Fatigue – Ch. 6

Chapter 6

The last week had been weird even by Shield standards. Phil followed Clint and Pepper into work on Monday and quickly slotted himself into the office with barely a ripple. For now he was working as a researcher for the team, coordinating missions with the other security team members, and showing them how a real Shield Handler worked high level missions.

Clint let him do what he wanted, Pepper had already announced that he was there to assist him and that he had the same authority as Clint so most of the staff was at least willing to try what he asked them to do. For the most part he approved of how Clint had been handling things, only adding small details to the different security details and trips for Pepper that were coming up. Clint wasn’t sure what to do with his dead boyfriend/boss coming back to life and suddenly living with him frankly so he was letting things go as they would for now.

They went to work, went to meetings, had lunch in his office or at one of the breakrooms scattered about the building, before returning to the tower and having dinner with maybe a book or movie before bed. They were still sleeping in separate rooms and beyond a few chaste kisses from Phil they weren’t even touching often. They were more roommates then boyfriends at this point and Clint wasn’t sure if he wanted to poke at that or not.

So far Phil had been all but setting himself up to take over Clint’s head of security position as needed. It made sense but he wasn’t sure how he felt about handing over his current job to his former boss even if he was over qualified to do the work.  Of the two of them Phil was definitely the most mobile right now and would be able to work remotely from the tower if Clint needed him there for some reason. It made sense but Clint felt like it was just one more thing showing how much his health was costing him, which all stemmed from Loki.

They’d both lost a lot to Loki. It was a fact Clint couldn’t deny. He’d heard Phil having his own nightmares on the nights he couldn’t sleep and knew at least a few of them had to be from the scepter and whatever was done to bring him back. He’d agreed to allow Dr. Banner to run some tests and while most of the test came back normal a few were wildly off, the abnormal DNA in his spinal fluid and blood for one.

So far Fury was remaining silent on what they’d done exactly to Phil to heal his injuries but it clearly wasn’t anything conventional. Phil continued to try and fight the memory conditioning and said he was starting to remember small things in his dreams but didn’t say more. Clint left him to it; he’d talk when he was ready if he wanted Clint to know. Right now Clint had enough on his plate without trying to cure his former lover as well.

Natasha had commandeered Steve and they were working whatever mission Fury originally wanted the team on before the big reveal went to pot. For now both Phil and Clint were on sabbatical from Shield with Clint still technically on medical suspension with pay. Clint was pretty sure he could have forced the retirement if he really wanted to but he knew they might need a favor from Fury at some point given how things were going.

***

Phil staggered into the wall reaching out instinctively to brace the security guard he was talking with. The fire alarms began blaring and he started pushing people towards the exits. His phone went off as he handed off a limping woman who’d twisted her ankle to another man going down.

“How large was the explosion?” Phil asked as the line connected.

“We have damage on five floors above and below research level eight.” Jarvis said, “I need your assistance at Master Barton’s office, his assistant is not responding and the area is on fire. I cannot turn on the fire suppression until she is removed.”

“On my way, what caused it?”

“It appears to have been caused by one of the research projects but I do not have access to the footage currently.”

“As long as it wasn’t that glowing algae that Clint’s been ranting about, he normally has good instincts about things that blow up.”

“I cannot confirm or deny that as this moment.”

“Damn,” Phil muttered making it to the main security floor by the emergency stairs.

Smoke filled the floor limiting visibility along the remaining walls but the side of the building was open like something had sheared off the last wall and its windows sucking the smoke out as fast as it could be produced and fanning the flames. It took a minute to find Nancy unconscious near the door and start dragging her to the stairs.

“Jarvis is there anyone else?” Phil asked trying to see through the thick smoke.

“Master Barton is in his office however Sir is on the way.”

“In his office?” Phil repeated before glancing back at the closed door of the stairwell and yelling to the next person rushing down, “Hey! Can you take her down? I have to get someone else!”

“Sir is on his way, Agent Coulson, and Master Barton is not in significant danger.”

“Clint’s always in danger, it’s his middle name.” Phil said flatly pressing his handkerchief around his mouth and nose before ducking back into the rubble strewn hallway. 

Clint’s office had been on the other side of the building, right above the research departments. Now his office was a crater full of smoke and falling pieces of rubble. Phil scanned the deep pit that was several floors deep seeming to end in one of the lower research labs. 

“Where is he?” Phil snapped trying to see through the smoke and getting a lungful instead leaving him hacking.

“He is safe on the far wall, Agent Coulson. I must advise that you move to a safer location.” Finally Phil saw the limp form of his partner sprawled on his side at the edge of the drop off.

“That is not safe, Jarvis. How long will it take Stark to get here?” He snarled trying to find a way to get to Clint but there wasn’t any way, the entire floor was gone except for the thin line along where Clint was laying. 

“Sir is on his way; I’ve rerouted him to collect Master Barton first.”

“Good.” Phil muttered watching as Clint started to move, “Clint, stay still!”

He didn’t seem to hear him and Phil watched helplessly as he felt about the thin ledge he was on before tugging out his phone and settling back against the rubble under him. Phil watched waiting, coughing in the swirling smoke as Ironman moved in with a scream of repulsors and gathered up Clint in his arms. It was only then that he got his legs to unlock and started conferring with the rest of the security detail to help with crowd control.

***

Clint blinked watering eyes dazzled by the harsh light, groaning as he patted along his chest and side to make sure his weapons were secure. Whatever had caused the blast could still be an issue. Where were his guns? His ears hurt, the utter lack of sound meant his aides were lost or fried leaving him mostly deaf.

His head and body rang with the blow that must have thrown him into the wall he was resting against yet all he could see was billowing smoke and falling bits of concrete and debris. He felt along the edge for the drop off near him, where the hell was his gloves? He never went on a mission without his gloves if he could help it.

Things clicked back into place when he recognized the sky line outside of the building, one of the main offices in town for Stark Industries. He was in his office, or what was left of it. Glancing over the edge he cursed patting at his pockets for his phone which started buzzing against his side.

“Please tell me this wasn’t caused by the fucking glowing algae?” Clint muttered once he got the connection open, looking over the edge down into what looked like the wreckage of the research floors. “Jarvis, my aids are fried. I can’t hear anything and where I’m at isn’t stable. I’m not moving if I don’t have to. Ask Stark to get his ass in gear.”

The screen scrolled with words, Jarvis telling him to stay in place. Stark was on the way and Agent Coulson was safe and helping escort everyone out of the building. Clint huffed and laid his head back against the rubble under him. He didn’t have anything on him that would work as rope and he didn’t trust his body so he was stuck until Stark got there.

He caught the whine of the repulsors just before the Ironman armor came to a hover next to his ledge.  Stark was probably saying something but Clint ignored him, pulling himself up with the offered arm and letting the armored arm pluck him up for a quick dizzying ride to the waiting medics below. He was deposited on a stretcher before Stark jetted off to help the next person.

The next few hours were the most frustrating of his life outside of Shield. No one seemed to realize he was deaf and he wrote note after note on his charts, snatching pens from the doctors, ignoring their outraged expressions. He was given an oxygen mask, stripped to the waist, and left with an IV running while they worked on those in worse shape.

“I’m deaf, I can’t hear you.” Was said to everyone who approached him but his enunciation must be breaking down since few seemed to understand.

Hours later he was finally released to go home. His hearing aids had fried in the explosion and he had them in one pocket for Tony to look at later. He was pulling on his ruined dress shirt when someone stepped into his peripheral vision near the door.

“Ready to go home?” Phil asked in ASL, fingers moving slowly showing how tired he was.

“All okay?” Clint signed back once he had his jacket on.

Phil handed him a sheet of paper as he gathered up his own jacket and bag, leading the way out of the crowded hospital. The paper listed out most of his questions, everyone on their staff was okay with only smoke inhalation for the people on the five floors affected and two people with broken limbs. The only serious injuries were in the main lab where the blast originated, most of the scientists thankfully had been in morning meetings and not at their labs when the explosion went off.

Clint tugged Phil to a stop before the car and gestured to the paper and him. Where was he in all this? Phil looked at him with a frown before signing out that he’d started helping until he found out Clint was in danger. He signed that he’d stayed until Ironman moved him before staying to help with the rest of the emergency was being dealt with before heading out to pick up Clint when Jarvis said he was being discharged.

“Do we need to go in?” Clint asked out loud trying to watch his pronunciation but Phil shook his head leading him to the car and waiting for him to get in.

“Home.” Phil signed before starting the car and pulling out once Clint was buckled in.

Home, Clint thought absently. Was that the tower now? Before this last year he’d have said home was Shield, or even maybe Phil. Now he didn’t know. Shield wasn’t home any longer and nothing felt the same between them now that they were back after a year separation. Were they even still together since technically Phil had died even if it was a temporary thing for him?

  He was exhausted, covered in bruises and glass cuts. Tomorrow was going to hurt no matter how his body decided to take the new injuries on top of everything else.  He was already stiffening up but the new medications were at least keeping the extreme tenderness from flaring up most mornings so far. Today had been a good day so most of the pain was from the explosion and not whatever his disease was doing.

He shuffled into the bathroom to shower and change for bed while Phil puttered about. He came out to Phil laying out take out and his spare hearing aids waiting at his place. He signed thank you with a small grin, taking his seat.

“I didn’t see any batteries in the case.” Phil said once he’s slipped them in and tested them with a quick finger snap, “Do you need me to pick some up?”

“Yeah, my spares were in my briefcase which is probably in five hundred pieces.” Clint said with a snort, “Thank you for dinner.”

“I kind of doubted anyone in the tower is going to be up to cooking tonight.” Phil said with an answering tired smile.

They ate mostly in silence before retiring to the couch with some random movie playing. All that Clint cared is that it was explosion free and something he could watch without his hearing aids in. He curled on his side of the couch but after Phil had glanced at him for the eighth time in thirty minutes he dropped his head to the other man’s lap and curled under a blanket. 

“Okay?” Clint asked his muscles already deciding they liked lying down and a massive yawn leaving him blinking blurrily at the TV.

Phil gave him an okay sign where he could see it and started to lightly stroke one hand through his hair. It was surprisingly nice. Clint drifted there not really asleep, just enjoying the warmth and touches until Phil shook his shoulder lightly sometime later.

“Bed,” Phil signed, offering a hand as he stood that Clint accepted with a grimace as he stiffly untangled himself from the blanket.

“Stay?” Clint asked rubbing at one ear, watching as Phil hesitated in the hallway.

“You sure?” Phil asked signing along with the words.

“Please, I didn’t like not knowing where you were with everything today.” Clint muttered with a sigh, going into his room and pulling down the covers.

They went to sleep with a foot of bed between them but when Clint woke hours later they were spooned against each other, Phil’s chest a firm line of warmth against his back. The next few days were hectic as they repaired the tower and dealt with the media firestorm it generated. Phil stayed in Clint’s bedroom and so far things seemed to be working out.

There were bad days and good days, days where Clint huddled in bed and let Phil deal with things while the medications knocked him out. Thankfully, the good days or at least the okay days seemed to be increasing. They could kiss and curl together on the couch watching movies when Tony or his employees weren’t blowing things up. It was enough Clint thought with a sigh, leaning back against the warm line of Phil’s chest as he pressed a kiss behind one ear of his ears spelling “I love you.” along Clint’s skin.

Advertisements

Fatigue – Ch. 5

Chapter 5

The next morning Clint shivered lightly only to frown at the fuzzy material lying against his side. A dark purple and white Sherpa blanket lay next to him looking like it had been tossed there in the night. The scent of bacon and something cooking made his stomach rumble leaving him blinking in surprise; he wasn’t normally hungry in the mornings. Tugging the blanket over his body he couldn’t stop the small sigh that slipped out as the material quickly warmed and he felt his muscles start to unknot at the steady warmth.

With a groan he forced himself up to sit at the head of the bed. He checked his phone and noted several missed calls and messages from Shield that he ignored for now. If Phil was still here and cooking then he needed to get himself together, they needed to talk. He checked his hearing aids were charged before slipping them in, they both knew enough sign to get through most conversations but he wanted to be able to hear Phil’s voice.

“Jarvis?” Clint asked forcing himself to leave the warm bed and start getting dressed.

“How may I help you, Master Barton?”

“Is there any way you can change that to Clint when I’m in my rooms? I understand it when I’m out and about but not here.”

“Very well, Clint, I shall attempt to do so while you are on your floor.”

“Thank you.” Clint said with a groan forcing his aching feet into his boots and fighting with the laces, “Do you know what Phil has planned today?”

“I do not, however he has been researching your possible diagnoses to see if there are things he can assist with.”

“Of course he has.” Clint said with a huff picking up his hat and gloves since he wasn’t sure if they might go out or not.

Phil was in the kitchen and pulled a plate out of the oven as Clint made his way to the bar, taking a seat. The plate was his old favorites, toast with peanut butter, scrambled eggs with too much cheese, and bacon on the side. Phil had made this for him whenever he was coming off of a bad mission for years, it felt surreal to be doing this now.

“Thank you for the blanket.” Clint said stiffly watching as Phil dished up his own plate and took the seat on the end, with one seat between them. “You didn’t have to make me breakfast.”

“It wasn’t any trouble.” Phil said with a shrug, sipping at his coffee, “Do you have any plans today? I was hoping we could talk at some point?”

“Nothing planned,” Clint said with a shrug, “I have a few errands to run and need to talk to Pepper later, I can probably do that on Monday if she lets me have the weekend.”

“Pepper wants to talk to me later this morning.” Phil said turning to his plate and forking up some eggs, “I’ll mention that you want to talk on Monday if you like?”

“Sure.” Clint said with a shrug of his own. “What did you want to do today besides talk?”

“Well, it depends on the talk.” Phil said looking uncomfortable, “I was hoping I’d be able to stay here at the tower for a while if that’s okay. If you want your space I can talk to Pepper about using one of the guest rooms.”

“You want to stay here, with me?” Clint asked blinking as he set his toast down, “Are you sure?”

“I lost you for over a year, Clint. I’d like to at least be available if you need me as a friend until we decide how things are going to be with us.”

“Right,” Clint said with a nod, pushing his plate away, “You lost me.”

“Clint,”

“No, you wanted to talk about this.” Clint said standing and moving to lean against the wall arms crossed over his chest, “You lost me for a year, is that what you really think’s going on?”

“Fury did something when I was healed; I’m starting to think he messed with my memories. I’m having issues doing things, it took me weeks to remember how to strip and load a gun cleanly. My range scores are the worst I’ve even had, if they forced me to recertify right now I wouldn’t pass the physical.” Phil said eyes on his plate before he stood and started cleaning up, dumping both their meals. “We both have issues right now, Clint. We’re going to need time to untangle everything.”

“Yeah, Loki and Shield fucked us both over.” Clint said with a bitter laugh, “You forgot me for a year and I mourned you for one. Not sure that’s even, Phil.”

