Rating: T+ (language)
Fandom: Avengers Movie-verse
Pairings: Hawkeye/Black Widow (if you squint)
Spoilers: The whole dang movie!
Beta: Tripp3235 (as always and because - well, awesome!)
Disclaimer: Does anyone actually read this? If so, these characters and settings are not mine. I'm only borrowing. Also, everything I've learned about the Avengers comes from the movies and the ever (ha!) reliable Internet. So... I'm making things up.
Summary: People had a tendency to seek Bruce out. Now if Clint will just tell him why...
Notes:So... I wrote this. I didn't mean to. I have other things I'm still working on, but after watching the movie this kind of came pouring out of me. (PS - I updated this fic only to fix a formatting issue that had everything in italics. Sorry!)
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
- Carl Rogers
The first time Bruce ran across Barton he'd assumed it was an accident.
He'd thought Clint had maybe gotten lost inside of the massive lab Tony had built inside what was now being called the Avengers Tower. Not that it was called that by Tony, or by anyone currently living inside the complex. To them it was still Stark Tower. It was the people in the city that gave the building its new moniker. The fact that the sign on the building itself had yet to be fixed wasn't swaying anyone's opinion on the matter and Tony, despite all his posturing and correcting, didn't seem in any hurry to fix.
As it happened, Bruce had been acquainting himself with his new surroundings, marveling really at the diversity the lab offered, when he'd heard the door slide open. Clint strolled into the room like nothing was wrong and then stopped cold.
"Everything al-" Bruce began to ask, when Tony and Steve barged in behind him, continuing the fight they'd evidentially started several floors below and calling on Bruce to mediate. It wasn't until much later, after their differences had been somewhat settled that he even realized Barton had slipped out of the room again without so much as saying a single word, hence Bruce thinking his entire arrival an accident.
The second time Bruce ran across Barton, again in the lab, it was obviously intentional.
This time Clint had followed Tony and Agent Hill into the lab. He didn't speak. Didn't hardly move, as far as Bruce recalled it. He just stood there as Tony and Hill discussed some modifications SHIELD was considering for a few of the jets to better accommodate the Other Guy. Clint made no effort to include himself in the conversation, made no indication he even cared at all about what they were talking about. He just stood there, leaning against the nearest counter until Tony and Hill finally left. Bruce had actually gone back to work without realizing that he hadn't gone with them. He'd been busy. It wasn't until he'd heard the door slide open and shut again that he'd become conscience of his mistake, but by then, Clint was gone.
The third time it happened, Barton appearing and disappearing within the lab without uttering a single syllable, Bruce knew something was wrong. It obviously wasn't coincidence that kept drawing Clint to him. He wasn't sure what it could be.
To be fair, it wasn't like the only time Bruce saw Clint was during these increasingly frequent and completely silent rendezvous inside of the lab. Bruce and Clint saw one another nearly every day; a consequence of living inside Stark Tower, so it would have been strange if they hadn't. But despite the shared living space, they didn't really converse. Not all of that was Clint's doing, to be sure, Bruce wasn't what anyone would call sociable. And it wasn't like Clint was going out of his way to try and talk to him either. In fact, after a few days observation, Bruce realized the only person Clint seemed to talk to with any regularity was Natasha. However, the only person Clint seemed to stalk, for lack of a better word, was Bruce.
Resolved to get to the bottom of whatever this thing was, the next time Barton found his way into the lab, on the heels of Steve and Agent Hill this time, Bruce took the initiative.
"Agent," Steve argued, "I understand the need for additional testing -"
"Then why - " Maria began to interrupt, but Bruce beat her to it.
"Something we can do for you, Clint?"
Steve turned, somewhat surprised at the change of conversation, but Agent Hill was nonplussed.
"Ignore him," she said, waving her had dismissively. "He does this all the time."
But Bruce didn't. He continued to stare and wait for something, anything from Barton, until Steve and Hill were forced to do the same.
At first, Clint was unfazed. He didn't even shift his stance, only stared Bruce down for a few, long minutes until finally something must have changed internally for him; something happened that Bruce couldn't see, but could definitely register. Dropping his eyes, Barton shrugged his shoulders and shook his head at Bruce, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned back against the table.
"All right then," Hill said, obviously exasperated by the whole scene. "You boys done? Can we get on with this? Fury's got me under a lot of pressure here. There is still a lot to do."
Mimicking Clint's shrug, Bruce turned back to the conversation at hand.
Clint waited a few minutes more, as if putting up a wall of indifference, but left before anyone else. That time he made sure he wasn't left alone, after the fact, with Bruce.
