I Ran Away In Floods Of Shame
"We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin." - Andre Berthiaume
"This last guy though – it was like he didn't even know what was happening." Clint sat, with his feet propped up on the co-pilot's consul, across from Phil, while he spoke, arms waving about to add dramatic effect. "Had his brief case cradled against his chest like a shield while he argued with me – he argued with me Phil – kept saying that he hadn't done anything wrong. That he was just a businessman. And I told him that while arms dealing is technically a 'business' I didn't think him selling guns to children counted as 'doing nothing wrong'." Clint chuckled openly, miming quotation marks with growing enthusiasm as the story went on. "Seriously, if he weren't a sadistic warlord, I might have almost felt bad for the guy. He was legitimately shocked that S.H.I.E.L.D had come for him – didn't have any security or nothing. Just stood there with shaking knees throwing money at me. Real money too – had handfuls of it in his pockets. Clearly no one ever told him-"
Phil listened with quiet amusement to Clint's latest recap, typing his own mission report swiftly, and every so often swatting Clint's feet from the consul only to find them returned the second his attention wavered. The man wasn't S.H.I.E.L.D's finest – and most demanded – operative for nothing. In fact, in the three years since Phil had brought Clint into S.H.I.E.L.D, the kid had become nothing short of a legion. Albeit a mostly disliked and widely ostracised legion, but one none the less. His animosity with other agents was mainly due to his dangerous, cold, persona – a by-product of his time as a contract assassin that left majority of the organisation constantly weary of him – but Phil secretly believed that Clint enjoyed the strained relationship. He wasn't the type to become attached, and seemed to hate people becoming attached to him even more.
The thought had Phil's eyes flicking upwards from his computer screen to watch his agent as he continued the apparently 'epic tale' of his latest assignment. Phil couldn't help as his smile grew at the good-natured humour in Clint's eyes, the relaxed set to his shoulders.
Clint Barton was an enigma, there was no doubt about that. An enigma that had seen too much, suffered more than any should, in his few years. But in the time since Phil had brought him to S.H.I.E.L.D Phil had broken through the walls that surrounded his agent. Been allowed close enough to see what Clint refused to expose to others.
And he had never been more glad that he had placed so much blind faith in the kid, because as those walls fell one by one Phil realised that Clint had deserved that faith more than anyone else ever could have.
The kid was broken, torn apart by the cruel hand life had dealt him, but Phil came to see as the years went by – and the duo ended up in more than their fair share of tight spots – that somehow what the kid had witnessed and done hadn't ruined him. Hadn't broken him beyond repair. No, instead Clint had merely retreated within himself. Buried his kind-hearted and devoted nature beneath layers upon layers of self-loathing.
But Phil had found that true nature. He had witnessed the kindness, been on the receiving end of that devotion, and now there was no way he was willing to let that person go. Let him slip away, hidden behind Clint's hatred of himself. Hatred of his past, of the decisions he had made to survive. Phil had finally managed to wrench him from the destructive mindset that had threatened to cripple him when he first came to S.H.I.E.L.D, and Clint had begun trusting him to do so.
A brotherhood had formed between the two of them that Phil doubted he could live without now. Somewhere along the line, between the disastrous missions that had required more trust than Clint knew he had and the moments of silent comradely, Clint had begun to mean more to him than any other agent before. Mean more than anyone else in Phil's entire life. Clint had become his brother in many ways.
An incredibly rude, sarcastic and often downright infuriating son.
"-Well your recollection of this job seems just about perfect." Phil cut Clint off mid-sentence as he was describing the explosion of the compound with a series of flailing arms and machine gun impressions, "You should have no trouble with the report this time around."
The flailing arms halted immediately before an expression of almost believable sincerity contorted his features. "Oh I don't think so, I was heavily concussed." He said with a shrug. "And a concussed recollected is unreliable. I would never compromise S.H.I.E.L.D like that."
Phil had regrated telling him that particular protocol from day one.
"Concussed?" Phil questioned tonelessly, barely hiding his amusement at the twenty-one year old. Clint's expression remained absolutely heart-broken, as if the idea of not being able to complete his paperwork was nothing short of devastating. "I don't remember you reporting any kind of injury, head related or not?"
"I must have forgotten to mention it." He argued, a grin breaking through that distraught expression, "Concussion's can do that to a person."
