I'm actually really sad to see this end, but that might mean I'll start writing the next one soon. I am job hunting and then next week I'm going on vacation – so we shall see…but it's been fun guys!
Special thanks to those who continually reviewed for this story and those who just dropped in to say they liked what they read ^^ You are all flowers in the meadow…I haven't had coffee yet…lol!
Thanks to all who reviewed the last chapter: rose, Ms. Perception (who reviewed for like every chapter! You're awesome!), Qweb, JRBarton, Janechen88, Sandy-wmd, kimbee, Hawaiichick, KingBey, and the mysterious 'Guest!"
I will miss you guys they most ^^
Clint realized weakly that this wasn't going away and he wasn't going to wake up. Left alone with who he assumed was Natasha he felt helpless and small. Part of him wanted to trust what he saw and heard as reality, but a larger more dominate part of him wouldn't trust anything.
When he had first opened his eyes Reese had been there with Randle – they had twisted truths and still he had trusted them, well Reese anyway. Now they were replaced by figments of his subconscious imagination and Clint was completely lost.
Desperately Clint wanted to trust something or someone, but he was quickly finding that nothing was trustworthy. He was giving himself away to easily to people who wanted to use him for something – even if he wasn't quite sure what that something was.
People were there both in his dreams and in reality – and Clint wasn't sure of any of them. They were all strangers.
Hell, Clint was a stranger to himself – how incredibly messed up was that?
"What are you thinking about?" The redhead asked curiously. She kept her distance now that he was calm, enough to give him space but not enough to indicate that she wanted to leave.
"That I can't trust anyone." Clint answered honestly, his arms rested limply on top of his drawn up knees. He had nothing to hide – he was trapped and he was never going to be free. "If Randle wants me to fall for this he'll be disappointed."
Natasha frowned deeply and shook her head. "When I find Randle he's a dead man." She vowed in a cold voice that sent a shiver down Clint's spine and brought the tension back into his shoulders. She saw his reaction and froze. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you – I just wish I could prove to you that we're not like the people who held you before."
"I'd ask to be set free," Clint sighed as he avoided her watchful eyes. "But I have no where to go – except maybe jail."
"You aren't going to jail." Natasha promised sincerely.
"I'm a murderer," Clint shot back darkly. "Murderers belong in jail. At least I think they do – I deserve it after what I did." Everything he thought, everything he knew seemed to be wrong. Maybe it all was a lie. Some fantasy his amnesiac mind made up to fill in the blanks or make up for the crap life he'd lived before.
"Clint Barton," Natasha snapped harsh enough to draw his eyes up to hers. She looked fierce – not like someone you should mess with. "You are many things, but you are definitely not a murderer and you didn't deserve any of this."
"Why is there no pain when you talk?" Clint needed to know. "Did it go away? What the chemical changed – is it gone?" He hoped they somehow had cured him. Clint wasn't sure anyone could live with such pain all his or her life. He knew he couldn't.
The redhead looked hesitant before she spoke and casted a glance towards the door cautiously. "We aren't exactly sure what they did to you yet." She seemed to want to wait for someone else to be present for the conversation, so Clint sighed and shook his head.
Reese had never acted like that – she had always known exactly what was happening without asking anyone. She always had an answer. Maybe, maybe this place was different. Less scripted – more real. Or maybe it was all in his head.
"We can wait if you want." He offered emotionlessly. Perhaps Randle sold him to another scientist – or someone took him away. Clint wasn't sure anymore. Nothing felt right or real, everything was a question and Clint was numb.
"You can ask me anything." Natasha said after a few minutes ticked by. "We've known each other for a very long time."
Clint eyed her curiously, but his head got in the way of his heart searching for the truth. "You'll only lie." He told her and looked away from her and towards a blank wall. Just like the place he had been in before – this room had no windows. Maybe he was still there.
"I promise you I won't lie." Natasha almost pleaded, but before Clint could respond the door opened and Tony Stark returned with a four-eyed stranger. Unlike the other two Clint was fairly sure he'd never dreamed of the man with glasses. As far as Clint could recall they had never met.
The four of them stared at each other in silence for about ten minutes before Glasses shifted awkwardly and Clint spoke. "So, who are you supposed to be?"
The man with glasses gawked in reply but managed to recover a few seconds later. "I'm sorry, I'm Dr. Bruce Banner, we – uh, were friends. You know, before – " He waved a hand and gestured over Clint's body. The man looked awkward and if Clint was reading him right – sad. "All this happened."
