In Tony’s defense, all he had wanted was another beer. Then again, he hadn't needed to take the burly guy’s pint out of his hands. He could have just waited for the bartender. Also, in hindsight, Tony had been drunk enough and maybe hadn’t really needed another beer.
It wasn’t the first time that he had found himself in a back alley brawl but it was the first time that a stranger had come to his aid.
Of course, Burly had two friends with him. Large friends with both a crooked nose and facial scars, respectively, that had Tony wondering if he was trapped in a horror film. Burly, Nose, and Scar quickly dragged him off of his stool and out the door.
The three men were towering over Tony and had previously shown no signs of stopping the barrage of punches, now kicks, since he was on the ground. Luckily, the blond shortie who appeared out of nowhere didn’t give them an option. He rammed right into Burly, pushing him into Scar.
“Every. Damn. City.” He punctuated his words with punches. “Going after townies like it’s your fucking job. We’re stuck in this city…tired of your….assholes….your own size…” Tony started zoning in and out while watching the fight. Well, blacking out and then waking up but he tried to pay attention from his spot on the sidewalk. Blondie could definitely hold his own in a fight but three guys twice his size? Tony wasn’t feeling too good about those odds.
Well, he wasn’t feeling too good in general.
He must have blacked out for more than a few minutes though because the next time he opened his eyes, Blondie was on the ground next to him, flat on his back with Burly’s boot resting on his chest.
“You li-little shit.” One of the men, Tony wasn’t sure which, spat out a tooth on the sidewalk. Even drunk and injured, the man still staggered towards them both and Tony braced himself for an impact but the look in Blondie’s eyes caught Tony’s attention and the billionaire groaned. Blondie looked a bit resigned, as though he just realized that he had taken on three monstrous men in order to help a stranger. Tony debated on taking offense to that but instead, he rolled himself over and blinked the blood out of his stinging eyes. Even with marginally cleared vision, he couldn’t see his cell phone anywhere.
“You don’t want to go another round, moneymaker?”
Moneymaker? From his spot on the ground, Tony idly wondered if the man saving him was a prostitute. Finally, finally, he felt his phone underneath his armpit.
Tony gave himself a mental reminder never to question Pepper again as he pressed the button on his phone that would bring the police right to his GPS location.
“Is he dead yet?”
“You want him dead?”
“Boss might kill us.”
“I ain’t telling.”
“What the hell is that?” It took Tony a few seconds before he realized Nose was pointing at his cell phone. The screen said 911 Emergency Response and had a blinking radar for their location.
It was a surprisingly quick retreat after that but not before crushing Tony’s phone under the heel of a massive boot and using the same boot to kick Blondie in the chest one last time.
Tony glanced at the remains of his phone. That was the third in the past month. At least this time it hadn't been thanks to a lab accident. Pepper couldn’t blame him for this one.
“You’re good, right?” The man who saved Tony’s life could barely talk but even now, he was asking if Tony was okay. Ridiculous.
“What? Yeah, I’ll…I’ll be fine.” Tony hoisted himself off the ground but only made it a few inches before collapsing again. “What’s your name, kid?” Tony asked through a mouthful of gravel and blood.
“Kid?” Said 'kid' shifted himself to his side and started vomiting. Tony was pretty sure he was taking offense to being called ‘kid’ rather than being confused about the question. It was an impressive response for someone who looked to be bleeding out. And maybe “kid” was a little too off the mark. Blondie looked around his early twenties from what Tony could tell.
“Yea, kid. What’s your name?” Tony tried not to look at the vomit. He needed the kid’s name. He knew he would be asked it and Tony couldn’t take care of him unless he had something to go on.
“Cli-Clint.” More spew hit the concrete and Tony was about to be sick himself. Those guys had done a number on both of them but Clint had clearly gotten the worst of it.
“They called you a moneymaker. Are you uh….” Even when he was out on the ground, Tony couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
“What?” Clint coughed, eyes shut, and Tony tried not to look away even though blood was dribbling out of the blond’s mouth.
“Sorry. Never mind. You need to stay awake until the ambulance gets here, okay?”
“No ambulances.” Clint tried to roll away but he could barely move to begin with so the attempt was unsuccessful.
“No, sorry, you don’t get to decide that.” Tony managed a single laugh before he too started coughing.
