Losing my Religion – Ch. 5
Six weeks into his therapy Clint’s limp was virtually nonexistent unless he was utterly exhausted. His days consisted of doing paperwork for Shield, rehab, and putting in a few hours at the range. It still left way too many hour in the day to be filled.
Now that he was off the pain medication he was barely sleeping at night. He had never been one to do extra work during his down time but with hours of free time he found himself plowing through his backlog of files and paperwork during the early morning hours.
Phil had raised an eyebrow the first time he came to drop off the large stack of paperwork to be filed. After three days of Clint coming in early to turn in something He’d insisted on taking Clint for coffee at a local shop around the corner. It quickly became their daily routine.
The fact was, Clint was faking at being okay so well that he was amazed no one had called him on it yet. Clint’s days were the same. Go to bed, wake up every two hours generally screaming until he finally gave up, normally around three am. Get up, showered and dressed. Gather the latest pile of missions to review and paperwork to work on and complete as much as possible.
At six am he forced himself to eat a yogurt or protein bar and went to the range. At nine am he would gather his things and the completed stack of work and head to Shield. At nine thirty he would drop the work with Phil at his desk and go to his rehab session, mostly just the guy watching while Clint exercised now.
After a quick lunch (occasionally with Natasha) he would pick up his latest stack of mission reports to assess and head back to the tower. Clint would work until dinner and then join the team for a meal and sometimes a movie. Rinse and repeat.
It got harder and harder for him to drag himself through the day as time went on. He knew he was depressed. Hell, he’d been tortured before, he knew how the mental fallout went but this was somehow different. He’d had a part of himself carve out and tossed away like trash. He had been forced to watch as his testicles were removed and smeared against one cheek before being tossed away to rot against a wall of his cell.
He was broken in some way, no longer even male. The doctors had offered reconstructive surgery but he’d refused. Having fake pieces of plastic in place of his balls had to be a hazard in the field, like having breast implants. No body modification was allowed on agents that went on covert solo missions, nothing more than basic pierced ears and those were frowned upon for males.
Natasha seemed determined to make his life a living hell. She had decided he was down because he needed to get laid. She started trying to set him up with everyone from fellow Shield agents to random strangers she met when out for drinks. It was making him crazy.
The final string holding him back from decking her broke when they were watching a movie with the team and he got a call on his cell. He moved away to answer it, not recognizing the number. He ignored the way Natasha was watching him since both of them rarely got unknown callers. You never know, it might be a death threat. Sadly that was not his luck.
“Yes, this is Clint.”
“Yes, Natasha is a friend.”
“I’m sorry but I am not looking to date right now.”
“Yeah.” He muttered between his teeth hanging up.
He gripped his phone hard, fighting with his temper. He forced himself to breath normally as he glanced back at Natasha. Her face was blank but she had to know that she had pissed him off. Of course, Tony had to totally miss the tense atmosphere.
“So…you leaving us for a hot date, Katniss?”
“No, I’m not.” Clint bit out, stalking over to Natasha. “Here, keep it. I’ll get a new one.” He dropped his phone into her lap and went to the kitchen. He leaned against the counter gripping the edge until his hands burned from the strain. He ignored the low murmur of conversation behind him. Somewhere in the background he heard the elevator ping but ignored it as Natasha stepped up behind him, setting his phone on the counter.
“I just want to see you happy.” she said softly.
“Well, stop. I don’t want to date. I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. You need to get out more.”
“I don’t need to date to do that, Tasha!”
“You need someone. You’re no good alone, Clint.”
“Maybe I’m not but I don’t need this either. Stop fucking trying to set me up with everyone! No one wants to sleep with a guy that’s more scars than skin, Tasha. No one!”
“That’s no reason not to try. You don’t know how they will react!”
“And you thought a hairdresser would react well?” He yelled, shoving the phone away from him to crash into the floor.
“She was nice and calm. You need someone like that.”
“Leave it alone, Natasha. Leave me alone.”
