There's a fantastic relationship between Hawkeye and Hulk in the cartoon, and I was inspired by a picture prompt over at The Beta Branch, and this is what came out of it. No pairings, no spoilers, just some Clint whump and...yeah. Have at it. Thank you again to everyone over Beta Branch for the encouragement.
The picture can be found here - http[colon]/25[dot]media[dot]tumblr[dot]com/tumblr[underscore]m1z9v41OAX1qjnfqeo2[underscore]500[dot]jpg
He's pretty sure it started that mission he broke his arm in two places.
He'd always been a sort of loner, starting from his childhood right on up through when he started doing sniper work in the army and then recently, when he hooked up with SHIELD and became sort-of partners with one Natasha Romanoff.
And he was sort of back to being a loner, with only him and Bruce manning the fort, so to speak, as everybody else had been called out to do something classified somewhere not in New York. So that explained why, perched on a building, Clint had been surveying the scene through the sight on his recurve, arrow knocked and all the way back and anchored.
Clint had been blindsided, turning in time to take the full brunt of something blunt, hard, and heavy on that same side, starting at the elbow. He'd gone down like a ton of bricks, vision fading in and out and trying to suck in air like there wasn't any available.
There was a roar, some heavy pounding that made the building he was lying face-down on tremble, and he was, for some reason, quite sure the threat that had landed him in this position was neutralized. And probably in dire need of a hospital visit. Or a morgue.
By the time he mustered up enough energy to ignore the white hot throbbing fire that had encompassed his right arm and lift his head, what he found wasn't what he was expecting. Namely, he wasn't expecting to see the wide green face and even wider green eyes down on his level.
"Hi, Hulk," he muttered, tipping his forehead down to rest on the cement. Something large ruffled his hair – he assumed it was one of Hulk's massive fingertips – and he huffed out a laugh. It turned into a grimace when Hulk picked up the quiver attached to his back – thereby hauling him up, the strap across his chest tight – and his stomach rolled at the sight of his swollen arm. It was like something out of a movie. A very bad movie.
Hulk seemed to consider him for a few moments, and then draped him carefully over his opposite meaty arm, mindful of Barton's injury. Clint got another pat on the head and the only warning that came with a slight muscle shifting before he was tucked against Hulk like a teddy bear and they were quite literally leaping off the building.
Clint couldn't have screamed if he wanted to. Mostly because he was desperately trying not to throw up. The landing was smooth by Hulk standards, though Barton was almost sure he'd broken multiple ribs and whacked his grotesquely swollen appendage off Hulk's elbow and then he didn't really care anymore because pain overloaded everything and he blacked out.
He must have not been out for too long because when the world finally sifted back through they were still moving. Much slower, granted, but they were still moving and Clint was really still deciding whether he was going to throw up or not. He breathed slowly through clenched teeth, very glad his ribs weren't broken because that would be another hell in its own. The more he blinked, the more he seemed to wake and be aware of certain things. Like the way the edge of his quiver was digging into the small of his back and the back of his neck. The way Hulk's knee would occasionally brush against his feet as they moved, but mostly he was aware of just how fucked up his arm was.
And, oh goody, they were finally getting back to where they had initially left their SHIELD support.
"He broke," Hulk said, uncurling his arm and picking the archer up once more by his quiver. Barton dangled there for a minute until he was lowered slowly until his feet were on the ground. His knees buckled out from under him, and he was sure he looked appropriately pathetic, loose-limbed and pale and hanging from Hulk.
A couple agents rushed forward to bolster him up, and Hulk let go, ruffling his hair one more time before stomping off. Clint swayed on his feet, trying to figure what the hell had happened for the last twenty minutes – had he really been carted back like a teddy bear by Hulk – and finally gave up the losing battle with his stomach to throw up all over the nearest agent's shoes.
Clint staggered out of the helicarrier medical bay about an hour later, scowl firmly in place and his newly casted – bright green, somebody had a sick sense of humor – arm in a sling. They'd put him under to reset everything, the clean break up toward his elbow and the other break down near his wrist. The result was fiberglass from just below the first joints on his fingers to the very edge of the bottom of his elbow. The bottom edge on his palm made it difficult to bend his fingers, so using his right as his draw hand was out of the question. It was fine with him, really, since he'd just dig out his left eye dominant bows.
There were definitely perks to being ambidextrous.
He rubbed his eyes with his left hand, still groggy after surfacing from what they'd used to put him under – he'd thrown up again because of it, but they'd pumped more fluids into him before letting him up and around – and all he really wanted to do was find somewhere to hole up and sleep for a little while. Preferably until they got back to New York.
Passing by one of the observation rooms – which Natasha avoided like the plague because she wasn't too fond of seeing that much view through too little glass when this far up – Clint was surprised to see Hulk sitting on the floor watching the lights drift by below. He was more surprised that Bruce hadn't come back yet, but that was just semantics, and since he had the sense of a gnat some days, he stepped into the room and swung wide to make sure Hulk could see him.
