Fandom/Pairing: The Avengers, Clint Barton/Phil Coulson
Spoilers/Warnings: Is there anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet? Well, if not, this is a fix it. Eventually.
Summary: It was supposed to get easier, afterwards.
Previous Chapters: DW // LJ // AO3
Clint's not allowed to feel exhausted, but he's hunted down nine libraries today and been too late at all but one of them. He's seen Stark Industries trucks leaving the scene three times, and he knows what they're doing, but his mission hasn't changed.
His orders, though, they have. Loki's pushing him towards one of Stark's warehouses. Clint knows, because Loki does, that this is where they're storing the recovered reactors.
The trucks in front of the warehouse aren't labeled, but Clint can recognize a SHIELD operation from miles away; four blocks is nothing. If they haven't seen him coming, they probably will, any minute now. The possibility hasn't terrified him so much in years, not since they'd been after him, though it's what he might to do them, rather than the other way around, that has him concerned.
Three blocks and and closing.
Two blocks, and Loki's gone. Clint stops shortly enough that the woman behind him only narrowly misses crashing into him. She glares at him distractedly but says nothing, but there are more, dozens of pedestrians passing around him with little more than a glance. It might be the ice that's warding them off. New Yorkers might gawk, but they're not stupid. They do outnumber him, though, and he's completely surrounded.
They're just people.
The bag over his shoulder is desperately heavy, and he's exhausted, but he manages to fight through the pedestrian sea to the edge of the sidewalk. There's a phone booth on the corner, and if he can reach it, he can call Phil. He just needs to call Phil. He actually makes it halfway down the block before his head begins to cloud. Loki's remembering him, he can feel it, and-
-and he's back, unrelenting, forcing Clint back down into himself so deeply that he can't even track what's happening until he finds himself sitting down on a bus stop bench, completely paralyzed. There's no room in his head to even contemplate the situation, his eyes won't move up from the sidewalk in front of him.
The traffic doesn't stop, but it parts, and the recognition sets in before he's able to raise his head, sitting up and taking notice, like a dog who hears his master. Loki's ten feet away and closing. Clint might be able to nail a quarter at a 2500 yards, but he hadn't even seen him coming.
When Loki reaches out a hand to stroke through Clint's hair, he can't even flinch. Loki pushes his head to the side, makes him look down the street to where the SHEILD trucks are parked.
If he could speak, he'd be shouting right now. Loki's right here and SHIELD's right there and it wouldn't take much to get them to turn their heads and notice- someone's got to be keeping an eye on the area. There's just no good reason for them not to already be moving in to surround them.
Instead, he sits on the bench, frozen, while Loki stands next to him, carding his fingers through his hair. Petting him like a dog, right out in front of everyone, and Clint can't do so much as blink.
He watches as Sitwell steps out of one of the trucks, carrying a small, metal case. He's flanked by three other agents on the way to the truck and none of them even glance in his direction. There's got to be a sniper around here somewhere- Saunders, maybe Kittleson.Look up, for fucks sake just look up-
Inside his head, he's shouting. Loki's the only one who hears him.
Don't take it personally, he replies, not needing to speak aloud as he smiles down at him; to anyone else it might almost look a reassurance. Loki only speaks because it pleases him to. "You are, after all, merely sitting here. Not quite the threat they imagine themselves prepared for. You'd think they'd have learned by now." The grin twitches, and Loki makes him push his head into his hand, as if Clint's the one seeking the contact. "What say you, Hawk? Shall we remind them? Speak true."
His mouth works, but it's dry, and the word's so hard to form he can't even tell whose it is. "Yes."
He can feel the metal pressed between them, knows the weight of it without looking down. Loki knows magic, he shouldn't need this. They don't have to play it this way.
True. Loki pushes the word into Clint's mind the same way he pushes the gun into his hands. But where's the fun in that?
They haven't had this many agents on the line since New Mexico, though it's strange to be listening in from the relative comfort of his own bed. Fury and the Avengers are setting up their base of operations at one of Stark's warehouses, and Rogers is reporting that he and Natasha are currently inbound. If Phil's right and hasn't missed anything, there are four SHIELD teams and two Stark Asset Protection units still on route. Fury's even had Selvig flown in, on the off chance that event that any strategic insights he might have could prove useful. So far, it hasn't amounted to much; Selvig's mostly been relegated to assisting with the medivac prep support.
They've got nothing but best guesses and rough plans, and all that's left is the waiting. Fury and Stark pass the better part of an hour arguing about Stark's decision to put the arc reactors on display in the first place. Banner, apparently, meditates, though whether it's in preparation or avoidance is anyone's guess.
Rush hour is in full swing when Agent Kittleson sounds the alarm.
"You've got it, don't wait for my signal. You manage to head this off, I'll owe you guys one," Fury says. "Okay, people. Remember. Clip his wings, do what you've got to. Get him down, don't take him out."
"I've got visual on Hawkeye. He's circling and moving in, one block out and heading for the south entrance."
"Hulk, you're taking point. Get angry. Iron Man, annoy him until he does, then get your ass back to the stockpile. Cap, you're perimeter. Widow? I want you ready to follow if he makes it out. Kittleson, you ready?"
"Tranqs are loaded, our team's ready for go."
He's saying it for Phil's benefit, nothing more. In a warehouse across town glances are being shared, confirmations of the unspoken unless you have to being given and received.
Phil closes his eyes and remembers to breathe.
Clint doesn't want to do this.
The warehouse is nothing special, from the outside, and he's never been here but the internal layout isn't what's daunting. They know he's coming; the movement on the rooftop is evidence enough to be certain. They might not know, however, that he's armed, and though they've probably prepared for it, the chance that they haven't is the only strategic advantage he's got. It's the only reason he doesn't take Kittleson out on the approach, but he doesn't understand why the man's not firing.
He can't stop himself from swerving into the alley and heading for the door. Loki's presence is huge and railing in his head, now; there are no lapses, no milliseconds of even the most imaginary freedom, and for that, Clint's almost perversely grateful.
He's less than five yards from the door when the first of the silenced shots chips the pavement next to him, and he's dodging before it even occurs to him to try. He randomizes his path and sprints, now, Loki pushing him faster.
Moving targets are no fun when they've stopped.
Loki doesn't need him for anything more than entertainment. He'd stumble with the realization, were he able to; a bullet zips through the space where his head would've been if he had.
This isn't about the arc reactors, not entirely. He's under no illusion that Loki's without other means of getting what he needs. He's doing this- he's taken Clint over because it's fun.
It doesn't change anything. There's another near miss; someone really should've hit him by now, and of course they're covering him from multiple positions, but no amount of trying will let him glance up. Concrete and bricks are chipping loudly all over the alley as he reaches the warehouse wall. He presses closely against it, finding cover in bad angles as he sidles towards the door.
Above, he knows his position's being reported, but he kicks the door down anyway, reaching into his jacket as he does so.
Loki's excitement is storming through his head so heavily that Clint can't see around it to take aim.
When he opens fire, though, he doesn't miss.
"Hawkeye's armed, looks like a nine mil.," Kittleson reports, and Phil's almost relieved, for a traitorous instant- an armed Clint is a safe Clint- but it's only going to make the others take him down harder, more brutally.
The sound of bullets over a communications uplink is overly familiar, but Phil flinches when the first shots ring out. There's an explosion of voices on the line, and underneath Fury's barked orders and the shouting coming from all positions, it's impossible to tell who's shooting, who's being shot.
Phil doesn't know how bloody to paint the scene he's imagining, even though he knows they haven't yet switched over from tranquilizer rounds. He tries to fill it instead with dust and concrete debris shattering into the air, but the fragments turn to arrowheads, and they keep looping back on themselves, ricocheting back and finding everyone.
At some point, Fury's going to give the order, make everyone switch to live rounds.
Clint really needs to get himself shot before that happens, Phil thinks, and for the first time since this started, he's glad he's not standing on the front lines. He doesn't deserve to be there.
Banner had taken his earpiece out while he and Stark had been getting ready. As far as Phil could tell, it had consisted mostly of Stark carefully teasing him about his latest journal publication, and miraculously enough, he hadn't gone overboard, just pushed Banner to the point of near readiness. Even without the direct comms link, Hulk is by far the easiest to track. With a little more intel, Phil could probably plot the relative locations of everyone in the warehouse by the volume of Hulk's growls bleeding through their microphones, but that was a thought for another day.
"Someone, please," his voice is irritatingly rough and pleading; briefly, he hopes nobody's heard him. He tries a little harder the second time around. "Tell me what's happening."
"Hulk was in position when Hawkeye came through the door. Took the brunt of it and he's keeping him busy enough, but-" Stark breaks off with a gasp. The scuffling could mean anything.
A single gunshot cracks above the fray and Phil suddenly can't remember if they've switched from tranqs to live rounds, yet. He sits up too quickly, wrenching his back, and opens his mouth to ask- maybe it's not Clint, maybe someone else went down- but his back's screaming with enough ferocity that it's tearing at the rest of him. He's choking.
"We've got him," Stark shouts, breaking off suddenly. "Shit!"
"Selvig, Lee, Hankinson, we need medical at the outer ring." Fury's voice is strained from the shouting. "Southwestern quadrant. Stay low. Captain? Pull in and tell me what you're seeing."
"I repeat, Hawkeye's down, but-" Tony voice breaks percussively; Phil dreads the next words to come out of his mouth. "Hulk's gonna-"
"Get down!" Natasha shouldn't be shouting like that; she's supposed to be outside, securing the perimeter, not anywhere near the center of the fight, and oh, fuck, if she goes down too-
Fury breaks off his exchange with Sitwell. Eyes on the scene, people, I need eyes,"
"Understatement of the year," Stark's reply is scattered with the crash.
"I'm going to draw Hulk outside before he kills-" Natasha stumbles only briefly. "He needs a clear exit to run this off. Grounds are still cleared?"
"With containment on standby."
It's not an explosive crash, but there are enough startled gasps that whatever it is, it's apparently startling. It takes Steve a moment to speak.
"I think she's got it covered. I've got Hawkeye."
The tear on his shoulder, courtesy of Barton's bullet, is already healing. It's going to be sore for a while, but that's not the damage that's pressing, right now.
It's obvious, even from twenty feet away that Barton's going to need medical attention, but Steve's not approaching so carefully out of immediate concern for his well-being, and he kind of hates himself for that. It doesn't feel right. But now that Hulk's out in the park, roaring across the grounds and hopefully getting enough space to calm down, Steve's in the best position to make sure Barton's really down enough that he won't start fighting again.
The medics are all wearing bulletproof vests, but they look hesitant, and he can't blame them. A few weeks ago, he'd seen Barton make a headshot with his back turned. With a bow and arrow, of all things. If he'd chosen to shoot at anyone besides Hulk or himself, the bullets would've killed them.
Tranquilizer rounds crunch beneath his feet as he approaches, but barton doesn't stir. He's lying face down curled around himself, but beyond the fact that he's still breathing, it's impossible to tell what else is wrong with him. At the very least, being flung into the rafter by Hulk has probably injured his back. He can't see his face from here.
With a glance at the medics- they've apparently decided that he's enough protection to move in- he drops to his knees, leans in to get a good look at his face. He's been knocked out, and until they roll him over, there's no telling if it was the impact or the tranquilizers that caused it.
"He's breathing, but unconscious."
The silence that answers him on the line goes on for a beat too long before Fury replies.
"Let the doctors do their job, then. Stark, go put eyes in the sky on Hulk for a minute, then we're going to need you downstairs, getting your toys ready for transport again. We've got it here."
Tony doesn't crack wise, which might be a first. If not for the sound of the repulsors blasting off, Steve would've wondered if he'd even heard the command.
He backs up to give the medics room, staying close enough to jump in should the need arise. As they're moving the bodyboard into place, he glances up. The dust hasn't settled, yet, and throughout the room, agents and soldiers are grouping quietly, still at the ready, their eyes on the gun that Hulk had smashed out of his grip, lying some thirty feet away, well out of reach. Only a few of them are looking at Barton directly, but they're ducking their heads. The chatter's about to commence.
"What's going on in there?"
Steve blinks at Coulson's voice. He'd honestly forgotten that he was on the line.
"They're just getting ready to move him," he replies, as the four medics surrounding Barton begin their count. When they reach three, they roll him carefully, keeping his neck in line with the rest of his body, directly onto the board in a well-practiced move. They waste no time, start strapping him into place immediately. His eyes don't open, and Steve might only be imagining the groan he hears. "They've got him on the board, they're moving out."
He feels like he should say something more. Barton and Coulson are together, though nobody's mentioned it. Steve doesn't know if it's because it's taken for granted, these days, or because it's <i>not</i>, but regardless. Coulson's probably inches from panicking.
"Is he blue?"
"No," Steve realizes, glancing down just to double check. "He looks fine."
Barton doesn't, but Steve doesn't want to be the one to say so. Over his comms unit, he can hear Tony announce that Romanov's inbound with Banner, before muttering something about clothing."Director, I want to come in-"
Fury replies quietly. Were it not for the fact that he's crossing the floor towards them, glancing at Barton on the stretcher while offering Steve a hand up that he doesn't honestly need, Steve would've described his tone as clinical. "That's a negative, Coulson. Sorry. I'll keep you in the loop myself, but the doctors need to do their thing."
The concern is set deep in the lines of his face, and gone the moment Steve's caught looking, and Steve turns his attention back to the stretcher. Barton's awake enough to be wincing.
"You have a go, don't wait on orders," Fury's tells the medics as they begin to move the exit. "Evac with level five security protocols. Facilities are prepped."
The only reason Steve can hear him is because he's looking right at him, he realized. He hadn't noticed Fury take out his comms earpiece, but watches now as his hand moves up to his ear in a telling gesture. "We're getting him evacuated now, Coulson. I'll let you know when they land."
He wants to ask what level five security protocols entail. He really wants to be able to say something reassuring, because there's guilt, here, in knowing what Coulson's missed, but the moment's passing him by.
Tony's got his armor off already, but his hair's still damp with sweat and his eyes are wide, furious as he swerves into Fury's path. He looks like he's ready to start throwing punches.
"Fury, man, if you're fucking with me-"
The glare he gets in response is anything but amused.
"Tell me you had your guys move them."
There's no good reason not to interrupt. "What are you talking about?"
"The arc reactors." Tony scowls, but his glare doesn't waver from Fury. "They're gone."