Summary: During a routine recon mission for SHIELD, Clint disappears without a trace. In trying to find him, the team stumbles across an unwelcome (and psychotic) blast from Clint's past out for revenge. And it seems he's not working alone... In other words, Clint's in danger. Must be Tuesday.
Pairings: Clintasha and background Peppernony
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.
Author's Note: Ugh, so sorry about the delay. I meant to have this up Friday night but me being me, I totally blanked. So sorry. I'm also sorry for any typos or spelling errors. I tried to check it as carefully as I could but I probably missed something. So apologizing for that now. I just really wanted to get this up for you guys before the weekend was over. So anyway, here is the last chapter… unless I write an epilogue. I have a few ideas but I'm not sure if I should go through with it. I'll be pretty much forcing myself into writing a sequel of sorts. We'll see. But for now I'm slapping the complete label on this. Hope you enjoy! See the end for another author's note.
Burn It Down
When Nick first had the idea to assemble a special operatives team consisting of individuals with superpowers (and other genetic enhancements), he never really thought they would be any different to him than the other agents that worked under him. But he was wrong. It was widely acknowledged and accepted that Agents Coulson, Hill, Romanoff and Barton held a special place with Fury. Everyone knew about it, even if they never really talked about it. When he assigned Natasha and Clint to the team with Phil as a handler, Fury never expected the dynamic to change. He never thought he would grow to care about the time displaced super solider, or the crazy alien war god, or the reclusive mad scientist with the rampaging alter ego. He really never thought he would give a damn about the cocky, yet brilliant Tony Stark. But he did.
Though he loathed admitting it, even to himself, Nick Fury cared about all of the Avengers. It was difficult to do anything but adore Thor. He was similar to an overgrown puppy that was slightly rabid. Nick sometimes found himself wanting to pet the god on the head for doing a good deed. He was definitely going soft around these guys. Bruce and Steve were both pleasant and endearing enough that they got under your skin before you even knew they were there. Hell, even Stark grew on him. He never thought that Tony would be a team player. He knew Howard Stark and as time passed, Nick started to see the man Howard Stark used to be in his son. But unlike Steve, Nick was smart enough to keep those comments to himself. Tony went against everything they all believed about him in the beginning. He did play very well with others. They just needed to find the right team. He glanced around the room he was currently sitting in. Mission accomplished on that front.
"I don't think you all understand the serious ramifications of your actions."
Nick's eyes flickered between the shadowed screens to the five silent members of the Avengers. Tony and Bruce were both working on their tablets, clearly not paying a bit of attention. Natasha, Steve and Thor were glaring at the screens but remaining tightlipped. Coulson and Maria were in the room. Both looking smug and amused respectively. The Council was less than pleased with the way this debriefing was proceeding and yet Fury couldn't find it in him to intercede. They were the ones that wanted to go up against the pissed off Avengers.
"This entire debacle has just illustrated the many ways in which the six of you are a danger to national security. It was so easy for you all to turn against SHIELD and free a dangerous weapons manufacturer. What's to stop you from doing so again in the future should a situation like this ever occur again? Director Fury, give us one good reason we shouldn't throw this lot into nearest secure facility and throw away the key."
Nick noticed the set of Bruce's shoulders, which showed he was paying a little bit of attention. But before he could answer the question, the true Tony Stark emerged. Nick always believed that there was more to Tony than the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist persona he did so enjoy flaunting in the face of the world. The man was gifted and could solve problems that puzzled even the most talented of physicists in his head. But he enjoyed the role of the sarcastic clown. Except for when his friends, no, his family, were threatened. Then it was time to get serious.
Tony placed the tablet down, folding his hands over it and smiling. "I have a better question for you, the esteemed members of the World Security Council. Exactly what have we done to be locked up for? True, we broke Justin Hammer out of your facility. But in our defense, he was more than likely going to escape anyway as the security in your maximum security facility was beyond pathetic. Then there is the simple fact that we brought him back. Wait a minute, correction, we not only brought him back, we also brought in the Swordsman. He's wanted in like a bunch of countries. That's like a bonus. Am I right?"
"He raises a good point," Natasha chimed in with a dangerous smile.
