Author's Note: Inspired by a prompt at the avengerkink community over on LiveJournal.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, and I'm not making any money from this story.
Warnings: Spanking, and Schmoop I don't think there are any major SPOILERS for the movie, but read at your own risk
Out Of the Frying Pan
"What did you think you were doing?"
Clint glances up as Rogers falls into step beside him, his blonde, all-American countenance the picture of earnest disgruntlement. "Hey, Captain."
Rogers slants him a look. "You were ordered to higher ground; Tony had it."
Clint shrugs, reaching to brush some remaining ash from his arm. "I saw the shot and I took it. No thanks necessary." The sooner they save the world, the sooner they can get back to their interrupted poker game, and Clint can have the pleasure of taking all their money.
"I'm not thanking you." Rogers catches him by the arm, stopping him in his tracks. "This isn't a one man show, Barton," he explains. "This is a team; we work together."
Clint carefully removes the super soldier's hand. "I know my capabilities," he assures Rogers. Which happen to include taking out an engine with a well-placed arrow. The hovercraft careening toward his position before crashing to a fiery stop just inches from his boots was an unexpected variable, but Clint hasn't lived this long without learning how to improvise. He starts uptown again, not entirely surprised when Rogers matches his determined pace.
"You were almost incinerated," Rogers persists.
Clint's mouth quirks slightly as he scans the surrounding area. "Tuesday already?"
"Don't be flip," Rogers snaps, his fingers curling into his palms as Tony Stark lands a few steps ahead of them, removing the helmet from his dark head and tucking it under his arm as they approach.
"Cap's right, Barton; it's really unbecoming," Stark mocks, earning him a raised brow from Clint. Stark might be on friendlier terms with the Captain, but he annoys him twice as much.
"Your skills are an asset, but your attitude's a liability," Rogers tells Clint, blue eyes glinting in the dusty light.
Clint shoots him a narrowed glance. "What are you trying to say?" He's tired, dirty, with the beginnings of one hell of a headache, and they still have to chase down the rest of the bad guys.
Rogers' jaw tightens, and then he's striding toward the nearby Quinjet. "We'll regroup at thirteen hundred," he throws over his shoulder to Stark. "Barton; you're benched."
Clint glares after him, his hand absently slipping to the back of his now throbbing skull and finding something wet.
Stark grimaces. "He actually does grow on you, you know. In a really slow, boring, goody-two-shoes kind of way." He looks over to find Clint glaring at his blood-smeared fingertips. "You should have Bruce take a look at that when he's back to being a real boy."
"Yeah," Clint says, still watching Rogers as he greets their teammates at the Quinjet. "I'll make sure I do that."
# # #
Steve stands in front of the tall wall of windows, gazing out from Avengers Tower's main conference room at the city below. From the distant 93rd floor, the city is quiet and almost peaceful, and Steve can almost forget that this isn't his city anymore, that those he used to know are most likely gone.
"You are troubled again."
Thor's voice sounds from behind him, breaking the spell of his reverie. Steve glances up, taking in the Asgardian's knowing expression. Steve's mouth twists ruefully. "That obvious?"
Thor shrugs, shaking a stray length of hair from his light eyes. "You often appear thus after words with Agent Barton.
Steve frowns, turning from the window and toward the interior of the conference room. "How do you know we had words?"
Thor cocks a skeptical brow and waits for it.
Then, "We might have had a few words," Steve admits, earning a grin from the demigod. "Combat requires discipline, and Barton's too used to making his own rules," Steve tells him. The guy had nearly become another stain upon the city's asphalt this morning, and not for the first time. Steve runs an agitated hand over the back of his neck. "He nearly killed himself taking that shot, and for what? Who's he trying to impress?"
"Agent Barton is a mighty warrior, but slow to trust. As I, he has much to learn," Thor says, pulling out a chair from the conference table and taking a rather delicate perch upon its streamlined frame. Although Tony has assured him the chairs are strong enough to withstand even Hulk, the large warrior isn't taking any chances. Steve has the same healthy respect for the microwave.
Steve considers. "You think he doesn't trust me?"
"Nay, Captain," Thor replies, with a wry shake of his head. "I think he doesn't trust himself."
Well, that's perfect. What's Steve supposed to do about that? "You'd think one loose cannon would be enough," he mutters.
"You can never have too many cannons, Cap," Tony says, striding into the room in that hurried way that always suggests he has bigger and better places to be. "I mean, for boys it's really all about the toys, isn't it? A bow and arrow, a hammer I'm thinking about a giant water pistol."
Thor chuckles as Bruce and Natasha make their own appearances, Bruce as unflappable as ever when he's this color, Natasha slightly less so.
"Have any of you seen Clint?" she asks, glancing around the conference room as if Barton might have escaped even her vigilant notice.
"Not since our return here," Thor tells her.
"He didn't stop by Medical?" Tony asks Bruce, but the doctor only shoves his hands into his pockets and shakes his head.
"Haven't seen him."
"He's never late," Natasha says, and Steve needs to end this now.
"Hawkeye won't be joining us." Steve says it as plainly and clearly as he can, and watches as realization dawns on each of his teammates. There's surprise, and some regret, and no one's really looking at each other as they take their respective seats at the table, or at the empty chair beside Natasha's.
"Well, this is awkward," Tony remarks, but internal affairs will have to wait.
"We need a plan of action for eliminating residual threat," Steve tells them. "Tony, will you do whatever it is you do?" he asks, relieved when Tony uses his fingertips to activate the interface he's built into the conference table. "Factor in remaining enemy numbers, and all prior camps and safe houses within a half-day's travel distance; they'll be close."
Tony's fingers sweep and glide through the screens, until a topographical map appears with a blinking red circle. "Target identified," Tony reports, then frowns, eyes scanning the available data. "That's funny."
"What?" Bruce asks, leaning over to take a look.
"This search has already been run."
"By who?" Steve wants to know.
"Our very own William Tell," Tony replies, dark eyes narrowed on the screen.
"Why would Clint run that search and not share the results with the rest of us?" Bruce asks.
He wouldn't. Not unless he has plans of his own. But that would be crazy. So Steve benched the guy from one mission. It doesn't mean... Steve asks anyway. "You don't think he'd try to take them out on his own?"
Tony glances up from the console. "Seriously?"
Steve sighs. "Natasha?"
The redhead's lips are tight with displeasure; she waves her hand slightly in concession.
"Gear up," Steve commands, and heads for the hangar. "He's had enough of a head-start.
# # #
Hitting a moving target has never been much of a challenge for Clint. Ever since he can remember, he's always had a keen sense of where speed, force, and mass will collide, and today is no exception. Gunfire scatters the arid ground around him, spitting up dirt and grit, and Clint reaches behind him for another arrow. Even in the hail of bullets, it's strangely quiet without the constant communications of the team playing in his ear, without Rogers' intel and commands. Clint scowls, brushes off the feeling. He doesn't need the headache, figuratively or literally. If it's a little lonely out here behind his rock, it's only because he's already disposed of the mercenaries' safe guards, silently picking them off one by one until someone happens to notice the bodies littering the cave's perimeter. By Clint's calculations, about a dozen remain, two of which are starting to irritate the fuck out of him.
He blinks at the sweat stinging his eyes, takes a moment to steady his breathing. If only Rogers could see him now. With a narrowed glance over his shoulder, Clint turns and leans just enough to fire two more arrows, one after the other, then ducks and waits. The gunfire halts abruptly. Clint smirks, leaning from shelter once more to survey the damage. Two more men lay sprawled in the dust at the entrance to the cave, their weapons beside them. He's considering a frontal assault when there's a sudden growl of an engine, and a large truck roars from the interior, crowded with men and drums of stolen explosives.
"Not today, boys," Clint warns under his breath. The truck heaves over the uneven terrain, and in a single, fluid motion, Clint reaches into his mechanized quiver and draws, feeling a grim sense of satisfaction as he releases the bowstring. The arrow hurtles toward the closest drum with uncanny precision, so that Clint doesn't even mind when the bullet grazes his right bicep, burning as intensely as the hovering sun.
There's a deafening blast, the sky shifting wildly, and then a gust of fierce heat sends him crashing backward.
# # #
"Gotta give the kid credit, Cap," Tony says into the com, as the team wanders the scorched area surrounding the cave. "He outdid himself this time. I don't think he left a single one of 'em."
Steve frowns and keeps walking, his apprehension mounting at each body he passes. The place is desolate, stagnant, except for the flames still engulfing the remains of the truck. They have to find Barton; this is not how the battle ends.
"Got his sky cycle over here," Bruce reports from the west perimeter.
"So where is he?" Steve asks, squinting in the bright light.