It was a Very Bad Idea to sneak up on Hulk.
The massive green head swiveled to look at him. Clint got within touching range and flinched only a little when Hulk reached out and nudged the sling and cast. Thankfully Barton was still on the good drugs and didn't really feel it, otherwise he probably would have yelped.
"Fixed?" Hulk rumbled.
Clint blew out the breath he'd been holding with a small smirk. "Nah, big guy. Just busted now, not totally broke." If that made any sense whatsoever, and apparently it did to Hulk because he nodded and went back to staring out the window. Clint knew he was aware of the archer, and it was what allowed Barton to put a hand on a meaty arm, drag it along huge shoulders as he walked behind, and fold himself to the floor on Hulk's other side. He folded in on himself a little, feeling the heat radiate off the massive form next to him and scooted a little closer to the warmth. Hulk rumbled deep in his chest but didn't do anything – or physically move Clint – and the archer relaxed.
After a few minutes of staring at the windows, Barton's head followed his left shoulder to lean against Hulk's arm. The big guy looked over and around his own shoulder and let out a snort. He got his arm out from under Barton and before the archer could tip over uncomfortably, spun him so Barton's back was against his hip and bottom ribcage. Hulk tucked his arm under Barton's shoulder, big palm flat against the floor, heaved a massive sigh, and returned his attention to watching the lights on the ground go by.
Clint had ditched the sling by the time he walked into the mansion's kitchen for lunch the following day. It was annoying. And there was nothing wrong his shoulder, anyway, it was his arm in a cast. He'd already downed three extra-strength Tylenol and couldn't really feel the limb in question, and he was okay with that, too.
Bruce was there, waiting for something to get done in the microwave, Clint decided to go simple, hunting for the bread and the peanut butter. It was still the pair of them in the mansion, the others still away, and Bruce looked over his shoulder at the archer, wincing a little when he saw the cast.
"My better half give you that?"
Barton smirked, holding the peanut butter jar in the crook of his elbow to get the lid off with his left hand. "Your better half is the reason I only have a broken arm instead of a broken head." He finally got it, dropped the lid on the counter, and picked up the knife to get a heaping helping of – and the universe apparently loved to fuck with him – Peter Pan Crunchy. He swiped it against the bread and dove back into the jar for another scoop and promptly decided he screw with the lid later. He managed to spread the peanut butter with some semblance of evenness, and by the time he put the other piece of bread on top he was beginning to think it had been more effort than it was really worth.
The microwave pinged and Bruce took out his container, setting it on the kitchen island across from Clint to let it cool and unobtrusively leaned over, snagging both the jar and the lid to put the pieces back together. If Clint noticed, he didn't say anything.
"Anybody heard from the rest of them?" Clint asked. His eyebrows screwed up in concentration. Bruce knew that look as peanut butter owning the roof of the mouth.
"They checked in with Coulson, but he couldn't give me anything." Bruce stirred the leftover beef and vegetable stirfry that had been refrigerator overtop of the rest of the rice in the little container.
The it's just you and me went unspoken between them, though they both knew it was there.
It took a lot of begging and pleading – with copious amounts of puppy eyes in the face of Coulson's blank look – for Clint to be allowed to go with them the next time the Avengers, what was left of them in New York, anyway, got the call for something funky happening out in Detroit. Truthfully, there was no way in hell Clint was going to let himself be left behind in Stark's huge mansion, and there was probably no way in hell Tony himself would want Clint left alone in the mansion for any extended period of time.
So Barton, still dressed in civvies and carrying a duffel bag, made himself at home on the helicarrier in the room next to Bruce's and prided himself on the fact he was able to smuggle his bow and quiver aboard as well, though Coulson had been adamant there was no way you're going into the field, Barton.
Rules were made to be broken, and Barton had been doing it long enough to figure out most of the unconventional ways to do it.
Needless to say it wasn't Coulson Clint went to about getting in the van parked in a Detroit back alley as the support for a very lonely Hulk currently wandering around with a team of highly trained agents looking for whatever it was that had registered enough to call them away from New York. He was still wearing civvies – old faded blue jeans, beat to shit Chuck Taylors, and a long sleeve black tee that had been hell to get over the cast – but had his earpiece in to monitor the chatter, not that there was much of it, and more importantly his bow and quiver were under the computer set up he was sitting in front of.
Whether anybody realized it or not, Clint was still functioning and was still Hulk's back up regardless of the SHIELD team currently out there with the big guy and regardless of what his current medical status was listed as. He could still shoot, therefore could still do his job.
So, okay, his percentage was a little lower than normal the last time he'd snuck into the range at HQ, but he had to balance the riser against the cast, and sometimes it moved, and he'd done enough practice though to compensate for it. Clint knew he wasn't perfect – he was an archer with a busted arm. It was like a marathon runner with a busted leg in a walking cast.
The agent next to him flinched when Hulk roared, the sound only slightly deafened as it came through somebody else's earpiece into theirs. Clint, having been quite near the real thing, was immune to it, and straightened in his chair. There was some chatter from the agents and then everything went quiet. Too quiet.
Barton's instincts kicked him hard, and he was shoving his chair back and reaching for the case with his recurve in it with his left while fumbling slightly with his right to hook he strap of his quiver over his shoulder and onto his back. He snapped open the case, pulled the folded bow and two bowstrings – always have a backup – and barely had enough room for both limbs to extend, sandwich the lower one between his knee and the floor of the van, string it, and be out the back of the vehicle before the agent he was with could form a coherent protest.
There was the sound of metal on metal on concrete and he took off toward it, knowing that's where he'd find Hulk. He slowed from a sprint to a jog when he saw the first overturned car, and then to a walk when the carnage increased. Coulson was going to have a field day with filling out the damage reports for the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan – though they were probably less confusing than the bullshit from the State of New York, who tried to drown everybody in useless paperwork – and he pulled an arrow just in case, and put some tension on the string.
He came across the first body not long after that and knelt next to the face-down agent, observing the rise and fall of the shoulders as she breathed.
"We're going to need some paramedics, there's at least one agent down," Clint said, eyes never leaving the scene around him. He had yet to actually find Hulk, but the path through the destruction was fairly obvious.
"Barton? When the hell did you get down here?"
Clint smirked at Coulson's outraged tone as he rose to his feet. "Nice to hear you, too, Coulson." He kept going, spurred on by the noise, and rounded a corner only to slide back the way he'd come. Found 'em. But what he really needed was a vantage point further on down the street, especially when he realized they were dealing with the latest Rent-a-Villain
A Rent-a-Villain that was giving Hulk a decent run for his money. Then again, build a big enough robot and sit in like a twisted version of Iron Man – without nearly the amount of flashy, class, or snark that Tony brought with him – and then it became a matter of tossing cars and hurling each other into buildings. Which was, of course, right up Hulk's alley.
"You were in the – Why did you leave the van, Barton?" Phil was practically screeching in his ear, and a tiny part of Clint enjoyed the fact that he'd caused the normally unflappable agent to lose a little control.
"Because my partner needed backup," Clint said, ducking low and taking off on a diagonal down and across the debri littered street. There was a fairly tall building overlooking the park where most of the carnage was taking place, including but not limited to drone bots and soldiers going back and forth with SHIELD agents, Hulk's grunts and roars of both frustration and satisfaction, the sound of gunfire and explosions, and it was a chaos Clint wouldn't have expected him and Hulk to wreak without the rest of the Avengers present, let alone in the middle of Detroit.
He popped up over the hood of a DP cruiser and picked off the masked assailant ready to brain an otherwise occupied SHIELD agent.
"There is sufficient SHIELD support. You're not medically cleared."
"The first one's up for debate but the second one is probably true," Clint said, shouldering past a door hanging awkwardly on its hinges. He stopped inside the foyer and took a good look at the building he'd just walked into. He was in a freakin' dorm. He took the fact he wasn't hearing screams of terror from behind the doors as a sign that everyone – or most everyone – had evacuated as soon as the shit hit the fan out front and in the park. Either way, he took off up the stairs, looping his bow over his right shoulder and taking the steps two at a time.
"They're both facts – Where the hell are you?"
Clint burst through the door marked roof access, unslung his bow and nocked an arrow in one fluid movement. "A little busy, Coulson." He used a ventilation unit to get onto the stone ledge running all the way around the edge and looked first for those who might have spotted him, and secondly for weaknesses in the robot. Specifically joints.
Thank you Tony and the impromptu education one movie night on the weak points of robots and armor while watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Stormtroopers were more vulnerable than they first appeared.
"I didn't ask for what you were doing, I asked where you were, Barton."
"Still busy," Clint breathed, looking through the sight. He needed to compensate for the roll the cast was ultimately going to give him when he let go, and he settled a little further into his stance on his in breath, releasing the bowstring from its anchored position on the out breath. It was a little higher than he'd intended and it pinged off the clear bubble around the operator's cockpit instead of inserting in the seam between the bubble and the rest of the machinery.
"Shit," he muttered, reaching for another arrow as the damn thing turned toward him. He looked downward this time, aiming for one of the knee joints, and he knew he'd hit his target when it listed to the right as it clomped toward the building. He aimed for any joint he could feasibly hit, wondering where in hell Hulk was as he jumped from the ledge to the roof seconds before Bubble Boy, as he was terming the thing taking out a chunk of the building trying to get to him. It staggered, and Clint figured Hulk had tackled its legs. Barton spun on his heel, raising his bow as he grabbed another arrow. The seam where the cockpit bubble met the armor was closer, and even with the roll from the cast on his arm it would be a better shot.