Tony smirked and continued. "Should you choose to ignore logic and continue with your ridiculous idea of locking us up, I have another question for you. What prison in this world or the next do you think could hold any of us? One way or another, one of us will get out and then… well, the result isn't pretty. We are called the Avengers after all. We take that avenging stuff pretty seriously." His eyes turned darker as he turned his full attention to the middle screen. "That brings me to my last point. And that is that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
"What?" one of the Council members murmured in confusion.
"Yes, what indeed. Or maybe the better question is how. How long did it take before you gave into Hammer, Senator Clark? One week? Two? A couple of days?"
Nick's brow furrowed even as the smug look on Phil's face turned slightly proud. He shook his head. Phil and his kids.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Clark protested.
"Really?" Tony drawled. "I'm talking about how the Intel for this horrendously obvious trap of a mission came from you. It was also you that insisted that Agent Barton be assigned to the mission. You're also the one that had three million dollars deposited in an offshore, very hard to trace unless you're me, account yesterday. Coincidentally the money came from one of Justin Hammer's many shell companies. The same one that paid for the ticket that got Jacque Duquesne into the country last week. Funny how that works."
"How dare you hack into my accounts? This is treason! This is ridiculous!"
Tony raised an eyebrow. "What's ridiculous is that you thought we wouldn't find out. Granted, we've been a little distracted with looking for Clint. But I'm excellent at multi-tasking. And nothing would make me happier than to take down the bastards that thought this was a good idea. In case you're missing the giant clue by four that would be you."
By this point, the room was full of confused murmuring as the rest of the Council clearly tried to figure out what was going on. Nick had to give Tony credit. He certainly did know how to prove a point.
"Mr. Stark," one of the screens spoke. "What exactly are you saying?"
"I'm saying that Senator Clark, all around crappy politician and horrible husband, has been selling SHIELD secrets for years. He leaked Justin Hammer's location to several interested parties. He also arranged for Hammer's escape by setting up that bogus mission and having our friend kidnapped."
"That's enough," Clark bellowed, slamming his hand on the table. "Mr. Stark, your lies are pathetic and I don't know what you hope to achieve….."
"If the Council would please take a look at your email, you'll find that you've all received every shred of evidence that I uncovered, including chats between Hammer and Senator Clark and phone records showing thirty minute conversations between our esteemed senator and the Swordsman. Incidentally, the last of these phone calls occurred yesterday."
There was a moment of silence as each of the Council members checked their emails. All except for one. That screen went blank as the man made a run for it. Nick opened his mouth to voice some sort of protest or objection when Tony laughed.
"Like that's going to help," he said, shaking his head. "The Council isn't the only one that received a list of Clark's dirty little secrets. I sent the same email with a little bit more to the FBI. They really don't like it when politicians sell national security secrets to foreign criminals. Especially French criminals. They're also not too fond of state leaders boinking underage high school interns in the office."
Nick now understood Phil's smug and proud expression. He couldn't help but feel the same. He was the director of SHIELD and even he wasn't entirely sure who the members of the WSC were. But Tony not only knew them but where they were hiding behind their screens. He managed to uncover dangerously incriminating information all while successfully locating and rescuing Clint. It all just served as an example of why he would never want to be on Tony's bad side. He made a mental note to increase R&D's budget to allow Tony and Bruce to explore and science until their heart's content.
"Well," one of the female Council members said, clearing her throat. "It would appear that we have grossly underestimated you."
"Yes, you have," Tony nodded. "And that was your only warning. Try this crap again and that's it. We're done. The Avengers will cut all ties with SHIELD and the WSC."
"Agent Romanoff, you have a long history with SHIELD. I believe this agency saved you from some trouble you were facing with your former employers. Does this statement stand true for you? Would you side against SHIELD?" one of the screens asked, looking in her direction. Natasha smiled again. Nick will always be amazed by all the things that woman could say in a smile.
"What Tony said stands for both me and Agent Barton."
Steve met Tony's gaze and nodded. "Same here. Our loyalty doesn't like with SHIELD or even to you. It's to one another." Thor and Bruce nodded as well preempting any need to ask them the same question.
"Basically, you screw one of us, you screw all of us. You really don't want to do that," Tony finished. "Well, now that we've settled that last bit of nasty business, it's time to go check on our archer."