"Mhmm." Phil murmured sending his own mission report through to be logged, having already explained that a report that one from Clint would not be accompanying it before the two had even begun bickering. When it came to mission reports Clint could always be counted on to come up with some kind of excuse to spare himself the hassle of writing a single word. Even if said excuse required purposeful bodily harm. Phil had managed, after much frustration and rigorous yelling matches, to persuade the kid from such extremes. Instead now he merely made Clint's excuses up on his own and passed them along. Even Fury had stopped asking for reports from Clint after a disastrous mission in Sao Paulo that Clint had described in his written statement as the result of 'a clusterfuck of shitfaces who wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between their own assholes and the bomb they were attempting to build'.
"We're set to land in ten." Phil said as he begun to pack away his computer.
Clint sighed heavily before heaving himself out of the co-pilot's seat and making a beeline for the back of the quin jet where his equipment lay, strewn across the floor "I'd better go see if I can somehow shove all my shit back into that bag." He said. "Here's hoping we might actually get some downtime after this one, cause if I don't get a chance to wash some of the clothes in here we're going to be able to start selling them off as toxic weapons." He brought a particularly crumpled shirt up to his nose as Phil watched and sniffed it before repelling immediately and shoving it as far down in his rucksack as it would go.
The two of them had barely seen the New York base at all this year, and perhaps even less last year. Clint's position as S.H.I.E.L.D's most valuable asset was certainly a tittle to be proud of, but it did result in him being in almost constant demand. The kid had had only three weeks of rest in the last twelve months, and even that had only come about after he got himself shot in South Africa.
"We have nothing lined up so we might get a few days if we're lucky." Phil said turning his attention back to the descending quin jet while also trying to block out the image of his own sweat-laden belongings.
Yes. Some downtime was definitely needed.
Clint had never thought of himself as a particularly lucky man.
And today was apparently no exception.
No sooner had he and Phil arrived on base than Fury's second in command was striding towards them on the tarmac – beckoning them over with a stiff flick of her hand.
"You've both been requested in debrief room one," Clint was still unsure as to his opinion of Agent Hill. Her sharpness and completely dedication to S.H.I.E.L.D protocall often left him resenting her as she ordered him about relentlessly, but he couldn't deny that he admired her a little. There were not many people on earth who could demand absolute compliance like Agent Hill. That didn't mean that he didn't attempt random spouts of insubordination just to keep her on her toes, but that was neither here nor there. He respected her ability to scare most agents shitless, even if her detached – and seemingly infinite – orders annoyed him to no end.
"That shouldn't be right." Phil said, ever polite, but firm. "We should have at least three days scheduled downtime. It was approved weeks ago. We've already postponed Clint's bi-annual med-check twice now and after what happened in South Africa he should really have already-"
"-Someone blew away half of the Swedish Consulate in Berlin."
Clint's eyebrows shot up and he exchanged an incredulous look with Phil. This was one of those times that the respect for Hill overcame his resentment. He didn't know if he'd be able to deliver that line with even half of the sass, somehow hidden within the detached professionalism, which she managed in those few words. "You've both been requested in debriefing room one." She repeated before turning and retreating from them swiftly.
Yeah. Luck was so not his thing.
The debriefing room was nothing short of bursting by the time Clint and Phil squeezed through the double doors. It was by far the largest of the debriefing rooms, usually reserved for large team missions, and not somewhere that Clint had spent a lot of time personally.
He was not a 'team' kind of person.
He got the impression however that his aversion to large groups of agents was going to be rigorously ignored on whatever this mission was going to be as tac-teams already stood about the room, briefing packets in the hands, talking to one another and comparing various notes. Great, he thought, just how I wanted to spend the next few days. Trapped on an assignment with scores of agents with something to prove. And they always had something to prove. Perhaps it was his obvious youth – barely eighteen when he joined the organisation, and only twenty-one now – or his unbeaten score at the training range, but for some unbeknownst reason to Clint whenever he worked with others his missions tended to go more side-ways than usual due to egotistical agents with something to fucking prove.
Or perhaps Phil was right.
His inability to trust them in the field led them to rash action.
But that wasn't his fault. He was of the opinion that if they make stupid decisions in the field, they would have made them with or without his presence. And his shunning them only ensured that he wasn't a casualty of those stupid decisions.
Phil hadn't bothered to argue the backwards logic. He had merely rolled his eyes and assured Clint that it was unlikely to become a problem very often as he was to be assigned as a solo-operative nine times out of ten.
This was apparently to become his one out of ten mission for the year.
Clint was dreading it already.
The sight of Fury sweeping into the room pushed his irritation to the back of his mind and within the few short seconds it took the one eyed man to reach the front of the room a silence fell among its entire inhabitants.
