Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers or any of the characters affiliated with them. If I did, there would totally be a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie in the works.
Author's Note: While I embrace constructive criticism, remember this old saying if you choose to leave a review "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"
Thanks to all who reviewed chapter 9: bookworm1517, dwelian, Guest, Rivan Warrioress, Sam M. Holmes, VoldieBeth, mellbell12123, ArabianForest, Reteka Hyuuga, harleyquinn990, discordchick, Sam Mayer, Blackwindmill, authorunable, Susan M. M, Holly Short of the Lep recon, MarveyTibbsMcGarrettWilliams , LivinJgrl123, snitch-bewitch, Qweb, Drake.12, TheNaggingCube, m9o2i, Mirabilem Electo, Guest, ziggy488, CiaraXx, Phoenix Aurorean, lunarweather, Shanynde, Guest, clovely-littleme, Lollypops101, tpt player 5701, Dani9513, Hillo77, animexluva13, CyanB, Nika, jacedesbff, Furionknight, Fyroni, SPN4eva556, ellabella89, lucia of rivendell, Emiliana Keladry, j3ntheninja, xComet260x, Alexandra Nightshade, GregsMadHatter, Oakleaf, Sinkme, and xx-Forever Yours-xx
Shout out to those who reviewed every chapter: discordchick, Reteka Hyuuga, Dani9513, CyanB, Fyroni, Sam Mayer, VoldieBeth, snitch-bewitch, Mirabilem Electo, Blackwindmill, CiaraXx, j3ntheninja, xx-Forever Yours-xx, GregsMadHatter, and Clovely-littleme
And shout out to those who reviewed almost (all but 1 or 2) every chapter: Drake.12, lunarweather, yevguine, authorunable, Shanynde, Furionknight, bookworm1517, LivinJgrl123, Sam M. Holmes, Jaymie, Sinkme
The end has come. Our assassins are safe and both alive (there were moments of doubt) and the bad guys are dealt with (almost). It's been a highly emotional ride and I hope everybody is happy with where we are ending :)
I saw that a few reviewers are itching for some Natasha wump and action of her own, and you're getting that itch at a good time because in my next story, while both of our assassins have their own kind of wump, Natasha plays a more prominent role in their survival than Clint does even while dealing with some serious wumpage of her own...you'll see the summary at the very end of the chapter
The song for this story was "Broken" by Lifehouse
Bruce ventured into the room quietly, taking in the scene with glowing green eyes. Steve quirked an eyebrow at him in question and he nodded. He had the other guy under control for the moment. It had been a struggle from the moment they'd stepped into the townhouse. It was as if the Hulk inside of him had sensed the pain of his friends and had nearly broken free. While that would surely have ended the fight more quickly, it would have put the rest of the team, including Clint in danger. So he'd curled onto his knees in the living room and fought against his darker half until they both sensed the danger had passed. Then he'd ventured up the stairs to find their dead Black Widow alive and their Hawk holding on to her like she was the only thing keeping him from coming apart. He'd found Tony watching them with what he could only describe as respectful reverence and Steve watching with unbridled pain and emotion. He'd found Thor glaring so hatefully at a man collapsed against the wall that it was a wonder the Asgardian hadn't already delivered a killing blow.
Their team. Together, not quite in one piece, but alive and breathing. That would have to be enough for now.
Revenge proves its own executioner- John Ford
It took several minutes before Clint felt like he had himself pulled together enough to draw away from Natasha. Part of him never wanted to pull away from her again, just wanted to stay wrapped up in her arms and never let go. Another part of him, the thoroughly pissed part, wanted to settle this with Fourie, once and for all.
So he pulled away and rested his forehead wearily against hers taking a moment to gather the strength to stand. She stroked the side of his jaw gently and waited patiently. He brought his left hand up to frame her face briefly. The terror that he was going to watch her die was still echoing loudly inside him. He saw his hand was shaking and knew it had nothing to do with his physical injuries. He took in a deep breath and pulled back completely, bracing his hand on her shoulder to aid his rise. Her hands came to his elbow and braced against his side to help balance him.
He drew up, painfully, to his full height and Natasha rose beside him. He stared at Fourie and Fourie stared back. He took a measured step forward, barely putting any pressure on his left foot before dragging it with him. Natasha wordlessly shifted and pulled his left arm over her shoulder, anchoring herself to his side and preventing him from having to put too much pressure on his damaged foot.
"If you had just killed me, I would have understood. Understood more than you know," Clint stated roughly as he moved closer to his prey. "But this?" he gestured vaguely behind him and shook his head.
"I wanted you to suffer."
"Yeah, well mission accomplished," Clint allowed. "But there was a major flaw to your plan."
"And what was that?" Fourie spat, shifting. He froze when Thor raised his hammer slightly.
Fourie frowned and Clint went on.
"You had to have known that if you did this, you'd better make damn sure I was dead when it was all over," he explained. "But you made a fatal mistake when you didn't account for the unexpected. It's a lesson I learned when I killed your father all those years ago. You have to plan for everything, even a little kid running out of a house and drawing attention to your position. Even a team of superheroes entirely too persistent for their own damn good."
