Written for Trojie's "Homecomings" for Remix 2014 ("Homecomings" and the rest of Trojie's fic can be found at Archive of Our Own). Thanks to jelazakazone for advice. Thanks to my husband for advice and beta reading.
Clint sat very still. Even if the topic made him uncomfortable, he wasn't about to show it by fidgeting. He wished he was talking to Natasha instead of to this psychologist. Natasha understood. Dr Bond- Well, Clint didn't know what Dr Bond understood. He didn't think she'd ever seen combat, and he was damned sure she'd never had someone else crawling around in her head. Still, she had to be good. Fury had no patience for people who weren't good at what they did.
"What would you say to Loki if he were here right now?" Dr Bond asked. If anyone had asked, Clint would have described her as grandmotherly. She had to be at least sixty. She wore her gray hair short, and reading glasses perched on her nose.
Clint stared at her. "Nothing." I'd like to put an arrow through him. That doesn't require talking. "There's nothing to say." His stomach clenched as he answered. Easy. I'm not telling her anything important. And she's an ally. The reassurance did nothing to calm him. What can she do if I go off on her?
Dr Bond wrote something on her notepad.
Clint wished he could see her notes. He suspected she considered him uncooperative. He knew that he was frustrated. He needed help. He'd been fine right after, during the crisis, but now... His head hurt. It almost always did. The only things that helped were shooting and sparring. When there was nothing but him and the bow and the target or nothing but him and his opponent, then there was peace. He knew then just what he was supposed to do.
"If I'm to help you, you'll have to confront your memories." Dr Bond met Clint's eyes and held his gaze. "This is a safe space."
Clint nodded. I'm not ignorant. I know what CBT is and exposure therapy. I'm not the first SHIELD agent to end up with PTSD. Yeah, but how many of them had their minds taken from them? He stifled a wince as he answered himself. The others Loki enslaved- Am I the only one losing it?
Dr Bond looked down at her pad. "You've been having difficulties. Tell me about that."
Clint swallowed. I hate to put it into words. "Mainly it's nightmares." Don't ask for details. "I'm not sleeping much."
"Hm." Dr Bond made more notes. "You're here because you struck Agent Nash. What were you thinking then?"
"I wasn't." That's true enough. Clint can't help rubbing his left hand over the closed fist of his right. "He smirked." Clint actually couldn't remember Nash's expression. All he'd been seeing right then was Loki. I'm a danger to other people. Too bad Natasha's on assignment. She could take me if I lose it altogether. "And I hit him more than once." He'd taken Nash entirely by surprise. The other man had taken a couple of seconds to register what was happening, seconds of which Clint had taken advantage. "He was slow."
Dr Bond almost frowned.
Clint wondered if she were capable of any real facial expression. She was so carefully neutral that he wanted to provoke her somehow. No. I need- I want- her help. I don't need to like her. But I do need to trust her. How do I trust someone who keeps asking me questions?
"Agent Nash shouldn't have needed speed just then." There was faint reproof in her voice, and Clint counted it a victory. "What happened before you struck Agent Nash? Do you remember?"
Clint felt himself go rigid. His fists clenched. No! This is safe! It was all he could do to remain seated. "I remember." His lips felt numb. But I'm not going to tell you. I won't give you anything you can use against- Against who? Really, against who? He struggled to see Dr Bond but found himself facing Loki again, hearing Loki as he prompted Clint to spill his guts, telling everything he knew about SHIELD in general, about important people specifically. "No! You're not getting any more! Haven't I given you enough?"
Loki didn't move. "Striking a fellow agent is out of the ordinary for you. If we know why it happened, we may be able to avoid it happening again. Not to mention discovering the root of the trouble."
Clint was on his feet. He knew he shouldn't attack Loki, but he couldn't think why not. "You're the root of the trouble," he snarled. He also couldn't think why he was unarmed. He always had weapons when he talked to Loki. For his protection.
Loki didn't answer for a moment. Instead, he wrote something on the notepad he held. Finally, he said, "Mr Barton, you're clearly having difficulty. Would you like to terminate this session and recommence later?"
Clint shook his head, more in an effort to clear it than in negation. Loki wasn't behaving normally. He's planning something. He's always planning something. I should kill him while I can, while my mind is clear. But my mind's not clear. And he doesn't know that I could kill him. He can't know that, or he'd do something about it. I should- No. If I leave, I can take the opportunity to think, to find a weapon. He looked around the room, his gaze settling on the door. I need to know what he's planning. Killing him might not stop it.
He bowed to Loki. "As you wish, my lord." Bowing made him want to vomit, but he knew he needed to keep Loki thinking he was still enslaved. He walked to the door, opened it and walked out.
Maria Hill regarded Clint from across a desk that seemed to Clint to grow larger with every second. "You're a danger to the rest of us, Agent Barton."
Clint could only shrug. It's probably true.
Hill tapped a finger on the manila folder that lay in front of her. "Dr Bond thinks she can work with you. That's non-negotiable."
Clint nodded. Though why she's willing to work with me after the display I put on in her office... I suppose nothing phases her.
"Dr Bond does feel that you should be removed from- How did she put it? 'This stressful environment.'"
Clint started to say something then thought the better of it. Where would I go? Better I endanger agents than civilians. He took a deep breath. "I suppose SHIELD has a facility for malfunctioning agents?" He didn't like the idea of some sort of psych hospital.
Hill ignored the question. "As it happens, we have an offer of a place for you that should be low stress and still keep you close enough to see Dr Bond regularly."
Clint frowned. Getting away from the helicarrier would be good. But where-? Doesn't matter. They were always going to send me away. Dr Bond's office is in the city. Yeah, but they might have let me find a place of my own. Could I afford a place of my own? He tried to picture himself with roommates. "I guess I'm in."
In retrospect, Clint thought Stark Tower should have been obvious. Where else would they send me? Stark has Banner living here. One broken killer isn't any greater risk.
He wasn't entirely sure what to do with the room Stark had given him. He wasn't used to having so much space, and he hadn't brought anything to make the space seem more his own. Well, I could drape my clothes over the furniture. Except that he wouldn't, couldn't. Everything had a place, and clothing belonged in the closet or the dresser. Anything else would get in the way when I have to react fast.
He spent his first day mostly in his room, emerging only when hunger or a need for the toilet became too urgent. The second day, however, he started looking the place over. I'll feel safer if I know where the choke points are. There must be some defensible points, right? But a couple of hours of wandering led him to conclude that Stark had had something else in mind when he planned the living quarters and workshop space.
While wandering through the workshop, he helped himself to some of Stark's coffee, taking a mug that looked mostly clean. There were six mugs, but he hadn't seen anybody but Stark, Banner and Ms. Potts. All of them seemed to be busy, and he hadn't wanted to bother anyone.
Maybe the defenses are all at the perimeter. He recalled Stark showing him how to get in and out of the private space. Biometric locks were harder to fool, but it wasn't impossible. If he were trying to break in, he'd kidnap Ms. Potts. From what he could tell, she spent the most time outside. But Loki got in, and they set up the gate right out there. There's nothing but the height of the building stopping people coming in.
So he set himself to patrolling. He couldn't be awake and alert all the time, and he couldn't be everywhere at once, but he was better than nothing. He hated it when, on the third day, he had to leave to see Dr Bond again. He knew that it was likely that nothing would happen, that Stark and Banner could take care of themselves. But it feels like I'm abandoning them.
It was an hour to Dr Bond's office. Clint spent the entire trip terrified that he'd have another flashback and attack somebody, but nothing happened except that his headache deepened. When he mentioned headache and anxiety to Dr Bond, she referred him to a colleague, a psychiatrist, who she said would help him with that. Clint didn't like the idea of medications, but he accepted the referral.
This time, Clint made it through the entire forty-five minute session. It was a near thing a couple of times when Dr Bond pressed him with questions, but he held it together. She actually smiled at him when they scheduled the next session.
Clint detoured on his way back to Stark Tower to buy a few groceries. He couldn't carry as much as he wanted to buy, so he limited himself to a few luxuries. Stark said I just had to ask for anything I wanted, but- I want to buy something for myself. I wonder if Stark and Banner will be polite enough to stay away from my food? Stark strikes me as assuming that everything around belongs to him. Banner- I don't know. I've hardly talked to him.
Getting back into Stark Tower was so easy that Clint's shoulders crawled. How many people work here? How many deliveries a day? I bet Stark orders his groceries in. Does he worry about poison? I'd worry about poison. He relaxed a little when he reached the uppermost floors, the private floors.
He kept most of his purchases in his own room. Only a few things needed refrigeration. He put those in the kitchen. How much does one of those small refrigerators cost? Can I afford one? He wasn't sure how much SHIELD was paying him now. Less, I'm sure. It's not like I'm currently useful. Maybe half pay? SHIELD's salaries weren't overly generous to begin with. Clint suspected that this would be his last splurge for a while. Who knows what I'll need money for? I'd hate to spend my savings. I suppose I should be glad Stark doesn't want rent.
He rolled his shoulders, pulling each one forward for a moment to loosen them up. Then he hefted his quiver and picked up his bow. There's something wrong with wanting to go armed all the time. No. Yes. No. The bow is what I am. I should find somewhere to practice. Google'll turn up some place where I can shoot.
He walked through the living space. He wanted to check Stark's room and Banner's for intruders, but he suspected neither man would understand. Probably nobody's going to scale the building in daylight. Someone might see a hang-glider, and we'd hear a helicopter. Well, maybe. Stark likes his sound proofing.
He gave more attention to the workshop. This is where everything worth stealing is. The things in Stark's living room may be valuable, but they're just things. This is where the secrets are. He looked around the aisle he was walking and regretted the way equipment blocked his line of sight. Pity the ceiling's so low. It's much easier to watch from above. I can cover more area.
There were eight mugs by Stark's coffee machine this time. The two newcomers both looked pristine. One was hideous, pink and gold and white with Cupid and his bow featured prominently. The other was more subdued. It was black and red and gray with a geometric pattern. Clint hesitated. Two different people bought those. Is that one a joke? If it is, is it funny? He grinned and filled the Cupid mug with coffee. He added milk from the mini refrigerator and walked on, carrying the mug with him.
Stark didn't look up when Clint passed, but Clint didn't see how Stark could have missed seeing him. Wonder what he's working on? He sipped his coffee. I probably wouldn't understand it.
As he came to the area Stark had set aside for Banner, the equipment surrounding him changed. Stark is an engineer. Banner is a scientist. He knew it was more complicated than that, but he figured he didn't need to know the details.
Banner sat in front of a laptop next to large machine that whirred and clicked. He typed then paused, apparently studying something on the laptop. Then he started typing again. He looked up as Clint went past and nodded.
Clint nodded back. He was about to continue on when Banner spoke.
"I see you picked the mug that Tony bought." There was a hint of laughter in Banner's voice. "Pepper thought it was tacky. She provided something much more tasteful."
Clint stopped and turned toward Banner. "Well, it is tacky. That's the point. I like to think I can laugh at myself."
"That's a start. I just know that, based on the last couple of days, none of us- not even Tony- expected it of you."
Clint wasn't sure what to say to that. I suppose I have been... focused. "I'm still settling in," he said at last.
"Tony said we should give you space." Banner sounded like he disagreed.
"I don't mind people." Though there's a risk I'll attack you. I suppose you're the one person I don't have to worry about hurting. The collateral damage, however, would be impressive. No. The Hulk would smash me like a bug. "This is very different from a typical SHIELD operation."
"We don't have a mission," Banner agreed. "That can be hard to get used to. I'm more accustomed to being useful."
Clint thought about what he knew about Banner. It wasn't as much as he would like. Though it was more than enough for Loki. "You've spent a lot of time in the Third World."
Banner snorted. "I don't like that term. At best, it's condescending."
Clint shrugged. I suppose I can understand that. He drank some coffee. "I just meant it must be quite a difference. Between the places you've been and Stark Tower, I mean. Up here, you can't see anything but the money."
"I missed doing research. I got used to doing other things, but research is where I started. You always remember where you started." Banner stood and stretched. "I don't know that I'd trust me with equipment like this, not when the Other Guy might come out any time."
He knows what it's like to lose control. Part of Clint wanted desperately to turn away, to continue his patrol. But I didn't get to be who I am by running away. "How do you face that? I mean the knowing that any moment you could just lose control and hurt people." I don't feel guilty about Nash- well, I do, a little- and I didn't actually hurt Dr Bond, but... He hid his confusion in his cup of coffee.
"I'm not doing it right now. I haven't done it for twenty-five days. Now is quite enough to be worrying about. There's also this- The Other Guy helped out when the Chitauri invaded. He saved Tony's life. That changes how I feel about him. He's not just destruction."
"There's not a good side to everything."
"Well, I can't think of a single good thing to say about mosquitos, so I concede your point." Banner glanced down at his laptop then shut it. "But you're not a mosquito."
Clint choked on his coffee. He knows! Of course, he knows. SHIELD wouldn't send me here without warning Stark, and Stark must have warned Banner. He swallowed twice then cleared his throat. "I don't know what I am now." That's too damned naked. I didn't even say that to Dr Bond.
"That's one thing I know- You may see the world a bit differently now, react a bit differently, but you're still who you were before. I'm still, after everything else, Bruce Banner. There were things I didn't know about myself before, things I'd rather not know, to be honest, but the Other Guy didn't create those parts of me. The me that I am now follows logically from who I was before."
"So I'm still Clint Barton?" Clint tried for humor but wasn't sure he made it.
Banner nodded. "I'm going to get some of that coffee. Walk with me?"
Part of Clint wanted to walk away, to go on with his patrol. Instead, he shrugged. "Why not?"
As they walked, Banner said, "I think part of the problem is that, much as Loki coerced you, he didn't make you mindless. You used all of yourself for him. He poisoned everything you'd made of yourself."
Clint hadn't thought of it like that. But it makes sense. He licked his lips. "He can't touch me any more." I should sound like I believe that.
"But now you wonder who else could twist you that way. Even without the... other trouble, you've got to be wondering- Well." Banner waved a hand.
Yes. Well. Clint looked around. Anybody could be in here. I'm not paying enough attention.
When they reached the coffee machine, Banner poured coffee into a mug that was mostly black. Clint thought the light spots were meant to be stars, and he wondered if any of the constellations were recognizable.
"Want any?" Banner held up the pot.
Clint shook his head. Instead, he rinsed his mug and put it on the bench. Why am I still talking to him? He closed his eyes for a fraction of a second. Because he understands. He hasn't been exactly where I was, where I am, but it's close. It's almost like talking to Natasha. Almost.
"Tony gets the good stuff. Or so he tells me. I can't tell the difference." Banner added three spoonfuls of sugar to his cup.
"With that much sugar, you wouldn't." Clint couldn't quite conceal his horror. How can he drink anything sweet?
"I take my calories where I can get them." Banner stirred his coffee with the same spoon he'd used to scoop the sugar. Then he rinsed the spoon off and laid it next to the sugar bowl. "Even when the Other Guy isn't coming out to play, I have to feed him. He can go without eating for quite a long time, but it makes him cranky."
"Above the usual?" Clint tried to imagine that.
Banner waved his free hand and didn't answer. "If you don't want coffee, maybe some food? Tony likes to grab something to eat without leaving, so he keeps some around."
"Nothing now, thanks."
"I'll show you where it is. You might want it some time." Banner walked over to a cabinet that looked no different from the others scattered throughout the work area. He opened it. "How healthy the options are depends on how recently Pepper's been through." He took an apple out of a bag. "Tony buys honeycrisps."
Clint came over to look. "Ramen? Can't Stark afford better?"
"Probably, but ramen keeps forever, and it's easy to make. You just need water and a hot plate." Banner pulled out a bag of chips and tossed it to Clint. "Mostly, I go back to the kitchen to eat. I like vegetables. And meat that doesn't come out of a can." He closed the cabinet. "Tony does eat real food sometimes. He works out, too. He resents the time it takes, but he does it."
"He showed me the gym." Clint turned the bag over in his hands, wondering what he was supposed to do with it. I haven't used it yet. I should, but there's nobody to spar with. I've got to find somewhere to do that, too.
Banner sipped his coffee. He frowned then went and added another heaping spoonful of sugar. "Keeping busy helps. Even if you don't trust yourself around people, they help. They're a reminder that there's a whole world out there that doesn't care about our particular troubles."
Other people- How can he-? Clint couldn't imagine really interacting with civilians. It's too dangerous. But he knows that. He knows that better than anyone. He blinked and stopped dead. He does know. He does. Better than me. I'm not stupid. Maybe- Maybe I can talk to him.