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"
The end is here :) I'm sad to see it end, but excited to get to work on my next story :) Thank you all for reading!
Kylen is the best beta in the world - without her this fic would not have ended up how it did and I am honored to have had her help and look forward to working together in the future.
Thanks to those who reviewed every chapter: Discordchick, Reteka Hyuuga, Dani9513, CyanB, xx-Forever Yours-xx, Fyroni, Strawberwaltz, Sam Mayer, VoldieBeth, animexluva13, authorunable,ArabianForest, TheNaggingCube, Cara, ladygris, Kylen, horselover28, sweetstrawbersmiles, My5tic-Lali, GremlinX, and Mirabilem Electo
Thanks to those who reviewed all but one or two: Thephoenix1996, tptplayer5701, Qweb, Panther Moon, ziggy488, and ZhaLenn
Thanks to all who reviewed Chapter 10: Discordchick, horselover28, ladygris, sweetstrawberrysmiles, GremlinX, ArabianForest, xx-Forever Yours-xx, Strawberrywaltz, Qweb, Reteka Hyuuga, CyanB, authorunable, dragonlady911, My5tic-Lali, Keeter, Cara, Kylen, TheNaggingCube, ZhaLenn, TheNightFury, VoldieBeth, Dani9513, snitch-bewitch, Shannon K, animexluva13, AlwaysABrandNewDay, Anon, Panther Moon, Jane E. Barton, JackGirl, shila1378, Sam Mayer, Fyroni, Mirabilem Electo, and liberated vulcan
The song for this story was "For You" by Kieth Urban
Not everything was resolved, might never be – but it also didn't have to be. Because Clint had gotten the major point of all of this.
They were on even ground from here on out.
Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love. – Morihei Ueshiba
Clint looked up when the door to his room in the infirmary swung open.
"Hey," Phil greeted as he strode in, his duffle in hand.
Clint nodded in greeting, returning his focus to what he was doing – getting his shirt on. He already had the sleeve up his left arm and in one swift movement, he shifted his head down so he could pull the collar over his head. Then it was an easy thing of maneuvering his right arm through the sleeve.
Phil had moved to drop his duffle on the bed next to where Clint sat. He retrieved Clint's immobilizing sling from where it was laid out on the bed and took the one step he needed to be at Clint's side. Clint yanked down the hem of his shirt and nodded to Phil. The sling and swath that held his left arm against his chest wasn't so bad, but getting it on and strapped correctly was a project more easily tackled with backup.
This had become routine over the last two weeks, this process. Clint had picked up on how to dress himself fairly quickly, even if the process had been painfully slow in the beginning. Phil had watched and not interfered – an act Clint was sure went against every instinct the man had. But he always helped with the sling and Clint wasn't about to refuse the aid.
He didn't try to lift his arm, knowing that action would not only cause excruciating pain to even attempt, but his shoulder couldn't have completed the action at this point anyway. Instead, Phil took his forearm where it was resting limply against his side, bending the elbow gently and sliding the sling into place. He had the shoulder strap in place quickly and the swath looped around Clint's torso and strapped into place a moment later.
"Good?" Phil asked with a questioning arch to his eyebrow. Clint nodded and reached to pull his few belongings scattered across the bed towards him with his free arm. Phil went to the chair against the wall and retrieved the open duffle resting there. He had to pause to cough deeply into his hand before he continued to the bag. He brought it back to Clint and left him to pack while Phil retrieved the rest of Clint's things from around the room.
"You've been taking those meds Dan prescribed, right?" Clint asked as he crammed various articles of clothing into his bag.
"Yes, I'm not you, Clint. I do what the doctors tell me." Phil smirked and Clint rolled his eyes. He'd nearly died laughing when Phil had been the one to come down with a nasty cold after their foray on the rooftop. Dan had looked pissed enough to breath fire.
"I've got something for you," Phil announced as he deposited Clint's Harry Potter book – well worn after multiple readings – his iPod and a half-empty blue Gatorade on the bed next to him. Clint slid his iPod into his pocket and tossed the book into his duffle, remembering with sudden clarity the relief he'd felt when Phil had told him his stuff had been recovered from the safe house. His sniper rifle was currently resting across the foot of his bed – its return had been a relief – but Clint had been surprised when it was the iPod Phil had given him that had brought the most relief and joy upon its return.