"And get my access to medical restored," Bruce muttered. "You free one megalomaniacal weapons dealer and all of a sudden you're persona non grata."
"Actually I think it's more the fact that you've Hulked out at least three times this weekend alone and caused hundreds of dollars in collateral damage," Natasha pointed out as they walked out the door.
"Oh, this coming from the same woman that caused a grown man to pee on himself just by walking a room?"
Natasha smirked, a finger toying with the end of her hair. "I can't help it if my reputation precedes me."
"That and the big knife you insist on carrying every where with you."
Fury watched as the team left, still bickering amongst them as if they didn't just mouth off to a collection of the most powerful people in the nation. As soon as they were gone, Nick turned a reproachful eye on the still silent screens.
"In case you were wondering, messing with them is a dumb ass idea. Really wouldn't recommend trying that again."
"I believe, Director Fury, that you may have a point."
It was common knowledge around the SHIELD headquarters that Clint Barton did not like doctors. The fact that he considered a man with doctor in front of his name to be one of his closest friends was nothing short of a miracle. But it seemed his goodwill extended to Bruce and ended there. He still didn't trust anyone else in a lab coat. Tony was starting to understand his point of view. If he had to deal with the arrogant, self-righteous idiots who staffed the medical unit, he would develop a chronic phobia too.
"Look Nurse Ratchet," Tony finally snapped, glaring at the older woman that was currently blocking them from their teammate. "I get it, ok? We're loud, noisy, and up until about half an hour ago, working pretty much in our own interests. But our own interest was getting that man in that room back safely. And we did. We got him back and now we just want to check on him. You saw what we did to the other idiot that tried to keep us from him. What makes you think we won't do the same again?"
There was a moment of heavy silence as the nurse that the two doctors called in to provide backup visibly considered what Tony was saying. While he was fairly certain that he wouldn't hit the woman, he was a little concerned at what he wouldn't do to get to Clint. If the idiots would just tell them if he was awake maybe they'd be a little less violent. He glanced out the corner of his eye at Thor and Natasha who were clearly itching for a fight. Ok, so they wouldn't be any less violent but they'd be contained in a room.
"Oh, thank god, Agent Coulson!"
The five Avengers whirled around at the sound of their handler's name. Mjolinir disappeared wherever it went when Thor wasn't swinging it in someone's direction. Natasha sighed heavily and crossed her arms over her chest with an air of petulance. Crisis averted… for now.
"What's going on?"
"What's going on is that your team is making a scene and disturbing our patients," one of the doctors spoke up, trying to force as much authority into his tone as possible. Phil looked about as impressed as the others felt.
"Have you tried giving them what they want?" Phil suggested.
"But… they're the reason the medical ward is overcrowded at the moment. Agent Romanoff is solely responsible for the injuries of eight men."
"It was only seven," Natasha corrected.
"The eighth was the agent that was hiding in the vents. Apparently he fell out because one of the vents wasn't screwed on properly," Steve replied. Natasha's features molded into an expression of absolute innocence. "Sir, I know that we may have caused a lot of trouble in the past few days but we really did it for a good reason."
"In addition to the eight men we're treating, we also have to deal with the damage that you, Captain Rogers, did to our prisoners. Duquesne will be in traction for a month before we can even think about transferring him from headquarters."
Steve stared at the doctor blankly. "I refuse to feel sorry about that."
"I wouldn't expect you too," Phil assured him. He turned his cool gaze on the still too self-important doctor. "Dr. Yeats, you'll find that the Avengers have been cleared of all charges against them and have been fully reinstated as official consultants to SHIELD. And as Agent Barton is a member of said consultant team, they have a right to know his current status."
Dr. Yeats looked ready to argue but finally common sense seemed to settle in for him. He sighed before running a hand through his thinning brown hair. "Fine, but I'm afraid I don't have good news to report." He cleared his throat, reading from a tablet in his hand. "As you know Agent Barton was kidnapped nearly two days ago. He was drugged, beaten and buried alive. His prognosis at the moment is not good. We're going to keep him here for at least a week in observation. If his condition does not improve, he will need to be transferred to a long term care facility."
"What?" Tony interjected. "He was fine! He was awake and talking to us. Now you're talking about him needing a long-term care facility?"