“Insurance…money. Probably fired.” Clint groaned and managed to lift an intact arm to gesture to where the three men had ran off.
“Great coworkers you’ve got there.” Tony could do sarcasm under any circumstance.
“No money.” Clint croaked out again.
“Yea, well, lucky for you, I’m here.” Tony grimaced. His mouth was filled with blood and he could feel it running down the back of his throat. He wished it would start raining to wash it out.
“Do you know who I am?” Tony never felt so relieved to hear police sirens.
“Should…should I?” Clint’s breathing was sounding worse and worse.
Huh. Tony wasn’t used to that. Kid really wasn’t from around here. “Maybe not. What do you do?”
“An archer? Like with a bow and arrow?”
“Circus.” Clint sighed. Tony vaguely remembered Pepper mentioning something about a circus or carnival being in town. That explained a lot of the dialogue thrown around between the men and Clint.
The next time Tony woke up, the ambulances had arrived and the alley was cornered off. There were two police officers and too many EMTs trying to fight for his attention and his version of the accounts. No Pepper in sight. He saw Clint being lifted onto a stretcher and found the strength to raise himself off the ground and right into the arms of an EMT.
“I can walk. I can walk.” He tried swatting the woman away but his coordination was understandably off.
“I can walk!” Tony insisted, with more force. “I need to go with him.”
“You really cannot walk, sir. We’re doing our best to take care of the other man.” The EMT was practically holding up Tony.
“We need to be in the same ambulance. He’s, uh, my brother.”
“Mr. Stark, you…you don’t have a brother,” The EMT said with a voice of uncertainty. “You’re intoxicated.”
“Yes but I also own the nearest hospital. If I say he’s my brother, then he’s my brother. Maybe he’s my son.” Tony could tell that he was slurring his words but he was persistent.
“Already had a brother. It didn’t really work out.” Clint said, in a daze. He was wincing at the bright lights but for a half second, Tony was impressed that he had formed even half-assed sentences.
Then, he looked over and sobered up at finally being able to see the extent of Clint’s injuries under florescent lights. “Well, that wasn’t me, Clint.”
That was the last thing Tony said before passing out and sinking down the floor.
Waking up not knowing where he was and feeling an incredible amount of pain was never a good thing for Tony. He managed to get a nurse to cry within five minutes of opening his eyes. All it took was a few big words and threats from a billionaire to have the male orderly calling in a substitute.
He wasn’t even trying to escape from the hospital. Tony was much more interested in the condition of the Clint, who remained motionless and with his eyes closed on the next bed over. His breathing was labored and his face was covered in bruises. Tony was sure that what he couldn’t see under the thin hospital sheets would be even worse.
However, since he wasn’t listed on any of Clint’s nonexistent paperwork, the nurse insisted that Tony couldn’t know anything about his condition. Hence the argument.
“I left to get breakfast. You managed to cause this much havoc within a five minute time span.” It wasn’t a question, rather an accusation, but Pepper was still smiling and apparently pleased to see him alive so Tony would take what he could get. “I’ve gotten calls from hospital board members and doctors.”
“You always look so happy to see me.” Tony had a perfect leer, even from the hospital bed with a bruised jaw. Pepper’s glare didn’t lessen and Tony tried a different approach. “Clint caused all the mayhem. Not me.”
“Your friend Clint seems to be lacking the skills to do anything at the moment.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Clint let a soft moan pass through his cracked lips and Tony immediately tried and failed to sit up. Pepper used one hand and pushed him back down anyway. She looked over at the other bed. Clint’s head moved slightly but other than that, he was still.
“Clint?” Tony called. Clint’s head moved again, this time towards Tony’s bed.
“Huh?” Clint’s voice cracked even on the small word.
“Tony, he’s on a lot of pain medication. He probably doesn’t know who you are right now or what happened last night.”
“He didn’t even know who I was last night. It was awesome. Clint, this is Pepper.”
Clint’s eyes were swollen shut but he still gave a groggy wave at the direction of Pepper’s voice. “Pleasure, ma’am.” He said hoarsely.
Pepper mouthed ‘Ma’am?’ at Tony who just gave a lopsided smile of pride at Clint who had already fallen back asleep.
