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AN: Thanks once again to forsweatervests for making this piece comprehensible. All mistakes remaining are mine. Using to fill the "sacrifice" square on my hc_bingo card.

Clint receives the first email on a Tuesday, and his gut reaction is that someone is fucking with him. He tries to trace the email, but that's not really his area, and given the contents, he's not asking Tony for help. Instead, when he can't find the sender, he ignores it. The second email comes five days later, and is a hell of a lot more explicit. That said, he's still ninety percent certain it's one of the people in SHIELD who still—fairly—hates him with a burning passion for the whole Loki thing. He does not, mind you, think that because he doesn't believe the information about Fury. Clint is loyal, not stupid. He's not surprised to learn Fury has made mistakes, the kind that have ended with people dead, the kind that would finish his career. Nor is he surprised Fury has kept his mistakes buried. Still, it seems a super roundabout way to get to the Director, or even the organization at large.

No, it's more that, even in a world with magic and alien gods and Captain America, the World Security Counsel demanding Clint's "alternative skills"--moonlighting as an escort in the years before SHIELD, when archery or crime wasn't paying quite well enough--to keep their mouth shut about his boss seems just a little bit ridiculous. Clint figures some dick within SHIELD has managed a really elaborate scheme, mostly to get his or her hands on Clint's ass. It's not that he really thinks his ass is worth this much trouble, but some people like drama.

Given that he thinks he just has a stalker with a penchant for digging up well-buried dirt, Clint ignores the instruction that he have a drink at one of the nicer hotels in midtown at seven pm on a Wednesday. Clint's only just been returned to active duty after three months of probation and hearings. He has plans to finish all his paperwork, make himself look good and make things easier on Phil, who is still in physical therapy and sleeping twelve hours out of twenty-four, but insisting that he try and catch up on the backlog of work missed during the first phase of his recovery.

It's a solid plan, Clint carries it through: he watches some soccer with Bruce. The two of them cuddle in the careful, tentative way the team has begun to branch into touches that indicate something more than friendship. Then he goes to bed. Within two days, Hill is shot in the leg, supposedly in a bank robbery gone awry.

Clint calls bullshit, for one thing, because next to Natasha, Hill is the deadliest person he knows. There isn't a bank robber in the world who could get the better of her. For another, because Clint gets a second "assignment." This time, the email comes with an attachment: pictures of Hill that could only have been taken by the shooter. There's a promise, as well: "We gave you the benefit of the doubt this time, Agent Barton. Next time, however, we will use the intel on Fury. You must know the powers that be are frothing at the mouth for an excuse to disband SHIELD. Should we give it to them?"

Whoever is playing this game--because Clint's still not buying that the WSC wants Clint badly enough to orchestrate all of this--has won this round. It still doesn't make any sense: Clint just isn't that central, which makes him worried that whatever these people are actually after is the others. The Avengers are front and center in everything from actual, physical saving-the-world type fights, to political debates, blogs, old-fashioned newspaper headlines and society parties these days. Clint isn't sure if he's just the quickest route to them, or, alternatively, if he pissed someone off who's now using really fucking circuitous blackmail to get to him. Admittedly, Clint probably wouldn't bow to blackmail regarding himself, so if it is the latter, whoever wants him on his knees has gone about it in precisely the right way.

Clint toys with talking to Natasha about it, but the pictures of Hill are still under his fingertips, her blood black-red against her jeans. It was her day off. SHIELD agents are, by definition, highly trained and capable of taking care of themselves, but everyone has weaknesses. Clint pushes away thoughts of Phil pale and shaking after walking three steps, the months and months of rebuilding every muscle he'd ever had, every physical habit that had fled while his chest knitted itself back together. He swallows down the terror that always follows in the wake of any serious threat to SHIELD and her personnel.

The notes have been very specific about talking with anyone else. Clint has already risked Hill's life by disobeying once, and Phil is vulnerable. At the moment, he isn't willing to take the chance.

Aside from that, Clint can't help but feel that he'll sound melodramatic and ridiculous if he approaches anyone. He's let people fuck him for money or food or even a room out of the cold for a few hours. Allowing it to protect SHIELD, protect the others, protect the people who have protected him more than once, it's not as if that's much to ask.

Clint doesn't let himself think about the way Natasha has allowed him to sneak into her bed every single night since she reclaimed him from Loki, the two of them sometimes kissing lazily, no intent or destination behind it, just pure, soul-deep affection. He disallows him memories of the way Tony keeps coming up with improvements for Clint's armor whenever Clint gets so much as a paper cut on a mission, resting his chin on Clint's shoulder as Clint acquaints himself with his new toys; of Bruce's quiet excitement when Clint had turned out to find juicing kind of fun. He doesn't let thoughts of Phil's smile when he'd seen Clint the first time post-Loki, the questions in his eyes that neither of them are quite ready to explore, or the way Thor's crushing hugs are strangely comforting. He definitely doesn't think about how excited—and sweet and affectionate—Steve gets when he learns something new get in the way of doing what needs to be done.

Instead, Clint thinks about being twenty-three, about having nobody, absolutely nobody at his back. He thinks about having broken his wrist on a job, being unable to even draw his bow. He thinks about being exhausted and having a cockroach-infested studio apartment with the heat turned off and eating cereal and ramen for days on end. Mostly, he thinks about Nick Fury finding him at his lowest and making him an offer that gave him stability and self-respect, things he craved even more than food and a decent roof. He thinks about the man who growls and manipulates and lies to get what needs doing done, but who also finds quiet ways to encourage each of his agents to grow, and is seemingly there whenever one of them does something worthy of Fury's pride. He wraps the last sixteen years around him like a talisman and does as the note instructs him. If his body and his cooperation will keep Fury and SHIELD out of harm's way, Clint's never been so damn glad his ass is worth something.


The first time, all things considered, is fairly easy. The meet-up is with a woman at a bar. She stops him after a drink, which is kind of a douche move, but then, Clint's not really expecting anything better. She takes him somewhere, an apartment, he can't imagine it's her own, and has him eat her out for hours on end, sitting astride him, smothering him whenever he slows. The bedspread beneath him has stitching in it that rubs uncomfortably against his skin after the first half hour or so, and her perfume is strong enough to make his eyes tear up as he starts to get tired. Still, Clint can handle it.

He sneaks back into the Tower by way of the entrance Tony refuses to admit he created purely for Clint. Clint allows Tony his denial, but really, who the fuck else is going to scale three stories of the thing to go in through an obscured and JARVIS-secured dryer vent which takes another twenty minutes of vent navigating to even get into the Tower proper? Yeah.