"I understand that you and Dr. Banner had a conversation with him but I believe it was the last of the adrenaline from being rescued. He is awake now but nonresponsive. We believe that he has entered a catatonic state."
Natasha arched an eyebrow before tuning the doctor out completely. "Phil, when can we bring him home?"
"I don't think you truly understand what's going on here."
"I really hate that everyone thinks it's us that doesn't understand," Steve muttered under his breath.
"Agent Barton has been through a significant trauma. He needs peace and constant supervision in order to begin recovering from this. With time, he may one day be able to return to the field." Tony rolled his eyes once again. Beside him, Bruce was also shaking his head.
"You're basing your diagnosis of catatonia on what data exactly?" Bruce asked. "How are his brain wave readings?"
"Normal but he is not responding to stimuli in the room nor does he respond to questions from staff…."
"That's what I thought," Bruce pushed past the nurse and the two doctors. For a fleeting moment, the trio looked like they were going to try and stop him but at the very last second remembered that they were dealing with a man that redefined anger issues. Tony was a little disappointed that they didn't think of just pushing Bruce past them in the first place. But that didn't stop him from smirking in the shell shocked doctors' faces as he followed his friend into the room.
Bruce was sitting on the edge of the hospital containing one Clint Barton. He looked even worse under the harsh lightning in the infirmary. The bruises stood out vividly against the pale canvas of his skin. Light blue eyes were open but glazed over as he stared at something beyond them all. His arms were by his sides with his hands open and loose. For all intents and purposes, he did look like he was gone. But Tony was familiar with the various aspects of Clint and his skills. That's why he wasn't surprised when Bruce tapped Clint on the hand, mindless of Yeats' protesting in the background.
"Steve and Thor are taking food orders. What do you want? Onion rings or IHOP?"
There was a pause before Clint blinked. His blank gaze turning clear and sharp even as he turned an incredulous glare in Bruce's direction. "You know sometimes it's like you don't even know me."
Bruce snorted, turning over his shoulder to the equally amused Thor and Steve. "Looks like it's both. And forgive me for not remembering that you're greedy."
"Not greedy, just starving," Clint whined, poking his growling stomach.
"But… how?" Dr. Yeats gaped in the background.
Bruce ruffled Clint's already beyond mussed hair before rising to stand beside Dr. Yeats. "Yeah, he doesn't really like doctors. Doesn't really trust them. So care to tell me what drugs your tests found in his system?"
The tone in his voice implied that Yeats better resign himself to liking it regardless of what he might've felt about the issue. Yeats left with Bruce to no doubt update the man on Clint's condition and start the discharge paperwork. That was a new one. They never really had to sign paperwork for him to get out before. They usually just waited by the most accessible back entrance. Clint was notorious for never spending more time than he deemed necessary (three hours tops) in the medical ward. Signing him out was bound to be weird.
"Clint Barton, it is good to see you, my friend!" Thor cheered with his usual lack of inside voice volume. Clint mustered a smile for the god but they could all see it was strained. Thor nodded. "I apologize. I was just very happy to see you."
Clint smiled a little brighter. "You don't know how happy I am to see you too, big guy."
Steve's hand hovered over the archer's shoulder for a moment before he simply covered Clint's hand with his own. "I'm glad you're back." Clint nodded. "So you want a chocolate milkshake too?"
Clint sniffled. "Steve, have I mentioned lately that I love you?"
Natasha laughed from where she sat on the bed beside Clint. Tony didn't remember her being there from the very beginning but damned if he could tell when she moved into the space. That was the thing about Clint and Natasha. They were in each other's space so much that you kind of forgot that they were two separate individuals.
"Should I be concerned? You're throwing out the L-word," Natasha pointed out, raising an eyebrow. "Do I need to be jealous?"
"Aw, baby," Clint smirked. "You know I'll never turn black leather down for stars and stripes."
Steve rolled his eyes. "And on that note, we'll be going to get the food now. See you at home."
"Aye, aye Captain," Clint called after Steve and Thor. The door wasn't fully closed behind them before Natasha was gently pulling him closer to her. The kiss was brief but the meaning behind was clear even to Tony. Clint didn't pull away. He simply held her head gently. "Sorry, Tasha."
