Balancing His Own Ledger

Ch 1 - Battles Won

I own nothing from the world of Marvel nor the Avengers except for some really cool memorabilia cards. This story begins near the end of the battle in the movie and then moves onward and beyond.

Clint Barton bit back most of a groan as he landed on a bed of broken glass and debris. As he shifted, a flare of pain erupted along his left leg causing him to gasp.

"Hawkeye? Report!" demanded Captain America over the comms. "Where are you?" He looked up along the wall of the building and was concerned when all he saw along the top edge was smoke and residual flame. No archer.

"About five stories below where I was thirty seconds ago. I'm out of arrows, so I'm headed towards the ground." As soon as I catch my breath, he thought. Clint hoped some of those Chitauri bodies he'd shot would be scattered on the ground so he could scavenge some arrows. That was one reason he liked a bow. You couldn't pick up an expended bullet and expect to be able to use it again. Clint shifted his body to free his trapped leg. It didn't feel broken. Biting back another groan, Clint closed his eyes for a moment. Trying to sit up, he couldn't suppress the cry of pain that escaped this time. It wasn't broken. It was dislocated.

"Clint?" Natasha Romanov's voice came over the comm this time. She'd heard.

"Focus," he said. That one word spoke volumes. They'd been on dozens of jobs and sometimes one or the other was injured. Focus was their code that meant yes, I'm hurt but I'll live so pay attention and do whatever you need to do. I'll catch up.

"Got it." The Black Widow turned her attention back to shutting off the tesseract leaving her partner to get to ground level as best he could.

Using his bow, Clint levered himself to his feet. Spotting a tall filing cabinet, he hopped over to it. It felt stuffed full when he rocked it; it should be heavy enough. Using the wall behind it as a brace, Clint slowly slid to the floor then rolled over. Grasping the left leg of his pants, he wedged his leg all the way to mid calf behind the cabinet. Clint took his comm out of his ear and palmed it tightly to muffle any sound. Bracing, Clint twisted his torso up and over forcing his leg back into its proper place. His howl of pain could still be heard over the comms.

"Barton? Hawkeye!" Steve Rogers didn't want to lose another comrade. While Stark was completely human, his metal exoskeleton protected him from a lot of things. He'd realized that Romanov and Barton were the two with the most to lose. Yet neither one of them had held back in this battle. When Natasha had vouched for Barton in the medical center, he'd accepted that this man would be a teammate and member of the Avengers. "Barton!" he demanded again.

"Leave it, Rogers. He'll be okay." Natasha knew the others would lose focus until they understood Clint's status, and it seemed like it might be a while before he made it to the battlefield. Just because he'd told her he'd live did not mean that he wasn't injured, maybe even severely. Just not fatally.

Trusting in her understanding of her partner, Rogers said, "All right. Let's get back to work."

Back in the building, Clint took another deep breath and reinserted his comm in his ear. It didn't sound like he'd missed much. All the others' voices could be heard, and he didn't need a comm to know where the Hulk was. Now he had to figure out a way to get groundside. Although his hip bone was back in place, chances were some muscles were torn, and there was no way he'd could walk down to ground level. Clint pried open the elevator doors and looked up then down until he found the elevator below him. It wasn't moving; something must have taken out the power grid. He'd jabbed the button repeatedly but all that got him was a sore finger and shortened his temper. Reaching into a thigh pocket, Clint took out a carabiner and gloves that fit over his finger guard. He locked onto the cable and dropped. He really hoped that cable was new or at least not frayed. Wire splinters would rip his hands to shreds. For once, his luck held. Maybe things were looking up.

Dropping carefully down into the car, Clint forced the doors open and stepped into the rubble-filled lobby. Not spotting any civilians that needed help, Clint eased into the dust-filled street. Rotating his head from side to side, Clint determined that the fight had moved west of his current location. Keeping an eye out for Chitari, Clint headed that way keeping to the side of the street. He came across a couple of Chitari bodies pierced by his arrows and took the time to pull them out, clean them, and reinsert them into his quiver. He keyed one with an explosive to be ready to shoot.