“Clint,”

“No, I need to say this.” Clint said rubbing at his face, “I’m not sure you want to do this. I’m useless right now, I’m barely making it through the day most of the time and on the bad days I’m worse than useless, I’m helpless. I can’t be in a relationship right now, not and have the other guy expect anything.”

“I never wanted to break up with you, Clint. I considered us together for better or worse no matter what even if we were never married officially. With our jobs I figured one of us would eventually get hurt enough to have to step down. I planned to be there no matter what happened, I don’t intend to change that now.”

“Even if it can’t be a normal relationship?” Clint pressed needing to make sure Phil understood.

“Caring for your partner and loving them no matter the circumstance is what I consider a normal relationship. I want to stay here and help, Clint.”

“Even if you can’t even hold me on the bad days?” Clint forced out, “I can barely stand to be touched some days, everything hurts.”

“We all have days we don’t want to be touched. We’ll figure it out.”

“You really want to stay and try to live together again?”

“Yes.” Phil said with a sad smile, “I was convinced you were too busy to see me, not that you ever stopped loving me.”

“I didn’t.” Clint said his voice breaking.

“Would it be okay if I hugged you now?”

“Not hard.” Clint muttered stepping forward and letting Phil’s arms wrap gently around him like he was a precious thing, how he’d missed this.

“Did you want to run your errands this morning or later when I’m done with Pepper?” Phil asked when they finally pulled apart.

“I guess now, it’s not a lot.” Clint said with a shrug reluctantly moving away to get his coat and phone. “Go meet with Pepper; I’ll catch you when we both get back.”

“Alright,” Phil said with a frown clearly not liking the fact that he was leaving Clint alone.

“I’m not going to collapse the second I’m out of your sight.” Clint snapped in frustration, “This isn’t like if I was injured on a mission.”

“Sorry,” Phil said seriously pressing quick kiss to his cheek before pulling on his own coat and moving to the elevator, “It’s just habit at this point. I’ll work on it.”

“Do you need me to pick anything up?” Clint asked awkwardly shifting as he shrugged into his jacket and hat.

“No, I’ll clean out my office on base and see you for dinner at the latest.”

“Clean out your office?” Clint asked freezing as he was pulling on his gloves.

“I asked for a year sabbatical. If they don’t accept it they will have to accept my retirement.” Phil said meeting Clint’s eyes with a tired smile, “They messed with my memories, Clint. Fury’s going to have to explain things in detail before I ever consider going back at this point.”

“Do you want me to see if Tony might be willing to look into that? He invented some crazy scanner to prove that my brain was free of Loki’s magical energy, he could probably figure out how to find tampered memories.”

“I’ll ask Pepper the best way to bring it up.” Phil said with a sigh. “Part of its conditioning. Ask me about Tahiti.”

“What about Tahiti?” Clint asked slowly watching a Phil struggled not to respond.

“It’s a magical place.” Phil said reflectively, wincing once the words forced their way out.

“So Tahiti is what exactly?”

“It’s where I supposedly spent several months recovering however I can’t find anything about the rehab and time on the beach in any records even if I do remember it like it happened and whenever someone asks about it I’m compelled to say that.”

“Reinforcing the mind wipe?”

“That’s my guess.” Phil said rubbing a hand across his face, “I have no idea what they did to heal me but it took at least a few weeks and I still had additional rehab once I was back on base. They don’t want me to remember something and somehow they reinforced that I wasn’t supposed to try to contact you. I think that was the conversations with Fury, he repeated the same phrases each time and I didn’t think much of it.”

“I’ll get with Natasha and see if she has any outside contacts we might be able to use.” Clint said with a frown, “She’s probably out of Shield as well.”

“We might be able to do more with an independent team if we have the background support.” Phil said with a shrug, “We can talk about it later with the entire team. We’ll need to feel out Captain Rogers and Dr. Banner as well.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be up to more avenging.” Clint said with a snort following Phil into the elevator.

“You were always amazing at helping plan the battles. We could set you up with the com lines and video so you can call changes as needed.”

“Maybe,” Clint muttered with a frown settling into one corner of the elevator.

Phil thankfully left him alone to think. He’d just quit both of his jobs because he was pretty sure if he got much worse he’d be stuck at the tower indefinitely and now Phil was here offering him a job he could do without having to leave the tower. They parted in the lobby and Clint caught a cab into the city to get some shopping done even if he would be exhausted later.

He knew he was relying on Jarvis for way too much so he at least tried to do a few things for himself, no matter the later cost. Today was picking up random things from a market and getting new pajamas since Phil was going to be seeing him in the mornings. He’d have to try sleeping in clothes again even if the waistbands made his hips ache.

The rest of the weekend passed slowly with Clint and Phil dancing around each other unsure of what they should be doing. They spent his allotted hour at the range on Sunday and Clint did wince at how bad the ex-ranger’s aim had gotten, he wouldn’t trust him with less than a shotgun or an icer until he got it back in line. Phil watched Clint go through his practice and then collapse for the evening without comment at least. It sounded like Pepper had torn him a new one both for hurting her and for hurting Clint since she now knew exactly who’d he’d been grieving over for the last year.

Fatigue – Ch. 4

Chapter 4

Clint gave himself three days to recover before he forced himself to get up and check in with his team at Stark Industries. The men and women he’d brought in were a mix of retired soldiers or various agency cast offs that were used to the demands a high profile workplace could put on them. They’d stepped up and covered his position seamlessly and he wrote up notes to add to their files later to commend them for anticipating the need of covering for every position. 

He’d had basic coverage arranged for when he traveled to the different facilities or the few times he’d traveled with Pepper but those had dried up quickly as his health continued to decline. Not even Pepper had flat out confronted him when he’d barely managed his job after a miserable trip to Greenland but he’d found his meetings out of the country quietly rescheduled before he’d even recovered enough to do it himself.

Now they’d stepped up again and he couldn’t fault them. For all they knew he had terminal cancer and Pepper was letting him work out his last days, he thought with a snort. He might have to consider stepping down if thing continued to backslid. He scheduled a meeting that afternoon with a sigh ignoring the waiting messages on his Stark Pad as the car pulled closer to the office; it looked like most of the department had tried to contact him at least once while he was laid up. He waived away Nancy when she went to get up and locked himself in the office once he arrived.

“Jarvis?”

“Yes, Agent Barton?” Jarvis asked bringing the lights up and turning on the computer as Clint shed his coat.

“Would you say that the security teams could function without me?” Clint asked not bothering to soften the question.

“While they would still need occasional guidance, I believe they have shown they can operate at an optimal level without constant review.” Jarvis said cautiously.

“Yeah, I thought so too.” Clint said with a nod, “I’m sending my resignation to Shield and will offer Pepper the same if she wants it. I’m afraid I’m going to start making mistakes or putting her in danger if I stay on as her bodyguard.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Agent Barton.”

“Thank you, Jarvis.” Clint said with a sigh, “I’ll make the announcement to the teams this afternoon. Shield’s already written me off so I don’t expect much backlash from them at least.”

“Might I offer a slight variation on your plans?” Jarvis offered tentatively starting to rearrange Clint’s schedule while he unloaded his messenger bag.

“What are you thinking?”

“While you may believe you’re no longer fit to serve as Ms. Potts bodyguard, you are perfectly suitable to continue as the head of her security team, a position you’ve already been managing for the last six months if not longer.”

“Maybe, however a security head needs to be at the office.” Clint said with a snort, “Lately I’m barely dragging myself in. I have to be realistic, Jarvis, I’ve been steadily declining for the last year. What if it keeps getting worse? I’ve got to prepare for that.”

“Dr. Utahan wished to speak with you at your earliest convenience. Would you like me to schedule an appointment for this afternoon?”

“Why not,” Clint said with a bitter laugh, “Make it after the meeting with everyone here. I’ll head out to the hospital after we get everyone calmed down.” 

The rest of the day he spent on paperwork making sure whoever replaced him would be up to speed on every aspect of his position. He cleaned out his desk and tossed the small box of protein bars and smoothie mix from his stash in the kitchen. The staff was eying him uncertainly but he didn’t bother trying to sooth any of them, they’d find out the same time as everyone else. By the afternoon meeting the office was in an uproar, the fussing and chatting only falling silent when he entered the conference room.

“Thank you for coming everyone.” Clint said giving the room a tired smile, “This should be a short meeting, I just have a few announcements I wanted to tell everyone at the same time so no rumors would be running wild.”

“As you’ve probably realized I’ve been sick recently, the fact is that they don’t know what’s causing it yet. As of today I’m resigning my position with Shield and will be offering the same to Stark Industries.” He waved away the rush of comments and shock continuing once the room fell silent, “The fact is that I don’t trust myself to keep Ms. Potts safe as her bodyguard, some of you are going to have to step up and take over that responsibility. Talk amongst yourselves and tell Nancy if it’s something you’d like added to your schedule.”

“When will your last day be, Barton?” Nancy asked meeting his eyes firmly.

“When I can find a replacement;” Clint said flatly glancing over everyone gathered, “It’s been an honor working with all of you. You’ve exceeded my expectations in every way and I hope you continue to do your duty with the diligence and honor I’ve seen in the last year.”

With a nod he headed out ignoring the rush of conversation and the voices calling out for him to wait. He was already ducked into the tiny emergency elevator and headed to the garage by the time they reached the hall. He ignored the waiting lines of cars and caught a cab outside the building to the hospital. The ride was short and he’d barely relaxed before he tossed some money to the cabbie and forced himself out of the car.

He’d never liked Doctors or hospitals thanks to his abusive childhood. Doctors meant questions he couldn’t answer unless he wanted an even worse beating when he got home. At Shield they just wanted the agents at their top physical condition so they were the best they could be; the crippled agents went to desk duty and eventually disappeared with only the line of gold eagles on the wall in the main offices to note their passing from the halls. Now, no one cared what he told the doctors or even if he went but it still was hard to force his feet down the stark white hallways filled with that antiseptic scent that never quite left Hospitals.

“Thanks for coming in.” Dr. Utahan said with a grin gesturing him to a chair. “I’ve been looking over your last results and I’d like to try a new drug regimen with you.”

“Still no diagnosis?” Clint asked raising an eyebrow.

“Not definitive but excluding the unusual situation you found yourself in I believe I’ve narrowed it down to the most likely. If we ignore the situation then you had a major stressor happen, followed by several days of severe stress and effort that shocked your system. Since then you’ve had muscle aches and pains, flu like symptoms, weight loss, migraine headaches and sensitivity to pressure, light, and sound. If we ignore the unusual cause of the stressors I’d say you have either Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia.”

“Currently there isn’t a definitive test to show CFS but we can test for Fibromyalgia, so far that’s coming up negative but there are a few more tests that can be run.”

“How do you treat that?”

“Much as we have been; muscle relaxers for the really bad days, massage, physical therapy if motor function or strength seems to be affected. Thankfully you seem to have no issues with balance or day to day activities so we can take physical therapy off the list for now.”

“Could that be an issue?”

“CFS can be progressive; it’s a disease that just starting to be studied in any real depth so there’s little research to lean on. Fibromyalgia is a little more well-known and while chronic tends to stay at certain levels once treatment starts with flair ups depending on stress and activity levels.”

“But you think it’s CFS.” Clint said taking the papers the doctor handed him, pamphlets on the two diseases.

“That would be my best guess, honestly.” Dr. Utahan said handing over several scripts as well, “Try these for a month. If there’s no improvement we’ll start testing again.”

“Alright,” Clint said with a nod, standing and shaking the man’s hand, “Thanks, Doc.”

He should have been surprised but he almost was expecting it. Lola sat on the curb with Phil waiting leaning against the passenger door like he hadn’t once threatened Clint with castration for doing the exact same thing. He was tempted to keep walking but frankly he’d used up the last of his energy and fucks for the day.

“Phil,” He said coming to a stop a few feet away gripping his handful of papers tighter as the breeze kicked up.

“Clint, I hope you don’t mind. Pepper mentioned that you might need a ride.” Phil said opening the door and glancing at him with a hopeful expression.

“I need to stop by a pharmacy.” Clint said climbing in with a sigh and letting Phil close the door.

“Let me take you to the tower, I’ll run them out and get them filled for you.” Phil said once he was in and starting the car.

“Whatever,” Clint said watching as Phil raised the roof back into place, “Do what you want.”

He set the prescriptions between them on the dash and Phil stuffed them in a pocket so they wouldn’t slide about. He read over the pamphlets while Phil drove trying to force his brain to work, he was too damn tired to deal with this right now. The car hit a pothole and he couldn’t stop the whined gasp as he entire body flinched. Phil cursed as he slowed and tried to avoid any more bad spots but the damage was done.

Clint counted his breathes and leaned back, closing his eyes and trying to force his muscles to unclench. Phil muttered an apology but Clint had no energy left to talk, he curled in on himself hugging his ribs ignoring the motion of the car the best he could. He had no idea how long the drive was actually but it seemed to go on forever before the car finally shut off and Clint forced himself to sit up, clutching his messenger bag to his chest as he fought with the seatbelt.

Phil opened his door and Clint looked at him for a long moment before slowly climbing out hissing as his joints and muscles protested the change in position. It was getting increasing hard to concentrate on what he was doing, a fog taking over his mind as he shuffled to the elevator. Phil watched him with concern looking like he wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. They got to his floor and Clint shoved the bag into a chair pausing when he realized that Phil had followed him in. What did he need again? Right the prescriptions, Phil had said he would get them, what had he done with his papers?

“I put your pamphlets on the kitchen counter.” Phil said uncertainly hovering to one side with a frown marring his normal smiling face, “I’ll take your prescriptions to the pharmacy but I’d like to come back if that’s okay?”

“I don’t want to sleep with you.” Clint said struggling out of his coat and the sweater underneath, just the thought of someone holding him made him flinch; sex was out of the scope of reality right now.

“I was thinking I could stay in the spare bedroom,” Phil said with a wince, “I just don’t want to leave you alone tonight. I think you need someone here in case something happens.”

“I’m fine.” Clint says tiredly shuffling into the bedroom and tossing his things to one side, “Stay if you want but I’m going to bed.”  

“Alright,” Phil said watching Clint from the door way.

“Jarvis, help Phil if he needs anything.” Clint muttered moving into the bathroom to at least brush his teeth before he collapsed.

He heard Phil talking to Jarvis before he pulled his hearing aids out silencing the world, Phil would do what he thought he needed to no matter what Clint did. They’d done this for years, Clint would trudge along his path while Phil flitted about trying to prevent disasters that might or might not happen. He’d stay the night because Clint might need him, even if he had been missing for the last year.

Clint changed and went to bed not bothering to see what Phil was up to. He took his pills meant to help him sleep and curled under his light blanket. He’d have to talk to Phil in the morning but for now he couldn’t think anymore.

***

“Jarvis?”

“How can I help you Agent Coulson?”

