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[personal profile] jendavis
Title: Come Undone
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.
Rating: R
Summary: It was supposed to get easier, afterwards.

Previous Chapters: DW // LJ // AO3


"If you insist on torturing yourself, you might as well stay awake for it." Natasha appears over Bruce's shoulder, holding a cup of coffee in his peripheral vision, but he's not surprised to see her. She and Barton have history, of some sort, the kind that probably wouldn't come up in conversation even if you had the clearance to hear it

"Thanks." He only glances up at her because he knows he should, but he does get it together enough to pull out the chair next to his and make room in front of the monitor.

On the other side of the feed, past concrete walls, thick, reinforced glass and half a dozen security protocols that nobody's even talking about, Barton's strapped down to a gurney. They're keeping him immobilized because they don't know what kind of damage he'd sustained when he'd hit the wall- or maybe it had been the floor, or maybe both- Bruce hasn't been able to get a straight answer out of anybody. The two broken ribs and the concussion are practically foregone conclusions, but the inflammation's getting in the way of the doctors' attempts to get clear scans of his back.

Permanent spinal injury really isn't out of the question. The Other Guy's done worse with less.

"Has there been any change?" Natasha's tone is casual, but Bruce is becoming uncomfortably adept at reading her expressions for signs of fear. Right now, she might be more concerned with Barton, but she's not one to fool herself. She knows as well as he does who put him there- she'd been the one to chase him down in the park, afterwards. He follows her gaze back to the screen. Underneath the bandages, Barton's bruises seem to have spread even more. Between that and his terrifying stillness, he looks dead.

"There's no internal bleeding," he replies, because it's the only good news he's heard so far, and he wants to give her something. He looks down at the pager in his hand; he hasn't quite managed to stop toying with it since the doctor handed it to him and suggested he make himself useful. Simple design. One button only, in case Barton wakes up. Pressing the button won't make him wake up, though. Won't fix him, fix this.

He tries to phrase the question vaguely, when all he wants to do is apologize, explain that he'd tried to be careful, he'd shouted at the Other Guy. "Has the video from the warehouse turned up anything that'll help him?"

"They've barely gotten started with the analysis," she quirks a brow, refocusing the camera to get a better look at Barton's face. "And stop it."

"I'm sorry?"

"You're worrying about the wrong thing." She doesn't look at him; maybe she doesn't believe what she's saying. "Hill and Sitwell are trying to find out what happened to the arc reactors, not scanning every frame to find the point where you think you went too far."

"I did go too far." Bruce almost wants to laugh. "That's kind of my thing."

"It's what made you the guy to take point." It's the same thing Fury had told him. "And don't forget, you're not the one who kicked down a door and opened fire. Anybody would've fought back under those circumstances."

"Yeah, but anyone else might not've broken his spine."

"No. We would've shot him." It's terrifying, how she can just say things like that, and judging by her frown, she knows it. "So thanks for not letting it go that far."

He shrugs, but there's movement on the monitor, a slight twitch, nothing more. Barton's gone still again, but Bruce's thumb is on the pager's button anyway. Just in case.

Natasha's noticed the twitch as well, and it's a while before her eyes flit away and she sits back in her seat. Even so, he feels like he's interrupting her, here. This is about all the opening he's getting. He's had a few minutes to rehearse his thoughts, and wants to explain that he doesn't understand how they're going to function as a team after this. There's no way Barton's going to be able to trust him again, and the bitch of it is that he shouldn't have in the first place.

It seems a bit much, though, and he's not sure he's got the right to complain, so what he asks instead is, "How d'you think this is going to play out?"

"You did what you had to." Natasha replies without missing a beat. "We got him back. That's what's important. We'll figure out the rest."

"Never pegged you for an optimist."

"I'm not. There's literally nothing in what's coming that I'm looking forward to." Finally, she grins, though there's only minimal humor in it. "But honestly? When he's up for it, you should talk to him."

"Apologize?"

"Anything but that. You might just understand more about this than anyone."

The hell I do. "Sorry, I don't think I follow."

She sips her coffee and shrugs, and it feels like she's avoiding his gaze. "If that were true, you wouldn't resent the Other Guy so much."


---

There's an instant, as Clint's swimming up towards consciousness, where everything is fine. It only lasts a second or two. By the time he opens his eyes, it's all come crashing down.

He's strapped down in a hospital bed. There are no windows in the room, just a camera up in the corner over by the door. Rocking his head to look around is the most control he's had over anything in-

-he doesn't know how long it's been. There's nobody here to tell him. He can still feel Loki in his head, the room where he should be, but it's distant, like the fleeting moments when Loki had forgotten him. Loki's pulled out, locked him up like a toy that he might pick up again when the mood strikes, and it could happen any time.

Clint tests the restraints around his wrists and feet, aware that Loki's probably aware of the impulse even before he tries. He closes his eyes to prepare for the eventuality, but nothing happens. The bonds hold fast, but there's no storm in his head, either. No mocking laughter, and he understands, now- as long as he's locked up, he's allowed his freedom.

Loki's left him in this room, and left him enough room to remember.

He can remember firing an entire clip's worth of rounds at Hulk, thinks he remembers getting thrashed into the wall. He remembers- too vividly- killing the guard. Her wide-eyed surprise, the jolt of the knife skirting against bone, driving into her heart, right on target, and the blood welling up around the knife he'd left in her chest. His arms are tied down, but he can still feel the horrible weight of her as he'd hefted her belt to steal her key card.

He needs Phil, needs to explain that he's sorry while he still can, or at least warnhim.

He can't feel Loki yet, but his control is slipping. Something's sending tremors out through his limbs, too fast and slight to control- he can't breathe-

Loki hasn't forgotten him.

---

Clint's under Level Five lockdown, Phil notes as he holds face up to the retinal scanner. He really wishes he didn't know what that entailed. Four stories underground. Reinforced concrete walls and a ventilation system capable sucking 98 percent of the oxygen out of a room in less than sixty seconds. Level Five had only been established five years ago, to prepare for the eventuality that the hulking green monster they'd been chasing was actually brought in.

They'd never had the need for it, thank God, until now.

Despite the knowledge, he can't stop himself from asking as they head towards the elevator. "How bad is it?"

Doctor Elkeles shoves her glasses up her nose and gives Phil a measured look. "Honestly, as far as his injuries go, it could've been a lot worse. He's got a concussion, two fractured ribs and severe bruising, but beyond that, the internal damage was surprisingly minimal. We had been concerned about the prospects of a spinal injury, but once the anti-inflammatories kicked in we found that this was not the case."

"Is he awake?"

"Well, yes." Her half-smile is sympathetic. She's been expecting the question, but there's more bad news. "But so far, he's been unresponsive to any communication whatsoever, willfully so. Now. Director Fury has suggested that your presence would be beneficial, but with your injuries, I'm only willing to allow it if you're accompanied by someone more physically able to assist if the need arises. Agent Romanoff has been keeping an eye on him for the past hour or so... if that's acceptable?"

Phil can't stop the grin, even though he's not really feeling it. He'd been steeling himself to prepare for less.

"That would be wonderful. Thank you."

Elkeles smiles as she turns to lead him towards the elevator, but he'd already seen it in her eyes. Don't thank me yet.

Downstairs, Natasha is sitting in one of two chairs next to a computer monitor, fidgeting with a pager. She's gone through two cups- no, one cup of coffee. She would've just refilled her mug. Someone else had been down here with her.

They'd sat here, drinking coffee, while on the other side of that door, Clint's alone.

When she stands, moving away from the screen, he shies away from taking more than a brief glance- restraints, they've got him in restraints- and she's moving into his field of vision, anyway, blocking his view. As Dr. Elkeles goes into the room to prep Clint for visitors, Natasha steps closer and hugs him.

It doesn't feel generous. She needs it too.

He swallows the anger. None of this is her fault.

Through the open door just behind him- he doesn't let himself look, yet- he can hear Dr. Elkeles talking.

"Mr. Barton, you're safe. You've got some visitors, okay? Do you want to see Phil and Natasha?"

If Clint replies, Phil can't hear it.

---

Natasha, under Dr. Elkeles' orders, drags one of the chairs into the room and sets it next to the bed. She has to take Phil by the elbow and guide him into it because so far, his brain is refusing to process any of this. For an instant he's convinced the protocol's been engaged, that the air really is being sucked out of the room.

"You can undo the restraints," Dr. Elkeles tells Natasha, glancing at Phil like he's supposed to read something in her expression, but she's barely registering, any more. He's only dimly aware of the sound of the door closing as she leaves.

Clint's eyes are screwed shut, his face frozen mid-wince. Given the bruising, he might actually be in pain, and he's breathing unevenly- going by the lack of reaction these details receive, he's been like this for a while. He is aware enough, though, that the moment Natasha's got the cuffs off of him, he rolls to the side and brings his hands up to his hide his face.

It's just Natasha in here with them now.

It's okay to be this close to losing it. He wheels the chair closer to the side of the bed. Leaning over this much hurts like a bitch, but it's not important.

"Clint?"

Nothing.

"Hey, it's me." Carefully, he reaches out for Clint's shoulder, leaves his hand there. It feels like he's sobbing, though Phil's never seen him cry before, and he's not actually doing so now. The realization isn't actually comforting. "Could you look at me for just a second?"

Still nothing. Phil's never been this useless. He glances up over his shoulder to search out Natasha; she's got the door cracked open and is looking out down the hallway, then opening it more widely, tapping underneath her eye and nodding to her right, towards the monitor, as she splays her fingers.

He's got five minutes, and even though they're on camera, at least Natasha's giving them the illusion of privacy.

"Clint, please. Open your eyes."

---

Clint can't.

Phil's voice, the way his thumb's brushing over his collarbone, it's all too real, and Loki's made the effort to hide himself completely. It feels real, almost completely, but his teeth are chattering- he can't stop shaking- and they only barely stop when he clenches his jaw.

This is just Loki, twisting the knife. Shredding him apart while Phil- it's not him, it's a trick, just another game- watches. An

"Please," Not-Phil says, squeezing his shoulder; Clint can feel the backs of Not-Phil's fingers brushing against his wrist, and buries his face even deeper into the pillow behind his hands, his breath catching. It might be a laugh. He wants to believe in this so damned much that it hurts.

Why did they take the restraints off?

"You're safe, okay?"

He tries not to listen, but can't move his hands to cover his ears. This is what Loki knows he wants to hear right now. The moment he accepts this, the illusion will be ripped away.

But Loki'd gotten it wrong. Clint doesn't want to hear Phil sounding so afraid, he needs him to be calm, unflappable. Steady.

And if he's wrong, at least this will end

"I'm not-" He can't get the air to do more than whisper, but he shifts his right hand, moves it slightly towards the weight on his shoulder. He's not ready to have his hand captured in a warm grip, clinging so tightly.

"Shh, it's going to be all right."

This is what Phil's supposed to sound like, but the spell- whatever's left of it- is already broken.

Loki's not here. Phil is.

He tightens his fingers around Phil's, opens his eyes, and for a moment, he can breathe. The tremors subside. Phil's got bags under his eyes, and his back must be killing him, but he's starting to smile. The sight of it's doing something to Clint's heart, because between one inhalation and the next, he's fucking sobbing.

And it's all him. Nobody's making him do it, but he can't fucking stop, and he can't let go of Phil's hand.

---

Chapter 10
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