Title: The wise are mightier than the strong.
Characters-Pairings: Pretty much all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters & inspiration from other Marvel Comic Verse characters – Clint/Natasha, and a wee-bit Tony/Pepper.
Summary: “Maybe training is all I’m good for anymore: passing on my wisdom to the newer generation.”
Rating: PG-13 (I think... I suck, with ratings... Well to cover my bases, Fair Warning: there is mild language and some injuries imagery if you can’t handle it.)
Authors Note: This is completely un-beta’d so all mistakes (humongous and/or minor) just credit them to that.
Disclaimer: I obviously DO NOT own anything... I’m just a fan expressing some love.
“This is not a drill!” he yelled as he ordered them to take cover, and he wasn’t kidding.
He un-holstered his gun and started shooting, at the 9 foot tall metal androids, with absolute composure and dead aim, walking (the crazy bastard was walking!) swiftly towards cover himself.
It dawns on them, as debris, older army vehicles and museum worthy war artefacts are flying all around, that this is it: The real deal.
“Stark, what’s your ETA?” and the wall behind them gets knocked over by a 1940s jeep being thrown across the bunker.
“Ten minutes. Eleven tops.”
“Too long,” he says under his breath, but the dead silence, across the coms he’s given them, indicates that everybody heard him.
“International, super spy agency and you can’t hold off a couple of mean little robots for ten minutes. I’m disappointed Barton.” Stark tries for some false levity, but the anxiety in his voice is clear and not reassuring.
“With Odin’s official visit we’re running on emergency personnel,” Agent Romanoff says matter of fact. It’s unnecessary but she does. They figure talks like this over the coms are common.
“Hawkeye, we’ll be there in four,” Cap says
“Take the East wing. Cage’s team could use the backup.”
“You’ve only got cadets with you Barton. You need more help!” Captain Cage’s voice booms through the coms, as something in his background possibly explodes, if the noise is any indication.
“We are not near the R&D department. That takes priority. We’ll be okay. Rogers, do you copy?”
“I copy. You heard him, Natasha.”
“Drop me off by the northwest wall. He can cover Clint,” Doctor Banner’s voice eases through the coms.
“Big mean and green? Works fine for me,” Barton says, as he stands to take aim over the tank they’re ducking behind and shoots another arrow.
It gets lodged in the joint of the robot’s shoulder, igniting a few sparks. Nate looks at the scene incredulously before he shouts in disbelief, “That’s it? That’s all he’s good f...?” and BOOM!
The bot explodes an instant later, and they’re left looking on in complete and utter awe.
“That was so cool,” Cassie says.
“You know what would be cooler? If the lot of you stopped making me look bad, and actually used those things I gave you!” he says with some frustration, waving to the various guns he passed along.
They spring into action, leaning over the few openings the tank offers them, take aim and shoot. He lands more useful hits than all of them combined, but at least he’s not the only one doing the work anymore.
There is one swift moment, when he moves so fast, they don’t realise what’s happened until it’s over: he aligns his back with the tank, practically gluing himself to it, draws back his bow and releases an arrow. An android had made it passed the perimeter of the tank and was walking right to them. The arrow gets stuck in the barrel of the shoulder mini missile launcher, and the robot explodes from the missile’s recoil.
He follows that with another quick reaction, as he grabs the first armed hand he finds in front of him (it is Wyatt’s) and drags the kid along down with him, so that they’re both laying on the ground. He’s placed his hand over Wyatt’s, on the grip and the trigger of the magnum, and shoots at another droid, that has breached their perimeter from the other side. He empties the clip, at one of the knee joints, in attempt to dislodge the shin part of the mechanical leg from the rest of the machine. It works because the thing loses its balance, trying to take another step, and falls to the ground.
A resounding crash and a roar are heard from the other side of the building, and he closes his eyes in relief. “Thank God,” he says as he straightens up, and drags Wyatt along with him, to the side of the tank.
“You stay here, you stay low and you keep shooting. Understood?”
They nod at him, solemnly.
“Good. Now cover me.”
If he hadn’t managed to impress them before this would do the trick. He grabs on to the tank and flips himself on top of the canon, bounces of it and launches onto the nearest robot. He hangs to its neck and slides over to its back so that he’s piggybacking it. He slips a knife out of his boot and lodges it between the metallic giant’s head and body.
He gets thrown onto the side of another tank, as it falls down and he tumbles along with it. He groans in pain at the collision, but picks himself up immediately, regardless.
The Hulk is smashing two of the bots relentlessly together, as Barton aims another explosive arrow to one about to ambush his green comrade from behind. For their part, they try to distract the machines from their position as much as they can, but bullets and missiles and explosives and other things are flying all around anyway. A mini missile lands a few feet away from him. “SIR! To your right!” Eli yells out, and his response is to not even question or glance over. He just starts running in the opposite direction. It blows up before he has time to duck.
The wave of the explosion throws him on the side of a wing of a nearby F16. He tries to hold on and climb on the plane, but can’t seem to recover from the hit as fast as he would like, and he gracelessly slides off slowly, and hits the floor hard. He rolls to his side, but doesn’t seem to be able to move any more than that.
Somehow, that scene grabs the attention of three nearby droids, and they begin to, dangerously, make their way to where he’s lying. They all start shooting indiscriminately at the machines. “No no no no no no,” Kevin chants in despair, as he shoots, emptying clip after clip in vain. Their bullets don’t penetrate the thick metal armour and none of them can aim like him, at the minimally exposed electronics that run those things. They’re wasting shots and running low on ammo.
A godly sign appears when lightning strikes the one that is the furthest away from him. A red and golden blur, zooms in through the one of the broken high windows, and carries the one that was a second ago hovering over him, until they crash to the opposite wall. There is another crash, and down through the ceiling, right in front of him, lands a big man, with long blond hair, and knocks the third one away with a huge hammer.
Lightening and blasters and roars are taking down the robots, one by one.
They come out, from behind the tank, and begin to run towards Barton when the god, the monster and the armoured genius are left playing a man-to-man game with the three standing robots.
“Cap we’re almost done here. How’s your status?” Stark asks, and he gives a final blast to his opponent. Behind him, the Hulk is tearing his machine limb to limb and Thor hammers on mercilessly, as if he’s out to make a perfect metal tapestry.
“We’re clear. We’ve begun moving people to the medical bay.”
“Any casualties?” Director Fury’s voice comes through the com.
“Two confirmed,” Cage answers. His voice is laced with sadness, even if his words follow protocol.
They’ve finally reached him and realise he hasn’t moved much in the last few minutes.
“Sir? Sir, are you okay?” Kate asks, as she bends over him and reaches out to touch his shoulder.
“I think I might need a doctor now,” he says, and he is struggling for a breath. Instead he coughs and blood splatters the floor.
They don’t realise how they are being pulled away from him, but they are.
Thor is now leaning over him, turning him carefully and delicately to have him lie on his back, calling out his name soothingly, telling him not to move. “BANNER, HELP!” his loud commanding voice travels the warehouse, wanting to get the attention of the man inside the monster.
“Jarvis full body scan,” Stark orders the computer in his suit.
The Hulk starts running from across the bunker, getting smaller in size and less green with each stride. When he’s up to them and leaning over him, he’s just Dr. Banner.
“Clint, look at me. HEY! Clint, talk to me! Where does it hurt?” he demands to know, as he unzips his jacket and starts tearing at the T-shirt underneath.
“Everywhere,” he barely breathes out, his head lolling to the side, eyes closed.
“Bruce...” Stark says in a worrisome tone, trying not to sound desperate, but it’s unnecessary to even attempt and hide it. The damage is clear, the second his chest is in sight.
The bruising has begun; broken bones are visible underneath his skin and other things - none of them really want to know what - are protruding and creating bumps all over his torso. Nothing seems to have broken through his flesh and that seems to worry the doctor more.
“Medical bay. NOW!” Dr.Banner orders the demigod. The Asguardian doesn’t miss a beat. He picks him up easily and begins to take long, fast strides towards the exit. They follow in shock, without even realising that they are.
~ * ~
She’s standing on Steve's right, while he’s talking to Fury.
She got herself a terrible gash, that follows her hairline, all the way down to her jaw. It needs stitches and right now it’s still bleeding a little, but you can hardly tell anymore through, the drying and crackling, blood smudges that are already covering her face. It’s not the worse head wound she’s had. Switzerland always wins that contest, and since then, she considers that, as long as she passes the first response test, she’ll be fine. She passed the first response test, so the stitches can wait.
Her left arm has been temporarily put in a sling, but needs much more attention than that. It is dislodged at pretty much every joint possible, and a few of her fingers are sticking out in odd angles, which means they are surely broken.
She’s good with the pain for now, though. She is still pumpped with adrenaline. She, also, demanded a fistful of Vicodin, the second she set foot in the medical bay, to hold her off. There is a massive clean up to deal with, and there are more severe injuries to be taken care off. An (albeit rather badly) beaten up arm and a long, deep scratch, along her face, can wait.
Steve’s okay; a few bruises here and there, but this is Captain America and so he’s healing along nicely without too much trouble. Hill has a couple of cuts of her own. Cage is still having some debris and glass being pulled out of his back. The rest of his team are in for a lot of stitches, and even more bruises. They can count a broken jaw and the newbie has earned quite the scar, with those second degree burns from the last explosion. And then there are the two DOAs.
It’s the facility's security detail that came out relatively okay, or considering how little they did, maybe they got away with too much damage: One bad concussion and two shattered legs.
Clint’s right, they are quite a useless unit and that needs to be dealt with. If Phil was here, he’d write a memo.
The doors to the Medical Bay slide open and Kate, the one who’s been following Clint around, like a love struck little puppy, appears at them looking shaken, out of breath and about ready to throw up.
“Agent Barton... he...”
From over the girl’s shoulder, she sees Tony in full armour, minus the helmet, walking determinately towards them. Further behind him she notices Thor and blinks when she realises he’s carrying Clint in his arms, while Bruce is holding his head steady and talking to him frantically; the rest of Clint’s ducklings are closely behind.
She breaks into a sprint and doesn’t even acknowledge Tony as she runs passed him. She does hear him bark a “Gurney. GO!” to one of medics though.
She hears the wheels behind her, and somebody saying “out of the way”, so she steps aside to let them pass. Thor sets Clint down gently, and Bruce begins pushing at the gurney, as he orders one of the medics to prep an OR “and tell Mr. Stark to upload the scans...”
“Two steps ahead of you buddy,” Tony yells from inside the trauma room area.
They’ve started wheeling him towards her and she meets them halfway through the corridor. She bends over his lying form, grasping his hand and keeps walking back, from where she just came from.
“You look like crap.” She does.
“You look young.” He doesn’t.
He looks tired and old and pale and dying. And she can’t bring herself to think about that.
He grins at the inside joke. He tries to anyway.
“Don’t... coddle me... Nat. It’s not... reassuring.”
They’ve reached a halt now and the Director is standing at the other side of the gurney, watching over them, with a somber look in his eye.
“Sir... I... regretfully report... the AHU... storage... is destroyed.” He tries for a light tone but his voice comes out strained.
“Don’t speak Barton,” is all Fury says, as he lays a hand on Clint’s shoulder. It is undoubtedly an order, but it is said in the most kind and soothing tone he posses, the one he rarely uses, and something tightens, around her heart.
“Somebody get me some damn morphine right now, please!”
“Dr.Banner if you could calm down...” Hill takes a step forward.
“My friend has suffered massive internal injuries Lieutenant. I guarantee you, I’m more concerned of him not drowning in his own blood than being angry. So unless you want me to get mad, could you please back the hell off and let me do my job,” Bruce says, as he’s working on inserting an IV needle in Clint’s arm. The words are tense, but his composure is fully controlled, so everybody shuts up about the other thing.
“You know... that could t... turn... into a... a damn... sexy scar.” He attempts to raise his hand to her temple to track the line of her torn skin. He doesn’t master the strength to lift it an inch.
“When it stops bleeding all over my face you mean?”
He tries to smile and tries to nod, but winces instead.
“Natasha we need to go,” Bruce says kindly and urgently.
She nods and bends over his ear. “See you when you wake up?” she says and levels her face over his.
He doesn’t say anything. He just breathes on her lips once, soundly, as he closes his eyes, and it’s the closest thing to a “yes” she’ll get.
She bends, slightly more, to place her lips over his and pecks him soft and sweet.
Bruce, another doctor and three medics are pushing him away, through a set of glass doors, before she’s even stood up straight.
“What the hell happened to your com?” Tony asks Steve accusingly, after they’re gone.
“I took it off,” he answers earnestly, and that gets him a look as if he sprouted another head. “I was reporting Tony...” she steps away from them, not being in the mood for this, and walks closer to the class doors, Bruce just took Clint through.
“He’s bleeding out... or in... or whatever and he’s one of your men. I’ve been trying to reach you to upload the scans and put in the request to get the OR ready. What the hell Rogers?”
“It is probably not the best of times to enter into a fight.” She knows things are bad, when Thor is being the voice of reason.
She can feel all three of them staring at her back. She can also sense them when they walk up to her.
“He is wise you know.” None of them seem to know how to respond to that. “He is not super-freakishly-smart or super-humanly-strong. But he has gone through enough crap to be wise.”
“More so than some of the wisest people,” Tony agrees, and Steve puts a hand on her shoulder.
“In ways, Natasha, that does makes the Hawk’s Eye smarter and stronger than any of us,” is all Thor has to offer.
The adrenaline is wearing off and sadness is settling in, and suddenly her head begins to pound and her arm hurts too much and she’s crying.
She hasn’t cried in decades, and in truth she just assumes that when she was a child, before she was taken and while they were putting her through hell, she probably used to cry. But she doesn’t remember it. Now here she is, with memories of too many wars and so many more battles and the scars to remind her, yet she’s suddenly sobbing like a baby, and it feels like her first time.
As Steve’s arms wrap around her, she curses herself for being weak, because historically and objectively, this isn’t the worst she’s been through and it’s not the worst Clint has been through either, and it’s not even the worst thing they’ve gone through with this team. But it is years down the line, and they have done this one too many times already, and his body is more broken than before and that makes a difference.
It’s this training assignment that has messed him up, really. This, pairing him up, with a bunch of eighteen and nineteen year olds, that don’t get it. These children that think this job is a cake walk, and that it’s easy for him to keep up. And they mock him for it, all of it, the job and the keeping up; because they can’t appreciate that he’s spent years perfecting the illusion, of making it look easy.
And it is those kids’ fault, his recent exhaustion and how he’s begun doubting himself.
And the slow and gradual realisation that what he’s gone through his whole life is wearing him down, and is weighing in on him, that’s their fault too.
And the fact that he might die trying to protect them...
She spares a glance their way and notices the devastated faces of the young recruits.
She’s being irrational and unreasonable and unfair, so she holds on to Steve tighter and just cries some more.
~ * ~
They’ve always been an odd pair, the two of them. He is very aware of this. But in moments like these, the absurdity of it hits him harder, and he finds that amusing.
Clint hasn’t managed to sit up straight and hasn’t been awake for more than 10 minutes in the last seventeen days (he’s been counting, both the days and the minutes). Natasha’s foul mood and the way she worries herself to death because of that, is another minus. He needs something to make him smile.
So he’ll take comfort and pleasure at this, truly, ridiculous looking elevator ride, he and Steve are in.
He is dressed in a very expensive Armani suit, with an unreasonably expensive silk tie hanging around his neck, playing with his phone and holding the world’s smallest paper bag, which contains just a wimpy order of small fries. Steve is standing next to him, dressed in his vintage 40s leather jacket, flannel plaid shirt and jeans, trying to balance food containers over food containers, which are stacked in his arms, nearly blocking his vision, and holding two humongous paper bags, filled with large size orders of fries and salads and soda cans and water bottles, one in each hand.
“Tony, a little help...”
“I’m helping,” he answers, without taking his eyes of his phone and lifting up the paper bag he’s holding as proof. “And I pressed the button,” he adds.
“Just grab the top one so I can see,” Steve says desperately.
“You know I don’t like being handed things.”
“I’m not giving you anything. I’m asking you to take something all on your own.” He’s moved, from desperate, to frustrated.
“Since it is in your possession I believe that, technically, it counts.”
“You are a child; a spoiled rich child,” Steve gives up.
“... and proud of it,” he says, as the cabin comes to a halt and a quiet pinging sound echoes around them.
The doors slide open and he sees Pepper walking, back and forth, in front of the elevator, talking on her phone. She turns her head towards them, at the sound of the doors, and gives him a look, then points a stern finger towards Steve.
“What did I do?” Cap asks confused. The look in her eyes softens and she mouths "nothing". She gives him another glare, though. He animatedly rolls eyes, in resign, and grabs the top two food containers, from the stack, and relieves Rogers from one of the paper bags. As they step off the elevator as she gives him a proud smile. She holds the doors open and the elevator in place, and he leans to kiss her cheek softly. She indicates she has to leave, while pointing at and still speaking on the phone. He nods and gives her another kiss. She waves at Steve, and he flashes her a smile in return, as she enters the elevator they just vacated.
They can all find their way to Barton’s room in a blindfold by now. It’s, simultaneously, an oddly comforting, and discomforting feeling. It hits him, pretty hard, that it has always been this way, whenever they have found themselves in a situation like this, through the years (and it’s been often). He doesn’t want to think too much about what that actually means, so he pushes the thought as far back in his brain as he can, while he and Steve walk, side by side, in comfortable silence until they reach the room.
They stand there and take a moment to look on through the glass wall, which separates the room from the hall.
Thor is sitting by the window, watching over the bed. He’s looking like his perfectly composed, royal self, even dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. He’s set mjolnir down on one of the side tables, next to the TV remote.
Natasha is sitting on the bed, looking worse for wear. It pains him to acknowledge it’s not just because she’s worried.
She barely sleeps, this much he knows. He remembers a time when she used to be able to work on just 3 hours of shut eye, maximum, on regular days. He also knows, for a fact, other times that Clint has been in the hospital, and she’s been this concerned, the few minute naps she used to take, here and there, were enough. But now he can distinctively see the dark, tired, circles under her eyes. Whatever sleep she is getting (and it’s not a lot to begin with) isn’t helping her rest.
Her left arm, which is covered in a thick plaster, starting from just below her elbow all the way down to almost the tips of her fingers, is hanging from a sling. Bruce told him, with her history (evidently it is the left arm that gets beaten up more often) she should have started intensive physio already, or she might have issues with her dexterity. However, she refuses to leave the room longer than she needs to take a shower. A full 30 to 45 minute physiotherapy session is out of the question. Steve and Thor tried to talk her into it by being nice. Bruce used the doctor angle, to no avail. Eventually, he threatened he would ask Fury to order her to go. She dared him to, with murder in her eyes, and so he never did.
The cut across her face is healing along nicely though, considering.
They took off the stitches yesterday. The doctor wanted to move her to another room. That ended up being another rare, fun moment, when the stuck up plastic surgeon found himself in a headlock, between her shin and her thigh, and was threatened to have his arms ripped off, the second he actually, physically, tried to lead her out the door.
He grumpily did the work in this room instead, with all of them watching on, and Clint lying motionless in his bed.
Pride is a horrible thing though, and nobody appreciated his tone when he said, in a somewhat unprofessional and gleeful manner, that she’ll probably be left with a hairline scar. “If you had stitched it up sooner then maybe not, but...” the doctor began.
“Scars are trophies,” Thor boomed down at the plastic surgeon jackass “...and they are sexy,” he had chimed in.
He swears, he saw Clint smile a bit at that, through his grogginess.
Something catches his eye in the reflection of the glass, and sure enough, as he turns around to look over at the waiting area, across the room, the view is exactly as he expected. He’s glad he insisted on ordering so much food, despite Cap’s objections. (“Even Thor can’t eat all that. Bruce could Hulk out and we would still have leftovers!” he’d complained, as they were waiting for their order. “I’m paying, so shush.” And he did, because, really, there was no way to argue with that.)
“You go. I’ll be there in a sec,” he tells Steve, and starts walking towards the uncomfortable chairs, at the waiting area, that are (and have, in the last seventeen days, very often been) occupied by the teenagers, who have been tagging along behind Barton everywhere he goes for the better part of the last year. The two food containers and the paper bag, he took from Steve, are still in his hand, and Rogers seems to get it then, because he just nods and half smiles as he makes his way to the room, in the opposite direction.
“I hope none of you are vegetarians, or worse vegans.” He shudders. “If you are, and I’ll be upfront about this, we will have a problem,” he declares, as he puts down the food, on the low table, in the middle of the room.
“What’s that?” one of the girls asks. He believes Barton might have referred to her as Cassie, on occasion.
“Shawarma,” he explains. “It’s a thing... Just eat it okay? I’d hate for him to accuse me of letting you starve to death, while he wasn’t capable of fulfilling his babysitting duties.”
He means it as a joke but, as all of them look away or down at their feet, he realises he’s hit the wrong nerve.
“Whoa! Okay!” he says with a hint of shock, and sits on the table so he’s on their eye level. “Look, I know he’s your mentor, and you’re supposed to learn from him and aspire to be like him, but, really, he’s got a long list of wonderful attributes you can emulate. Good taste in music? Check! Appreciation of Classic American cars? You bet! His horrible taste in campy, horror B-movies, is my personal favourite, because it’s common knowledge, the worse the horror movie, the better it is.” He earns a few tight smiles. “Loyal and dependable? Abso-freakin-lutely!” That last one, he says without a hint of jest. “However the whole self-deprecating-everything-is-my-fault thing, is the one you should avoid. So this, what you’re doing right now? Just don’t.”
“But...” says the one he’s pretty sure is the hacker of the group.
“No buts. Trust me. You guys did great out there.”
“He told us - ordered us - to cover him and...”
“That is not your job. That is our job. If anybody, did anything wrong, it was me who was 10 minutes too far away,” he assures them. “Your job is to learn from him, and the way you handled yourselves in that situation hasn’t left anyone, any doubts, about how good you are at what is expected of you. You made him proud. I know it and he knows it and you should know it too. I also know he’ll give you the exact the same speech, the minute he’s awake long enough to actually utter more than three words and a grunt.” He’s pretty sure he’s said all the right things, but notices, with disappointment, that they aren’t taking too much affect.
“Is this how it always is?” the girl, who’s clearly got a major crush on Clint, asks.
“Yes. And it only gets harder with time.” It hurts him to admit it, but he has to. He could beat around the bushes, but with Clint, just across the hall and in that state, he sees no reason to sugar coat it.
“I mean, it’s a ‘lose-lose’ situation really. When you’re younger and you have all the energy and naiveté, you don’t have the experience to back it up. And as you grow older and you gain the experience, your body just can’t keep up the way it used to.”
By rule and by nature, as an inventor, he needs to be an imaginative, visionary, hopeful pragmatist. But, right now, he sounds like a cold realist and a Debbie-downer. The role doesn’t fit him, so he tries to save face.
“Listen... Agent Barton... (No, that doesn’t sound right. He tries again) Hawkeye... (That feels wrong too) Clint, (yes, that’s the one) is tough. He is one of the strongest people I know, and I think we can all agree I know some pretty strong people.” He looks around at them and notes that he gets the first positive reaction, since he struck up this conversation. “What makes Clint special is that he’s not special... I mean he is, he’s just not conventionally special... And, he doesn’t even aspire to be so. He just does the best he can. Always has. He’s got heart, and, in this line of work, that is more than enough. It’s really all you need,” he concludes and, as he studies their faces, he sees traces of Clint in each and every one of them. He makes a mental note to actually learn their names. It seems worthy of his time.
“And being part of a team helps?” the one, he’s pretty sure is called Eli, asks.
“Having people, who have your back and give a damn, is the only reason worth putting yourself through this hell,” Bruce’s smooth and soothing voice comes from behind him, and it makes him smile. “... especially at our age,” he adds, as an afterthought.
“Speak for yourself doc,” he says, as he flashes him his best smirk, over his shoulder.
“If your latest physical is any indication, arthritis will hit you eventually and even that suit of yours won’t be able to hold you up straight,” Bruce teases.
He prepares to say something more mean and snarky than that, in retaliation, but Bruce beats him to it “Watch it Tony. You don’t want to say something too hurtful... I might get all upset, and Clint’s barely sitting up straight. You wouldn’t want to see him being thrown around again, would you?” The look he gives over his glasses and his cocky smile (since when does Bruce do cocky?), piss him off... but in a good way.
“Okay using your condition, in combination with his injury, is low... and I’m fairly certain you’ve taken an oath that doesn’t permit you to do that!” he says like a petulant child.
“So I see you brought lunch...” Bruce changes the subject, as he begins walking towards Clint’s room, completely ignoring his comment.
He stands up from his sitting position, on the table, readying an answer, when he hears the kids laugh behind him. He turns his attention to them and narrows his eyes. He begins to walk backwards towards the room, with his eyes on them. They shut up, for a second, before they burst out laughing again. When he reaches the entryway, of Clint’s room, he turns to look inside.
He finds him the most awake he’s been in the last three weeks, looking between Natasha and, over her shoulder, at the kids, with the most serene smile he’s ever seen on him.
“You’re awake,” he states the obvious.
“You brought food,” Clint observes.
“We brought shawarma,” he corrects.
“Better.” He rolls his head back into his pillow.
“I thought you’d think so.” As he walks in the room to join the feast, he’s pretty sure the smile on his face mirrors the one Clint had on a second ago.
~ * ~
They’ve been standing, very still and very quiet, blocking the entrance to his room for at least 10 minutes.
“He’s resting. We should go,” Kevin breaks the silence, with a whisper.
“But...?” Nate points at the bag Kate is holding.
“I think it was stupid to begin with,” Eli says very quietly. “The man almost died, I really don’t think...”
“Either leave or come in, but for love of God, stop with the bitching at each other,” he says with his eyes still closed. It’s not very forceful but he manages to startle them anyway, because they weren’t expecting him to be awake. The fact that, even though it is certainly not voiced as an order, yet he still comes off sounding like he’s their superior, training officer plays a big factor in it too.
“Sorry sir,” Eli apologises, for all of them.
“It’s fine,” he tells them, as he opens his eyes to actually look over, to where they’re standing. The expression on his face is softer than they’ve even seen, and he gives them a nod, letting them know they can come in.
They, reluctantly, begin to make their way inside.
“Could someone grab me those?” he asks, and motions a hand towards the wall opposite him. They notice the dartboard, for the first time, and deduct he’s obviously referring to the darts that are stuck in the bull’s-eye.
Wyatt walks over, fists all six of them and tugs them off the target. The rest are gathered around his bed, when he walks up to present him with the darts.
“Just leave them there,” he gestures to the bedside table.
“How are you feeling sir?” Cassie asks.
“Like shit.” His honesty makes them flinch. “How are you?” he asks them with genuine concern.
“We? – 'You', as in us? – Huh? – What?” they ask simultaneously, over each other and look around at one another dumbfounded.
“Yes you. It was your first real gun fight, so: How are you?”
“Our insides didn’t turn into mush, sir. We’re awesome,” Kevin says, and looks at him like he’s crazy.
“Good scale for comparison,” he agrees.
They’re starting to think he’s either still heavily medicated, or he also hit his head really hard in the whole commotion and somebody missed it and now some of his screws are loose.
Before they have time to comment on it, he’s changed the subject.
“So what brings you here? I know Rogers’ training regime. I’m assuming you gave him one hell of a reason to bail or else he wouldn’t have let you off the hook.”
Kate shows the bag off. “We told him we bought you a present.” She smiles brightly.
“Appealing to his softie side? Well played,” he comments approvingly, and it’s the most rewarding thing. “Gotta say,” he continues, as he takes the bag from Kate and begins opening his present, “I am a little disappointed it doesn’t seem to be a walker. Right now, that would be very handy.”
The joke is well intended on his part; they don’t doubt that. But the memory in its whole is not their proudest moment. He might have gotten over it and forgiven them, but they haven’t forgiven themselves so they cringe and avert their eyes when he says it. If he notices, (which he probably did) he doesn’t say anything. He just reaches in the bag and takes out the box.
He opens it. They don’t really realise they’re holding their breaths, waiting for his reaction, until they see the left tip of his lips quirk a fragment upwards, and exhale in unison.
It is a pair of archery gloves, of the finest black leather. “Hawkeye” is embroidered, in dark purple silk thread across the left glove, and the profile of a hawk, in various shades of purple, with beautiful details of gold and silver, at its eye, on the right one. He doesn’t say anything. He simply traces the stitches with his fingers, delicately, nearly affectionately.
“I see you have visitors,” Agent Romanoff’s voice comes from the door (in what they assume is her ‘pleasant’ tone, if the look on his face is any indication), and all seven of them turn her way.
“Check me out,” he tells her, as he lifts one of the gloves out of the box, the one with bird, to show her.
“Fancy,” she compliments, and nods an approving smile to them as she walks up to the bed, near his headrest.
The scar on her face has nearly healed, but they believe that thin line probably won’t completely vanish. Her arm is out of the sling now, but she still has the plaster on.
“So they’re not telling me, but really how hard is Steve busting their asses?” He’s trying to keep the mood light. They appreciate that, and so does she, seeing as her smile broadens.
“Pretty hard,” she tells him.
“You are harder,” Kevin lets him know, and it’s not a lie.
Captain Rogers’ expectations are very high. He is tough and demanding, with his training and his orders. He pushes them to their limits and doesn’t stop working them. And of course he’s a good captain, so he leads by example and does the drills with them.
Agent Barton does all the same things. That is not the point.
The difference is that, by the end of the day, when Rogers has exhausted them to bits and they’re bending over to catch their breath, he has barely broken a sweat.
Turns out, it’s easier to give up when it’s Captain America, who is lording over you, unaffected by a long day’s work, telling you to move.
Hawkeye, on the other hand, looks just as exhausted and defeated as they feel. But he’s still standing and alert. If it hurts anywhere, (and they are pretty sure it probably hurts everywhere) he won’t give anyone the satisfaction of admitting it.
Evidently that is harder to live up to.
“I have you as my witness,” he points a finger at her. “It’s going on the scorebook.”
“I’ll tell Tony to write it down when I get back to the base,” she reassures him. There is an inside joke there they are not in on. They take that as their cue to leave.
“We promised Captain Rogers we would be back for an afternoon run, so maybe we should...” Nate begins.
“Go,” he excuses them kindly.
As they all begin making their way to the exit, the boys nod as they say “sir” and “goodbye, sir.”
“Feel better, sir,” Cassie says, a bit more cheerfully.
“We can come again... if you don’t mind...?” Kate practically begs for permission, from him... or her... or both of them.
“Whenever you want. And don’t worry about Cap. You just let me know and I’ll take care of him,” Agent Romanoff answers, as she looks between Kate and Agent Barton.
The two seasoned agents share a look that the six of them can’t read. They assume, however, Kate is the subject matter, and she is getting so teased about that later! She knows this well enough herself, as her cheeks practically begin to take on a beetroot red hue.
“Hey, guys,” he calls out to them, as they’re halfway to the door. “Thank you,” he says, and lifts the gift box that is on his lap. He’s referring to more than just the present, but it’s redundant for him to mention.
As the kids continue their exit, feeling quite good about themselves, they can’t help to overhear the beginnings of the version of a private, everyday conversation between two veteran master-spy-assassins.
“How was physio?” he enquires with interest, as he reaches over the side table to grab the darts.
“Okay.” She smoothes his hair back with her good hand. “Doctor said if I want to be able to resume shooting, the minute the plaster is off, we need to add a few more sessions in the week.” He throws a dart straight to the bull’s-eye.
“Maybe you should rest it for a while. Work with one bigger calibre gun, with a bigger magazine,” he suggests, and shoots off another dart, also hitting dead centre.
“Not enough finesse...” she says, as she watches him land two more continuous shots, on the ends of the vertical diameter of the target.
“Just don’t strain yourself, Tasha.” The last two darts are flung together. They get impaled on the 3 and 9 o’clock positions of the circle.
“If you want to spare me strain, next time try to not need five weeks until you’re able to sit up on your own,” Agent Romanoff scoffs, as she walks towards the wall to reclaim the darts.
back to PART 1