“In our apartment Clint had a blanket he loved, Sherpa wool on one side, velvet material on the other. Can you ordering him something similar? His was purple but any color would be fine.” Phil said sliding off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves with a frown.

“Is this what you are thinking?” Jarvis asked projecting a website that was selling exactly what he was talking about.

“Yes, can you order one and have it shipped? I can pay for it but it’s a light blanket that shouldn’t put too much weight or pressure on him while still being very warm. Clint loved the one I got for him years ago.” Phil said with a sigh looking over the prescriptions and Clint’s paperwork, that blanket has been destroyed in the battle along with their apartment.

“I shall place the order. If you wish I can call Master Barton’s prescriptions in for you and have them delivered?”

“Thank you, Jarvis.” Phil said putting the papers down where Jarvis could scan them, “Is there a computer I can use to do some research?”

“There is a laptop in the living room that Master Barton rarely uses.”

“Why are you calling Clint, Master Barton, exactly? He rarely liked being called Mr. Barton; I doubt the Master will go over well.” Phil asked booting up the laptop and settling on the couch to do some research, typing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into the search engine and starting to sort through the results.

“He requested that I no longer refer to him as Agent given his retirement from Shield this morning.”

“He retired from Shield?” Phil repeated fumbling for his phone and checking his messages, no one had contacted him to let him know that fact.

“I assisted him in submitting the necessary paperwork and it was sent to Assistant Director Hill as she has been his contact at Shield recently. He also submitted a similar packet to Stark Industries however Ms. Potts wishes to talk to him next week before making any changes.”

“I wasn’t aware that he was retiring.” Phil said with a sigh putting his phone away and going back to his research. “He’s too young to retire easily, Clint never liked being idle.”

“I’ve been monitoring Master Barton’s finances and he could easily retire and live off his savings if he continued to stay in the tower as an employee of Stark Industries. Even if he only worked as a consultant he would be able to live modestly elsewhere in town if he wished.”

“That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t need something to do with his time.” Phil said with a sigh, thinking of his own reduced hours since his return. 

“Miss Potts is planning to offer him a position with a flexible schedule tomorrow when he arrives at Stark Industries. It would allow him to work for the tower as needed and continue his work with the security teams when he is well enough to go in.”

“Who’s been assisting him with the day to day things?” Phil asked trying to picture Clint working outside of Shield and finally pushing the image of a frail Clint in a dimly lit office out of his mind, “I know you said he’s not this bad on good days but he was barely able to string two words together by the time I got him back to the tower today.”

“You may wish to research ‘Fibro Fog’ or confusion associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Both diseases report issues with confusion or an inability to concentrate.”

“It’s part of his illness,” Phil muttered tapping at the computer and frowning at the handful of medical journal articles he was able to find.

“It generally manifests when he’s over extended himself in some capacity, that afternoon or the next day is often much worse because of the effort he expended.”

“Who is helping him?”

“Master Barton has refused assistance outside of my limited abilities.” 

“You are anything but limited, Jarvis.” Phil said with a snort, “I’m sure Clint would have been hospitalized at this point if he’d been on base. You’ve helped tremendously.”

“Thank you for saying so, Agent Coulson, however I’ve found myself rather helpless in how to improve my services to ease Master Barton’s pain.”

“That’s where I’ll come in, I think.” Phil said coming to a decision and shooting a message to Hill and Fury, copying Pepper on the email with a small smirk. She would make sure everything stayed legal at the very least.

“Miss Potts is aware of my… resurrection?” Phil asked tentatively hoping he didn’t have to wake the CEO up to explain his email.

“She was informed this afternoon when Sir returned to the tower.” Jarvis said stiffly, “She asked to arrange a meeting with you in the morning. I’ve added it to your schedule if you wish to check.”

“I’ll speak to her whenever she wants, Jarvis. I never intended to hurt anyone with this.” Phil said shoving off the couch and moving to pace by the windows, “Only a few people realized we were together, Jarvis. I’m sorry I had to lie to Pepper about who I was seeing but it was classified since anyone we were investigating or tracking might use the relationship against us in the field.”

“I understand, Agent Coulson, however Miss Potts may need that explained when you see her tomorrow.”

“I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of explanations needed tomorrow.” Phil said with a sigh, silencing his phone when it started to ring and turning it off. “Do me a favor and block any calls from Shield and Director Fury until tomorrow.”

Fatigue – Ch. 3

Chapter 3

Clint was half dressed the next morning when the lights flashed alerting him to a message scrolling along one wall; someone was requesting to be allowed up. Clint slipped on his big hearing aids and dressed quickly before heading to the door. The steel reinforcements were already retracting as the door opened letting Natasha in. She stopped, looking him over with an expression of shock frozen on her face before she got herself under control.

“Fury wants us on base. It’s urgent.” She said finally watching him tug on his gloves.

“Mission?” He asked turning back to open a weapons locker in the hall hidden behind a convenient painting that Jarvis dropped out of the way.

“No, you don’t need a gun.” She said making him turn back with a raised eyebrow. 

“I’m on medical suspension, Natasha.” Clint said with a huff resisting the urge to glare at her, “They can’t call me out unless the world is ending and for that I’d need a gun. What’s going on?”

“It’s just a meeting on the carrier but I insisted that you had to attend.”

“You know what it’s about?” Clint asked tucking a gun against the small of his back out of paranoia, if Natasha said he didn’t need it then he didn’t but there was no reason to call him in either.

“Yes, but you need to see if for yourself.” She said guiding him into the elevator and to the roof where a Quinjet was waiting, hovering to one side as he climbed on board.

“Who else?” Clint asked buckling in and ignoring the wide eyed look he got from the copilot who quickly locked up and moved to the front of the plane, he clearly hadn’t been told who they were picking up.

“Stark, Rogers, maybe Banner but I think he might still be in Brazil.” She said eyes watching as he tugged off the knit cap and leaned his head back against the bulkhead.

“Fury in on this?” He asked suppressing an exhausted sigh; he just didn’t have the energy to spare for Fury’s drama right now.

“What isn’t he in on?” Natasha said with a note of irritation finally breaking her careful tone. “How long?”

“I’ve been sick since Loki.” Clint says with a stiff shrug, “No one has any idea what it is or how to fix it.”

“Has medical,” She started before Clint overrode her.

“Medical tested me for everything before sending me on with a pat on the head. At this point Shield’s written me off.” He snapped wrapping his arms around his chest and trying not to openly wince as they hit small spots of turbulence. “Pepper’s got me seeing a new doctor, maybe he’ll find something.”

They watched each other in silence for the rest of the ride. Thankfully she made no move to help him as they landed and headed to one of the main conference rooms. You could hear the yelling through the closed door and Natasha paused before opening, looking at him with a pained look.

“I’m sorry.” She said simply before opening the door and heading in.

Tony and Steve were shouting at Fury to one side of the room with Hill looking on as Natasha shut the door behind them. He automatically scanned the room and heard someone gasp before he located the silhouette hidden in the shadows on the other wall. He knew that shadow, it had haunted his dreams often enough. Without a second thought he drew his gun silencing the room, he gave Fury a hard look before handing the weapon over to Natasha ignoring the gun Hill had drawn reflexively and how Steve had automatically moved to shield Tony.

“Why?” he asked his voice flat as he moved forward to see his ex-handler and lover watching him with a shocked expression, the only one in the room whose hand had never moved towards his weapon.

“I was told you were on a mission.” Phil said stepping forward yet hovering just out of reach uncertain of his welcome, “I had months of therapy to recover and everyone said you were working. Level seven and above knew I was still alive so you should have as well.”

“I was on medical leave, suspended, I have no access.” Clint said his voice still dead; he glanced over at Fury and gave a slow nod. He’d always known Nick would sell his own mother to save the planet, in the end Clint was just another body in the machine.

“Wait, what was Agent to you?” Tony asked with his normal lack of tact into the silence.

“Nothing,” Clint said flatly stepping back even as Phil reached out haltingly, “Apparently I was nothing to him, just someone to fuck on occasion. Enjoy not being dead, Phil.”

Phil made a broken sound behind him but Clint didn’t turn back to see the damage his comment had caused. It was taking every ounce of his energy to keep it together. He waited on the flight deck and eventually Steve and Tony came out. They took the same jet back to the tower but Clint ignored them, taking the stairs back to his rooms once they arrived even if he was gasping with exhaustion and hobbling in pain by the time he made it. 

“Lock down the floor, Jarvis.” Clint bit out, shakily peeling out of his jacket and shuffling to his bedroom.

“Agent Barton, both Ms. Potts and Sir have asked for me to ensure your comfort tonight. Is there anything you require?”

“Yeah, don’t let anyone bug me for a while. I’m probably going to have a couple bad days.” Clint said taking several pills and moving to turn on the shower, he needed the pain right now to keep him moving.

“As you wish, sir; I will only override your instructions should you require immediate medical assistance.” Jarvis said sounding resigned.

“Thank you, Jarvis.” Clint muttered stripping down, setting his hearing aids to the side, and easing himself under the water with a hiss.

He had no idea how long he sat in the shower whimpering as he cried. Phil had been alive the entire time Clint had grieved and forced himself through each pain filled day. He’d been healed and working for months considering he was wearing his second favorite suit with a new tie and the cufflinks Clint had given him three years ago for his birthday. He’d thought Clint knew he was alive and was willing to ignore him for over a year. He’d let Clint think he was dead for over a year, not bothering to even bend the rules to contact him.

He dragged himself out when Jarvis cut off the water and crawled the distance from the bath to the bed. It hurt but he got himself curled under the blankets waiting for sleep he doubted was coming. Natasha had known it would crush him but couldn’t deny him the truth, no matter what kind of shape he was in.

Maybe it hadn’t been as serious for Phil as it had been for Clint. They’d been together almost five years when Loki attacked, living and working together for longer than that if you counted the year they’d started out as fuck buddies. Had that been all it was? Was it sex without the love Clint had sworn he saw returned in Phil’s eyes?

***

“Jarvis?”

“How can I assist you, Agent Coulson?” Jarvis asked his tone cold.

“I need to know if Agent Barton is okay. I know seeing me today shocked him. I didn’t realize he’d been sick recently.” Phil said scrubbing a hand over his face and pushing the tablet with Clint’s Shield medical records away from him. “I just need to know that he’s okay.”

“While I cannot comment on his mental health, Agent Barton is in the same condition as he was this morning. He is not in serious medical distress or in need of immediate medical treatment.”

“But he is sick.” Phil said frowning at the notes he’d made, “They tested him for everything and don’t know what’s causing his symptoms. Is he seeing anyone outside of Shield? His file says he refused treatment several months ago and was put on permanent medical suspension until he returned and could pass the general intake physical.” 

“I am not at liberty to discuss Agent Barton’s medical records.” Jarvis said stiffly.

“I just need to make sure he’s okay, Jarvis. I thought he was sequestered on a mission, not suspended.” Phil said mentally kicking himself for going along with Fury so blindly, he’d said Clint was on an eyes only mission and Phil had never dug deeper trusting Fury’s updates every few months that the mission was still on going.

“I’ve been given leave to allow you access to the cameras on his floor however if you wish to contact Agent Barton you will have to wait until he grants access.”

“What do you mean grants access?” Phil asked watching as one screen of his computer changed to display Clint’s bedroom, he was curled naked on top of the covers, a blanket tossed off to one side like he’d kicked it away.

“Agent Barton has requested that all contact be refused and entrance to his floor be denied unless it is a medical emergency.”

“He’s refusing my calls.” Phil said with a small hysterical giggle, taking in the knobs of spine and ribs that were exposed to his voyeurism.

“He is refusing everyone’s calls, sir.” Jarvis said with a small reproachful sound.

“How did he get this bad? Surely people noticed.” Phil muttered not really expecting a response, Clint looked even worse than the ragged mercenary he’d recruited all those years ago.

“It was noticed however his Shield doctors continued to push him to continue as if he was an able bodied agent.”

“And Clint was never one to give in to anything without a fight.” Phil said with a sigh, “He’d fake a smile even when he was half dead if it meant he wasn’t seen as weak or pitied.”

“Shield appeared to give up on him after several months of treatment showed no progress so he strived to continue on as long as he could.” Jarvis said mildly, “I’ve endeavored to make his stay at the tower as comfortable as possible but he would accept few changes to his daily life.”

“Other people always come first to Clint.” Phil said with a frown. “He’s still working for Stark Industries?”

“Yes, since his hire the security of our buildings and factories has been completely reworked and we’ve seen an increase in morale and productivity in many of the areas now that most incidents are being caught well before they affect the general employees.”

“He’s very dedicated to any position he’s given.” Phil said with a nod, “He worked himself half to death the first few years after he joined convinced Shield was always a few steps away from tossing him away. It took years to realize that he had a home here.”

“It appears that his ‘home’ was denied him after the Battle of New York, Agent Coulson.” Jarvis said in a disapproving tone, “He was shunned openly by many agents when he had to interact with them on Stark properties and would only go to base for his appointments.”

“Clint had no control over what happened in the battle, he isn’t responsible for what Loki caused.” Phil said fiercely. 

“Few seem to agree with you and the others who might have protested the treatment he received, such as Agent Romanov, were sent away on long term missions or off to other bases.”

“Fury wanted him isolated for some reason.” Phil said with a groan, “What is that man trying to do now?”

“Was Directory Fury aware of your relationship?”

“If he wasn’t I’d be very surprised, we lived together even if our apartment here was destroyed in the attack. Our files listed us as living together and in a relationship; I made sure we were each other’s medical power of attorney considering how dangerous our jobs are. Clint should have been notified the second I was revived.”

“And yet you didn’t expect Clint to be at your side while you convalesced?” Jarvis asked his tone sharp. “Was he not a devoted partner?”

“No, Clint would have been there if he could have. I just thought Nick had talked him into an important mission; he was there to check up on me every few days so I thought he was notifying Clint of my progress. I should have known better, Clint would never have accepted a mission if I was that severely injured. I don’t understand it.”

“Could the Director done something to ensure your compliance?”

“I don’t know what he might have done but that I can at least find out.” Phil said taking a last glance at Clint’s frail back before standing and straightening his suit jacket. “Thank you, Jarvis.”

“You are most welcome, Agent Coulson. I will inform you once Agent Barton is up to visitors.”

“Good.” Phil said with a nod taking a deep breath and heading out, he had a Director to confront. 

Fatigue – Ch. 2

Chapter 2

The days and weeks piled up, turning into months. The first six months were a lot of fun as he broke into various buildings and drove his newly hired staff crazy trying to prevent his daily excursions. It was trial by fire for the men and women who weren’t used to preparing for someone with the training Clint had. He even forced himself to spar with them on his good days ignoring the resulting collapse the next day if it proved they needed to push themselves to improve. In the process they’d stopped three bombing attempts, six kidnappings, seven assaults, and hundreds of minor incidents that could ruin a CEO’s day.