"A doctor?" Clint tensed and pushed his back flat against the headboard behind him. Doctors, in his experience, were bad news.
Dr. Banner took a step back after he saw Clint's reaction in an attempt to give him more space – it didn't really help. Clint still viewed him with distrust. Silently the doctor glanced at his companions with a lost expression. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable." He shook his head awkwardly and looked to his friends for help.
"Bruce, just tell us what you planed to say," Natasha offered the man a ghost of a smile. It seemed encouraging.
Clint watched the doctor nod hesitantly as he turned back to face him. "We took a scan of your head when we brought you here. We have old records of your brain before." He turned and moved to the wall and snapped two dark films on a backlit board.
"That's my brain?" Clint asked curiously, looking at the black and gray image of skull and tissue. It was fascinating – it also could be someone else.
"Yes." The doctor nodded and pointed to the first image. "This one was taken a month ago to clear you for field work after you recovered from a concussion, it shows no damage – it's how your brain is supposed to look."
Clint looked at the scan, but honestly had no idea how a brain should or should not look like. "O-kay." He drew out the word to make it clear that he didn't really understand, but he was humoring them.
"Right, this means nothing to you." Bruce sighed, but pointed to the second scan. "Anyway, the point is this spot here in the second scan is glowing – see?" The doctor pointed with a pen to a specific area that was lighter on one side than the other. "We believe, with the information that we have, that whatever Dr. Randle did to you 'woke up' this dormant part of your brain."
"It was," Clint started, but closed his mouth with a sharp click of his teeth. They watched him as he stared at the scan and collected his thoughts. "They told me I'd been in an accident. An explosion at the research place I worked at. I was exposed to some chemicals that altered my brain." He nodded. "If that's real – "
"It is." Mr. Stark interrupted.
Clint ignored him. "Then, well, I have no idea what the hell is going on anymore." His voice grew dark as he looked slowly at each of them. "All I know is I woke up there an empty slate. Last I remember is a guy threatening to make my life hell after I killed a woman who was trying to help me. Now I'm here and you guys are telling me something different."
"But you remembered us," Tony Stark interrupted – frustrated.
"Nothing is right. Nothing I've remembered or felt or done is right." Clint couldn't explain – they couldn't know how it felt. "I'm so confused." He admitted and dropped his head again. "They convinced me they were telling me the truth – but it hurt so bad. And then I missed. And now Reese is dead and this is all some sort of twisted test." He looked at Stark and sighed. "I'm probably on some weird drug – or dreaming. I don't know – but this isn't right. This isn't real."
"Clint, what can we do to prove to you that we're different – separate from them?" Dr. Banner asked softly. It sounded so much like he cared – but Clint had thought Reese had cared. Had she? Did he?
"I want to go outside." Clint said suddenly. It wouldn't really prove anything, but Clint had never seen the sky in person, just in his mind. Maybe if he could see it and it was the same as his dreams – maybe it would prove that his whole existence wasn't a big lie.
"Done." Tony nodded and glanced at Bruce who nodded.
Clint felt like he'd been slapped in the face – he hadn't expected to get his request. He had expected another excuse. 'You're still healing,' or 'you can't be around people just yet' – something along those lines. To top it off there was no pain, there hadn't been pain since he'd woken up in this place. At least not his 'lie detector' pain – he was plenty sore from Randle's beating.
Why? What was happening?
"Really?" Clint breathed, he was unsure about the whole situation but suddenly wanted to risk hope.
"It's a simple enough request," the billionaire said softly. "We could do more, just ask."
"You have a choice," Natasha chimed in carefully with compassion filled eyes. "The roof is closer, but if you want we can take you down to the ground floor if you'd like."
"Ground floor? Where are we?" Clint asked curiously. He had been so sure that they were keeping him underground.
Stark and the doctor exchanged looks before their eyes turned back to Clint. "We're at the tower." Tony Stark answered as Banner shifted nervously.
Clint looked back at them with a blank expression. "What tower?"
The three looked heartbroken at his question and it took a minute before they recovered. "The Avengers Tower," Stark answered again for the others. "We all live here. We're Avengers. You're one too."
A flash of a memory, an image from his dreams popped into his head as Stark spoke. Him standing on a roof with a bow in his hand and a quiver strapped to his back – the wind rushing around him.
Clint sighed and looked up at them in despair. "I want to believe you." He really did. When he thought that he was some kind of hero it felt right, but it was a lie. Reese and Randle proved it all to be a lie.
"Then believe us." Tony told him with a smile. "Let us take care of you for now. We'll help you remember and things will go back to normal."
