Burned – Ch. 1
Clint made his way into the elevator with a sigh, slumping in one corner as he waited for it to reach the common floor. It seemed to be going slower than normal. Even Stark elevators took a few seconds to arrive somewhere since they had to limit themselves to safety regulations like everywhere else right? Clint had to remind himself that the elevator was not slowing down on purpose, he was just exhausted.
What should have been a quick in and out mission had turned into a weeklong nightmare. Clint spent six days stuffed into an impossible position inside the tiny drop ceiling of a remote Hydra lab. What had been meant to be a simple surveillance mission turned into a one man crusade to destroy the base once his cover was blown, damn dust bunnies.
He staggered out of the elevator, shouldering his bags again and trying to ignore how tight and knotted his shoulders really were. Mentally cursing Stark, he made his way to the next elevator, the one that actually went to their floors. Yeah, it made sense to have a way to lock access to their floors but damn was it annoying when you were tired.
Clint paused half way across the floor, distracted by a sudden beam of light hitting him in the eyes, making him flinch and almost pull a knife. Damn, his reactions were shot to hell. Time to sleep, he mused while scanning the room, the last thing he needed was for the team to be watching him stagger around. Thankfully the room was empty and quiet.
He eyed where someone had moved the lounger section of the couch next to the window with longing. It would be really nice to curl up in the sunshine for a while. Too bad he was still covered in every kind of grime imaginable from the mission. He had planned to clean up and shower on base only to be dragged straight from the plane to his debrief. Hell, he still had camo paint smearing his blonde hair to his head, blood and other substances all over his generic shield uniform, and mud covering his pants and boots from the ten mile hike to the extraction point.
He’d spent the ride back typing out his mission report on a tablet so that he could leave as soon as he was debriefed. The debrief had lasted hours and considering he had been overseas the flight had been even longer. He was punch drunk and running on fumes long before he ever hit US soil. Showering probably should have been his main priority but considering how little sleep he had been able to get in the active lab’s ceiling he could forgive himself for brushing off the fact that Stark could afford to replace the damn sofa if he really was bothered by the smell.
He dropped his bags next to the couch and curled up, facing the cushions, not even bothering to take off his boots. The sun warmed his back and shoulders, loosening muscles and lulling him asleep in moments. He slept hard, exhaustion pulling him deeper than he would ever normally sleep in a public area.
Even deep asleep, instincts that had been trained in to the point of muscle memory took over. A light touch on one shoulder had Clint moving before his brain could process the situation. He twisted in place, coiling his legs inward and lashing out, using his entire body as leverage. Even as the person was catapulted across the room, Clint was rolling, a knife and gun pulled and at the ready as his back smacked into the cold glass of the windows.
Clint blinked at the scene in front of him. Bruce was hurrying over to check on Steve, who was gasping for air on the floor to one side after taking the kick to his chest and abdomen, mud clearly outlining where his feet had struck. Stark of course was yelling at everyone. Clint ran a hand across his face trying to jump start his brain and flinched slightly when he hit grime and a small cut, right, he was still filthy from the mission and apparently still on a hair trigger from spending a week straight in mission mode.
“Steve, you okay?” Clint asked, glancing between him and Stark, not sure how the billionaire would react to being attacked in his home…wait, that had already happened, several times. Stark normally killed the people who did that. Right, maybe his reaction wasn’t so far off the mark.
“Fine.” Steve wheezed. “I should have known better than to try and wake a spy.”
“Normally it wouldn’t have mattered. You caught me on an off day.” Clint said with a grimace. His voice was still rough with disuse. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t woken up the second they entered the room.
“Off day my ass.” Stark snapped. “You going to do this after every mission Shield sends you on?”
“No, only the cluster fucks.” Clint snapped back. “Listen, I’m wrecked. I didn’t mean to even sleep down here. I’ll get out of the way.” He grabbed his bags and headed toward the elevator, trying to ignore how every muscle had decided to lock up now that the initial adrenaline was wearing off.