He looked up when Phil unzipped his own bag and produced a book. Clint laughed as he caught sight of the title – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
"You've read the first one half a dozen times now and I finally tracked down a copy of book two that wasn't in German."
Clint accepted the book with a smile.
"I would have survived until we got back to New York."
"When we get back to New York, I can get you the rest of the series. Now you have something to read on the flight."
"Thanks." Clint grinned and tossed it into his bag and pulled his hand back so Phil could zip the bag closed.
"Ready to go home?"
Phil took both their bags in one hand and retrieved Clint's gun as the archer made his way towards the door, quiver and stowed bow hooked over his right shoulder and blue Gatorade held in the same hand. They entered the hallway together and both paused when they saw Dan and Dr. Brunner striding towards them.
"Ready to get the hell out of Dodge, kid?" Dan asked with a wide smile as he drew nearer. He had his own duffle in his right hand and his iPad clutched in the other.
"Just been waiting for your slow ass to get the show on the road."
Dan turned to Brunner.
"The appreciation and affection is overwhelming, isn't it?"
Brunner smiled slightly, Phil snickered, and Clint rolled his eyes.
"I'll walk you all to your plane," Brunner volunteered, motioning down the hallway.
The jet was already powering up when they entered the hangar.
"Who's flying us?" Clint asked curiously as they made their way across the large open area.
"Jack Markham." The answer rolled from Phil's lips immediately, as if he'd known Clint would ask and had made sure he was ready with the answer. Phil had to cough into his hand a moment later, a nasty wet sound making Clint wince.
Clint nodded in response to the information on the pilot and the four men paused at the bottom of the ramp.
"This is where we part ways, my friends." Brunner offered them all a smile. "I will check on your progress as often as time allows, Agent Barton, but you are in safe hands with Daniel. Do us all the favor of doing as he says."
Clint huffed a slight laugh and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He shook Brunner's hand when it was offered.
"Thanks for putting me back together, doc."
Brunner nodded and Clint started up the ramp. He'd never admit it to any of them, but he still felt tired more than he didn't. He just wanted to sit down, settle in, and read his book.
"I do appreciate everything you've done, Dr. Brunner," Phil offered seriously, he extended his hand for Brunner to shake. "Thank you." The words were fervent and sincere and it made Brunner smile.
"All I've done is given him a fighting chance. The rest is up to him."
Phil smiled slightly and nodded. A fighting chance – Clint had never needed more than that.
"I hope that cough of yours leaves you in peace and should we meet again, I do hope that it will be under better circumstances."
"I couldn't agree more, Dr. Brunner."
"Have a safe flight."
Phil took that as his cue to move up the ramp and join Clint, who was settling into a chair.
Dan pulled his eyes away from their vigil on his two friends and returned to Brunner.
"You might have mentioned when you called me exactly who you were calling me about."
Dan smirked, his eyes twinkling.
"Would it have changed anything you did?"
"Doubtful," Brunner allowed. "But it would have been nice to know just how important the shoulder I was operating on actually was."
Dan shrugged innocently.
"I knew you'd put it together, Lukas. There are only so many Clint Bartons in the network."
"One, actually, just the one. And I didn't put it together until I'd left to sleep after the surgery and I realized just where I'd heard that name before."
"Kid does have a reputation."
"Indeed." Brunner shook his head as if to clear it. "Keep me updated on his progress and let me know if anything changes in his shoulder. He's healing quite well so far, but you know as well as I do how quickly things can change."
"I'll keep you updated. I'm putting him with my best PT when we start his rehab next week and I'll send you a copy of my notes."
"Most appreciated, my friend. He can do this, I sincerely believe that, I only wish I could be there to see it happen."
Dan smiled, unsurprised by Brunner's level of commitment to Barton and his recovery. Brunner had always been good at caring about his patients as more than just names on a file.
"Thanks for dropping everything, Lukas." Dan extended his hand.
"After all you've done for me it was the least I could do." Brunner shook his hand firmly. "Until we meet again, my friend."
Dan nodded and headed up the ramp.
He settled in the chair behind Phil and strapped in as the jet started taxiing out of the hangar. Dan glanced around. Clint was already immersed in a book, his earbuds firmly in place. Phil was on the phone, talking to Fury from the sound of it. Dan rested his head back and sighed deeply.