JARVIS greets him, "Welcome back, Agent Barton."

"JARVIS," he responds, and even that makes his jaw light up like someone stuck a firecracker right in its hinge. He's glad he chose this route. The others won't bother him, even if they notice him having entered, and Clint can be quiet as you please when necessary, but he fucking hates being at a snarking disadvantage with Tony or Natasha in his off hours.

He makes it to his floor without meeting any of the others, and murmurs a, "Thanks, JARVIS," without moving his jaw, because he knows intervention when he sees it.

"Think nothing of it," the AI tells him.

Clint showers for the better part of an hour. He keeps trying to get himself to step out, but every time he goes to turn the water off, the nausea that finally subsided comes roaring back. After the fifth try, he acknowledges he's just going to have to live with the nausea.

He makes himself some tea and toast. It hurts to chew, but he's had worse. He takes a couple of ibuprofen, ices his jaw and goes to bed. He wakes twice from nightmares he can't remember, cold under the covers. He goes back to sleep. He's long since learned to force sleep.

In the morning, there's an email with his next assignment. Clint thinks, What, not even a 'good job'? with a dry, sardonic twist in mental tone. He's gotten used to Phil, who, even when he doesn't outright mention the ways in which Clint performed well, uses words and phrases meant to imply praise, or sometimes simply squeezes Clint's shoulder and looks at him, his expression proud and easy to read. It's kind of sickening, since Phil's the first person who ever so much as hinted Clint was worth something beyond his ability with a bow, and Clint knows he shouldn't have let himself get acclimated to it, but he has.

He spends the day on his floor, at the range or sleeping, trying to give his jaw some time to loosen up. He sends Hill the link to a new site he finds with word games, since she's on desk duty—which she hates—until the leg heals. She loves word games. She's mercenary in her approach to them.

He reemerges the next day, when he can reasonably ignore the dull throb in his jaw every time he opens his mouth. Natasha looks at him strangely, but he shakes his head and she gives. They both only push against the other's will when things are clearly past the point of no return. Clint has no intention of ever allowing her to believe that.

Clint joins the rest of them for a movie, gets in a few quality zingers at Tony and agrees to spar with Steve later in the week. Things are normal, fine, and Clint has everything under control. If he flinches a little when Tony casually puts his feet in Clint's lap during gaming night, or when Thor reaches over to distractedly run a hand through Clint's hair while they're debriefing a mission that went mildly balls up, well, nobody calls him on it, so he refuses to worry.


Most of the "dates" are pretty vanilla. There's the guy who likes to gag Clint with his dick, and the woman who likes to go to town on him with a metal paddle drilled with holes until he can't sit for days. Three out of four dates, though, are basically missionary with a meal or a drink beforehand. And if Clint doesn't really wish to eat much during the dates, or when he gets home, or the next morning, if he needs to shower at least twice a day, that's just his way of dealing. Hill is healing, Natasha is on mission and not around to catch on that anything is wrong, Tony is distracting enough for everyone else, and everything is fine.

Until the guy who doesn't even bother with any preliminaries, just has Clint meet him at an apartment and takes Clint into the bathroom where there is a 2-liter enema bag sitting, full. For a second, Clint's vision goes white and he's back in the orphanage, back with vindictive caretakers. Enemas had the plus of plausible deniability if anyone came sniffing around regarding child welfare: they were for the kids' health.

He doesn't actually remember leaving. He remembers calling Phil and begging for a mission, he remembers Phil saying his name, his first name, and Clint saying, "Please," and being on a quinjet within the hour. He remembers thinking, on that ride, that to some extent, this was personal. That whatever else the blackmailer wanted, they wanted Clint hurt, humiliated. It doesn't change anything, but it worries Clint. He's decently self-aware. He knows how many weak places he has just waiting to be poked at with sticks.

Less than twelve hours elapses before one of the junior agents he helped trained a year earlier dies on a simple recon mission. Clint would still think it a coincidence if not for the fact that he is informed while on the mission, to no evident purpose. His grief is one thing, but the anxiety that swirls, insistent and hot, in his stomach, his chest, at the knowledge that this is just a warning, like before, is even worse. Like all things that have caused Clint terror, he pushes the feeling aside and makes the decision to do whatever he needs to rid himself of it.

When he returns, there are instructions to go to a different apartment, but Clint knows, all the same. He curls up in one of his favorite hidey-holes in the Tower, somewhere JARVIS has not given up to the others yet. He steals one of Thor's blankets. Thor has all the best blankets: they're huge. He sneaks one of Bruce's physics books out of the lab, one of the simpler ones that has graphics on aerodynamics.

He makes himself go, repeats the name of the junior agent, texts Hill until he gets himself out of the Tower, to where he needs to be.

This time, the man makes Clint sit in the kitchen as he heats water, blends it with glycerine, castor and mineral oil. By the time he has Clint naked and bent over the tub, it's all Clint can do to keep breathing.

He starts to cramp immediately. He closes his eyes and does his best to go elsewhere. He's been trained to resist torture. For that matter, he's been tortured. This is nothing, some stomach pain.

He opens his eyes when he realizes that with them closed, there is nothing between him and the pain, the memories. He focuses on the white tile, forces himself to think about Bruce's book, the feel of Thor's blanket, the sound of Phil's voice in his ear, the way Tony can burn water but makes a perfect cup of coffee.

The man plugs him, instructs him to walk around. Clint can't help the moan standing up wrings from him. Each step brings agony, and he has to concentrate to keep his legs from collapsing. At some point, the man lets him sit, but even then Clint shakes with the pain, his attempts to stay grounded in the present while escaping his body slipping. He actively concentrates on Phil telling him to keep it together, Phil saying, "Talk to me," and meaning it, meaning he wants to hear where Clint is at. Clint thinks he might whimper, might ask for an extract at some point.

Eventually, Clint is allowed to void. Even that is punishment. When he is empty, he is made to follow the man back into the kitchen, made to watch as 4 liters of ice water is prepared, poured into a bag. Logically, Clint knows it's a good thing, it will flush out the worst of the previous enema, will allow him to function at his job, the things he needs to do in the coming days.

Emotionally, it is all he can do not to run out again. He bites the inside of his cheek, thinks of Fury offering a dirty street kid his hand, thinks about Sitwell's laugh, Phil's neat handwriting, the time Phil had turned Clint's hand over and written his number and "call any time" in Clint's palm, had answered the phone and let Clint talk himself out when the loneliness had finally eaten away at all of Clint's defenses.

