even throw out a feeble "What's up doc?" which was his usual opening line.
Bruce rose from his desk, took off and folded his reading glasses and tucked them neatly in his pocket. "Hey, Clint." Bruce tipped his head and squinted as he got closer to the archer. Bruises were starting to rise to the surface on Clint's bare arms and he was bleeding in a number of places. "What are you doing here?"
Clint sighed heavily. All of the archer's normal jocularity and wit seemed to have abandoned him. "Can you clear me?"
Bruce did a double-take and smiled self-deprecatingly. "You know I'm not that kind of doctor, right?"
"I know...you've said…" Clint fretfully rubbed the crease between his brows as he worked to spit his words out. "I don't know how many more hours I can spend confined in SHIELD medical." Clint slumped even more heavily against the door, probably regretting that he'd been so forthright and already anticipating being sent away.
Bruce immediately empathized with Clint's situation. Although they hadn't directly discussed it, Bruce gleaned that Clint had been heavily monitored by SHIELD since he'd been compromised by Loki; to the point where the supervision was relentlessly claustrophobic. Bruce got the feeling that Clint felt like he deserved the extra scrutiny and the intense monitoring; as a way of making up for the damage he'd caused and reassurance for everyone that it wouldn't happen again. Bruce could relate to the pressure that put Clint under though the other man had been mostly accepting of it up to this point. But for whatever reason, Clint had had enough and he'd reached the end of his rope.
Sending Clint away was never a viable option in Bruce's mind. Bruce didn't give in to the temptation to stop and organize his work in progress; that would mean inviting Barton to sit down and chances were too high that if he sat, Bruce would be hard pressed to get him moving again. Instead, Bruce gestured to the hallway behind Clint as he walked toward the door. "Why don't we take this conversation to a medical suite instead of here in the lab, and we'll go from there."
Clint blinked and attempted to stand up straight. Relief and surprise were evident on his face; just one more indication of how exhausted he was.
Bruce sidled through the doorway, careful not to bump Clint, and then started walking toward the elevator. Clint fell into step behind him. Bruce kept trying to slow his pace to allow Clint to pull up and walk beside him, but when he slowed down, the archer slowed down too. Bruce finally worked out that Clint was putting most of his energy into watching Bruce's shoes so he knew where to go. Bruce tried not to let the anxiety of someone following him get the better of him, though he had to remind himself more than once that he was safe in the Tower and it was a teammate, not one of Ross' men, following close on his heels.
It was too awkward to try and have a conversation while Clint trailed behind him, so Bruce held off on the questions until they finally arrived in an excessively appointed medical suite. Tony, or maybe it was Pepper, had the suite done up in soothing, neutral tones. Though the equipment available would rival any state of the art emergency room, the room itself had more of a spa or salon feel.
Without being asked, Clint hoisted himself up on to the exam table. Then he let out a sigh and rubbed his forehead again.
"Headache?" Bruce asked as he rummaged through drawers and cabinets looking for the equipment he might need. Tony was generous but sometimes supplying everything was too much of a good thing. All Bruce really needed was a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff, both of which were eluding him in his search.
Clint's response was somewhere between a grunt and an "isn't that obvious" snort. The snort was a tactical mistake causing unwanted pressure in his head and the whole thing ended up in a low groan.
When Bruce finally gathered all of his tools, he returned his attention to Clint and approached slowly. He laid out the equipment on a tray the he rolled over with this foot, keeping everything very clearly in Clint's line of sight. "Can you tell me what happened?" Then he smirked as he beat Clint to the obvious punchline, "Or would you have to kill me?"
Clint responded with a genuine, if weary, smile. "You know how it goes, Doc." Clint waved his right hand around emphasising his words. "Go out on a mission...save the world...get kicked in the head. Same old, same old."
"Looks like a little more than getting kicked in the head, but that's a good place to start." Bruce pulled a penlight off of the tray. "This is going to be bright, but I'll be quick." Bruce shone the light into Clint's eyes one at a time. His pupils were dilated unevenly, but that was to be expected.
Bruce returned the light to the tray, and then raised his hands in front of him before initiating contact. "I'm going to check your skull. Let me know where it's tender."
Clint indicated the area behind his left temple and above his ear. "Have at it, Doc."
Bruce stepped slightly to Clint's left side, standing next to Clint's loosely hanging legs. Keeping Clint's head steady with his left hand, Bruce began to probe his skull with the fingertips of his right hand. It was easy to spot the knot forming beneath Clint's short cropped hair, but it wasn't a huge protuberance and the skin hadn't been broken.