After two long weeks, they were headed back to New York – back home. Finally.
Phil and Clint looked up from where they were unpacking Clint's stuff. Todd Bryan was peeking his head through the doorway. He smiled widely when they saw him and stepped fully into the room.
"Look at you with your fashion statement." Todd ran his fingers dramatically over the shoulder strap of Clint's sling as if it were an outrageously expensive suit coat instead of an immobilizing sling. "I should make you spar me now, I might actually win."
"Don't get cocky, Bryan," Clint grinned arrogantly. "I've always told you I could still beat you with one hand tied behind my back. You really want to test that claim?"
"No sir, I do not." Todd laughed. "I know better than to bet against you now."
Clint grinned and went back to unpacking his bag, nodding when Phil silently tilted his head towards Bryan. The two older men stepped out into the hall.
"Good to see you two in one piece."
"Trust me, it was a near thing."
Todd nodded, his expression sobering.
"How's he doing?"
Phil sighed. Was that ever a question with several answers.
"He's healing well so far, Dan and his surgeon in Austria were pleased. But nothing is guaranteed. He knows he might never fire his bow again and he's coping the best he can. All in all he's doing as well as can be expected – maybe even a little bit better."
Relief washed over Todd's face.
"That's good to hear. I've been so busy with the new batch of recruits I haven't had a second to breathe. Last time I talked to the kid, he was being eased off his pain meds and he was growling like a bear."
Phil laughed a little and nodded. Clint had been a bear that day. At his own request, he had been steadily having his pain medication decreased. That day it had been gone for good and Clint hadn't been in the best disposition in the first place. Todd had called right after Clint had managed to tweak his shoulder ever so slightly. Nothing serious or bearing any threat to the injury, but definitely painful.
Clint had argued with Dan for fifteen minutes straight after that about his refusal to go back onto the pain meds. Todd had gotten to talk to him right after that argument had ended with Dan throwing his hands up, calling Clint some colorful names, and walking out.
"You caught him on a bad day."
Todd waved him off, showing Phil he hadn't taken it to heart.
"When does he start physical therapy?"
"Next week. He's itching to get back into some kind of activity. Dan has had him under strict watch with nothing more than short walks throughout the day to keep him from climbing the walls."
"You guys will keep me updated, right?"
"Of course, Todd. Thanks for checking in."
Todd smiled and pushed Barton's door open once again, sticking his head in.
"I've got a training exercise to get to, but I just wanted to make sure to welcome you back."
"Thanks, Bryan." Clint granted him a smile from where he was cramming wads of clothes into his dresser.
"Now you get your ass back into shape because I've got a batch of recruits that think they're something special on that parkour course. I'd love for them to watch you show them how its done."
Clint huffed a laugh.
"I'll get on that."
Aiden Roberts had spent the last hour and a half – since he'd heard they'd landed – dreading the moment Phil Coulson walked through the doors to the tech office. When he'd heard about the comms malfunctioning in the field via a very strongly worded email from the director himself, Aiden had just known he was in for it. He'd been the one to sign the comm set out to Agent Coulson after all.
When he'd heard that Hawkeye – Coulson's protégé – had been shot on that mission, he'd known he would have to face the wrath of Agent Coulson.
Nobody ever wanted to face the wrath of Phil Coulson.
Aiden knew there had been an instance once, way back when Barton was first recruited, where an Agent Hanson – since transferred – had gone too far in a training exercise with Barton. Aiden had seen the bruises on Hanson's face the next day.
No, he didn't want to face Phil Coulson.
So when none other than the agent himself strode into the tech room, Aiden felt the blood drain from his face.
"Have you figured it out?" Coulson demanded sharply when he was barely a step into the room.
"I-I think so."
Coulson waited for a moment, but Aiden couldn't force himself to keep talking. The man's expression was cold as ice and Aiden just knew he was in for it.
"And?" Coulson snapped out with an edge of impatience. It startled Aiden into answering, the words spilling out rapidly.
"We think it was a wiring issue with one of the ear pieces." He swallowed, trying to keep his composure. Back-testing without the actual earpieces had been rough, and a lot of what they had found out had been theorized guesswork. "We tested another set in the same batch and it showed that while the connection would be fine one moment, the wiring would malfunction and the whole line would go to static."
