title: Lies and Statistics
Author: Zalia Chimera
Pairing: Pre-slash Bruce/Clint
Warnings: Mentions of suicide and suicidal thoughts
If Bruce is honest with himself, he's kind of useless here. Tony has it all well in hand, this 'consultant' business, and seems to be in his element dealing with the SHIELD engineers as they discuss repairs and upgrades to the helicarrier. He's fairly sure that at least half of Tony's reasons for agreeing to it is just so that he can keep an eye on SHIELD and bringing Bruce is just his way to thumbing his nose at them, a challenge to test Fury's motives.
Bruce can appreciate that, the implicit promise of protection, he just wishes that he didn't have to actually be here to do it.
He's not actually sure where 'here' is. The SHIELD agents who had collected them in one of their jets had refused to disclose their actual destination and only Tony's casual acceptance (and the fact that he probably knew where they were going anyway) had made Bruce feel remotely comfortable getting on the plane.
People give him a wide berth as he leaves the grounded helicarrier and steps out onto the dry dock, blinking owlishly in the bright sunlight. It's hot here, tropical almost. An island he's almost certain is somewhere in the pacific and just as certain that no map actually shows its existence. The air is slightly sticky as he heads along the length of the dock, still marvelling at the size of the helicarrier now that he's not trapped inside it. It's a hive of activity even grounded, leaving him dodging engineers and soldiers alike heading for the only relatively empty space that he can see.
There's a small tower a little way off, overlooking the dock. A guard tower, he thinks, or maybe communications. There's a dark figure at the top that Bruce can only see in silhouette because of the sun, but otherwise it's quiet there and he's grateful for the space away from from the crowd of SHIELD staff. He leans against one of the supports, head tilted back, eyes closed as he unfastens the first couple of buttons of his shirt. It's not as though he hasn't lived in places with a similar temperature, but after the carefully climate controlled interior of the helicarrier and Stark Tower, it's oppressive.
He wishes he'd brought a book or something; he'd been asked (ordered) to leave the tablet Tony had given him behind. Security purposes. Not exactly surprising but he feels vulnerable without anything to occupy himself with. Or pretend to occupy himself with. He'd learnt early in life that you were safer if you looked busy, if you looked like you knew what you were doing. It was a difficult mindset to shake.
He looks up quickly; there's a young man standing on the bottom rung of the ladder, leaning back off it with one hand wrapped around a bottle of water. Bruce squints at him and it takes a moment to put a name to the face and the voice. "Agent Barton, right?"
He's almost certain that's his name and he feels ridiculous because they fought together, saved the world, but he wasn't exactly himself back then and the following couple of days had been a blur.
"Yeah, that's right," he replies as he smiles and jumps down the rest of the way, approaching him with a certain wariness that makes Bruce smile ruefully. He's come to expect it. It almost doesn't hurt. "You might want this," Barton says, offering him the water bottle. "Easy to get dehydrated out here."
Bruce watches his face, waiting possibly a moment longer than is natural before reaching out to take it, giving him a tight smile that might pass for grateful.
"Thanks," he says, twisting off the cap and breaking the seal and taking a long swallow of it. He does feel better for the drink actually. It gives him a moment to look the other man over. He's not wearing his Avengers gear today, but he's not casual either; black t-shirt and jacket and black pants, gun strapped to his thigh. There's no sign of the bow or arrows that he'd used back in New York.
"What brings you out here," Barton asks, and it's a surprise. He hadn't seemed like the type for small talk. Or is this an interrogation? He's never quite sure anymore.
Bruce gestures back towards the helicarrier vaguely. "They wanted Tony's expertise. I... guess I came along for the ride."
"Hell of a distance to come just for the ride," Barton replied, and his smile is lopsided and wry.
Bruce shrugs. "I'm not entirely sure where here is so I wouldn't know."
"I know," Barton says. "Mainly because they've yet to figure out a way to selectively wipe knowledge out of my head."
He says it lightly, but there's a sour note to it and Bruce would call it badly hidden but he gets the impression it's more that he's just stopped caring about hiding it.