Clint pushed past where Phil was frozen next to the elevator and hit the button for the garage. He ignored the bikes and cars waiting and strode out into the night. He would not put it past Tony to have all his vehicles tagged with unjammable tracers. He might as well find a hotel somewhere for the night at least than he might have a chance of anyone breaking in, avenger or not. He had a safe house or two he could use but Natasha probably knew about them.
He deliberately went one eighty from his normal haunts. He ignored the standard “be ordinary” routine that Phil would have used and instead took a page from Tony’s playbook. The bigger the better. He caught a cab to a high end hotel and got a room that was more of a suite for the night.
He used one of his lesser known aliases, signing the bills as Aaron Hunter. Normally when he played Aaron he was gregarious and openly flirted with everyone around him but he could not make himself put forth the effort tonight. Clint curled on a bed that was damn close to those at the tower and stared at the walls until morning. Who would want him like this?
He called down to the desk for room service and on a whim extended his stay for the next week. He knew he would have to go back eventually but for now he could use some of the off time that Shield was always ragging him about. He used the rest of the morning to get his affairs in order with Shield.
With the entire weekend and another seven days laid out before him with no plans he decided to treat it like a mission. He made a to do list like he had been forced to abandon a safe house and went shopping. He had no intention of going back to the tower unless he was forced.
He decided to ignore the prices and just treat himself for once. He bought new suits and had them tailored. He picked up high end casual clothing and a new leather jacket. He also got a new laptop and ereader, loading all the Shield firewalls and encryption software he could before he started working.
He rarely had a dedicated span of time to work on new skills unless it was in classes with Shield for a mission. It was hard to live in a house full of computer geeks and not want to know more. He had basic training on how to code and use the various programs that Shield provided but he never had time to really work at his coding and try to improve.
He spent his mornings at the hotel gym working out, getting lunch somewhere out in the city before heading back to his room to spend the night reading or coding. He slowly started sleeping better as he treated his time away more like a vacation. He still went through his days feeling hollow and exhausted but he could finally relax a small fraction without the eyes of Shield and the team on him twenty four seven.
He picked up a new phone and sent the number to Shield but so far no one had called or tried to contact him. He should have realized that they were merely waiting when Phil turned up at the restaurant where he was treating himself for completing his latest program.
“I’ve never actually eaten here.” Phil confided once the waiter had taken his order.
“Are you celebrating something?” Phil asked, eying the chocolate mousse that Clint was savoring across the table.
“Personal accomplishment.” Clint said, eating another spoonful with a smirk.
“Does the class get to know?” Phil asked with a smirk, sipping at his glass of wine.
“The team? No.” Clint said with finality. They fell silent as Phil’s dinner was served. Clint ignored the fact that it was identical to what he had ordered if you discounted the alcohol. Phil had always been a bit of a wine snob.
“I didn’t mean the team. I meant me.” Phil said as he cut into his steak.
“In a non-Shield capacity?”
“Completely off the record.” He said, turning his full attention to Clint.
“I taught myself how to code and built a virus to attack Stark. If we’re lucky, by this time tomorrow he’ll be in Japan.” Phil blinked for a moment as he decided that Clint was telling the truth.
“Is he supposed to be in Japan?”
“Nope, but his appointment book thinks that he is.”
“Very nice. Remind me never to piss you off.”
“I don’t think you ever have, Phil. You’re too badass for that.” He said with a grin, making Phil snort.
“How long does this virus last exactly?”
“The rest of the week if he doesn’t catch on.”
“And he’ll be running back and forth around the globe the entire time?”
“Nice,” Phil said with a small smirk of his own. “I might have to hire you the next time he tries to duck out of his meetings with Shield.”
“Sadly, I doubt it would work twice.”
“Yeah.” Clint said with a small laugh. That made him stop short, he could not remember the last time he’d laughed and actually meant it.
“Well, I don’t normally condone sabotage but I’m glad you are feeling better.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“That you were unhappy? No, I don’t think the team noticed but Natasha and I know you better than they do.” Phil said with a sigh, taking a sip of his wine. “Natasha meant well.”
“I know she did.” Clint huffed, pushing the last of his dessert away. “I’m just not sure even before the torture I would have been okay with it.”
“You generally date fairly consistently.”
“She was right, kind of. I don’t do well alone. I never have.”
“That’s not something to be ashamed of. Some people just do better when they’re in a relationship.” Phil pointed out. “So you’re taking dating off the table for good or…?”
“Not for good. I just need to get my head back on straight first.” Clint said with a sigh, fiddling with a spoon. “I don’t want someone to have to deal with all my issues right now.”
“I did have a question for you, actually. I can’t find something in any of the Shield manuals.”
“And since I’m the Shield designated robot, I might know where it could be found?”
“Only the baby agents call you that. Everyone else has realized what a bad ass you are.”
“I can’t find a policy on having cosmetic implants and working deep cover missions.”
“Well, generally any non-medically necessitated implant is considered against protocol. I would have to look up the exact policy to see if it lists specifics. What were you wondering about?”
“I mean…like if someone had breast cancer and had to have implants as part of reconstruction. Would they be banned from certain missions?”
“I can only think of one or two similar instances and they were dealt with on a case by case basis.”
“So they would have to inform their handler?”
“I would imagine so…are you considering getting some work done?” Phil asked with a slight smirk making Clint snort. He could just imagine having that conversation with Sitwell, the man’s head might explode.
“Nah, nothing like that. Just wondering is all.” Clint said waving for the waiter and ordering a coffee. “So tell me, how’s the rest of the team handling things?”
“About how you would expect.” Phil said, swirling his wine, “Tony was locked in his lab for a few days before he had to leave on a business trip for Stark Industries.” He said with a low laugh. “Bruce has been in and out of the lab. Steve’s floating between the gym and sitting in the lab with Bruce sketching. Thor is back in Asgard for the foreseeable future.”
“So we’ll see him next week.”
“Probably.” Phil agreed, “Natasha went on a mission two days ago and will be back on Saturday. She asked me to make sure you were informed.”
“Sounds like a normal week for everyone.” Clint said, trying to ignore that he felt slightly put down that his leaving the tower had not affected the team in some way.
“From the outside, yes. However, the team is rather openly missing their archer.” Phil said, watching the man next to him with a carefully blank expression.
“Yeah, right.” Clint said with a frown, taking another small bite of his dessert before pushing it away.
“Natasha has been sleeping on your floor. Steve has started insisting on team dinners every night.”
“They both do that anyway, Phil.” Clint interrupted, fiddling with his butter knife as his agitation grew.
“Movie night has been suspended until you can attend.”
“The team has decided to never hold them if someone from the team is on a mission or out of the tower.”
“They didn’t hold it last time Steve was in Washington.” Clint pointed out with a huff.
“It wasn’t his turn to pick a movie. It’s your turn this week.”
“You’re kidding.” Clint said, looking for the few tells Phil tended to display. All he could see was how worn the man across from him looked, along with a slight hint of amusement.
“I had to sit and listen to Steve’s rather earnest explanations for almost an hour.”
“Possibly, or they could just be expressing how much they miss you.”
“They’re nuts. I just needed some time away.” Clint insisted moodily.
“And the team will be waiting for you when you get back.” Phil said simply, gesturing for the waiter to take his plate. “When are you planning to come back?”
“This weekend. I have the room until Sunday.”
“Must be nice, Shield would never spring for it.”
“You should come up. Have a drink before you head back.” Clint said, paying the bill in cash and leaving a good tip.
“Why not.” Phil said with a small laugh, finishing the dregs of his wine. “I have the rest of the week off to ‘convince the idiot to come back’ per Stark.”
“He’s paying you to talk to me?” Clint asked, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. Shield was known for their tight purse strings. If Phil was on a paid vacation then someone had coughed up some major favors.
“I was busy with several time sensitive missions.” Phil said with a shrug, “Stark was able to convince Fury to loan me out until you were back on the team. Director Fury gave it a week deadline.”
“So Fury let Stark con him into giving you an expenses paid vacation?”
“Oh, that is perfect. That’s almost better than my virus.” Clint said, with a grin.
“Yes, Stark’s having a bad week.” Phil agreed, pushing back from the table and gesturing for Clint to lead the way.