The other four men all straightened a little, looking pleased with themselves.
"Everything comes down to the unexpected." Clint crouched down with a wince to retrieve Fourie's abandon gun and then moved to stand directly in front of him. "Give us the room, boys."
Thor nodded, squeezing Clint's shoulder gently before moving towards the door. Tony was ready to protest, not appreciating being sent out like a child. Steve stopped him though with a hand to his chest plate, gently propelling him back towards the door.
"Clint needs to do this and can you blame him for not wanting an audience?" Steve whispered. He looked over his shoulder at the archer. He was shocked at the hot anger he, himself, felt and his own desire to see Fourie out of their lives for good.
Bruce followed without complaint, but the doctor's eyes were watching Clint in deep concern. He looked about ready to collapse and standing on what looked like a broken foot wasn't the best way to keep that from happening. But he moved out of the room anyway, because some things took priority.
Natasha didn't leave. Instead she glared down at Fourie as only the Black Widow could. Without warning, she pulled away from Clint, snapped a kick into Fourie's jaw and lunged forward. She wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled him up, roughly slamming him back against the wall. Then, while he was still gasping in shock, she reached behind him and pulled Clint's knife from his behind his back.
"This doesn't belong to you," she hissed, twitching the knife across his cheek as he'd done to her. Then she released his throat only to punch him solidly in the nose. Fourie crumbled and Natasha returned to Clint's side looking more satisfied than she had a moment ago. For the archer's part, he just smiled slightly. That was his fiery spider, all venom and even more bite. He reached to cock the gun, wincing as he did so. Then he leveled it at Fourie's head.
"I always knew it would come down to something like this, Fourie," Clint stated darkly. "One of us holding a gun on the other. You shouldn't have brought anyone else into it." He shouldn't have brought her into it.
Fourie glared hatefully at him.
"You killed my father, duiwel. You deserved to suffer." (demon)
"Maybe," Clint allowed. "But for sins before we even met, not for killing your father. The man only got what he brought on himself with the choices he made."
Fourie's eyes darkened.
"Life is full of choices, duiwel, and my only regret is that I've failed to carry out mine. I pray that death finds you swiftly."
Clint nodded, unsurprised by the level of hate in the man's tone.
"This ends now, Fourie," he stated quietly and without further prompting fired once. Fourie's head snapped back, the bullet tearing a hole between his eyes. Clint ejected the magazine and cleared the chamber before tossing it aside. It seemed anticlimactic somehow for Fourie to be finally dead. Clint wasn't sure how he felt about it. He had never and would never regret killing Abrehem Fourie. The man had been a murderer and a terrorist. In many ways, Josia had become a worse version of his father. But a small part of Clint, the part of him that still grieved for Phil, understood the man's hate. He would always hate Loki for the same reason. He wasn't lying when he said he would have understood if Fourie had just come after him. But he'd come after Natasha. And that would never, and could never, be forgiven.
"It's over," Natasha whispered gently, pulling him away from the body. Finally it's over. Natasha had done her own share of worrying over Fourie for the past three years and eight months. She'd worried that Clint would leave on a mission and never come back because of the man. She'd worried more after Dubai, even more after Melbourne, and still more after Tokyo. But Clint had always come back to her. Fourie had never won. And he hadn't won now.
He leaned heavily on her and together they made their way to the door. Clint made it to the doorway. He glanced around at his stupid, stubborn team that had apparently refused to let him go off to die in peace.
Thank God for that.
It was his last thought as the world faded to black.
When reality started to fuzzily make its presence known again, the first thing Clint was aware of was her voice. It was there, explaining something about a safe house.
"Well it's a good thing you guys have a back up. Bird boy trashed the other one."
Clint's other senses started to return and he became aware of two strong arms, one under his knees the other hooked under his shoulders. He felt a sway and a slight shifting of the arms. He was being carried and whoever was doing the carrying was walking at the moment. Before he could let himself be horrified that he was being carried like a child, the pain rushed in. His back was giving new meaning to the terms throbbing and ache. His head was pounding and while both of his feet hurt, his left felt like it had been stomped on by the Hulk. His wrists were stiff and swollen and he could still feel the bite of the handcuffs, his left wrist particularly was aching fiercely.
He heard the metal grating of his and Natasha's elevator slid up and then more swaying. It wasn't until the grating slid closed that he found the inclination to open his eyes. His field of vision was filled with red white and blue.
Cap. That explained the strong arms.
"Clint?" Trust Natasha to zero in the moment he returned to the waking world.
"Present," he groaned, shifting. "Put me down."
Steve hesitated, but a nod from Natasha had him easing the archer's feet the ground. He didn't give up his support on the man's back, though, and was glad he didn't when Clint wavered heavily.
"You shouldn't be walking on those feet," Bruce's calm voice drew Clint's eyes to the left corner of the elevator.
"Walked with worse."