Moving forward, Clint listened to what was being said on the comms. He heard Natasha say that she could close the rift. He heard Stark say that a nuke was headed for Manhattan. That he had an idea. To not close the rift. Not yet.

Clint could see the trail of Stark's jets. He could see the top of Stark Tower and the stream of the tesseract. He tried to speed up, but his body would not cooperate. The time spent under Loki's spell plus the strain of the battle had taken a tremendous toll. Finding reserves within, Clint moved closer to the bridge. He could hear Thor's hammer striking aliens. It had a very distinctive sound.

Looking up again, he saw Stark enter the void carrying the nuke. He froze. Waiting. Would they know when it went off? How was Stark planning to return? Shaking his head, Clint kept moving. He couldn't do any good standing around and just thinking; he could fight. Spotting a cluster of Chitari, with one smooth motion, Clint drew the arrow, nocked it, and sent it off. The explosive charge took out not only the one he shot but also the four standing around it. He sent off his second scavenged arrow and prepared to use his bow as a quarterstaff once again. Sweeping the alien's legs out from under it, Clint pulled his knife and moved under its reach as it lunged for him. Apparently they had jugular veins too. Avoiding the stream of green ichor, Clint dropped away to a crouch. He stood and faced another squad moving his way. Standing, Clint tested his balance to see how badly his leg would hinder him. He had braced to attack when it happened.

The Chitari collapsed. All of them. The comms told him that the others had seen the same phenomenon. He looked up hoping for the sight of Stark. Roger's muttering echoed his own wishes, and his heart sank when Roger's gave the order to Natasha to close the portal.

The first smile to cross Clint's face since Loki's attack was caused by the sight of Stark falling back into their atmosphere. It was wiped off as he realized, as did the others, that Stark must have been unconscious. He'd hit the ground like a meteor. Clint looked around for a mechanized scooter. Maybe he could hot wire it and… Hearing Thor activate his hammer to retrieve Stark, Clint too was startled when the Hulk plucked the falling genius out of the sky and brought the Iron Man down to safety.

"Ha!" said Rogers.

Time to rejoin the others. Feeling what little energy he had left slipping away with every step, Clint was so focused on placing one foot in front of the other that he didn't realize it when he reached the others and hadn't even heard about schwarma at all.

Rogers was the first to notice Clint. The man's face was grey with dust, and he was not walking in a straight line. He helped Stark stand.

"There's one thing left" Stark said turning to look up at his battle-scarred tower.

"Loki," Thor spoke. He regretted what his brother had done to his adopted world. There would be a reckoning.

Only Stark was paying attention to Barton to see the change in the assassin at the demi-god's name. At first he assumed the man's shaking was due to exhaustion or maybe even fear. The man had been soul-raped and that had to have left a mark. But then Clint raised his head and Stark read the anger and hatred burning in the man's grey eyes. Catching' the archer's eyes, Stark jerked his head to one side to indicate they should talk away from the others.

Cutting straight to the bone, Stark asked, "What are you going to do? He is a demi-god you understand." He was subtly letting the man know that demi-gods did bleed, and they could be killed. "He's also Thor's brother."

Processing the information, Clint ran through his choices. He could leave it alone and just deal with the shame. He could kill Loki, wipe out a lot of red, and probably anger another god or two. And probably lose the respect of these others. Clint nodded at Stark that he'd heard and then turned to follow the others heading towards the tower. Stopping only long enough to retrieve an arrow, Clint made up his mind in silence.

"Hope you don't mind the rough ride. We'll see you at the top. Ready Barton?" Tony didn't think that Barton would take kindly to teasing at this moment. He could also tell that the man was exhausted, so he took extra care in setting them both down on the top level. Tony motioned for the archer to precede him just as Thor arrived with Captain America closely followed by the Hulk. Watching the agent walk in front of him, Tony realized that some of the exhaustion was injury. The man was limping heavily plus he had small cuts all over the back of his triceps. He didn't think Barton was feeling those yet and who knew what injuries were hidden under his vest.