"This morning the entire north side of the Swedish Consulate in downtown Berlin was attacked, and eventually destroyed through the use of explosives along with half a street corner. As of now we are unsure which diplomats were the intended targets of the attack – or if it was a focused attack at all." He paused and seemed to take in every agent in the room separately. "The purpose of the attack however, no matter how crucial now, is in the long run irrelevant. This was a Consulate. A protected and incredibly vital aspect of foreign alliance." Again he paused. When he spoke again his voice had lowered and there was an unmistakable threat attached to each word. "There is a reason that terrorist's don't target Consulates." His stare seemed to heat with each word. "Let's remind them of it."
With that the Director swept from the room as swiftly as he had entered it, a trail of agents scurrying along behind him all no doubt speaking over each other as they received more updates on the situation. He paused in the doorway, however, and with undeniable authority beckoned both Phil and Clint to follow him before disappearing. Both did so without hesitation, trailing him all the way to his office doors, hanging back as the scurrying agents continued to speak over each other.
Phil was paying rapt attention to the word's of the agents, trying to piece together as much as he could, while Clint attempted to conceal his sluggish attempts to keep pace with the group. It had been days since he had last slept. Weeks since he had slept all through the night.
Deep down he knew he should have told Phil that the dreams were back, but he just couldn't bring himself to. The man looked just as exhausted as Clint lately.
After a debacle in North Korea a little over eight months ago, one that had resulted in a national incident – which Clint claimed was not entirely his fault – Fury had begun assigning the agent and his handler every mission under the sun. His argument had been that if Clint believed himself to be such a superior agent that he didn't need the tac teams Fury sent in to ensure that national incidents didn't happen, he could handle half of S.H.I.E.L.D's jobs personally.
When the director had first said it Clint had thought he was joking.
Now, after eight months of continuous jobs, Clint was almost ready to throw himself at the man's feet and beg for forgiveness. Beg for even one damn night off.
As was the pattern, ever since he was a child, the lack of sleep caused by the continuous missions had brought on a fresh round of nightmares that left Clint awake, shivering and feverish during the early hours of the morning. His days as a contract assassin were memories that had the ability to gut him more painfully than any blade, and while he slept the defences he kept rigidly in place against those memories were gone. He was vulnerable. And every night those dreams damn near ended him.
Yet, he still didn't wake Phil.
He knew he should. That the man would blow a gasket if he found out that Clint had been letting him sleep peacefully through the night while he sat up, head between his knees, fighting for composure. Letting himself stew in the memories that threatened to drown him.
When he had first come to S.H.E.I.L.D they almost had.
After being accosted by agents, after barely eighteen months of being a gun-for-hire, and unceremoniously thrown into one of S.H.E.I.L.D's more notorious prisons, Clint had first met Phil through the iron bars of a cell. A cell that he would have been locked in for a very long time had it not been for his handlers insistence that Clint had the potential to be the best operative the organisation had seen in years.
And while at first he had been cautious of the entire group – and their motives – he soon realized that not only did he have the ability to make up for his past mistakes, but he had also found a place within which he felt he fit perfectly. Or at least, as perfectly as anyone like him ever could. Of course there was animosity with other agents, but Clint had never been the most social of people, and he blatantly ignored most superiors. Well, at least the superiors he didn't outright resent. Those he took satisfaction in tormenting mercilessly.
So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he fit perfectly in place beside Phil.
In the three years that Clint had been with S.H.E.I.L.D he had found within Phil something that he was sure he lost years ago. A brother.
It had taken time – and some particularly sticky situations – but eventually Clint hadn't been able to keep the man at arms length any longer. He was just too damn insistent.
You can't go for a run with a barely stitched together femoral artery Clint.
It had been downright infuriating to begin with. Clint, who had become self sufficient from the age of seven by necessity, hadn't been able to stand Phil's near constant 'check ins' and help.
When he had finally snapped and told Phil this – well screamed it – Phil hadn't even looked taken aback. Instead it was Clint who was left flabbergasted by his reply.
It's my job to take care of you Clint. He had said with more sincerity than Clint had heard in his entire life. As your handler it's my job to make sure that you're healthy. Make sure that you're safe. That would have been enough to shut Clint up at the time – but Phil wasn't known for pulling his punches when it came to Clint.
Especially not when Clint questioned the trust that had been forged between them.
And as your friend, it's my job to make sure that you're happy.
And dammit the man had more than succeed. These last few years with Phil, working for S.H.E.I.L.D had been the best of his life. He no longer felt lost or without purpose. Here, he was helping people. Making up for the sins of his past and re-building himself to be better. Someone that he might one day be proud to be.
If he could only sleep.
