It’s almost a week later when the team was called out on an Avenger’s mission and tensions were still running high. For someone that was supposedly off the clock, Clint spent all his time at Shield, only returning to the tower to sleep. Both Steve and Bruce had tried to corner the archer to talk him into spending time with the team again to no avail. Turns out that spies are hard to find when they don’t want you to find them.
Flying robotic dragon flies were attacking the financial district. Steve expected Barton to joke and pick at the rest of the team as he had during the invasion but instead he was completely professional and brusque. Tony’s comments turned down right mean as he tried to get a rise out of the spy but Barton stayed distant and professional the entire mission.
By the time they reached the debrief at Shield headquarter late that afternoon everyone was angry and exhausted. The tension in the room was palpable. The only one seemingly unaffected was Agent Barton. He sat relaxed and blank faced while the rest of the team seethed. Even Steve was contemplating knocking out a few of Tony’s teeth if he did not shut up soon, but Barton was unmoved. Tony was just opening his mouth to start another rant when the door burst open and Fury swept in to take his place at the head of the table.
Fury started the debrief letting each member get through their basic facts and actions before moving on, not questioning anyone further until he reached Agent Barton. With his body so still he barely seemed to be breathing, eyes locked to some point left of Fury’s eye patch, Barton recited every shot, every call he made, and every action that happened around him, word for word in precise detail. Fury pressed him for more and more detail, getting him to estimate the angles and distances of his shots, the exact percent of damage dealt, the precise number of enemy that each team member had engaged. It was staggering. Somehow in the heat of battle, Agent Barton had memorized everything down to the slightest detail.
Once it was over, Fury ceded the meeting over to Sitwell who started to review everything they had gotten wrong and how they could correct it next time. Tony however was not one to let something like what had just happened go without a fight. When the archer ignored him he tossed a pen at his head only for it to be caught and set aside without the man ever turning to look. He almost crowed in victory when he saw the younger man suddenly turn and look at the pen on the table before shooting out of his seat.
“What the hell, Stark?” Clint snapped as the table around the pen began to smoke and dissolve.
“Ok, that one was totally not me.” Tony said, backing away from the table.
“Barton?” Fury snapped, watching as the blonde fought his way out of his shooting glove. He glanced up at the director, face pale as blood started trickling down his arm, a low groan being forced out between clenched teeth as Clint fought the urge to grip his injured hand.
“I need medical to my conference room, now!” Fury barked into an intercom as Sitwell lunged forward and caught the injured man, the skin on his hand and lower arm visibly being eaten away.
Clint fought to control his breathing, a helpless whine slipping past his lips. The pain, god, it was worse than being shot, worse than any torture he’d had to endure. He could feel the acid spreading even as his legs buckled and Sitwell helped ease him to the ground. He needed his hands; he’d die without them, fuck. When the medics finally stabbed him with a needle he welcomed the darkness, at least it replaced the red raw mess in front of him.
Clint came awake to the soft beeping of monitors and the white of Shield medical. Everything was fuzzy and distant thanks to the drugs he must be on. The room was thankfully dim as he pried his eyes open. Well, one eye, the other seemed to be swollen shut. A small movement to one side had him twitching in response only to reel back gasping as pain punched the air from his lungs.
“Hey, easy, Barton. I’ve got the watch, stand down.” Clint fought to twist enough to see the figure next to him with his good eye.
“You’ve been out almost two days. Natasha got in last night and has been searching for our saboteur with Steve. Fury gave her the go ahead to clean house.” He said with a small smirk, pressing an ice chip against Clint’s lips until he took it. With Natasha at the helm of the investigation every offense for the last two years would be exposed in the next few days. Steve was probably there to keep her from outright damaging anyone. “Bruce and Tony are working on the compound used in the attack. It took a while to neutralize it.”
“Second and third degree burns to your right hand, wrist, forearm, shoulder, chest, neck, hip and upper leg. Your wrist and arm are the worst; the rest should heal up in the next few weeks.”
“Okay.” Clint said with a sigh around the next ice chip. “The eye?”
