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Reaching Out

700 | Clint Barton/Bruce Banner | R (KB: torture/interrogation)





He knows Clint sees the marks. He can’t hide everything, not when they are this stressed, this close to fracturing. It’s a bad month, one of the worst since the team really reformed. Thor pulls twenty hour days patrolling, and in the last drag out fight, a space ship manages to land on Tony and Steve. If Steve had been normal human, he’d have been killed. Tony was damned lucky for the suit.

The fallout from the last invasion makes Bruce’s skin green. His eyes won’t turn brown, and he scares Pepper at least once when his coffee burns his tongue. He knows that they have an arrangement, and Clint is in charge of his pain. He knows that he’s supposed to be marked by Clint’s knife or lighter and not by his own acid.

Except he feels the itch under his skin, and it’s almost the same as the time he finally picked up the gun. He finds himself staring at the weapons they have up for strategic defense, the lasers and a few caches of handguns. He finds himself thinking that he could find a serum to delay the change. He could delay it just long enough let the bullets do their work, to let the lasers burn through him. The rational part of his brain is screaming that this isn’t the right reaction to nearly losing two of his friends, but it feels far away.

Bruce slides his arm with a sampling knife when he can think straight, grabs it off the table and jams it into his arm as far as he can dig the blade. He pulls it down, and it’s a sharp and immediate pain, wet. He’s bleeding too freely. “Shit,” he murmurs, and he grips the arm.

He doesn’t want to, but he calls Clint down to look at it. They’re alone in the tower, Steve and Tony still in for observation and treatment and Thor exhausted from his constant vigilance. He’s not calling an intern up from another floor. He can’t risk the infection.

Clint comes into the lab like hell’s at his heels, and he stops short at the sight of Bruce’s bleeding arm. “Hell, Banner,” he says in a low voice, and he’s grabbing neoprene gloves from the first aid kit. “What happened?” There’s something hard sliding through his voice. “Did you do this to yourself?”

Bruce feels the flutter of desire in his stomach, and he shoves it back. “I had to,” he whispers.

“You had to,” Clint says, and his hands so tight around Bruce’s arm that he thinks he’ll lose feeling. “You had to do this to yourself without asking.”

He pushes his thumbnail to the cut, digging deep. Bruce cries out. “I’m going to hurt you,” Clint says, and it’s like a switch is being flipped in Bruce’s brain. They’re not in the room, but Bruce’s lab is a good surrogate. “You could save us both time and tell me why you needed to do this.”

Bruce shakes his head. He hates that he admitted the gun to the team, that they look at him and think that he’s almost always three minutes from blowing his head off again. He doesn’t want to say that the ideas were there again, that the stress was making them bubble to the surface.

Clint pushes another finger into Bruce’s cut, and it feels like he’s spreading the skin open, making the cut worse. “Tell me, or I’ll slice this open. I’ll leave you to bleed.” There’s a low thread of anger there. “How badly do you want to bleed, Banner?”

He digs into the wound again, and Bruce’s back spasms. “I don’t--”

“Tell me,” Clint hisses. “Tell me why you needed to mark yourself.”

“I wanted, I thought about, using some of the experiment I’ve been working on.” His words come out in gasps. “I thought about using it to stop the Other Guy. I’d stop him, and then I could do what needed to be done to just stop this.”

Clint’s eyes flash, and he threads one hand into Bruce’s hair, snapping his head back. “You do not get to make those decisions. You put me in charge, and you are not allowed to decide to die. You have those thoughts, and you come to me.”

There’s edge of something like fear in Clint’s voice, and Bruce nods as much as he’s able. And then it’s over. Clint pulls out the first aid kit and starts looking at Bruce’s cut like he means to help it instead of make it worse.

“I think you’re going to need stitches,” he says finally. He won’t look at Bruce. “I can do a field job, and we’ll see how you are healing in the morning. If it gets worse, I’m taking you into SHIELD.”

Bruce tries to pull himself back together. Clint pulls out some guaze and tape. “And I think we should sack out to movies,” Clint says, and his voice is far too casual. “I’m feeling Stephen King marathon.”

He won’t say, “I don’t think you should be alone.” That much won’t change, and that, at least, makes Bruce smile.

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