He almost ran right into Phil as the group of agents hovered around Fury at the door of his office, all fighting to get in the last word before he turned to face them with a stony expression.
Well as stony as a spy with only one eye could get.
"Monitor the situation closely. If any leads come up I want them documented and fully explored. Agents Coulson and Barton will be needing a jet fuelled and aimed at Berlin as soon as they leave this office, so call through to the hanger." Fury pushed open the door to his office and Phil stepped through immediately, Clint on his heels. Fury followed them in, calling over his shoulder as he did, "Unless something else explodes, I do not want to be disturbed for the next hour. If you have requests or queries take them to Agent Hill."
With that he slammed the door behind him and turned to face the two men.
"This was so not what I wanted to deal with today." He growled, stalking towards his desk and taking a seat behind it.
"Do we have any idea what happened?" Phil began immediately. "I assume it didn't just spontaneously combust."
"Honestly Phil, we've got no goddamn clue." Fury seemed to be caught somewhere between immense frustration and resignation. "No one has taken responsibility for it yet, which is saying something as usually terrorist cells are tripping over each other to get the glory. As of yet not even one group has so much as stuck their heads out of the sand in Berlin, let alone claimed responsibly."
"Maybe it was an accident." Clint commented dryly. He blamed sleep deprivation for his lack of control over his mouth. Though if he was being honest, sleep or no sleep, control over his tongue had never really been something he mastered.
"Oh yes." Fury responded almost immediately in the same, dry, tone. "I'm sure someone accidently set off an explosive within one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Berlin." The phone on his desk began ringing, but he didn't even spare it a glance before he went on. "An explosive, mind you, that took out an entire street block." The phone continued to ring.
"Is that Lenz?"
Fury looked over to Phil – who was staring at the now silent phone – with so much pent up exasperation and annoyance in his one, good eye that Clint was sure it was about to burst from the socket. "It just had to be Germany." With no more explanation than that Fury turned his attention back to Clint. "Look, Barton you're still so high on my shit-list after North Korea that you should be suffering oxygen deficiency, but I need you on this one. The other teams are being sent in as clean up and containment. You two are going hunting. I need a detailed assessment of whoever or whatever was responsible for this." His expression darkened significantly. "And then I need them eliminated. By any means necessary."
The phone began ringing once more and, if possible, the frustration in Fury's voice reached an entirely new level. Faster than Clint had ever seen the man move Fury reached across the table, seized the phone and promptly smashed it back down onto the dock – effectively ending the call.
"Though if 'any means necessary' could avoid any further explosions in downtown Berlin, it would be highly appreciated."
"We'll get it done, sir." Phil assured him, grabbing a hold of Clint's bicep and leading him towards the door before he could say anything more.
"-and you can cut the sir crap, Phil." Fury muttered, still glaring at the phone from his chair.
"Right away sir." Phil smirked closing the door behind himself and Clint, though not before they heard the distinct crash of the phone being shattered and even more muttering.
"Who's Lenz?" Clint asked at once, turning to Phil who was leading to way down to the hanger.
"German Ambassador to S.H.E.I.L.D."
Clint raised an eyebrow. "Why do I get the feeling there is a story behind Fury's reaction to this."
"No story needed." Phil glanced at him as they both boarded the elevator at the end of the hall and pressed the bottom that would take them to the hanger on the ground level. "When you meet him, you'll understand."
"It's too late." Clint said, sorrow dripping from each word as he stared down at the chaos below him. "There is nothing I can do." He shook his head slowly in resignation, as if trying to process the monstrosity before him. "Not even acid could dissolve the stench now."
He had a fistful of his clothing held up in one hand for Phil to see from his own bunk. They were so badly scrunched and creased that Phil was having a hard time discerning what exactly they were, pants or shirts.
And dear god, the smell.
"Throw them away." Phil demanded, turning back to his own bag. His clothes weren't quite in the state the Clint's were, but it wouldn't be long. Damn. "We'll get some more when we go out, and I'll file for some more S.H.E.I.L.D issue stuff." They had really needed the break he had set up, but because the universe had it out for the kid – or so Clint claimed – and the national disasters seemed to occur just when he and his agent most needed some downtime.
"Great." He heard Clint mutter, heaving his entire rucksack into his arms before dumping its entire contents into the large, stone fireplace between both of their cribs. "Shopping."
The Berlin safe house was one of the best in Phil's opinion. With its high ceilings and engraved fire places the apartment was much better than the typical one room shacks that he and Clint had found themselves in over the last eight months.
They had arrived in Berlin barely an hour ago, clearing the base within twenty minutes before setting up here. Hopefully this wouldn't take too long and the two of them could be back on base before the end of the week. There can't be too many terrorist cells that would want to blow up a Swedish Consulate.
He finished pulling out the last of his gear and laying it on the cot before turning back to Clint, about to suggest heading off to the sight to see if they could find anything that might clarifying the situation, but the look on his agent's face stopped him. The kid was staring blindly at the clothes he discarded left in the lit fireplace with a vacant expression from where he sat at the end of his own cot. Anxiety immediately rose up in Phil's chest. Vacant was not a word Phil would have typically used to described Clint's most common expressions, guarded or sarcastic perhaps, but not definitely not vacant. The kid's thoughts were usually too active, so much so that he rarely took a moment to himself. To unwind.
Phil knew why though, even though the answer gnawed at him.
Clint didn't like to dwell on himself. Dwell on his memories.
"Clint?" Phil called from across the room only to receive no response. Dropping his things he moved, slowly. Phil had found that approaching Clint when he was zoned out was very similar to approaching a wild animal. Slowly was always best if you didn't want to startle him and lose a limb. "You alright."His eyes snapped up. It took them longer than Phil would have liked to focus, sweeping around the room warily, before he meet Phil's own. "Yeah. I'm good." Had his voice sounded that bad this morning? "Really." He insisted noticing Phil's raised brow and general worried stance and waving a calming hand. "I'm just tired. Haven't had a second to sit down in the last couple of days."
"If you're not up for this-"
"You're human Clint." Phil reminded him gently. It was true. The kid hadn't had an hour to relax in the last week and he was starting to look like he might crash any minute. "You need a break every so often, and you haven't been getting one."
"I'll take a break." He agreed easily, much to Phil's surprise and suspicion. "When we're through here." That sounded more like him, forever putting the mission before himself. As his handler Phil couldn't have asked for more, but as someone who genuinely carded about his well being it tended to frustrate him more. Clint smirked, sensing Phil's displeasure and attempting to lighten the mood. "Sure it's not you who needs the break, old man."
"You watch who you're calling old." Phil chided playfully as Clint rose swiftly and disappeared through the bedroom door, no doubt to collect his gear and head down to the car outside. "Damn kid."
"Shit. They weren't kidding when they said that it wasn't a small explosion, were they?" Clint had arrived at the scene of the explosion with Phil to find that the explosion had indeed taken out half a street block. Thankfully, as it was the local retail sector of town and the explosion had gone off a little after midnight, there had been no civilian casualties. The buildings surrounding the consulate however, had not been so lucky. 'Rubble' seemed too lenient a term.
Little fires were still burning every few feet, and the north side of the consulate itself had been almost obliterated. Clint was stumbling across what was left of it, keeping a wide birth between himself and the scores of agents that had flooded the scene, sorting through the ashes and bricks. The sun was still yet to rise but the light from small fires combined with the flashing lights of emergency vehicles kept the area well lit.
"Watch where you step." Phil called to him from where he stood with a group of other agents. "Place looks like it might collapse any minute."
"Uh, Phil." Clint called back, smirking as he glanced around the wreckage. "I'm fairly sure that warning's a few hours too late."
Clint could sense the eye-role the comment earned him without even turning around.
"You know what I mean. The rest of it."
"Aye, aye overwatch."
Clint went on, scanning the wreckage for anything that might enlighten him as to what went down, but so far there was nothing. They hadn't even found a single piece of the bomb either, which in itself was strange. Not a single thing out of the ordinary within the rubble.
Sighing he leaped across a particularly large pile of stone before jogging along the rim of another large creator behind it. He was just about to vault over another pile of stones when something silver caught his eye, buried just beneath his feet. Stepping back he lent down to get a better look at it.
It was a brief case.
Kneeling down he attempted to wrench it from the stone that encased it until it came tumbling free several frustrating minutes later, along with the rock formation that had settled on top of it. Stumbling a little he managed to avoid falling into the creator below with the freed rubble, but held onto the brief case firmly. Hoisting it up he set about trying to open it, with little luck, until movement in his from beside him caught his eye.
The first thing he noticed was her hair.
So fiery red that he almost mistook it for the flames just behind her.
She, too, was sorting through the rubble methodically – occasionally reaching down to examine something more closely before throwing it away. Dressed head to toe in black he doubted that he would have noticed her at all if it weren't for her hair.
"Clint!" Phil's voice called over the wreckage, flashlights streaming over the edge of the creator. "You down there?"
Her head snapped up to him, as if she knew exactly where he was, and his eyes met the most startling green pair he had ever seen.
And then she was gone.