Title: Bruises – Chapter Nineteen
Author: Lucky Gun
Summary: Because Loki's possession of one of the sharpest minds in SHIELD wasn't easy. In fact, it barely worked at all. A better take on Clint's forced defection, return to the Avengers, and the aftermath. Contains whump, language, torture, and all the horrors of a POW. AU.
A/N: This was GOING to be the LAST chapter, but my muses apparently decided to drag this out a little bit longer. Cheeky bastards…
Clint walked the halls of his mind slowly, surveying the damage, his gaze tracking over the rubble. There were piles of red dust from where the marble had been ground into powder, and splinters and sawdust coated the dirt floor liberally. He looked over the destruction bleakly, detached from the severity of the devastation. The mists swirled above his head like a stream, eddying and flowing randomly, swirls of rapid movement broadcasting the locations of the worst memories. He glanced up at the mist numbly and then dropped his gaze, shaking his head slowly.
He shuffled along the hall silently, crawling over whole slabs of wall, crossing gaping chasms in the floor carefully. Barton's eyes were drawn to the moaning maws of destroyed doorways, the darkness within them sucking at him like a vortex, and he skirted their crushing depths fearfully. He knew what strength it took to lock away his memories like he did, knew what power was hidden within those dark caverns. It drained him daily, the constant effort, the constant rise and fall of the gravitational tides within himself as the worst parts of his past struggled for domination over the best parts of his future.
Following the bloody drag marks on the dirt floor, he found himself at the edge of his innermost self, the room in ruins. What had been walls had crumbled into brick-sized debris and the ground was jagged, sections the size of cars jutting from the floor at odd angles. He picked his way across the rubble and found himself standing in front of the folding metal chair. Clint swallowed reflexively as he saw the dark red of dried blood splattered across it in a wide arc, areas of blackened rust spreading from the tarnished surface. He looked away for a moment, his fingers flexing automatically as he recalled loosing the arrow that had finally destroyed Loki's influence within him.
Or at least Clint thought he had.
There were bright blue veins of light feathered throughout his mind, digging through dirt and stone equally. The hue made bile slick his tongue as he realized it was everywhere. It was spread thick like poison, and it was coloring the very air he breathed. He was choking on it, suffocating, drowning in it, his throat closing and his chest compressing painfully.
Dropping to his knees in front of the chair, he coughed and gasped, one hand grabbing uselessly at his neck as he tried to bite back the rising panic. He felt moisture against his skin that had nothing to do with the desperate tears that rolled down his cheeks, and he looked up, vision blurring. He saw a tendril of the mist above him caressing his face, the flash of light within it blinding him for a moment.
Then he shut his eyes and leaned into the cool touch as darkness lapped at his senses, taking him away.
She grinned at him across the boat, the spray of seawater soaking them both to the bone. He quirked his lips at her and shoved the throttle into the midway position. The 41 Super Leggera surged ahead, the twin Mercury Racing 700 SCI engines racing as they plowed through the ocean like a bat out of hell. The sounds of explosions dimmed beneath the roar of the engines, and they looked back at the same time, their eyes locking on the rapidly shrinking cloud of smoke that billowed out of the oil rig they'd left rather rapidly.
For once, neither one of them had been injured, the objectives in their mission brief all had neat little check marks beside them, and they were even ahead of schedule. The hit had gone down without a hitch and it was fairly simple to make the oil platform blow in a way that wouldn't cause suspicion. Sure, the company that operated it would be cited for failure to maintain safety standards, but they'd been running a smuggling operation off that rig, and SHIELD figured the political and financial fallout for the company was a cheap price for it to pay. But the leader if the smuggling ring was dead, his cronies were scattered, and the chain of command and their base were destroyed. Pretty simple write up, actually.
The fact that Clint had decided to 'borrow' the brand new Outer Limits powerboat that was berthed at the rig was one he was determined to accidentally omit from his report.
So he turned his attention forward and relished the temperate spray as it ran in rivulets down his skin. His hands were loose and sure on the wheel, and he whooped with open joy as they bounced along a few rough waves. Beside him, Natasha laughed out loud as they skipped over the water like a child's skipping stone. He stared through his red tinted sunglasses at the horizon as they flew along the ocean's surface, mind flying free. They raced along for almost an hour before his sharp vision started picking out pieces of land.
He looked over at his partner, grinning when he saw she'd removed the top part of her uniform, her freckles standing out on the pale skin her tank top didn't cover. She looked out over the waves, her features relaxed even with the eighty mile an hour dash. Without a word, he turned the wheel slightly, angling them on a course parallel to shore instead of towards it, and Natasha glanced over at him, a single eyebrow raised. He shrugged, she smiled again, and then she reached over and forced the throttle all the way forward. Clint was pushed back in his seat by the momentum, and her squeal of laughter flowed over him, the sound warmer than the sun. He chuckled with her and tilted his head back, contentment covering him head to toe, and he sighed.
For his part, Coulson never asked why it took them seven hours to make a two hour trip.
Clint blinked back to awareness and found himself curled in a ball on the floor of the large, round room in his mind, his thoughts surprisingly light. He sat up slowly as he looked around, shocked to find parts of the walls reformed and the floors more level. He glanced up at the mist; it was thinner than it had been, and it was glowing a brighter white than before. Ducking his head and pushing himself to his feet, he scanned the area slowly, documenting the changes in his head.
He walked to the edge of the hall and looked down it, stumbling a bit when he saw whole sections of marble halls reconstituted and some timbers erected in their proper places. He glanced back up at the mist and gave a slight grin as he thought of the memory he'd relived. The Gulf of Mexico held a special place in his soul, and he hoped he'd never have a mission that sullied that.
But another look down the hall turned his mindscape a bit darker, the unnatural lighting dimming. Blue lines of magic still coursed through the area, and they glowed and pulsed gently. He felt rising nausea in his gut and tried to force it down, his gag reflex tweaking at the back of his throat.
Then something else echoed through the air, something that wasn't tainted by Loki's lingering influence. It started as a low hum, something just on the edge of hearing, and grew until he could make out individual words. He clung to the sound as his stomach started to settle, holding onto the voices with everything he had, praying they would never leave.
"You really think poking him with a pen is appropriate?"
"I ran out of doodling paper."
"That wasn't doodling paper, you ignorant bastard. That was Barton's medical chart, and if I find a single mark on this new copy, I will break every single bone in your hand and bar my medical staff from treating you. Understand?"
"Yeah, question about that. Just a quick one. Isn't it, like, against your Hippocratic oath to threaten bodily injury on someone who's already wounded? First do no harm, or something like that, right?"
"Actually, the modern version of the oath says nothing like that. And anyway, I took the Oath of Maimonides."
"The what? No, wait a second. Hang on. Hang on. …Okay, that's interesting."
"…Did you just use your phone to pull up the Oath of Maimonides?"
"Would I do something completely and technologically marvelous like that?"
"You wouldn't, if you actually cared that this is a no cell phone area. Shut it off before I drop it in a urine sample."
"Hey, see the part of the oath where it says, 'may I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain'? See that?"
"Uh, yep. Second paragraph."
"I don't see that as a restriction."
"Interesting. What do you see it as, then?"
"A challenge, Stark."
"…Seeing patients in pain. A goal. Gotcha. Phone gone!"
"Good choice. Stop poking Barton with a pen."
"But he's so fun to poke!"
"…He's going to wake up, Stark."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know. It's just the fact that he hasn't that's worrying me a slight bit."
"Just slightly, huh? That explains why you haven't eaten in the last two days."
"I get airsick."
"Uh huh. Iron Man gets airsick. That's a new one for the tabloids. Stop bullshitting; I can't stand it. What did you come here to ask?"
"You've known him longer than anybody here, except Fury. Does he always do stupid crap like this?"
"You mean sacrifice himself for the greater good? Yeah, habitually. Unless he's the greater good. He's got a bit of a mental deficiency when it comes to thinking about himself."
"So we're gonna have to get used to coming and sitting vigils like this, huh?"
"He doesn't think anyone actually cares about him. He just figures him laying on the bed is better than anyone else being there."
"And why the hell does he think that? Any ideas? He was talking crazy when we were in the tower; first he started talking in Basque, Jarvis said it was, then he thought he was talking to someone named Barney, and then he said that the beatings would stop soon. Know anything about that, Deluca?"
"…Visiting hours are over, Mr. Stark."
"Of course they are."
Jerking back to awareness with a hard shock, Barton found himself face to face with a pure blue line of energy snaking near his face. Jumping to his feet and backing away, he breathed hard through his nose and followed the line of magic. It was creeping towards the metal chair in the middle of the room, and he growled deep in his throat, marching towards the center of the floor, placing himself between the bright blue tendril and the chair.
He wasn't an idiot; he knew what happened the last time he'd remembered something good, something worth living for. He knew his survival wasn't just about him this time, it was about everyone else. He didn't know what could happen if those lines made it to the chair, if what was left of Loki's corruption managed to destroy him again. He just knew that his team, his home, everything he cared about protecting would be in the crosshairs. And he would not let that happen.
Steeling himself, Clint inhaled sharply and squeezed his eyes shut, reaching through the mist mentally, sorting through the stream to find that one memory, the one that would never abandon him, the one he turned to in the darkest nights.
He found it, grabbed hold of it, and poured it through the hallways, the white light eclipsing the blue, fading it, washing it out against the red marble. He felt the warmth of the memory infuse him, burning him with delicious heat, and he threw his arms open wide as he fell to his knees, his face to the clear, starry sky that always held dominion over the center of his mind.
"You going to stop bouncing anytime soon, Barton?" the other man asked, and Clint tossed him a wry smile.
"As soon as you get a prettier face, Jameson," he responded glibly, and the other man grinned widely.
They were waiting behind a dark curtain at the far end of a metal stage, a loud voice booming from the other side of the fabric. Clad in their dress uniforms, the two men were waiting rather impatiently for their names to be called. Jameson was staring straight ahead, his forty years wearing the dress blues well, his fingers dancing on his thighs, the white gloves a stark contrast to his pants.
Then he was gone, whisking through the curtain, a few words exchanged before there was a loud round of applause and a few whistles. Clint inhaled deeply and tried to breathe slowly; he was twenty, for crying out loud. He didn't need to be jumping up and down like a little kid. He had a reputation to maintain, after all.
There was a clicking behind him, and Barton turned quickly, blinking at the woman who had sidled up behind him, almost unnoticed, her high heels the only thing that alerted him of her presence. She was in her late thirties, maybe early forties, and there was a blue pin featuring the Rod of Asclepius on her lapel. Frowning slightly at it, Clint couldn't hide his slight disgust.
"You're a doctor?" he asked needlessly, and she leveled a harsh glare at him.
"Wow. You're damned observant. You must have, like, amazing vision or something," she responded sarcastically, and Barton blinked, both surprised and amused by her response.
Understanding he was in err, he held out his hand and stood straight.
"Apologies, doctor. Clint Barton, almost-agent," he introduced himself, and she shook his hand rapidly; she had a tight grip.
"Doctor Ann Deluca, and that's enough of the stupid societal requirements of our time. Swear to God, I'll be so happy when everyone just starts punching each other as a greeting." At Clint's shocked look, she snapped, "What? It's a better measure, anyway, how someone takes a punch instead of a handshake. And it's good for business. Fury done out there, yet? Need to chew his ass out for the stupid bastards he tried to put in my ward."
Glancing over his shoulder, Clint said, "Ah, no. He's got one more left." Glancing at him with a little more interest, Deluca abruptly shifted stances and said, "Oh. So you're the one everyone's been talking about. Youngest SHIELD recruit in history, I hear. How'd you get to this point? I haven't even given you a physical, yet."
Barton shrugged and said, "It was Mitchell's idea. They needed to get a move on the paperwork, or something."
His tone was low at the end of his sentence, hating the reminder of his old life, hating the memory of what he'd done.
His momentary despair must've shown on his face, because Ann abruptly said, "Don't think about it, kid. You made mistakes, you put some red on your ledger. So? This is your chance to wipe it out."
Blinking, Barton didn't even have a chance to respond, because his name was abruptly being called. He wiped the cringe off his face as he realized it was his full name.
"Clinton Francis Barton."
Giving the woman one last curious look, he stepped beyond the curtain and walked professionally to the side of the podium, coming to parade rest beside the director of SHIELD.
Fury nodded to him once and then turned back to the crowd of a thousand or so military personnel crammed into the auditorium, all of them techs, field agents, handlers, and other lower ranking members of the organization. The director had a severe dislike of brass stifling the easy flow of camaraderie in his units, so he tended to bar them from assemblies like this one. Still, Clint was abruptly grateful for the dress gloves that were faithfully absorbing the sweat from his palms. One would think that after having been betrayed by the only family he'd ever known, working as a mercenary, and illegally doing half a tour with the Army, being honored in a crowded hall would be a breeze. It was decidedly not.
"When I first met Clint Barton, he was languishing in the brig, awaiting a court martial for lying about his age on his military paperwork. I asked him what he would do if he was given the chance to start over, to start fresh. He looked me dead in the eye – yes, I said eye, singular – and told me that he sure as hell wouldn't spend it talking to my blind ass," Fury deadpanned, and there were appreciative chuckles throughout the room.
Barton thought about blushing, but mentally shrugged; it was the truth, after all.
"So we did our little song and dance, worked our little magic, and lo and behold, it turns out he's not too averse to my ass after all." There was louder laughter here, and one brazen tech shouted, "Don't ask, don't tell!"
Clint couldn't stop the smirk from twitching his lips while Fury pointed a finger in the general direction of the teach and said, "Hey, drop the soap on your own time, Williams."
Barton's smirk turned into a full-on grin as the crowd guffawed and catcalled, and he glanced at his shoes, shining them mentally to get his rebellious facial muscles under control.
"Anyway, Agent Mitchell has spent the last six months working with Barton, and it's paid off. Most of you are aware he's the youngest agent to complete the qualifications of general SHIELD acceptance, much less the field agent qualifications. And he broke half the standing training records, in the process. Many of you know that he's a talented marksman, recently determined by our researchers to be the best in the world. He's got a lot of nicknames floating around here, Cupid being the one I hear a lot. I like that."
His stomach dropping into his feet, Clint turned horrified eyes to his superior, praying, hoping…no, they wouldn't possibly do that to him!
A single corner of his lips twitching up, Fury turned to Barton and held out one hand to shake his while holding out his badge with the other. The just-about-there-agent hesitated a split second before he did his part in the ceremony, shaking the director's hand and accepting the new badge with his other. Fury held his gaze and was silent for a moment, letting Clint sweat just a little bit more before he turned back to the podium and addressed the crowd again.
"It's a distinct pleasure and a great pride to confer upon Clinton Barton the status of Field Agent, effective immediately. Codename: Hawkeye."
The hall erupted in applause and shouts as Clint shook Fury's hand again, his relief visible on his face. He turned back to the crowd, grinning widely, and his thumb ran over the words etched into the metal of his badge, reading the lettering with the pad of his finger, even through the fabric of the glove.
This was his new family, this was his new life. He was finally, truly home.
Alarms were blaring and people were shouting and he couldn't even breathe through all the damned noise. But he fought his way through, blinking at the bright light above him, desperate to see something other than the blue that had threatened to consume his mind. But the memory of the birth of his life's purpose had burned it away like morning fog in the rising sun, and he stubbornly held on.
The noise died slightly, the movement slowing, and the light abruptly dimmed. His gaze darted around furiously, placing names and faces, finally finding the one he wanted. She wasn't far, as she never was, not after Siberia. She could read his need, his desperation, and she pushed through the nurses still milling around him, ignoring their shouted frustrations. She grabbed his hand and held it tight, his fingers wrapping around hers.
"Natasha?" he asked softly, praying the nightmare was over, desperate for a world without glow rods of destiny and flying whales with razor sharp teeth.
She nodded once, her red hair bouncing, and she leaned over him, protecting him, knowing everything he wanted to hear.
"I'm here. The team's fine, Loki's secure, the Tesseract is secure, and the helicarrier is still in the air. Coulson and the director are coordinating FEMA with the clean up, and they're thinking that it's less than two thousand dead and only about five thousand injured. Speaking of, you're going to be fine; medical jargon aside, you'll be walking in eight weeks, shooting in ten; your leg fracture was fairly hairline, and your back and collarbone are infected, so that's slowing you down. You've been out for two days. Also, don't scare me like that again, you ungrateful bastard. I ought to cut your heart out with a spoon," she growled lowly, and he gave her a faint grin, one she could barely see through the oxygen mask that covered half his face.
She cocked her head at his movements and leaned in closer as he squeezed her hand gently. He fixed his stormy eyes on her green orbs and blinked sleepily, the world pulling at him.
Darkness started to roll over his vision, but he managed to hold it off long enough to whisper, "Now you sound like you."
End Chapter Nineteen