"Yeah..." Bruce agrees because there's nothing else to say and the silence is kind of uncomfortable and he feels like he's forgotten all the rules of social interaction since he started running. "Didn't think SHIELD went in for tropical paradises."
"Yeah Doc, it's a real five star resort round here," Barton says dryly, moving to lean back against the ladder, arms folded over his chest. "Hotel, playground, water skiing. Exotic fish suppers."
Despite himself, Bruce laughs, and that at least is starting to feel more natural. He takes another swig of water and runs the bottle against his forehead before it reaches ambient temperature.
He can't think of a way to continue the conversation and Barton makes no attempt, or maybe he's as stuck as Bruce is, and the silence drags on, more awkward each second until Barton finally makes the leap.
"You want to go up?" he asks, jerking a thumb up towards the deck of the tower. "There's not much, but it's cooler and has a nice view."
"Air conditioning?" Bruce asks because the idea of cooler is very appealing. He's getting spoilt. He blames Tony.
"What, you think SHIELD has that kind of budget?" Barton asks, rolling his eyes. "No, but we've got a fan, oh, and a chair. That counts for something, right?"
"Sounds good to me," Bruce says. "Lead the way."
Barton swings himself up the ladder quickly enough that he's at the platform before Bruce has made it more than a couple of rungs up. There's another agent up there already and he gives Bruce a look of deep suspicion tinged at the edges with fear. The agent looks up at Barton, his expression tight. "Care to explain, Agent Barton?"
Bruce can hear the mistrust. It makes him try to fold up into himself, make himself as small and unobtrusive as possible.
"He's better company than you are," Barton says. "Report to your CO. We're not short of things for you to do."
"This is completely out of line," the man protests and Bruce has to admire how utterly bored Barton looks when he replies.
"Then bring it up with Director Fury." There's a note of finality in Barton's voice and the agent doesn't speak again, just retreats, casting them a dark look as he begins the climb down to ground level. Barton sighs softly.
"Was that wise?" Bruce asks, standing uncomfortably in the doorway. He recognises mistrust when he sees it.
Barton shrugs. "Probably not. But he's not gonna face down Fury over a ticket out of watch duty."
"Right..." Bruce says and he knows he sounds sceptical and just hopes that Barton doesn't take offence.
There is, in fact, a fan and Bruce takes one of the chairs next to it, enjoying the breeze. He was right, it is a pretty nice view from here. Barton doesn't sit down, but swings himself up to sit on the railing, legs dangling outside over the drop. It looks precarious but he doesn't seem to care so Bruce isn't going to be the one to bring it up.
"Thanks," Bruce says after a moment, once he's finished the bottle of water. "For this, I mean," he adds, and for standing up for him although he doesn't say that part out loud. "It was a little more crowded than I'm comfortable with out there."
He doesn't think that he needs to add why.
"I wasn't joking. You really are better company than he is."
"You barely know me," Bruce points out.
"I know him."
It's the bite of bitterness in Barton's voice that prompts Bruce to reply. "Is he always so hostile, Agent Barton, or should I be honoured?"
"Clint," Barton says and when Bruce frowns, "my first name. It's Clint. We saved the world together, I think you get free pass to use it."
Huh. Barton... Clint's smile is kind of disarming and Bruce wonders how much of it is real and how much comes from practice and he feels kind of guilty for thinking that. "Clint, then. Bruce. You can call me Bruce. And I don't want to cause trouble between you and your co-workers. I could've stayed down there."
Clint gives him a surprised look and then laughs, a harsh sound, shaking his head. "You thought that was- no, it isn't you he's... wary of. It's me."
"What?" Bruce asks and he's surprised at the shock. It's been so damn long since he's not been seen as the biggest threat to anyone's safety.
Clint grimaces, or maybe it's supposed to be a smile. "He doesn't have the clearance to know anything about you or the Hulk beyond what the public know."
Bruce winces at the name, but he's curious. He's only heard the barest details about Clint and his part in what happened and all of it was on Loki. "And you?"