"Over here!" Natasha calls suddenly, from an outcropping of rocks. Steve runs to join her, stopping just short of stumbling right over the two of them. "Oh, my God," the Russian breathes, leaning over the slumped form. Barton's eyes are closed, his visible skin marked by burns and scrapes. Blood covers his right arm from a wound in his bicep.
"Bruce, we're going to need you," Steve lets the doctor know, before dropping to one knee for a closer look.
"Clint?" Natasha asks, patting gently at the man's grimy cheek.
Barton's eyes crack open slowly, regard them blearily. "Heyyy," he drawls, mouth curving slightly. "What took you so long?"
A relieved smile flits over her worried face. "You asshole. It's his arm, Doc," she tells Bruce, suddenly there beside them. The doctor's fingers probe the injury, dark eyes somber in their assessment.
" Barton complains, suddenly sounding like a fractious five year-old.
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" Steve asks him.
"Yeah; everywhere," he mutters.
"He's lost some blood," Bruce says, and there's a sudden rending sound as Bruce tears a strip from the hem of his shirt and uses it to tie a gauze pad over the wound.
"I'll buy you a new shirt," Natasha promises, her green eyes still locked on Barton's face.
"Don't worry about it," Bruce responds dryly, gently turning Barton's arm to check his work. "My clothes don't usually last that long, anyway."
"Hey, Cap," Barton mumbles, licking his dry lips. "Did you see me?"
The question takes Steve by surprise. Barton's eyes are glazed, unfocused, and Steve glances at Bruce, sees his own concern reflected in the physicist's face. "Yeah, I saw you," Steve assures Barton, reaching down to brush a comforting hand over the man's forehead.
"How fares Hawkeye?" Thor asks from behind them. Steve hasn't even heard the Norseman and Tony approach.
"Better than the other guy," Tony observes, with a nod to the surrounding destruction.
"We need to get him back to base," Steve says, noticing Barton's eyes have drifted closed. He doesn't want to think about all the other ways this might have ended, the ways it has ended in years before; doesn't want to think about his own part in the day's events. For now, it's enough Barton's alive.
He swings the man into his arms, careful not to jar his injured arm. "Let's go."
# # #
"How's he doing, Doc?" Steve asks, rising to his feet as Bruce steps into the lounge Tony had built adjacent to Lab and Medical, so that the physicist can nap in the odd hours he doesn't feel like returning to his rooms. Tony has his own lab; partly for safety, and partly because he doesn't like sharing his toys.
Bruce rubs at his forehead, gaze moving over Steve and the rest of the team, who've occupied every flat surface of the space since Barton's recovery. "Well, medicine isn't my specialty, but I'm pretty sure he's going to make it," he tells them, smiling at the grins the pronouncement wrings from the tired group. "He has a nasty bump on the back of his head, but the few times he's woken he's known where and who he is, so that's a good sign," he assures, glancing at Natasha. "I've given him some blood, and some fluids for the dehydration; he should be feeling like himself in a couple of days. Our biggest challenge is going to be keeping him out of the action while his arm heals."
"Don't worry about that; I'll see to it myself," Steve promises. "Did you see me?" Barton asked. The thing is, Steve always sees him; Barton kind of makes it impossible not to see him. But Steve should have paid more attention.
"It's not your fault, Cap," Natasha tells him. "Clint's always been hardheaded; he never gave up on me."
Steve shakes his head. "He deserved to be reprimanded, but I should have gone about it differently - "
"There was no other way to answer such defiance," Thor contends, clapping a hand on Steve's shoulder. "You could not have known he'd attempt something so foolish."
"No, but I can make sure it doesn't happen again." Steve doesn't have a problem with Barton's stubbornness; sometimes stubborn is what you need. The guy just has to learn to use it with discretion. Steve expects a few skirmishes along the way, but after today, he's pretty sure the team will back him. He confirms with Natasha. "You have any objections, ma'am?"
"To you clipping Clint's wings?" She frowns, shaking her auburn head. "No. We committed ourselves to the Initiative, and he messed up. He needs to deal with the consequences." Her eyes narrow on Steve. "But you do anything to hurt him, really hurt him," she warns, "and you'll answer to me."
"Yes, ma'am." Steve expects no less.
"Someone's going to have to debrief Fury," Tony reminds them, folding his arms as they move on to the trickier side of the equation. A silence falls over the team; none of them want to give the report that's going to result in formal disciplinary action for Barton, or even dismissal from the Avengers Initiative, depending on Fury's mood of the hour.
