Barton cracked his eyes open to a blur of red. It eventually turned into the shape of Natasha sitting by his bed.
"Get the number of the truck that hit me?" whispered Clint.
"No, but I got the address of the building that collapsed on you," offered Stark enthusiastically from the other side of Barton's bed. "You're having a bad year, Barton."
Clint looked at Romanoff for some reassurance that he wasn't checking out any time soon before he corrected, "This is nothing, physically speaking; it's been a light year."
"You have a few broken ribs, a couple of cuts to your right ankle and a gash in your gut, but that horseshoe that's firmly up your ass must have deflected the rebar because it missed anything important. A couple of stitches and units of blood and you're almost as good as new. The ribs will take longer but you know the drill," explained Natasha.
"Anyone else in favor of wrapping Barton up in bubble wrap for our next mission?" asked Stark. Barton dutifully flipped him off. "Aw, I'm thrilled that finger still works."
"Glad you're going to be alright," said Steve who was sitting on Bruce's bed behind Tony.
"Can you guys give us a minute?" asked Bruce. Natasha nodded and walked towards the door with Stark and Rogers in tow. Thor gave Clint's foot a firm pat and followed his team out into the waiting room.
"You alright there, Bruce?" asked Clint pointing to the bandaged and propped up ankle.
"I'm fine, just a fracture. Couple of weeks on crutches, nothing to be too concerned about. It's not like I was almost crushed by a guy that can't keep it together." The misery and guilt was etched on Banners face like a tattoo.
"But you didn't, doc. You held it together and here we are safe and sound."
"Safe and sound isn't lying in a hospital bed with broken ribs because I hit you."
Clint held up a finger to pause the other man's guilt trip. "We don't know that the Hulk did it. Besides, when it really counted you didn't let your anger get the better or you. I'd say we're making progress and, if that isn't comforting, I'm sure that Stark can get us a bottle of the good stuff and we can drink our self-proclaimed failures away together."
"Why do you have so much faith in me? We barely know each other; we were brought together by circumstance and after that you spent the better part of the last year avoiding everyone while I hid in Tony's lab. With the exception of the last two months, our interactions have been Avenger business. Even now, it's not like we have conversations with any real substance, so I can't even begin to fathom why you trust me."
"I know enough. Besides, if your soul's not salvable then what hope do the rest of us have? You try to do good and when you felt like you couldn't you removed yourself so you couldn't harm anyone. The rest of us just change targets." Barton curled up as best he could and closed his eyes; if he was asleep then Banner couldn't apologize for something that wasn't his fault and maybe the man could see the positives about what happened that night.
Realizing his companion wasn't going to carry on with the conversation any further, Banner took his lead and decided to follow suit. Stifling a yawn, he thought about what the archer had said. The ends didn't justify the means in his book. He had managed to postpone his transformation, but Clint has still gotten hurt. He wasn't going to say he could stop himself from changing completely because if the team hadn't shown up when they did the doctor highly doubted they wouldn't have been scraping Hawkeye up, but that was more control than he had at the beginning. It offered a reassurance that he wasn't sure he should be relieved for or leery of. Maybe he could handle more stressful situations without casualties or maybe he would develop a false sense of security and all that control he thought he had would vanish at the moment he needed it most.
Bruce thought back to their final moments of being trapped and shook his head. The painkillers must be doing a number on him because when he thought about the fact that Clint would do anything, including injuring himself, to make sure Bruce didn't carry the guilt of direct responsibility for killing his teammate, for a split second he thought he recalled an electric blue tinge to Barton's eyes. Dismissing it as nothing more than an over active imagination and an acute case of paranoia caused by all the Monday nights in the lab running unnecessary tests on the archer's blood to prove to Clint that he wasn't a threat to the team, Banner closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep feeling safe with his fellow Avenger in the bed beside him.
Part 4 of 5.
Thank-you so much to everyone who read this story and to those that have been following since the beginning of the series. It means more than you know.
A big thanks to anyone who added an alert, favourite or review (especially anyone who reviewed more than once) it is greatly appreciated and means a lot. The support on this shorter story was huge.
Huge thanks to Red Aurora for another terrific beta job!
The next story (which is written and will be updated as my beta gets through each chapter) is The Devil Looks After his Own and it will feature Clint, Thor and the team. The next story will be Not There Yet, but Closer than Yesterday which is a Captain America one shot (Clint makes an appearance). After that will be Can't Win for Losing (which I am working on at this moment.)