"Don't ever disappear again," Natasha murmured. "Don't really like it."
"I'll try. Wasn't too much fun for me either."
Natasha gave him a weak smile before pressing her lips against his again. It was the closest to a declaration of love either of them was going to give with an audience. And Tony did appreciate the fact that they let their guard down that much. That didn't mean he couldn't live up to expectations.
"Hey, if you're done macking on the Hawk, some of us would like to continue the glad you're not a vegetable festivities."
"You're such an ass," Natasha muttered, pulling away from Clint. She patted him on the cheek before standing up all together. "You're lucky I have to go anyway."
"Where are you going?"
Natasha smirked. "To the airport with Phil to pick up Darcy and Jane. She's decided that he's to blame for her not knowing about Clint being kidnapped. She's also blaming him for her having to take a domestic flight back here. According to the messages I received once you put the satellite back, she has threatened to taze no less than ten people while waiting on the line. Phil's secretly afraid that he's met his match."
"Should be," Tony snorted. "It's all fun and a game with her until Clint gets a paper-cut. Then she wants to cut people." He held up the archer's heavily bruised arm. "This is a lot worse than a paper-cut."
Natasha shook her head. "Try and stay out of trouble while I'm gone. I'll meet you all back at the Tower once we get Darcy calm. But just in case, Tony move that bubble wrap out of the hall closet. I've been thinking about it, so I know Darcy will go for it."
"You actually bought it?" Clint asked, incredulously. "I thought you were just playing."
"I never play when it comes to my life, Barton. And my life is dependent on your safety. I'm not crossing your badass ninja girlfriend, your pseudo ninja father figure or his tazer happy assistant who thinks you're like her hot older brother."
Clint scrunched his nose up. "That sounds creepy."
"Well, it's creepy watching you."
Silence settled over the room. It took a moment before Tony realized that they all left on purpose. This was probably Bruce's doing. The whole leave Tony with the one person he doesn't want to be alone with at the moment plot just reeked of Banner.
"So you want to tell me what's on your mind?" Clint asked, toying with an arrowhead. Tony wasn't even going to ask where he got that from. His sanity depended on it. Almost as if he knew what he was thinking, Clint gave him another smirk but this one didn't reach his eyes. "Seriously, Tone? What's wrong?"
"A few years ago, the only people that gave a damn about me and vice versa were Rhodey and Pepper. And even they kept their distance. They still do. I know they care but sometimes I'm too much for them. But you guys… you don't keep your distance. You're here. You're under my skin. I care a lot more than I ever thought I would. That… bothers me."
"When I was a kid, my dad used to beat the hell out of us. My brother, Barney, he would do everything in his power to help but he was just a kid too, you know?" Clint spoke but his eyes took on that faraway look again. "When we were at the orphanage, he did the same thing. He was always there. And then we got to Carson's. And something changed. I still don't know what. But suddenly he stopped looking at me like I was something to protect and instead…."
"Something he wanted to destroy," Tony finished.
"Yeah. He was actually pissed that I ratted out Duquesne to Carson. He was there… when Duquesne…. He was there but he didn't help. He never helped. That night, he just left me there. The one person I trusted most in the world and he left me in a ditch. I promised I was never going to let anyone get that close again. Then I met Phil, Fury and Tasha. Then I met you guys."
Tony smiled a little. "Guess it's one of those mutual things, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess it is." Clint continued to let the arrow dance over his fingers. "Tony?"
"I'm sorry for freaking out before."
Tony gave him a look. Was he seriously apologizing for freaking out after being buried alive? Then again this was Clint. Clint who despite constant reassurances, failed to understand that he was a vital part of this family. He just didn't grasp that when he hurt, they wanted to smash things in his honor. And right now he was hurting despite the very impressive front he was putting up. Yeats wasn't wrong when he said that the kid went through a significant trauma. And that was just the buried alive thing. He wasn't even getting started on the being kidnapped by your childhood demons. No, Clint was very much not ok at the moment but he would be. Because he had a family that would damn well make sure he was. With this in mind, Tony put a hand over Clint's, ceasing the fidgeting. Wide blue eyes met his.
"It's cool. We're even for last week when I got drunk and I asked you to hold my hair before I threw up on you."