“You’re welcome to stay. We were meeting up to get some dinner anyway.” Bruce said softly, making his way to the attached kitchen.
“No, thanks. I’m good.” Clint said forcing a tired grin at the doctor as he stepped on the elevator and punched for his floor.
A few hours later Tony glanced up from the tablet he was working on to find that the dinner was long put away and only Bruce remained, reading a book on the couch.
“Steve head to bed?”
“Gym, I think.” Bruce said, pulling off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.
“The Hawk come back down at all?”
“Not that I’ve seen.”
“Jarvis, what’s our local bird of prey been up to?” He asked, ignoring the long suffering sigh that came from the other room.
“Agent Barton has showered and eaten a protein bar. He is currently stretching.”
“Stretching? For how many hours has he been stretching?”
“Approximately two hours.”
“Seriously? This I have to see, put it on the main screen.”
“Tony.” Bruce said with a sigh as the engineer plopped down on the couch next to him.
“What? Tell me you aren’t interested?”
“What happened to not monitoring your house guests every move?”
“That went out the window as soon as he attacked Steve.” Tony said with a snort. “Damn, he’s flexible.” They watched in stunned silence as the archer pretzeled his body like a professional contortionist.
“Does he do this often, J?”
“At least once a day that I have observed, sir.”
“Wait, who is he talking to?” Tony asked, squinting at the screen.
“I have been updating Agent Barton on the happenings in the tower and on the general news headlines for the last week.”
“Guess being in a snipers nest for a week leaves you out of the loop.” Tony said with a huff. “Okay, enough voyeurism. Kill the feed, Jay, but keep my standard mental and physical health screen going. The last thing we need is an assassin flaking out with PTSD.”
“Of course, sir.” Jarvis said, his voice soft and almost sounding resigned. Tony wandered off, collecting his tablet and taking the elevator down to his lab. Bruce waited pretending to be reading until he was sure Tony was in his lab and working.
“Yes, Dr. Banner?”
“Do you keep track of everyone’s health in the building?”
“I monitor the vitals of all occupants of the tower however once a baseline is established it consists of minimal scans unless an abnormal finding is noted.”
“So you could monitor my blood pressure and heart rate and alert the team if it trips into the red zone?”
“If you mean the general area where you change into the Hulk, then yes, I can do so if you are willing to provide me with the necessary parameters.”
“I’ll get you the ranges tomorrow. Might should talk with Steve and Tony and see if they want to add a general alert or something. Thank you, Jarvis.”
“You are most welcome, Dr. Banner.”
The next morning Tony stumbled into the kitchen, looking at the sleep disheveled Bruce and Steve whose hair was still wet from his shower.
“Great, gang’s all here. Who’s for pancakes?” Tony asked pouring himself a large cup of coffee.
“What about Barton?” Steve asked, glancing up like he could see where the archer was sleeping several floors above them.
“Let’s ask? Jarvis? Is the Hawk up?”
“He is, sir.”
“Great toss up a visual and ask him if he wants breakfast.”
Steve gives a scandalized sounding, “Tony.” that he mocked back with an over the top, “Steve!”
The screen came up and Bruce took a small breath of surprise once he found the archer. Clint was perched on one of the high beams in his living room, couched and waiting. As they watch he nodded, saying something to Jarvis and simply let himself tumble off the beam. Everyone jerked like they could get through eight levels of concrete and steel to catch the man before he landed but Clint twisted smoothly and landed before walking off just as carefree.
“Right, grew up in the circus. Need to remember that.” Tony murmured, turning away from the screen as it went blank. “Wait, he was dressed, like fully dressed.”
“People generally do that when they get up. Tony.” Bruce pointed out with a sigh.
“Yeah, but how do we know that he didn’t sleep like that?”
“If he did than it’s no business of ours. I knew a lot of soldiers in the war who picked up unusual habits on the front lines. It never changed who they were or how they fought.” Steve said, glaring slightly at the other man. Moments later the archer joined them as they were settling back down with cups of coffee or juice in Steve’s case.