The remainder of the day was spent with Tony talking to Clint whenever he woke up. Clint was in and out of a drug-induced sleep and Tony tried to find out every possible bit of information from the archer who had saved him.
“So if you weren’t in the circus, what were you planning on doing?”
“Opening an orphanage.” Clint mumbled and slowly turned over on the bed to try and face Tony. “Grew up in one. Might be nice.”
“I’m not sure if they just let people open orphanages.” Tony wasn’t an expert on obeying laws and he certainly didn’t know specifics.
“Mmmm.” Clint tried to shrug but winced instead, “S’long as I can help kids, I’ll do whatever.”
“Where’s my bow?” Clint’s slurred question came out of the blue and the man immediately fell back to sleep after asking it.
“What is he talking about?” Pepper looked up from her blackberry and over at Clint.
“He’s an archer. All his stuff is probably still at the circus. Can we send someone to get it?”
“I don’t think they will just give us his stuff.”
“He’s not going back there. Just take it.”
“You have a college degree?”
“Up until two hours ago, I shot arrows at a target for a living.” Clint’s voice cracked and he let loose a harsh cough. He hadn’t managed to eat any of the food brought to their hospital room. “No, I don’t have a college degree.”
“Well, then. That’ll be the first step.”
“You know of a cheap motel around here?”
“Here is New York. There are plenty of sleazy places. Also, I’m not telling you any of them because you’re staying with me!”
“I appreciate the offer, Tony, but it’s okay.”
“No it’s not. It’s not okay! You saved my life, got fired, and was left for dead. And do you know who I am?”
“Tony from the bar?”
“I’m Tony Stark.”
“Well, that’s a name.”
“Oh god, you have no idea who I am? Really? Seriously? This is going to be awesome.”
“Pepper wanted to know more about who saved me. Apparently, it’s all over the news. Tony Stark landed himself in the hospital yadda yadda.”
“Don’t do that.” Clint said instantly. Pepper shot Tony a glare because Clint had just been about to eat his first bite of food all day. He moved the piece of toast back down to the tray in front of him.
“Don’t tell anyone about it. About me.”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m out of the circus. Those guys still know who I am. They think I’m dead. It’s…it’s better that way.” Clint let his sentence trail off. He wasn’t sure how to continue the sentence without insulting Tony. He was grateful for the hospitality but didn’t want to cause anymore trouble.
“You think they’ll come after you again?”
“I’ve got a security team, you know.”
Clint didn’t hesitate before snapping a comeback. “Where were they last night?”
“Touché.” Tony searched Clint’s expression and for the first time, Clint seemed scared. He hadn't been scared the night where he had immediately charged his coworkers to defend a stranger. To Tony’s disappointment, Clint didn’t pick up the toast again. Instead he pushed the tray away and closed his eyes for another nap.
“When can I take him home?”
“I have a hospital bed.”
“You have a couch.”
“That means yes.” Tony told Clint, ignoring Pepper’s shaking head.
“Do not corrupt him.”
“He used to work in a circus.”
“He called me ma’am.”
“He does that. He’s polite. Clint’s polite. Polite boy from Iowa.”
“More polite than you.”
“Well, that goes without saying. Can we keep him?”
“Um. Hi. I’m right here.” Clint waved his bandaged hand at them; the cast went up past his elbow.
“And you’re doing a very good job of being right there in that hospital bed. Pepper couldn’t find your high school grades. You’re going to need to get a GED before you apply for the scholarship.”
“I didn’t go to high school. And scholarship for what?”
“The Stark Education Scholarship for Education Majors.”
“Education majors? Scholarship?” Tony grinned at Clint’s confusion.
“Early childhood, right? Orphanage? Kids? Helping children? Remember that? You might need a business degree too. I’ll have someone look into it.” He looked pointedly at Pepper who just shook her head.
“Tony, have you filled Clint in on his future? Or did you just plan it all?”
“It’s all up here.” Tony tapped an un-bandaged part of his head. “You told me that you wanted to help kids, right?” He glanced over at Clint for clarifiction.
“I told you that?” Clint’s eyes were wide, which had to be hurting him because they were pretty bruised.
“While you were on some of that lovely morphine you did. And I’m going to help you do that.”
“Of course I am.”
“Of course he is.”
“Are you…are you fucking with me right now?” Clint couldn’t stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth.
