Clint Barton was known for rushing into trouble, jumping right into harm's way. A lot of people in SHIELD believed Clint was a trouble magnet or that he had some sort of death wish; too many times he'd ended up in the middle of a bad situation, shot, stabbed, bones broken, and all the scars to show for it. Some of them refused to work with him for the longest time, worried that he was untrustworthy, that he'd grandstand, run off, not follow orders, and get everyone around him killed. When people realized that agents who worked with Hawkeye tended to live … or he got them out alive against all odds … that changed. But they still thought he was dangerous.
It wasn't true that Clint was an adrenaline junkie, and he'd never been one. Even when he was a kid, following after his brother, he'd never courted trouble; it just somehow always found him. He didn't back down from a fight – a short wiry orphan couldn't afford to be seen as weak or he'd be at the mercy of every bully that came along – but he didn't want them. Mostly, he wanted to survive, to have Barney and Trickshot think the best of him, and be the boy that made his own way in the world, not the poor little kid everyone loved to pick on.
When he was on his own, in the army and later taking any job he could find, he found he just didn't give a damn. Being left for dead by his own brother will tend to do that to you. It wasn't that he thought he couldn't die – and a lot of the kids his age did believe that – it was that he didn't care if he lived or died. Strange thing was, he seemed to survive against all odds. No matter what the situation, Clint just dared death and walked away. That's what drew SHIELD's attention; the archer turned sniper turned mercenary who had the reputation for a type of stubbornness that appealed to Nick Fury because it meant that Barton would attack any problem put before him with the same aggression.
The years of working at SHIELD with Phil Coulson were when Clint learned more about why he was willing to throw himself right in front of a bullet. It all came down to the fact that Clint believed he could save people. He knew, deep down, that he could make the shot, save the hostage, retrieve the captured agent. He was good, he understood that, and, with Phil's calming voice in his ear, giving him the support he'd never had, Clint could do whatever he set his mind to, even things that seemed impossible. Honestly, he just threw himself between the innocent and danger, sure in the knowledge that he could, and would, be successful.
Shaking his head to clear the fog, Clint woke to find that his arms were aching, shoulders practically pulled out of their sockets, iron manacles locked tight about his wrists and hung from the ceiling. Last thing he'd remembered was Phil talking about civilians trapped in the subway; with everyone else caught up in the HYDRA attack, he'd gone after them, determined to save them. He didn't know it was a trap, designed specifically to lure him in, and he fell for it. He wanted to bang his head for his stupidity, and then his next thought was that Phil was going to be imminently pissed Clint had gotten himself captured. No, strike that. Phil was going to rain hell down on whoever had the gall to do this. And Phil, angry and at his worst, could do some serious damage. That was one of the things Clint loved about Phil; the man was a badass and no one knew it. Well, Clint knew, and Nick Fury, and Natasha, and Tony and Steve and Bruce and Thor … and all the other asses Phil had kicked over the years. If truth be told, there were many reasons Clint loved Phil, but this one, the fact that Phil would be there, always, for him, well, that was a unique thing. Phil Coulson believed in Clint Barton, and that was worth more than anything else in Clint' life.
Damn if his kidnappers weren't smart and professional; there was nothing in the room Clint could use to escape, they never spoke to him, wore masks, and basically did everything that really competent mercenaries did. All of which sucked, leaving Clint sure that this wasn't a HYDRA or AIM attempt to gain information, but something much, much worse. When the unassuming man with the briefcase arrived, donned his apron to protect his suit, taking the small handmade fileting knife lovingly in his hand, Clint knew he was in serious trouble; most of the times he'd been captured, the bad guys had bought into the 'beat him senseless and leave lots of broken bones and bruises' school of torture, which, if truth be told, was not the most effective method of breaking someone. Real pain was a sea of tiny cuts that stung at first, then built to a burning that wracked your whole body; the Chinese had it right when they talked about the hell of a thousand paper cuts. With each new slice of the slim sliver knife, a fiery cut that added to Clint's pain, the man never asked a single question; when he poured the clear liquid down Clint's arm, the alcohol & lemon juice catching on each thin line, pain racing into his brain, Clint understood that this wasn't an ordinary kidnapping.
Once, when two bullies caught him on his way back from school on a day that Barney ditched him, Clint learned about his safe place, the spot in his mind he could go when hurt threatened to overwhelm him. He knew he couldn't cry, that doing so would only make them come back again tomorrow for more to feed their need to feel powerful, so he drew himself into that spot, a good memory, a private little fantasy that he never told anyone else about. One of the kids a few years back had invited him home after school and there was this tree house, nothing but some planks nailed together with plywood walls and ceilings, big openings that looked out onto the leafy foliage. Later, sometimes at night, Clint would sneak out of the orphanage and climb up there, long after the family had moved away, and listen to the wind in the tree, shivering in the cold, sweating in the summer. That was where he went that day as the blows rained down upon him, the feet kicked until he threw up - in his mind, he heard the breeze rustle the fall leaves, felt the serenity of a few moments alone.
