Chapter 1: I
“Get in, losers, we’re going shawarmaing.”
Stark’s halfway into the limo before he finally notices they’re not trailing behind him like baby ducks anymore. He turns around, sees them still clustered in front of the entrance to the Tower, and sighs. “Really? Mean Girls? None of you? I mean, you I get –” He gestures to Banner, Thor, and Rogers, who all look equally blank. “But not even you two?”
Clint and Natasha reply with identical uncomprehending expressions. Stark heaves another sigh. “We’re definitely having a movie night, because what I just witnessed? That was criminal. Now look, we saved the world. I think we’re entitled to some downtime, and I saw a shawarma place while I was dying on the pavement. I’m buying. Let’s go.” He slides into the car with the practiced grace of a man who lives in limousines. Banner follows, knotting his fingers together, and Thor clambers in awkwardly. His shoulders barely fit through the door and that ridiculous cape of his gets caught on the handle.
“Might as well,” Natasha says, going over to help Thor untangle himself before he rips the entire door off out of frustration. Clint glances back over his shoulder. Fury (who showed up about five minutes after all the fighting ended) gives him a look that expressly says get the fuck out before I use your eyes as cocktail onions and turns back to the small crowd of SHIELD agents he’s addressing, so Clint squeezes in after Rogers. It’s not a small limo, but Thor and Rogers are twice the size of normal men and Stark’s ego fills about three seats all on its own. Clint tucks himself into the corner next to Natasha, leans his head back, and does his best not to fall asleep.
He’s so fucking tired. Loki didn’t let his subordinates sit down for more than five minutes at a time, much less sleep or eat – he kept them going though a mixture of magic and sheer will. A great honking asshole he might be, but the little fucker was determined. Clint would admire that sort of pure pigheadedness if Loki hadn’t crawled into his skin and reorganized his brain, taking that unswerving loyalty to people he actually gave a damn about and redirecting it towards himself and shelving everything else.
Stark is saying something as the limo purrs to life, but Clint misses most of it. Three days of no rest are catching up to him now that he’s not riding the biggest adrenaline rush of his life. And he can’t hope for proper sleep post-shawarma, there’s going to be debriefing after debriefing after debriefing, because Coulson is thorough to a fault, and then mandatory psychiatric evaluations where they’re going to pick Clint’s brain apart and demand answers he can’t give because he can’t remember everything he did under Loki’s control. He remembers Natasha kicking his ass on the Helicarrier, he remembers blowing up a few trillion dollars’ worth of SHIELD technology (god, he hopes they don’t take that out of his paycheck), he thinks he might have shot Fury at some point, but almost everything else is coated in a pale blue glaze and when he tries to scrape it away to get to the memories beneath, he just gives himself a headache.
Someone squeezes his wrist, and Clint opens his eyes to find that they’ve stopped. There’s absolutely nothing resembling a restaurant outside. “We have to walk a few blocks,” Natasha explains when he gives her a questioning look, removing her hand from his arm. “Too much debris in the street.”
Walking’s kind of the last thing Clint wants to do when he’s this tired. He’s hungry, though, so he obediently climbs out behind her and follows the rest of the motley crew along the sidewalk. He’d forced down a few chalky protein bars on the plane so he wouldn’t crash mid-world-saving shenanigans, but they didn’t make up for several days of malnutrition and his stomach feels tight and empty.
“Here it is,” Stark calls from up ahead, sidestepping half a car and opening the door to a nondescript if battered little restaurant. Two people inside – the owners, Clint presumes – look up from their sweeping and stare as they all shuffle through the door. “Hey, uh,” Stark pulls his wallet from his back pocket and holds it up, “can we eat here?"
They both gape at him, like maybe they’re a little dumbfounded by having Tony Stark walk into their restaurant and ask for food an hour after aliens invaded Manhattan. The man recovers first and says, “Yes, yes,” hastily righting one of the few unbroken tables. Rogers rushes over to help him and Stark, smirking, waves the rest of them up to the counter to order.
Clint not only knows what shawarma is, he’s had it before – unlike Stark, which is something not a lot of people can probably say – so it’s not much of an adventure to him. He slumps into one chair and props his leg up on another. His ankle (and his back, and his neck, and his shoulders…) protested the impromptu trip through a window and there’s a steady, slow ache crawling up his calf. Natasha detaches herself from the group a moment later and nudges Clint’s foot over so she can sit down. “Are you all right?” she says quietly.
“Yeah,” he replies. “Just exhausted. I haven’t slept in a while.”
Natasha scrutinizes him, then nods and leans back. The others file over one by one, fit a few extra chairs around the table and flop into them, and just like that they’ve gone from heroes to a bunch of tired, hungry people in weird clothes. There are bruises under Banner’s eyes, Thor’s been carrying around this melancholy air ever since they’d turned his brother over to SHIELD custody, and Natasha looks only somewhat less close to collapse than Clint feels. Rogers glances around at the destruction before muttering, “Tony, are you sure we should be here?” Stark blinks, and he goes on, “There’s a lot of damage, and we’re asking them to make us food.”
“Relax, Cap,” Stark says, “I will tip them very well… that should cover most of the repairs.” Rogers, mollified, says nothing more, and no one speaks again until the food arrives.
Curiously, by the time Clint gets his shawarma, he doesn’t actually want it. The sharp clench of hunger has evolved to a roiling nausea. He’s not too queasy to eat, but it’s getting close, so he takes a bite and figures if he pukes, he’ll get Stark to up the tip. Aside from Stark’s “Huh, this is good,” and Thor’s booming declaration of enjoyment, they eat in silence. It’s comfortable, companionable. Like they’re really a team.
Clint’s not entirely on board with this whole ‘team’ thing, yet. He doesn’t play well with others. That deficiency, along with a hefty dose of insubordination and a dick of a commanding officer, is what got him kicked out of the Marines after two years of service (well, the official reason was somewhat different, but he knows the truth). He promptly earned the highest score in SHIELD history on the marksmanship exam and became a valuable asset to the organization in half that time. They’ve let him work alone, or with Natasha, who’s like a part of himself, until now. Still, if he has to be on a team, it might as well be made up of the biggest pack of freaks this side of Earth.
He only gets halfway through his shawarma before becoming unbearably nauseated. He picks at some French Fries for a minute and concludes that nothing else is going down without making a quick return trip. It’s unnerving, that he’s literally incapable of eating – he went for an entire week without food once, proceeded to inhale a pack and a half of Oreos regardless of sound medical advice, and felt perfectly fine. Of course, prior to that, he’d been dry heaving all over the place because taking his meds on an empty stomach wasn’t –
The nausea, it’s a fucking aura, he’s getting lightheaded and he has maybe ten more seconds before he loses consciousness. He tries to say something, but nothing happens and nobody’s paying attention, not even Stark, Clint’s looking right at him and he’s studying his shawarma. None of them have any idea what’s coming and he almost wishes he could watch this because it might actually be morbidly funny.
Everything tips on its side. His vision grays out.
Oh, fuck, he thinks again, and he’s gone.
Chapter 2: II
Of all the things to think of at this time, what comes to Tony’s mind is the joke that ends “But you fuck one goat…”
It’s hilariously appropriate. The six of them just saved the planet from an alien invasion and a megalomaniacal dictator with mind-controlling magical powers. Thor’s a god, Steve is an enhanced super soldier, Bruce has serious anger management problems, Agents Romanoff and Barton kill people for a living, and Tony is… well, he’s Tony Stark. He’s the Iron Man, he’s an eccentric billionaire genius, he’s famous (sometimes for bad reasons, like that cock-up with the cleaning robot). And he flew an active nuclear warhead through a portal into outer space, which definitely counts for something. In short, they are pretty much the most amazing thing in the world right about now.
And yet he thinks that maybe this is the moment that defines them as a team – the one where Barton has a goddamn seizure in the shawarma joint and the rest of them panic and run around like headless chickens.
(Actually, that’s not entirely true. Bruce doesn’t panic. Tony tells himself they all did anyway.)
It happens so suddenly that none of them have any idea what’s going on until it’s too late. Tony’s inspecting something purple in his shawarma that he isn’t one-hundred-percent sure should be there when someone makes this funny groaning sound. He looks up to see Barton rigid, white as a sheet, eyes wide and staring at nothing – and then, before Tony can think beyond his initial assumption that the archer’s about to throw up all over their table, the eyes roll back and Barton goes crashing to the floor.
That would have been more than enough, really. But apparently Barton likes to go that extra mile, because an instant later he starts convulsing.
“Shit!” Tony says it, and so does Bruce, and he’s almost certain that it slips out of Steve’s All-American mouth as well. Natasha nearly sends the entire table flying and by the time Tony’s on his feet, she’s on her knees, hands hovering over Barton like she desperately wants to touch him but is afraid she might make it worse. This is the woman who deliberately induced a concussion to undo Barton’s brainwashing, and she looks terrified. She’s not the only one, though – Steve’s eyes are the size of saucers and Tony doesn’t feel too composed himself. “Shit,” he repeats, because he doesn’t know what the fuck to do. Thor says something of dubious usefulness and he tunes it out, crouching down with Natasha.
He’s only seen someone have a seizure once, when he was thirty-four, in the back of a seedy club in San Diego. Her name was Clara and she’d been on every drug known to man and she was still beautiful, all soft curves and long eyelashes and big green eyes, and she’d died before the ambulance even arrived. She had shaken and spasmed and gasped just like Barton for almost ten nightmarishly long minutes. Nobody had known what to do then, either. Some asshole had taped it, though, and when the video showed up on YouTube a few years ago complete with snarky commentary, Tony had personally made sure that it was wiped from the internet.
“Tony, move,” comes a voice from his left, and he tears his gaze away to see Bruce clambering into his personal space. There’s naked concern on his face, but his eyes are calm and his voice steady when he beckons Steve and Thor over and says, “Could you clear away the table and chairs? I don’t want him to hit one and hurt himself.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Natasha asks sharply.
Bruce looks at her. Something passes between them, and then she nods and scoots back just enough for Bruce to have better access to Barton, but not so far that he’s out of her reach. Thor and Steve get started on the manual labor. “I could kiss you,” Tony tells Bruce, “I am genuinely considering it right now.”
“Later,” Bruce says mildly. “We have to put something under his head or he’s going to give himself a concussion.”
Tony glances around, but none of them are wearing a sweater or jacket. The only extraneous piece of clothing nearby is Thor’s cape, and considering how attached the guy is to his hammer, Tony isn’t going to risk it. Instead he sits back on his heels, shucks off his own shirt (which was cheap anyway… by his standards, at least), and hands it over. Bruce gives him an unreadable look, then wads it up and stuffs it under Barton’s head. Barton is still thrashing around like he’s in the worst aerobics video ever, flecks of blood and foam on his lips, muscles violently flexing in a way that suggests he’s going to need some serious painkillers tomorrow. Just watching him is making Tony ache. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he acknowledges the absurdity of the situation – he’s a genius who graduated from MIT while most kids his age were still figuring out how to give themselves alcohol poisoning on the weekends, and he doesn’t know how to treat a seizure. He makes a mental note to correct this gross oversight as soon as he gets back to the Tower.
“Um,” Steve pipes up from behind them, “shouldn’t you make sure he doesn’t swallow his tongue?”
“You can’t actually do that,” Tony informs him, at the same time Bruce says, “That isn’t physically possible,” a bit more kindly. Tony wants to add a sarcastic comment, but hell, they might have really believed that sort of thing in the forties, so he lets it go. Bruce continues, “Help me roll him onto his side – people sometimes vomit during a seizure and it’d be better if he doesn’t choke to death.”
That one takes a bit of effort, because Barton’s quite incapable of staying still at the moment, but they manage. Tony’s backing off to make sure he doesn’t get a flying foot to the goods when he hears a faint whimper from the other side of the restaurant. He peers around Thor’s bulk to see the owners standing together by the counter, looking horrified. “Cap,” he says in an undertone. Steve looks at him, and Tony tilts his head towards the frightened pair. “Could you…?”
“Oh. Yeah, I’ve got it.” He goes over to comfort them and that just leaves Thor hovering, solemn and silent, but he’s not in the way and probably doesn’t have any relevant knowledge to offer, so Tony lets him be.
“Has this happened before?” Bruce asks.
Natasha shakes her head, then says, “Not that I know of,” without taking her eyes off of Barton’s face. “What do we do now?”
Bruce sighs. “We ride it out.”
In the four minutes and twenty-eight seconds it takes for the seizure to run its course, Tony’s pretty sure he ages a decade. It takes him by surprise, that he cares this much – he’s known the guy for a few hours at most, and prior to that, Barton was trying to kill them all. He wasn’t himself at the time, but still, that’s usually the sort of thing Tony takes into consideration when he’s deciding how much to care about someone. Obviously there’s something to be said for saving the Earth together. It occurs to him then that he doesn’t even remember Barton’s first name, even though he knows he’s heard it a couple of times. He wracks his brain – something with a C – Chris, Carter, Clive, Clint, that’s it. Clint Barton, SHIELD agent, suffered an acute case of Loki, could give Katniss Everdeen a run for her money.
Even Bruce is starting to get a little anxious, twisting his hands over and over one another, when the spasmodic jerking finally slows. Clint twitches a few more times and then goes completely limp, breathing deep and even. “I’m… assuming that’s a good thing,” Tony says as Bruce sighs again and scrubs his face with his hands.
“Yes. He should wake up in a few minutes… hopefully. Did anyone have the presence of mind to call for help?” The answer to that is pretty obvious – Tony and Natasha haven’t moved from Clint’s side, Tony’s willing to bet Steve doesn’t own a cell phone, and handing Thor one would probably just confuse him. Bruce looks to Natasha. “Do you have a way to contact SHIELD? He should get some proper medical attention, and I don’t know about taking him to a regular hospital…”
Natasha hesitates – her palm’s resting against Clint’s forehead – and Tony’s about to offer to do it when she abruptly nods and stands. “I’ll take care of it,” she says, turning and walking a few steps away. Her hand is trembling ever so slightly when she takes her phone from her pocket.
Clint looks very peaceful now, despite the blood around his mouth. Tony shifts into a more comfortable position and, in doing so, his hand lands in something wet. “Okay, gross,” he mutters, wiping his hand off on a stray napkin. Good thing Clint’s wearing dark pants. “So… now we wait.”
“Now we wait,” Bruce echoes quietly, and so they wait.
Chapter 3: III
The initial assessment, when consciousness sluggishly returns, is not good. He feels like shit. This is a degree of exhaustion that vastly eclipses three days of mind control and no sleep, which makes Clint wonder exactly what the hell is going on.
He’s on something horizontal, probably the ground, on his side. His sleeveless arm is flat against the cold floor and the chill seeps into his skin. His tongue feels like it’s been bitten, a few chunks are gone from the inside of his cheeks and lips, and there’s a huge glob of blood in his mouth. He swallows it automatically and then grimaces, wishing he hadn’t, because ew.
“I think he’s coming around,” someone whispers. Clint doesn’t recognize the voice, and that sets off the alarm bells. There’s a great gaping hole in his memory after getting into a limo with Natasha and the rest of the Looney Toons. The part of his brain that’s muddled but functioning quickly posits a scenario in which the limo was ambushed and he’s been compromised. Again. And he left his bow in its case back at Stark Tower, so no weapons – not that he has the motor control to work any right now. This is turning out to be a really shitty week.
When his limbs start feeling like they’re made of bone and muscle instead of noodles, Clint dares to crack open his eyes. There are three fuzzy figures bent over him. The blond is too far up for him to distinguish any other features. The one on the left has graying, curly hair; the one on the right, a mustache and no shirt. There’s something glowing bright blue in the center of his chest.
He’s the one Clint punches.
It’s a weak, uncoordinated blow, but he lurches up and manages to catch him in the jaw just hard enough for his head to snap back. “Whoa, whoa!” the other one shouts, grabbing his bicep. Clint tries to jerk away. The man’s stronger, though, and the shirtless guy has his other arm now and they’re trying to force him to the ground. They cling to him like barnacles as he fights, drawing upon his last dregs of energy to try to throw them off. Then the blond one (Thor, his brain supplies) leans in and barely flicks him on the chest and Clint’s back hits the floor. The other two are on him instantly. He bucks but they hold him down, so he gives up, opens his mouth, and goes for his last resort.
The one on the right gets a boot to the shoulder, falls out of sight, and an instant later she’s kneeling behind his head. “Clint!” Natasha says, putting her hands on either side of his face. “Clint, you need to relax. Relax. Don’t hurt them, they’re trying to help you.”
“You’re the one who kicked me!” The man sits up and the name and face click together – Tony Stark. And on his other side is Banner, still hanging onto Clint’s arm, but gently now. Thor’s up above, on his feet.
“You were scaring him,” Natasha says coolly. Her hand drifts through Clint’s hair. He reaches up and twists his fingers into her sleeve to make sure she’s real. “Breathe, Clint. It’s all right.”
Making himself inhale and exhale evenly, Clint clumsily swipes the blood off his mouth. Now that the fog is lifting, he’s starting to remember – they’d gone for shawarma. They’d given Loki to SHIELD and gone for shawarma and then… nothing, but it’s still more than he had a minute ago. Quite a few questions come to mind. He asks the most pressing one first, concentrating on not slurring the words. “Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”
Stark looks down at his bare chest, scrapes a bit of gunk off the arc reactor with his thumbnail, and shrugs. “Why should I?” he says, grinning. “No, actually, it’s cradling your delicate head.”
He can actually feel something soft under his head, so he’ll give Stark that one. “What happened?”
“You went all Exorcist on us,” Stark says.
Banner rolls his eyes. “He means you had a seizure.”
Seizure. Clint hasn’t had a seizure in four fucking years. The word brings to mind the feeling of sand creeping up the back of his shirt, a thick, heavy heat, the blazing sun burning the skin on his face. June of ‘02, he’d opened his eyes to a gaggle of SHIELD agents circling him, one talking rapidly into her comm, all with expressions of varying degrees of alarm. Except Coulson. Coulson was dripping cool water from his canteen onto Clint’s forehead, as stable and composed as always, telling Clint to just stay calm, Agent Darby was calling for a medevac, he would be fine. To look at him, it was as if one of his agents had a seizure in the field every other Monday. Clint, on the other hand, had been petrified that he would now find himself permanently behind a desk. He’d been in SHIELD for barely two years at that point and it was the first time he’d gone into convulsions in front of someone who could decommission him for it, but the doctor just switched his medication and eight weeks later he was on active duty again. His superiors hadn’t been quite so forgiving when he’d gone down seizing on the base at Kaneohe Bay. SHIELD didn’t give two shits as long as he took his meds and shot whomever he was told to; the Marine Corps had discharged him for it (officially, but his attitude probably hadn’t helped his case). Then again, Clint likes being a SHIELD agent more than being a scout sniper, so it all worked out in the end.
Dimly, he realizes Banner’s still talking, and reconnects with reality. “ – be okay. SHIELD’s sending over an ambulance.”
“Don’t need it,” Clint mumbles, even though he knows it’ll get him nowhere. Natasha frowns at him. “Don’t want it.” All he wants right now is to curl into a little ball and sleep.
“Tough,” she says. Then, with more concern, “Clint,” because he’s started to shiver.
“‘m all right. Floor’s cold.”
Thor’s face disappears out of his field of vision for a moment. There’s a snapping sound, then he’s stepping over Banner with his cape in his hands, and before Clint can protest, he drapes it over him like a blanket. Stark looks startled. Clint is too, a bit (he honestly didn’t think that thing was removable). “Thanks,” he says. And suddenly it seems very important in his advanced state of grogginess, so he adds, “I remember you.”
Now everybody just looks blank. He quickly elaborates, “New Mexico. The hammer. It was stuck in the rock. You couldn’t pull it out.” Which gives him the chance to ask something that’s been bugging him – and Coulson, and probably most of the SHIELD operatives who were there when Thor first stormed the temporary base. “How come you couldn’t pull it out? It was yours.”
Thor crouches next to Clint’s legs, pensive. “I was not ready to bear its power,” he says after a few moments.
“Oh.” Maybe that’ll make more sense later. “You took out half of our agents. Coulson wanted me to take you out.” Natasha’s hand in his hair stills for a split second. Clint catches the pause and files it away for further examination when his brain isn’t doing a passable imitation of pudding. “Then he changed his mind, so I didn’t have to put an arrow or five in you.”
Thor’s mouth curls into a smile, and he pats Clint’s knee with a plate-sized hand. “I am glad of that, my friend.”
Nobody seems quite sure what to say after that conversation, but the awkward silence is broken when Rogers comes into view and leans over Clint. “Hey,” he says, sounding relieved.
“Hey,” Stark replies, even though Rogers obviously wasn’t speaking to him. “How are they?”
Rogers glances over his shoulder. “Fine. They’re just a little worried that you’re going to sue them.”
“No. What? No. Hey!” Stark gets up on his knees, turns, and snaps his fingers. “Yeah, there will be no lawsuits here, I promise. This –” he waves a hand in Clint’s direction, “– just a minor medical emergency. No big deal. In fact, put the damages on my tab. All of them. Kind of our fault anyway.”
Clint can’t see the owners, but their response must satisfy Stark, because he plops himself down again and accidentally digs a knee into Clint’s ribs. Clint winces and shifts away as best he can from the intrusion – and immediately becomes aware of a far more unpleasant sensation. “Someone tell me I did not piss myself,” he says, cutting off Stark’s apology.
“Raise your hand if you want to lie to Barton,” Stark calls, flinging an arm into the air.
“Oh, fuck me,” Clint mutters, shutting his eyes. His face feels hot. Like the seizure wasn’t bad enough… he’s suddenly very, very grateful for Thor’s cape.
“I’ll take a rain check on that, gorgeous.”
Clint thinks about punching him again. “Don’t worry about it,” Banner says. “Loss of bladder control is actually very common when the muscles contract and relax during –”
“I know, I know,” Clint interrupts quickly. Unfortunately, ‘common’ doesn’t mean ‘not humiliating’.
“Clint,” Banner says. Clint opens his eyes and silently dares him to keep talking about it. He comes out with something entirely different, though. “Are you epileptic?”
Natasha stops stroking his hair altogether. Clint swallows, nods. “You never told me,” she says quietly.
“It never came up,” he says, which is true. He looks at her anyway to make sure she’s not upset. He and Natasha have worked together for years, and they know one another better than they know themselves, but sometimes things slip through the cracks. She purses her lips, eyes softening, then shakes her head. You’re such an idiot, her face says. He smiles faintly.
“When were you diagnosed?” Banner asks.
“Long time ago… I was in the Marines when this shit started.”
“When’s the last time you had a seizure?”
“What is this, Twenty Questions?” Natasha tugs on a lock of his hair. “Ow, okay… about four years ago, I think. I was undercover. Couldn’t get my meds for a day and a half… supposed to take them every day.”
“That would explain it,” Stark says. “A couple days under Loki’s control? I doubt he cared too much for his minions’ needs.”
Clint already came to that conclusion about five minutes ago. He kind of wants to tell them that having a seizure mid-fancy-banquet had not only not compromised his cover, it had actually enhanced it, since Paul Harper was supposed to be frail and sickly, but he’s so damn tired. His vocal chords won’t cooperate.
“Clint,” Natasha says. “Clint?"
“He was doing that before,” Rogers says, sounding very far away.
“What?” comes from at least three different people. Clint watches the ceiling waver as his vision darkens at the edges and wishes he could apologize for being such a pain in the ass. Normally, he would never do such a thing, but this is a bit extreme even for him.
“That,” Rogers says suddenly. “Right before he collapsed earlier, he kept swallowing again and again like that. I didn’t think anything of it since we were eating.”
“That’s… probably a complex partial seizure.” Banner sounds grim. “Thor, get your cape off him, he’s going under again –”
The last thing Clint hears before the encroaching blackness claims him is Stark – “My god, I can’t take you lot anywhere.”
Chapter 4: IV
He’s not restrained this time. That’s a good sign.
There’s something soft under him – not quite plush, which makes him suspect SHIELD because they don’t do decent mattresses, but comfortable enough – and it’s covered with stiff, scratchy sheets. Definitely SHIELD. Their standard-issue bedding is only slightly better than sandpaper. Clint doesn’t even use their sheets anymore, he just piles blanket after blanket on the bed in his bunker until he has something that small civilizations have probably been lost in.
He cracks his eyes about halfway open and is greeted by a plain white wall on the left, a plain white ceiling above him, and what appears to be an IV bag on the right. A hospital. Great. Why am I in a hospital?
…oh, shit. The epilepsy thing. I’m fucked.
Before his inevitable fucking, though, water would be nice. His mouth is dry and sticky and tastes an awful lot like blood and vomit. Clint turns his head carefully, wincing at the ache in his neck, and looks around the room. There’s no water that he can see, but there is Tony Stark. He’s leaning against the counter, holding a thick folder in his hands, scanning the contents with an expression of deep contemplation. He doesn’t seem to notice that Clint’s awake. “Stark,” Clint says hoarsely.
“Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty,” Stark says without looking up. “FYI, counting the one in the ambulance on the way over here, you’re up to three seizures today. You are on a roll.”
“That’s nothing,” Clint says. “I had eleven, once.” He doesn’t need to ask where he is – he’s intimately familiar with the infirmary of SHIELD’s New York office. He’s even more familiar with the ductwork, since he got to play Die Hard in here a few years ago when an extremist group took everyone hostage except for the archer asleep in the ceiling. There’s a padlock on the vent above the door. Someone knew he was coming. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m standing in for Natasha. We didn’t think you’d be awake for a while, so she went to wash your shawarma off her pants.”
Clint grimaces. He’s going to owe her an apology for that… maybe several apologies. Natasha takes most body fluids in stride (he has way too many memories of them performing amateur surgery on one another when dire circumstances necessitated it), but she’s never reacted too well to being thrown up on. “What’re you reading?”
Stark spares him half a glance. “Your medical file,” he says, flipping a page. “It’s gripping. Much better than The DaVinci Code. Don’t pull that out, you’re dehydrated,” he adds, and Clint stops picking at the tape keeping the tube in the back of his hand in place. Last time he’d ripped out an IV, Coulson had threatened to replace his arrowheads with foam Nerf tips, and then he’d actually done it. Clint had learned his lesson that day. He leans back against the pillows and idly wonders where Coulson is. That’s twice now today he’s been MIA when Clint’s woken up in medical wings. Usually he’s hanging around, even if only to scold him for being an imbecile (or to debrief him). He’d probably been busy earlier, what with Clint laying waste to a good quarter of the Helicarrier, but it’s weird that he’s not made himself visible yet. “Huh. I had no idea you were lactose intolerant.”
“I met you this morning.”
“Still. You never know when that sort of thing might come in handy. For example, next time you get Imperius Cursed, we’ll just booby-trap your intended target with dairy products. Problem solved.”
For a genius, Stark is pretty amazingly incoherent sometimes. Instead of addressing anything he’s just said, Clint asks, “When are they letting me out of here?”
“Tonight, I think,” Stark says. “But you’re apparently off active duty.”
“I’m off – why?” He knows why, actually – his status has always been contingent on how well-controlled his seizures are – but once he gets back on his meds, he’ll be fine, so it’s not really necessary. Maybe it’s some kind of punishment.
“I’m not a doctor – well, I am, just not a medical one – but I’m pretty sure they want to make sure Loki messing around in your head won’t require changing the dosage of your medication. There’s not really a precedent for this sort of thing.”
Fuck. “Where’s Coulson?”
Stark stares at him for a solid ten seconds. “…what?” he finally says.
“Where’s. Coulson?” Clint repeats. “I need to talk to him, now.” All changes to an agent’s status have to go through the chain of command, so if Clint is really off-duty, Coulson will know about it. He’ll also be the person to tell Clint how long his suspension will last and how well Clint has to behave for him to shorten it.
“You don’t know?” Stark says, almost numbly. He drops Clint’s file on the counter and runs his fingers through his hair. “You don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?” Clint demands. A horrible, cold fear swells in his stomach. Stark’s looking at him almost sympathetically. He clenches his fingers in the weave of the starched infirmary-issue blanket until his knuckles whiten. “What, Stark?”
Stark visibly swallows. “I’m sorry, Clint,” he says quietly, “but Coulson’s dead.”
The petite nurse who shows him the way out of the medbay looks like she’d actually throw him out on his ass were she physically capable. In his defense, Tony hadn’t known that Clint would react that badly to the news of Coulson’s death, nor had he been aware that severe emotional upheaval could actually trigger a seizure in an epileptic. That apparently isn’t a good enough excuse for the nurse. She’s even taken away his reading material, but Clint’s medical file is only a paper copy left for the attending doctors, so about sixty percent of it is blacked out. Tony figures that he’ll have to hack into the SHIELD database again to get all the juicy details.
Natasha is probably going to put his eyes out with her pinky and then castrate him using only a dull, rusted spoon when she finds out about this. The fact that Tony genuinely didn’t intend to upset Clint is going to be lost on her… and everyone else, he assumes, but she’s the one most likely to kill him for it. He wonders if those two are doing the horizontal tango or if they’re just epic ninja BFFs. He should’ve asked Clint while he had the chance.
A car pulls up to the curb right as he exits the SHIELD building, which is convenient. The door opening and Natasha climbing out is rather less convenient. “Where’s Clint?” are, predictably, the first words out of her mouth when she sees him.
“Are they releasing him yet?”
“Ah… no, probably not.”
Her eyes narrow. Yeah, he’s dead. “What did you do?”
Tony holds up a finger. “Let me deflect your question with one of my own – why didn’t you tell him about Coulson?”
Natasha’s face does… something. The emotions are smoothed away before Tony can get a read on them, but he suspects that she’s understandably displeased. He wishes he had something to protect his testicles with. Natasha Romanoff is a woman to fear on a good day; piss her off, and death cannot come quick enough. “This was not a good time, Stark.”
“I get it was bad timing,” he says, “but he was asking for Coulson. What did you want me to do, say “Okay, hold on a moment” and come back with a body bag?”
“You could have waited,” Natasha says tightly. “It would’ve been better coming from me.”
“Would it? Then why didn’t you tell him earlier?”
“He was already beating himself up over attacking the Helicarrier. If I’d told him… Clint’s a SHIELD agent. He would’ve followed orders no matter what. But I just –” She pauses, licks her lips. “I couldn’t put that on his shoulders yet. He’s going to blame himself.”
“Well,” Tony says, “we’ll just have to set him straight, then. I’ve heard fracturing his skull works pretty well.”
Natasha almost smiles. The effect is somehow terrifying. “‘Cognitive recalibration’ sounds better.”
“You’re right. Let me know when he gets out on parole,” Tony says, sliding into the car. “We’re having a bonding night.”
“You can not be serious,” Natasha says. Tony waggles his fingers at her in a sarcastic little wave and then slams the door shut before she can fillet him. “Tonight? Really?”
“Really. Hope you like Lindsay Lohan.”
Natasha’s waiting in the hallway when Clint’s finally cleared to leave. He’d argued with the nurse for fifteen minutes straight before she had thrown her hands in the air, stormed out, and come back with the discharge forms.
He has his marching orders – rest, drink a lot of fluids, no driving, operating heavy machinery, or crash-landing planes on the street, avoid as much stress as possible, continue taking his meds regularly and they’d adjust the dosage as needed, and, most importantly, he is not to be left by himself until the seizures stop for more than seventy-two hours. Never mind that Clint needs his alone time or he gets irritable and overwhelmed. And, as expected, he is off active duty pending “complete cessation of unusual neurological activity” or whatever Doctorese was on the papers. Grounded and babysat. He’s going to go postal in two days, maximum.
He makes a point of not thinking about what Stark told him.
“We’re going back to the Tower,” Natasha says on the way out. “Fury wants us local until Thor takes Loki to Asgard, and Stark’s offered to put us up. Should only be a few days at most.”
Clint tries to picture them all living together and comes up with a lot of carnage. “I hope he has insurance.”
“Have you heard the story about his homicidal cleaning robot?”
Outside, they climb into the car Stark’s sent over. He seems to have a lot of those to spare, and apparently none of the chauffeurs care that driving in this part of Manhattan is like navigating a slalom course right now. Natasha reaches into the bag on the seat and hands Clint his sunglasses. God knows how she got them, and it’s eight p.m. so they’re not exactly necessary, but he slips them on anyway, liking the familiarity. He leans his head on her shoulder for the duration of the ride.
Just as Stark’s gaudy overcompensation comes into view, Natasha takes a deep breath. “Clint…”
“Not now,” he mumbles. He knows what she’s going to say, and he can’t deal with it yet. “Please.”
Her hair brushes his face as she nods.
They leave the car behind and enter the Tower a minute later. Right next to a potted plant, Clint sees a familiar case, and he veers away from Natasha to grab it. Nobody else can really use his bow – it was built exactly for someone of his height and strength, and he’s one of about three people who know precisely how much force is needed to unfold it – but he doesn’t want it getting swept up by one of Stark’s cleaning robots or whatever the hell else he might have in here. He follows Natasha halfway across the lobby and then promptly stops when he realizes she’s leading him to an elevator. Clint doesn’t do elevators. When he must ride one, he prefers to be on top, rather than inside, where he can’t escape if it plummets.
(Seventy-four floors, and he’d only survived because he managed to open the service hatch on the roof and shimmy up the cables three seconds before the car crashed into the bottom of the shaft.)
She wraps a hand around his elbow and pulls him inside anyway. “You are not climbing up the outside of the building right now,” she says firmly, pressing a button as the doors close. “Considering this is one of Stark’s and his massive ego is not unearned, the chance of it malfunctioning is practically nonexistent. Right, JARVIS?”
“That is correct,” a cool, accented voice says.
“Stark’s computer system,” Natasha explains when Clint raises his eyebrows.
Of course he’d want a computer that would talk back to him. He probably uses it to test out his pickup lines. Clint entertains himself for a minute by imagining that, which might be what Natasha intended because by the time the creeping anxiety of being trapped in an elevator returns, the doors are opening to a large room with a television and a few big, cushy couches and only two broken windows. “He said he’d meet us up here,” Natasha says. Clint sets his bow’s case down in front of a couch, then pretty much just crashes. Natasha covers him with a blanket and he’s out.
When he wakes, what feels like just seconds later, his sunglasses are on the floor, so is the blanket, and his head is resting in Natasha’s lap. She’s leaning against the side of the couch, not asleep, and a moment later he realizes why.
“Well, don’t you two look cozy.” Stark strolls in like he owns the place (which, technically, he does), a tumbler of something undoubtedly alcoholic in hand. His gaze rests on Clint for a little too long.
“Hngmf,” Clint says.
“Don’t fall back asleep yet, Robin Hood, we’re watching a movie. Attendance and awareness are mandatory.”
Clint tells him to go fuck himself, but it comes out in Swahili. His brain is still a little scrambled from the seizures. Stark smirks, though, so either he knows the language or just guessed the intent. Natasha looks from Clint to Stark, then prods Clint’s arm until he lets her get up. “In that case, I’ll be right back,” she calls over her shoulder, leaving the room in spite of Clint’s telepathic pleas for her not to abandon him to his fate. Everything about Stark’s body language screams I want to talk but because I only speak Nerd and am insensitive it’s going to be uncomfortable and may end in violence.
Then they’re alone. The tension rockets. Clint occupies himself with inspecting the bruise that the IV needle left on the back of his hand. Stark paces a bit, fools around with a tiny device he brought with him, mutters some technobabble under his breath, and finally starts saying something understandable, but Clint cuts him off. “Did I do it?”
“No,” Tony says without waiting for Clint to specify further. “It was Loki. I saw the security footage.”
Clint nods. “Thanks,” he mumbles into the cushion.
It’s really all that needs to be said.
Honestly, he doesn’t miss Coulson. Saying he misses him just isn’t enough. It’s more like Coulson is missing from Clint, because Coulson, same as Natasha, is a vital part of himself that he simply cannot function without. They’re his bones, his blood. Coulson was the first person in over a decade to give a damn about the mouthy little pain in the ass sharpshooter who’d been unceremoniously dropped into his lap because nobody else wanted him. Imagining going out into the field and turning on his comm for orders and hearing any voice but Coulson’s is impossible.
Clint’s eyes sting. He thinks of the Empty Quarter, twenty-five kilometers out from base, grit in his mouth and droplets of water splashing onto his sunburnt face. Keep your eyes open, Agent, stay with me. He’d whinged that he could walk when they put him in the helicopter on a stretcher. Coulson had told him to shut up. Clint kept up a steady stream of complaints anyway just to piss him off, but as soon as he felt that wave of nausea again (the only warning he ever got), he’d reached out and Coulson had caught his fingers and restarted his spiel of reassurances.
An awful, strangled sound rips its way out of his throat, and he realizes with no small degree of shame that he’s curled up on Stark’s couch and almost fucking crying. Crying is not something Clint Barton does. Ever. Even when he loses one of the only two people in the world that he loves. Especially not in front of others. Stark is staring at him with an expression of pure horror, which is actually kind of really funny, but he forces himself to stop feeling and box up everything again and put it away until he can handle so much emotion. It’s harder than it usually is. He’s struggling to compose himself before Natasha gets back when Stark does something wholly unprecedented – he picks up the blanket, throws it over Clint somewhat haphazardly, and puts his hand on Clint’s shoulder and squeezes.
What the fuck, Clint thinks, and then what the fuck again because it sounds about right. He still doesn’t reject the extremely awkward attempt at comfort.
He doesn’t know Stark. The man’s on newspapers and magazines the world over and everyone’s heard his name and they fought off an alien army together, but Clint doesn’t know him. Coulson does. Did. Coulson always spoke of him with a sort of fond exasperation. He’d told Clint once that Tony Stark would do his absolute best to make sure everyone thought the absolute worst of him.
Clint kind of likes the guy despite himself.
“This never happened,” Stark (maybe he’s Tony, now) says.
The moment ends when Natasha returns, Thor in tow. Tony hastily lets go of Clint’s shoulder and steps away. As soon as Thor spots Tony, he waves Mjölnir and rumbles, “Man of Iron! There is an intruder in your home. He refuses to reveal himself to me.”
Natasha rolls her eyes. “I found him in the hallway attempting to challenge JARVIS to armed combat.”
“What – no, look, big guy, you can’t battle JARVIS. He’s not an intruder, he’s a computer. He doesn’t have a physical presence for you to fight. Could you stop swinging that thing around before you take out a wall?”
“Oh, leave him alone,” Clint interrupts, yawning. Thor looks a bit lost. Clearly nobody else is going to stick up for him, and since they had a connection or something back there in the shawarma restaurant, the duty falls to Clint. Besides, it’s not really Thor’s fault anyway. He doubts they have talking computers on Asgard. “So what if he knocks down a couple of walls? It’d probably go with the décor – are you going for ‘destructive chic’ in here or what?”
“Big help there, Barton. Where are the other two? I said ten o’clock sharp.”
“It’s nine-thirty,” Natasha points out.
“My tower, my time zone.” Tony downs whatever’s in his glass in one gulp. “I’m going to find the Captain and Bruce, and when I come back, there had better be the same number of walls as when I left.”
He exits. Natasha’s lips twitch. She nudges Clint’s side, and he obligingly lifts his head so she can retake her seat and he can have his pillow back. “Come on, Pikachu,” he says, pulling his knees up so there’s a cushion free for Thor. He notices that Thor’s not wearing his cape anymore, thinks it’s probably being washed, and sort of wants to apologize but wants everyone to just forget about that little incident even more.
“What is this ‘Pikachu’?” Thor asks, cramming himself into the space left on the couch. There’s two more free but screw that, if Tony ever decides to team up with the big green guy and the super soldier, Clint wants Thor on his side.
“A mystical yellow being that commands lightning,” Clint tells him.
Thor mulls this over, then opens his mouth, but Clint’s spared actually having to explain by Tony coming back with the others – and three boxes of pizza, which he drops on the coffee table. “Where did you get those?” Natasha says.
“There was a place way out in Brooklyn when Cap was a kid that he went to a lot… turns out they’re still around. I talked them into delivering,” Tony says, and by ‘talked’ he clearly means ‘paid them two-thirds of Fury’s annual income’, but nobody calls him on it. Rogers looks deliriously happy. Clint hears wedding bells. “Now everyone get comfortable. Asgardians, World War II soldiers, traveling doctors, and people who have been living under a rock –” He levels a glare at Clint and Natasha like they’ve personally offended him, “– welcome to Modern Culture 101. Take notes, there’ll be a quiz. JARVIS?” The lights obediently turn off, the television turns on, and Tony plops onto one of the empty couches. Banner tentatively sits next to him. Rogers ends up on the end, conveniently right in front of the pizzas.
And that’s how they all end up in Stark Tower that night after saving the world, watching Mean Girls and eating pizza. Thor’s hopelessly enamored with this new cuisine and there’s a few moments of tension when it looks like he and Rogers are about to get into a real knock-down-drag-out fight over the last pie. Clint has zero appetite but steals the pepperoni off Natasha’s slices when she’s distracted. The movie itself is actually pretty amusing – Thor and Rogers appear to be enjoying themselves despite the many pop culture references, and Tony has the entire script memorized.
Right after Regina gets hit by a bus, Clint’s stomach roils forebodingly. “Hey, uh.” He lifts a hand to get everyone’s attention so they don’t have a repeat of the shawarma incident. “Don’t freak out, but you might want to pause the movie.”
“Are you doing the Emily Rose thing again?” Tony asks. Clint can’t answer, which is really an answer in and of itself. “Shit. All right, nobody panic this time, we’ve got this.”
“Second verse, same as the first,” Banner offers dryly.
“I think this is more like the fifth,” Tony says, and Clint really wants to laugh at that for some reason, but the room goes ass-over-teacups and he slips away.
Obviously they’ve worked out what should and shouldn’t be done when this sort of thing happens, because when Clint lethargically comes to on the floor, the only person he sees hovering over him is Natasha. There are no other voices but hers as she quietly brings him up to speed. You had a seizure. You’ve had a couple of them today. We’re in the Tower with Stark, Dr. Banner, Thor, and Captain Rogers. You’re all right. Thank you for not throwing up on me again. Then, when he feels a little less woozy, she slips her arms under his shoulders – whether to help him to his feet or just sit him up, he doesn’t know, because Thor takes that as his cue to lift Clint back onto the couch with one hand.
“Are you well, Agent Barton?” he says.
Clint yawns and lets Natasha tuck the blanket around him again. “I’ll survive,” he mumbles thickly.
The only thing he ever wants to do after a seizure is sleep. He prefers small, high places where there’s a wall at his back and he can see everything without being seen; however, anywhere will do when he’s so tired he can barely hold his eyes open. There’s a vent in the ceiling and he momentarily entertains the thought of climbing up. Then he remembers the murderous cleaning robot (which may or may not be an urban legend, since there were apparently no surviving witnesses, but rumor has it that it’s still loose in the Tower) and changes his mind. He’ll stick with the couch, even if it means sleeping in front of other people.
Once he can keep his eyes focused, he notices Banner watching him and offers a shrug. He’s all right, really. Banner nods. Tony is also watching him, but he doesn’t look quite so doctorly about it, and then he opens his big mouth. “Well, at least this time you didn’t –”
“I will garrote you with my bow if you finish that sentence, Stark.”
Tony tilts his head to the side like a curious bird. “Can you really do that?”
“Yes,” Clint confirms, at the same time Natasha says, “I’ve seen him do it.”
“Okay, I’ll shut up then,” Tony says, which is pretty funny because he seems incapable of shutting up – and, of course, a minute later he’s off again. “You know, that was much better. Great teamwork. Maybe we’re not hopeless after all.” He sits back on the couch and props his feet up on the coffee table. “I told you all that the dress rehearsal would come in handy.”
“Dress rehearsal?” Natasha deadpans.
“He made us practice,” Rogers explains, looking a bit embarrassed. “I… was the victim. A lot.”
Clint snorts. “How’d you get stuck doing that?”
Thor, of all people, is the one to provide an explanation. “The Man of Iron performed an ancient Midgardian ritual of selection. He and Bruce Banner did this –” He touches his finger against the tip of his nose and holds it there. “– and suggested I do the same, which I did. As Captain Rogers did not, he was chosen.”
“That’s not really an ancient –” Natasha starts, but she’s interrupted when Clint, who is exhausted and aching and emotionally wrung out, finds all of this absolutely hilarious and just bursts out laughing. He thinks he might be a little hysterical. Still, some pretty nice mental images there.
He decides, at this very moment, that he’s finding a way to keep the biggest pack of freaks this side of Earth in his life somehow.
“It’s not an ‘ancient Midgardian ritual of selection’,” Natasha continues over Clint’s laughter. “It’s something children do. Stark’s just screwing with you.”
“Hey, it’s better than what he suggested!” Tony replies, inclining his head towards Thor. “His Asgardian ‘ritual of selection’ involves chopping off body parts.”
“Only if you lose,” Thor says.
Clint scrubs his face with his hands, pulling himself back under control. Yeah, there had definitely been a bit of hysteria there, but it felt good nevertheless. “I’m actually sorry I missed all that.”
“I’ve got it on video,” Tony says. “Especially Cap’s fabulous performance.” He looks unmoved by Rogers’s unmanly squeak. “And speaking of videos, can we continue?”
With that, the movie starts again, and they keep watching like nothing ever happened. No more fanfare, no more fuss. Natasha’s gone back to stroking his hair. Tony and Rogers are fixated on the screen. Thor’s hand is resting on Clint’s calf, which is a little weird, but okay, it’s been that sort of day. Banner’s almost smiling for real instead of doing that shy, cautious lip curl he seems to usually display. And Clint himself is… all right, considering the circumstances. He’s lost so damn much today, but with everything he’s gained, he thinks he probably broke even.
“Go to sleep, Clint,” Natasha says softly. Her fingertips glide behind his ear slowly, soothingly. “I’ll watch your back.”
“You always do,” he mumbles.
“Awwww,” Tony coos.
Clint flips him off and pulls the blanket up to his nose. “Hey, Thor,” he says. “How many of your Asgardian choosing games involve bloodshed?”
“Most of them.”
He doesn’t know if Thor’s serious or if he’s trying for a joke, but it doesn’t really matter. “Mind teaching me a few?” He shoots Tony a tired smirk, then closes his eyes. “Let’s see how lucky Stark really is.”
“Listen to your girlfriend and go to sleep, Merida,” Tony says, almost affectionately. The volume of the television dips considerably. “We’re trying to watch a movie.”
I do hope you enjoyed my first foray into the Avengers fandom. Thanks for reading!