Clint visibly winced when Bruce probed the area, but he didn't pull away. Bruce started to question him as he continued to examine Clint's skull.
"Have you treated this in any way yet? Taken anything for the pain?" Bruce examined the rest of the left side of Clint's skull. Though there was no bruising evident yet on his face, Bruce made sure to check the stability of the sinuses and eye socket on that side.
"Ice in the jet. No meds. Figured I'd come see you first." Clint closed his eyes as he talked.
"Have you been dizzy? Nauseous?" Bruce reached a little further and ran his hand around the back of Clint's head.
"Little nauseous in the jet. But that could be because of Nat's flying." He chuckled to himself, but then added, "Don't tell her I said that."
Bruce nodded although Clint couldn't see him. There was no way he'd repeat anything that might get him on Agent Romanov's bad side. He was already in so deep with her because of the Other Guy, there was no telling if that was a hole he'd ever climb out of.
Stabilizing Clint's head on the left, Bruce began to examine the skull on the right. "You have soft hands, Doc." Clint stated. Then he made a face at himself and tried to course correct. "Not soft like a girl...gentle. Not like those SHIELD doctors. I swear sometimes they make it all worse with their poking and prodding."
Bruce's right hand stilled at the base of Clint's skull as the archer spoke. He had a little too much experience at the hands of rough doctors not to take what Clint was saying personally.
"I'm not so thick-headed to know you can't clear me for duty…" Clint continued. "I might not want to admit when I have a concussion, but I know enough to know when I got one." Clint's head bowed and his words began to slur a little as he continued talking. "But if you can just send me home to sleep instead of to a white box with a crappy bed in SHIELD medical…"
As close as Clint was to drifting off, voices in the hallway got both of their attention. Bruce only recognized one, but Clint must have recognized the other. Bruce could feel tension rise in Clint's shoulders and neck. Bruce released his hold and stepped back, but still in front of Clint. He could see Clint trying to put on the Agent-of-SHIELD mask, but he had allowed himself to relax a little too much; combined with the concussion, it was a struggle for him to put the wall back up once it was down.
Bruce felt an unexpected wave of protectiveness surge through him, as he turned to face the newcomers.
Steve's voice carried through the door before the man himself arrived. "I don't understand what the problem is as long as Barton is following procedure…"
"The procedure is for Agent Barton to submit himself to SHIELD medical after any activity in the field." the second voice responded.
Steve knocked on the door frame much the way Clint had earlier. Then he poked his head in. "Barton, have you…" Then Steve spotted Bruce. "Dr. Banner." A satisfied smile briefly flashed across Steve's face. "He is getting cleared by medical." Bruce declined to point out, yet again, that he was not a medical doctor. But that didn't prevent the agent shadowing Steve from pointing it out for him.
Though Steve hadn't entered the room, the agent waltzed in as though he owned the place. It made Bruce bristle, and Steve frowned at the man's presumption. The agent reminded Bruce of every self-important, officious, pencil-pusher he'd ever met. Although the dark grey suit he wore was pristine, the agent didn't look as though he had the right to wear it, and that made it so important to prove that he did.
"This is a medical suite," the agent noted while waving his arm around, "but it is not SHIELD medical. And, Doctor Banner is not only not a SHIELD doctor, he isn't a medical doctor at all." The agent's glance was dismissive. "After the events leading up to the attack on the SHIELD helicarrier and the subsequent Battle of New York, Agent Barton was allowed to return to the field with the understanding that his health would be monitored closely by SHIELD and we would be the personnel to determine whether or not he is a threat to public safety. Please come with me, Agent Barton."
Bruce could feel his anger beginning to rise, but almost laughed in the agent's face at that last bit. "A threat to public safety?" Bruce was a walking, talking danger to the public, but Clint with a concussion just needed to take a nap.
Even with his back to Clint, Bruce could feel waves of resignation rolling off the archer, and he just couldn't let this stand. He moved slightly so he was standing directly between the SHIELD agent and Clint. He held his left hand up to indicate that Clint should stay where he was. Once again he had the unnerving sensation of someone behind him, but this time it was Steve, stepping in to back his play.
"Even with a brief examination, it is clear that Agent Barton is suffering from a mild concussion. If his health is truly your concern, you would not insist that he leave one medical facility to go to another medical facility just to confirm what you already know."
"It's not that your diagnosis isn't valid, Doctor Banner…"
"Isn't it? Isn't that just what you were saying?" Bruce loomed a little.
"You are not a medical doctor, Doctor Banner. Are you disputing that?" Now the agent had his back up.
"No, that has never been in dispute. But any agent in the field can follow a concussion protocol that you would accept as a valid diagnosis, wouldn't you? I mean, agents in the field should be able to administer first aid." Bruce persisted.
The agent pursed his lips. "In the field, another agent would certainly be able to diagnose and treat a concussion,"
A new voice chimed in. "I'm pretty sure he has a concussion. What do you think, Captain Rogers?"
"I agree with your assessment, Agent Romanov. Definitely a concussion." Bruce had no idea when or how Natasha had joined the party, and he didn't turn around to look.
"So," Bruce continued, "Agent Romanov and Captain Rogers, neither of whom have any training beyond first aid, can diagnose Agent Barton's condition, but I cannot."
"We," the imperious agent pointed in a wide circle, "are not in the field. We are standing in the middle of a medical facility."
"And I," Bruce pointed to himself, "have followed the concussion protocol to diagnose Agent Barton. Or, I was in the middle of it when you interrupted."
The SHIELD agent tried to get back on solid ground. "Agent Barton must submit himself to SHIELD medical after activity in the field…"
"Uh...not exactly." Tony sauntered into the crowded medical suite, Stark Pad in hand as he read aloud. "Agent Barton must submit to a medical examination if an injury has been sustained in the field. It's right here in his file." Tony pointed helpfully to the screen but pulled it away before the agent could make anything out. He continued talking as he walked over toward Bruce. "A medical examination, not a medical examination by SHIELD. I mean, he could drop himself off at Kings County or Columbia University Medical Center...that would count."
"And what was that you said? About being a threat to public safety? Is that somewhere in the file?" Bruce was theoretically talking to Tony, but he challenged the agent with his eyes.
Tony turned and stood shoulder to shoulder with Bruce. He stared at the agent. "No. I didn't see that anywhere."
Agent Grey Suit swallowed hard. "Agent Barton…"
"Agent Barton needed medical attention. He sought out medical attention and we will give him medical attention." Steve stepped forward as he was speaking.
"But he needs to be monitored!" the agent argued.
"Doctor Banner will monitor Agent Barton's health." Steve never stopped moving forward, forcing the agent to either move or get run over by Captain America. The agent wisely chose to move. "We will keep SHIELD updated on Agent Barton's progress and any test results." By the time Steve finished speaking, the agent was in the hallway. Then Steve crossed his arms and took up a position of permanence in the doorway.
At that moment four Stark security personnel arrived. Tony called flippantly from inside the room. "Please show Agent Stick-Up-My-Ass out!" Then he muttered as he looked down at his Stark Pad, "How'd he even get in?"
Steve turned around from the doorway and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry. That was me. I didn't know what the protocol was and if Clint was hurt I wanted to make sure he got the medical help he needed…"
Tony waved Steve's concerns away.
"What...just happened?" Clint mumbled from behind them.
Bruce turned to see Clint listing far to the right leaning heavily on Natasha for support. "Looks like you're stuck with me, Barton."
Clint forced himself back up to a seated position and fretfully rubbed his face. "S'good."
Natasha met Bruce's eyes briefly; long enough to give him a slight nod. If Bruce was who Clint wanted to help him, she wasn't going to stand in the way. Bruce nodded back. Clint demonstrated an unprecedented level of trust in him; Bruce would do his damndest to make sure he didn't let him down.
Bruce shooed the others out so he could finish Clint's exam. He ordered x-rays and a CAT scan that Clint submitted to without complaint. By the time all was said and done, Clint was in a near zombie state. Tony inexplicably arrived again and escorted them down to an apartment that was ready for Clint to take up residence in. By the time the archer had collapsed into the king-sized bed, Natasha had shown up with a throw blanket and a paperback novel.
"I got this, Doc." she assured them. Then she briefly squeezed Bruce's forearm. "Thanks for looking out for him."
Bruce didn't have a flip response so he just smiled and nodded. Natasha seemed to understand. Together Tony and Bruce entered the elevator. Tony invited him to join him in his workshop, but Bruce begged off saying he need to get back to what he'd been working on. However, once Bruce was back in his lab, he couldn't get his focus to stay on his work in progress. Instead his mind kept drifting back to that wave of protectiveness he felt when Clint talked about being treated by SHIELD, how unexpectedly seure he felt with Steve standing at his back, and how the nod of approval from Natasha made something expand in his chest.
Bruce felt like something much more than taking care of Clint had happened today. He didn't want to let himself hope, but he was willing to wait and see what would develop in time.