He gives himself over, and this time there's no keeping the orphanage out, no staying where he is, away from locked closets and older kids who stole food and "medical treatments" that left him bleeding and raw for days.

He has no idea how long he is made to keep this one in. It is long after he has begun shaking uncontrollably, and he's not certain he's not crying or saying more things he shouldn't aloud. He stuffs both his hands in his mouth while expelling this time, unsure of where he is, what happens if he screams, how long he'll have to spend in the dark.

He's not sure how he gets dressed, how he makes it out to the street. He looks at his phone, trying to ground himself. He looks at the numbers until he can figure out how long he's been gone. He counts almost five hours.

He forces himself to slip into sniper mode: concentrated, focused. It's how he gets himself back to the Tower, back to his floor, to the safety of the nook he left there: Thor's blanket and Bruce's book and Natasha's pillow, the one he sleeps on when he falls asleep on her couch. He can't remember bringing that in, but it's there, and he's glad it's there, glad he can hold on to it tightly as the shakes come back and take him over, as reality slips and slides from present to past and back again. He holds on, and does not let go.


"Are you moonlighting?" Natasha asks. She sounds pretty sure that's not the answer, which, yeah, that would be unlikely at best. "Or...seeing someone else?"

Clint has thought ahead, because he might not be Natasha, but he is a professional, and also, not an idiot. "Situation. Someone I knew from the circus needs some help. It's nothing I can't handle."

Clint sees that she isn't sure she believes him, but also that she knows he needs her to accept the explanation, and that was what they did for each other, paid attention to each other's needs. She does say, "If it gets out of hand, Clint."

He nods, "Yeah, Tash. I know."

And he considers taking her up on it. He has to believe she'd be smarter than him, know a way out of this. But if she doesn't, Clint isn't sure he'll get another warning, or that he will, but this one will be worse than either of the previous two. He even thinks about going to Fury, telling him what they know, seeing if Fury has a way to deflect the problem, but the same risk lies there as recruiting Natasha and Clint isn't willing to take the chance that the next fatality is someone he can't recover from killing. It only makes it worse to know that, to some extent, this really is about him, about someone's hatred for him specifically. He might be doing this to keep SHIELD safe, but at some level, it's his own fault for getting himself into the situation. Whatever he did to upset the puppetmaster in this little drama, and his choice to give into the demands to begin with had allowed the circumstances he was now in to play themselves out. He should have been smart enough to see a way out before this all started.

He knows it has him off his game. Even Thor seems to have noticed Clint has been seeking his own company more often than he used to. And earlier that week, while on a short recon mission, Phil had actually said Clint looks like he's losing weight. But Clint also knows he's keeping it together enough that beyond Natasha asking what's going on, Bruce being a little more attentive when snuggling than normal, and Phil being his usual worrywart self, nobody's going to intervene.

He tries to make himself eat more. He wakes up in the middle of the night feeling panicked anyway, so it's the perfect time to make himself a smoothie or some toast with peanut butter and bananas. He generally cannot get more than half of it down, but as long as he keeps trying, he's sure it will be fine. He's concerned about his muscle mass, but at the same time, working out calms some of the worst of the sense of being helpless, powerless, so he finds himself in the gym more often than he probably should be, given his current eating habits.

He also forces himself to hang out with the others, especially on movie nights, when he won't be expected to talk much. He craves their company as much as it wears on him, having to make sure they don't look too closely, that he doesn't accidentally startle away if someone touches him unexpectedly.

That being said, all things being equal, Clint's got the situation in hand until the night whoever's making the assignments sends him out to be a party favor.


Clint arrives at the designated hotel and gives the receptionist the name he has. She sends him to a conference room, which is how Clint knows he has a serious problem even before opening the door. He takes a second, thinks about the way Phil made snickerdoodle cookies last night and left them in one of the vent entrances he knows Clint uses regularly.

The room is way the hell in the back of the hotel, far away from anything resembling daily activity. He turns the knob and walks in the room.

There are thirteen people in the room. Five women, eight men. Nothing you can't handle, Clint tells himself.

One of the women says, "Naked, now."

Clint was pretty much expecting that, though, so he's worn something easy to shed. As soon as he's done so, one of the men comes over and fits a cock cage over Clint. It's spiked inside, but that's not a problem, Clint can usually control his erection in these instances, at least to some extent. Now he just has motivation.

There's a low podium-type thing in the middle of the room, and they order him down on it on all fours, locking him in by ankle and wrist. There's a swipe of alcohol against his bicep and he looks over just in time to see the needle going in. He opens his mouth to try and ask what the hell they've put in him and they use the chance to fit him with an o-gag.

Then the first dick is in his mouth and there's no chance he's going to get any information he can't figure out for himself. Behind him, someone, probably a woman, is fucking him with a silicon dildo, larger than any flesh-and-blood dick and inserted at a completely wrong angle.

Clint starts to get hard anyway, and he knows exactly what they'd injected him with. He forces himself to think of maggot-infested corpses, friends injured, anything, anything that will combat the drugs, but it's useless, his cock is hard, being punctured by the numerous spikes of the cage.

He hears the door opening and closing, more people coming in, maybe some going out. He makes himself stop counting, stop trying to control or understand what is happening.

He loses the thread of things. He sends himself to the safest places he can find in his head: the vents above Phil's office, the leftmost spot on Tony's couch, between the arm and Natasha, under the desk in Bruce's lab, the broad, pillowed window seat on Thor's floor. He's occasionally forced back when the pain or panic overwhelms his training for a moment, and he has to regain his focus. He’s almost grateful for the gag by his fourth orgasm inside the cage, because he doesn’t want to find out what the penalty for biting someone’s dick off would be.

It takes him a while to realize he's been left alone. They've undone one hand and left him a bobby pin. Clint stares at it for a bit before shaking his head, making himself focus. His hand is shaking. It takes far, far longer than it should to undo the lock.

He sits back on his knees and unbuckles the gag, working his jaw. He's soaked in cum. He doesn't even remember feeling it, but it's everywhere, dry and flaking in patches, still wet and thick in others. His heart is still beating too hard, and he's still erect. He thinks they might have injected him a second time. His chest hurts.

It's hard to get the cock cage off. There's a complicated mechanism and he can't get his hands to stop shaking. Every jerk of his hands draws even more pain, but he finally, finally manages.

He has to twist around to get at the ankle and he evidently was hit or strained something when struggling, in any case, his side screams at the action. When he's gotten himself completely free he can't quite manage to get to his feet. He crawls to the pile of his clothes. He looks around, but it seems somebody has stolen his shoes.