"I really wish you wouldn't say things like that," Tony grumbled, lifting the grating when the elevator came to a stop. Natasha and Tony led the way out of the elevator and Thor filled in on Clint's side opposite Steve. Together, the two large men helped him hobble out of the elevator.
"That chair looks good to me," Clint hissed, cursing his own stubbornness as they made their slow progress. Bruce slid around them, pulled out the chair and accepted the large first aid kit Natasha produced from a cabinet.
Clint all but collapsed into the chair.
"Check Tasha out first."
The entire room stared at him.
"You're kidding, right?" Tony scoffed.
"Clint, not now," Natasha scolded with a slight glare.
"You're nose might be broken and that isn't a little shiner you've got on your temple. You need to get checked out."
Part of Clint knew he was being irrational, but another part, the part that was nothing but frayed nerves, battered emotions, and raging protective instincts, didn't feel like listening to the rational part of his brain. In fact it was very firmly telling the rational part of his brain to go to hell.
"You can't even stand on your own, Clint," Bruce pointed out calmly.
"I don't care."
"Archer," Thor tried to intercede.
"I'll be fine!" Clint snapped at him.
"You're barely even managing to stay conscious," Steve added.
"That doesn't matter! Just make sure she's okay!"
"Clint!" Natasha snapped, leaning down so they were almost nose to nose. "You are going to shut the hell up and let Bruce take care of you. Understood?" Her eyes were fiery and his voice was hard, the kind of hard that told him to put up and shut up or there would be consequences.
Clint blinked, the rational part of his brain saying 'I told you so' in an annoying sing-song voice. But maybe that was just his concussion.
He nodded at her and her eyes softened and when she spoke again her voice was gentle.
"I promise he'll check me over as soon as he's done, okay?"
He nodded again. Natasha drew back and nodded at Bruce to get to it.
"I've got sixteen missed calls from Pepper. I knew I was going to regret getting the international plan. I'll be back," Tony tossed over his shoulder as he headed for the roof door. He threw one more worried glance at the archer and the spider before he disappeared outside.
"I must contact my Jane. She was most concerned with our recent events and I must put her mind at ease," Thor fished Tony's laptop out of the man's bag and pulled it open, following the precise instructions the genius had taught him to write what was called an "e-mail".
Steve just watched, alternating between hovering over Bruce's shoulder and pacing to the other side of the room and back.
Natasha and Bruce helped Clint carefully peel off his t-shirt, revealing harsh dark bruising in large patches on his back and abdomen.
"Jesus," Bruce breathed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath when his other half threatened to break free at the sight.
"That bad?" Clint huffed wearily.
"It's not great," Natasha replied calmly, reaching around him to pull a tube of liniment that would help with the swelling and the ache. "I've got this, Bruce, why don't you take a look at his feet."
Bruce nodded and moved around him and crouched, gently pulling Clint's left foot up by a gentle hold on the calf. Clint thought he might have lost time, because the next thing he was aware of was Bruce calling his name with the type of tone that indicated it wasn't the first time.
Clint blinked wearily and raised his eyes to the doctor.
"Without an x-ray I can't tell how bad the damage is, but you're going to need a cast. I'll cushion and wrap it for now and we'll let the SHIELD doctors handle it when we get back."
Clint nodded wordlessly, the corners of his eyes tightening when Natasha's gentle hands rubbed a particularly tender spot on his back. He didn't complain though. He just continued to sit in an exhausted silence as Bruce carefully bandaged the cuts on the soles of his feet and then folded a pillow around his broken foot and wrapped it in place with an ACE bandage.
"Anything else down here I need to look at?"
"Left knee," Clint answered blankly.
"How's it looking back there, Natasha?" Bruce asked quietly, gently easing Clint's cargo pant leg up past his knee. He carefully started testing the range of motion Clint had with his knee and keeping a sharp eye on the archer's face for any indication of pain.
"Pretty severe bruising," she sighed. "What did they hit you with?" she asked Clint softly.
For a moment Clint didn't respond and they almost thought he wasn't going to. Whatever haze his mind kept falling into seemed to suddenly disperse and he blinked at Bruce. Then he tossed a glance over his shoulder at Natasha and answered.
"Crowbar," he stated dispassionately, as if he wasn't particularly concerned about it one way or another. Natasha's eyes narrowed slightly at him in concern.
Bruce had to breathe deeply again and close his eyes for a moment, forcing the other guy and his oddly passionate protective instincts concerning the archer down once more. He probed the knee gently.
"Nothing seems broken and your range of motion is good so I don't think there's any severe damage, we'll put some ice on it for the swelling and get an MRI when we get back," he decided. "Let's see about those wrists."
Clint unfolded his arms from where his left had been cradled by his right against his abdomen and rested his forearms on the table, holding his damaged wrists at an upward angle.
"We need to get those handcuffs off," Bruce frowned, eyeing the bloody mess that Clint had made of his wrists.
"I can do that," Natasha volunteered. "Steve, there's a set of handcuff keys taped under the right corner of that couch."