It took weeks, maybe even a full month, for Barton to seek Bruce out after that. He wouldn't go so far as to say he's spooked him, but Bruce had a better understanding of what was going on. Or, he thought he did.
People had begun to talk.
It started in the gym. No, gym was an understatement, Stark Tower recently added a full-fledged training center. There was a lap pool, a diving pool, a boxing ring, three full sets of weight training equipment, stationary bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines; you name it, Stark had at least a dozen of the latest and the greatest.
And of course, there was a weapons range. And, of course, Tony being Tony, it was the best damn weapons range money could buy. There really wasn't a situation you could dream up that couldn't be recreated and practiced at this range. And if there was a situation like that, Bruce certainly didn't want to see it.
Needless to say, amongst their group, it was a very popular place.
Not by Bruce so much, the Other Guy's tactics weren't quite as refined as all that, but more often than not he found himself down at the range to watch the others from the observation deck. He wasn't alone. Tony had graciously opened up the place for most of the SHIELD agents to use. The whole tower wasn't open in that way, only to the Avengers, but the training center was universally accessible.
That's where Bruce had first heard the rumblings.
"He's going to miss," one agent said.
"He hasn't missed once," the other objected.
"Look," the first one insisted. "He is so pissed."
Bruce, casually, turned to see exactly what these two were so fixated on and it was pretty obvious once he did. Barton was there, at the far end of the range, practicing with his bow. And that first agent was right, Clint looked pissed. Beyond pissed, he looked livid.
Drawing another arrow, he paused, took a deep breath, steadied himself and aimed.
Now Bruce wasn't an expert marksman. He knew how to fire a gun with some accuracy but he'd never even held a bow and honestly wouldn't even know where to start with one. To his untrained eye, Barton's shots looked fine. He was hitting the target; he was hitting the bull's-eye even.
"See," the second agent piped up, voicing Bruce's sentiment. "He made it."
"You don't get it," the first one responded. "He's not aiming for the center. He's aiming for the same spot in the center. See?"
Bruce turned his eyes back to Barton and he did see. Clint hadn't restrung the bow. He just stood there, hands on hips as he glared down at the target on the far side of the room as if it had somehow personally wronged him. And then, perhaps sensing that half the room was watching, and with half a glance over his shoulder, Clint reloaded and took aim.
This time it wasn't even close.
"Fuck," he shouted, before the arrow had even reached the target.
"He's losing it," the first agent muttered quietly, turning his head away from the scene.
At this point Barton was storming his way down the range to retrieve his arrows. He yanked them from the target and then stomped all the way back up the range and out of the training center entirely.
"Well," the second agent said, shaking his head slowly as the door slammed, "can you blame him? After what he -"
The man stopped short as he caught on that Bruce was listening. Shortly thereafter, the two agents left without uttering another syllable between them.
That very night Barton showed back up in the lab, but this time he didn't slink in or follow anyone else into the room unnoticed; this time he barged in.
Bruce, busy at one of the many computers didn't immediately look up. He calmly gestured to Clint that he needed a minute and was surprised that he'd easily complied. Well, no, not easily. Clint bounced from foot to foot, a barely contained ball of rage, but he did wait.
"What do you need?" Bruce finally asked.
"I need to know how," Clint said through clenched teeth.
"How do you do it? How?" he snapped. "And don't give me any of that Zen, meditation, align my chakras shit. I just need to know how you sleep at night. How do you do it? What's the trick?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I am talking -" he started, then seemed to suddenly realize he'd practically yelled the last three words. Stopping to clear his throat, take a deep breath and calm down again, Clint continued, "I am talking about the things you've done. The damage. The destruction. Lives... How do you sleep at night knowing what you've done?"
"Are we really talking about me or is this about the whole brainwashing trick Loki pulled on you?"
"Of course we're talking about me."
"What happened wasn't your fault."
"That's bullshit and you know it."
"You didn't have any control or say in what happened," Bruce reasoned, and as he spoke it suddenly clicked. "Which is why you're here. Listen, Clint, if you think I have some kind of special insight into... I don't. It's not the same. It's really not."
"Closest I've got."
"But very, very different. When the Other Guy comes out I don't remember anything. He takes over. From what Selvig's said, whatever Loki did, you were still conscious. You were still aware -"
"I know what he did," Clint barked.
"So what's bothering you? No one blames you for what happened."
"I blame me."
"Which is again," Bruce said with a wry chuckle, "why you are here."
"You are the expert."
"I am," Bruce conceded.
"So, how do you do it?"
"At first I ran away, which I know you won't. And I know you're already sick of hearing this, but it really is different. I was dangerous. I was a threat to those... You're not a threat, are you?"