That caught Clint's attention – Reese and Randle had been adamant that he would never remember his past again. They hadn't tried to help and they had discouraged believing in his dreams.
Clint wanted to believe Mr. Stark and his apparent teammates, but it was so hard to believe anything anymore.
"The roof," Clint whispered after a pause. He wasn't ready to willingly give in to anything – not yet. He couldn't allow himself to relax completely – there was too much unknown and uncertain.
"Okay." Tony nodded. They backed off to give Clint space as he got off the bed. He was grateful that they didn't crowd him – that they went out of their way to make him comfortable. It was so different than being with Reese and Randle – better, he decided, even if it was short lived.
The way to the roof was interesting for Clint. His eyes took in everything as they walked the halls. This place was lavishly decorated and open spaced. It was lived in and comfortable – not sterile and cold like the place he'd been before. Clint was realizing that there was more truth to be found here with these Avengers – more than he had ever found with Reese and Randle.
"Oh, Clint." Dr. Banner's voice made Clint jump slightly and turn to look at the man as they walked. Natasha and Bruce walked behind while Tony Stark led the way to the roof.
"Yes?" Clint tried to hide the pink flush that washed over his face. He had jumped at a simple voice and Dr. Banner was a soft-spoken man – not exactly a frightening monster.
"We also drew blood," Dr. Banner continued carefully. "You were given some heavy drugs – "
"You said you wanted to help me," Clint interrupted quickly as he stopped and turned to face the older man. "That you would give me anything I asked for? Well I don't want any more drugs. I don't care what they do or what they are for."
The doctor nodded slowly. "That's fine, we won't force you to do anything. I promise."
Clint nodded silently although he noted that Banner was hesitating again. "But?" Clint pushed. So far this reality had proven to be a complete contrast to the one he'd first woken up in – this might be the moment he was proven wrong. Randle had forced the drugs onto him with threats – would Banner do something similar?
"I'm just worried about the withdrawals, but we'll help you through this – however you want to go about it." Banner vowed with a shaky smile. Clint sensed it was worry and concern – but he wasn't completely sure what the man was worried about. Maybe that Clint wasn't cooperating or maybe he was truly concerned for Clint's wellbeing. Whatever the case Clint refused to take any drugs.
They started to walk again and ended up in an elevator. Clint knew what it was and what it did but had never been in one before. Reese and Randle had used the stairwells to take him to the room where he had tried his hand with a bow – and failed miserably. He stood inside the lift and glanced around after the doors slid closed wearily. Clint jumped when the cart started to rise with a light pull.
"That's normal." Natasha offered as the boys stared in surprise at Clint's slightly panicked reaction.
"Sorry, I've just – never done this before." He tried to explain. They gave him pained expressions of worry in return, which only made his heart twist. "I mean – not that I remember." He shrugged and pointedly looked away.
The cart slowed to a stop and a bell dinged as the silver doors slid open.
"It's just up a few steps now." Tony directed, motioning Clint to go up the short flight of stairs first.
Clint hesitated and glanced up the stairs before he looked back at the Avengers. He saw that Natasha's face was carefully blank even though her eyes gave away her concern and hope. He saw that Tony Stark was filled with barely contained energy and a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Dr. Banner shifted awkwardly and looked worried and lost. There was no pity and Clint was grateful for that. They looked like friends.
With a slow nod Clint moved up the stairs, but stopped at the top just outside the door. With a deep breath Clint glanced back at the others who nodded their encouragement and Clint opened the door.
He had to squint his eyes as the sunlight hit his sensitive retinas. It took Clint a few tries to be able to open his eyes but when he finally could he gasped.
The others stayed back and for that Clint was grateful as he moved forward and further onto the roof. The sun was low in the brightly colored sky. The clouds were white but painted with purples, pinks and oranges. It was breathtaking.
Clint felt like crying when he felt the wind on his face for the first time. Natural wind created by something other than a passing person. This was real. This was life outside of a cage.
A rebellious tear escaped the corner of Clint's watchful eyes – it slipped down the side of his pale face as he watched the sun set in silence. For a moment he forgot the others were there with him and that his nightmare was far from over. For the moment Clint allowed himself time to breathe and hope that things would be okay now. Carefully he turned back and looked at the faces staring back at him and nodded.
Maybe he could do this. Maybe this was real.
And then again, maybe it wasn't.
Until next time my lovely readers! Feel free to bug me if I take forever! ( no death threats, they are creepy. ) I like to chat so feel free to send me a PM! ^^
Reviews and Reviewers are always loved ^^