Summary: Less than a month ago, they saved the world from a hostile alien invasion (aka Loki's temper tantrum). Now they face their biggest challenge yet in getting their archer to realize he is worth saving before they lose him for good. Or how the Avengers became more than just a dysfunctional ticking time bomb.
Pairings: ambiguous Clint/Natasha
Warnings: Just general spoilers for the movie… but everyone should've seen it already by now so no worries!
Disclaimer: If I owned anything having to with the Avengers I would be a rich, happy woman. Instead I am a broke, happy woman. One out of two isn't that bad. I also don't own 30 Seconds to Mars or their wonderfully awesome song, Savior. Or Linkin Park (despite trying). So basically I own nothing but my bitter 20 year old cat.
Author's Note: This is the end. I'm so happy that people really enjoyed this. Thanks so much for all the support and awesome reviews. We've reached the end. I've got ideas for other stories so I'll see you all around! Ciao.
And I've got nothing to say
I can't believe I didn't fall right down on my face
(I was confused)
Looking everywhere only to find
That it's not the way I had imagined it all in my mind
(So what am I)
What do I have but negativity
'Cause I can't justify the way, everyone is looking at me
(Nothing to lose)
Nothing to gain, hollow and alone
And the fault is my own, and the fault is my own
I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I've felt so long
(Erase all the pain till it's gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I'm close to something real
I wanna find something I've wanted all along
Somewhere I belong
-Somewhere I Belong, Linkin Park
The first time Bruce Banner was alone with Clint Barton, the encounter wasn't exactly expected. That was mostly because he accidentally came across the archer shakily trying to tend to his own wounds in the bathroom the evening after Loki's invasion. The younger man's body was trembling due to the massive bruise that was his back. The idiot decided that he didn't need to talk to the SHIELD medics or tell anyone about how he crashed through a glass window landing on his bow and quiver. When Bruce confronted the agent about it, Clint admitted that he had a bad relationship with doctors and hospitals in general. He went into a little detail about his former mentor, who went very dark side and ended up beating him almost to death. He hinted at more trauma from his childhood but Bruce didn't push him that first night. Honestly, it was mostly because he was having a hard enough time repressing the Hulk with the little bit of information that he did get and also because he suspected that had the agent not been in terrible pain, he wouldn't have gotten the information that he did. Bruce was quietly grateful that Clint trusted him enough to tell him what he did. And so they came to an understanding in that moment. Clint wouldn't lie about his medical needs and Bruce would try and repair any and all damage without involving doctors.
Things settled into a routine after that. If Clint was hurt, he would tell Bruce and Bruce would fix it. It was almost normal. If anything about a guy that turned into an enormous green rage monster could be considered normal. Though Bruce was starting to find some peace with his alter ego, he still struggled to believe that there was anything good about the Hulk. Until after their second mission together. It took only a few weeks before the scattered Avengers returned to the restored and newly named Avengers Tower. It was a few hours after that they were going out on a mission against a group of AIM scientists hell-bent on global chaos and mayhem. Bruce willingly gave free reign to the Hulk, content to let him to smash to his heart's content.
He knew that the Hulk considered the other Avengers as allies and could be trusted not to hurt them (though it took a lot of trust and prodding from Tony for him to believe that). He knew that the Hulk could be trusted to save the others if need be but he didn't expect the Hulk to protect them. Or maybe it was just a Clint thing. Bruce admitted to feeling a little protective over the younger man since that first night. He didn't think it would extend to the Hulk but apparently Tony was right. Maybe he and the Hulk were closer together than he thought. This he realized after he and Clint were found miles away from where the battle took place. The others were so surprised (i.e. relieved) that the Hulk protected Clint from what would've likely been a fatal fall, that they didn't make any comment about the fact that Bruce was half naked and the unconscious Clint was definitely the little spoon.