Barton shifted his gaze, clearly uncertain.
"Are you a threat, Clint?"
"No," he snapped, still managing to sound unclear. "I mean... I don't think... How am I supposed to know that?"
"And you think I can answer that question?"
"Aren't you some kind of genius or something?"
"Something like that."
"Okay, listen," Clint said, taking another deep breath which actually seemed to work this time, "I'm not asking you to solve my problems. I just need... I need a nudge. I need some direction. I need to know that I'm not going to spend the rest of my life feeling this way. What can I do? What do I do?"
"You're asking me how to reconcile what you've done with who you are?"
"Yes... Wait," Clint said, stopping to mull it over. "Yes."
"I'm not a psychiatrist."
"I don't need a goddamn shrink," he barked in return. "I've had enough people screwing around inside my head. One more isn't going to help."
"I wasn't suggesting it would."
"So can you help me or not?"
"Honestly?" Bruce asked, watching as Clint nodded briskly in return. "No. I can't help you."
"Great," Clint said, already turning to go.
"Wait a minute," Bruce called out, taking a few quick steps across the room after the other man. "I can't do anything for you because you're going to have to do this yourself."
"Yeah, thanks," Clint deadpanned, moving towards the door again. "Got it."
"Fine," Bruce said, throwing his hands up and crossing back to his work station. "Go. Keep blaming yourself. It's going so well for you so far."
"Go to hell."
"You're right. It's all your fault."
"I didn't - " Clint began, before biting the rest of his sentence off with a wry smile. "Nice try."
"But you did," Bruce continued, not looking up from his work. "You said... what was it... that to say it wasn't your fault was bullshit. More or less. I don't have a perfect memory, but it was only about ten minutes ago so..."
"I meant that..."
Barton hesitated in the doorway for a long time with his back to Bruce, clearly unable or unwilling to articulate exactly what was on his mind. Finally, he came back into the lab, steadier than before, and sat down on the stool nearest Bruce's own.
"I knew what I was doing. I planned it," he began, his voice quieter than normal. "I was given an objective and all I could focus on was carrying out that objective. It's all I had to focus on. I recognized people, agents, friends even... but only as obstacles. They were in my way, so I got rid of them. I wasn't myself... but I was. I had free will to perform but..."
Bruce waited quietly, not wanting to derail Barton's train of thought.
"Selvig put in a failsafe," Clint said, the words almost pained as they came out of his mouth. "Part of him must have tried harder or cared more... I didn't care. I just didn't care. I've planned missions for SHIELD before. I know how to avoid unnecessary causalities. I know how to work around situations and make them work for me. It wasn't like I was ordered to go in and... it's just what I did." Then he asked the question that Bruce had asked himself maybe a million times before, "What if this is what I really am? Deep down. What if I'm just..."
Clint, to his credit, met his eyes and held them with his own, nodding in agreement. His gaze never wavered.
"We're all monsters," Bruce admitted. "All of us. If you can't accept that..."
"You'll never change."
It took some time, but after their talk, Clint grew calmer. More like his old self, if Hill and Fury were to be believed. Gradually he started cracking jokes, sometimes even a smile, and at the weapons range his performance was markedly improved. He talked more to everyone, was less withdrawn, and sometimes still showed up to the lab to actually talk and not just stare.
After a particularly good visit, after a particularly rough mission, just as Clint was leaving Natasha arrived.
Bruce tried not to watch them too indiscreetly as they hovered in the doorway for a few moments, exchanging what passed for sentiment between them.
"We can talk later," he heard Clint say as he turned to go.
Natasha nodded and then made her way over to Bruce.
"I don't say this sort of thing a lot," she began, covertly checking over her shoulder as she spoke, "but thank you. Whatever you said to him... he needed to hear it. It helped. A lot."
"It was nothing."
"Maybe to you," she conceded. "But it meant something to him. And to me."
"Well then, you're welcome," Bruce said with a small smile.
"Who knows," she continued on, a smile playing on her own lips. "He may even forgive himself someday, thanks to you."
Bruce looked up and met her eyes, mulling her words over and waiting for more. But she seemed done. Natasha nodded briefly and turned, having said her peace.
She stopped in the door.
"He won't ever forgive himself," Bruce persisted. "Not for this. Not for whatever he did before all of this."
Natasha didn't move.
"He can try. We all can try but... you can't undo the past. You can learn from it, you can vow to make different choices, take different paths, but you can't undo it. We can only learn from yesterday and live for tomorrow."
"Is that why you're still here?" she asked, cocking her head slightly with her back still to him.
"No," he admitted. "It's why all of us are."