Title: Weak Points
Fandom: The Avengers (movieverse)
Characters: Clint, Natasha, Tony, Thor, Bruce, Steve
Category: Serious effing Hurt/Comfort (mostly Hurt), Drama/Angst.
WARNING for intense torture/violence (non-sexual)
A/N: Anonymous requested Clint getting the s**t kicked out of his un-powered, mortal ass while the other Avengers are forced to watch. I asked myself, "What's the worst physical thing I can think of to do to Clint? Oh, yeah." Levels of abuse you can only do to a character you love; meant to be disturbing.
(Read on avengerkink Round 4)
(Read Weak Points on AO3)
When the goons open Clint's cage and drag him away, Natasha's first thought is, what do you know, this whole abduction is personal after all. Who was it they pissed off that Clint pissed off in particular?
When the video feed that's positioned where all of them can see it from their cages suddenly goes from blue standby to a picture, and she watches as the goons drag Clint into a steel room that looks like an abattoir, Natasha starts to change her mind about it being Clint who did the pissing off. Whoever's first on their shit list, Clint's just the instrument.
Which makes her think that it's got to be her. Her gut curdles. Not because someone has it in for her, but because they're going to make her pay for it through Clint.
The goons have been zapping Clint with those shocksticks of theirs from the moment they open his cage, even before they get him out of the cuffs--what are these things made of, anyway, diamond?--so he's dead weight in their hands by the time they're dragging him into view on the feed. Natasha braces her feet against the wall behind her and gives her wristcuffs another furious wrench, with no better result than the first hundred times, as the goons towing Clint head straight for the table that's right in front of the camera. The table with all the straps and the drain at its center.
"Hey. Hey," Tony slurs. "How come he gets to go first?" Natasha tears her eyes away from the feed long enough to look in the direction of Tony's cage. Tony's left eye is swollen shut--the whole left side of his face is a mess. "You didn't even let us draw straws, you cheating fuckers," Tony croaks. "Get back here. Let's do this thing right."
No one tells him to shut up; if Tony wants to run his mouth let him. This is not a good situation. There are no rules.
Between the wristcuffs and the collars pinning them flat against the back walls of their cages not one of them has been able to do anything other than wiggle uselessly (all of them) and curse (Tony and Thor). What the hell kind of neural dampener do they have running through these collars? Thor and Steve can't even do so much as crack the join of the cuffs, and these guys have let Bruce stay conscious, and there's no extra tech on his cage at all that Natasha can see. Whoever's caught them, they're very, very stupid or very, very prepared. From what Natasha's seen it's doing a damn good job of pretending to be the latter.
But guys like these always make a mistake somewhere. They've just got to find it.
"Cowards," spits Thor. His cage is on her left. Natasha's been wondering if the dampener, or whatever it is, might be designed to keep Thor and Bruce groggy, but Thor's articulating as lucidly as he always does. He's doing it in that soft low snarl that he saves for when he's deeply, terrifyingly angry, the one that almost makes him sound like his brother, and even Natasha feels the chill: "You will be shown no mercy, none of you, if you persist in this. I will raze this structure to the rock, mortar it with your bones and blood. This I swear." He mounts another attack at the restraints that hold him and Natasha imagines the entire half-circle block of cages shakes with his roar of effort--it echoes from the audio on the feed, too; everything they're saying is being miked into the room Clint's in--and nothing else happens at all.
It has to be her that got them good and pissed, Natasha thinks. Natasha knows the ugly realities of stereotype in this job; if these guys only want information, want to break the Avengers into talking, the logical choice for torture should be her, because they've got three non-supers to choose from and why wouldn't they take the female, if they wanted to make five morally macho heroes spill? Every villain from the pettiest streetrat mobster to the most posturing world-conquerer--whether with a penis or without--assumes she's the weakest link in the team. It's her favorite mistake for them to make.
If these guys do know the team well enough then they already know she wouldn't be the one to break that easily under pain, but if that's their logic then the one being dragged into that room right now should be Tony. Which wouldn't make Natasha happy, exactly, but--
Oh. Oh, of course. It doesn't have to be personal at all; why did she think that? But she knows why she thought that, because these guys have her dead to rights. It's not her and it's not Tony in that room right now, it's Clint because these guys do know the team, and they do think Natasha's the weak link. As in, not the one that's going to break under pain or make the others break, but the one that's going to talk. That's why it's Clint on that table, shit shit shit shit. That's why she's got the center cage, the one with the best view of the feed.
She's not going to leave a single one of them alive once she's out of here. If Bruce and Thor leave her any.
Over the audio all of them can hear Clint's groan as he's dumped onto the table on his back. The shocks--which she doesn't think can be purely electrical, having been hit with them once before they got her in here--haven't done anything so merciful as knock him out; even on the feed she can see the blue of Clint's open eyes, darting, sucking in as much detail as he can of the room's layout even as the rest of his body lies limp as a rag on the metal surface.
The drain in the table is right under the center of Clint's back. Natasha wishes she could stop thinking about that.
By the time they get him strapped down he's got some movement back, lifting his head, twisting his shoulders, but by then of course it's too late. Natasha's been taking inventory of what she can see: the table's a heavy mother, no obvious loose parts like screws or bolts and it's welded to the floor. The straps are made of something that looks a lot like SHIELD's quantum kevlar, that same glossy mesh, and the straps lock rather than buckle, though nothing on the table looks like it was made to contain a super, the way their cage restraints are. There are a lot of the straps, though, and when each lock clicks into place around Clint's legs and chest and right arm the straps auto-cinch tight enough to make the flesh around them bulge. If she were the one in that room her best chance would have been before they got her on that table. She's pretty sure Clint's thinking the same thing.
And when they clamp the single armboard to the table, the left side of the table, Natasha knows her theory's right. They're betting on her, and it was always going to be Clint.
They use six separate straps to fix Clint's left arm to that board, and all the strength in Clint's shoulder can't get him free. One of the goons winds a wire-thin strip of that kevlar around the middle joint of Clint's middle finger too many times to count, until the strip's a leash that the goon uses to stretch Clint's hand palm up on the board. Clint's hand scrabbles at the air like a crab on its back; the goon pulls still harder on the leash and there's a small pop. She hears Clint's breath huff out of him, but he bites back any other sound of pain.
Natasha prepares herself by taking slow breaths through her nose as another goon steps up to the little altar of Clint's imprisoned hand. The pliers he's carrying have red plastic safety handles and look absurdly tiny on the feed.
"Oh, come on," Tony says, and Natasha can hear by the way his voice has crawled up a register just how scared he is. "How many billions worth of tech you got in this joint and you're going to use that? This is sad. Really sad." His voice cracks on the second sad. "I mean, come on!"
"Tony," breathes Steve from the far end. Because he doesn't want to say, "Clint," thinks Natasha.
Natasha doesn't say anything. She doesn't look away.
They don't gag him. Somehow she expected a gag; maybe she just hoped for it. The pain of the dislocated finger joint already has Clint's face bathed in sweat, but right now there isn't any other noise coming from him except for the rasp of his breathing. He's trying to clench the free fingers of his left hand into a fist, which of course isn't going to work. The goon just sets the open jaws of the pliers on the purpling, last joint of Clint's middle finger and begins to grip--she watches as Clint's frozen gaze snaps away and he fixes his eyes on the ceiling above him, jaw set, breath panting through his nostrils--and the goon keeps applying pressure slowly to Clint's finger joint with the pliers until Clint's lips finally peel back from his gritted teeth and he makes a noise of "Ahhhhh-", and then Natasha sees the goon's whole upper body move as he stops playing around and grinds the plier handles together. She wishes the crunch of Clint's finger joint pulping could be drowned out by Clint's scream, or that the scream was covered by the crunch, but the truth is she hears every note of them both, the one a snap like a fresh head of lettuce and the other a short thin Clint-voiced wail she's heard only once before and hoped she never would have to again.
She hears it again, when the goon crushes the second joint of Clint's middle finger. She hears all sorts of new versions of Clint's scream over the next eternity of minutes, the kind that scale up and up before breaking and the kind that end in a gutteral choke and the kind that's just the howl of fuuuuck rising and rising that never actually closes to the ck sound, as the goon with the leash on Clint's hand helps the one with the pliers to uncurl and hold each one of Clint's fingers and reduce every one of the joints to mangled jelly with the pliers. They do the thumb joint last.
And in between each one, she hears the sobbing panting sucks of air, the wet swallows as Clint tries to get control, his moans of "fuck fuck fuck, oh, fuck" just before the pliers close on the next joint.
Tony's never stopped cursing through all this--his "fuck, oh, fuck"s are an accompanying chorus to Clint's--and Thor is yelling like the sound of his voice could bring the place down. Beyond that she has no idea if Steve or Bruce are saying anything; it's too much sound for her to sort out, and Clint's pitch drowns out even Thor's bellowing in her ears.
When the goons finish all the joints, they go back and crush every individual finger bone in Clint's hand as well. Fourteen sharp clicks of the pliers.
When they've shattered all of those, they pick up a larger pair of pliers and move on to his knuckle joints. Then the bones of his hand.
It's easier to watch by that point, if she keeps her eyes on his hand and not his face. His hand's just a mass of meaty red at the end of his arm now; she can look and pretend it isn't really his hand any more, just some prop, like a raw steak or a miscarriage. Listening, though--that never gets easier. Clint still hasn't passed out from the pain and his voice hasn't yet gone--the screams are ragged and he's pretty much given up on words altogether, and when Natasha does risk a look at his wet face she can't tell what's sweat and what's drool and what's tears.
"--fuck do you want, fuckers? What the fuck do you want?" Natasha hears Tony yelling; of course Tony would be the one saying it first, but that still doesn't mean he's actually going to give up anything. She thinks maybe Steve is saying something along those lines too, with sons of bitches substituting for the fuckers.
Natasha doesn't open her mouth to say anything because she doesn't dare.
They've had this conversation. The one where she said to him, promise me you'll never let anyone use me against you, that you'll never give in to anyone just because I'm threatened and he'd said, yeah, no, see, I don't think that's going to work the way you want it to, Tasha. But he made them have the rest of the conversation, where he said, you know that when you do give in in that situation, the hostage ends up dead ten times out of ten anyway. So just think about that, okay? Remember that giving in isn't going to save anybody.
Are you going to remember that? she'd said.
I don't listen to advice. Especially my own.
When the goon puts down the pliers at last Natasha thinks maybe they'll do this in stages, put Clint back in the cage before they go for round two. No such luck. They don't even let Clint off the table before they pull out the shocksticks again, and when they shove them into Clint's chest Natasha bites back her own scream; electric or not, metal table or what, she thinks that's still going to kill him right then. But when Clint stops seizing and they unstrap him he still isn't even unconscious, moaning each breath as they wrestle his limp form upright and off the table, the pulp of his dangling, used-to-be-a-hand dripping blood on the floor, plip plip plip.
A shockstick goes into his chest again, and then the goon pulls it away and belts Clint in the gut with a gloved fist. Clint can't even convulse, he just stops breathing, and one of the goons gets him by the hair and jerks his head up so that when the right hook smashes his cheekbone his head can't even roll with the punch.
After that there are no screams. Clint's finally out as the goons pummel his face to bloody ribbons, holding him upright, red spraying in every direction. They shove the shockstick into his chest every so often, to make sure he doesn't decide to wake up and give them any surprises, because this is Hawkeye, after all. Natasha thinks if she looks away she'll never be able to look back, because then the next time she does look back she won't be able to recognize Clint's face any longer, and she can't let that happen.
When the goons stop smashing Clint's face and are aiming rhythmic, meaty punches into his ribs and his gut again, she does look away--at Thor, at Bruce, her best hopes. Bruce's eyes are shut but he's panting, fists clenched in his cuffs so tightly she can see how hard he's trying to will the Hulk into existence. All these years of trying to keep the Other Guy away, and the remarkable control he's had these past months...this is something he's never experienced, wanting the Hulk and unable to bring him out.
Something is giving, not on Thor's wristcuffs or collar but on the floor of his cage itself, the metal buckling as the wall separates right away from the floor with a shower of sparks--a klaxon sounds in the room--and Thor's still not free, but the cage itself is broken and he can twist the back wall of it to one side, which pulls the side wall of the cage with it, metal bars like spears going right into--
--when the klaxon sounds, the goons drop Clint, who goes down in a puddle--
--the cage holding Bruce--
The roar of the Hulk in an enclosed space is always going to shake Natasha's bones; the wind of it blows through her hair and takes her breath. The Hulk charges straight through the video screen and tears through the wall beyond it as steel screeches around him. The floor of the whole room sags a couple of inches, and the Hulk keeps pushing ahead until he disappears right through the foundation and into the rest of the complex beyond. Say what you want, the Hulk's direct. Natasha needs direct more than anything in the world right now.
And Thor's free and ripping the bars of her cage open like noodles and then pulling the wristcuffs and collar right off the wall, catching her as she stumbles forward. "Natasha--"
She pushes him with both hands. "Go!"
Natasha knows he understands. He knows how badly she wants to be the one to follow in Hulk's wake, to get to Clint, but Thor's got the best chance of taming the Hulk when he's like this, and if Clint's still alive she'd like him to stay that way. She doesn't even wait for Thor to nod at her and go before she's got a broken bar of the cage in her hands and is heading for Steve's cage to get him out.
Stick pointy metal into metal enough times and you get results; Natasha has Steve free in under a minute, then she leaves it to him to get Tony out ("Oh, right, leave me for last," Tony babbles, because he's Tony) and she races through the wreckage of the wall, carrying the metal bar in both hands. The time between when they dragged Clint out and when he showed up on the feed wasn't more than a minute, so the room's got to be near--
Thor's standing in the rubble. He's got Mjolnir, and he's carrying Clint.
Natasha's hands uncurl and she drops the metal bar to the floor, rushing forward. Hulk's roaring is not far away and the whole place is quaking under her feet, but that's not why her empty hands shake as she reaches out. She'd seen it on the feed and, yeah, it was bad, but with her history it still wasn't the worst thing she'd ever seen, not by a long shot, even if it had felt like that at the time. But seeing Clint in front of her, the battered bloody wreck that used to be his body, the gory ruin of his face and hand...okay, it is the worst thing. And she doesn't even know yet if he's alive.
"He breathes, Natasha Romanov." Thor's speaking quickly but he's standing very still so that she can touch Clint's face, get her arms carefully around Clint's shoulders. Yes, that's a little bubble of breath in the blood pooled around his lips. Thor looks up at the ceiling and says, "I shall take him the most direct route out of this evil place. And then I shall open the Bifrost for him."
Natasha looks up at Thor. He's blurry and she blinks to clear her sight. "Asgard?"
Thor dips his head once in a nod. "If he can be made whole anywhere, it is there. I shall go swift as the lightning. I promise you he will live."
She wants to demand if Asgard actually has surgeons and blood transfusions and not just some herbal holistic healer crap; she wants to demand how he can guarantee they'll even let Clint into Asgard, or how he can be sure the travel itself won't kill him. She wants to demand Thor to take her along with them.
But she doesn't want to slow Thor down by even a heartbeat. She goes onto the tips of her toes and kisses Thor on the cheek (because she can't let herself kiss Clint; not like this, not like goodbye) and steps back.
Another nod from Thor, and then he's whirring Mjolnir in his hand, Clint tucked into the crook of his massive left arm, and even though she doesn't take her eyes off them she staggers back far enough so that when he lets Mjolnir fly the explosion of them exiting through the ceiling doesn't immediately get her brained by falling concrete.
She stares at the long, long tunnel of the hole above, and the black glimpse of night sky showing through it high, high above the complex; a yellow glint streaks away like a meteor.
They're a team, and Natasha trusts them with her life, but this moment, when she trusts them with Clint's...that's when she knows they're not just her team, they're hers.
And then she turns away and picks up her weapon and starts hunting the goons, not even waiting for Steve and Tony to catch up.
Not a single one.
And for those of you who need it, the Epilogue of comfort:
"I can shoot with either hand, you of all people know that," Clint says. His mouth wrinkles up in that familiar, cynical smile of his and he flexes his left bicep--the one she's holding onto. "Think it would have taken anything other than a modified bow grip to get me back in action? Give me a break."
"That did cross my mind," Natasha says. She doesn't want to let go of him just yet.
"C'mon, let us see it!" Tony claps and wolf-whistles. "Get that glove off and show us Asgard's latest malpractice suit."
"It is Asgard's finest work, Tony Stark. Have no fear," Thor says.
"We do get to see, don't we?" Bruce says, unable to conceal the puppy-eagerness.
Clint doesn't make a show out of it, simply peels the glove off his left hand. The gold glows under the light, shiny as a necklace, and Natasha touches it without waiting for invitation, as Clint waggles the fingers, turning his wrist around once to show them; it's warm, and the gold yields silkily, exactly like flesh. It's smoother than a human hand should be, like a sculpture without lines or veins, but it matches the shape and size of Clint's lost hand exactly. It's kind of garish and doesn't suit Clint's style at all. It's kind of the most wonderful thing she's ever seen.
"I love it," says Tony. "You're one eyepatch away from being a James Bond villain. Let me find out if Shirley Bassey's still alive, we'll get her to do your theme song."
Clint gives Tony the finger. With that hand. Steve laughs so hard Natasha thinks he's going to choke.
"It has no fingerprints," Clint says as Bruce crowds in to look closer. "Good thing Fury finally made them dump that old security tech."
"Did they still have that?" Bruce asks, aghast.
Clint shrugs. "They still did on the helicarrier bathroom doors. Would have been awkward."
"Could have opened up a window," Tony says. "With your aim you could look for some hot air balloonists to piss on. I hate those guys; don't you hate those guys? Always messing up air traffic. Okay, Sherwood, enough about the hand--" Tony spreads his hands in what is certainly about to be an obscene gesture of his own-- "I want to hear about the women. Was it like climbing Mount Amazon?"
Clint runs the hand through his hair in a completely unconscious, routine manner; Natasha feels her chest thump in that rare feeling she calls happiness. "Oh, sure," Clint says. "Thor's mom, I mean, wow. I've ruined her for Asgardians."
"What is this about my mother?"
"It was a deep, respectful compliment," Natasha soothes the thunder god. She hates to lie to the one responsible for bringing Clint back to them, but some things are just necessary.