Surprisingly, I'm still not Stan Lee or the anthropomorphic personification of Marvel/Disney (dang it). So, this isn't mine.

That there wasn't technically a waiting area in the Infirmary didn't seem to bother any of the people that lingered – and indeed had been lingering for the past few hours – in the widened hallway.

Natasha was leaning against a wall directly opposite from the door Clint had vanished into. The stance was very like the one she had adopted when playing sentry at another door, for the same man, but this time against her own choosing. Steve stood, without the slightest indication of tiring, just a couple of feet from her. Bruce was not quite pacing, as his feet didn't follow a single path, but he wandered up and down the corridor just the same. Tony was the only one seated, having contrived, through the sympathy of a nurse for his fresh injuries, to steal a chair that he'd pushed up against a wall.

There was a clamor that they could hear through the bulkhead, which sounded like several orderlies being talked over by a familiar, booming voice. Breaking a silence which had been growing for the past thirty minutes – no one, it seemed, could find anything to talk about at that moment – Tony asked, "Is that Thor's dulcet tones I hear?"

"I told him," Steve said. "Wasn't sure if he'd want to come, but figured he needed to know." He wasn't prepared to explain why he felt it was so important for them to be kept updated on each other so he was glad when Thor strode in and interrupted the conversation.

"How fares the Hawkeye?" he asked. "Is he well attended?"

"We haven't heard anything yet," Steve said. "They're still checking him over."

"My friend, Dr. Selvig, has been under the charge of several of your healers. They seem versed in their discipline."

Natasha looked over. "How is he? Dr. Selvig?"

A shadow fell over Thor's face. "Much abused by what has occurred. I fear it to be an affliction of spirit as of body." He frowned, tension and frustration evident in his broad frame. "My brother has much to answer for."

"It was only because of Dr. Selvig that I was able to close that thing–"

"Lorentzian wormhole," Bruce offered.

"– thing before anything else could come through," Natasha said. She was aware that that knowledge might not stem the physicist's guilt – guilt wasn't something to be tamed by reason, after all, and Clint himself was proof of that – but she wanted Thor to know what Selvig had been able to accomplish.

The god seemed gladdened, and not entirely surprised, by the fact. "Dr. Selvig is a strong man," he said. "As the Hawkeye is."

"He is that," Natasha said softly. She shook her head and made an effort to turn her thoughts away from the image of the man, pale and injured on a cold floor, which she could still see every time she closed her eyes. Turning to Steve and Tony, she asked something she'd almost forgotten about in the hours they'd been waiting, "Did you find out what he was doing in there?" For a brief moment, she had the horrible idea that he had been compromised again and was looking for information on SHIELD.

Bruce, who hadn't been paying attention to that either, paused in his pace and also looked up with interest. Steve had folded up the papers he'd gathered, with all the care he could, and had put them in his jacket pocket. He pulled them out now, holding them loosely in his hands. "He was writing letters. To the families of the men who died."

"Oh," Bruce said.

Natasha met Steve's gaze and then held her hand out. Steve gave the papers over to her and slowly, she opened them.

"Letters?" Thor questioned, then nodded before anyone could clarify. "I see. To express his commiseration."

"They seem like letters of notification," Steve said. "I'm not sure if they still do everything the same but, back when I...back then, there were telegrams they'd send."

"They do it in person now," Tony corrected. He'd never been in the military of course (rules and authority figures weren't things that mixed well with Tony) but his work with defense contracts and his friendship with Rhodes had allowed him to pick up on a few things military. "I'm not sure if he'd have even been allowed to send those."

"He'd have found a way to get it to them," Natasha said, looking up briefly. "These aren't –" She shrugged her shoulders. "He meant for these to be read." She shuffled to a new letter and nearly dropped them all.

"Agent Romanoff?" Steve asked, seeing the reaction.

"He wrote two for Coulson," she said, looking surprised and stricken. She had passed over Coulson's first letter, addressed to his listed next-of-kin, several pages back. Seeing his name again had been a shock. Reading the contents, however, were what caused a brief tightness in her chest. "One to his sister, in Boston. The other's to a woman he'd been dating, a musician, I think."

"Cellist," Tony filled in shortly.

"She moved away. I didn't know how serious they were but...Clint must have known that she wouldn't find out about it otherwise." Natasha flicked back over the pages, skimming, and felt a second contraction around her chest as she realized how many of them had personal information slipped in between the military wording. How many of those that had died that Clint had known, had gotten to know, personally.