It was over a year since Loki now and he wasn’t doing better. He hadn’t seen Natasha at all, they kept in contact by the occasional email when her missions were slow or she was at a European Shield base. Whatever weapons transport they’d stumbled on in Europe had exposed a nasty organization that she was tasked with infiltrating and recovering prototypes or plans as she could. She had several good agents for back up so Clint wasn’t worried even if he did wish he was there watching her back. It was probably for the best, he barely got an hour of practice in a day now and that sometimes got swept aside depending on how bad he was feeling.

The constant feeling of being sick with the flu hadn’t let up leaving him strung out and exhausted even after a light day of work. On the bad days he’d collapse into bed and be unable to keep solid food down while his brain tried to pound out of his skull. Jarvis had come up with a system for dealing with Clint’s bad days that at least took the edge off things. Clint wasn’t sure what would have happened if he’d still been living on base or off on his own. He’d have probably died before someone noticed he hadn’t been seen for a few weeks.

He crawled out of bed and took a lukewarm bath, having given up on showers given how even light pressure set his nerves jangling with pain on a bad day. It was a miracle he was moving at all after yesterday but he needed to check on Pepper and make sure the rest of his security team was covering the gaps. He dressed slowly sitting on the edge of his bed, and pulled on his coat, tucking the stocking cap and gloves in a pocket for later. He always seemed to be cold lately.

In the kitchen there was a glass of fruit smoothie in a travel mug and a travel mug of coffee. Jarvis left it to him which one he would drink. On bad days it was the smoothie, good days meant the coffee and a microwave breakfast sandwich. Today was a smoothie day. 

He gathered his bag and went back for his phone and tablet when Jarvis flashed a reminder at him when he started towards the elevator. Finally getting everything together he headed out, tugging on the fingerless gloves and hat on the way to the car. Carl, his normal driver who subbed for Happy most often took one look at the smoothie mug and was silent for the entire drive letting Clint steel himself for the rest of his day.

Striding into the office he checked in with Nancy Smites, the ex-staff sergeant who’d become Pepper’s new secretary and door guard. She ran the floor and its occupants like an army base and Clint couldn’t be happier. She filled him in as he shed his coat and gloves.

“Ms. Potts is taking the day off after the excitement of yesterday. Flowers have been sent to Mathew’s hospital room and he’s getting a hazard pay bonus from the company and his entire medical bill taken care of. The general security of the building had been doubled and everyone was being checked for weapons at the door before they were allowed in.”

“Make them check everyone; they waved me through without a word.” Clint said, emptying his bag and glancing at the monitor for how many messages and emails he had waiting, 102.

“I’ll alert the guards now.” She said with an approving nod, “Who do you want to pull up to partner Danvers?”

“Rolls should be able to step up if Danvers will give him a few pointers on how to handle the executives.” Clint said knowing the recently discharged marine was solid if unused to dealing with some of the demands the visiting CEO and rich entrepreneurs would make of anyone who looked like staff near them.

“Noted,” Nancy said with a grin, “The repairmen are already working on the foyer and garage damage. “Ms. Potts wanted to know if there were any security changes you wanted made included in the repairs?”

“I’ll email them to you.” Clint said with a sigh, “We also probably need to look at getting most of the employees to either sign a waiver acknowledging the danger working here might put them in or offer them a transfer to another building. Get someone in legal working on it.”

“Yes, sir;” She said with a nod before hesitating near the door, “Do we know how they got in, sir?”

“The idiots in the laundry department let a fake truck in and the mercs got the drop on them. They waited in the loading dock until someone on the street let them know that Ms. Potts was entering the lobby. We need to add a screening system of some kind to the delivery trucks since we missed this one.”

Clint and John Mathews had been guarding Pepper as she walked out of the elevator and into the lobby. He’d spotted the gun coming up and thrown a knife even as he shoved Pepper to Mathews. Mathews had shielded her until she was behind the counter, taking a bullet in one shoulder even as he shot two of the gun men. The other three had fallen to Clint’s knives. Two were still alive thanks to incapacitating wounds that weren’t fatal but three had died, one from Mathews shot to the chest and two from a knife to the throat or eye. 

Tony had descended in the suit and taken Pepper back to the tower since she hadn’t been injured while Clint made sure Mathews made it to the hospital with a guard in tow just in case. He dealt with the initial cleanup, police statements, and made sure a Shield agent was attached to the case. It was close to midnight before he finished with the legal and publicity teams so that the proper announcements went out and the local news wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. Sadly, anything with Stark in the title sold papers and the reporters would be hounding the tower even more for the next few weeks.

“Let me know if you need anything.” Nancy said giving him a sympathetic look, “I’ll try and keep the crazies out for a few hours.”

“Thanks, Nancy.” Clint said with a huff as she shut the door behind her, “Anything I need to know about Jarvis?”

“There is rather a lot of chatter back and forth from Shield. The messages are encrypted to a rather extreme level and I haven’t attempted to break the coding as of yet. It seems to only deal with the upper level agents.”

“I’ll call Hill later today and see if she’ll share.” Clint said with a sigh, his day was just kept getting worse.

Hill and most of the other Shield agents he saw on his trips to base treated him like a leaper. He’d went from being one of the most skilled and trusted agents in the agency to someone they wouldn’t trust enough to spit on in the dessert least it give him the strength to crawl for water. He still went to medical once a month to get scanned and poked but they’d thrown their hands up and were just running the same tests over and over again lately, none of the medications or treatments they’d tried had helped that he could tell.

No one knew why he felt like crap and struggled to even think some days. No one knew why his nerves were over stimulated and his body ached like he was dying of the flu. No one knew why he had nearly constant headaches and migraines that reduced him to a huddled mess. No one knew why and no one really cared at Shield if he wasted away, he wasn’t their problem anymore.

Pepper had offered to set up doctor’s appointments for a second opinion and he’d finally agreed. He’d been seeing Dr. Utahan for two months now and was waiting on the latest batch of test results. So far they’d ruled out Rheumatoid Arthritis, endocrine disorders, Lupus, and brain tumors, Clint thought with a snort.

He shivered for a moment and let the pain wrack his frame before forcing himself to stand up and tug on his gloves. He needed to make his rounds and check in with Research and Development. Just like at Shield if R&D didn’t see someone wandering through at least once a day they’d wander off on some insane tangent and start building ray guns. Coulson had been a firm believer of discrete review, as long as everyone got their work done they could slack off a bit but they needed the occasional reminder of what their work did or how it was used, which meant a once monthly show and tell, which was of course today.

By the end of the demonstration he’d flagged several of the developers and projects for further promotion and development. Some of the items had just been silly like the glowing algae that they were hoping to use to replace lighting but others could be applied to benefit the company. By the time he left the building he had a full blown migraine and was wearing his sun glasses. He’d bug Hill in the morning.

Carl took one look at him and took the short way home, driving as smoothly as he could, avoiding the pot holes where he was able. Clint sent a text to Jarvis that they should give the guy a bonus. By some miracle they made it to the tower and into the garage without having to mow down a reporter. Clint took the elevator to his floor, leaning against the cool metal with his eyes closed thankful for the reprieve.

Once he was inside he dimmed the lights and carefully scouted the rooms but nothing was amiss. He ordered Jarvis to lock down the floor and shivered as the emergency steel doors came down behind the glass with a thud. He tugged out his hearing aids and stripped, forcing his breathing to stay even, his iron control was starting to slip now that he was safe. 

Clint forced himself to take the pain medication by his bed with a sip of water before he climbed in. Only then did he let go, curling into a ball of misery as the pain overwhelmed him. Eventually the drugs knocked him out and he slept until the dose wore off. The rest of the night was spent in a daze, shivering in pain or drugged into unconsciousness.

Fatigue – Ch. 1

Chapter 1

Clint trudged behind the others on the way back to base. The battle was over, shawarma had been eaten, and he was beyond exhausted but he could fake competent until they found him a bed or a cell. He wasn’t sure which way Shield would go now that Loki was captured and the battle over; if it was him it would have been a cell. It would depend on Fury and Coulson when he got back, the WSC had to be baying for blood considering they’d been denied their victory with the nuke and Loki was being hustled off the planet as quickly as Shield could manage it.

Steve split off once they arrived, heading to find someone in command so he could start helping with cleanup while Natasha steered Clint towards medical. He didn’t complain; he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to stay on his feet once he stopped. He tried to ignore the moans of the injured as he was pushed at a bed in the corner near the isolation wards. 

“Sleep, Hawk.” Natasha said shoving a gun under the pillow. “I’ll deal with the idiots and get you a few hours before they start questioning you.”

“Does Fury know you’re back?” Dr. Jones asked shoving a dark lock of hair out of her eyes and scanning both of them with sharp eyes, “When’s the last time you ate, Barton?”

“I’m heading to Fury now.” Natasha said with a snort giving Clint a sharp look before she turned to leave, “He had shawarma about an hour ago.”

“What about before that?” The doctor asked already pulling out what she needed for an IV and a pile of other medical paraphernalia.

“I have no idea.” Clint said with a shrug fighting back a shiver, “We were working double and triple shifts at Pegasus and I don’t remember stopping to eat or sleep with Loki.”

“Alright, we’ll start with an IV and see how things look after you get a few hours’ sleep.” She said handing him a stack of scrubs to change into, “You know the drill, Agent.”

“Yes, Ma’am;” Clint muttered starting to strip without a word.

The doctor watched him change noting down each injury and bruise he revealed as he piled his armor to one side. Once he had the scrub pants on she made him sit and started treating the glass cuts on his back and arms. A nurse came by and started the IV without a word avoiding looking him in the eye; he wondered who she knew that he’d killed? 

Once they were sure he wasn’t going to collapse or kill them all in a sudden relapse he was allowed to sleep with a guard posted to one side.  Clint ignored the lights and lack of blankets; he’d slept in worse conditions. Curling on the hard mattress he let the exhaustion drag him down.

Some unknown time later he was shook awake, Natasha looking amused at his instinctive twist to get out of the light hold. He pulled on the boots she handed him and shuffled along with the guard to the interrogation room once the IV was removed. He didn’t feel like he’d slept at all, his joints pulsed with pain and he dropped into the waiting chair he was gestured towards with little grace. He had no idea how long he was grilled on every aspect of his mind control and what he did while under Loki’s command.  It seemed to be never ending. 

Eventually he was brought a meal and he picked at the food trying to force himself to even have the energy to eat. Two meals later he was checked over by another doctor and put on another IV. Hours later he was shown to a locked room one step up from a cell to get some sleep. 

That became his pattern for the next few weeks. He was checked by the doctors, questioned, fed, and sent back to his room. The medical tests began to take over his day as he started to lose weight. If he was left alone he’d sleep all day, a fact that was making medical nuts. He was exhausted and felt like he had the flu but nothing was really wrong with him that they could find. 

Just to make things worse he started getting migraines every few days. He was in his room sleeping off the remnants of the last migraine when Natasha came to find him. She took one look at his miserable huddle and disappeared, probably to interrogate his doctors. He forced himself up and started to get dressed in the clothes she’d left next to the door; Natasha would be back eventually so he might as well be ready.

“Come on,” She said coming back in a few hours later and tossing him a go bag that he caught with a grunt, “We’re going out on assignment.” 

“Where?” Clint asked tugging on the jacket she tossed him next and shouldering the bag trying to ignore how heavy it felt on his shoulders, he needed to get back on the range and gym soon.

“Stark Tower,” She said with a grimace, “Stark is offering us room and board. I’ll be back and forth on missions with Shield but Fury wants you off the grid, you’ll be working with Ms. Potts as her security until Shield has a reason to call you in.”

“They want me on as a body guard?” Clint asked glancing at her in disbelief, “They don’t need a sniper working security, Natasha.”

“It keeps Shield in the loop of whatever Stark’s doing and keeps Ms. Potts protected. A win for everyone and it gets you out of this pit.” She said shoving him into the elevator.

Clint did his best to hide his wince, discretely rolling his shoulder. His joints protested most motions and the sudden blow had flared up half his body to a steady throbbing ache. Natasha was watching him out of the corner of her eye so when the doors opened he forced himself to straighten up and move out with his normal grace even if it was a bit lacking in energy.

“What’s the real reason they want us out in civvies?” Clint asked once they were in the car and moving.

“Loki’s being sent home and Stark wants everyone in attendance.” She said with a huff.

“Nice to be invited,” Clint said with a grunt hiding away a few knives from his bag on his person, even if he doubted he’d get to use them like he wanted to.

They sent off Loki with feral smiles that promised pain if he returned but Clint collapsed back into the car once the others were out of sight. He ignored the look he could feel Natasha giving him as he wrapped his arms around himself and fought to stay awake for the drive to the tower. Steve was disappearing on some great American road trip while Banner was being driven to the airport by Stark. Clint gave it six months before both of them were back in New York.

Ms. Potts met them at the lobby and showed them both to an empty floor full of guest rooms they would be using until the repairs were finished. He’d start work the next morning and he forced himself to not comment on the closets full of clothes in his size, he’d need the suits if he was going to be working at Stark Industries. 

“Please let Jarvis know if you need anything at all,” Pepper said with a serious smile, “or even if you want something changed while we’re repairing things. Tony wants to give everyone on the team a room in case they need it. He’s already going a bit over board and I might need a reason to rein him back if you have any preferences.”

“Both of us tend to go for simple space, clean lines.” He said with a glance at Natasha unsure how to explain sightlines and weapons lockers to a rich CEO.

“I’ll have Jarvis show you the current designs, veto anything you don’t like or want.” She said firmly, “I know Tony will want to have dinner with you at some point but he’s on a design binge at the moment and nothing outside of an international crisis is going to pry him out of the lab. You’re welcome to order anything you’d like to be delivered for meals or grocery, just tell Jarvis. If you don’t need anything else I’ll see you both in the morning.”

“Good night Ms. Potts.” Clint said with a nod while Natasha offered a smile and a quiet, “Pepper.”

“Jarvis?” Natasha asked once Pepper was whisked away in the elevator, “Are there any weapons lockers on this floor?”

“I am afraid there are not.” Jarvis said a blue hologram appearing to hover over the main kitchen table, “Would you want them added to your floors during construction?”

“Yes, as well as panic rooms.” She said dragging the bags of weapons into the den and starting to lay everything out for a full inventory. “Take a look at what we have now; it’s our standard kit when we travel.”

“Your standard kit,” Clint said with a snort digging out his phone and starting to look for takeout options, “Most of my kit is under lock and key on base still.” 

“The armory attached to the weapons testing range is stocked with a wide selection of projectile weapons if you would like to keep in practice, Agent Barton. We also have a full gym, gymnastics, and martial arts training area should you require it.”

“I’ll check that out later this week.” Clint said with a nod handing his phone over so Natasha could pick something to eat.

“Sir would also like to offer new phones and tablets or laptops as needed while you stay in the tower. The latest prototypes will be delivered in the morning for your use.” 

“Um, tell him thanks.” Clint muttered stretching and dropping to sit next to the weapon covered coffee table picking up a gun starting to strip and cleaning it.