“Swelling from the burns, it’ll go down.” Clint hummed softly in acknowledgement as the drugs started to pull him back down.
“Rest, the others will be by later to check in.”
“Yes, sir.” Clint slurred, letting his eyes close as Phil settled back into the chair with his paperwork, the shuffle of file folders and the soft shush of his pen as it moved across the page lulling Clint to sleep.
The next few days Clint woke to have short fuzzy conversations with the team or to watch his bandages be changed before slipping back under due to the heavy pain medications they had him on. He finally woke feeling a bit more alert just in time to watch Natasha come into take Bruce’s place next to his bed.
“Go get some sleep, Bruce. No one’s going to touch him on my watch.”
“Yeah.” Bruce nodded sleepily, gathering his things and heading out the door. Natasha waited until he had left before carefully sitting down on the bed next to Clint.
“Not up to talking to Bruce?”
“Not sure I was really awake.” Clint said, shifting in bed slightly and fighting the sudden spike of pain it caused. She slowly inclined the bed before letting him sip from a small cup of water.
“They’ve started dialing back the meds a bit. You were pretty out of it.”
“The Avengers mission was four days ago. It’s two in the morning.”
“How soon are they letting me out?”
“Once they wean you off the hard meds.”
“So ‘nother week?”
“Probably. Are you hungry?”
“Not really.” He said, swallowing thickly for a moment.
“Too bad, I found green jello for you. No fruit.”
“Love you, too.” He muttered as she held out a spoonful of green.
He obediently ate the jello and water she pressed on him. Natasha worked on her Stark Pad while he dozed and bugged her with the occasional question. They were finally interrupted after a while when the nurse came into change his bandages. Clint watched, numb as the burns on his hip and chest were exposed before being coated with a spray on coating that Natasha said was meant to help stimulate skin growth. Most of the burns were already fading to a red sun burnt look with the occasional scab of deeper damage. He had mostly spots of red, angry looking scar tissue that he knew would fade into regular pale scars with time.
His shoulder and arm were different however, the burnt skin around the wounds lay red and swollen while red muscle and tendons lay exposed to the air. There were even a few spots of white bone exposed on his lower arm and wrist. That would take a long time to heal; it might even need skin grafts if it did not start healing on its own soon. He would not be able to do much rehab until the worst of the burns healed beyond light stretching to try and keep his range of motion and his tendons loose.
He watched as the last of the bandages were pulled away and the nurse started to spray the gel onto his wrecked flesh. He was going to be off the team for at least a year with this. He doubted the doctors would let him even touch his bow for at least six months if not more depending on how the healing went.
“What’s the best timeline you’ve heard?” He asked once the nurse had cleaned up and left after giving him another shot of pain medication.
“A year before you can get back to your regular training. Another six months to a year before you are back on full active duty.”
Clint nodded and pressed the button to lower the head of the bed. The pain meds were already pulling at him, making every action heavy and slow. Two years back to active duty. Right; He’d have to see if he could move that. He’d done it before when they said he’d be out a year after a bad fall. He’d been back in less than six months. He was just going to have to push himself again, he decided with a sigh letting the drugs pull him back down into a light doze.
He awoke sometime later to a dry mouth and hacking cough that flared the burns covering him back to life. His chest ached with every cough jarring his bad arm, leaving him shuddering and trying not to vomit in reaction. He coughed until he could not breathe for coughing, until he did throw up across one side of the bed, until someone mercifully shoved something in his IV that sent the world dark.
Phil was standing to one side when Clint opened his eyes next. He was on a ventilator and had a new profusion of IVs hanging off to one side. Bruce lay asleep, sprawled out across the small couch like he had not slept in days.
“You’re okay. Someone messed with one of your IVs and you had an allergic reaction. They are planning to take you off the vent later today.” Clint hummed softly in acknowledgement and relaxed into the feel of Phil rubbing one calloused hand through his short hair. “I have a meeting to get to, no dying on me while I’m gone.” He ordered softly, touching Clint’s shoulder firmly for a moment before he slid out of the room.