It was something she avoided, if not exactly actively then at least knowingly. She knew the names of the agents on the field, as well as the support staff. There were a few she spoke to, when they encountered each other, and a handful more that she nodded to in the hallways. But eating shawarma with the Avengers (someday, when things weren't so brittle and distant-seeming, she would mock Tony for that name) was the first time she'd sat down with the intention of eating with teammates.

She folded them again and held it out to Steve. He looked surprised but took them and tucked them back into his jacket.

Silence fell again after that. At first, it was merely a soft quiet as they absorbed the information. But it grew deeper and deeper into a silence that Steve recognized. Few who had experienced it could understand just how truly the term "brothers-in-arms" rang. Battle was something intensely personal and only in the aftermath – when you found yourself with those whom you had shared an experience so extreme and who had seen you in pain, in struggle, at your utmost – did you recognize how strange it was to feel so very familiar with complete strangers.

Thor glanced over in his direction and there was understanding there. Though feasting and song often followed a victory, Thor had known many nights when he, Volstagg, Sif, Hogun, Fandral and Loki had merely sat around a fire, saying nothing. He, too, knew this as a moment of shared companionship and relished it as much as he did any part of battle. Perhaps more. Thor turned toward the door which, if he had correctly interpreted the others (and this was no given, Midgardians were prone to a strangeness he did not understand), separated them from another of their battle-kin.

He'd not known the Hawkeye outside of battle and felt toward the man an embarrassed awkwardness not usually given to his boisterous personality. It was similar to what he'd felt with Dr. Selvig, a constant awareness that it was his brother was responsible for a particularly intrusive assault against them. That the Hawkeye had fought with them so closely afterward and his actions during the fight itself earned him a warrior's respect. Learning how deeply he considered his fallen comrades had cemented his honor as well, in Thor's eyes. Midgard continued to surprise him with the worthiness of its protectors.

Just past that dull metal door, Captain E. Gage, MD stepped away from the bed and the patient it held. He raised a hand to rub at his temple and paused when he realized that his gloved fingers were still covered with blood. He frowned. "Ew."

"That's professional," Kedrick, a former Navy corpsman and recent SHEILD recruit, commented from where he was gathering the used equipment.

"I've been on-duty for nineteen hours," Gage said tiredly, "any decent vocabulary abandoned ship after the fourth casualty." He glanced at the clock, four hours and change since this last one came in. "Well, he's stable and that's about as much as he can handle today." The rest would have to wait until they'd given enough blood for the agent to take major surgery.

"Excuse me, doctor?" Gage turned his head to see a face he didn't recognize and it was a moment before he realized that this was one of the non-Medical agents they'd appropriated as an orderly when their little flying island had been nearly shot down.

"Yes. Uh?"

"Jameson, sir."


"Are you going to go out and talk to his team?"

"Excuse me?"

"That's Agent Barton, sir. One of the ones who, um –" he paused, apparently trying to find a way to describe exactly what those six had accomplished.

Gage filled in for him, having been fully appraised of the situation as he had been one of the ones clearing the others for activity. "One of the ones who saved the world from an alien invasion?" He was going to keep saying that and one day it wouldn't sound crazy. "One of the three who didn't come in for a med check?"

"Yes, sir. Well, the others are outside. They've been waiting, sir," he offered up.

Gage rolled his shoulders and nodded.

Everyone gave a sharp little jerk when the doors slid open, stepping toward it instinctively. A tall, blond man wearing a surgical gown stepped out, blocking their path and view of the inside. "Dr. Gage," he introduced shortly. "I'm assuming you're all here for Agent Barton?"

"Yes, sir," Steve replied.

"How is he?" Natasha asked.

"The collapse itself isn't a cause for major alarm," Gage said.

"What?" Tony asked, eyebrows rising. "Since when is face-planting considered a sign of good health?"

"It's not. Please don't aspire to it," Gage said. "I realize how worrying it was, but over the past few days, we've seen many cases of general exhaustion in the victims of Loki's control. Obviously, we haven't had the opportunity to study exactly how it works and what it does long-term but during the days when he was under that control, it seems that Agent Barton didn't sleep and rarely ate. Dr. Selvig, who was under for about the same amount of time, has said as much for his own experience. Agent Barton was unconscious for several hours after the fight with Agent Romanoff but that hardly counts as rest. Add to that his activities after and his body simply didn't have the energy to continue."

"You still haven't said why that would be a good thing," Bruce said.

"Relatively good, anyway. We're lucky it happened when it did because otherwise his more extensive injuries might not have been noticed until he'd lost too much blood," he paused. "I'm going about this wrong. Sorry. It's been a pretty long day."