"Don't you test the equipment before you sign it out for a mission?" Phil asked as he took a measured step closer to Aiden's desk. It was moments like this where Aiden wished he'd said no to MIT, no to SHIELD, and no to heading up the tech department. He wasn't even field trained – he just didn't do well in situations like this.
"Of course I did, but it worked perfectly. The issue only comes out after prolonged used."
Agent Coulson stepped closer and leaned over Aiden's desk, placing his palms flat on the surface and bringing his face inches from Aiden's. The tech swallowed thickly, fighting the urge to draw back.
"This does not happen again. It does and I'm coming to you." Agent Coulson's gaze darkened. "Is that understood?"
Aiden swallowed and nodded. Agent Coulson glared at him for several long moments.
"If this mission had gone another way – and that equipment had been the reason – we would be having a very different conversation. Am I making myself clear?"
Aiden nodded again.
Coulson glared a moment longer and then he nodded and withdrew.
Then he was gone, striding away and Aiden released the breath he'd drawn in when the man had leaned over his desk. He would double – no, triple – check any and all tech equipment he signed out to that pair from now until the day he retired.
He reached behind him, picked up the twins to the set he HAD checked out and used for testing – and threw them in the garbage. Better to be safe than sorry.
Six days later…
"You ready for today?" Phil asked as he and Clint casually strolled along the outdoor track. Clint was expressly forbidden from moving any faster than that. So their morning run had become a morning walk.
"Hell, yes. I've been ready since the day we got back."
Phil shook his head in vague amusement. Of course he had. He saw Clint adjust the strap for his immobilizing sling. He knew the thing was driving him nuts, but Dan had insisted he needed it for at least the first month. And to Phil's everlasting surprise, despite how much it was annoying him, Clint had never once asked to get it off early. He hadn't complained, except when he thought Phil couldn't hear. He hadn't tried to sneak it off, that Phil knew of at least. As near as he could tell, Clint had done exactly as he was told.
In the end, Phil supposed he should have expected it. This wasn't just any recovery. This recovery meant the difference between firing his bow again and losing it forever. He should have known Clint would take his rehab deadly serious and follow each instruction to the letter.
"All right, we're going to be late if we don't head that way." Phil urged Clint back the way they'd come.
"You're coming, right?"
Phil smiled warmly.
"If you want me to there, I'm there."
Clint nodded and Phil took that as a request for his presence. They continued on in silence and six minutes later they were pushing into the infirmary's physical therapy gym.
A petite little woman with bright blonde hair in a high ponytail smiled in greeting and Dan looked up from his iPad.
"Phil, Barton, meet Rachel Braxton. She'll be working with Barton over the next several weeks." Dan motioned at the woman. "Rachel, meet Clint Barton, your patient. And Phil Coulson, his handler."
"It's nice to meet you both, now Dan, if you don't mind, we should get started." Rachel gave Dan a firm, but kind look.
"I've got a meeting in ten minutes anyway." He tossed a warning glance at Clint. "Be nice."
The archer rolled his eyes and shared a glance with Phil as Dan left the gym.
"Agent Coulson, I understand that you want to be here, but I'd really prefer if I could work with Agent Barton alone."
Rachel Braxton was not prepared for the glare she got for that request.
"Seriously?" Dan sighed as he looked down at his beeping pager. He excused himself from the meeting and stepped outside of the room pulling his cell phone. "Rachel, I've been gone all of ten minutes, what's wrong?"
"You need to come down here."
"Tell me what's wrong."
"I pissed him off and now he's refusing to cooperate." Her words were blunt and professional, but bore a level of frustration Dan knew only Barton could bring out in people.
"I told his handler to leave."
"Yeah, I've gathered that was a bad idea."
He smiled slightly.
"How do I fix it? The only reason the guy hasn't stormed out is because his handler is talking him down."
"Easy solution, Rachel."
"I'm all ears." He smiled at the impatience in her tone.
"Include Agent Coulson in the therapy. Barton will respond better and progress better with him there. Trust me. I know that from experience. If you play it right, eventually Barton won't need Coulson there to buffer anymore."
"He has trust issues." He could hear the realization in her voice, as if the whole situation made sense now. "Okay, I've got an idea."
"So I can back to my meeting?"
"Yeah, I got this."
Dan peeked into the physical therapy gym just under an hour later and smiled. Rachel was standing behind Clint as he stood with his left side against the wall. She was supporting his left elbow as he pressed his forearm against the wall – an isometric exercise that wouldn't stress the shoulder too much.
Phil was standing in front of him, his right thumb hooked with Clint's so their hands were pressed together.
"Breathe through it, Clint." Phil's voice drifted across the gym as he coached Clint through the pain Dan was certain he was feeling.
"Good. Now relax and let up the pressure."
Clint obeyed Rachel immediately, but his eyes were on Phil.
Dan smiled and pushed into the room.
"Well, well, color me surprised, Clint Barton actually listening to directions from a medical professional."
It had been a joke, but to his surprise and instant worry, no one laughed. Clint shot him a look then and Dan froze. Things weren't going as well as they seemed. Barton's eyes were frustrated – very frustrated. Dan sighed. After years of pulling the weight of his bow string, being reduced to a simple thing like isometrics was killing him – Dan could read it all over his face.
"Yeah, I know. Pretty pathetic. But necessary."
Barton blinked and Dan took a moment to just look at him – communicating all the understanding he could, but also issuing a challenge. Challenging Barton to attack this with all his usually tenacity. To make this happen. After a long moment, Barton shrugged his right shoulder and turned to Rachel.
Phil shot him a look then and Dan nodded silently to the thanks he saw there. As Rachel got Clint started on the next exercise, she shot him a look as well, over Barton's head. She'd known what Barton was thinking – had apparently read it just as he had – but she hadn't known what to do, how to handle him.
Dan decided right then that he had just became a part of this equation.
Approximately six weeks post-surgery…
"I know it hurts, don't force it, just let me do the work, Barton."
Clint nodded at Rachel's instruction, reaching with his right hand to wipe at the sweat on his forehead. He shot a glance at Phil as Rachel continued to carefully work his shoulder in different directions. His handler arched his eyebrows questioningly, but Clint shook his head. Phil nodded and went back to the file he was reading. Clint's eyes shifted to Dan next, who was typing on his iPad with intense focus. Sensing his gaze, Dan looked up and just nodded. Clint nodded back and returned his attention to Rachel.
Twenty minutes later, Phil was handing Clint a blue Gatorade, Dan was rushing out to a meeting and Rachel was adding her last additions to Clint's chart for the day.
"You still doing okay without that immobilizer? I know I made you keep it for an extra week, but I think it helped."
"I've been being careful, promise." Clint offered her a small smirk. She grinned and nodded.
"Okay then, this was a good day, Barton. Keep it up, okay?"
Clint nodded and followed Phil out of the gym.
Approximately eight weeks post-surgery...
"Good, Barton!" Rachel praised as she watched Clint rotate his shoulder under his own power. His face was stony and his eyes were intensely focused, but she had come to learn that was just how Barton was – at least when it came to his rehab. He finished the exercise and slouched on the bench he was sitting on.
Clint nodded and they moved across the gym to where different levels of resistance bands were attached to the wall. Clint arched an eyebrow at her questioningly.
"No, Barton. Stick with the lowest resistance."
He sighed but didn't argue.
"So," Rachel began as she got him started on working on his shoulder rotations, this time with the lightest band giving him some resistance. "Where's Agent Coulson?"
"He had a meeting with Fury and Wilson," Clint stated simply. She wasn't surprised when he didn't offer any further explanation – Barton wasn't one to talk much in the first place. This was the first time he'd come to a session without Agent Coulson – and the first time Dan had been unable to attend. And she was glad she was standing behind him because he didn't see the huge smile that stole across her face.
That might have been the biggest step they'd made.
Approximately eleven weeks post-surgery...
"Barton, calm your ass down before I kick you out of my gym."
Rachel watched Barton pace across the room and then pivot and glare at her.
"It's been almost three months! And I'm working with twenty-pound weights!"
"You know that it's a process," Rachel countered sharply.
"Last week you said we were making progress but I'm still miles away from where I need to be."
"And where do you need to be?"
"Firing my bow! I used to be able to pull 70 pounds of weight on my bow over and over like it was nothing! Now I do twenty reps of twenty pounds and I have to stop because of fatigue!"
"Barton, you had to start over with your shoulder. You're farther ahead than you have any right to be because you're healing so well and you've been busting your ass in here, but you have to be patient. If you start pushing now, you could set yourself back."
She watched him pace away again, to a different corner of the room. She watched and she waited. Finally he huffed and came back over to where she'd been standing the whole time.
She let her expression soften.
"Push up position on the balance board. If you're good, I won't tell Dan about this when he gets back from the city and I'll clear you to start running in the mornings again."
She forced herself not to smile when his face lit up at the offer.
"I'll be an angel."
"Barton, don't make promises you can't keep."
July 11, 11:00am – approximately sixteen weeks post-surgery...
"You know, I think I might keep this even after you're gone," Rachel commented as she watched Barton pull back on a resistance band that she had anchored to the wall at both ends. The intent was for him to mimic the motion of drawing his bow. They'd been doing it for two weeks now and he'd been able to up the resistance twice since they'd started.
He finished his repetitions and let the band go to rest against the wall. He sighed deeply and turned to lean back against the wall as he rested. Rachel stepped forward and lifted his left arm, forcing him to stretch out the muscles and rotate it. She caught a wince when she hit a certain position.
"It still tweaking when you hit that point?"
"Not every time, gotta hit it just right."
She analyzed his expression closely, but could read no signs of deception. She nodded.
"Okay, well, Barton…this is our last session. I'll give you the choice of what your last exercise will be."
"Same thing I just did." His answer was immediate and he was already pushing off the wall and reaching for the band. Rachel wasn't surprised. It was the closest thing he could do to firing his bow without actually getting to fire it.
Though, after she turned in her final assessment to Dan, she was certain Barton would be doing the real thing soon enough.
July 11, 11:45pm
Dr. Dan Wilson brought up a patient chart on his iPad, and started tapping in a few miscellaneous notes. It didn't take him long, but the notes were at the end of a chart that was, for all intents and purposes, the longest among SHIELD's active agents right now.
Of course, most of it's been from the last four months, he thought ruefully. When Fury's assistant had paged him out of the archives on March 18 to Fury's office, Dan had known something was up. What he didn't know was that he would be on a flight 20 minutes later, calling in a favor from a medical school friend, and then facing the kind of uncertainty he'd never expected when he'd embarked on a career in trauma medicine.
Lukas, my friend, you were the one crazy about orthopedics. Not me. Of course, over the past four months, Dan had gotten a crash course in rehabilitation therapy for the shoulder, courtesy of one Dr. Lukas Brunner. Dan shook his head. When he, Phil and Barton had headed back to New York from Vienna, he'd expected to be supervising the lengthy process and trying to keep both Barton and his handler – both friends – from climbing the walls and rushing the process.
What he hadn't expected was to be pushing alongside the physical therapist on staff every damned step of the way. He'd never followed a patient from the beginning of a rehab program until the end – not until Brunner pulled him aside and suggested that he do it with Barton. The orthopedic surgeon had rightly caught onto the fact that both Dan and Phil were emotionally invested in Barton's recovery, but he'd also wanted someone he trusted watching the progress first-hand – someone he trusted to remember how long the road back might be.
"It will be one step forward and two steps back, if you will pardon the cliché." Brunner's voice had been full of concern, but also caution. "And the process may or may not have a defined finish. If the he doesn't regain full mobility, it will be a continuous situation of trying to gauge what he can and cannot handle with the joint.
"You have to be prepared for the fact that, no matter what we do, it may not be enough."
Dan thought he'd understood that. When they had arrived back in New York and he'd pulled his best physical therapist in – a pretty blonde named Rachel who was equal parts Attila the Hun and girl next door – he thought he'd be mostly hands-off in a supervisory capacity.
It took all of 10 minutes into the first therapy session for Rachel to page him, and when he'd picked up the line, he could hear the frustration in the young woman's voice.
"You need to come down here, Dan."
That was all she'd said, but he'd been ready to fly away from the meeting he'd just stepped out of. He had stopped himself, though. It was important that Rachel build a relationship of trust with Barton and if he stepped in to solve the first battle of wills then he'd be undermining her.
It had been the start to a long, involved journey Dan had watched with equal parts wonder and exasperation.
While Rachel ran things, Dan stayed just to watch. More than once, he'd seen Barton look over at him, a question still on his face. Dan had nodded, inclined his head back toward the therapist – and watched as Barton dove back into the exercises without complaining.
Dan had made it a point to be there at the start of every session for the next several weeks – until Phil stopped coming and Barton no longer needed reassurances. Sometimes, he stayed the whole time – taking notes, watching the progress, asking questions and then later contacting Brunner for feedback. Other times, he'd watch the beginning, eyeball Barton's mood, and then leave the session to him and Rachel. It shocked him to find Barton's typical attitude – pushpushpushpushpush, and to hell with the consequences – nowhere in attendance. The kid actually did exactly what he was asked, when he was asked, and didn't push the boundaries any further than prodded to by Rachel.
It had been the damnedest thing to watch – a cooperative Clint Barton. Dan wondered just how much Coulson had talked to the kid – and for about the millionth time, what those two had talked about on the roof in Vienna. Both had walked away from Zagreb with a new appreciation of how the other thought.
Dan shivered when he thought of that argument in the hospital, and the implications of it. He knew for a fact that not a day went by that Phil didn't blame himself for what his agent had done in taking a bullet for him – and also that Clint may not have grasped all the consequences when he'd jumped in front of his handler, but would have done it again in a heartbeat.
The doctor openly wondered sometimes just how many other agent/handler teams could claim to have the kind of instinctive awareness that Coulson and Barton shared and seemed to take for granted.
He sighed deeply. After Zagreb he knew neither of them would ever take it for granted again.
With a stifled yawn, Dan reached for his phone. Lukas deserved to know that his work had come to fruition. Clint would be cleared tomorrow and Phil would return the archer's bow to him to celebrate the third year since Clint had come to SHIELD.
Dan waited as the phone rang and smiled when Brunner answered.
"Lukas, it's Dan."
"Daniel...please tell me you are not calling at nearly 6am to tell me I need to fly to New York and perform more surgery."
"Nope. Calling to tell you that, pending a final check up in the morning, Barton's getting cleared."
There was a moment of respectful silence on the other end, and Dan swore he heard just a bit of a sniffle.
"Ah. So we are finally there. I will tell you truthfully, Daniel...I did not know..."
"Trust me, neither did we."
Dan could only sit in his own silent awe of how Barton had bounced back, had worked so hard to get where was now. Phil had told him about his surprise for Clint tomorrow, but Dan couldn't help but be silently jealous that he wasn't going to be there for that.
Phil took a moment to just watch. It had been three days since he'd returned Clint's bow to him and the young man had spent almost every free moment in the range, practicing, fine tuning the skills that had only barely begun to get rusty. Phil wasn't sure how long he stood there and just watched Clint practice, but a sudden buzzing of his phone reminded him they had a briefing to get to.
"Clint," he called from the doorway. The archer turned immediately. "Briefing Room Two – you've got an assignment."
Clint's face broke into a smile so wide, Phil was sure his face was about to split in half. He bounded across the range, bow in hand.
"What's the assignment?"
"Fury's doing the briefing, not me. Come on."
Clint followed without complaint, bow still clutched in his hand. He rarely released it these days, not unless he had to. Phil held out an ice pack and the agent obediently pressed it against his shoulder as they moved through the halls. Together they walked into the briefing room and sat down. No sooner had Clint looked down to set his bow on the floor than Fury blew into the room.
Clint looked up in time to catch the file sliding towards him before it went into his lap. He arched a scolding eyebrow at Fury and adjusted the ice pack on his shoulder. He saw Phil's lips quirk in amusement out of the corner of his eye.
"What's the job?"
"A protection detail, in Paris. Welcome back to the rotation."
End of Croatia
It's been an awesome ride with this one :) Thanks to all who read and those who reviewed. You guys make my day and I love writing these stories for you :)
On a happy note: I finally got my copy of The Avengers! I fully plan on watching it today :)
If you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear what you thought of the story :)
Now onto your preview for the next installment in the universe
What No One Else Sees
Natasha Romanoff had looked down the length of her assassin's arrow and known it was over - her life was going to end. But then he'd paused, something had flashed over his eyes, and he'd lowered the arrow. Clint Barton had been sent to kill her - he made a different call.