"Mean," Clint mutters, because, honestly, kind of an asshole move. He uses the wall to get himself to his feet and checks that his wallet is where he left it. It is, which proves that whoever took his damn shoes just did it for spite.

He's inordinately glad for his training in subterfuge as it helps him get out of the hotel looking wrecked without attracting attention. He manages to hail down a cab and has it take him a few blocks from the Tower. It sucks walking the blocks barefoot and keeping to alleys and side streets, but it's better than the ever-present paparazzi when a cab pulls up the front entrance of the Tower.

He goes in the service entrance, and climbs through the service elevator shaft. He almost loses his grasp twice, and gives up when he starts to feel like he will a third time. He throws himself into the nearest vent, despite the fact that it will take him nearly twice as long to get back to his floor. It's less likely to end in death at the moment.

He falls out of the vent when he reaches his destination, the impact on his hands and knees reverberating throughout the whole of his body. His heart is still beating hard enough to hurt and as much as he wants to drag himself to the shower, lay there under water hot enough to blister, to burn away everything on the surface and below, he's gone as far as he can. He closes his eyes, curls up as tightly as he can, and lets things go dark.


He wakes up to a hand on his shoulder and is fighting before he's even fully conscious.

"Clint," someone says, maybe the someone the hand belongs to. "Clint, stop."

The voice isn't yelling and after a second, Clint realizes the hand isn't actually hurting him. It takes another second for him to recognize the voice as Phil's. Clint makes himself settle. He tries to figure out where he is, why Phil is waking him up.

He manages to remember getting back to his room. "Are you-- Did I give you a key?"

"You didn't show up for our meeting this morning. JARVIS let me in."

"That's not-- JARVIS?"

"Sir's heart rate is still elevated," JARVIS responds. Then, after what Clint would almost call a hesitation if JARVIS weren't a machine, "I did not mention this to either Master Stark or Ms. Romanov."

"Well, thanks for not completely violating my privacy," Clint mutters. He's nauseated, and even the thought of sitting up makes him dizzy. He ignores both of these issues and forces himself into a sitting position. Phil stabilizes him when he wobbles, tucking Clint gently against his side, keeping the two of them cuddled together.

Clint answers the complete lack of expression on Phil's face with, "Just dehydrated."

Phil responds to that with what can only be described as a "bitch, please," expression. Clint is tired. He knows he just woke up, but he doesn't think he was sleeping very long. In fact, he's not sure he even really slept so much as spent some time unconscious. He finds himself saying, "Phil," and it's a plea to a friend, a maybe-lover, who has never let him down.

Phil softens. "What's going on, Clint? The others have been coming to me for weeks asking if I've been sending you on outside missions. I've covered, but-- This is out of control. Whatever's happening, you, it's not in your control anymore."

It never was. The thought of telling anyone, of taking that risk, taking the risk with Phil is terrifying. If it wasn't, Clint would have gone to Fury long before now, trusted him to help. But Fury and SHIELD have never done anything to harm Clint, not since they took him in, and it is beyond him to put this on them, to have Fury risk everything so that Clint can go about his life in a manner he's only achieved because of Fury and SHIELD. His eyes start to slip shut again, and Phil says, "Let Bruce look over you, all right?"

Clint thinks of what Bruce will find and almost argues, almost finds the energy to fight, but then Phil says, "Trust us, Clint. Let us help."

Clint does trust them, he does. One step at a time, he tells himself. "I'll let Bruce take a look."


Once Phil has said enough that the situation is clear to Bruce, he asks Clint, "Do you want Phil to stay?"

It's a harder question than it should be. On the one hand, Phil's presence is calming, solid and reassuring. On the other, Clint does not want Phil seeing him like this: the fewer people who do, the far, far better. He glances at Phil and doesn't even have to ask, Phil just says, "I'll be right outside."

Clint watches as Bruce makes himself intentionally unthreatening. Bruce, as Bruce, isn't really all that threatening to Clint to begin with, but he understands. He says, "Not gonna break, doc," but he's aware he sounds tired.

"I need you to," Bruce motions to Clint's shirt. Clint has been waiting for Bruce to see him naked for months and months. He's never wanted it to be like this.

Clint says, "Yeah," and makes himself strip. Everything aches, but he's had worse. It feels ridiculous even going to Bruce, except Phil wants him here, and Bruce is looking like it might be a good idea, and Clint's not entirely sure the injections weren't a little dangerous. Also, he left bloody footprints in his wake while walking to Bruce’s floor, and he hasn’t gotten up the nerve to look at his cock.

He stutters, "They- They gave me something. I, I mean, macho joking aside, I don't usually come six times in as many hours."

"Okay," Bruce says softly. "Were there other symptoms?"

"My heartbeat Hard, maybe. I'm not sure. It hurt. I was, I was trying to pay attention to other things."

"Of course." Bruce approaches slowly, and Clint watches the way Bruce telegraphs all his moves. Bruce finds the worst of the bruises, not even from the night before. "Phil said not to ask, and that's-- I won't, Clint, but this has been going on for a while. I need to know how long."

Clint thinks back to the date Hill was shot. "Four months, or so."

"Every time you told us you had a mission?"

"No. No, I really had missions. But most of the times I begged off for an evening or said I had to take care of something."

"First time with drugs?"

Clint nods. "First time with more than one." He's proud of how even his voice comes out.

"Who were you protecting?"

Clint stiffens. "I didn't say I was."

"No," Bruce says, drawing out the syllable a bit. He sounds subdued, maybe sad, but Bruce can be a hard read when it comes to sadness. Clint often thinks it's his backup for anger. Bruce tilts his head slightly. "But this isn't your idea of a good time, or we'd have heard about it earlier, and you don't value yourself highly enough for this to be purely about you."

Clint can feel his jaw tighten, despite his intent to stay calm. "You said you wouldn't ask."

"Fair enough. But I didn't say I wouldn't puzzle it out for myself."

Clint thinks this might be the sum problem of living with smart people. Still, he can't deny that Bruce's careful application of topical muscle relaxants and analgesics isn't one of the nicer sensations he's been privy to in a while. Bruce gives him local painkillers when he goes to work on the worst of the damage to Clint’s feet and his dick.

When there’s nothing else left to do, Bruce lays him down on his front and rubs at his lower back until Clint is nearly asleep again. Bruce says, "Try to stay relaxed, okay? Breathe."