"Yeah," Tony said, "we get that."

"Agent Barton was bleeding internally, a slow bleed in his kidney. It's something he might have passed off as bruising or a strain of the intercostal muscles. Ignoring such aches is something I'm beginning to realize is contagious around here. If the physical exhaustion had not stopped him, we wouldn't have known about the bleed until it was too late to repair. As it is, he lost a lot of blood." He ran a hand over his face. "We've managed to stop the bleed temporarily. We'll go in again and fix it when we've replenished his blood supply. There are other, less immediate injuries. Several cracked ribs, possible pulmonary contusions – "

"Bruises on his lungs," Bruce translated for Steve and Thor.

"Right. And the variety of scrapes, strains, and bruises the rest of you amassed. We've done some very basic scans, but we'll give him the longer brain scan we gave to the other compromised agents later." Gage shook his head. "I'm too tired to do this properly. I'm sorry. Agent Barton is stable for now. He's not going to jump out of bed and give you a jig – "

"He might," Natasha said seriously. Though her expression had not changed, her entire form seemed less tense than it had been. "You've never had him as a patient. I'd advise you to tie him down or he'll disappear out an air duct."

"Yeah, and I'll bet my annual salary I know who taught him that trick," Tony said, glancing at her.

A slow sort of unwinding eased through the group and Gage gave a faint smile. "There are a couple of hurdles left to get through, but he's okay for now. Please, Agent Romanoff, Dr. Banner, go away and get some rest." He turned a practiced physician's eye on the other three. "Captain, Mr. Odinson, records indicate you haven't been medically cleared. And Mr. Stark, Dr. Sidva and a certain Ms. Potts have dictated that you be "captured" and kept for overnight observation as well."

Steve (due to innumerable hours spent before and after the serum experiment), Thor (due to a bad experience in one in New Mexico) and Tony (due to a personality that made him prickly when he wasn't the expert at something) were collectively not fond hospitals or doctors on principal. Given, however, that complying with Gage might allow them a peek at Clint, they acquiesced with grace.

Natasha frowned, obviously desiring to go inside as well. She weighed the idea of arguing with Gage over the relative stability of the Infirmary air ducts.

"I have a headache," Bruce declared. Everyone turned to look at him. "A very sudden one."

Natasha didn't look at him before saying, "I do, too."

Gage peered at the both of them. When he didn't say anything, Bruce added, "It feels like it might be brain tumor."

"It would be best to make sure," Natasha said.

The doctor tilted his head to look at the ceiling for a moment before sighing. "Right, I suppose you should come in as well." They really didn't have the room, what with all the injured, but Gage figured that they would find a way inside anyway and he could always station on the floor.

As Gage turned to go inside the Infirmary, Tony looked at the two of them. "You are the least subtle people I've ever seen. And I'm standing next to demi-god with no inside voice and a man whose pants might actually burst into fire if he tried to tell a lie." He shook his head sadly. "I'd have expected it from you," he said to Bruce before turning to Natasha, "but you're supposed to be spy." He tsk-ed and walked into the Infirmary.

"It's rather unsettling to be called obvious by a man who, by his own admission, has his own theme song," Bruce commented as they followed.

Authoring Notes: If you are reading this, I don't deserve you. Not only was I not faster in updating, I was so much longer in doing it. I am a completely ridiculous person and I apologize. Thank you, though, for your reviews and alerts. I really appreciate the feedback. I'm so glad that people responded positively to the second chapter and that the whole letter sequence seemed to work.

The medical, um, "information" in this is extremely suspect. That last crash/fall through the window had Hawkeye looking pretty pained so I internet-researched (which, as most people know, is not really research at all) various, serious consequences and cobbled the rest out of imagination. My apologies to those who know what they're about and might have read this with a cringe. Please let me know if there's something egregious to be fixed.

And Thor has appeared! His speech pattern is probably closer to the comics than the movie (not that there's a huge difference). It's just that I have easier access to one than the other for reference at the moment (at least until it comes out on DVD...yay!) so that's what I'm using. Let me know how you feel about his, or any of the others', characterizations. Writing for so many distinct, and distinctly awesome, personalities is hard.

The next chapter will have Clint! Because he's awesome and his name is in the character dealie despite the fact that I've neglected him mightily. I won't make promises about when it'll be out because that didn't turn out so well last time. Instead I offer the sincere hope that you enjoyed this and a great many thanks for reading.

God bless!