Coulson screamed something in his ear seconds after he released the arrow; it embedded itself in the seam, pushing through to create a gap. There was a second one right behind it before the rooftop heaved and Clint had to spread his arms to keep his balance. Bubble Boy reached for him and he backpedaled, automatically seeking higher ground. There was more roaring and before Clint could fully comprehend the what, or more importantly the how of it, Hulk was coming up over the edge of the building with a (un)helpful assist from Bubble Boy. There was more mad scrambling on Clint's part, trying to move out of the line of fire of the chunks of concrete and brick Hulk was producing in his uncontrolled slide. And when Bubble Boy climbed right up there with them, Clint knew Coulson was going to own his ass when they got out of this.
Sound was the first thing that came back, Coulson barking for a status report in his ear. Color came next when he opened his eyes, blinking a few times to clear them. He was facedown against something rough and cold, his good arm curled underneath him with his casted one flung straight out. His quiver was a comforting weight across his back, but he wasn't entirely sure where his bow was, and it wasn't immediately in his line of sight. And Hulk was….somewhere. He wasn't immediately in Clint's line of sight either.
Clint pushed himself up with his left and sort of rolled to settle back on his rear and nearly kept right on going out into open space. He flung himself forward, sucking in his limbs in order to find something steady and firm under him. He craned his neck around to look over his right shoulder and swallowed.
There were at least seven stories of open space between him and the ground.
Alright. Not an option.
"Are you still breathing, Barton?"
Shit. Phil. "Yeah, Phil, I'm breathing." Clint looked to his left and stretched out toward what looked relatively stable. Granted, it was a glorified pile of rubble, but it had to be somewhat steady, right? Wrong, apparently, as the whole damn building seemed to shift when he redistributed his weight so he tucked himself back in like a turtle and waited until everything settled again.
"Where the hell are you?"
"I'm a little occupied right now." He got his forearms under him, and in what was probably a misuse of his cast, pushed himself into a plank position and let his head drop to look at what was behind him. More rubble. Fantastic. He dropped back to his belly and inched backward, feeling with toes of his Chucks and pausing anytime anything didn't seem overly steady. He didn't get very far when there was a groan and the piece he was lying on dropped a foot, tipping forward slightly.
"Again, Barton, not what I asked. Where are you?"
"Damn it, Phil, I'm stuck on that building that practically collapsed and I don't have a way down. Happy?" he spat, shrinking in again.
He was, in that moment, acutely aware of why exactly he wore a uniform in the field. A uniform that didn't easily separate the bottom of his shirt from the top of his pants, because he had rough concrete digging into his navel from sliding around, and his belt buckle was decidedly uncomfortable where it was currently jammed.
Well, Clint no longer had to figure out where Hulk was. From the sound of it, he was back on the ground. Lucky bastard. "Yeah, buddy?" he hollered down.
There was a chuckle that could have only come from a chest the size of a small car. "Jump!"
"And you'll catch me?" Clint twisted to look down and confirmed that, yes, Hulk was serious.
Hulk snorted. "Just jump."
Right. This was, apparently, his only option. He took a deep breath and got his hands under him, palms flat on the rough stone. The right was a little wonky, but all he needed was balance, and he had that in spades. He rose up on his toes, like he was going to start a set of push-ups, and then, the quiver awkward against his back, walked his feet to his hands and stood, moving with the minute movements of the slab – very narrow, now that he could actually look at it – he'd been stuck on.
"Don't drop me," Barton shouted, hardly daring to believe he was going to freely jump roughly eight stories and be caught by Hulk. Part of him shouted it was borderline insane, and the other part of him said stop being an idiot and just do it. He went wholeheartedly with that part and flung himself out into the open air. Eight stories went by fairly quickly and the rather sudden stop at the end wasn't all that bad as Hulk caught him bridal style. Before Clint could get his bearings – and his land-legs back – Hulk swung him around to his back, and Clint, though a little slow on the uptake and a little clumsy with his casted limb, got with the program and hooked his arms around Hulk's neck.
Hulk took that as a sign he was holding tight enough and took off in one of those eighty-yard leaps of his and Clint hurriedly pinched his knees into Hulk's ribs in an effort to stay relatively stationary. There was another leap that felt like flying, and then they were loping through the torn streets of downtown Detroit on the way back to SHIELD support and a very irate Phil Coulson who hadn't stopped chatting Clint's ear off though Clint hadn't responded in quite a while.
They skidded to a stop in front of said agent and Clint slid woodenly from Hulk's back, knees wobbly until they could take his weight again. He patted Hulk's enormous forearm with a, "Thanks, big guy," and took his bow from a nearby agent, glad it wasn't permanently out of commission and buried under what used to be a dorm. He looped it over his shoulder, leaned slightly toward his large green partner, and smiled widely at a rather livid Phil Coulson.
Yeah. He'd be lucky to be let out of the house anytime soon. Clint stuck his hands in his pockets and prepared for the onslaught.
Which got infinitely worse when Director Fury appeared seemingly out of nowhere and glaring from his only eye. Yeah. Clint wasn't going anywhere for the next couple decades.
It wasn't as bad as he first thought. Okay, so he'd gotten the ass-reaming of his life from both Coulson and Fury, but he'd been expecting that. His activation status date had been changed to include a week and a half of physical therapy once his cast was removed in another three and a half weeks, and he was confined to the manor or had an agent glued to him when he was outside. Missions were completely off the table, including riding along in the van because, as Coulson so lovingly put it, unless he was strapped in to the seat like a child he couldn't be trusted to actually stay put. Not one of Clint's finer moments, truthfully, but at the end of the day he'd come back to the fact he'd done what he had to and he was good with that. On some level so were Coulson and Fury, they just couldn't show it.
Not entirely sure how he got there, Clint found himself sitting on the floor in the observation room in sort of the same situation as previous, watching the lights go by. The heavy footsteps behind him suggested Hulk's presence, and he let his shoulders relax, casted arm balanced on his knee. He huffed mildly in protest when Hulk wrapped a surprisingly gentle hand around his torso and bodily picked him up so the big man could take his seat. Clint was deposited on a meaty thigh and the archer leaned back, content and, considering Hulk was his own walking furnace, rather warm against the chill the helicarrier always seemed to have.
"You do realize I'm not a teddy bear, right?" Clint said after a moment.
Hulk chuckled, poking at Clint's cast with a mighty finger. "Busted."
Clint smirked, thumping his cast against Hulk's thigh. "Yeah. Busted." He leaned back into the bulk behind him.
He was dozing, watching the country literally fly by through the window through half-lidded eyes when Hulk ruffled his hair, rumbling something that sounded suspiciously like, "Teddy." Clint could live with that. There were worse things in life.
Clint was climbing the walls by Monday afternoon. He'd been locked out of the ranges, though he was pretty sure Phil would only keep that punishment for him for approximately a week or so, if Coulson didn't want anything to explode, and he'd already spent time at the gym, running on the treadmill, and now he was just really damn bored.
So, naturally, he wandered down to Bruce's lab.
He knocked first on the glass door as not to startle Banner as sometimes when Banner startled in just the right way he sort of Hulked out, and grinned. Bruce waved him in and sent a rolling stool Clint's way with his foot. Barton sat himself on it and pushed off, careening across the smooth floor with a childlike glee.
Bruce rolled his eyes, marking something down in his lab notebook while Barton used his Chucks to wheel himself over to Bruce's side. Once he got there, Clint planted his forearms on the workbench and dropped his chin down to rest on them.
"I expected you down here three hours ago," Bruce said, checking a printout of something and again, making notations in his notebook.
"Couldn't give in that easily," Clint muttered. "Whatcha workin' on?"
"Ion implanting." He slid the printout over toward Clint, who took one look at it and had his eyebrows crawling for his forehead.
"And that is…"
Bruce took his printout back. "What we do is we take ions of a certain material and accelerate them in an electric field. Then we impact them into a solid. That solid's chemical, physical, and electrical properties are then changed."
"Ah." Clint's eyes were wide in that I've no idea what the hell you're talking about but I'm going to nod anyway, and finally copped to it with, "That sounds fantastic."
Banner snorted. "Of course it does." He looked sideways at Clint. "Coulson locked you out of the range, didn't he?"
"Yeah. Probably for about a week." Clint sat up a little straighter. "And there is nothing on TV but reality shows or soap operas." And when his own life was more reality than reality TV, it made watching a little difficult. "And he threatened to take my bow away if I tried using some of Tony's home decorations as targets."
"That vase on the third floor?"
"It was fugly."
Bruce chuckled. A bored Hawkeye was one thing. Confining him to the house was asking for trouble. Stark would be lucky if there was nothing else broken, and Coulson would probably be very thankful if that nothing else included his own agents. Then he had a moment of brilliance. "Clint, how do you feel about puzzles?"
Clint slouched on the stool, fingers on his left hand tracing over the rough fiberglass of his cast. Card games were cheaper than board ones, and with a hell of a lot less pieces to lose. Or for the littlest kids to choke on if they were left out by the other kids. Puzzles were treated in much the same way, and Clint couldn't remember if he'd ever done one. His memories of his parents were vague, what he remembered of the orphanage was downright painful, and living with a circus meant leaving some of the normal childhood traditions behind.
He looked up at Bruce, his expression unreadable, and said skeptically, "Puzzles?"
Bruce shrugged off his lab coat, put the copy of the printout in his lab notebook, and in response said neutrally, "Lunch?"
Barton nodded and trailed Banner back to the kitchen. It was in the next half an hour he realized Bruce was a pretty decent cook, especially when it came to tuna melts on wheat bread. Not wanting to deal with his cast, Clint ate his with a fork. Made life easier.
The archer looked up and smirked when he saw the Sharpie in Bruce's hand. Clint extended his right arm across the kitchen island, huffing in amusement as Banner turned it this way and that to find the perfect spot on the unmarked bright green surface. He settled for a spot on the back of Clint's wrist for his name and flipped it to write Hulk on the underside. Barton chuckled at that one before taking his arm back and settling it across his knee.
"The first time I played Scrabble was in college," Bruce said when he was done with his own sandwich. Clint looked across the kitchen island and said nothing, trusting enough to see where this went. "I lived in a suite with five other guys my sophomore year and we had a sort of tournament for the floor every Friday." Clint was still silent. Bruce stood up with his plate, stretched for Clint's, and put them both in the sink. "Second closet on the right if it's anything you're interested in." With that he headed back to work in his lab leaving Clint by himself still sitting at the kitchen island.
Barton sat there for a grand total of five minutes debating with himself and then got up heading for said closet. He stood in front of the closed door for a further five minutes for another internal debate, and figured it couldn't hurt and actually opened it. There was everything from Life to Chutes and Ladders to at least three different types of Monopoly, Scrabble, and two versions of Trivial Pursuit. There was a tub of Legos and a big set of K'Nex he made a mental note to come back to, and there on one of the middle shelves about head height was nothing but puzzles. From fifty pieces to a two thousand and every sort of count in between.
It was, in a way, almost overwhelming.
He had to start somewhere, and it was usually better to start at the beginning. Clint took a fifty piece, a one hundred, a five hundred, and a one thousand, since he didn't want to come back to the closet when he finished each one and he had no idea how long it was going to take to do this.
Clint found his way back to the kitchen island with his puzzles, mostly for the space and partly for the fact that when Bruce was done for the day in his lab he was invariably going to wind up back in the kitchen to grab some dinner and Barton was trying to escape from his nearly endless cycle of peanut butter sandwiches.
The fifty piece was up first. A picture of a country scene on the front of the box, and he took off the lid and dumped the pieces onto the black marble. The box top he kept to his left to follow the picture, and figured the first thing he ought to do was flip all the pieces so he could actually see them, instead of having a mix of backs and picture.
Then he sat there wondering where the hell he went next.
Time always seemed to fly the more engrossed he was in his work, and what felt like the next time he looked up at the clock, Bruce couldn't really believe it was already close to seven thirty. It was a rarity since moving into the mansion with the rest of the team for him to have such peace and quiet to work. Tony was usually banging something around either down the hall or on the floor above, Thor was wandering the halls with endless questions whenever he happened to catch somebody on a break from what they were doing, and while Steve, Natasha, and Clint –
Bruce had left Barton with the idea of doing puzzles for an afternoon and had absolutely no idea what Clint had decided to do. At any rate the archer hadn't been back down to see him – which could be either a good thing or a bad thing – and Bruce really hoped no more ugly vases had met their demise at the hands of a bored Clint Barton.
His stomach growled loudly, reminding him he was a bit late for dinner, and he shrugged off the lab coat again and cleaned up his work station. After one last look around he flipped off the light, the door locked behind him, and he headed upstairs to the kitchen to first solve his hunger problem.
He didn't expect this.
Clint was balanced on the seat of the stool on his knees, his casted right arm resting on the table and using his left to sift through the puzzle pieces laid out on the kitchen island. He'd found all the outside pieces and put them together to make a frame, and there were what looked like groups of images he'd managed to connect. His hair was a little less spiky and a little more fluffy, like he'd been running his good hand through it repeatedly, and Bruce watched him stick his tongue between his teeth as he searched for a piece.
The whole image reminded him of watching a child. Clint kept personal things tight to him, and there were few people who knew he and his brother had been in an orphanage and then joined the circus at an early age. Bruce knew this. He'd been privy to that conversation because Clint trusted him. And from what he remembered during his last few Hulk-outs and conversations with other agents, Clint trusted his other half, too.
Bruce knew how valuable that trust was. And how fragile.
He leaned in the doorway to the kitchen and cleared his throat. Clint's shoulders stiffened and he looked over, the brief deer-in-the-headlights look replaced quickly with a neutral expression. Clint glanced down at what he'd been doing, and that neutral expression gave way to a small smile and a twitch of his shoulders.
"You eat?" Bruce asked.
"Not yet." Clint one of the little pods he had to a few points on the outside frame and a good portion of the left corner came together. "Was kinda hopin' to get a free meal again?"
"Sick of peanut butter sandwiches?"
Clint rubbed at the back of his neck with his good hand with a muttered, "Yeah." When the hell did he get so easy to read?
Bruce chuckled on his way to the fridge and wondered how many puzzles were in that closet. Then again, looking at the progress Clint had made on one, maybe it would be okay. If he ran through all of them, Bruce could just turn him loose on the K'Nex he knew were in there and those would keep Barton occupied for hours in a variety of ways.
Coulson gave him back his range access after a week, like Clint had figured he would, and the only other wrinkle in an otherwise quiet few days was when Clint, having figured out a system for puzzles by Tuesday night, had blown through the rest of them by Thursday morning and moved on to K'Nex at Banner's suggestion, had lost one of the little yellow rods down his cast. He tried shaking the damn thing out and when that had failed, showed up outside Bruce's lab with a pair of needle nose pliers, a bent metal coat hanger, and a rather murderous expression on his face. Bruce had taken pity on him, as the only other option was to contact SHIELD medical and have them remove the cast, get the little yellow rod, and then put another one on, and Clint didn't have the patience for that. So Bruce had carefully dug around first with the bent metal coat hanger, got the rod far enough to where he could get it with the pliers, and plucked it out of Barton's cast before anyone was the wiser.
Which meant Friday morning Clint was at the range with his recurve and a quiver of arrows annihilating a target in a proper venting of frustration at being housebound. Clint hadn't been expecting anybody to drop in on him, so when Coulson showed up about an hour in with the case that held Barton's compound, Clint wasn't sure what to think.
"Here's the deal, Barton," Phil said when he had Clint's attention, "you range test for both bows and I'll put you back on as active status."
Clint stared at Coulson for about another minute, finally shrugged, and reached for another quiver of broadheads. He'd start with the recurve because he had it out. What surprised him a little was Phil standing there with him and watching while Clint tested. He passed, of course, with both bows despite the cast on his arm. A cast which Phil was eyeing while twirling a Sharpie between his fingers. Clint held out his arm with a sigh, and the name Phil went over his forearm in rather neat writing, almost in line with his thumb.
"Thanks, Phil," Clint said after tucking both bows back in their respective cases.
"Good, because you and Hulk have been called out."
Clint wasn't sure he knew what it was started out as, but he knew what it ended with: clusterfuck. The whole thing was a clusterfuck.
That was the first thing his mind happily supplied him with when he lifted his head off of whatever hard, cold surface he was currently mashing his face into. There was nothing but rock and dirt to his right, and he got his good hand underneath him to get his ribcage off his cast, as his ability to land when unconscious sucked, and looked to his left. The huge, breathing shape could only be one thing, and that meant he was stuck wherever the hell they were, and he was completely clueless for this one, with Hulk.
Clint staggered to his feet and his hair brushed the ceiling. Closer inspection of their little cavern revealed how little space there was to move: about two feet of space between Hulk's head and feet and the walls, and Clint was barely able to stand in places without having to tip his head sideways. There was no way Hulk was going to have any room to maneuver. They were stuck until somebody figured out where they were and how to get them out.
Clusterfuck. The word kept ringing inside Clint's head. Clusterfuck.
The massive shoulder next to him quivered and then jerked. Clint did a mad dash around Hulk's head to his other side to look at his face, hoping seeing him would mean Hulk would stay calm.
He nearly laughed at the irony.
"Hey, big guy," Clint said as soon as Hulk's eyes opened. "So, it's a little cramped…" He winced as a meaty fist whacked the wall and the whole pocket of space they were in seemed to shudder. He dodged away from the other fist, ducking his head as dust and dirt filtered from the ceiling. "Hulk…" Clint had seen a lot of shit in his life, ranging from the absurd to the downright terrifying and practically everything in between. But nothing had prepared him for this, exactly.
A claustrophobic Hulk now contained in a small space with no clear exit.
And the big guy wanted out.
"Hulk!" Barton yelled; Hulk pounded, and Clint never saw the rock the size of a softball before it whacked him in the head hard enough to send him to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut. He went down in a heap, landing awkwardly on his quiver with his arms and legs akimbo, his casted arm close enough to whack Hulk in the ear. The massive head swiveled with a growl and the big form froze when he saw Clint not moving. Breathing, but not moving.
"Arrow man broke," Hulk muttered, shifting over enough to curl on his side and bring Clint's pliant form with him. He didn't like the tight fit, how he couldn't see the outside world, but he didn't have enough room to stand and start swinging to get them out of there. He tucked the unconscious archer up against his chest.
Clint decided right then and there he needed to stop waking up like this. Granted, he was warm, but he was being held almost too tightly around his middle while trying to drive his casted arm up under his ribcage. He jerked when he realized the pillow behind him was not as soft as he expected and, oh, yeah, it was breathing.
It took a minute or two for his head to clear, and when it did, he realized he was still in that damn small cave, only this time he was being held against Hulk like a teddy bear. Which, considering Hulk had this tendency to refer to him as "Teddy", he supposed there wasn't any help for it.
He squirmed, and Hulk's grip around his midriff eased.
"Teddy," Hulk rumbled close to his ear and Clint chuckled.
"M'awake, big guy." He squirmed some more until Hulk let him go all the way, and Clint promptly rolled onto his belly with his nose in the dirt. Pushing himself, he looked over and saw the frown almost permanently etched on the big green face. Hulk didn't do confined spaces. Or places he couldn't easily gain access to sunlight and open space.