Clint laughed. It was a real laugh. One that had his eyes lighting up and chasing away some of the darkness this whole ordeal left behind. For a brief moment, Clint shifted his hand to squeeze Tony's in gratitude.
"I almost forgot about that."
"Oh, well feel free to continue forgetting about it. I've been living in dread as to what you were going to come up with for revenge. Bruce promised it would likely be epic."
Clint's hand strayed towards his stitched up forehead. Tony smacked it downwards, earning a ghost of his usual glare. "It would've been great. I think. I kinda can't remember too good what it was."
Tony smiled. "I'm sure it was awesome." He leaned forward resting his elbow on the bed. "Clint, are we ok?"
"You mean because your less talented rival commissioned the man that basically took over my father's beat the hell out of Clint mentality to continue his mission of trying to kill me all to get at you?"
"In so many words, yes."
"Eh, we're even for that time I was possessed and pretty much single-handedly took down the entire hellicarrier."
"You did not single-handedly take down the hellicarrier."
"Uh, yeah. That was all me. And I would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for you meddling Avengers."
Tony started to protest when he took a moment to assess the absurdity of the situation. "Is it always going to be like this? Constant danger, tense moments and then smiles and laughs at the end of the day?"
"On the good days," Clint replied, easily.
Tony took in the younger man critically. He looked like he went ten rounds with Mike Tyson and a meat cleaver. And he counted this as a good day? Then again… he was here. He was as safe as he could possibly be. Tony wasn't stupid. He saw the tracker Natasha put on his shoulder earlier. He wasn't going anywhere they couldn't find him. Maybe it was a good day after all.
"Hey, I know that it's Sunday and everything but… you want to help me set Thor's cape on fire tonight?"
"It would be my genuine pleasure."
This superhero gig was going to take some getting used to. It was still screwed with his mind to know that he cared enough about people for them to be used as leverage against him. He was still amazed that those people cared about him in return. He supposed it was all apart of being part of a family.
Tony glanced down at the archer. His eyes were half-mast and he was clearly fighting off sleep. Tony squeezed his hand again.
"I will always find you," Tony promised. "And I will never leave you."
Clint yawned, sinking into his pillow with a muffled grunt. "I know. Much better brother than Barney."
Tony blinked. It was the first time that Clint ever acknowledged the family connection out loud. He swallowed the lump in his throat to pat the younger man on the arm. "Go to sleep, kid. I'm here to keep watch. We'll be home before you know it. And then we're catching you up on Once Upon a Time."
"Awesome," Clint murmured. "Today's a good day." He was asleep before Tony could even formulate a reply. Tony smoothed back the blonde hair gently, watching as Clint sank further into his much needed sleep.
For the first time since Clint's communicator went dead, Tony felt relaxed. His family was back together and they were all relatively ok. Hammer and his prison pen pal were going to back to an actual maximum security facility where only Fury and Coulson would know. Things were looking up. Maybe he could learn to deal with this after all.
*This is my final author's note. Just a huge, HUGE, huge thank you to all the wonderful comments I've gotten throughout the story. I truly appreciate all of your reviews and feedback. There are two that I need to address and then I promise I'm shutting up and getting started on another story, lol.
To SilverNY57: You're right, there was a change. But I think it's attributed to that being the first time that Clint has seen Duquesne in over 15 years. After being tied to a chair and being subjected to his dramatic ways, I think the fear took a backseat to annoyance. After all the man has dealt with Loki and an alien invasion. I think Duquesne only warrants a little fear. But thanks for pointing it out. I need to find a better way to convey that in my writing.
To Black Night Angel: First, love the name. Second, no, there was no real reason for the chapters being titled after Living Things. I'm a huge LP fan and I've been playing the CD on repeat since I got it. So I guess you could say that it has been inspiring my writing for the past few weeks. And the songs just seemed to fit the chapters.
Also I took a lot of liberty with the WSC in this chapter. I don't really know a lot about them and I tried to look them up but couldn't find a lot of clear information. So I apologize if I got anything really horrendously wrong.
Ok, I'm done now. Thanks again to everyone who has taken the time to read, favorite and/or review. I appreciate the love. Makes my day! Ciao for now.