"What do we tell him?" Bruce finally asks. But Steve's first loyalty has never been to S.H.I.E.L.D., anyway.
"The truth," he replies, his gaze circling the room. "Hawkeye went ahead for recon, we followed. Both the enemy and their munitions were destroyed everyone on the same page?"
"That's the way I remember it," Tony says, raising his brows at the others, who quickly nod their agreement.
"Good," Steve says, smiling briefly. "Then I'd better go get ready."
"Cap?" Natasha asks.
"If it's okay with you, I'd like to be the one to report to Fury," she says. "Whatever you're planning with Clint, I shouldn't be here for it. Besides," she adds, a hint of amusement entering her voice, "Deception's really more my thing than yours."
Steve considers. She has a point, and regardless, he never has liked turning down a lady. "Ladies first," he replies at last, glancing up at the ceiling. "J.A.R.V.I.S., can you have them ready the Quinjet?"
# # #
The first thing Clint notices is that his right arm is tangled in something. He cracks open an eye, recognizes the sling. There's a dull ache at the back of his skull, and a little more pain coming from his bicep, but all in all it's not bad. He goes ahead and opens his eyes, impressed by his own resilience. "I'm alive."
"And observant," Banner remarks, setting down a notebook he's holding and approaching the narrow bed.
"I'm a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent," Clint boasts, his left hand feeling for a control to raise the bed. Banner beats him to it, punching a button that finally sets the bed in motion.
"A damn lucky one, too," Banner says, as Clint is slowly eased into a sitting position. "You lost a lot of blood."
"Superficial graze," Clint tells him, glancing around the small room for any sign of red hair.
"It'll heal, the abrasions, too. If you follow my instructions," Banner adds, his gaze following Clint's with curiosity. Then, "Looking for Natasha?" he asks.
What? Clint scowls. "No."
Banner smirks. "Because if you were looking for Natasha, I'd tell you she's debriefing Fury. Left a note for you, though," he says, holding it out to Clint. Clint reaches for it, surprised when Banner waves it playfully from reach. Clint glares, and Banner chuckles. He offers the note again, this time allowing Clint to snatch it from him.
Clint spreads the folded paper open with his left hand, eyes scanning the Black Widow's elegant scrawl. He tries not to wince at the blunt message. Apparently his arrow isn't going to find its way into her quiver for a very long time.
"Everything okay?" Banner asks, crooking an eyebrow.
Clint forces a grin before crumpling the paper in his fist and tossing it toward a nearby trash. "She says I'm a prince among men." Banner shakes his head in disbelief. "Why am I here?"
"Because you were dumb enough to believe flying solo was a good idea?" Banner suggests sarcastically.
"No," Clint drawls. "I mean here in Medical. Why didn't the Captain call S.H.I.E.L.D. to take me out of there?"
Banner huffs, a soft sound of exasperation. "You really don't get it, do you?"
"That's why I asked," Clint tells him, his own patience wearing thin. No, he's not a genius or god or even a hero; he's just the guy who fires the goddamn arrows. Anything outside of that is pretty much a crap shoot.
Banner sighs. "Captain's going to want to talk to you."
"Too bad," Clint mutters. "No offense, doc, but I don't need another lecture on how there's no 'I' in team."
Banner holds up his hands. "Entirely up to you," he says. He studies Clint for a moment, his scientist's eyes too perceptive for Clint's liking. "He sat with you on the Quinjet; you seemed to find him comforting."
Clint swings his legs over the side of the bed. "As interesting as that is?" he snarks, ignoring the sudden head rush as he gets to his feet, "I think I'm going to be on my way. Where are my clothes?" he asks, fingers fumbling with the sling as he looks for something more to wear than the thin hospital pants he's got on.
"Ah, ah, ah!" Banner tuts, and actually has the balls to smack his hand away. "The sling stays on, doctor's orders. And you really should be resting."
"I can rest when I'm dead," Clint retorts, stepping around him and pushing through the double doors with every intention of finding some clothes and some privacy, preferably in that order. Unfortunately, the lounge is already occupied. Rogers, Stark, and Thor cut short whatever conversation they're having to stare at him in surprise.
"I'm not sure that's our best solution," Banner contends, apparently still on Clint's heels. "Our patient's a little impatient," he explains to Rogers.
Oddly, the Captain doesn't seem annoyed by Clint's appearance. "How are you feeling?" Rogers asks, forehead furrowed in what almost appears concern. It doesn't make Clint nervous, exactly Clint never gets nervous but the focused attention is unsettling in ways he doesn't like to think about.
"I'm fine," Clint replies cautiously, not entirely certain what tactic the guy is using now.
"Good," Rogers says, his expression relaxing just a bit.
There's an awkward pause. "Thanks for the ride," Clint offers, because contrary to popular opinion, he does have some manners. "If I can just get my clothes, I'll get out of your way."
"Not before we talk."
And here it comes. "What do want me to say, Captain?" Clint wants to know. "That I'm sorry I took that shot, or brought down that hovercraft? Because I'm not," he tells the soldier. "And if you have a problem with that, then you're right, and I don't belong here."
Rogers' brows draw together. "I never said you don't belong here," he replies calmly. "I said you were an asset."
"I shoot arrows, and I'm damn proud of it," Clint snaps. "I'm not some kid you have to humor."
"No, you're a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in desperate need of a spanking," Rogers retorts.
A rush of heat floods Clint's face; he vaguely registers Stark's raised brows. "Why, Captain, I'm impressed. And here I thought you were so vanilla.
Thor frowns. "How does Steve Rogers possess this flavor?"
"Later," Banner assures him, monitoring the situation with a wary eye. But he doesn't have to worry; Clint has this. He's not about to be intimidated by some overgrown jarhead who thinks he's his father.
"I don't work for you," Clint reminds Rogers. "You're not my boss."
"But you want me to be," the Captain claims, folding his arms and pinning Clint with a level gaze.
Huh? Clint stares at the man for a moment. Rogers is serious. Clint shakes his head, offers a short huff of derision. "I didn't realize Stark's ego was contagious."
Rogers drops his arms, stepping into Clint's personal space. "You want me in control; you want this team and you've gotten so used to not wanting things that it pisses you off," he tells Clint. "Well, too bad. You want my trust, my approval?" Rogers demands. "Have the courage to stick around and earn it."
"Fuck you, Captain." Clint manages to make the last word an insult. Rogers' eyes flash with frustration, and from somewhere to his right, Clint hears Stark sigh.
"Okay," Banner intervenes in the very conciliatory manner he has when he's not impersonating the not-so-jolly green giant, "Let's just - " The doctor stops short as Rogers' hand grips the back of Clint's neck and steers him toward the sofa.
"Get off!" Clint snarls, attempting to jerk from Rogers' grasp, only the super-soldier's hold is unshakeable, damn it.
"I'm not sure this is the physical therapy doc had in mind," Stark remarks casually, as Rogers starts to lower them to the couch, and just fuck no. Clint balks and twists, but he's got one good arm and no superhuman strength, and he finds himself wrestled over Rogers' lap, the guy's muscled arm a heavy band snaring his waist. Unwilling to concede defeat, Clint grits his teeth and keeps struggling, a fine sheen of sweat breaking out over his skin.
Blood loss and exertion don't exactly go together, and Clint feels himself tiring. He might not be able to fight the prick who throws a punch at Captain-fucking-America, anyway? but he tries every evasive maneuver picked up at S.H.I.E.L.D., and a few from his circus days as well. Even with the sling, his efforts would have already overcome any ordinary captor, but Rogers isn't ordinary; not anymore. The Captain's simply holding him, like a tantrumming child restrained by a longsuffering parent.
"Enough; you're going to hurt yourself," Rogers warns, managing to sound worried, as if this humiliation isn't just what he's been hoping for.
"Better me than you," Clint snaps.
"Better me than you."
Steve frowns. Does Barton really think Steve is going to harm him? The guy reminds him of the feral kittens Steve used to find in the Brooklyn alleyways, the ones that glared at him for weeks until finally succumbing to his coaxing voice and soothing hands. Steve eventually found homes for them with friends and shopkeepers, and if they remained a little aloof, they still had a taste of human kindness, somewhere warm to sleep. Some of them he never could tame, though, and those either starved or froze to death, their emaciated carcasses eventually devoured by rats. Barton is panting heavily now, and Steve decides he's allowed enough.
"Hold him, Tony. I don't want him tearing stitches."
Tony glances at Bruce, who shrugs. "Might help."
Clint tries to ignore the flash of betrayal at the exchange. Of course Stark and Banner are with the Captain. Clint is the odd man out here; always has been.
"This is Midgardian custom?" Thor inquires dubiously, as Stark approaches and sits to Clint's left. Clint shoves at him with his good arm, but then Rogers is lifting him, and Stark slides in under his chest anyway.
"No," Clint snarls, pausing in his struggles to glance up at the demigod. "This is Rogers and Stark being asshol- shit!" Clint complains, as an open handed slap scorches the seat of his pants. He glowers over his shoulder at Rogers, only to have Stark push him back against the men's laps.
"Watch your mouth," Rogers scolds mildly, like he's not even pissed, the bastard.
Clint flushes again, the fingers of his free hand curling tightly into the sofa cushion. "Am I supposed to beg for mercy now?" he taunts, but the words come out hoarser than he'd like.
"Steve Rogers has promised you shall come to no lasting harm," Thor vows.
"That's not what this is about," Rogers tells him.
"Then would you mind getting on with it?" Clint's no stranger to torture, no stranger to any kind of cruel or unusual punishment the super-soldier might dish out. He sucks in a breath and grits his teeth, eyes screwing shut when the sick fuck tugs the hospital pants to his knees. The first smack to his ass takes him by surprise; then the second and the third. By the time Clint registers that this is actually the end-game, Rogers has already fallen into rhythm, his arm swinging in careful, measured cadence.
"Is this supposed to be a joke?" Clint growls, stiffening in their grasp. Because yeah, the Captain's hand is hard and the blows smart, but it's hardly the level of retaliation he's accustomed to. Even as a kid, he knew how to take a beating, could take it without a sound, his body curled to protect his most vulnerable parts.
"Is this supposed to be a joke?"
And Steve thinks that idea might be more injurious to Barton than any physical consequence he can muster.
"Am I laughing?" Steve asks. Beneath him, Barton lies tense as his stretched bowstring and twice as dangerous, and Steve knows he has to get this right the first time.
"In the kid's defense, you're not exactly Mr. Chuckles," Tony has to point out.
Steve sighs. "It's not a joke," he says, continuing to brighten Barton's backside. The sharp crack of palm against skin bounces between the lounge walls for several minutes, the sound causing both Thor and Bruce to shift uncomfortably on their feet. Barton isn't fighting the reprimand, but he isn't showing any signs of accepting it, either. If anything, Barton seems confused by the proceedings, and Steve wonders how lacking the guy's childhood really was. Frowning, Steve eases up on the strength of his spanks before addressing his errant team member. "Are you listening?"
"Are you listening?"
Clint's jaw tightens. His ass is burning like a four alarm blaze, and now he's supposed to invite Rogers' ridicule?
"We have all night," the man reminds him.
"He has all night," Stark's voice drawls. "I'd rather be doing something else."
The Captain ignores him. "Clint?" Rogers says, using his first name this time. "I asked you a question."
"Of course, I'm listening," Clint fires back, trying to ignore that the bastard is still doling out his ridiculous vengeance. "Is there anything else to do?"
"You're one of the bravest soldiers I've ever seen."
Clint blinks. Who is he - What?
"I've never known anyone that has your skill or accuracy with a bow," Rogers avers.
Clint swallows around the sudden tightness of his throat. "Shut up," he rasps, closing his eyes against the praise and trying to focus on the heat lighting up his backside. "Just - "
"You're smart, agile, and despite your antisocial tendencies, you care about people, and think they're worth saving."
"You fucking asshole," Clint chokes, struggling for leverage with his free elbow only to be flattened again by Stark. And if the next few smacks are that much harder, it's worth it.
"But so are you," Rogers states firmly. "And as long as you're part of this team, you'll defend yourself as vigilantly as you do others, or this is where we're going to be. Every time."
It's a goddamn promise, Clint realizes. Even as a kid in the orphanage, he knew enough about Captain America to know that he always keeps his promises. But Rogers has it wrong; Clint's not that scared kid anymore, counts on himself. That's safe, that's what works - why can't that be enough? "When are you going to I don't need you," Clint grinds out, ignoring the sudden prickling of his eyes. "Don't you get it?"
"Maybe we need you," Rogers says gently.
Clint shakes his head, blinking fiercely against his blurring vision. "Don't kid yourself."
"You presume to know our feelings on this?" Thor asks, and Clint doesn't need to see him to sense his disapproval.
"You think I'm reckless, a liability," Clint repeats, the words bitter on his tongue. "You don't want me on your team."
"You don't want me on your team."
Steve blinks at the unexpected claim, allowing his now aching hand to drop to Barton's thigh.
"I'm reckless," Tony insists. "You're just annoying."
"Tony," Steve hears Bruce say, with his usual forbearance. "Shut up."
"Tough crowd," Tony mutters.
"I never said I didn't want you on this team," Steve maintains, and why does he suddenly feel like every jerk who ever picked him last for kickball?
"Didn't have to," Barton says, releasing the couch to rub his knuckles across damp eyes. "Everything I do pisses you off."
What? Steve frowns. "I'm not pissed," he says, his cheeks warming slightly, and why do people have to say everything these days? "I, well - "
"This is a safe place, friend," Thor encourages, apparently embracing the opportunity for manly sharing.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Tony gripes. "Do I have to do everything? He was worried, Cupid. In case you didn't notice, you were nearly crushed by an eight-ton hovercraft. And that was before you decided to go all Rambo on the rest of the bad guys."
"We were all worried," Bruce puts in.
"You were I'm a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent," Barton repeats numbly, as if they hadn't caught it the first hundred times. "A trained assassin." He blinks again. "A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent."
"Are you sure he doesn't have a concussion?" Tony asks Bruce.
"I won't risk members of this team unnecessarily," Steve says sternly. He means it, too. He fights every bit as much for the person beside him as he does for his country; maybe a little more.
"Yeah, because you like me so much," Barton drawls sarcastically, then stills. The silence is long enough for Steve to wonder if the guy's about to pass out. Then it comes, careful and more than a little suspicious. "You're saying you like me."
Steve rolls his eyes. "I'm saying I like you," he agrees, pleased when some of the tension seems to drain from Clint's limbs.
"As do I," Thor vows.
"Me, too," Bruce admits, grinning at the unexpected turn of events.
"Well, you know I don't like you," Tony quips, leaning back on the sofa. "Or you," he informs Steve. "Any of you, really. So are we just going to sit around and do each other's hair, or can we finally get back to me cleaning you guys out?"
Steve wonders why they play poker at all, when Tony just finds ways of returning all their money. With interest. "You guys go ahead," he tells them, lifting Barton just enough for Tony to slide out. "We'll be there in a few."
"Fine, but if Barton's still not wearing pants, I'm not either." Before Steve can respond, Tony strolls from the room, lips pursed in a carefree whistle. Bruce and Thor follow in short order, and from somewhere down the hall, Steve can just make out Thor's puzzled inquiry.
"Who is this Mr. Chuckles?"
Steve shakes his head, a small smile curving his mouth. He turns his attention back to Barton, giving the man's nape a comforting squeeze. "You okay?" Steve asks. The guy feels like dead weight over his thighs, and Steve knows the events of the day are finally catching up with him.
"Peachy," Clint tells him. "Ahh, Captain?"
"Yeah, sure," Clint says. "Steve. Are we done here?" Because lying bare-assed over his team leader's lap is getting more than a little awkward.
"You going to be part of the team?"
"As much as I can."
"Then we're done here," Rogers confirms, reaching to draw up Clint's pants before helping him to his feet. Clint's surprised at how tired he is; the pain in his bicep is manageable but persistent, and he has a feeling sitting won't be comfortable for a while, either. The room sways slightly, like the bow of a ship, and Rogers reaches to steady him.
"I got it," Clint says, just before Rogers wraps an arm around his waist.
"Don't be an idiot."
Clint sighs. "You're not gonna let up, are you?"
Rogers smiles. "Nope." He guides them slowly into the corridor, taking pains not to jostle Clint's injured arm. "It's kind of my thing."
Yeah, no kidding. But this time, Clint finds he doesn't really mind. At least the guy's on their side, and besides, Clint has bigger problems at the moment.
Natasha," Clint begins.
"What about her?"
Clint slants the man an uneasy glance. "Just how mad was she?"
Rogers considers. "Know how Bruce is when he turns into the big green guy?"
"Little madder than that."
"Oh," Clint says, and Rogers chuckles.
"Apologize and take her some flowers."
Clint frowns, imagining what kind of damage Natasha might be able to inflict with a simple bouquet. "You really think that will work?"
"Why not?" Rogers shrugs. "Women can't have changed that much."
Clint glances at Rogers again, and nope, the guy is perfectly serious. Clint's mouth twists into a smile. He'd better stick around; at least for a little while.
Steve might need him after all.
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