There are no sudden movements on his part, though. He touches Clint's ass, and evidently even warms the lube before inspecting. It's quick and as painless as Bruce knows how to make it. It's not sexy, there are no caresses, no sign that the two of them have been flirting and fumbling their way into each other's lives for some time, now. Clint is appreciative of that. He doesn't want this to be his first memory of anything sexual with Bruce. He's deeply glad when Bruce murmurs, "All done."

Bruce does a little more poking around, takes some blood just to make sure there aren't any ill effects from the drug. He says, "I'm going to make something up for you, I want you to put it in a bath and soak in it for a bit, and then I want you to get some more sleep."

"Everything basically fine?" Clint asks.

"You're pretty torn up in a few places. Nothing that won't heal on its own. But you need to let it heal."

"You're going to sic Natasha on me, aren't you?"

"Only if Phil doesn't have her waiting with him at the door."

Clint puts his clothes back on as Bruce takes things out of cabinets, measures them and mixes them together, handing Clint a small bowl. Clint says, "Thanks, I--"

Bruce closes a hand over Clint's wrist and squeezes before loosening his grip, soothing his thumb over the place where Clint's pulse beats. He smiles and lets go. Clint opens the door, and finds that Natasha isn't the only one Phil has corralled. Thor's expression is thunderous, Steve has his I Am The Leader Of This Team face on, and even Tony looks like someone has gotten their peanut butter in his chocolate.

Bruce says, "He needs to take a bath," and ushers Clint out with a hand to his lower back. The others make way, but they follow in his wake. Clint wants to crack a joke, but nothing sounds quite funny enough.


Steve, who, of all of them, is often the clumsiest in his approaches to the others, visibly afraid to fail at making them love him, takes the bowl from Clint's hands once they're on Clint's floor and says evenly, confident in his role as caretaker, "I'll run the bath."

Clint feels bad. He knows how he feels when he can't help Natasha or Phil, or lately one of the others, and Clint doesn't even have the team-leader mentality that requires the desire to keep the others under his wing. He'd apologize, but he's pretty sure that would make Steve cry. And while Clint generally has no problems making grown men cry, Steve is an exception.

When the bath is ready, Steve calls Clint in and goes out to sit with the others. Clint gets in the bath, sinks down and...

Wakes up to the door opening. He slams into the side of the tub in an aborted instinctual reaction to get to his feet and swallows down a moan, makes himself breathe through the worst of the pain. Natasha stands paused in the doorway, the door opened just enough to let her peer through. Finally, when Clint's gotten himself under control, she says, "I told them you wouldn't drown in your own bathtub."

Clint's pretty sure he'd have woken before that happened, too, so he dredges up a smile for her. After all, it was awfully sweet of her not to mention that he'd just injured himself in a fight against an inanimate porcelain bathing structure. She asks, "Need help getting out?"

The water has loosened up his muscles and between whatever Bruce had him put in it, along with the creams he'd massaged into Clint while inspecting the damage, Clint could probably easily do twelve hours on a rooftop. All he says is, "I'm good."

She pins him with a doubtful expression, but leaves him to it with, "There're clean clothes on the toilet."

Clint forces himself up and dries off, then pulls himself into the sweats someone has folded up and left for him. He takes a couple of breaths and doesn't think too much before going back out into the sitting area of his floor.

Hill and Fury are there with the others. It takes all of Clint's training not to make a run for it. Bruce, apologetically, says, "You said four months. I put it together."

Clint isn't mad, though, at least, not at Bruce. He looks at Tony, says, "Your security had better be as good as you think it is."

Tony just rolls his eyes, but the look he gives Clint in the wake of that is reassuring. Clint looks at Hill and says, "I'm sorry. I thought-- I thought I could take care of it."

"What is it, Barton?" she asks, but she doesn't sound mad.

He looks at Fury, then, says, "Sir."

Fury holds his gaze for a moment and then says, in a tone that's so mixed with contrition and anger it's practically inhuman, "Dammit, Barton, my office should have been the first place you came."

Clint shakes his head. "No, sir. I owed you more than that. And I, well, I don't think it was really about that at all, in the end. I don't know what was at the root of it, just that that was only the hook."

"Utterly insignificant. It was-- It is my mess to clean up." It’s hard for Clint to read Fury at this moment, mostly because he's never really seen Fury sorry for anything, but he thinks Fury sounds sick, both at himself and the situation.

And the thing is, Clint knows he kind of fucked this up, that he let his issues about loyalty and trust get in the way of good sense at times, but it isn't like he didn't have reasons for his choices. It isn't like he can't usually solve problems, given enough time. He knows his tone is a little brittle when he says, "You might be the director, but SHIELD is as much mine to protect as it is yours. I may not have done as good a job of it as someone else might have managed, but I did what I thought best."

Fury looks past Clint to where Clint knows Phil is standing. It's Steve who speaks, though. Steve who says, sounding as though it is dire that Clint believe, "But your best on your own can't possibly be as good as your best with all of us at your back. With SHIELD at your back."

Not knowing how to respond to that, Clint looks to the only other person in the room who might truly understand what he did. Natasha is watching, almost waiting for him to meet her gaze. She's impossible to read for a moment, even to him, and then she says, "It worked out for us."

She has a point, his life has been at least twice as easy since he began trusting her at his back, and he knows she feels the same, but there is a difference between one person and the kind of mob he's being asked to let in, allow to help him fight his battles.

Tony says, calmly--for Tony--"If they, if we can't be trusted to help you, then what makes us worth protecting?"

Clint gives Tony a Look, because Tony puts on a good show, but he protects people who aren't worth it all the time. Still, Clint takes his point. Clint tries to suppress a yawn, he feels like he hasn't slept in weeks. Bruce says, "He needs to sleep. He can make his decision when he wakes up, and is thinking clearly."

Clint makes himself focus. "I have a mission."

"For the moment, Agent Barton, I'm reassigning it," Fury tells him.

Normally, Clint would argue, but it's not that big of an assignment, it really can be done by someone else. He nods. "Okay, I'll-- I'll--"

"When you wake up, Brother," Thor says, with the infinite gentleness that made Clint incapable of resisting him in the first place. Right then, Clint does not have a prayer of fighting that tactic.


When Clint wakes up, Natasha and Steve are in his bedroom. Natasha's sharpening her knives, and it tells him something that he slept through that. Steve is reading. Clint sits up and peers at one of the pages. "Watchmen?"

"Tony suggested it," Steve tells him. Clint isn't really sure Tony should be in charge of Steve's reintegration into the here and now, but he can't particularly argue with that choice.

"Enjoying it?"

"I think so," Steve says.

Clint smiles. "Wait it out. It can be a hard one to judge until the end."

Natasha doesn't pause in her sharpening, but her eyes are on Clint. She asks, "You hungry?"

He is, which is weird. He hasn't been in a while. Still, "I need to do this. Before I--"

"They will burn before they touch you or anything you care about, ever again." Steve says the words calmly, but with the earnestness that only Steve can ever manage.

Clint rubs a hand over his face. "We don't even really know who they are."

"Fury has some idea," Natasha says. "We've started from less."

"It's not just them, the faces Fury talks to. It's--"

"But they control the others. Clint, seriously, think about this: how did they corner you?"

Clint filters through all his answers to that question to find the one that really answers her question. "Fear."

Natasha gives him a look and he knows what she's going to say before she says it: "Two can play at that game."

"Or six," Steve adds. "Or nine, as it were."

Clint closes his eyes for a second, reaching up and kneading at his neck. "If any of you fuckers gets shot, don't come crying to me."

Clint startles as Steve pulls the hand at his neck away, taking over with his own hands. He stiffens under the force for a moment and then melts as Steve finds the worst of the tension. Steve says, "Not even if we want you to kiss it better?"

"Wow, Cap," Natasha comments, which is pretty much exactly what Clint was thinking.

"We used innuendo in the forties, too," Steve says softly, with a hint of humor. Clint doesn't point out that they were both probably more surprised by his boldness than by his familiarity with word play.

Steve hits an actual bruise, not from the most recent encounter. Clint just barely stifles a whine. Steve pauses, kisses the spot, and moves on. Clint says, "I'm gonna fall asleep again."

Evidently it is the wrong thing to say, since Steve just applies himself more diligently.


Clint awakens the second time to the smell of coffee. He all but follows his nose to the kitchen area, where Tony is standing, seven cups laid out in front of him. Bruce generally prefers tea and the team put a ban on Thor having coffee after they made the original mistake of allowing him to try it.

Clint shuffles up to behind Tony, about to wrap himself around his back when he remembers that Tony's now aware Clint's been taking it up the ass from strangers on a regular basis, and stops himself before Tony has to do something like slip out of his grasp. Tony, though, just makes a rude comment about Clint's ancestors, and tugs him into the exact position Clint had been considering. Clint rests his forehead against Tony's back and asks, "Did you put cinnamon in it?"

"And whipping cream, no half-n-half. I know, Barton." Tony is very good at making the fact that he's rolling his eyes clear in his voice.

Clint forces himself not to cling more tightly, feeling exposed without the others around, like Tony is the only thing anchoring him just then. He asks, "Where're the others?"

"Bruce was in your room. I suspect you slipped out while he was taking a leak, so expect a somewhat concerned Banner in 3, 2--"

Bruce comes out of the bedroom, looking half-flustered, half-annoyed. "Tony, have you-- Oh. Hey, Clint."

"Woke up," Clint says. "Um, obviously."

Bruce looks at the cups. "Is there tea?"

Clint points in the direction of a cabinet. "I keep the stuff you like."

Bruce takes the long way around, evidently so that he can brush his fingers over the small of Clint's back, skimming beneath the hem of Clint's t-shirt. Clint asks, "So, the other others?"

"Concentrating on what we do know, until you're up to telling us more," Bruce tells him, rifling through the canisters Clint never touches.

Tony gently removes one of Clint's hands and tucks it around a coffee mug. "Drink up, sweetcheeks."

Clint uses his free hand to rub at his eye with his middle finger, but he takes a sip, nonetheless, and the rush of creamy-bitter-hot-caffeine that hits him even with that first sip makes him moan, "I think I love you, Stark."

Tony pauses, processing the casual assertion almost visibly. Clint wonders if he's never said it before, even as a joke. He's not sure how that's possible, not when he's spent nights when he couldn't sleep watching Tony make the world a better place through science, days arguing with him over good scifi.

With the two of them—with all of them, really—the affection has just always been there, in the way Tony never blamed Clint for coming under Loki's influence, in their easy banter, the small moments of touch between men who had every reason to avoid physical contact. Finally, Tony says, "Took you long enough to figure it out," and it's so very light-hearted, something Clint could easily ignore until Tony turns enough to kiss Clint lightly on the lips. Clint blinks, because so far, even if they've all touched and cast longing glances and maybe even flirted, none of them have done anything, not even he and Natasha—their make-out sessions didn't count, that was more like handholding between them than anything—or he and Phil, and all of that had been in the works for years.

Tony holds his gaze, all bravado and fierceness, ready to shut down if Clint so much as takes a step back. Clint stays exactly where he is.

Bruce opines, in a tone that is maybe just a bit excited, "Natasha's going to kick your ass for going first."

Tony grins his Cheshire-cat grin, tension rolling out of his shoulders. Clint thinks if Tony had a tail, it would be flicking back and forth. Tony says, "Totally worth it."


Everybody else is in the main gathering area, the one with the couch that has eaten Clint more than once. He has managed to escape on his own both times, thankfully, and as of yet, JARVIS has evidently not ratted him out, for which he is supremely grateful. Thor, who has the expression of one who is Done Waiting Patiently For His Turn, pulls Clint down practically in his lap. Clint can't decide whether to be embarrassed by the fact that he pretty much fits there, or to just go with it and relax.

Thor isn't letting go, and Tony has fit himself in too close for Clint to really roll off, with Natasha tucking into Thor's other side, so he accepts defeat and just leans back, letting himself be surrounded. He's pretty sure he should want to run, be scared out of his fucking skin, but somewhere along the way, that programming just disappeared in relation to the people crowding into his space.

Phil and Hill are talking by the windows, but the two make their way over to where Fury is settling into one of the chairs. Steve manages to fit himself in on the couch, on the other side of Natasha, and Bruce sits on the arm, his bare feet resting on Tony's lap.

Thor says, in a surprisingly indoor voice, at least for him, "Speak when you are ready, brother. We shall challenge ourselves to listen."

Clint doesn't know how to feel about that for a second, until he thinks of the times he's seen one of them hurt, or listened to Natasha when she needed to say something about her past. Then, while he still has the nerve, he starts talking. He tells about the first notes, and why he ignored them, and he keeps Hill's gaze while he talks about the consequences and his choices, his decisions.

He skips the details of his encounters. They're not important. What is important is the physical qualities of the persons he was with, their voices, their mannerisms. Those he recounts to the extent he can remember. His memory is better with most than with the ones that left him shaky and sick inside, or, as with this last, unconscious on his own floor. Still, he has enough.