Natasha called in the order and added several extra dishes clearly disliking the little he’d been planning to eat. Clint ignored it; between the exhaustion and the migraines it was rare for him to have much of an appetite. It wasn’t like he was exercising or prepping for a mission anyway; he could skip a few meals with how much he’d been sleeping lately.

He tugged out his hearing aids with a sigh as the silence took over. He rarely went without them in if he was anywhere without someone else to watch his back and it meant ear infections and ears rubbed raw from the tiny inner ear hearing aids Shield preferred him to work in. He’d have to wear his chunkier pair for the next few days until his ears healed.  

They spent the rest of the night using sign language to catch each other up on the news at Shield and what had been had been happening while Clint was stuck in medical. If it had the extra caveat of meaning that Jarvis couldn’t monitor their conversation, well, that was a bonus. When spies are forced to learn a new language with potential covert capacities they tended to go as far away from the normal dictionaries as possible.  They both new standard ASL and a few variations on regional signs in case they needed to portray a certain background but mostly they used their own version that drove most translators and other signers crazy. 

Most of the news was general gossip, Natasha avoided listing the injured or who was killed in the various attacks and Clint didn’t ask. His access had been suspended while he was on base so he couldn’t look himself but he remembered enough from the battle and knowing the schematics of the carrier meant he knew what areas were damaged and who would have been working those spaces.  She did give him the estimated dates the Helicarrier would be dry docked, Fury was pushing for renovations and improvements while it was stateside.

“I’m headed to France next. There’s talk of weapons movement across several boarders and someone got a hold of a weird looking gun from a raid that Fury wants investigated.” She said making sure to keep where he could read her lips while wrapping up the left overs and shoving everything into the spotless fridge, she at least hadn’t badgered him to eat more even if she watched each careful bite he took.

“Be careful.” Clint said hoping his volume wasn’t too loud, “We’ve both lost enough this round.”

“I need to be moving.” She said softly in way of an apology watching as he fiddled with the cleaning tools before tucking them back in the kit. “I heard the funeral for Coulson was nice.”

“Yeah, it sounded like his Sister even played. Cello at a funeral must have been brutal; she used to make Phil cry whenever he went to a concert in Portland.”

“You didn’t go.” She said with a frown.

“I found out after it was over.” He said with a shrug forcing himself up with a hiss and grabbing the bag with his uniforms, they had cleaned every weapon and tucked them away about the floor. “I’ll see you in the morning. What time do you have to head out?”

“In the afternoon, I’ll see you off in the morning before I head to base.” She said still watching him too closely for true comfort, normally her hard stares didn’t bother him but right now he didn’t want to know what she was searching for.

“Alright,” He said with a nod, turning to head into the bedroom he’d claimed earlier.

“Do you need me tonight?” She asked softly catching him before he could shut the door, offering to watch his back while he slept like they’d done on hundreds of missions in the past.

“Not tonight.” He said with a tired smile, “Go get some sleep.”

He tucked one hearing aid back in with a wince once he was ready for bed and set the alarm on his phone. He’d have to order a new alarm clock and see if Jarvis could rig things so that the lights flashed if the doorbell was rung or something. He normally used a vibrating pad under his pillow attached to his alarm clock when he was on base but that one was under several tons of rubble right now thanks to Loki.

He got about half a night’s sleep in between nightmares and dragged himself out of bed with a hissed groan. He pulled the hearing aid out and took a quick shower trying not to flinch at the painful rain of water from the shower head. Most pressure on his shoulders and back was painful since Loki and the firm needling of the expensive shower in the tower had him jerking away from the water with a curse. He scrubbed down and quickly washed his hair before stepping out of the tiled alcove with relief.

Natasha was at the mirror doing her make up with her hair wrapped in a towel. She eyed his weight loss with a frown but didn’t comment as he got dressed, shaved, and brushed his teeth. Once they were both ready for work, she in her uniform and Clint in a dark grey suit Coulson would have approved of with a handful of weapons stashed here and there.

“You’re not wearing a gun.” She said watching as he strapped a bracer of throwing knives on each forearm and covered them with his dress shirt sleeves.

“I want to see what the rest of her security looks like before I start pushing for changes.” He said with a shrug picking up the new phone that was waiting and set up identical to his old one he’d left in the bedroom even down to his backgrounds.

He dropped a holstered gun, his wallet, and concealed weapons permit into a messenger bag while raiding the desk near the window for paper and pens. Natasha rolled her eyes and added a thin Stark Pad to the bag that he pulled back out to poke at, he had no issue with technology but sometimes it was just easier to use real paper.

She saw him out, saying hello to Pepper in the lobby before heading to her own mission without a backwards glance. They’d never really done goodbyes. Clint gave Pepper a tight smile and gestured for her to lead the way to the waiting car outside when she idled like she wanted to see him run after Natasha.

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask,” Pepper said once Happy had them moving, “You and Natasha?”

“Aren’t together,” He said with a soft laugh, “Don’t worry, everyone thinks we are.”

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“I was but he… um… he died in the attack on the Helicarrier.” Clint said glancing away and took a breath forcing the emotions back, he was on a job, and he needed to stay focused.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” She said with a frown tapping something into the pad that she’d been working on since they sat down.

“Most people didn’t.” He said with a shrug forcing a smile as he changed the subject, “So what exactly where you thinking I’d be doing?”

“Mostly vetting the new people we have coming in and helping upgrade our security both in the office and at the tower.” Pepper said with a sigh, “You’ll act as a body guard for me while Happy is busy and test our security at the various factories if everything goes well.”

“You want me to break into your buildings?” Clint asked with a small grin thinking of several ways Strike Team Delta had already outlined to get into the Stark buildings on their other missions.

“If it means you can prove we need to upgrade the security; yes.” Pepper said with a sigh, hitting a button and blacking out the divider so that Happy couldn’t hear them. “I love Happy but frankly he’s not really qualified to deal with the high level threats we’ve been receiving. Tony’s made the company and himself a target with Ironman going public. I want to make sure we’re not putting our employees at risk in the process.”

“And if I said you’d have to totally revamp your hiring processes, get a completely new security team for your personal protection, revamp your security procedures and surveillance equipment to keep someone like me out?” Clint asked watching her and noting the way her posture locked into a new frame, this was the CEO, not the relaxed woman who’d been worried about him.

“Give me a list of what needs to be changed and I’ll see it implemented.” She said watching him back just as intensely.

“It’s not going to be a quick change.” He said with a sigh, “I can already list six ways to get into your offices unnoticed from when Natasha was undercover as your assistant.”

“Then the sooner we get started the better.” She said with a firm nod, “Send me your immediate concerns and we can start interviewing new security guards for the office next week.”

“Shield still wants me to go in for weekly checkups so I’ll have at least one day a week that you’ll need a secondary bodyguard. It might be a good idea to have at least two that can sub in as needed.” Clint said with a grimace, he was really coming to hate being in medical.

“Anything I should be aware of?” She asked looking concerned.

“I think they’re just making sure Loki didn’t do any damage.” He said with a shrug, “They haven’t found anything so far but they want to keep checking for a few months, magical mind control isn’t exactly something we’ve encountered before.”

“I didn’t realize you were one of the ones he controlled.” Pepper said with a frown.

“I understand if you don’t want to take the risk,” He started but she cut him off before he could finish.

“You didn’t ask to be controlled by that maniac, nothing that happened while you were under his control was your fault and neither I nor any of SI will hold it against you.” She snapped, giving him another of those piercing glances, “Did you eat breakfast?”

“Uh, no, Ma’am;” Clint said with a blink at the sudden change of subject.

“Good, we can have something brought up to the conference room while we go over the current staff and get you set up in an office.” She said with a determined nod.

Clint scrambled after her when the car pulled to a stop and they got out. He stayed two steps behind and to the left trying to shake off how much she reminded him of Phil. He had been just the same when Clint first joined Shield.

“There’s one more personal question I wanted to ask before we get started.” She said once he’d been introduced to her current security in the lobby, her secretary, and shown into a large conference room.

“I’m an open book, Ma’am.” He said earning a snort from the woman.

“I sincerely doubt that, Agent Barton, and please call me Pepper.” She said with a grin, her eyes darting to the clearly visible black hearing aids he was wearing, “No, Jarvis mentioned that you were using hearing aids and I wanted to see if you needed any adjustments made to the office or your rooms that would help?”

“No, Ma’am.” Clint said suppressing a sigh and fighting to keep his tone polite; too many people assumed he’d be at a disadvantage because of his hearing disability. “I need to pick up a new alarm clock and humidifier since mine were destroyed in the attack and get Jarvis to flash the lights if there’s a call or visitor when I’m not wearing my hearing aids but the rest of the time I’m perfectly able to do my job. I read lips at a professional level as well.”

“Good, I just wanted to offer. If you want I’m sure Tony could look into water proofing your hearing aids or enhancing them if you need it.” She said with a nod dismissing the subject, “So what do you think of the potential hires we have listed?”

“Personally, I’d eliminate anyone that doesn’t have some kind of military, government, or police back ground unless they have extensive training to replace it.” Clint said watching as Jarvis cleared the list down to about twenty applicants, “You want someone who’s used to being in a state of constant readiness, not someone looking for a comfy desk job. Do you scan the incoming packages and mail?”

“They’re scanned in the mailroom before the mail is delivered.”

“Have Jarvis scan them again before they hit your desk.” Clint said firmly, “I’ve been on several operations where we tagged or incapacitated people using envelopes left on their desk.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes Ma’am, we also need to look at what you’re wearing and see if we can add a few weapons.”

“I’d rather not carry a gun.” Pepper said with a frown.

“You don’t have to but I’d like you to at least have a hair stick or bracelet that you can stab an attacker with or use to get out of a restraint if you have to. Natasha uses them on all her missions.” Clint said with a small grin, “We can raid her go bag at the tower and see what suits you best. If not a Taser is more effective than most people think.”

“Fair enough,” she said with a nod, “Do you think I should be taking self-defense classes?”

“That or just working out regularly,” Clint said with a shrug, “Most of the issues people have in a crisis is dealing with the adrenaline crash once things calm down a bit. Sometimes things happen fast but mostly it drags on and you wind up exhausting yourself. You need endurance more than anything.”

“Alright, I’ll talk with my personal trainer and add a few more sessions a week.” She said with a frown.

“It doesn’t have to be anything drastic.” Clint said, “You’re already in pretty good shape, you probably just need to add more cardio and strength training.”

“How much?”

“Can you jog for an hour if you had to?”

“Yes;” She said looking relieved.

“If you can do that you can sprint for five or ten minutes if you were forced, that’s enough to get away if you need it.” Clint said with a nod, “I can coach you in a few ways to get out of holds and some self-defense but mostly you should be concentrating on getting out of the line of fire if you don’t intend to carry a weapon. Your bodyguards are there to keep you safe so you need to get out of the way and let them do it.”

“And if I don’t?” She challenged, “If Tony needs me where I am?”

“Then it’s my job to make sure your security is up to the challenge of staying at your side.” Clint said making a few notes on his Stark Pad, “They’re first goal is going to be getting you out of danger but if they can’t they’re to take out the threat with as much prejudice as needed to make the area safe.”

Clint resisted the urge to rub at his eyes as the meeting wrapped up. He’d picked at the food offered but really didn’t trust his stomach right now. He was shown to his new office and left to review the files of the current employees. He opened a side window on the computer and logged into Shield database running the various names and aliases of both the new and current employees. Several pinged back with immediate notes from Shield for various warning flags or potential problems. 

He hoped Pepper didn’t freak out when he presented her with the fact that several of her science and research department employees were known moles for various organizations and two of her security team had records for criminal arrests or domestic violence charges or notes on multiple calls to their homes for noise complaints that pointed to domestic violence. He noted those names to see if they could get an agent or counselor from Shield to meet with the wives and in one case the husband, they might refuse but at least the offer for a way out was there. 

Bottled Lightning – Ch. 9

Chapter 9

The next few weeks were the best that Clint had ever had. He moved in with Phil after just a few days and they relaxed into the shared space like they’d been together for years. He went back to healing and started going to different hospitals once a week with a small crew of Shield officers to smooth the doctor’s pride as he healed their patients that had been at death’s door or languishing in back patient wards in comas.

He let himself relax into his new pattern of life and clutched at Phil each night like he never wanted to let go. Clint had never gotten to keep the good things when they happened and he dreaded when this too would be taken away. He still needed to decide if he wanted to tell the rest of the team the full story of his abilities or not. He was terrified of upsetting the current fragile balance in the tower to bring it up on his own.

He exercised and practiced, slowly building back up to his normal training regimen. The team had yet to be called out for any missions but Steve had got them together twice to run through a few scenarios so everyone could get used to having Clint back on the team. The trial runs went smoothly, especially since the Hulk was sitting out, but no one pushed Clint to use his powers beyond offering to heal any scraps or bruises at the end of the day. 

Phil was still working light duty, mostly spending time at the New York Shield office. They both knew it wouldn’t last forever; eventually one or the other of them would have to run halfway around the planet on a mission to save the world or at least a small part of it. For now they both intended to savor every moment they could have together.

Clint was in the middle of a vicious round of sparring with Natasha when an alarm began blaring sending them both back to back, fists at the ready. 

“Sorry for the interruption, but you are both needed in the command center. Agent Coulson has an emergency that requires the Avengers.” Jarvis said once the alarm fell silent.

“About time,” Natasha huffed, tossing him a grin as they both raced to the changing rooms and started pulling on their gear.

“What are we fighting, Jarvis, any hints?” Clint asked as he buckled on his weapons harness catching the quiver and gear bag that Natasha tossed him a second later.

“The video footage has been unreliable. It appears to be some sort of shapeshifting beast attacking Brooklyn.”

“Cap’s not going to be happy about that;” Clint said with a smirk as they trooped into the elevator.

“The others are already on site and will have coordinates ready when you reach the jet.”

“Thank you, Jarvis.”

Clint was dropped off on a roof near the fighting with three full quivers while Natasha was taken down the street and repelled down a rope to street level. He watched Steve fighting off a weirdly marked grey and green mountain lion for a moment before he started scanning the streets for the rest. Reports had varied but they thought there were at least six of the beasts. 

“I’ve got a weird shimmer one block from Rogers, headed towards the Shield vans.”

“Copy, on my way;” Natasha said leaving the cat to Steve and jogging toward the shimmer.

The weird animal burst out of hiding when she came within a few feet. It was a mismatch of several beasts, tentacles fighting for room on the rhino like body. He left her to it after shooting out one eye so she could hit it with her bites. Two more shimmers were reported and tagged with an arrow forcing them out of hiding, Steve jogged towards the closest to his position since the lion was being loaded into a van by Shield agents while Natasha finished off the rhino.

Clint sent another arrow into the rhino to keep it down while a Shield agent pumped it full of tranquilizers. Instinct had him spinning even as two more shimmers of air resolved themselves into mutated beasts. He fired three arrows before he was slammed hard into the roof gravel dodging a swipe of barely visible claws as he twisted and fought his way back to his feet.

The first went down with an explosive arrow to the throat that blew it apart spraying the rooftop with gore. The concussion stunned the second beast long enough for Clint to notice the four simmering heat mirages that were surrounding the Shield mobile command unit a few blocks away. He got his bow up just as the beast launched itself back into the fight.

“Someone get to the van!” Clint barked out in to the com even as the tiger like beast he was fighting snapped his bow like kindling.

Clint drew out a laser knife and cut through the beast’s arm and neck dousing himself with blood. It gave a gurgling roar even as the life fled from its quicksilver eyes. Two more heat shimmers stalked towards him as Clint risked a glance at the armored bus that was shaking under the animals’ assault.

He left the knife quivering in the next animal’s chest as the charge died. Drawing his gun he let the last beast circle while he waiting for the shot, he’d only get one chance at this. He forced his gaze to stay on the beast, ignoring the chatter over the coms as the team fought to get to the van before it was breached. He knew Coulson was organizing the technicians to fight back even as the armor plating was being pulled off the van with a scream of metal.

Clint took out the circling bear like beast with a shot to the eye only for three more to take its place. He ignored the steady stream of commands and barked demands for medical over the com as he turned weighing his options. As long as Coulson was speaking he could deal with the van, Natasha and Steve were arriving on the scene any second now. They would keep Phil safe if he needed the help.

With his bow he could have repelled off the building and shot the two beasts as he fell. Stuck on the roof he had fewer options. He pulled his favorite knife and adjusted his hold on the handgun, keeping his eyes on the circling blurs. Natasha was screaming for a medic but he had no time to glance over as the first beast lunged.

When the two beasts were down the coms were silent. Clint glanced around but there were no more shimmers hiding on the streets that he could see. He moved to the other side of the roof so he could see the van only to stumble to a stop, the van was a burning wreck. Medics worked franticly to one side on the wounded but a line of bodies lay shrouded to one side.

“Widow, Rogers?” Clint forced out not seeing them below.

“Hawkeye,” Steve said with a relieved huff, “What’s your status?”

“Four beasts down on the rooftop. I don’t see any more on the streets. Everyone okay?” Clint asked as he jimmied the roof stairwell access and started making his way down.

“Ironman is helping Dr. Banner back to the tower. Widow and I are working crowd control.”

“The Shield van?” Clint pressed, needing to know if Phil was alright.

“Six dead so far, you might want to get down here to help with the healing.”

“On my way.” Clint said forcing his tired muscles to move fasters, the slight burn of building energy tightening his chest. He let it build, he’d need it to heal anyway.

The streets below were deserted, only a handful of Shield agents working to clean up the carcasses. He pointed one towards the rooftop he’d been fighting on and jogged down the road towards the wreckage of the van. He hadn’t heard Phil on the coms in a while but he was probably with the wounded, he hated when people on his watch got injured.

Clint made his way to the injured and started healing those he could. He couldn’t do much for the ones who had lost limbs to the beasts and told the medics as much. He made sure to at least heal the blood loss where he could and he closed a lot of nasty cuts and broken bones.

He was still blinking away the vascular system of an agent when Natasha moved in front of the next man who had a concussion. He took her hand when she offered it with a frown but he healed the fractures and scraps she’d suffered. Her serum would have healed it overnight but if she thought she needed to be in top shape he wasn’t going to argue.

She shadowed him as he finished the last of the healing glancing around for Phil. He bypassed the line of dead agents, there was nothing he could do for them. He glanced at Natasha but she remained silent and on alert so he left her to her watch. Sometimes they needed a few days to come down from a long mission but he would have thought she’d be fine after half a day of fighting.

“Let’s head back to the tower to debrief.” Steve said coming forward and all but herding them towards the waiting jet.

“What am I missing?” Clint asked not liking how serious they were being and how they kept glancing at him from the corner of their eyes when he was looking away from them.

“Leave it until later, Hawk.” Natasha said tugging on his elbow.

“Something important?”

“Yes, I’ll tell you after we debrief.”

“Alright.” He said with a frown.

He spent the flight in locking down his abilities, he didn’t need them out of control if debrief was as tense as the flight. Sitwell led the review, looking around the gathered super heroes with a look of shock and grief. They quickly outlined what everyone had contributed to the fight and Sitwell skipped over the attack on the van quickly. Maybe he knew someone that had died Clint mused, when they were quickly dismissed.

“I need to know two things before I tell you what happened.” Natasha said hitting the button for the elevator.

“Alright.”

“If you need to expend energy what would be the best location for you if you were completely out of control?”

“Somewhere with no people. I normally drive out to the mountains or desert.” Clint said slowly as they entered the tower and she hit the button for the garage.

“Stark has a mountain house with several miles of uninhabited forest around it. We’re heading to the airport, there’s a jet waiting. I’ll tell you everything once we arrive at the house.”

“It’s that bad?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, Hawk, but I can’t risk telling you while we’re not secure.” She said getting into a sports car and gesturing for him to take the passenger seat.

“Phil would probably calm me down, Nat.” he said trying to ignore the fact that her mask was fully up, something she hadn’t done to him in years.

“Phil’s stuck in meetings with the mayor.” She said gunning the engine and taking the through the streets with reckless speed.

“Tony could do that.”

“Tony’s in the Hulk tank with Bruce.”

“Steve?”

“He’s headed to the Helicarrier to deal with Shield and the WSC with Fury.”

“You really think I’ll react that badly?”

“Yes, I think you will.”

“Alright.” Clint said with a sigh, settling back into his seat.

Two hours later they were in the mountains, Natasha driving into the underground garage and leading the way into the house. Considering it was Tony’s it was tastefully done in forest greens and dark wood, modern sleekness vying for space with rustic leather furniture and wood grains. Clint made his way to the balcony overlooking the lake and took a seat on the deck planks making sure his powers were locked up tight, just in case.

The only thing he could see making him lose control at this point was Phil. He’d been lucky that he hadn’t known Phil was thought dead during the battle. He’d only found out after the fact. Fury had taken him straight to the medical bay to heal Phil once the fight was over, only telling him the others thought he man dead several days later once they were sure Phil would recover.

In fact, he hadn’t talked to Phil after the battle. He should have been the one leading the after mission debrief, not Sitwell. Phil always made sure to check in with his team after a mission, they’d had too many close calls for them to not check in. Natasha dropped to a seat next to him with a frown, watching him closely.

“It’s Phil, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Steve was afraid you would go super nova if you found out in town and there were too many people there who could be hurt.”

“How?”

“He jumped in front of the beast that attacked the technicians. He was mauled badly and the medics called it once they arrived.”

“There were three surrounding the van.”

“He killed one of them himself, the other was killed by the van’s defense system before it was damaged.”

“Who killed the last one?”

“I did.”

“Good.”

“Are you alright?” she asked hesitantly.

Clint shrugged and turned his eyes to the distant mountains around them. Natasha was the only human he could sense for miles, only deer and a few bear filled the woods and rocks around them. A good place to let go he thought with a sigh.

Phil had been the only thing holding him together for years now. He was the only reason he’d stayed at Shield as long as he had. Sure, Natasha had needed him for a while but she was working well with the Avengers, they would make sure she kept up the good fight.

The sun slowly set as he considered his options. He could send Natasha away and let go for a while but it would destroy the area, reducing every bit of life and beauty around him to ash and he didn’t think Phil would have approved. He could keep going as he was and fight the good fight, the never ending battles, but he’d been honest when he told Phil he was tired. He’d been ready to rest by his side as long as he was able, that hadn’t changed.

He let Natasha get him settled on a couch for the night and he pretended to sleep. He used a tablet once she was actually asleep to send out the messages he needed and to arrange for the few things he’d kept hidden over the years to be given to those who could use them. He let Natasha fix him breakfast and even ate it before he finally broke the silence.

“When is the funeral?”

“In two days if you’re up for it. Fury’s willing to postpone it if you need more time.”

“No, two days is fine. We need to head back soon anyway.”

Clint spent the next two days in silence. He made the arrangements he needed before ensuring that Jarvis would keep an eye on everyone for him. They would need someone to keep an eye on the long view.

He waited through the funeral, waiting until everyone but Clint, Fury, and Natasha were left by the grave side. He waited as she and Fury said their goodbyes before moving away to give him some space. He took a seat next to the headstone, fingers tracing the letters. He’d waited for hundreds of years to find someone like Phil, he could wait a while longer.

“I knew I’d be the one left waiting eventually, Phil. I’m not built to be the first one to die no matter how I’d have wanted it that way. I don’t know if there’s a heaven for people like me but I hope you made it. I’m sorry, Phil, I know this isn’t what you would have wanted but I can’t wait any more. Forgive me.”

He faintly heard Natasha scream as the energy and heat ripped him apart but he couldn’t stop it. He had no idea what was waiting him or even if he’d be able to die properly but he hoped Phil would forgive him. He couldn’t wait alone any longer. They watched in shock as Clint’s body burned itself to ash, burned until nothing was left but a shallow mark in the grass next to the grave.

Bottled Lightning – Ch. 8

Chapter 8

Phil tried not to read anything into how easily Clint and he slid into a domestic situation. They hung out at his apartment trading back and forth who cooked which meal and who did dishes without complaint. Clint fell asleep curled against him each night and sometimes caught naps when Phil was reading, each curled on separate sides of the couch, legs warm against each other’s.

It would be such a small step to push it into a real relationship yet Phil held himself back. Clint was finally getting stable and healthy and he would rather carve his own heart out then send him into another downward spiral. He didn’t want the possibility of a relationship to ruin their friendship either; the archer really was his best friend in all the ways that counted.

“Time for bed?” Clint asked, stretching and flexing his toes against Phil’s thigh.

“Yeah, might as well. We still have another day before we have to head to the tower. Was there anything you wanted to do?”

“Nah, just lazing around is fine.”

“Alright, that sounds good to me.” Phil said heading in to brush his teeth, swapping places with Clint when he was done and changing into a pair of sleep pants but leaving off the tee shirt, Clint put out enough heat at night that he didn’t really need even the sheets to stay warm. Clint was wearing only boxers, letting Phil appreciate the expanse of golden skin with a mental sigh.

“Good night, Phil.” Clint said tugging the sheet into place as he climbed into bed.

“Good night, Clint.” Phil said, shifting until he found a good position and slowly relaxed into sleep.

Phil woke up warm and relaxed. The body in his arms shifted slightly and he held on a bit tighter, throwing a leg across their hip to tangle with the other man’s shins and letting him hitch his hardening cock along the warm fabric and skin between them. His hands mapped the muscular stomach and chest while he buried his nose in the soft head of hair, his hips rocking slightly against a perfect ass.

This was perfect, Phil hummed softly, breathing in the musk of the man in his arms. He stroked along his chest and side absently as he let himself enjoy the moment. The man shifted, rocking back into the motion making Phil moan. He grumbled when the body in his arms pulled away for a moment but he was just turning so that he could wind his arms around Phil and press sleepy kisses along his jaw.

Yes, that was nice. They slowly rocked and ground against each other, slowly stroking every bit of skin they could reach for some undetermined time. Phil decided he loved this dream and had no intention of ever waking up.

A soft gasp of ‘Phil.’ against one ear jerked him out of sleep, rearing back slightly, blinking at the sleep mussed form of Clint Barton spread out beneath him, red lipped and stubble burned. “Shit,” he bit out trying to pull away, “Sorry.” Clint’s arms locked around him forcing him back down against the other man.

“Don’t, please.” Clint said, hands stroking lightly against Phil’s back. “You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that. Hell, Phil, I’ve loved you for years. I just never thought you would want to date me.”

“I’ve wanted to date you since you first walked into my office.” Phil said, collapsing against the other man and burying his face into his neck. “I didn’t think you would want to date your boss. We worked so good together I didn’t want to screw that up.”

“We don’t work together now.” Clint said softly rubbing one thumb in slow circles against Phil’s hip.

“I didn’t want to lose you if things didn’t work out.”

“I don’t want that either, you’re my best friend, Phil. I never want to lose that. Hell, you’re the only person on the planet right now who knows everything about me and isn’t terrified or trying to use me.”

“Exactly why this is probably a bad idea. I don’t want you doing this just because of me knowing your past.”

“Hell, Phil, I’ve wanted to date you for the last ten years. Adding in this week just makes it that much better.” Clint said pulling the other man up to press a quick kiss against the corner of his mouth. “I don’t care; I want you, now and for as long as you will put up with me.”

“I just got you back, Clint. I don’t want to be the reason you run next time.”

“Then that will be our rule. If I have to run, I have to call you first and I keep a phone handy so you can call me.” Clint said slowly like he was feeling out the idea as each word left his mouth.

“You would promise that?” Phil asked, pushing away so that he could see Clint’s face.

“If it means I get to keep you, yeah. You never push when I run and I think I could deal with calling you. If things are that bad you’ll probably know about it anyway.”

“I don’t know if I can go slow with this.” Phil said, dropping slow kisses against his neck and jaw.

“Then don’t we have the next twenty four hours to take our time. Heck, we can have every night the both of us are in the same room for the rest of the month knowing Fury.”

“Rule one, no talking work in bed.” Phil said with a laugh.

“Deal, but I doubt we’re going to be able to keep it.” Clint said nipping softly along Phil’s neck.

“Then let me give you something else to think about.” Phil said with a grin, kissing Clint fiercely as he reached between them to grasp Clint’s cock in one hand, stroking and gently squeezing through his sleep pants.

“Want you in me, fuck, please, want you in me.” Clint panted when they finally came up for air making Phil groan and bite at his lips before breaking away.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Do you have lube?”

“Yes, but no condoms. I wasn’t exactly expecting this.” Phil said with an embarrassed laugh.

“I know you’re clean and I can’t catch anything and haven’t been with anyone in a long time. Shield always kept us too busy to have a real relationship. I didn’t want just a quick fuck, I don’t want that now.”

“Good, I have no intention of giving you up now that I have you.” Phil growled kissing him hard for a moment before pulling away to get the lube out of the night stand. Clint reached for the bottle only to have Phil push him back into the mattress.

“Let me, please?”

“Shit.” Clint whined as he relaxed into the mattress watching as Phil quickly stripped out of his sleep pants tossing them to the side before he dropped to his hands and knees, nosing and mouthing at where Clint’s erection was straining at his boxers.

Clint watched barely daring to breathe as Phil slowly pulled his boxers off pressing a kiss to each new inch of skin exposed. He tugged them off in a rush once Clint’s cock slipped free tossing them carelessly behind him as he pressed a sucking kiss to the head jerking a strangled whine from Clint’s throat. Phil sucked and licked as he slid one lube slick finger in gentle circles against the rim of his entrance.

He shuddered and moaned as he was ever so slowly breached and stretched. His hips hitched with the burn of two fingers being added but the discomfort was quickly overrode with pleasure as Phil stroked gently at his prostate with his fingertips. Phil held Clint’s hips down with his other hand when he tried to push back further.

“God, you are beautiful.” Phil hummed pressing kitten licks to the tip of Clint’s cock to catch the welling precum. “Look at you.”

“Need you in me, please.” Clint whined hands fisted in the sheets.

Phil surged up, removing his fingers and kissing Clint hard, all teeth and tongue. He backed up slicking his length with lube. He pressed one last chaste kiss to his lips before lifting Clint’s legs. Phil froze for an instant cupping one hand against his cock as Clint proved just how flexible he was, pulling his knees up to his chin and reaching for Phil.

He licked his lips and stroked that perfect ass for a moment before he braced himself and started a slow push in. They both groaned as Phil slid in steadily until he bottomed out, pressed as close as they could get. He held there barely daring to breathe as he adjusted to the tightness and heat.

“Please, Phil, god, fuck me.”

“Don’t think I can do slow.” Phil bit out shifting slightly as he started tiny rocking thrusts while Clint clung to him like he never wanted to let go.

“Fast is good, come on fuck me hard.”

“You want it hard.”
“Want to feel it for the rest of the week, want to know I’m yours.”

“Gonna mark you up until everyone knows you’re taken.”

“God, yes.”

With a growl Phil pulled out until only the head of his cock was still buried in that delicious heat before slamming back in. Everything dissolved into the steady pounding thrusts, the sweat coating his skin, and the rhythmic gasps and slap of skin on skin. He knew he wouldn’t last at this pace and he snaked a hand around to grip at Clint’s cock, letting each thrust push it through his tight hold.

Clint’s body snapped tight as a wire, his vision whiting out as he came with a shout, cum striping his stomach while Phil cursed in his ear and fucked him through the aftershocks. He shuddered as Phil came, his cock twitching within him as he moaned his own release. They lay there slowly coming down exchanging slow kisses before Phil went to grab a washcloth to clean them both off.

“Something I need to know?” Phil asked when he came out to Clint lazily stroking himself back to hardness.

“I don’t really have a refractory period.” Clint said with a lazy grin, hips jerking as he thumbed at the head of his cock.

“We might have to confirm that.” Phil said wiping down the other man’s chest and stomach but he couldn’t resist pressing a kiss to the tip of his straining cock.

“It could take a lot of trials.” Clint agreed pulling him up to kiss and lick his way into the man’s mouth until they both were moaning.

“I won’t be able to get it up that many times.”

“Doesn’t mean we both still won’t enjoy it,” Clint said pressing another kiss to his lips, “and when you do recover you can fuck me again.” 

“If we do this we’re taking breaks every hour to make sure we’re both hydrated.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t sass me brat, or I won’t be letting you fuck me.”

“Oh god yes, you’d let me?”

“After I give you a mind blowing blowjob.” Phil said tweaking a nipple just to see Clint squirm, “Let’s put that theory to the test.”

“Death by sex sounds good right now, fuck.” Clint moaned as Phil pinned his hands above his head and sucked a bruise against one side of his neck.

They spent the next twenty four hours tangled together having sex or curled against each other talking. Phil had never spent such a relaxed weekend with any of his previous lover and it only proved how compatible they were together to him all over again. He pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of his lover’s mouth and absently wondered how long he needed to wait before he asked Clint to move in with him.

***

Friday morning they made love again, slow and gentle with each other. There was no telling how the day would play out with the rest of the team but they would have each other from now on. Clint clutched Phil to him afterwards and tried to not let himself worry; Phil wouldn’t let him get railroaded by the team or worked up enough to run. He was tired of running and being alone.

They showered together stealing touches and kisses as they cleaned up and got dressed afterward. The drive to the tower was done in silence. Phil suddenly pulled Clint into a deep kiss before they got out of the car.

“What was that for?”

“Luck, I have a feeling we’ll both need it today.”

“Natasha’s going to take one look at us and know we’re together.”

“Did you want to keep it quiet?” Phil asked trying to read behind the blank mask his partner was wearing.

“I don’t want to hide you away like a dirty secret but I don’t want to listen to Tony ribbing us for the next three years either.” Clint said with a sigh.

“Leave Tony to me. You go in and play assassin twins with Natasha; it makes her happy and scares Tony which is always a bonus.”

“You always have the best plans.” Clint said with a grin climbing out of the car.

They were silent in the elevator, deliberately not looking at each other so their masks were firmly in place when they stepped out of the elevator, Clint paused so they walked in side by side. The team was waiting for them spread out across the common floor. Clint made a beeline for where Natasha was seated on one of the couches.

He dropped carelessly next to her, dropping an arm over the couch behind her and offering her a knife with the other hand. It was one of his that he’d never allowed her to use. They’d argued about it a few times but it had been a favorite that he wasn’t willing to loan out.

She took it silently, eyes scanning him as she thumbed the edge. Nodding once, she turned to face the rest of the room, the knife disappearing into some hidden pocket. Clint let his mouth twitch in an aborted smile before he got his mask back in place, he was forgiven and she would have his back with the others if they got in their way.

“Good to see you again, Clint.” Steve said from his spot the couch across from them. 

“You as well, Steve.” Clint said with a small grin at the team leader, he was still looking the archer over like he was hiding injuries but that was normal when one of them came back after a mission away.

“How was your trip? Did Shield keep you busy?” Bruce asked coming in and setting a tray with cups and a tea pot on the central coffee table before he took his own cup to a chair to one side.

“It was pretty uneventful, standard runs.” Clint said ignoring the way Natasha shifted minutely beside him; he’d have to give her the full details later.

“You here for a few days, Katniss or are you headed back out?” Tony asked from his spot near the windows.

“A few weeks probably, I’ve earned a bit of a break since I’ve been doing missions pretty much back to back since I left.”

“You look like you could use the rest.” Bruce said softly, looking the man over with concern.

“I’m fine, just a little burnt out and tired. A bit of time off should set things right.”

“So what, Phil just swooped in and took you home as soon as you landed? Wasn’t aware you needed a babysitter, Merida.” Tony said his eyes sharp as he scanned over Phil and Clint. Clint asked Phil silently with his eyes how he wanted to play this, he’d never liked hiding things but he would if Phil wanted.

“It’s normally customary to spend a small bit of time with your significant other after a long time away, Stark.” Phil said with a one of his thin sarcastic smiles, “Even you saw Pepper first when you got back from your last business trip.”

“Wait a minute, you and the Hawk hooked up? When did that happen?”

“Those two have been dancing around each other for years, Stark.” Natasha said with a smirk, “I’m glad you finally decided to make a move, Coulson.”

“Good to see we have your blessing, Natasha.”

“As long as you both understand that if you hurt each other I’m going to have to kill the non-injured party.”

“Okay, shovel talk over, who’s for pizza?” Tony asked breaking the awkward silence with his normal over the top air.

***

The next few days at the tower were tense as the rest of the team tried to not set Clint off like they had last time. It finally came to a head when they were all in the gym working out. Clint had been determined to keep things low key but Natasha insisted he spar with her so she could see how out of shape he was.

He tried to lose himself in the fight, grinning as they traded blows slowly working up to the more complex holds and take downs. He let his vision narrow until the only thing that existed was the woman he was fighting, the brisk air in his lungs, and the smooth flow of each motion. He couldn’t lose the knowledge of the others watching him however, feeling the sharp edge of their gaze against his back.

When they finally broke apart they were both bloody and grinning like idiots. Bruce was looking on with concern clearly listing out each injury to himself while Tony was working on his phone ignoring them completely. Steve was the one who was looking on with a blank expression like he wasn’t sure how to react.

Clint went and took a shower afterward taking his time to see which Avenger would break first. He ignored everyone as he dropped next to the wall and started to meditate. Tony had left but Steve and Bruce were still hovering to one side.

He did his best to ignore them and let a thread of power loose to heal his injuries. He double checked all his mental locks while he was at it, letting the feel of the power thrumming in his bones calm him. Bruce and Steve were waiting a few feet away when he opened his eyes.

“Problem, guys?”

“I just wanted to check that you healed yourself and didn’t need any help?” Bruce said with a raised eyebrow.

“I already healed everything, I’m good.”

“Good, are you joining everyone later for dinner? I think it’s Stark’s turn to order so we’re getting take out probably.”

“Yeah, I’ll make sure to head down.”

“Good, I’ll see you then.” Bruce said with a smile heading out of the gym and to his lab.

“What do you need, Rogers?”
“Why didn’t you offer to heal Natasha?”

“She didn’t ask and she was rather adamant that I not heal or affect her with my powers without telling her first.”

“You still could have offered.”

“If it bothers you that much I’ll offer the next time I see her but she’s going to turn me down.”

“Why would she do that?”
“She spent most of her life having people experiment on her, Rogers. I get why she doesn’t want some random ability used on her until she gets comfortable with it. I’ll offer when I see her.” Clint said with a huff, pulling himself upright and pushing back the other man.

“Are you still planning to visit local hospitals?”

“When I’m not on mission or trying to recover.” Clint said stepping into the elevator and slumping against the metal when the doors closed.

Why did Steve have to be so focused on Clint using himself up to help the rest of society? Was he just seen as some machine that worked for Shield, the team, and healed as many people as possible without ever bothering to have a life? Clint had tried to do that for a while when he first discovered his powers and it meant he was almost too run down to heal himself when his brother and mentor decided to leave him for dead.

He wasn’t God and he would have to figure out a way for Rogers to realize that. He couldn’t raise the dead or perform miracles. He manipulated energy in small ways, healing and helping but most of the time it just wound up hurting someone, either Clint or the people around him.

Clint had never been so relieved to see Phil waiting for him when he got to his floor. He froze and watched from the door as Phil took off his tie and toed off his shoes. Phil turned to watch him with a smile and Clint was walking into his arms before he’d fully decided to move.

“Bad day?” Phil asked mildly, pulling the other man into a tight hug and burying his nose in his hair.

“Long,” Clint said with a groan, “We’re invited to dinner with the team.”

“It’s a good thing I got home early then.” Phil said with a wicked grin, sucking on one of Clint’s earlobes suggestively. 

“Fuck, want you in me so bad.” Clint groaned as he thrust his rapidly hardening cock against the other man’s hip.

“I think we have time for a quick shower. Go get the water running while I finish get undressed.” Phil said with a hum, pressing a kiss to the shell of Clint’s ear.

Clint all but ran to the bathroom stripping as he went while Phil followed at a slower pace savoring the sight of his naked lover as he disappeared into the bathroom. He stripped quickly but took the time to put up both his and Clint’s dirty clothes before snagging a bottle of lube and heading into the bathroom. Clint had the water up high and the room was quickly filling with steam.

“How was your day? Did the team behave?” Phil asked as he set the lube to one side and grabbed the body wash.

“Steve’s still being a bit pushy.” Clint said groaning slightly when Phil pulled him flush against him and started to gently wash his chest and shoulders, massaging lightly as he went. “He wanted to know when I was going to start healing at the hospitals again.”

“I’ll talk to him, you need to be back up to a normal weight first.”

“I don’t think he cares if I burn myself out, he just wants to see the people healed.”

“He out of everyone should understand that everything comes with a price. I’ll talk to him.” Phil said with a sigh going back to his slow massage.

They cleaned each other slowly while exchanging lazy kisses. It was only due to the never ending hot water at the tower that they weren’t chased out to the bed in a hail of icy water as they lazily stroked and teased each other. Phil was just pressing into Clint using one of the benches in the large shower when Jarvis interrupted.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, sirs, however Sir wished to know if you will be joining the others for dinner?”
“We’ll be there in ten minutes, Jarvis.” Phil bit out as Clint cursed in several languages.

“I’m going to kill you if you don’t start moving.” Clint ground out tightening his legs like he would be able to pull Phil deeper by will alone.

“Hold on.” Phil snarled back as he started thrusting in short harsh jabs against Clint’s prostate that left him a screaming mess.

It didn’t take long for both of them to cum after the long buildup. Phil pulled out and let his seed stripe along Clint’s neck and chest. They kissed shakily before he pulled Clint up and they cleaned up for the last time that night. Twenty minutes later they were downstairs accepting a plate from Bruce with a smile and trying not to blush as Tony kept tossing innuendo laden comments their way.

Phil watched Clint grin at some comment Natasha had made with a small private smile. Clint was healing and relaxing back into the team’s dynamic like he’d never left. Most of the team seemed to be accepting that Clint was still the man he’d been before the revelations of his abilities. The only outlier was Steve Rogers who was hovering to the back of the group watching Clint like he was an unknown variable that might explode at any moment.

“Do you have a moment to talk?” Phil asked softly when he reached the super soldier’s side.

“Privately?”

“Just by the windows if you like.”
“Sure, is something the matter with Clint?” Steve asked trailing Phil across the room and out of hearing distance of the team.

“No, actually the issue is you, Captain Rogers. I spoke with Clint and he said you were pressuring him to start healing again.”

“It’s not that I don’t want him to get back to full strength but why can’t he be helping others while he recovers?”
“Healing expends a massive amount of energy, energy he should be using to recover.”
“But doesn’t his ability generate massive amounts of energy? He could be using that while he recovers.”
“Would you want someone operating heavy machinery or weapons while exhausted?” Phil asked his tone mild and inquisitive.
“Of course not.” Steve said sharply blinking in shock.

“Then why are you asking Clint to do the same?” he asked raising one eyebrow, “He’s exhausted from his missions and you’re asking him to use his abilities, abilities which can kill as easily as heal, when he’s not at his best. If anything happens because he’s too exhausted to fully control himself he would never forgive himself.”

“That’s not what I’m asking.” Steve said frowning.

“Isn’t it? You want him to use his abilities while he’s exhausted and still recovering. Do you really want to force him into a situation where he’s forced to choose between saving lives and his own recovery?”

“No, I just thought he could continue to help in some capacity. There are so many incurable diseases right now and it seems a waste to have such an ability and not be using it to help where he can.”

“He can help those in need, but he’s got to be the judge of when he’s fit to start healing again. If you rush him you will be forcing him into a situation where people could be hurt simply because he’s not fully recovered.

“I understand.”

“Good, I’ll talk with Clint and see when he thinks he will be up to continuing healing but for now he needs to concentrate on healing himself.”

“Of course, I’m sorry if I was implying that his recovery wasn’t as important. We need him at his best in case there’s a mission or battle he’s needed in. I guess I just assumed that is ability would sustain him.”

“Everything comes at a price, Captain, even if you can’t see it. Clint will be fit for missions if he’s needed but let him decide when he restarts healing again.”

“Very well, I just hated to think of those he could be helping.” Steve said with a frown.
“He will be back healing soon, he just needs to recuperate himself fully first.”

“I understand, I’ll try and back off.”

“That’s all I’m asking.” Phil said letting himself relax out of what he thought of as his Agent Mask.

“I would like to go with Clint when he is back up to it however, I’ve been volunteering a good bit in our downtime and I’d like to help if I can.” Steve added earnestly, the man really was too good hearted for this day and age.

“Of course, I’ll make sure you’re invited.”
“Thank you, Agent Coulson.” Steve said with a small smile.

“Phil, please.”

“Steve.” He said extending his hand and shaking Phil’s with a grin.

Later that night Clint and Phil lay curled around each other in bed simply enjoying the comfort of being held by someone they loved. Phil was surprised at how willing Clint was to be held and touched, he’d always avoided physical contact with other agents if it could be helped. He seemed genuinely happy to be held but outside of the bedroom restricted himself to small touches to a shoulder or arm and nothing that could be called demonstrative or lingering. 

“You’re thinking too loud.” Clint muttered into his neck, tightening his arms for a handful of heartbeats before he relaxed back into the bed, “Did Steve say something?”

“No, he agrees you need to recover fully before you go back to healing but he wants to accompany you when you start back. Apparently he’s been volunteering at several hospitals.”

“The eternal boy scout.”

 “I’m afraid so.” Phil said untangling himself and propping himself up on one arm so he could see Clint’s face.

“He made me ask Natasha if she needed me to heal her after our spar, I thought she was going to shoot me.”

“He does mean well.” Phil said with a sigh.

“Was that the only thing on your mind?” Clint asked with a frown, shifting onto his back so he could see Phil easier.

“I know it’s kind of early in a relationship to be asking this but… do you want to move in with me?” 

“You mean here at the tower?” Clint asked gesturing to the rooms around them, they’d been staying in Phil’s rooms since Clint’s were still mostly guest rooms with little personal touches or even belongings.
“And at my apartment since I would like to keep it so we can get some time away from the tower if we needed it.”

“Are you sure, I mean I know I can be messy and even Natasha tells me constantly that I’m annoying.”

“I want you to move in, Clint. I want to spend as much time with you as possible and once we both go back to work living together will make that easier. I want to be with you, Clint. You in all your messy, annoying glory. I don’t want you to change a thing. I want you.”

“Really?”

“For as long as you are willing to put up with me.” Phil said pressing a kiss to the other man’s temple, “I’m not perfect either, Clint, and I can’t promise that we won’t fight and have our own issues but I can’t see anything that would make me want to leave you. I want to be here for better or worse.”

“Till death do us part?”
“Only if they finally allow gay marriage in New York.”

“You’d be willing to if they did?”
“If that was what it took to keep you at my side for the rest of my life? Yes.”

Clint fell silent and just let himself be held. No one had ever offered to stay, they tolerated him until finally he was kicked to the curb. No one had ever asked to keep him.

“I know it’s a big deal and you can take all the time you want to think about it.”

“Marriage or moving in?” Clint asked with a faint smile unable to resist needling his friend and now lover.

“Moving in but if you want I can do a proper proposal.”

“Let’s see how things go. If at the end of the week you still want me to move in I’ll make a decision.”

“Alright.”

Bottled Lightning – Ch. 7

Chapter 7

The next morning was slow and lazy. Phil made waffles with peanut butter, one of Clint’s favorites, and they slowly nibbled while Clint fiddled with a tablet and Phil read the paper. He was deliberately ignoring the strobing of his silenced phone in the living room; he guaranteed there were at least twenty messages or texts from the avengers and at least ten from Shield. They could learn to work and live without him for twenty four hours.

“Any plans for today?”

“I have to write up my report.” Clint said, pushing away from the table and taking his dishes to the sink.

“You can always do that tomorrow.” Phil pointed out, making himself not watch as the archer shuffled towards his bags still waiting near the door, hitching at the too long sweats of Phil’s that he was wearing.

“I’d rather do it today.” He said pulling out his notes and a thin laptop computer.

“Alright, you’re welcome to use the office here if you want.”

“Thanks.”

“I was planning to run a few errands this afternoon. Would you like to join me?” Phil said as casually as he could, not letting himself fiddle as he collected his own dirty dishes and started loading the dishwasher.

“Where?”

“Just to the grocery store, dry cleaner, that kind of thing. I was thinking about maybe stopping somewhere for lunch.” Phil said, straightening up and starting to wipe down the countertop. “I can bring you something back if you don’t want to go.”

“Nah, let me get my report typed up and get some laundry done. We can go to lunch first and do the errands afterward if you don’t mind?”

“That sounds good. I’ll get some chores out of the way here while you work. Just let me know when you’re ready to go.”

Phil had been puttering about the apartment for hours now and the place was cleaner than it’d been in years. Shield had been dealt with and they both had two weeks off of duty once Clint turned in his mission reports and debriefed. He finally checked his phone and texted the team that Clint was back in town but to give him a few days before they tracked him down. Ten minutes later there was a delivery man at the door with bags of clothes for Clint, groceries, and enough gourmet accessories that they had no need to leave the apartment for at least a week, courtesy of Miss Potts. 

With most of his errands now completed for him Phil left the bag of clothes for Clint in the bathroom and tossed the last bag of his laundry for the dry cleaners next to the front door. With nothing left to do he collapsed into the couch and turned on some documentary as background noise while he reviewed the last few months. He still hadn’t decided if he should let Clint know just how much Shield knew about him.

Fury had given him the full file on Ronin, Hawkeye, and Clint Francis Barton after Clint’s second disappearance. Phil had spent half the time Clint was gone bouncing between utterly denying the information and trying to understand how it was even possible. Considering he spent most of his time around a Norse god, a super solider from the 1940s, and two genius inventors who had altered their own bodies there really wasn’t any way he could deny the facts.

Clint Francis Barton had been born in Waverly, Iowa. He’d been orphaned at a young age and run away from an orphanage to live and work for Carson’s Carnival of Wonders. He’d been billed as the Amazing Hawkeye, Greatest Marksman in the World and when he was seventeen his brother, Barney and his mentor had almost killed him and left him for dead. That was where the strange part happened.

The only record of a Carson’s Carnival of Wonders that Shield could find was from 1910 to 1950. There were even a handful of authentic posters showcasing the Amazing Hawkeye complete with dates, from 1935 to 1940. Shield then loses track of Clint Barton but soon after the rumors and notes start circulating about an assassin going by the name of Hawkeye.

Ten years later Hawkeye disappeared and was replaced with Ronin. Ronin popped up seemingly randomly over the next sixty years earning a fearsome reputation as an assassin who would wipe out entire organizations if one of those he protected was injured or killed. Both Ronin and Hawkeye had been known to pick their targets by some moral code they followed, only hunting the scum of the earth or those who hurt the ones they considered innocent.

If the files were true then Clint was the same age as Steve Rogers, only instead of sleeping under the ice for seventy years he’d been living as a reclusive assassin. Phil couldn’t figure out how to broach the subject of his best friend and coworker being over 90 years old but looking like he was in his late twenties or early thirties. His mutant abilities didn’t seem to prevent him from aging but he had looked noticeably younger after his jumps around the US.

Could this explain why Clint hated celebrating his birthday? Phil had only tried to push the matter once, arranging for the team and a few coworkers to meet up at a favorite bar. Clint had walked in, taken in the nervous cast of everyone not sure how an assassin would react to a surprise party and turned around and walked out without a word. It took Natasha tracking him down a week later to convince him to come back. 

It was almost noon when Clint finally left the office and went to change into some clothes that actually fit. He emerged from the back of the house wearing sharply creased jeans and a sleek expensive black sweater. Picking up his beat up combat boots he fussed with the sleeves making a face, it was about as far from his normal attire at home as you could get.

“Blame Pepper, I think she wanted to make sure you were comfortable.” Phil said with a soft laugh.

“They know I’m back?”
“Yes, but I asked them to give you a day or two to get over the jet lag before they descended upon us.”

“Like locusts.” He said with a small huff tugging the hems of his pants into place. “Where were we going to eat?”

“That depends on what you want? Craving anything?”

“Carbs?”

“Steakhouse or pasta?”

“Pasta.”

“Italian it is. We can go to Nona’s if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

They dropped off the dry cleaning and headed to Nona’s, a small hole in the wall restaurant he had found years ago during a stake out in the area. They ate mostly in silence savoring the authentic Italian and red wine that the friendly staff served. Clint asked after what the team and Shield had been up to while he was out and Phil had enjoyed filling him in on some of the more memorial blunders and fights the team had been part of. 

Once they were back at the apartment they settled on separate ends of the couch and Phil put on an old movie they could veg out to. Phil tried to settle in but he just couldn’t get his mind to quiet. Too much had happened in the last few months that he was dying to talk to Clint about.

“Alright, what’s got you so uptight?” Clint asked finally as Phil fidgeted with the blanket he’d pulled over their feet. “Is there a big mission you’re supposed to be prepping for?”

“No, nothing like that.” Phil said with a huff. “Fury’s given both of us two weeks off.”

“Nice of him.”

“You’re due some downtime and I haven’t taken a vacation in years.”

“Then what’s got you worked up?”

“Fury gave me your full file.”

“Oh.”

“I just wasn’t sure how to bring it up. I wanted you to know that I knew the full story so in case you ever needed to talk to anyone.”

“And the team?”

“No, only myself and Directory Fury know the full story. You’re welcome to tell the team or not as you decide.”

“When did you find out?”

“A few days after you left Fury called me in and gave me your full files.”

“So last night…”

“I meant it. You’re still Clint to me, no matter what abilities you have.” Phil said with a small grin, “Though I might pick your brain on what it was like growing up in the 1930s.”

“Yeah, I found out that Steve might have even have went to one of my shows at one point. Think he remembers?”

“At this point I think he’s just trying to forget and live in the current century as best he can.”

“About what I did.” Clint agreed with a snort shifting so they were sitting next to each other, legs sharing the ottoman.

“But you didn’t have the 70 year gap in technology to deal with. What were you doing anyway? Shield found a lot of rumors about Ronin and some news articles about possible targets being eliminated but not much that was concrete.”

“I traveled around, it was too hard watching people live their lives, age, and die. It was easier not to get attached to anything.”

“And yet you kept saving people. You could have lived any life you wanted to, studied, married, had a family and instead you ran around the world saving people.”

“So many people got hurt because of me at first. I kept losing control of my powers. I thought I needed to even the scales.”

“Then why did you come in? Why Shield?”

“I’d seen the good that Shield was doing and helped out where I could on a few missions. I liked how they handled themselves and that they never seemed to leave their soldiers behind if they could help it.”

“And you got Fury’s attention how exactly?”
“I knew a contact that he talked to and sent a message. He sent a lackey and I turned up in his office to protest. He was all ready to shoot me with that stupid laser gun you guys were using at the time.”

“I’ll have to get his side of the story.”

“I’m sure he’ll enjoy having someone to complain to now. He seems to like kicking me out of his office now that I’m an employee.”

“I always wondered what you had on him to keep your job at times.” Phil said with a snort, “Anyone else would have been out on their butt in the first month. You pulled so much shit while you were a probationary agent.”

“Like when?” Clint asked with a grin.

“Setting Romero on fire for one thing. I never did find out what he’d done to you.”

“They never proved I was the one who did it and he deserved it. The guy was an ass.”

“It was a known fact that he was but most people wouldn’t have set a fellow agent on fire for name calling. What did he really do?” 

“If we’re going to do this I need to know that what we’re talking about doesn’t go anywhere, not to Fury, not to Natasha, nowhere.”

“Alright, you have my word it won’t go any farther.”

“He raped a junior agent. I tried to get her to turn him in but she’d already put in for a transfer to a different base.”

“You should have told me. I would have dealt with him.”

“I made her promise to get treatment when she got on base and called to check on her. She’s all but running the Orlando base now.”

“You made Romero’s life a living hell. He finally died in a mission gone wrong six months later.”

“I made sure he didn’t touch anyone in those six months either.” Clint snarled.

“I wish you had told me about it even so. If something happens like that again I want to know, Clint.”

“That was before you were my handler. I was still in the general pool while you finished up with some training you were doing.”

“I still would have dealt with it.” Phil said shifting on the couch.

“I didn’t know you then, Phil.” Clint said bumping him with his shoulder.

“You’re right; I shouldn’t be punishing you for things in the past. I’m sorry.” Phil said with a huff, “I just hate that you had to shoulder that alone. Things like that are what handlers are supposed to be keeping an eye out for and Romero’s handler missed it.”

“That’s not your fault, Phil.”

“But if his handler missed that what else did he miss? I’m going to email Hill and have her look back through the files just in case.”

“Which is exactly why every agent wants you to be their handler, Phil, you look out for us.”

“That’s what a handler is supposed to do, Clint. We’re supposed to support our assets and keep them safe, in and out of the field.”

“I never understood why you were so willing to brush away my fuck ups. You let me get away with so fucking much.”

“Not really. You did more than your fair share of scud work over the years.”

“Yeah, but seriously, why didn’t you try and crack down on me? Most people would have.”

“You always had a good reason for whatever you did.” Phil said finally. “If you punched someone you had a moral reason to do so. If you jumped out of your blind it was because you needed a better line of sight to save someone’s life. You almost never did things just for the hell of it, and when you did I punished you as Shield rules directed.”

Clint went silent for a time and Phil went back to watching the movie. He could see Clint was working something through his mind. He left him be, he’d learned that pushing the archer while he was working on something just lead to him retreating until he decided how he was going to react.

“Phil?” Clint finally said his voice soft and hesitant.

“Yes?”

“We’re friends, right?”

“Of course, I would have to say at this point you’re one of my best friends.”

“One of them?”

“Natasha would kill the both of us if we left her out.”

“Probably true,” Clint agreed with a soft laugh, “She’s been my best friend since we beat the crap out of each other and I dragged her back to the safe house.”

“Which time?”

“Budapest,” Clint said laughing.

“Why are you asking exactly?”

“I just don’t think a lot of the team, maybe even Natasha, will forgive me if the rest of my life story comes out.”

“If they don’t then we will just have to find you a new team to work with. I’ll go wherever you need me, Clint. If you need a transfer in order to be comfortable then we’re transferring.”

“You can’t just leave the Avengers, Fury won’t let you.”

“Watch me.” Phil snapped, “If that’s what you need then we’re going. Just say the word, Clint.”

“I don’t want to leave. I was just starting to like Stark and Rogers before everything came out. We could be a good team.” Clint said with a sigh.

“Then if you are willing, we need to have a meeting with everyone. Make sure they understand their options.” Phil said, “You don’t have to tell them about everything, just what you are comfortable with.”

“We’re talking about Stark and Natasha; they’re going to piece things together eventually.”

“That still doesn’t mean that you need to tell them anything tomorrow or even anytime in the next month.”

“Alright,” Clint said with a sigh, shifting so he was slouched down in the couch.

“When do you want me to set up the meeting with the team?”

“End of the week? I just need a few days to breathe before we drag everything back up.”

“Far enough, I’ll let them know.”

“Good.”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: