Bottled Lightning – Ch. 1
Phil watched the team work trying to decide if he could push the more human members into take a break. The mission had lasted six torturous hours before the building Hawkeye had been using collapsed. The archer had been radio silent and missing ever since. It’d taken another hour to take out the last of the robots and the men who were operating them. If they were taken out with more broken bones than normal, Phil did his best to ignore that fact.
They’d been digging through the rubble for eighteen hours. Bruce was forcing everyone to down bottles of water when he could but no one was willing to stop for rest while their teammate might be injured somewhere below them. Natasha was operating a crane while Steve, Thor, and Ironman worked to move the massive blocks of concrete and steel to one side.
Phil radioed in and arranged for several teams of Shield specialists to maintain security and assist where they could. Dump trucks full of rubble were being carted away as fast as the team could fill them. He made sure that the Shield teams were on a rotation so they got some rest from the nonstop slog. Hawkeye had been missing for twenty hours when they finally got a glimmer of hope.
“Everyone shut up!” Tony snapped out silencing the line for a moment.
“Stark.” Phil sighed, ready to argue, but the inventor rode right over him.
“Nope, shut up.” He snarled, “Jarvis play that transmission again.” Static filled the com line before words started to filter through.
“…Hawk…resp…Bart…inj…respond…” Woops of relief filled the line.
“Stark, can you triangulate to that signal? His Shield trackers aren’t precise enough for this.” Phil growled out. Someone would be fixing that once this was over.
“Working on it now, Jarvis is working to clean it up.”
“Move that feed to line six please, Jarvis, when you’re ready.”
“Of course, Agent Coulson.”
“Let’s get back to work everyone; Hawkeye’s waiting.” Phil snapped reining in his relief, they still have to get him out.
“If I may, I have added the clean broadcast to line six however Agent Barton is not responding to any attempt to hail him.” Jarvis said a while later.
“Thanks, Jarvis. Avengers I’m adding line six to your personal coms. Let me know if it’s too distracting.” The technician nodded that it had been done a moment later. A soft click heralded a nonstop stream of breathless curses that left Stark cackling over the coms until Jarvis helpfully muted him.
“Fuck, Designation Hawkeye, Shield code Alpha Omega Delta two six forty eight.” Clint panted for breath for a long moment. “Shit. Come on you utter piece of crap. Fuck. Ow. I’m requisitioning a tool kit for my uniform after this.” He gasped; muffled coughing came across the line like his mouth was pressed against something. “Shit. Come on, green lights are good things. Work you piece of shit. If anyone can hear this I’m under several hundred metric tons of rubble. I’d like to get out before I go utterly insane. Fuck.”
Phil frowned at how breathless the archer sounded. Every other word was interspaced with shallow sounding pants and gasps for air. Did he have broken ribs?
“I know you guys don’t know I trained to be part of the contortionist act for about six months when I started out at the circus. Fuck.” He grunted softly and the sound of something scraping came through the line. “Six months doing splits and stretches and then being stuffed into a trunk. I hated it.” More sounds of scraping and a few soft curses before Clint paused to pant openly into the mic. “This is worse.”
“I need someone on analytics to look into how small a space a contortionist normally fits into and how that is going to affect their breathing. Specifically how long they can stay in that position.” Phil snapped out to one of the Shield minions hovering around. Clint running out of air had been a concern but if he was compressed tightly he wouldn’t have room to expand his lungs.
“Coulson,” Natasha said softly, his private line clicked as she switched over. Phil flipped to the same line.
“Natasha? What do you need?”
“How long can he stay like that? It’s already been over twenty hours.”
“The analysts are looking into it. It depends on what position he’s in.”
They listened to Clint curse and pant in-between listing his Shield designation and trying to fix his comlink for another two hours as they chipped away at the pile of rubble.
“No, no, no, don’t do that! Fuck!” The sudden shout had everyone freezing in place. A rending screech of metal and stone filled the com overpowering anything that Clint might have been saying. When it finally ended a moment later the line was silent. A weak cough came over the line, everyone sagging in relief around the command room. They started trying to hail him again but he was silent except for the occasional cough.
Part of the structure had collapsed. Stark started rescanning the rubble trying to find a clear path to their archer. Steve and Thor went back to tossing blocks of rubble into the waiting trucks until they knew where to move next.
Everyone froze when a second rumble shook the area. Steve’s sudden cry of “Hit the deck!” probably saved most of the Shield agents near the rubble. The site exploded in a shower of fragmented stone and rebar. Sending chunks of concrete in every direction as dust filled the air.
“All units check in.” Phil snapped. Hauling one tech and his chair back up right. “There was not supposed to be anything explosive in that building! Someone give me a sitrep!”
“Sir, Hawkeye’s tracker has moved.” One technician said, flinching slightly when he rounded on them.
“Moved where exactly?” “Triangulating now, sir.” The tech gulped and glanced back at him before stuttering out, “Chicago, Illinois, sir.”
“His tracker is reading him more than 700 miles away?” Phil said his voice going hard in disbelief.
“Yes, sir. I’m running it again.” The technician said eyes on his equipment.
“We have a problem, Coulson.” Stark said over the com.
“What would that be?” Phil asked with a sigh.
“Clint’s not in the hole.”
“Explain that statement, Stark.”
“We’d gotten close enough that I could see his heat signature on my scanners. Even… even if that explosion tore him apart I should be able to detect the pieces. I have nothing except a fading heat signature dead center of the explosion.”
“And there is no sign of Agent Barton beyond the fading heat signature?”
“Nothing that I can see.” Stark said, swallowing hard enough for the coms to pick it up.
“Would there be anywhere in Chicago that Clint would consider safe?”
“He has a safe house there…why?” “Because according to our techs his tracker is showing up in downtown Chicago, Illinois.”
“That’s not possible.” Steve muttered in the background.
“Stark, I need a jet ready to go to Chicago. I’ll have the ground crew keep looking while you and Natasha look. Captain, if you and Thor can help out here for now. Feel free to take a break if you need it. Once we know if Clint is in Chicago or not we will reassess the situation from there.”
“You coming with, Agent Agent?”
“Yes, Stark. I will be.” Phil snapped before flipping to another channel. “Sitwell, can you take over the clean up here?”
“Yeah, I got it Phil. Go get our bird back.”
“You know I could have flown myself faster than this.” Stark grumbled, shifting in his seat.
“Clint booby traps his hideouts, Stark. You really want to both of you blown up because you wanted to rush?”
“Are we sure he’s there?” “Yes, they narrowed it down to the same block as his safe house.” Natasha said, taping at a handheld tablet. “The ground troops are reporting some strange radiation coming from where Clint probably was laying. I’m sending you the files, Stark; you can stop with the grabby hands.”
“What possible scenarios are we looking at?” Phil asked, taking notes on his own laptop.
“Spontaneous teleportation?” Natasha offered, shifting back in her seat to watch Phil.
“That has not been proven possible with the exception of a few rare mutants.”
“Do we have proof that Clint’s not a mutant?” Stark asked fingers moving rapidly as he worked.
“We know he doesn’t have the X gene. All Shield employees are tested on intake.”
“That’s not a hard and fast indicator. Sometimes mutants don’t have it and still have abilities.”
“So what, he what… just spontaneously teleports himself to Chicago out of the blue? I’m sure the hawk’s been in much worse situations that would have triggered that kind of ability.” Stark pointed out.
“Point.” Natasha said with a sigh.
“Leftover energy from the tesseract that he managed to tap into?” Phil asked, with a small frown. Shield had run every test they could think of on Clint after the battle and found nothing beyond severe dehydration and exhaustion. Loki had not been big on letting his minions do normal things like eat and sleep.
“I can rule that one out. The energy readings left behind look nothing like the cube.” Stark said, tossing his tablet away.
“Innate ability that exposure to the tesseract activated? It has only been a year since the battle.” Natasha asked.
“It’s a possibility, but then, everything is a possibility right now. We’ll know more once we get to him.” Phil said, shutting his tablet down and pulling out the small notebook he recorded personal notes about each operation he worked on.
Natasha moved quickly through the abandoned house, disarming the traps as she found them. Phil mirrored her actions on the second floor before joining Stark at the door to the basement.
“He stays in the basement? Really?” Stark asked glancing around the abandoned space with distaste.
“Safest part of the house and it has several concealed exits.” Phil said, gesturing for Natasha to go first. He waited five seconds before moving down the staircase himself, Stark at his elbow.
“I have Hawkeye. We’re going to need medical.”
Phil quickly radioed for the medical team to head in as he rushed down the last set of steps. He flipped the lights on and froze for an instant taking in the damage. Clint lay curled in the center of the floor. Everything along the walls was melted to slag, the floors burned black with streaks radiating out from his body. The bricks still radiated heat even hours after Clint must have arrived.
“He’s breathing shallowly and I have a thready pulse.” Natasha said, glancing up at Phil, letting him see the quick flash of fear in her eyes before her mask came back down. “The rebar must have heated in the…transport. The wounds are cauterized.”
“It meant that he didn’t bleed out before we got to him. I’m going to take that as a good thing.”
“Stark, can you cut the rebar so we can straighten him out?” Phil glanced back when the normally talkative man did not respond. “Stark?”
“Yeah, shit. Okay.” he powered up a laser, eying the still form of his teammate. “Tell me where to cut.”
“Between his shoulder and leg, first. We’ll move him and see where the rest of the rebar went.”
“Right.” Stark huffed, starting to cut. “We’re going to add a damn trapeze to the gym if this circus shit is that helpful.”
Phil glanced down at the small form of Agent Barton and tried to figure out how he had even gotten himself into that small a ball of bone and muscle. Black rebar entered the back of one shoulder, exiting the front and entering his right lower leg. A second and third bar went through his hip and back at the same angle, locking the man into his contorted position.
Two cuts later the medical staff entered just as they started to straighten him. Clint took a wheezing gasp of air as they eased his chest of out its contorted curl but remained unconscious. Stark made two more cuts to shorten the rebar so that Clint was able to lie on his side. The medics put Clint on oxygen and started an IV, hurriedly strapping him to a backboard to get him to the local Shield base for treatment.
Clint spent the next eight hours in surgery to remove the rebar. The metal had been hot enough to cauterize his wounds but it also meant they had to cut away most of the burned flesh to remove the steel. The rest of the team arrived while he was still in recovery.
“How’s he doing?” Steve asked as soon as he ducked through the door, Thor right behind him. He blinked at the rumpled state of Phil’s suit and Stark collapsed on to the nearby sofa snoring.
“He’s in recovery. Natasha’s with him. They’re going to move him to the ICU soon.”
“Will we be able to see him?” “Normally they keep strict visiting hours, which are already over.” Phil noted glancing at his watch. “However, Director Fury has authorized for two people to be allowed in at all times. We’ll need to come up with some sort of schedule until he’s stable enough to be flown back to New York.”
“Will you be able to stay until then?”
“As the Avenger’s liaison with Shield, where you go, I go.” Phil said with a tired grin. “Unless the world is ending we’re all here until we can bring our archer home.”
“Good.” Thor said with a grin. “Lady Pepper insisted that we bring garments for everyone.” He added several bags to one corner and handed Phil a suit bag.
“While things are calm you should get cleaned up. Thor and I changed on the jet.”
“And I will get everyone coffee. It is a most delicious Midgardian beverage.”
“It is. I’ll take a large black, thank you.” Phil said with a small grin.
“Of course, Captain?” “I’m good for now. I’m sure Tony will want a large as well once he wakes up.”
“Verily. I shall endeavor to return promptly.”
“Take your time, Thor. We are probably going to be here for several days.” Steve said, fiddling with his ball cap. They sat in silence for a while before Steve finally asked the question that had been running through everyone’s minds.
“Do you think he’s going to be coming back from this? I mean… he’s fully human right?”
“Clint’s come back from injuries that should have left him in a wheelchair or off active duty before. I’m not going to write him off until we know exactly what the damage is and how he’s recovering.”
Phil gathered up his briefcase and the suit bag and headed to the restroom to change. He would not write off Clint, no matter how injured he was. He had watched the archer take bullets meant for children, climb buildings with broken limbs in order to save a team member, and stay on his perch through a hurricane to make a shot.
Everyone Clint had ever known had abandoned him at one point or another. His parents had beat and neglected him. His brother had dragged him away to the circus before leaving Clint injured and alone. His mentors had beat him and left him for dead. No one was going to abandon Clint ever again if Phil had something to say about it.