And Clint had no idea how long they were going to be stuck where they currently were.
He tried his comm unit and found nothing but static. Great. He situated himself with his back against the nearest wall, awkwardly sandwiching his quiver between his shoulder blades and unmovable rock and rested his forearms on his bent knees. Hulk shifted a little closer and Clint let one leg extend so it was nearly touching his large green friend. Hulk seemed to relax a bit. Not much, but a little, and it was something.
The first half hour passed in silence. Clint had pulled his quiver off and was looking at the fletching on his arrows when he noticed Hulk getting more fidgety as the time went by. So Clint started talking. Anything and everything from living in the mansion with the rest of the Avengers to some of the missions he'd been on before the Avengers Initiative. He even went back as far as some of the more notable times – the good ones, at least – of when he was with the circus and his brother. Hulk settled almost immediately, focusing on the cadence of Clint's voice first and then the words, occasionally grunting or asking, "Why," because, as Barton had come to realize, there was a large brain in that large green head, and it was good for more than just following the idea of "Hulk smash."
Clint talked himself hoarse and then kept going.
It was how a SHIELD team, led by Coulson, found them four hours and twenty-nine minutes later. Clint was rasping by that point, and he dodged toward the sturdier form of Hulk when the walls of their little prison shuddered and the room seemed like it was going to cave in. He'd already been whacked in the head once on this mission, and once was more than enough. Hulk provided suitable cover as the hole in the ceiling was made large enough. Rather than hand Barton up through, he swung Clint around toward his back. Barton wrapped his arms around Hulk's neck, clenched his knees against the massive ribcage, and hung on as Hulk powered them up into the sunlight.
"Dude, did not know you were claustrophobic," Clint said, holding open the door to the mansion for Bruce. Banner looked over his shoulder, properly confused. "Your other half," the archer amended, shoving his still-damp bangs out of his eyes. They were in civvies, having just come back from the helicarrier after their little timeout in the hole, though Clint had his quiver on his back and the case with his recurve in his hand. Not to mention a pounding headache, but as soon as he could get some painkillers it wouldn't be a big deal.
"Really?" Bruce asked.
Barton chuckled. "Seriously. Hulk doesn't like small spaces." His voice was rough, like he'd been chewing gravel, but it was alright because it had kept Hulk from freaking out.
"So how did he not flip out and smash everything in sight?"
Clint rubbed at the back of his neck with his good hand, the one not carrying the case with his bow in it. "I talked to him."
Bruce's eyes bugged out slightly. "You talked to him for four hours straight?"
A red flush crept up Clint's neck all the way to his ears. "Yeah." And he left it at that, much to Bruce's perplexed look. Barton started to leave for his room when he stopped, turning back to look at Banner still rooted to the spot. "He's a really good listener. Like you."
Bruce shoved his hands in his pockets with a quiet, "Huh," before meandering for the kitchen.
Steve could tell immediately something had changed. Not only were all the puzzle boxes out of order in the hall closet, but there was a different sort of atmosphere in the mansion and he knew it had to have come from Clint and Bruce. Probably whatever had given Barton his green cast which he had rather gleefully been allowed to draw pictures on once the rest of the team had signed it. Clint had been rather tolerant of the whole thing, bearing Natasha's startling mother-henning with a smile and lots of eye rolling. Tony had cracked some joke about archers and arms that had fallen rather flat, and Steve suspected Clint had chuckled on principle alone, and not because it was remotely funny.
So, in other words, things felt a little different.
It was made blindingly clear on their next mission. Tony had witnessed Clint jump nine stories from a collapsing building into Hulk's waiting arms, and then be swung around to the giant green back as Hulk proceeded to take off in the direction of Steve, Natasha, and Thor, Clint clinging to him like a limpet. Steve wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it himself when Clint and Hulk arrived. Nor was he quite sure what to think when the archer was tossed neatly onto a third-story fire escape so he could gain better sightlines and Hulk went roaring after their current baddy.
Something had definitely happened while they were away.
Once Steve had made sure SHIELD had sufficiently taken over the post-mission clean up, he turned to look for his team and found the majority of them staring rather awkwardly at Clint. Barton sat on the ground with many of his arrows around him, leaning back on his good arm with his casted one resting on his drawn up knee. Hulk was crouched behind him, head almost level with Barton's and a meaty hand resting on either side of the archer, as though he was prepared to rush anything that might try to attack. Most startling was Clint's bow clear on the other side of Hulk's arm, out of reaching distance from the archer and Clint rarely, if ever let his weapon be that far away from him. Clint heaved a sigh, absently twirling an arrow with the fingers on his casted arm, and leaned his shoulders casually back against a huge pectoral muscle. He looked up at Steve and smirked.
"How…." Steve tried to ask and failed miserably.
"We have an understanding," Clint said by way of an explanation with a slight shrug. There was a rather dark chuckle from behind him. An understanding indeed.