"How many fingers do you see?" Bruce makes a peace sign in front of Clint's face, his hand gliding slowly to the archer's left. Clint tries to focus on it, to follow the fingers with his eyes, but the cooled air of the lab is chilling the sweat on his bare chest and back, goose bumps tickling his skin. Somewhere behind them a machine hums loudly, letting out the occasional sharp stutter. The back of his brain throbs in rhythm to his pulse. And he cannot get over the ripped jeans and too large faded Rolling Stones t-shirt the doctor is wearing, lent to him by Tony. The flip flops are not helping. "Agent Barton?"


"Are they fuzzy? Out of focus?" Clint flinches as a soft click reaches his ears, followed by a blinding light in his right eye. "Slow dilation, hypersensitivity to sound, slow reaction."

Clint pushes the flashlight away and Bruce's face slowly comes back into focus. "Let's just both assume that I have a concussion, Dr. Banner."

Bruce nods and sets the flashlight on the metal lab table. "No broken bones, at least. Bruised ribs, sprained ankle, knee, shoulder," he prods around a few of the cuts that litter the archer's skin, "some of these could use stitches."

A few minutes pass as Bruce continues to inspect the cuts, his brow furrowed in concentration.

The machine stutters, breaking the silence. "So what's the prognosis, doc?"

Bruce pulls back from Clint's shoulder and leans on the lab table behind him. "You'll live, although I'm concerned about your concussion. You'll be in a lot of pain the next few days," he turns and starts sorting through a glass cabinet, "Stark doesn't have much for painkillers… can't take vicodin, no morphine, ibuprofen's out, here we go, extra strength Tylenol."

Clint waves the offered bottle away, "Don't like painkillers."

"The next few days are going to be hell, Agent Barton-"

"Clint. Or Barton. The 'agent' part's questionable at this point. Plus we did save New York together, Doctor."

"Then call me Bruce. And hold on to these," Bruce places the bottle in Clint's palm, "they're not much, but they'll take the edge off."

Clint sets the bottle down next to him and settles his gaze on Bruce, trying to focus on the man in front of him, on the thoughts that are slow to materialize. "Do you remember?" Bruce is silent for a long time, or maybe not long at all, Clint's very thoughts seem to drop in and out of focus, but he can almost see the doctor's mind race, currently the exact opposite of his own. He thinks that maybe his question is unclear, debates how to elaborate it, waves his hand in the air vaguely, "when you're…"

The half sentence hangs between them, Bruce's eyes dart to his before looking away, and Clint knows that he is not going to get the answer that he wants. Again, the machine stutters. Bruce sighs, brings his head up to match Clint's gaze. "Feelings, flashes, but where I was, what I did?" he shakes his head. "No. I'm sorry, Clint."

Clint nods, looking away. "How do you…" he searches for the right words, but even simple phrases elude him, "deal? With what you did, when you couldn't even control it?"

"I abandoned my research, Betty, everything. I wouldn't call it 'dealing' with it. What you're going through? I know that guilt, but I don't have any answers for you. Don't let it consume you."

Clint chokes on a bitter laugh. "All I feel is guilt."

"It'll get better, but like I said, the next few days are going to be hell. Now," Bruce holds up a needle and suture thread, "about those stitches."

Ever since his circus days Clint has been a man of simple tastes and pleasures; happier with a burger and fries than lobster tails or caviar and more comfortable on an army cot than a luxury mattress. Anything fancier than his barracks on the hellicarrier or his apartment in Brooklyn or their safe houses just seems unnecessary. That being said, the built in bench in the shower of one of the unfurnished condos is amazing. Almost as amazing as the handheld showerhead that Natasha is using to wash his back as she stands under the main shower.

Clint closes his eyes as she tenderly rubs the soap soaked loofa across his shoulders, over his biceps, down his spine, against his ribs; cleaning away the sweat and dirt and fatigue without putting pressure on his aching muscles and bruised skin.

He grunts as she rubs shampoo into his scalp, fingers kneading. Her hands stop. "Sorry."

He moves his head back, into her palms, silently asking for her to continue. "It's ok. Just tender."


"Mmm." He opens his eyes and watches the water drain, tinged pink with blood as it swirls around their feet. "How's your ankle?"

"Just a strain."

After she is done with his hair he has her sit on the floor with her back to him, leaned forward, as he scrubs her back with a little more force than she used on him. "How was mother Russia?"

"Didn't finish the mission."

"Loki takes priority, hmm?"

"You took priority."

Clint pauses his scrub massage and leans forward, placing a soft kiss in her hair.

"How was New Mexico?"

He rinses off her back and begins shampooing her hair. "Until Loki arrived indescribably boring."

"Always ignoring orders."

"Worked out for me once."

She ignores his flirty compliment, instead telling him more about her mission, but her voice is fading into a pleasant drone, mixing with the current of falling water, and his hands slow, fingers tangled in her curls, his head nodding forward, eyes closing.

"nt. Clint." A hand cups his chin, lifting his head, and Natasha slowly comes into focus, again standing before him, concern marring her features.

He manages a smile, "want to have hot, wild shower sex?"

She smirks and turns off the water before helping him stand and sliding the shower door open. He winces at the temperature change. "Pepper found us a queen inflatable mattress and some blankets."

"Inflatable mattress sex. Could be fun." He catches the towel thrown at his face.

"And Stark lent you some clothes." Clint drops the towel and groans at the purple sweat pants and Pink Floyd t-shirt Natasha has in either hand.

She smells of dove soap and Strawberry shampoo (so does he), but he can still smell her underneath; on her skin, in her hair. His cuts and shoulder and leg and head all ache, but his skin is clean and dry, his arm wrapped around her waist, their bodies molded together under the crisp white blankets in the otherwise barren master bedroom. He buries his nose into her hair and breathes in deeply, eyes fluttering closed. This is his favorite spot; on a bed (any bed) in a room (any room) with Natasha curled against him. "Three months is too long." She 'hmms' in agreement as he kisses her shoulder. "Next few days are going to be rough."

She squeezes his arm, "get some sleep, Barton, I'll be here for them." He nods, nose brushing her skin, and his body and mind finally let him sleep.