The man had started on his arms, moved to his chest, then got to the more sensitive areas; deeper slashes on the inside of his thighs that bleed freely, blood splattering onto the floor below. When he tipped up the fiery liquid, Clint went inside his head and slammed the door shut.
"My night to pick," Phil told him, holding the bowl of popcorn away from Clint's grabby hands. "We watched the last Resident Evil last time."
"No, no, no," Clint argued. "We watched Skyfall. That was your choice."
"It doesn't count if we both agree on it." Phil got into this far too much, keeping track mostly just to annoy Clint, or to amuse him, Clint didn't know which, but picking movies was one of the highlights of their time together. Being so normal in the midst of the insanity that was the life of an Avenger; Clint had to grin and keep the game going.
"Then there was Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Secret Flame." Clint had him on this one. "The one you saw on the plane back from Morocco, when you had to fly coach to tail the suspect."
Phil rolled his eyes and huffed, letting Clint win. "Fine. What do you want to watch?"
"Zero Dark Thirty's just out," he said, all innocence, deliberately leaning into Phil's space to grab the remote. He settled in, arm behind Phil's head on the big sofa, curling his feet under him and turning towards Phil to reach the popcorn he'd set on his lap.
"And you just happen to pick a movie I want to see?" His eyes were shining with laughter at Clint's obviousness.
"Hey, I hear the director did a good job." Clint crowded Phil, dropping his hand on Phil's shoulder 'accidentally' as he started the movie.
A hand yanked his head back. "Wake up now." The first words anyone had spoken; Clint must have drifted off for a long time because suitcase man was gone, and he couldn't move his legs without brushing wounded skin, slivers of pain all over. He couldn't feel his arms anymore, and his strength was ebbing away. Ski-mask wearing men lowered him to his bare knees, the cold concrete of the floor actually soothing some of his aches for a moment, but he began shivering as they doused him with water, rolling over a cart with small hand-held defibrillator. Oh, god, Clint knew what was coming next; the first jolt rattled his teeth and wrenched his arms as he jerked.
"Hey, that's my Kung Pao Shrimp," Tony snatched the white carton before Bruce could get his chopsticks anywhere near it. "But I'll share if you ask nicely." They'd finally emerged from the lab just moments ago, both of them in their days-old rumpled clothes, obviously hungry from missing a few meals. Clint tried to snag a box of Mongolian Beef before it circled into their gravitational pull and keep the dumplings from following. Phil laughed at him when Tony smacked Clint's hand as he reached for the wonton soup.
"I thought you were smart enough not to get between Tony and his food," Phil said with a smile.
"But I'm hungry," Clint protested as he watched a whole order of fried rice disappear onto Bruce's plate.
"I ordered extra," Phil whispered into his ear. "All your favorites. I waylaid the bag. It's in our room."
Clint pushed back his chair with a loud screech of metal leg against the tile. "Well, it's been real. Gotta go." He tugged Phil out of his chair and towards the door.
"You don't have to go," Bruce began, realizing they were hogging all the food.
"Bruce, lovebirds, remember?" Tony nudged the scientist and wiggled his eyebrows.
"Oh, yeah, um, right," Bruce's ears reddened as he blushed.
Twice he thought he heard them coming, the sound of Tony's repulsors or Thor's booming voice. Once he was sure there was gun fire, the pattern of Phil's M1911 familiar and welcome. But still he lay on the icy floor, nothing under his bare skin, just the throbbing of his infected wounds and scrambled thoughts of his fried brain to keep him company through the long hours chained to the wall. He had no idea how much time had passed, nothing to tell night from day, no set schedule for their comings and goings, never knowing when the man with the briefcase would come through the door. And still, they asked no questions, wanted nothing from him but to suffer. When sleep became impossible, he turned instead to memories, safe havens to keep him sane.
Phil was a big spoon and Clint was a sprawler. Took them forever to figure out how to share a bed without driving each other crazy. After the first few nights of Phil cuddling up close and Clint pushing away, right to the edge of Phil's double bed, they settled into a détente of a sort; Clint slept on his stomach, Phil on his back, Clint's arm and leg thrown over Phil. It was enough contact for Phil and enough room for Clint. Slowly, as they adjusted to each other, when they truly started sleeping together, not just spending an occasional night, their bodies got tighter, Clint tangling his leg between Phil's, finally resting his head on Phil's chest, but still able to throw his other arm out into the cool sheets beyond them. Phil looped an arm under Clint, often waking with pins and needles from the archer's weight, his other hand resting on the small of Clint's back. When they finally got to where Phil's face was buried in Clint's hair, all four legs over and under each other, they suddenly noticed they had way too much unused space in the king sized bed in their room in the Tower. Sometimes, Clint would wake up with Phil curled alongside him, a proprietary hand on his stomach, his body notched neatly up against Phil's. And, on the nights when the nightmares came back where Phil was dead and Clint was alone, he'd be the one breathing into Phil's neck, holding him as close as humanly possible.