Pepper rolled her eyes fondly and lightly patted Clint’s bruised hand. “You and Tony are going to get along just fine.”
“You live here?” Clint asked in disbelief from his spot lying down in the back of one of Tony’s limos. The escape from the hospital had gone better than expected but Tony did acquiesce to a nurse coming in twice daily to check on Clint’s injuries. Clint didn’t like the hospital anymore than Tony did so it had been an easy promise to make even if Clint did have to lie down across the backseat of the car for the drive back.
“I’m home, JARVIS! This is Clint Barton. He’ll be staying with us until further notice.”
“Yes, sir. Ms. Potts has already informed me of our new houseguest.”
“What the…” Clint looked around the house, trying to locate the voice. Tony was mostly holding him up and poked an unbruised part of his shoulder in order to get him moving again.
“That’s JARVIS. He runs the household.”
“And JARVIS is..?” Clint still hadn’t stopped searching for JARVIS and he nearly tripped over his own feet as Tony guided him inside the house.
“He’s an AI. I made him.” Tony bragged. “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.”
“You…made…him…okay. You make magical voices and you live in a mansion. And you’re Tony Stark.”
“There will be a quiz once you wake up.” Tony joked and helped Clint to settle down on the couch.
Clint didn’t have much time to sleep though because only a few minutes after he closed his eyes, somebody burst through the front door of the mansion. Clint woke up to Tony and another man arguing in front of him.
“Tony, first you look like you’ve been in a damn car accident and now you’ve got a mental patient on your couch. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for days and now Pepper tells me that you’ve been in the hospital?”
“He’s not a mental patient. I just stole him from the hospital. He lives here now.” Tony glanced over and saw Clint watching them with a tired and confused gaze. “And now he is awake and he can hear you. Clint, this is James Rhodes. Rhodey. Rhodey, this is Clint. He’ll be staying with me.”
This James Rhodes guy looked pretty angry to see Clint on Tony’s couch. Clint didn’t say anything. Just kept observing the exchange with careful eyes and gave a wave when his name was spoken. He had been giving that wave a lot over the past thirty-six hours.
“I got into a little…situation two nights ago and Clint, well, he fights back much better than I do. Turns out the guys kicking the shit out of me were part of his circus act and they don’t take kindly to betrayal.”
“Circus act? He’s a carnie?”
“Rhodey, I swear if you are not nice and courteous to him, I will revoke your lab access.”
“Only Pepper has the power to do that.”
“And Pepper already loves Clint so it’s two against one right now.”
“Pepper approves of him?”
“He did save me. And nearly killed himself in the process. I think that warrants some approval.” Tony narrowed his eyes.
“Wait, did you say circus act?” Rhodey looked between Clint and Tony. ”The news reported that a performer from the carnival went missing.”
“Carsons?” Clint perked up.
“Yep, that’s the place.” Rhodey was flipping through articles on his smart phone and he flicked it to Tony’s television screen.
‘World’s Greatest Marksman Misses Cue’
“They couldn’t come up with anything better than that?” Tony cocked his head to the side.
The video started playing and Clint paled when he saw one of the men being interviewed by the reporter. It was one of the grunts from the bar. Scar, if Tony remembered correctly.
“Carson doesn’t take kindly to those who abandon in the middle of a tour. The kid is a pretentious young punk and was always a bit off. Hope he knows that he won’t be welcome back here anytime soon.” There was a glint in the man’s eye that made Tony want to resort to physical violence. He exchanged a glance with Rhodey before looking at Clint.
“I’m going to call you ‘young punk’ from now on,” He informed Clint. “Is that okay?”
Rhodey just shook his head and sat next to Clint on the couch.
“So, you’re staying with Tony now.” It wasn’t a question.
“How about we order a pizza?” Neither was that, really.
Clint didn’t respond but instead, just took a deep breath. He leaned his head against the back of the couch and after a few minutes, opened his eyes to find that Rhodey was gone. In front of him was just a worried Tony Stark.
“I wasn’t sure I was staying until that video.” Clint admitted, not meeting Tony’s gaze.
“JARVIS wouldn’t have let you out of the house.” At that, Clint looked up and somehow felt relief at Tony’s smirk.
“Mouthy little shit.”
Clint took another deep breath. He could handle this, right?