Steve retrieved them in record time and stood uneasily behind Natasha as she leaned over Clint's wrists. Very carefully she unlocked the left after trying only two keys and eased the metal away from the ravaged skin. Clint hissed lowly and flinched, but didn't pull away. Natasha tossed the first half to his handcuffs onto the table and Bruce immediately started working on cleaning up the now freed limb. As he cleaned away the blood, dark bruising become more noticeable and he frowned.
"Crowbar again?" Bruce guessed.
"I don't know how, but nothing feels broken, can you move it?"
Clint obediently flexed and extended his wrist in every direction. It hurt, but not a broken bone kind of hurt. He knew the difference.
"Once I get this wrist bandaged we'll put together a splint for you until we can be sure."
Natasha freed his other wrist and Bruce quickly and carefully bandaged the first one and then set about cleaning and bandaging the second. Meanwhile Steve carefully helped Natasha get her own broken handcuffs off. Clint noticed for the first time that her wrists were nearly as bloody as his. Of course she'd have been fighting right along with him. His eyes flicked up to meet hers and her own gaze confirmed his suspicion.
Bruce finished his work and drew back looking at him critically.
"Would you be honest if I asked you how your abdomen felt?"
"It hurts," Clint stated simply, answering the implied question. "But I don't think anything's broken or busted."
"Can I see for myself?" Bruce asked politely.
In response, Clint straightened his posture, stifling a groan as his stiffening muscles protested. Natasha's hands were suddenly on his shoulders, helping him sit straight and offering a measure of comfort.
Clint's whole back was screaming in protest, pulsing pain stemming from the multiple places the crowbar had impacted his flesh. Then Bruce's probing fingers started pressing down on bruises on his abdomen and he suddenly wanted throw up. Except he hadn't eaten in days and his body was running on nothing but stubbornness, so he managed to hide his urge to vomit under a thick swallow.
Bruce's eyes flew to his, questioning.
"I'm fine," Clint insisted.
Bruce returned to his examination.
"Nothing seems broken and there aren't any signs of internal bleeding. Which is frankly shocking."
Clint took that as his cue to relax his posture.
"Now for the fun part."
"There's a fun part?" Clint grumbled.
Bruce raised a pen light.
"I'll save you the trouble, Doc. I'm well and truly concussed. All that's gonna do is make me wanna hurl."
Bruce inclined his head in acceptance and reached to the first aid kit. He pulled out a suture kit.
"Let's get to it," Bruce sighed, starting the careful process of cleaning Clint's face of all the blood that had dried in various places. "You're next," he tossed at Natasha, who simply nodded.
Bruce had no sooner tied off his last stitch to a deep cut at Clint's hair line than Clint was glaring Natasha into a chair. She sat without complaint and allowed Bruce to treat the deep cut on her temple. She too admitted that while she had been concussed at one point, it was two days ago now. She had a killer headache, but otherwise felt as well as could be expected. Clint watched like the hawk he was named for as Bruce stitched the cut on her cheek and then cleaned and bandaged her wrists. Finally, he set about to check her nose.
"It doesn't seem to be broken, but you've already got some swelling setting in pretty seriously, so we'll be able to tell better when that goes down."
Natasha nodded, not concerned. She was helping Clint back into his shirt and Bruce was sizing one of the various splints the assassins kept stocked in their first aid kit when Tony came back inside.
"Jet's fueled and ready to go."
"We're good to go," Bruce assured, easing Clint's wrist into the splint and carefully fastened it in place, careful not to tighten it too much in deference to his damaged wrists. He started packing away the first aid kit as Natasha rose and moved to Clint's side. She and Steve braced either side of him and helped him stand.
"Let's go home," Steve suggested with a weary sigh.
Clint was staring pensively out the window of the Stark jet; Natasha curled up asleep in the seat beside him, when Tony plopped down across from her as Clint's pillow wrapped foot was currently propped on the seat directly across from him. Natasha had asked Clint with a silent look if he was ready to talk about what had happened and he'd told her with an equally silent look that he was decidedly not. She'd accepted his response, for now at least, and dropped into an exhausted sleep.
Tony apparently hadn't bothered to ask if he wanted to talk. Clint turned his eyes to regard the genius with a sigh.
"You don't call, you don't write, I was starting to think you didn't care about me at all and that what we had was nothing. Then I found out you were being detained against your will by a lunatic with a penchant for revenge, being tortured, and forced to watch Stalin over there be nearly killed. So I suppose I can forgive you in time."
Clint smiled and shook his head in amusement. Tony was wildly inappropriate at times, flat out rude at others, but he always made Clint smile.
"How the hell did you find me?" He was horrified by how exhausted and beaten down he sounded. If Tony noticed, he didn't comment.
"Rainy Day Account," Stark stated easily.
"You found it." Clint sighed and nodded in sudden understanding. Of course Tony found it. He was Tony. And he had lectured Fourie about the unexpected. Maybe a small part of him had wanted Tony to find him.
"It wasn't easy," Tony admitted. "Neither was finding you after we got here."
"But you did it."
"Yeah, we did."
They stared at each other silently for a long moment.
"I get it," Tony stated quietly, his eyes flashing briefly to Natasha and then back to Clint. "I don't like it, but I get it. Next time don't just take off all half cocked on a rampant revenge kick. It was highly stressful for everyone involved, especially me."
"Do you realize how much money I would have wasted on all the crap I've been designing for you?" Tony huffed. "And what use is it having an IronHawk theme song if all that's left is the Iron."
"I wasn't thinking about anything or anybody else, Tony," Clint pointed out at the same time his mind processed the "IronHawk" Tony had slipped in there. His eyebrow arched.
"I know," Tony allowed, "But you've got a team now and people that would miss you if you were gone."
Clint smiled despite himself.
"You saying you'd miss me, Tony?"
"No," Tony denied firmly. Then he shrugged, "But I have gone to all the trouble to get you broken in. It'd be a bitch to replace you now."
Clint snorted a soft laugh and nodded.
Tony nodded, more seriously than usual, and stood. He reached to pat Clint's shoulder.
"You gotta stop forgetting you have people in your corner now," He instructed seriously, then smiled, "got it, Katniss?"
Clint rolled his eyes and couldn't help but smile.
"Less of a mouthful don't you think?"
"I like HawkMan better."
"Really?" Tony frowned sourly.
"No, not really," Clint laughed. "IronHawk theme song it is."
"About time you two settled that," Natasha murmured sleepily.
It was Steve that approached him next. Natasha was on the phone with SHIELD at the back of the plane, no doubt getting Fury to take her off the KIA list and convincing him to get the copy of her file that she knew would have kept and get to work putting her back in the system. Clint wasn't as ready to talk to SHIELD yet and remained slouched in his seat with his wrapped foot propped up on the chair in front of him. Steve dropped down next to him with a sigh.
"Something on your mind, Cap?" Clint asked knowingly.
"How are you feeling?" Steve deflected.
"Like shit. How about you?"
"Worried," Steve admitted.
"That's your specialty, Cap," Clint smirked.
Steve smiled sheepishly.
"Just say what you came over here to say, Steve," Clint advised quietly. "Something about how I shouldn't have gone off by myself, shouldn't have gone in without a plan, should have included all of you." He was ashamed that his tone had grown defensive towards the end.
Steve just looked saddened.
"That's not what I was going to say. Though they're all good points." The Captain sighed deeply. "I was just going to tell you that I understand how it must have felt when Fury told you she was dead and I get it."
Clint looked sharply at him, seeing the sincerity and honesty in his friend's eyes.
"But as much as you can't lose her, Clint; and I know now that you can't lose her; we can't lose you."
"What are you talking about?" Clint's brow furrowed in confusion.
"You don't even know, do you? How much you mean to this team."
"Clint, you're the only one on the team that has connected in some way to everyone else. And you spent the first six months not talking to anyone. Do you know how amazing that is?"
"Steve…" Clint shook his head, ready to deny it.
"You know it's true," Steve argued. "You and Thor have this strange camaraderie that none of the rest of us even get close to. The Hulk is irrationally protective of you, something I know for a fact. Even Bruce can't really explain it. You're the only one who can stand Tony for more than a few minutes at time. And me, we've walked a lot of the same paths, just in different lifetimes."
Clint stared at him eyes deeply thoughtful as he considered what Steve was telling him.
"Whether you or any of the rest of them realize it, we need you. We need you for what you are to each of us. And when we realized what had happened, what you'd come here to do," Steve shook his head as if he didn't want to think about it, "all I felt was fear. Fear that we wouldn't get here in time."
Clint was silent for several moments, picking at the splint on his left wrist.
"I didn't think about you guys," he finally admitted. "I didn't think about how all of this would affect any of you and I should have." He sighed deeply, raising his eyes to meet Steve's crystal blue gaze. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Steve shook his head. "We all know why you did it and whether we agree or not, we get it. Just remember what I just told you next time you start deciding you don't have anything else to live for and know that you aren't expendable and you aren't replaceable, not ever, not to us."
Clint nodded seriously, a swell of emotion keeping him from replying. He'd only had one other person in his life tell him he wasn't expendable. Phil Coulson had practically yelled it at him after Croatia. He'd never had any doubt that his handler cared about him, but if he had, that conversation would have banished it. He knew Natasha felt the same, but she'd never said it. She'd never needed to. She said it with everything she did.
He should have known the team would have felt the same. He should have known, after everything, that they valued him for so much more than his aim. He should have known, but he hadn't. Hadn't even considered it. And he was ashamed.
He met Steve's eyes seriously and nodded.
That was enough for Steve, because he nodded back and stood. As the Captain moved away, Clint glanced at Bruce, wondering if he was going to get a stern talking to from him as well. But Bruce was sleeping soundly, his seat pushed back as far as it could go. Clint peeked over his chair at Thor, who was playing a game on the iPad Tony had given him. For once it seemed as if the Asgardian was embracing the technology instead of battling it. The thunder god glanced up at him and smiled.
"How do you fare, noble archer?"
"Been better." Clint shrugged. "Been worse, though, so I can't complain."
"It does my heart well to see your strength returning."
"I don't know if I'd go that far," Clint chuckled. "I haven't even been properly treated yet and I still feel like shit."
"It is not the strength of body to which I was referring, Clint Barton."
Clint blinked in surprise and Thor smiled knowingly. Natasha returned to her seat with a sigh and he glanced at her before looking back at Thor.
"Aye, your strength is returning very swiftly indeed."
With that Thor lowered his eyes back to his iPad.
Clint's eyes narrowed when he heard the large man whisper something fiercely at the screen.
"Feel the wrath of my birds, you vile swine."
Clint turned back quickly, choking back hysterical laughter.
Pepper met them at the airport and nearly took Natasha to the ground with the hug she wrapped her in. Just when the assassin was sure Pepper was never going to let her go, the CEO spotted Clint being transferred to a wheelchair. The archer was arguing, fiercely, that he could walk to the car on his own.
Pepper released Natasha so abruptly that the assassin stumbled back a step and made a beeline for the second assassin in the group. Steve was holding Clint in the chair with one hand on his shoulder, but by the annoyed look on the archer's face, some of the Captain's super strength was being put into play. Bruce was standing in front of him with stern scowl on his face.
"Clint, if you walk on that foot, you risk doing more damage than has already been done," Bruce was scolding.
"I'm can make it twenty feet to the car," Clint defended. "I don't need a damn wheelchair!"
He tried to stand up, but ended up just straining uselessly against Steve's restraining hand.
"Oh my god, Clint!" Pepper rushed to his side, her eyes wide with worry. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Clint insisted. "These guys are just being overly cautious."
"You have broken bones in that foot," Bruce interjected forcefully. "I'm not letting you do more damage just because you're so god damned stubborn."
Clint blinked and swore that Banner had just channeled Phil. No one had mother henned him when he was injured like Phil. Nobody until Bruce. He stopped fighting Steve's hold and stared at the doctor.
"What?" Bruce demanded.
Clint shook his head.
Bruce eyed him suspiciously, as if he expected him to spring suddenly from the chair and yell 'fooled ya!'. Steve looked equally wary.
"If Cupid is done throwing his temper tantrum, we can get this show on the road," Tony spoke up from where he'd been watching with silent amusement.
Clint glared at him.
Tony just smiled, took Pepper's hand and headed towards the car.
Natasha appeared next to Clint and nudged Steve aside to take the handles of the wheel chair. Steve stepped aside with good grace and walked with Bruce and Thor to the car.
"It's good to be home," Natasha murmured softly as she started pushing Clint after them.
"Hell yeah it is."
Clint looked up when Bruce slipped into his room in the infirmary. Natasha looked up as well and silently stood, sliding out of the room.
"Doc," Clint greeted warily. He'd been wondering when Bruce would take his turn at 'the talk'.
"It was weak."
Clint's eyebrows rose dramatically.
"What'd you say?"
"I said it was weak, what you did," Bruce explained as he stayed near the door. "You think you're the only one that's felt hopeless? Like they've got nothing left to live for?"
"Bruce..." Clint shook his head, warning the doctor off of this path.
"I know what she means to you. I know that life without her didn't seem worth living. But what you did was weak. It was the easy way out."
"Easy?" Clint scoffed.
"You gave up!" Bruce snapped, moving closer so Clint could see his glowing green eyes. As usual, the archer didn't even flinch. "You think I don't know what it feels like to have nothing left? You think I don't know what it means to be hopeless?"
"Bruce, you don't know..."
"I do know, Clint. I know better than anybody else ever could. And almost a year and a half ago, I wanted to give up too. And then the craziest thing happened. An alien god attacked earth and I wasn't allowed to hide anymore. I came out of the darkness I'd been cowering in and met you, all of you. The Avengers gave me hope again. You gave me hope, Clint. Because before you, I'd never seen the Hulk as anything other than a method of destruction. You made him a protector."
Bruce paused, breathing heavily. Clint stared at him.
"I don't know what you want me to say, Bruce," Clint admitted lowly.
"I don't want you to say anything. I want you to understand."
"That we could have given you the same hope you all gave me. But you chose not to see that and that was weak."
"I'm not weak!" Clint argued with sudden intensity. He'd promised himself when he was seven and he'd cried for the last time in his life until three days ago, that he would never be weak again. He'd promised himself again after Phil saved him from a life of killing for hire.
"No," Bruce agreed, "you're not."
And that's what it came down to, wasn't it. Clint wasn't weak. He was strong, he'd always been strong. Bruce was telling him that he was strong enough to have survived losing her. Clint stared at him, knowing in his heart that it was true.
"Just because I could have survived it, didn't mean I wanted to."
And he hadn't wanted to. He'd wanted to be with Natasha, even if it meant following her into death.
"I didn't want to live anymore if it meant I had to live without her."
Bruce nodded in understanding.
"Would she have wanted to be the reason you died?"
"Would Agent Coulson have wanted that for you?"
Clint looked away. Bruce wasn't pulling any punches today.
"Think about that, and next time you want to leave it all behind, think of who you're leaving. Think of what it means for the people already gone. Being strong isn't running off on a suicide mission for revenge. Being strong is going on, it's fighting, even when it's the last thing in the world you want to do."
Clint could only stare as Bruce turned to leave the room. He knew it was unreasonable to ask Clint to go on without Natasha if it ever came to this again. Knew he was asking the archer to do what he never would have been able to do, but he had to ask. He had to ask because they needed Clint. All of them needed his strength. Because Clint was a fighter. He'd been fighting his whole life. And as long as he, their painfully human, miraculously strong, archer was fighting, they knew they could keep fighting too.
"I swear to God, Clint, if you poke me with that thing one more time…" Tony let the threat trail off uselessly and turned his attention back to his laptop with a huff. It had been two days since they'd returned to the New York. Only five since this whole thing had started and Clint was being released to go back to the tower provided that he rest with a capital "R". The entire team intended to see that he did so.
Natasha was due back any minute from a meeting with Fury to be present for Clint's official release. Clint was chomping at the bit, sitting up in his bed, and passing the time poking Tony with one of his crutches that he technically wasn't supposed to have yet since both of his feet were still out of commission.
"You'll what?" Clint scoffed.
Tony glared at him, but couldn't find it in himself to actually be annoyed. Not while Clint still looked so terrible. His left foot and calf was in a fiberglass cast wrapped in deep purple. His other foot was bandaged, but apparently healing quickly. His wrists were still wrapped in thick gauze, with his left still showcasing dark bruising. The bruises on his face had darkened to a sickening shade of black and purple, but the swelling had gone down dramatically. He moved stiffly, the beating his back had taken making the muscles sore and tight. But he was smiling and he was poking Tony with a crutch.
The billionaire figured it was better than the alternative, so he allowed it.
He was saved from having to admit any of that when Natasha strolled into the room.
"Everything squared away?"
"I'm officially back in the system. Ready to bust out of here and go home?" she asked with a warm smile.
"I saw your doctor headed this way," she revealed, moving to gather the few belongings they'd accumulated over the last few days. Tony started packing away his laptop with one hand and typing on his phone with the other, letting the rest of the team know Clint was about to get cleared.
The doctor looked honestly surprised that Clint was still in the room when he pushed his way in. He blinked blankly for a moment and Clint smirked. He did have a reputation for wandering out of the infirmary.
After that the process was fairly smooth. Clint was forced, with great complaint, into a wheelchair. It had taken a threatening look from Natasha before he put up and shut up. He insisted he control the thing himself, and Natasha chose not to fight that battle. Instead, she carried his crutches without complaint.
As Clint rolled himself into the main area of SHIELD, he tossed a glance up at Fury's office out of habit. He was marginally surprised to see the man himself standing and looking over the railing that ran along the half hallway in front of his office. Fury looked right at him and nodded once. Clint nodded back. And that was that. The air was clear between them. Clint knew there wouldn't have to be any awkward conversation about him not quitting SHIELD and there would be no official report for what had happened. SHIELD hadn't sanctioned the mission so it was none of their damn business what went down.
That was Clint's opinion at least.
Fury may have sicked him on Baskov like a pit bull in a dog fight, but Clint would have found the man eventually anyway. Fury had known Clint well enough to know that and he'd done everything he could to try and make sure the archer was successful. He'd given him every advantage he could without overtly defying the rules and protocols.
Clint knew that for Fury, that meant he gave a damn.
"You shouldn't be using those yet."
"Tasha, I was going crazy in that damn chair all day. I'm fine, I swear," Clint insisted as they made their way to the kitchen.
"Fine," she all but snapped. Clint knew she was just worried so he smiled at the Russian insult she hissed under her breath. It felt almost normal again.
She let Clint crutch his way into the kitchen first and frowned when he stopped suddenly. She slid around him to see what the holdup was and froze.
The kitchen table was covered in delicious smelling French food and the entire team stood behind the table looking incredibly pleased with themselves.
"What the hell?" Clint demanded.
"Well, we figure you two didn't get to properly celebrate your seven years," Steve started.
"And since Gimpy isn't supposed to be making his way around on those crutches we didn't think he'd be up to cooking yet," Tony added.
"We did not desire for you to await this celebration any longer, so we have taken the burden upon ourselves," Thor put in next.
"You guys have been through a lot and we thought you deserved a night to yourselves," Bruce added quietly.
"So we are all going out to dinner and you two are staying here and having your seven year anniversary properly," Pepper finished.
Natasha and Clint just stared at them.
"You said you met in France, so we figured French cuisine would be appropriate," Steve pointed out nervously.
"Don't look so worried, Crutchy, we didn't cook it, we ordered in," Tony assured with an eye roll.
Clint blinked and then smiled. Natasha quickly followed suit with a smile of her own.
"Guys…" Clint started.
"You don't have to say anything," Steve waved him off. "Just enjoy."
Clint nodded, still in shock.
Steve led the way out and soon the two assassins were alone.
"Hungry?" Clint asked as he took in the food with a critical eye.
Natasha smiled and led him towards the table.
"So are we going to talk about it?" Natasha asked as they finished off their dessert.
Clint raised his eyes to hers and sighed.
"Not if I can avoid it."
"You can't, not any more. You've been avoiding it ever since we left London four days ago."
Clint sat back in his chair, only to lean forward when the bruises on his back protested.
"You weren't planning on walking out of that town house, were you?" Natasha accused quietly.
Clint stared at her for a long, heavy moment.
Natasha nodded, she'd known that would be his answer. It was still painful to hear.
"Can you honestly say you wouldn't have done the same thing?" he challenged.
"No," she sighed.
"So what do we do about it?" Clint asked, resting his elbows on the table and gazing at her with his intense blue grey eyes. So they were both suicidal when it came to each other. That was old news.
"Request to be partnered again," she suggested confidently. She'd thought a lot about this over the past few days as she mulled over the implications and fallout of Clint's quest for revenge.
Clint's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"Do you think Fury would go for it?"
"He would if we threatened to walk away from SHIELD."
Clint stared at her. They'd considered walking away only one other time. After Loki. Clint had decided to stay because Natasha was happy as part of the Avengers. At the time, the Avengers and SHIELD were a package deal for them. Now, he wasn't so sure. Now, he suspected that even if they weren't SHIELD, they'd have a place on this team, albeit it unofficially.
"You would do that? You'd walk away?"
SHIELD had been all they'd known for years now.
"If it meant neither of us where put in this kind of situation again, yes. We're stronger together, Clint, we always have been. If they won't let us partner, I don't want to work for them anymore."
Clint nodded, that was that. He in no way, shape, or form disagreed.
"We'll go to Fury," he decided.
Natasha smiled widely.
"Now, even though you didn't cook, I still think a reward was promised," she nearly purred as she rose from the table and started backing towards the door.
Clint grinned and reached for his crutches.
"So now that SHIELD has partnered you two again, does that mean you'll go on more or less missions?" Steve asked as he hefted a box full of weapons into his arms.
"Hard to say," Clint replied as he slung his quiver over his shoulder and crutched towards the door.
"It does mean that we won't have one of them moping around for days a time when the other is gone," Tony realized with a grin.
Clint shot him a dirty look and a rude gesture. Tony was impressed he pulled it off, considering he barely released his grip on the crutches.
"Any idea when we'll see Thor next?" Bruce asked the group in general as he hefted box full of clothes, a few stray weapons, an old iPod, and a few books.
"He said he would be with Jane for a few weeks before heading back to Asgard. He promised he'd stop by before he left our realm, though," Steve replied.
"How do you fit your entire life into two boxes?" Tony asked as he held open Clint's old bedroom door for Steve and Bruce. Clint crutched out after them.
"Technically, if it weren't for the weapons, it'd only be one," the archer pointed out as he led the way towards Natasha's, now his and Natasha's, room.
"How do you not have more things?" Tony frowned as he walked next to the assassin. "I'm going to buy you more things, like a new iPod. Is that a first generation?"
"I don't want a new iPod, Tony," Clint replied with more ferocity than Tony expected. "Phil gave me that one," the archer explained quietly as he reached their destination. Tony nodded, dropping the subject with more grace than he usually did. Phil was a touchy subject with Clint, probably always would be.
Clint nudged open Natasha's door and allowed Steve and Bruce to walk in with his three boxes. He smiled when he saw Natasha clearing a space on her weapon's rack in her closet.
"Besides, Tony," Clint watched his fiery spider toss one of her old guns into a bag to be stored elsewhere, "my life's not about the things."
End of The Heart Bleeds
Aw! Clint could never have a single thing in his life and he'd be happy as long as he had Natasha :) And the Black Widow making room on her weapon rack! Can you get any more cute that that :D
And I know, Thor's talk was short, but Thor is a man of few words, lol, but those words pack a punch and show an insightfulness that people don't always notice in the big guy :)
Anyway, that's another story done! Man was that chapter long or was it just me?
Now, I had a serious case of writers block this past week on my new story, but I powered furiously through it yesterday and am now rolling along in my next story. (about half done right now) You can expect it to be released sometimes this week. I'll also be posting another one-shot between now and then to hold you guys over :)
So with no more ado...here's the summary for it...all of you guys that have been waiting for some serious Tasha wump, (and judging by the reviews, several of you have) this story has it, Clint has his own form of wump in this, but I promise he doesn't get tortured, shot, or stabbed lol :D Bet you're curious now...
Natasha remembered being worried, being tortured, and facing a small army of enemies with no escape route. Clint remembered pain, confusion about what was real and what wasn't, and the resounding knowledge that he needed to find her. He didn't remember much of anything other than that. So in the end, they would always remember Budapest differently. (Established Blackhawk, Pre-Avengers)