Shivers wracked his body, he couldn't feel his toes and he sat up, pulling himself as high as he could to breathe warm air on his hands, to keep from losing his fingers to frostbite, trying to ignore the steady drip of the water that fell on him, raining down his body, hitting the floor, and freezing into slick puddles. The idea that he was going crazy slipped into his brain; he imagined instead that Phil was pressing against him, warmth seeping into his bones, hand stroking his feverish skin, spooning up to him, speaking reassurances into his ear.
Clint was missing for an official forty nine hours, fifty one according to Phil who counted from the moment Clint went down those subway stairs. It took almost twelve hours to finish the battle, retrace Clint's steps, get the statements from the witnesses on the subway car, all of whom told stories about men in black, but from there they diverged widely including one woman who was sure it was fairies, Queen Mab to be precise, who wanted Hawkeye for her court. Phil called in markers, Natasha canvassed her sources, using them up as if it didn't matter, searching for any bit of information. It was Thor who asked Heimdall to locate Clint; the Asgardian saw Clint and another man; Natasha recognized him as one of the best in the business, a free-lancer who was known to be a sadistic bastard that could break anyone, no matter how strong. Phil kept his calm – it was how he handled things, focus on the problem, get it done and react later – but it was a damn near impossible when he sat through a briefing about the man called the Surgeon, the scum he'd worked for in the past, a laundry list that read like the who's who of the criminal world. Steve called a halt to the litany finally, clearing his throat when Hill would have continued with the photos of past victims; she suddenly seemed to see Phil's fingers clenching on the edge of the briefing table, the set of his jaw, the violent jiggle of his knee.
But once they had a name, they could track him, and Phil fell to that like a dog to a bone, chasing the man to ground, chartering the jet and landing in Gjovik, Norway in under 10 hours, 4 more to locate the man in the city and follow him to the out-of-the-way farmhouse. Each minute grated on Phil's nerves; he'd seen far too many bodies come back or agents broken to the point of losing themselves. The months they'd had each other – Phil refused to think that was all they'd ever have. He knew that Clint was a stubborn s.o.b. who'd survived much worse with less to keep him going. Clint was, if nothing else, a mouthy bastard, and the Surgeon just might find that he'd met his match. At least that was the thought keeping Phil from blowing a hole through the fucking side of the house, what made him let Tony have that honor, but he was damn well the first one inside. He wasn't a bloodthirsty man, had never enjoyed killing, seeing it as a necessary part of the job, something he had to do to save others. But he'd be lying if he didn't admit to being disappointed when the mercenaries surrendered without a fight, simply handing him the keys to the basement.
Clint thought he was dreaming again when he felt the heat along his skin, heard Phil's voice in his ear; he was long past teeth chattering, the only thing he could feel was Phil's fingers stroking his arm. "What took you so long? Had to stop to watch Dancing with the Stars?" he whispered.
"New Justified was on." Phil forced a laugh and wrapped Clint up in his jacket. "Guess that means you get to pick next. It was a damn good episode; Raylan's dad got out of prison …"
In the end, Clint made it back to the Tower sooner rather than later, refusing to stay in his hospital bed when he could be in the big one in his room, knowing that it was Phil that would make him feel better faster. That's how he ended up on the couch in the main TV room, covered in bandages, refusing to use the wheelchair he'd been given, instead letting Thor deposit him there and Steve bring him a serving of Chinese food – he got first choice of all his favorites. In deference to the others, or really just Tony's grousing, Clint put off the classic The Thin Man, a series he and Phil had been planning on starting together for a while nowand went for Zombieland instead. By the time everyone settled into their places, full plates, the opening credits rolling, Clint was asleep, curled up against Phil, head drooping down onto Phil's chest, securely wrapped up in a blanket to ward off the chills. They all watched anyway, the sound of their voices, the smell of the food, the nearness of Phil doing more to help Clint than any medicine or doctor could.
Phil had long ago figured out why Clint put himself in danger, the same thing that made them all Avengers – they willingly put themselves in harm's way because someone had to do it. They ran towards danger so that others could run away, stepping forward again and again, willing to jump on every grenade. Without thinking about it, without fanfare, without fear – that's why they flew missiles through portals, stared down giant robots, ditched planes into the icy Atlantic Ocean, pushed themselves further than their training, risked exposing themselves. It was why Clint jumped off roofs, why he never broke under torture, why he and Phil were so perfect for each other.
That night, when Phil held the sleeping Clint in his arms, sweating from all the covers but keeping the cold at bay from Clint's dreams, he remembered how close it had been, words like frostbite and hypothermia and toxemia repeating in his head, and he worried about kidnappers who asked no questions and easily gave up when cornered. Then he kissed Clint's neck, nuzzled his nose into the spot behind Clint's ear, very carefully wrapped the damaged body in his arms, let Clint's icy feet press against his, and he breathed a little easier that he had him back, safe … at least until the next time.