Clint looks up at him, his smile like fractured glass, and Bruce swallows at seeing such a familiar expression on someone else's face. "I'd say right now, half of the people on this base are holding their breath waiting for me to snap and and put a bullet between someone's eyes."
"And the other half?" he asks, morbidly curious because doesn't that sound familiar?
Clint jumps down from the railing, one hand going to rest against the butt of his gun. When he speaks it's with a horrible cheerfulness. "Them? Oh, they know me better, understand the situation. They're waiting for me to snap and put a bullet between my own eyes."
iI got low/i, Bruce's own words come back to haunt him, iI put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out/i.
"That... doesn't sound like understanding the situation," he says finally, hands clenching in his lap as he glances towards the door. This is cutting a little too close to home and to things he's been trying to ignore. "If they know shouldn't they..."
He trails off because it's not his place to be giving advice when he can't even keep his own house in order.
Clint is silent for a moment then heads over to the tiny refrigerator in the corner, pulling out another bottle of water. Without even looking, he tosses it over his shoulder to Bruce, at the perfect angle for him to catch it. He grabs another for himself and Bruce watches as he opens it and downs most of it in one go. He can't help being a little fascinated by watching the way his throat works as he swallows. He's not unattractive and it's... been a while.
"How are you enjoying your leave?" Clint asks finally, tossing the now empty bottle from hand to hand idly.
"I'm not sure I'd call it leave. I don't exactly have a job to take leave from. " Bruce says, taking a sip of his own water then leaning forward, arms braces on his legs. He pauses for a moment then offers a smile. "Nice to not be on the run though."
"I bet," Clint replies blithely and Bruce wonders if he was in on it, one of the people SHIELD had watching him all that time. "That's never fun."
"And you? Surely SHIELD gave you some time to recover."
"I took a few days. Then asked the Director for an assignment," he said wryly.
Bruce frowns. "Doesn't seem like enough."
"I don't do particularly well with downtime," Clint admits.
"Too much time to think," Bruce says quietly, filling in the gaps in what Clint is saying easily. He'd kept busy while on the run, partly to blend in, partly because if he stayed still for too long he'd start thinking and that led to bad places.
Clint looks taken aback and then gives a short nod. "Yeah, something like that."
"Keeping watch is not what I'd choose if I wanted to keep myself occupied," Bruce admits. His mind would start to wander after ten minutes.
"I've trained myself to focus on certain things. A sniper can't get distracted, even by his own thoughts." That smile again, lopsided and about as open as Bruce imagines he ever is. "Also they aren't entirely sure what to do with me or I'd have been on the mission roster again by now."
"I know how that feels," Bruce says, matching Clint's smile with a hesitant one of his own. No-one who knew what he was was ever sure what to do with him. When he spoke next, he let some of the resentment bleed into his voice. "They got a cage for you too?"
Clint just stares at him for a moment before giving a soft laugh, as bitter as Bruce's smile.
"Maybe not a cage," he admits, "more like a prison cell. Maybe a padded room somewhere if they're feeling benevolent. Depends who's on duty."
Bruce licks his lip and looks away, out of the window, because there's nothing he can really say to that and sure, Clint doesn't know what it's like to be him, to be the other guy, but some of what he says is too familiar for Bruce to dismiss and it's uncomfortable. It isn't something that's supposed to happen. He watches for a few moments at the people bustling on the dock, the cranes lifting massive plates of metal, sparks from the welding. "We really did a number on it, didn't we?"
Clint comes up beside him, leaning against the railing, chin pillowed on his arms. Maybe he recognises an outstretched hand when he sees one. Maybe Bruce is just getting better at sharing. He blames Tony anyway. "Yeah," Clint says, "we really did."
They fall into silence, but there's something companionable about it, like a wall somewhere has been breached. For a while there's just the sound of the fan and bugs and breathing.
"They keep telling me it's not my fault," Clint says eventually, voice barely above a whisper. "The ones who don't want me shot for treason anyway. It was Loki, his hand wrapped around my brain."