Bruce approached the two assassins quietly but he knew they both knew he was there. If he didn't fear for his life, Bruce might've entertained the thought of taking a picture of the sight of Natasha curled up on Clint's lap, seemingly asleep (again, he knew better than to believe she was truly asleep). It would've been sweet if it hadn't been for the misery radiating off of them both at the moment. Keeping this in mind, Bruce sat down on the floor beside them waiting for Clint to acknowledge him. Natasha continued to feign that weird half sleep that she did best while Clint sat wide awake, keeping watch.
"So you come to tell me how awesome I am too?"
Bruce grinned, not turning his head to look at the agent. "Nope."
"You know how awesome I think you are, Cupid."
Clint laughed softly but sobered just as quickly. "Bruce... I'm... I'm leaving."
"I know," Bruce sighed. "I've known for awhile. I think I knew before you even did that it was going to come to this. Where do you think you're going to go?"
"I… don't know. I guess… around. Maybe try to find my brother."
Bruce bit on his lip to keep himself from responding to that one. The kid was leaving them to go in search of someone that basically mistreated and then abandoned him on multiple occasions. First, he left him to die in a ditch and then barely a few years later he left him to rot in a jail cell. And yet Clint was going to try and find him. He was leaving a team of people who cared about him to find that man. If that didn't speak volumes of his mental health right now, Bruce didn't know what it would take. He sighed. This was definitely worse than he originally thought.
"I guess that could be interesting," he replied, after careful consideration.
"You're not going to try to talk me out of it?"
Bruce tilted his head, eyes flickering to Natasha. "Would it work? I know you talked to Phil. And I know that Natasha tried. And if they couldn't get you to stay what could I possibly say that would work?"
Clint didn't reply and Bruce didn't push him. Instead they sat in a companionable silence. Finally, Clint exhaled slowly. "Would you look after her for me?"
He could tell the agent was surprised. "Why not?"
"Well, one because that woman is scarier than the rest of us combined. Anyone dumb enough to pick a fight with her deserves whatever they get. Two, she's not going to allow just anyone watch her back. She lets you because she trusts you to watch over her. We all do."
"Well, I think you made a bad judgment call there, doc, because I'm not very good at it."
"Neither is Thor but we're still keeping him around. Remember last week when he let the giant slug thing land on Tony because he was distracted by a puppy?"
Clint gave a tiny huff of a laugh. "Yeah, he found it in a box in some alleyway. He actually wanted to keep it. He said it was a noble pet fit for a warrior. Tony told him it looked like a mangy rat before handing it off to some kid." He laughed again before a thoughtful look crossed his face. "You think that's why he's so hooked on those stupid pillow pets? Because Tony wouldn't let him keep the puppy?"
"Maybe… or maybe it's just because this is Thor we're talking about. If it's not pop tarts, it's pillow pets or some other obscure Earth thing. I think he just looks for comfort wherever he can find it. In whatever he can find it in."
He could almost feel the shift in Clint's attention. It made him smile a little because he knew that no matter what was going on with the archer, he wasn't too far gone. He still cared about the team. All of the team. "The big guy is ok, right? Like he's settling in and everything?"
"He was," Bruce shrugged. "He's had it pretty rough. He was exiled not too long ago. Forced to take some serious humility lessons. His beloved little brother turned out to be completely nuts and then tried to take over the world. He was starting to move past it all but now he's at risk of losing yet another brother."
"Thor has another brother?" Bruce looked up again, staring pointedly at Clint. The other man flushed. "Oh."
He shifted in his seat. "He doesn't think of me like a brother…. does he?"
"They say people thrown together in extreme circumstances tend to form faster bonds. I hope it doesn't get more extreme than what we went through. As much as we all tried to fight it, we're stuck together. We couldn't even stay apart for more than a few weeks. I think Tony is right. We're a friggin family."
"I thought you weren't trying to persuade me to stay."
"I'm not. I'm telling you facts. What you get from this is on you."
"You don't understand. I killed people, Bruce! I killed so many people for no reason. Not only that I helped killed innocent people in horrible ways. I…." Clint's voice broke towards the end. He paused trying to regain some composure. "I remember every moment, every second. I remember wanting more. I don't want to hurt anyone anymore but the thoughts are still there. They're in my head. And sometimes that's what I want to do. I want to destroy, to mangle and cripple and destroy. But that's not who I am. Or at least I don't think it is. I really... don't know who I am anymore."
Bruce patted his friend on the leg that dangled beside to him. "Yes, you do. You know. Just like I know who you are. You're Clint 'Hawkeye' Barton. You grew up in the circus and you're a SHIELD agent. Most importantly, you're an Avenger. You're a member of this twisted little family unit that Tony has built. You're the only one that can talk Natasha down when she's ready to kill Tony for being Tony. You're the only one that listens to Thor's epic battle tales without yawning or rolling his eyes. You're Cupid. That's who you are."
"You're not listening! I killed people!" Clint insisted, stressing the syllables in each word. His voice cracked under the strain of frustration and desperation. "People that were my friends. Oh god, I almost killed Natasha. I wanted to kill her. I wanted to kill you all. Why would you want me around?"
"You read my file," Bruce replied, taking a deep soothing breath. Every part of him wanted to let the Hulk out, find a way to Asgard and make Loki pay. But instead, he focused on the important task of helping Clint put himself back together again. "I know you read it. You know what I've done. You've seen what I'm capable of. Up until recently the other guy couldn't be trusted to do anything but destroy. Yet you trusted me from the first moment we met. You still trust me. Both of us. Don't you?"
Bruce glanced up see Clint's stormy gaze focused on the wall opposite from them. He saw Natasha's eyes were open and focused on her partner as well. But Clint didn't pay this any mind. "You know I trust you," he replied, quietly.
"Do you trust Tony? He used to create weapons that were used in wars. Do you know how much blood is on that man's hands? And Thor, I seriously doubt he was in the habit of hugging his enemies into defeat on the battlefield. Although, in retrospect that doesn't sound as improbable as it should because it's Thor and hugging would not be out of the realm of battle techniques for him." And great, Bruce has officially adopted Tony speech patterns.
"But…. Tony didn't have a choice in any of that. He never would've sold those weapons on his own. And Thor is from a war world. It's like what they do."
"And you're an agent, fighting is what you do. As for what happened, you didn't have a choice in that," Bruce assured him. "You didn't willingly choose to help Loki. The simple fact that you're feeling guilty shows just why we trust you. Now ask me again why we want you around."
Clint let out a shaky breath. Bruce saw Natasha's arms slip around his neck, pulling him closer to her. He sat back allowing the two agents to have their moment in peace. He could make out snatches of their muffled exchange. He didn't know a lot of Hungarian but he knew enough to know that Clint was repeatedly apologizing and Natasha was shushing him gently, whispering that he had nothing to apologize for. Bruce's phone buzzed in his pocket.
Ready? Or need more time?
Bruce glanced up to see Tony hovering further down the hallway. Give us five. Tony nodded, slipping away to where he no doubt stashed Thor and Steve.
Satisfied that Clint would be allowed to get the more embarrassing (at least for him) portion of his grieving process out of the way without a large audience, Bruce closed his eyes and waited. Almost exactly five minutes later (Tony was anxious again), Thor's voice echoed down the hall, announcing him long before they saw him, giving Clint time to hide the evidence of tears.
"Friends! We have returned triumphant!" Thor announced, spreading his arms wide. They could see that his hands were occupied with two bags practically bursting at the seams with delicious smelling greasy goodness in each fist. "After a tedious journey and parlay with the burger wench, we have procured the battered and fried rings of onion!"
Clint looked mildly surprised before a laugh escaped his lips. "Onion rings?"
"And burgers," Tony shrugged, dropping a bundle of bed linens, pillows and blankets on the floor next to Bruce. Steve followed in their wake, holding several beverage cups in bags.
"What's with the blankets? Sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond?"
"Since you will not come to us, we came to you," Tony replied, climbing up onto the windowsill with him without hesitation. He sat on Clint's free side close enough that their shoulders were touching. The fact that Clint (and Natasha) allowed him to spoke volumes for the trust he had in the team. "You do remember you have a concussion, right? So that means no sleeping and concussion checks! Also known as the Great Avenger Sleepover! Although I think we may not have thought this through well. I know nothing puts me to sleep faster than the Capt's amazing tales of hoofers and hooch from the 40s!"
"I got you a milkshake," Steve said, pointedly ignoring Tony and so very obviously still feeling guilty about his earlier words to Clint. "They have so many flavors now. I got you a chocolate one but you can have my strawberry banana one if you would like."
Clint blinked, uncertainty flickering on his face. He hesitantly took the chocolate milkshake though his eyes were still wary. "Why are you guys doing this?"
"We're a team. It's nothing you wouldn't do for us," Tony shrugged. He growled at Natasha's hand which was currently creeping over Clint, who was snugly between them, to reach for an onion ring. "Hands off, Spider Chick. The Hawk gets first dibs."
Natasha narrowed her eyes before throwing Clint a look. He smiled almost shyly before taking the offered carton from Tony. The smile grew a little brighter as he bit into one of the onion rings. Tony and Natasha continued their fight over his head. The fight only ended when Steve joined them in the not really meant to fit three grown adults and a super soldier windowsill on Tony's free side. But they strangely made it work. Once he was settled, Steve promptly launched into a lecture on teamwork and family dynamics while both being ignored and managing to steal the fought over box of onion rings. Clint snickered and nudged Bruce with his foot.
"It's what I'm here for," Bruce smirked, patting him on the leg once again and stealing Thor's milkshake. The god didn't notice as he was fascinated by the texture and shape of the onion rings.
In the beginning, Bruce thought about running. He worried that the Other Guy would get bored with playing nice with the others. He thought about getting away before he caused any real, lasting damage. But as he looked around the now crowded hallway nook at the people he willingly called his friends, he knew he wouldn't be leaving. There was no way he could give this up… give them up. For the first time since the gamma incident, Bruce Banner had a home. And he knew that it was only a matter of time before Clint realized that too.
"So who wants to watch The Hunger Games? Might even help Clint learn a few tricks."
"Shove it, Iron Ass!"
Yeah, everything was going to be just fine.
Morning dawned bringing along an almost unbearable amount of sunshine. Bruce grumbled turning away from the bright beams of light that seemed to be determined to assault his eyes. His flight away from the tortuous sun was halted when he came face to face with a head of long, blond hair. What the hell did I do last night, was his first thought. But when the head resting on his shoulder let out a mighty snore, it all came crashing back to him. The great sleepover in the hallway. That explained why his back hurt but not how or why Thor ended up sleeping on him. Or why the pillows and blankets bought for this sleepover were still in a pile on the floor. But it was all worth it. Last night was the first time Bruce really heard Clint laugh and sound anything resembling happy. So it was worth the kinks in his back and neck and the drool on his shoulder.
"Ugh, JARVIS, kill the sun, will you?" Tony's sleep filled voice whined above him. Bruce managed to untangle Thor enough to look up on the windowsill. Natasha looked like she was the only comfortable one. She was still asleep (a testament to how comfortable she really was with the rest of the team). She was hugging a pillow tightly and covered with a blanket. Tony and Steve were tangled together in some awkward position that Bruce was at a loss to figure out how they got there in the first place. And Clint was… wait, where the hell was Clint?!
"Damn it, Clint ran."
Natasha jerked upright at the sound of Bruce's voice. The sudden movement jostled Steve and Tony into awareness, which then led to the requisite flailing and male posturing. Natasha silenced them all by pointing to the empty space where Clint was supposed to be. After a few more moments of panic, the end result was Tony stalking out the room to grab his armor and Natasha volunteering to fly halfway around the world (if needed) strapped to the back of the Iron Man suit to look for Clint. Steve just looked lost. But it was Thor's quiet inquiry that caught Bruce's attention.
"Where is the Playful Penguin?"
"Is that really the important thing right now, Thor? I'm sure Tony can get you another one," Steve replied absently, clearly contemplating their next move.
"Wait, wasn't that the one Clint was holding last night?" Natasha asked, brow furrowing. She placed a hand on her hip, clearly in thought. "On that note, Tony why didn't your alarms go off?"
Tony blinked, halfway through the process of putting on the suit. "JARVIS, where is Agent Barton?"
"He's in his room, sir. He's been there since you all fell asleep on the windowsill leaving him with no room."
The trio from the window managed to look sheepish before they were all scrambling towards Clint's room. Bruce didn't realize just how attached he was to Clint until he finally laid eyes on the younger man. An immense weight was lifted as he saw that Clint was there and safe. He was even drooling a little.
"I feel this curious sensation in my chest," Thor commented, cocking his head to the side. "It almost feels like when I first laid eyes on the pillowed pets."
"I think the word you're looking for is adorable," Tony supplied. "This is adorable."
Bruce was hard-pressed to find a word that fit the bill more than that one. The sight of Clint sprawled face down across his bed, cuddling the Playful Penguin to his chest, was nothing less than the most adorable sight he'd seen in a long time. He wasn't so captivated that he missed the empty bag on the bed beside him. His few belongings were set out on display in the still painfully bare room. Bruce could almost hear Tony calculating how much stuff he was going to buy to fill up Clint's room. He almost felt bad for the archer but his happiness at knowing that they finally got through to the stubborn young man far outweighed that concern.
"Sir, you have a call from Agent Coulson."
"Patch it through, JARVIS," Tony replied, still staring at Clint.
A moment later, Coulson's face was on the screen. Bruce heard Thor let out a noise of surprise and prepared himself to explain once again that Coulson was not trapped in the screen. It was then that he got a good look at their reluctant handler (read babysitter). It was seven o'clock in the morning on a Sunday and the man was still impeccably dressed in a suit complete with jacket and a tie. Bruce was starting to think he slept in those things or maybe they were just a piece of him. He didn't know whether to laugh to be really afraid. He settled for the latter as Coulson shifted his knowing gaze towards him.
"Morning, Phil," Natasha greeted, sitting at the foot of the bed next to Clint's legs. Her hand rested on his calf. Almost as if he sensed her presence, Clint let out a muffled sigh and sank deeper into his much needed sleep. "To what do we owe the honor this morning?"
"With the amount of paperwork you all generate every time you step outside the Tower, I don't really have time to dedicate to completing the very complicated forms required for discharging a SHIELD agent. So I assume you settled the issue with Barton."
"Was there ever any doubt, Phil?" Tony shot back with a grin. Phil mostly stared back at them but Bruce was learning to read behind the masks. Underneath it all, Phil was just as worried about their archer as them. Bruce glanced down at the peacefully sleeping man and smiled.
Bruce wasn't stupid. He knew that this was just a step in the right direction for Clint. The man was too used to things going horribly wrong and ending in betrayal. He freely gave to those he considered his allies but he never expected anything in return because he didn't trust that it wouldn't come with strings attached. But just as Natasha cracked through that wall along with Coulson, and to a certain extent Fury, Bruce was confident that they could do the same. They would help him to learn a new way of thinking.
And may the gods have mercy on the person that tried to hurt him now. The Hulk would be the least of their concerns. Bruce wasn't a mad scientist for nothing and he was living with most likely the smartest man on Earth, a god, a master assassin and a super solider. The Avengers look after their own and Clint "Hawkeye" Barton was most definitely theirs – now and forever.
*That was the end. I hope you all enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you so much to everyone that has taken the time to read, review, alert and all that good stuff. I appreciate all your kind words and support.