“So…breakfast was mentioned?” Clint asked, peeking inside the fridge and taking stock of what was on hand.
“Yeah, what do you guys want to order? J, pull up some menus.”
“Seriously?” Clint asked, starting to pull out ingredients. “You have enough here to feed an army. Pancakes?”
“Sure, let me help.” Bruce said moving to pull down several frying pans and get butter melting in several.
He tossed a bag of bread to Steve for him to load the toaster since he was closer. Clint handed off a bowl of pancake batter to Bruce and started making bacon and scrambled eggs. They all blinked in surprise when he passed over the pancakes everyone else was doctoring up with butter and syrup and made himself a small plate of fruit, toast, and egg whites.
“On a health kick?”
“Just not into it today.” Clint said with a shrug.
They ate mostly in silence, none of them really trying to start a conversation beyond vague comments about the food or what they had planned that day. Clint scraped up the last bits of egg from his place and stole a piece of bacon from Bruce. He washed his plate quickly before heading to the gym, murmuring a quick goodbye to his team mates. He got set up on a treadmill and asked Jarvis to alert him when it was time for dinner; he doubted he would notice without someone yelling at him in the state he was in.
He had only gotten about three hours of sleep last night and those had been nightmare filled. Dreams of his childhood, Loki, and missions gone bad had mixed and blurred until he was laying there being beaten by his father while Coulson and the other Avengers looked on. He had finally given up and started exercising for a while before he climbed to perch on the ceiling beams.
It was amazing how many issues he could work his way through while in what Natasha called his sniper mode. By locking his body in position and his gaze on an object or person for hours, he was able to let his mind wander. It often led to him noticing some small detail that stopped a mission from going haywire.
Once the dust had settled from the battle with Loki, and the doctors were reasonably certain that he was completely free of any kind of mind control; Clint had been sent on mission after mission for Shield and a few interdepartmental jobs for other agencies. He cleaned up after the crime syndicates and masterminds that thought to step up operations while Shield was down for the count, making sure they would not make that mistake again any time soon, if they recovered at all.
Most people thought he was just a dumb sniper who pulled the trigger when someone told him to. They never saw the planning that he did behind the scenes of all the ops he went on and often even on ops that he never set foot in the country the op was happening. Coulson had pulled him in on other ops that struck the handler as potentially troublesome, trusting in the archer to see the small details that could make or break a mission.
It all added up to the fact that he had not been spending a lot of time at the tower since the battle. He was either somewhere in town helping organize repair crews or out of the country on missions. Natasha was not much better; she had been running around the globe tracking down alien tech that people were trying to sell on the black market.
With Coulson gone, Fury had added Clint to his person pool of agents so that he was getting handed around, back and forth, from handler to handler depending on the mission. He was sent where Fury needed him to go. It lead to mission after mission with little down time and even less time to get out of the headspace that he existed in during solo missions, all focus and drive with no time to relax.
Thanks to this latest cluster fuck of a mission he was off the rotation for two weeks before Fury was allowed to send him out again thanks to what the docs were calling possible psychological damage. If a single mission going bad did psychological damage than he should be utterly insane by now, right? Ten years of Shield should have fried every brain cell he had at the rate he normally worked.
A shrill sound pulled him out of his steady pace, hand snapping out to hit the stop button without conscious thought. Clint stepped off the treadmill and controlled his breathing through sheer will, slowing the heart beat that was hammering in his ears. The gym was empty though he vaguely remembered several of the team members coming in at different points.
“I apologize for disturbing you, Agent Barton. It is thirty minutes until the normal time the team eats dinner together. I thought you might wish to clean up before joining them.”
“Thanks, Jarvis. If the team asks I’ll be down in a bit.” He said, his voice steady and breathing even.
Clint made his way to his floor and stripped down for his shower, surveying the damage before he ducked under the water. He started to shake as the burn of overworked muscles, strained tendons, and feet pounded raw started to come into focus. Coulson had hated the way that Clint turned himself off while he was training or on a long haul mission. Injuries and necessary body functions were ignored until he came out of the trance like state, normally after the final debrief. Coulson had liked to push him out of the state as soon as he hit a safe house but Clint had always fought coming down while there was even a chance of danger remaining.
Ever since coming to the Tower he had not been able to fully relax. This wasn’t home to him, not even at the level that Shield base had once been. Maybe if Natasha had been there to watch his back he could have gotten a little sleep but she was still out chasing down black market dealers and would be for the next few months it seemed.
He eyed the packages that had been delivered with a frown. They had to attend some kind of fundraiser for helping rebuild New York. The suit was his normal for black tie events, well fitted but with room to move, extra pockets, and the jacket was stab proof and more resistant to bullets than normal. Strangely, the only thing different was the color. Normally he went full black tie but this time he was in a more modern looking dark grey suit with a pale shirt and purple tie so dark it was almost black.
He would case the place it was going to be held later tonight after dinner, he decided, starting to pack a small go bag of things he might need. Rope and a few extra weapons and bits of tactical gear went into the small backpack along with the normal things he never went anywhere without, water, a few protein bars, medical kit, cash and fake IDs. In Shield you learned to be prepared for anything, even if it was just a cake walk mission. Those kinds of missions had a tendency to dump you into a drug den full of thugs with machine guns, half naked, with three bullets and a tie pin to your name.
Dinner was thankfully quiet and quickly over, most of them begging off on a movie, citing the busy day they were going to have tomorrow. Clint headed to his rooms to change and gather up his bag before slipping out the tower. He never was completely sure if he was successful in evading detection from the AI but Jarvis never failed to greet the agent once he was back in camera range.
The ballroom where the event was to be held was dark and still as Clint moved about the space looking at sight lines and deciding where to move security. Stark supposedly controlled the guest list and background check for everyone present but Clint knew all too well how easy it was to slip past those safeguards. He had snuck into a number of Stark’s event before the Avengers were ever a thought. He absently wondered if Stark even knew about the hit on him that Clint had almost accepted while he was running around as a mercenary. Did he know that Clint had watched the man for days before turning down the job?
He finished jotting down the recommended changes and sent them in an email to Sitwell. Hopefully they would get implemented in time for the party tomorrow night but he never knew how Shield was going to treat him these days. Some missions he was left alone to do his job, everyone avoiding him like he was scum, others he was treated the same as always, a valued member of Shield but one that they knew could be ordered to take them out if it was necessary. He wasn’t sure which one he preferred. He never had many friends but having no one to watch his back during a mission was exhausting.
The next day the team was called into a meeting with their handler, Agent Jasper Sitwell, to go over the final details for the fundraiser that night. After an hour of rather ineffective power points and watching the micro sleep that Bruce was getting in one corner Clint took over. Pulling up a blueprint of the ballroom and having Jarvis project it over the table, he began pointing out where each agent was assigned and the general areas the undercover agents would be wandering. He paused for a moment before he started rattling off all the numbers he had sent Sitwell the night before, Jarvis noting each position with a red dot.
“You memorized that when exactly?” Stark asked in the following silence. Steve and Bruce were looking at him like he had grown a second head. Great, back to being the freak.
“I scouted the location last night.” Clint said with a sigh, rubbing at his eyes. “Everything look good to you, Jasper?”
“A bit over the top but considering who is attending I think we can go with it. Being over prepared is never a bad thing.”
“Wait a minute. How did you do that?”
“Do what exactly?”
“Explain in five minutes what Sitwell took an hour to get us all confused about.”
“It’s a gift.” Clint said with a snort, gathering up his moleskin and tablet. He still needed to go over several up and coming ops and send in his recommendations along with find time to meet up with R&D about some new ballistics gear that needed to be field tested.
“No, seriously, where did you learn that?” Stark pressed.
“Coulson.” Clint said over his shoulder as he left the room with a small nod to Sitwell and the others.