It would be so easy to agree with these nameless people, to offer the hollow reassurances that people always turned to. He probably should. And yet...
"They keep saying it," Bruce replies, not turning to look at him but knowing that he's listening all the same. "They're right, even, in some ways. But they don't remember what you remember."
Buildings crumbling beneath his grasp, the screams and the fear. He might not remember it all, but he remembers enough.
Clint turns slightly, studying Bruce's face as though he's worried that this is a test or an interrogation the same as Bruce had thought earlier. Huh.
"I remember all of it," Clint says seriously. "I remember planning the assault. I remember isuggesting/i the assault and my thoughts were so clear at the time. I knew what I was doing."
"And they don't understand it," Bruce said, a note of finality in his voice.
"Yeah," is the blunt response, Clint's back a line of tension like he wants to pitch himself forward and over the railing. He can die. Bruce wonders if he'd stop him if it came to it.
"Well, this is morbid," Bruce says when the oppressive heaviness becomes too much.
Clint straightens up instantly, smiling and Bruce is pretty certain that it's a lie now. "Sorry. I'm not exactly the life of the party but I'm normally better than this."
"I think we must both have terrible taste in parties," Bruce says. Clint laughs and Bruce decides that he likes him, this quick man with the lying smile and steel behind his eyes.
"I think you need to go to Stark for parties. More his scene, or so I've heard. Just... take the suit off him first." His expression is amused, some private joke that he isn't quite willing to share.
"I'll bear that in mind," Bruce replies. Tony has a reputation and Bruce has seen enough to know that it isn't entirely unwarranted, but he still thinks he must have seen a very different side of Tony Stark to the one that Clint's mentioned.
"He's a good guy," Clint says after a moment like he's worried he's offended Bruce. "He's looking for you by the way," he adds off hand.
Bruce blinks in confusion. There's been no communication that he can tell. "He is?"
"Yeah." Clint points out of the window towards the helicarrier. "He came out five minutes ago. He's looking for something. Since he can get any tech he needs easily enough, I'm guessing it's you he can't find."
Bruce stands and follows the line of his arm and if he squints he thinks he can make out a small figure who looks a bit like Tony although he'd never have guessed it if it hadn't been pointed out.
"You can see that?" he asks, a little incredulous although he knows he shouldn't be, not after having seen some of the footage from New York.
Clint steps back and nods. "I'm more than just a pretty face, Doc. I was given my codename for a reason."
"So you have a hawk's eyes as well as a pretty face," Bruce says, and he catches the way that Clint's eyes widen a little at the compliment, even if his expression doesn't change.
"Far as I know, SHIELD doesn't hire based on looks so I had to give up my modelling career and focus on my more marketable assassination and espionage skills."
"Fair enough," Bruce replies and his own smile feels more genuine. That's been happening a lot recently. He can see Tony more clearly now and he's heading this way, all business, so he pushes himself to his feet. "I should go and see what Tony needs," he says. "It... it was nice to meet you. Properly, I mean."
He holds out his hand and Clint takes it. He has a firm handshake and calloused hands. They're warm.
"Same," Clint replies. "It wasn't the best time for proper introductions back there."
He lets go and watches as Bruce heads towards the door. "Wait," he says, just as Bruce's foot hits the top rung of the ladder. "If you need a pilot to get back to the mainland, I can fly the jets."
Bruce pauses and then nods, untangling the threads of the offer before replying. "Sure. I trust you a whole lot more than I trust most of SHIELD right now."
He isn't entirely sure what prompts him to say it, such a rash thing to leave him so exposed, but the honest smile on Clint's face is nice to see.
Tony is just arriving when he reaches the bottom of the ladder, and he waves his tablet around to get Bruce's attention.
"Have you seen these readings? You have to see these readings," he begins, ushering Bruce off towards the Helicarrier without breaking stride and it's barely a moment before Bruce is caught up in the conversation, easy as breathing.
He feels eyes on his back all the way.