Those moments were the worst, because they were the moments where people could potentially see the vulnerability that had stricken him since the final moments of the battle. As soon as he stared off into space, the air would grip at his lungs and the temperature would get hotter and he’d begin to sweat.
It was horrible, because he always stared off into space remembering just one part of it all.
It was always one part: the part where he and that little boy were saved.
He could hear the stretching of his own skin as he gripped his bow tighter. Clint arrived at the shooting range he had hid in the woods a long time ago. The targets were worn and full of holes, mainly huge ones bore into the middle of all the targets. The others were on the outskirts and other rings mainly because he was injured so many times he used this target range as a way of recuperating from his injuries. He figured his busy mind would help him add to the holes on the outskirts of the targets and that would’ve upset him if he weren’t already upset.
Because of this, he wasted no time at all and stood in position, raising his bow and positioning an arrow. Seconds later and arrows were flying and whizzing throughout the air, landing on the targets either on the dead center or very, very close to it. Sometimes, he’d envision the way his savior fell and the arrow would strike far away from the center. He’d growl but Clint kept going, extracting arrow after arrow, until he needed to get the extras from his duffle bag that he’d slung on his shoulder and brought along with him.
He could feel himself slipping into an automated state, but it wasn’t happening quick enough. He was still feeling the battle resonating throughout his bones.
Explosions, so many explosions, such deafening sounds.
Another arrow flew.
People, so many innocent people died.
Another arrow flew.
There were so many of him…Ultron was everywhere.
Another arrow flew.
What if I hadn’t saved that little boy…?
Another arrow flew, hitting the wooden trunk it was placed on while his hand trembled.
Is there really anything to question?
Another arrow positioned itself, so absentmindedly it hurt. Clint wasn’t practicing, he wasn’t alive, and he was just there. Letting arrows hit things, letting arrows into the air.
What if I had died instead?
The arrow flew and struck the target dead center and Clint’s knees buckled a little. He regained his strength, standing tall as he could, breathing and steadying his horribly shaky hands. Why was he questioning anything? They were both heroes and that little kid didn’t deserve death just because Ultron had a little bitch fit and couldn’t tell the difference between helping and killing. They were both heroes.
They were both heroes.
That’s exactly what Clint told himself as he drew arrow after arrow, splitting some of the arrows already stuck into the targets. Eventually everything became so mechanical and systematic that he genuinely wasn’t thinking, he wasn’t even breathing as far as he could tell, he was just shooting arrows. He was slinging them at top speeds and his zoned out yet zoned in expression was deadpan. It was the only way he could truly drown out the horrible sounds and the heart shattering flashbacks. He hadn’t called her in a while, to ask how she was holding up, and shooting arrows distracted him from that fact as well.
What kind of bullshit concept is that, anyway? Clint asked himself. He was down to his last arrows. He was getting angrier and angrier, his deadpan expression contorting into one of pure disgust and agony. Clint always played it cool, as though is emotions were practically nonexistent, as though he were okay with it. He always had the snarky remarks and had the nonchalant gait and posture. If only they knew, Clint thought, if only they freakin’ knew. Not even Natasha knew how much he beat himself up over the many deaths and the contradictory concept he was a part of. Heroes are supposed to save everyone, or at least try their hardest, not shove themselves into vulnerability, God, this is so bad, Clint thought, through his rushed thoughts, not even realizing how he’d reached his last arrow.
Within the breeze was a small whisper, a whisper of calmness that only annoyed Clint even more. He stood there, in worn clothing and worn boots, his hair so disheveled and visibly greasy, his hands still bandaged from how many walls he’d punched and how much his anger had affected them. He wished it was all just a dream and that Tony hadn’t tried to play God or whatever the hell the saying was. It was just the fact that he felt he should’ve died instead, it was the fact that he had to live with the horrid memories and the fact that he felt selfish for it, considering she probably had it much worse than him. She was a part of him, she literally felt a part of her ripped away, torn, and the wound was probably still bleeding.
Clint growled and raised the arrow and stared in frenzy at the target in the dead center of the target range.
God knows he was bleeding, Clint thought.
His hand was shaking so badly.
That’s it, Clint thought, that’s it, I should’ve been the one, not him, I don’t care what anyone says, I don’t care what my conscious says, it should’ve been—
It should’ve been me! Clint yelled to himself, letting the arrow fly.
He blinked his eyes and suddenly the arrow was gone. Seconds later was an odd noise, a noise that sounded like the flitting of a bug. He looked for the arrow, for the last arrow to have made an impact, but it was nowhere to be found. He tried the ground, the top of the trunk, everywhere. His body was turning and whirling quickly, and when he whirled back around to the target in front of him, he immediately knew he needed more sleep.
Now I’m hallucinating? Clint thought.
There was no way. There was no way he was actually seeing Pietro Maximoff standing beside of his target. There was no way he was seeing the raised eyebrow, weirdly colored hair, cool leaning stance, and black jacket with a white arrow pattern on the sleeves. No, there was no way. Pietro is dead; he had died to save him and that little boy! Clint yelled to himself, unable to find words. Suddenly, the bow was covered in oils and his fingers lost their grip, loosening and letting it hit the ground.
Pietro’s smirk widened, but not in a cocky way; it widened almost into a smile. Clint noticed his last arrow being twirled around between Pietro’s fore, middle, and ring fingers and stared between his face and it. Clint didn’t know what to do, so he just stood, unsure if he was dissociating that badly or not, unsure of whether or not he was truly hallucinating. He’d seen Pietro fall, he’d seen the bullet holes; he’d seen him die right before his eyes. He saw his breathing stop.
“Barton, you didn’t see that coming?” Pietro’s voice confirmed one thing: Clint wasn’t hallucinating.
Now, Clint wasn’t into all of the gushy, sentimental type of gestures, but he didn’t know a better response than dashing forward straight toward Pietro and dragging him into a huge, tight hug. Pietro was still healing, so he couldn’t use his super speed to dodge the kind gesture, and honestly…he wasn’t sure he if wanted to. When Clint’s arms were thrown so hard around Pietro’s body, Pietro huffed and winced, but chuckled a little. Clint buried his face into Pietro’s chest, holding onto him as tightly as he could.
Pietro raised his arms around Clint as well, knowing that it wasn’t just a hug; it wasn’t just some stupid kind gesture that he’d usually write off as pointless. Clint had a damn good reason for the hug that they all knew about, and one reason of his own. Those reasons helped a few tears fall.
“No, I didn’t, ya jerk,” Clint said, chuckling a little.
Pietro is so warm, Clint thought. The last time he had touched him he was cold and lifeless. The rise and fall of his chest comforted Clint, and maybe now his nightmares would stop, maybe now the memories would fade away, the horrible daydreaming would cease. Leave it to Pietro Maximoff, Clint thought,to come up out of nowhere and make me have hope again, what a jerk.
He had many questions but those questions could wait. Those questions could hold on for a little while, because Pietro and Clint needed this hug. They needed this validation that the other knew how grateful they were for each other. They needed it.
That same breeze whispered calmness and this time, with good reason, Clint listened. Clint had his hero back and this time, he wouldn’t let his hero sacrifice himself ever again. Pietro was there to stay, and Clint would make sure of that.