It was obvious what Barton's goal was. The green and gold clad Loki was visible through the remaining glass windows practically buried in the concrete floor. Must have been the Hulk. Tony really was curious how the archer would choose. Stark considered Coulson a friend, sort of, and that demi-god had killed him. It was all right with Stark if Loki never made it out of here alive. Considering that Barton was a sniper and a master assassin, it was obvious he had no qualms about killing for the greater good.

The door to a stairwell opened and Natasha and Selvig emerged. Romanov was carrying the scepter. The team formed a loose semicircle around the reviving Loki behind Barton. All understood to some degree that Barton had to confront Loki. To not give him this chance would destroy the man. Thor stepped forward as Barton nocked another arrow. He understood that his brother had deeply wronged this mortal, but he would not countenance murder. "I cannot let him kill Loki. His punishment is for my people to decide."

Stark stopped him. "He needs to do this. Your brother stole this man's will. He will be useless to himself and the team if you take this from him. He doesn't seem like a stupid man." Stark still had no idea which way Barton would choose. A glance at Natasha gave him no clue. She would support Barton no matter what.

From the other side of the room, Natasha watched her partner pace towards the recovering demi-god. She knew what she would do but Clint wasn't Russian. Nevertheless, she stepped to her partner's left hand side ready if he asked. She was aware of the others forming a semicircle to her right.

As the waking Loki crawled his way up the stairs, he felt or heard some menace behind him. He turned and looked right into the eyes of a killer. This was the man he'd taken over, removed his free will, forced him to act without any choice. This man would want his revenge. Loki knew a lot about revenge. He looked at the arrow aimed at his throat. He could see his brother to his left. Thor did not look close enough to stop Barton if he fired. "I'd like that drink now." He hoped one of the others would step in and stop the archer. He didn't dare glance at Romanov for he knew what he'd find. He knew the depth of feeling between the two agents. Knew they were two halves of the same whole. Knew that they worked in unison of purpose. He would get no quarter from her. Not after what he'd done to Barton. Having played around inside Barton's head, Loki knew exactly what the assassin was capable of both physically and mentally. Loki swallowed realizing none of the others facing him were saying anything in his favor, not stepping forward to stop Barton. He looked Barton in the eyes and saw his own death.

Natasha was also watching Clint closely. She saw the flexing of shoulder muscles and then the subtle relaxing of them. He'd made his choice. Loki would live. Or at least he would not die by Clint's hand. Not today.

Planning to kill Loki, Clint stopped himself. The fear he'd seen in the demi-god's eyes did a lot towards making him stand down. Clint stood and limped to one side. He was aware of Thor stepping over to his brother. The sound of conversation eddied around Clint; he was just trying to stay on his feet at that point. He closed his eyes and let the sounds wash over him. They were talking about restraints and a gag of all things. He guessed they were as tired of Loki's monologues as he was. Air pressure warned him that someone was near; the sound of a certain step told him it was Natasha. She leaned against the couch he was leaning against and gave him what strength she could. The only two normal humans waited side by side.

Schwarma? Seriously? That's what Stark wanted? At first Clint was really pissed off. They needed to contact SHIELD and learn what new orders Fury had for them. There would be a lot of cleaning up to do. Clint sighed.

"Food!" Tony looked at the archer's gray face. "When was the last time you ate anything? We're all exhausted, my friend, but you, you look terrible."

Pushing against the couch's back and standing straight, he almost fell backward again. He'd stiffened up tremendously. Clint noticed that Loki was no longer in the room. Thor, stepping back into the living room through a doorway, was saying something to the darkness behind him. Banner was back and wearing clothes that fit him poorly. He was a bit shorter than Stark.

Natasha slipped a hand under Clint's arm and guided him towards the elevator. The others instinctively knew the man would accept help from no other.

From the side of the room where he stood, Thor observed Barton. The first time he'd seen the man was on the battlefield. He had acquitted himself well. He was a good warrior. And this was the man his brother had wronged greatly as well. Selvig seemed to have regained himself easily but not Barton. Thor had expected Barton to kill his brother. Only knowing that Stark was better at reading humans had kept him from interfering with Barton's choice. The archer had not backed down due to cowardice; of that, Thor was certain. Instead, it was the faith that punishment would be meted out and that it would be righteous. He had the heart of a warrior. Thor was impressed.

So was Steve Rogers for that matter. He had known that Barton and Selvig had been taken over, becoming Loki's personal flying monkeys, but the skill that the archer had shown in the attack on the helicarrier impressed the hell out of him. It was obvious that this man was no ordinary agent, not just an assassin. He hoped that Fury would continue to allow his two agents to serve as members of the Avengers. They'd earned their places today.

The elevator pinged and several SHIELD agents exited. Thor led them to the room where his brother was.

"Guard," said Tony to the group. "We need sustenance." The Avengers entered the elevator together and headed down.

The proprietor of the schwarma place almost screamed when the six people stepped into his shop. All but one was dressed oddly but they didn't look like those things that had destroyed the street outside his store. As a matter of fact, they looked like the ones leading the cops in fighting off those things. The platinum card that the man wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt waved in front of his face soothed any objections that he had.

Looking at the menu, Tony said, "Give me six, no make that seven number ones." He figured that Thor would eat a lot. He turned to see if that was okay with the others but realized they were ignoring him. He watched Banner sit down, and the rest gathered around the same table. Natasha waited for Clint to sit. She tapped her chair back and lifted an eyebrow. Understanding her shorthand, Clint slowly lifted his leg onto her chair and settled back. She sat on the front edge of her chair; he'd left her plenty of room, and she leaned her head against her arm supported by the table.

"I'll take a Coke now." Tony walked over to Clint and handed him the soda. "Sugar," he said. You need to get some energy, or we'll be carrying you out of here."

His hands shaking, Clint began to sip the soda. The coolness helped his smoke-roughened throat. Stark was right. He was going into shock. The strain on his body was taking its toll. He wasn't superhuman; he was just a soldier with a specific skill set.

He knew he'd pay for the abuse to his body over the past week. Soon he would crash and burn. The smell of the cooked meat that the waitress brought over almost made him throw up. He swallowed the wave of nausea. This always happened when he overextended. The fact that he'd smelled burning flesh this day wasn't helping either.

Thor dug in right away. The others began to eat. Clint dragged his basket into his lap. He picked up some pita bread and dug into the Tabbouleh. He ate that for a few minutes until his hunger returned, so he picked up the pita wrap filled with schwarma. He didn't want to rotate to face the table; it was less painful that way. He could hear Banner snorting or snickering to himself off to his right. He didn't even have the energy to ask him what was so funny.

Rogers was almost asleep at the end. Twice, Natasha spoke to him to see if he was ok. Although superhuman, the man still needed to eat. Focusing her attention back to Clint, Natasha watched as he ate. She was aware of him being too exhausted to eat. Before noticing his nausea, she'd thought he'd bolt his food. He had to be starving. She'd seen him palm a MRE bar when he'd armed himself with his bow and quiver aboard the helicarrier. That hadn't been enough to sustain him if he hadn't eaten since being overtaken. But Clint didn't bolt his food. He had self-control. He always had self-control. That's what made Loki's subsuming his will all the worse. Clint hated to lose control. But he was free. He would heal. She would make sure of that.

Absorbed in their own thoughts, the Avengers finished the first of many meals taken as a team.

Thank you for reading this chapter. I hope this story struck a spark with you and I'd love to hear your thoughts. This will be continued.