Back at the hotel Clint poured out two whiskeys and turned on one of the cooking reality shows that they both enjoyed. They lay on separate sides of the large bed and heckled the TV for a few hours before Clint drifted off to sleep listening to Phil berate the latest Iron Chef challenger.
Phil turned the TV and lights down once Clint fell asleep. He settled back with a book on his phone yet spent most of the time considering his sleeping agent. Clint still looked exhausted and worn too thin compared to before this last mission. Lines of tension and pain smoothed out in sleep at least, leaving the man looking years younger.
Several hours later Phil snapped awake. Clint twitched and shifted in his sleep, soft slurred words and sounds too mangled to decipher getting lost in the sheets. Phil tried to stay still, dozing. He might as well let Clint sleep as long as he could. He doubted it would be long with how the man was moving.
After barely two hours of uneasy sleep, Clint bolted upright, scrambling out of the bed and falling to his knees before he froze. He knelt there shivering, eyes unseeing. Phil watched for a moment waiting to see he would wake on his own.
“Clint?” Phil called softly, hoping not to startle him.
The pale archer blinked at him blankly for a moment before throwing himself toward the bathroom. Phil winced as the sounds of Clint being violently ill filtered past the door. He raided the small fridge and was glad to see several ginger ales waiting.
“What are your plans for today?” Phil asked once Clint came back out, handing him a ginger ale.
“Didn’t really have any.” Clint said, looking like he was forcing himself to take small sips of the soda. “I normally work out in the morning before getting cleaned up and heading into the city for a few hours. Then I come back and study or code for a while.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let me borrow some sweats. I’ll run out to pick up some clothes after we exercise and we can do lunch together if you like.”
“That might be good.” Clint said slowly, watching from the edge of the bed as Phil searched through the dresser for some exercise clothes and disappeared into the bathroom.
Tugging at his sweat soaked t-shirt, Clint dug out an outfit of his own and quickly changed. He felt shell shocked or drugged. The last thing he had expected was for Phil to spend the night with him. Well, some of the night. It was still early morning so he had at least gotten a few hours’ sleep before the nightmares hit.
Phil stepped out of the bathroom a moment later and they headed down to the hotel gym. They lifted weights for the first hour before each claiming a treadmill. Phil was still recovering from having his chest bisected so he mostly walked. Even with the advanced healing factors and nanotechnology Shield used he still had diminished lung capacity and scar tissue to deal with.
Clint watched Phil out of the corner of his eye but kept his pace steady. More than one Shield agent had snarked about the short archer needing an assist when they had to hoof it to a distant location. Clint enjoyed leaving them in the dust, several miles later. He might have a short stride but he could hold an easy, ground eating pace all day if he had to.
Clint limited himself to what Natasha would have called a light workout before heading back upstairs to get cleaned up. Phil simply changed back into his suit before going back to the tower to pack, catching the key card Clint tossed him without a word. Once he was showered and changed, Clint settled back onto into the sitting room area with a book and waited for Phil to return.
He was still surprised that he had slept as well as he had. He hadn’t managed more than two hours at a time since before Loki, yet sleeping beside Phil he had slept almost four. He was not sure how he felt about Phil trying to push his way back into his life just as he managed to get everyone at a safe distance.
“Two questions for you.” Phil said as he came in, setting a bag to one side.
“Shoot.” Clint said setting his book onto the bedside table and letting his eyes roam over the other man. Phil had showered and changed into a fresh suit, Clint noted, eyes taking in the slight variations in color the shirt and tie. He wondered in most of Shield realized that Coulson spent most of his salary on tailored suits and ties? He doubted most of them noticed.
“Do you mind sharing a bed or do I need to find a room somewhere else?”
“I don’t mind you staying but you’ll have to deal with me being up half the night.”
“Never stopped us before during ops.”
“Yeah.” Clint agreed with a sigh, “What was your second question?”
“Dive bar with the best pie on this side of town or steak house with every beer I’ve ever heard of?”
“Exactly, however we do have the rest of the week to try both.”
“Planning to stay a few days?” Clint asked with a smirk.
“Only if you want me to. I thought you might want some company.”
“You can stay tonight.” Clint decided, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “We can do a day by day thing.”
“Sounds good. I’ll probably have to field some Shield work anyway.”
“Yeah, you think dying on them would have made them learn to work without you.”
“Probably why I didn’t stay dead long. I knew they couldn’t survive without me.” Phil said with a small sad smile.
Clint picked at the salmon he had ordered while Phil slowly put away his steak. The steakhouse was quiet for the early lunch time but Clint thought he might like the place if he was not so unsettled. Both men seemed disinclined to talk and Clint was happy to let his mind wander as the silence lengthened. He was still unsettled from his nightmares the night before. It was pretty much guaranteed that he would have more tonight and he was not sure he wanted Phil seeing him like that. They had soothed each other through nightmares before but somehow this felt different.
They rarely interacted outside of work or medical. Sure they were friends and would do lunch on occasion but most of their interactions were based on Shield and missions. Clint would hang out with Phil while they both worked on paperwork or bring him lunch or coffee when he knew he was having to stay late for some cluster fuck.
Even when on missions with Natasha they rarely hung out together much. Generally they would sleep in shifts to keep watch. Clint spent most of his time outside the safe house scouting or in a sniper’s nest. Contrary to Shield rumors he generally was silent on the coms, only really snarking on the coms in the heat of a battle. If they really had a slow mission with lots of downtime they might play cards or curl in separate corners to read but that was about it.
Now all of a sudden Phil was trying to spend time outside of Shield with him. Ever since this last cluster fuck of a mission they had been talking more and spending time watching bad television together. Clint has had a crush on the other man for years and managed to keep things professional between them. Of course, as soon as he never wants to consider having sex again Phil seems to be asking for more.
“So, are you abandoning Shield for the week or do you have to go back in at some point?” Clint asked trying to break the silence.
“I have to go in tomorrow for a meeting but that’s the only one I have to attend.” Phil said, taking a sip of his water.
“So you’re just going to hang out with me for the rest of the week? Sure you don’t have better things to do?”
“HR has been bugging me for years to take a vacation. They can’t complain that I’m using my time now. Anyway, I want to see what your next revenge against Stark is going to be.” Phil said with a smirk.
“It’s only Tuesday. You’re going to get bored.” Clint pointed out, taking a bite of his salad to cover the frown he was fighting.
“I have a massive stack of books I have been meaning to read.” Phil said, pushing the last few bites of his meal around the plate. “I don’t have to tag along if you want some time alone or I can get a separate room.”
“I just don’t want to keep you if you have things to do.”
“Clint, my week is free. I don’t have anything beyond a meeting tomorrow morning. Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”
“Even if I plan to go to the aquarium and stare at the fish for hours?”
“Sounds fun. When are we going?”
“Tomorrow after lunch.” Clint said with a small grin. “You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“I’m on vacation, Clint. I’m completely open to suggestions at this point.” Phil said waving down the waiter and asking for the check.
“Fair enough. Let me know if you think of something you want to do, okay?”
“I will. What are your plans for the rest of today?”
“I wanted to go back and code for a bit, maybe go for a run after dinner.”
“Sounds good.” Phil agreed with a smile. “I do want to warn you, I’m pretty sure Tony managed to track you down so I wouldn’t put it past some of the team to show up.”
“I told them to keep their distance until you approached them.”
“But when has any of our team been able to follow the rules.”
Phil insisted on paying for the meal before they caught a cab back to the hotel. Clint just shook his head as a cab magically appeared at the curb as they exited the building. Phil held the door open with a small flourish make Clint laugh.
“I’m starting to think you’re misusing Shield gadgets, Phil.” Clint said with a small laugh as he climbed in.
“So you don’t suspect me of misusing Shield funding?”
“Nah, more like you have a genial group of cab drivers who all feel like they owe you. Planning on buying an invisible hotel next, Lamont?”
“Only if you’ll come to visit, Margot.”
“You’re such a geek.”
“This from a man quoting the Shadow.” Phil said with a smirk, giving the cab driver the address and sitting back with a grin.