Fury listens the whole time without moving, but Clint watches as his jaw flexes, and would almost feel sorry for the people he's setting Fury on, except for how they completely and totally deserve everything Fury can think up and more. Occasionally, Hill or Phil will murmur something or ask a question, but otherwise they don't interrupt him, let him get it out all in one go.

When he's done, there are a few moments of utter silence, then Hill says, "I get Donnegan, sir."

"Agent--" Fury starts, and then reconsiders. "Maria. If you--"

"Seriously?" Hill raises an eyebrow, and Clint has to hide his face in Thor's shoulder before it becomes completely obvious that he's about to laugh. "I got shot, sir. Also, SHIELD is as much mine as yours' or Barton's. That douchecake is mine. You can have the rest."

Clint, because he's known Hill a long damn time, mouths to Natasha, "Why Donnegan?"

"Because you flinched when you described him," Hill says, not even bothering to pretend she didn't intercept his question. "And while I will deny ever admitting this if it comes up later, you're all right, Barton. Plus, it's been a long time since I've gotten to take someone to pieces with my bare hands."

Clint looks at her, because it's kind of sweet, what she's saying, but at the same time, "If this were about bare-handed carnage, no offense, but we wouldn't be having this meeting."

"Oh, no," Hill says, and she smiles, the kind of smile that makes Clint wonder if she is part poisonous creature, liable to strike out at any moment, "But that's what the director's for. I'm just the muscle."

Phil snorts indelicately, clearly not even trying to disguise his disbelief at that statement. He then looks at Fury and asks, "Plan B, sir?"

Fury nods. "Should've done it after New York. Teach me to hesitate." He gives Clint a look that's apologetic, at least for Fury.

All of this is kind of above Clint's pay-grade, though, so he says, "Always nice to have a Plan B. Do we, uh, do we have anything edible, currently? I'm starving."


By the time the yellow bean fish and three cup chicken have arrived from Clint's favorite Taiwanese place--they don't technically deliver to Stark's neighborhood, but evidently Tony has made it worth their while--CNN is already starting to air breaking news regarding bank fraud involving Terrence Donnegan, a mid-level banking executive out of the UK who evidently had his fingers in more pies than anyone had previously suspected and was now being investigated by Interpol as well as Scotland Yard for, among other things, possible organized crime connections. Clint plays with the chopsticks in his fingers and watches as the face of a guy who recently smiled while torturing Clint is flashed all over the known world. Clint takes a moment to be deeply and truly grateful that he has never pissed Hill off so badly she wouldn't accept an apology. He’s not na´ve enough to think that this is anything more than her getting started.

Instead she comes back into the main area, not a hair out of place, flops down on the couch and asks, "Did we get fire duck taro?"

Clint hands over the proper container. "Natasha and I would never fail you in such a heinous and careless way as to forget."

Natasha hands her a pair of chopsticks, and Hill flashes them a grin before digging in. Steve asks, "Where's Phil?"

Phil returns by way of another entrance and says, "Back. My crispy tofu had better be untouched, Rogers."

Tony, with his mouth full, tells Steve, "You have a terrible poker face."

Phil just gets out a plate and gives Steve some of the dish. He comes to sit by Clint when he's done, allowing Clint to steal a square of tofu while taking his revenge by way of the yellow bean fish. Clint tucks his feet beneath Phil's legs and asks, "Do I get to shoot something? I would really like to shoot something."

"Me too," Tony adds.

"Mjolnir and I would be pleased to cause physical destruction as well," Thor says, almost giddily.

"I have a shield," Steve reminds everyone.

Natasha just smiles, the kind of smile only she has, which says everything about her intentions. Phil sighs, setting his container in his lap to rub at Clint's calf. "But that plan ends in death."

"Death is good," Natasha says.

"Long-term suffering is better," Phil says calmly, and gestures at the screen, muted in the background. "He has enemies, you know," Phil's tone is almost dreamy. "People without the moral concerns a SHIELD agent might have."

"We have moral concerns?" Clint asks. "I didn't get that part of the handbook."

Phil smiles. "Eat your dinner. Fury's going to keep us up all night watching the fireworks."

Clint grins at that, and digs back in.


At around two in the morning, when even the CNN reporters are starting to look overwhelmed rather than cannabalistically gleeful--in a dignified and objective manner, of course--and more than one nation is going to have to completely restructure its governing body, Fury gets a call from the White House.

Clint, who had been drifting in and out of sleep, pillowed on either side by Thor and Natasha, the others all close enough to touch, snaps awake. Fury looks over at him and says, "Stand down, Agent."


"Do you believe, Agent, that you did something to get us into this situation in the first place?"

Fury's tone holds a cautionary note that Clint has long learned to heed. He keeps his mouth shut until he comes up with, "They picked me for a reason, sir. Whatever else, they wanted me, and they used SHIELD to get me, and it landed us here."

Something flickers in Fury's good eye and Clint can see him looking past Clint, to Phil. He refocuses and says, "Not what I mean, Agent. I meant, was it your actions that could be used against you as blackmail material?"

"Not in this instance," Clint says.

"Mine did."

Clint sighs. "Sir--"

"Do you really believe I don't have contingencies in place for this eventuality, Agent?"

Clint blinks. After a moment, he agrees, "When you say it like that--"

"Yeah," Fury finishes, sounding amused.

Clint crosses his arms over his chest, even though he knows it gives away that he's feeling vulnerable. He needs the feeling of that physical barrier right now. He considers it a win that he hasn't gone and gotten his bow. "All well and good, sir, but for whatever reason they picked me, because I killed someone who was theirs back in the day, or because they'd read between the lines of my resume and figured I'd be a good time, or because I was an easy entree into the Avengers, take your pick. And I went along because SHIELD needs you and the world needs SHIELD. I-- I need SHIELD. So, I would kind of appreciate it if your plan didn't involve fucking all my work up."

"Nobody is irreplaceable, Barton," Fury says softly.

Clint spreads his hands, gesturing to the group of people around him. "Yeah, I used to believe that, too, sir."

There's a hint of a smile in Fury's command when he tells all those people Clint is gesturing at, "Take care of him." He looks at Clint and says, "I'll take care of SHIELD."

Clint tenses his jaw. "I really hope this isn't one of those times where you're a gigantic liar, sir."

Fury laughs at that, and turns to go.


Bruce tugs Clint out of the main room, then onto Bruce’s floor. Bruce's bed is huge, almost like Tony forgot Bruce isn't Hulk-sized most of the time, or--more likely--he had always planned on getting himself (and maybe a few others) in Bruce's bed. Clint actually isn't a big fan of Bruce's bed, it feels to the elements, for lack of a better explanation.

Bruce, though, puts him in the middle and packs him in tightly with pillows and blankets, which the rest of them work with, shaping everything so that they can all fit, all have either a hand on Clint or a direct line of sight. Clint says, "I'm really okay."

He likes it though, more than he can really say. He's been in the beds of some of the others, a few of them have even been in his bed, sharing afternoon naps, or watching a movie in private. They've never all done this together, and Clint can admit he's thought about it more than once.

"Mhm," Tony agrees with Clint's assertion of okay-ness, which is almost kind of him, considering it's, well, Tony. And that Clint's clearly cold despite the blankets, is fighting sleep now that he's completely horizontal.

Into the silence that follows, Natasha asks, "Phil ever tell you the first thing he taught me in our training sessions?"

Clint tries to look at her--he's always been able to see well in the dark--but Bruce and Steve aren't allowing him much give, and Natasha is tucked into Steve's back. "Um. No?"

"When I could say no for myself. When I should say no."

Clint is thinking about what to say to that, when Phil speaks up. "I should have with you, too. I was less experienced when I got you, and by the time Natasha came along it was evident I should have, but there didn't seem to be any good way." His facial muscles tighten almost imperceptibly. "Which I should not have let stop me."

"Are you apologizing?" Clint frowns against Steve's skin. Steve strokes the back Clint's neck, a strong, soothing sensation.

"It's no more ridiculous than you apologizing," Phil says calmly. Phil always makes things sound so reasonable, even when they aren't. It's a good skill in a SHIELD handler, but kind of annoying in a sort-of-maybe boyfriend.

Not one of the seven of them currently in bed has talked about what it means that when any of them most need it, they will slip into bed with each other, that all of them know how everyone takes their hot drinks of choice, what TV shows annoy each other, and how it feels to cuddle with each other. Even in his mind, Clint avoids putting labels on it. He suspects the others do, too.

Clint says, "I was an adult by the time you got me. It wasn't your job to raise me."

Natasha snorts. "An adult like I was an adult."

"No," Clint says slowly. "No, what they did to you--"

"You think because it was systematic it was somehow worse?" Natasha sounds genuinely curious, like she's never even considered the possibility.

Clint struggles against the hold, then, and Steve shifts, hauling them both up into sitting position, Natasha rolling over onto Phil to look up at them. Tony tucks himself into Steve's side. Bruce lays his head on Clint's lap and Thor drapes himself over Bruce. Clint tells Natasha, "Of course it is, Nat. Barney and me, even if things were rough, we got to do kid things, like school and, I don't know, games or whatever. I mean, later, it was different, but--"

"'Later' being seven years old?" Phil asks.

"Eleven," Clint argues. Natasha rolls her eyes. He can tell Phil is just barely restraining himself.

Bruce asks, "Why do you need SHIELD?"

The question is so unexpected Clint isn't even sure he understands for a moment. Then he says, "Because-- Because before it I was a kid with a bow and nothing else. Maybe even worse. Maybe I was just a killer."

Tony speaks up, which means that Bruce and Tony are ganging up on Clint, which never, ever ends well for Clint. "So, basically, when SHIELD took you in, you were a kid doing what he had to do to make it?"

"Well--" Clint starts.

Bruce cuts him off. "So it would have been SHIELD's responsibility to form you into the type of operative necessary to function under its purview?"

"But that has nothing to do with me knowing--"

Tony laughs. "That the first place you should have gone for help with this was to Phil? Or at least to one of us? Really?"

Clint glares daggers at Tony. "This is not Phil's fault."

"No," Tony says, snapping into seriousness. "No, but it's not yours, either. It's the people who were willing to use you, the people who trained you to believe you were something to be used, the whole fucking clusterfuck of your first twenty years and the assholes SHIELD reports to. That's where fault lies, if it need lie anywhere."

The thing about the fact of Tony so rarely being serious, is that it's hard not to believe him when he is being that way. Clint tells him, feeling tired and empty, "I don't know how to believe that."

"All is well, friend Clint," Thor rumbles, half asleep. "Your sword family shall find a way for you to see truth."

Clint blinks down at him. Bruce pats him fondly and says, "Well, you heard the god. Can't go making his proclamations untrue now, can we?"


Clint wakes up to sunshine and warmth. Bruce isn't there any longer, nor Natasha or Tony, but Steve, Phil and Thor are still playing sentry. Clint feels stupid for wanting it, but he also can't help that it gives him a sense of safety he's never really had before. Phil is sitting up, working, but he's still in bed, still in physical contact with Clint.

Clint gives into the urge to drape himself over Steve and curl up like a limpet, mostly because there's not a hell of a lot more he can do to ruin his reputation at this point. Thor slides a hand under Clint's t-shirt, running his knuckles along the line of Clint's spine. Clint does not, does not purr like a cat, but he might come closer than he's technically comfortable acknowledging.

"Morning," Phil says.

Clint glances at the wall clock. It's two in the afternoon. He asks, "Fury?"

"Came back about an hour ago and talked to me about the Cambodia mission, so I'm assuming he's still in charge for now. Either that, or turning SHIELD into a rogue agency. You on board?"

Clint laughs at the way Phil makes it sound so plausible. Under him, he can feel Steve's amusement as well. "Depends. Are the rest of you coming?"

"Of course," Thor sounds affronted that Clint could even consider it. For a second Clint thinks about what Thor had said without flinching the night before, family. Of all of them, Clint supposes Thor would be the closest to knowing what that means. It's weird, though, that Thor means to include him in that, and how very, very much Clint wants to be included.

"Cap?" Clint murmurs.

"My place is with all of you," he says, no hesitation or thought.

When Clint looks at Phil, Phil just rolls his eyes. "Tony will punch you in the face if you ask him that."

"Like to see him try," Clint mutters.

"See who try what?" Bruce asks from the door.

"Yeah, what what?" Tony echoes, coming to rest his chin on Bruce's shoulder.

Natasha slips by both of them, into the room, and executes a flying leap, landing directly on Clint. His still-abused body makes its protests known to him, but he just brings his arms up, and folds her into the pile with Steve and Thor.

She asks, "Are you trying something?"

He smiles into her skin and says, just loud enough that he knows everyone will hear, "Not without you guys."

She settles against him. "Well, that's all right then."

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile