Tony was having a late night. After repairing the repulsors on the left gauntlet of his armor for four hours, repairing the cracked chest piece for five, and re-wiring the thrusters for three, he had finally realized he was starving.
There weren’t many other people here, and it was late enough no one was in sight as he entered the kitchen. He hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Banner for two days, having no national emergencies. The man still kept to himself even after a few people on the team had done their best to bring him into the fold. He supposed old habits died hard. Rogers was probably asleep. The man didn’t have much patience for modern entertainment when he got bored, turning instead to books or sleep. He was always under the impression that he could get ahead on his eight hours or whatever by catching shut eye when he could. Banner had tried to explain it didn’t work that way, but his advice had been ignored.
Tony rummaged around in the fridge, looking for something that wasn’t cold cuts. He could sleep when he was dead, he mused. Ah, cold cheese pizza. That was a bit better. He reached in and unwrapped it from the saran wrap, leaving the trash inside. He had taken two bites when he heard footsteps down the hall. Curious, he popped his head around the fridge door.
Clint Barton was walking in a rushed fashion down the hall, occasionally looking over his shoulder.
“Wop are you dune eer?” Tony said loudly around a mouthful of pizza.
Clint whipped his head back around noticing Tony in the sparsely lighted kitchen for the first time. “Oh, uh, you, good.” Clint moved over to the stove area, opposite Tony.
Tony swallowed. “Well, of course I’m always nice to see…unless you’re planning on doing something horrible.” Realization dawned on Tony as Clint peered back over his shoulder into the darkened hallway. “Wait…you didn’t piss off Banner, did you? Cause while that would be awesome, I just spend forty thousand dollars replacing the last rooms he destroyed in the house.”
Clint turned back around, squinting in confusion at him. “What? No. No.”
“I don’t really believe you.”
“It’s Coulson!” Clint hissed.
“Coulson? What the hell is he doing here at one in the morning? Wait, what are you doing here at one in the morning? I thought you were going…home or…wherever it is that you go.”
A noise sounded from the hallway, and Coulson ducked behind the kitchen island, pulling Tony down with him. “He was waiting for me…” he whispered. “I haven’t turned in paperwork from the Salt Lake thing.”
“Clint, that was over six weeks ago. Even I turned it in.”
“Shh! I know! He’s been going on about since I’m a S.H.I.E.L.D trained operative, I should be setting an example! But I just…forgot, ok? And then he was waiting at my apartment, so I came here, and he followed me…”
Tony grinned, letting out a huff. “You came here? You didn’t think he’d figure that out?”
“I…well…no!” Clint defended indignantly. “And then Jarvis told him I was here.”
Another noise sounded from the hall, and Clint cursed. Tony stood up, while Clint hissed at him and pulled his pant leg.
“Jarvis,” he said quietly. “Deny you know the whereabouts of Hawkeye if Coulson asks again in the next week.”
“I’ll try to be discreet, Sir.”
“And dim the lights.” In response, the already dim lights dipped into darkness.
Just as Tony could make out the dark outlines of Agent Phil Coulson striding quickly down the hall. Despite the darkness, Coulson stopped just outside the kitchen, regarding Tony’s outline. Clint was silent and still, still holding Tony’s pant leg behind the island. “Mr. Stark?” he asked hesitantly.
“Yes! Yes, it is me. How are you?”
“Why are you up here in the dark?” Coulson’s voice had gone from questioning to suspicious in less than a second.
“I do all my best thinking in the dark. And silence. Dummy’s too loud downstairs.”
“Right.” Coulson said in a tone that said he clearly didn’t believe him. “Have you seen Hawkeye?”
“Nope, just been me here. And Banners and Rogers. I think they’re asleep.”
“Jarvis told me he was here.”
“Maybe he was. It’s a big place. I didn’t see him though.” Now that his eyes were adjusting, Tony could better make out the raised eyebrow and suspicious frown on Coulson’s face. “Jarvis, can you get a trace on Hawkeye?” Tony asked.
“I’m sorry Sir, but I am no longer picking up any trace of him in the mansion.” Tony smiled widely at Coulson.
“You’re sure you didn’t see him.”
Tony pretended to think. “Noooope, I’ve only seen me. And my robot. That’s it. I haven’t even seen any porn today-”
“-Thank you, Mister Stark. If you see him, please call me.” Coulson spun on his heel, moving back towards the elevator. From below him, he heard Clint give a sigh of relief.
“Porn? That was the best thing you could come up with?” he hissed.
Tony shrugged. “Made him leave, didn’t it? Anyways, you owe me one. And you owe Jarvis one too.”
Tony shrugged. “Made him leave, didn’t it? Anyways, you owe me one. And you owe Jarvis one too. He likes to be thanked with female Japanese sex robots.”
"As inaccurate as ever, Sir."
Tony fought a sinking feeling in him as Hulk punched the Absorbing Man straight into Hawkeye, knocking the archer off the roof.
Not that Tony could blame the Hulk, really. Carl Creel had already absorbed the reinforced steel they were all standing on, so Clint’s arrows were pinging harmlessly off him, usually into the Hulk. Tony had shouted at him to get lost or do something else, but Clint had replied he “didn’t want to waste” the adamantium arrows.
And now he was falling off the roof of a 40 story skyscraper for his trouble.
Tony cursed as he fired up his thrusters and dove after Hawkeye as Hulk and Absorbing Man continued to beat the shit out of each other. He flew down after Clint, grabbing his wrist as he pulled the archer up and snapped his own legs underneath him to slow their descent. “Jarvis, 60% power to thrusters.” They both began to sink slowly, as Clint’s added body weight on the thrusters’ decreased capacity pulled them down. Tony watched the magnified view on his HUD as Hawkeye’s bow plummeted towards the ground, the limbs shattering on impact. “Good news, buddy! Looks like we can finally buy you a gun!”
The dazed archer shook his head, looking up at Tony holding onto his wrist. “Wha…”
Tony wasn’t surprised by Clint’s lack of cohesiveness. “Yeah, getting hit by guy with the stupidest villain name in the world will do that to you.”
Clint blinked finally taking in their surroundings, and then seeing his bow 20 stories below them on the ground. He moaned. “Those were carbon fiber too,” he muttered.
“YOU’RE WELCOME,” Tony snapped. “And don’t you have other ones back at HQ? I think you’re set. Besides-”
Tony was cut off he felt an impact in the thruster of his left boot, and they plummeted about 15 feet before Tony could get the other one underneath him. “What the shit was that?” he said at the same time Clint shouted
“What the hell are you doing?!”
Tony ignored him. “Jarvis, where did that come from?” In response, the HUD magnified on a building across the street, a guy in a blue mask with a white ring on it reloading the sniper rifle he was using. “Who is that?”
Clint looked in the direction Tony was looking in, before his eyes narrowed. “Bullseye.”
“Again, who is that?”
“God, don’t you read anything S.H.I.E.L.D gives you?”
“Only when the Hulk is beating someone to a pulp on top of the Sheraton. Then I get the guy’s name later.”
Clint rolled his eyes, before looking back at Bullseye who was lining up the sites. “Oh shit, Tony, turn, TURN!” Tony rolled so that his back was to the sniper, and the bullet hit his armor instead of Clint’s head.
Realization dawned on Tony then. “Oh my god, he’s you!”
“He is not me,” Clint argued, trying to pull his legs out of view of the sniper. “He is one of the premier marksmen in the world, but he is not me.”
Tony was laughing, but stopped as another bullet hit the boot that was still working, kicking it forward and moving the pair backwards a few feet before Tony got it back under control.
“He’s totally you. Just with a heavier caliber.”
“Tony, get us the hell out of his line of sight, or do you want to talk about it some more?!?”
“It’s really hard to quickly descend 20 stories with one thruster, one repulsor, a guy shooting at you, and while holding onto a whiny bitch.” Tony was doing his best, but they were still about six stories above the ground when Bullseye’s bullet took out Tony’s other thruster.
Clint’s shouted “SHIT!” in Tony’s ear was certainly not helping his attitude as they plummeted towards the street. Tony pulled the archer against his chest plate before turning them so his own back was facing the ground. With his unoccupied hand, he fired the stabilizer down past his legs, turning their downward descent into an arch, which angled their fall enough so they didn’t end up as jelly.
Clint coughed as the dust from the ruined asphalt settled around them, before rolling off Iron Man. “You are NOT a soft landing device,” he muttered, breathing hard and holding his ribs in pain. With a whirring of gears, Tony pulled himself out of the asphalt.
“Again, you’re WELCOME. That wasn’t a cakewalk for me either.” He held up his right arm towards the window Bullseye was in as a flap opened on it, and a missile about eight inches long popped out before firing off with a hiss. “And now I have to walk home,” he added bitterly.
The missile landed and they saw Bullseye quickly pull his head back into the building. A few seconds later, they saw glass shooting outwards. “I hope you didn’t kill him,” Clint muttered, still sitting in the street.
“Holy shit, you respect that guy! And after he tried to kill us!” Tony half turned his head back towards Clint, who was a little unnerved by Iron Man’s hardened visage. “And no, I didn’t kill him. You know how much paper work that involves? He’s probably just concussed. Iron Man to Agent Coulson!” he added pleasantly.
Coulson’s sour voice floated back over their comms. “I hope you’re not reporting a dead team member.”
“If you’re talking about Barton, I’d hope my voice would at least sound a little remorseful, maybe somewhat relieved that I wouldn’t have to be flying his ass around any time soon,” Clint shot him a withering look. “…but no. However, there may be an unconscious marksman, not ours, in the Paramount Bio Capital building. Might wanna send someone up there. Iron Man out!” He muted the frequency as Coulson began to rant. He turned back to Clint. “That guy is just the evil version of you. Are you arch-nemeses?”
“What? No! I don’t have an arch-nemesis. And even if I did, isn’t that sort of stupid to be arch nemesis with someone who has the same abilities as you?”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”
“You brought it up!”
“Only because that guy is you.”
“He is not!”
The street shook as Hulk landed on top of Absorbing Man a block away, both of them having jumped off the roof. “Maybe we should get out of here,” Tony said. “You need medical attention anyway.”
“Agreed,” said Clint.
Tony looked up from his work as he heard someone punching in an entry code on his lab door. He was somewhat surprised to see it was Barton. He was also surprised to see Clint was in full uniform, albeit without his weapons.
“You know, this is my private lab,” Tony said, but Clint just waved him off.
“It’s not very private if everyone has access codes to it.”
“Thor doesn’t. He’s too grabby.” Tony made little gestures with his fingers.
Clint smiled. “Listen, can I borrow your Super Stark noise cancelling headphones again?”
Tony leaned down, pulling open a drawer and rummaging around inside of it, before finding what he was looking for and tossing the headphones to Clint. “You goin’ somewhere?”
Clint shrugged. “Louisiana. Intel thinks there’s an A.I.M. base down there.”
“And it’s just you?” Tony made a curious face as he leaned on his desk.
Clint shrugged again. “Well, me, Cary, some other guy…it’s supposed to be pretty discreet.
“Aw, but Nick knows my middle name is Discreet. Especially when Banner’s along,” Tony pouted. “Alright, well, have fun. Shoot someone in the knee for me.” Clint waved nonchalantly, and Tony went back to studying the schematics on his desk.
About two hours later, Jarvis interrupted him. “Sir, you have an incoming call from Agent Coulson.” Tony sighed, swiveling around in his chair once before grabbing his desk in frustration.
“Alright, let’s hear it.”
Coulson’s voice echoed throughout the room. “Mr. Stark. It’s been two weeks since the Bullseye, Absorbing Man incident and I still don’t have your paperwork.”
Tony grimaced. “It’s always nice having these casual chats, Coulson. Did Banner do his?”
“Banner always turns in reports, despite not being able to remember what transpired. It’s something you could learn from.”
Tony rolled his eyes, sighing loudly. “What about Barton? Aren’t you going to bother him too? It took him six weeks to turn in the last one.”
“Well, if you see him, tell him I want his too.”
An alarm bell went off in Tony’s head. “What do you mean, ‘if I see him’? Isn’t he on assignment?”
There was hesitation on the other end. “…no. Who told you that?” A sense of dread was beginning to creep up on Tony.
“Well…he did. Two hours ago.” Tony got up, moving quickly to his armor assembly area. “Jarvis, find out what plane they took,” he instructed as robotic arms whirred around him, prepping him for the Iron Man armor. He heard Coulson mumbling to someone in the background as well. “He said he was going with Cary and someone else…” Tony told him. He held out his arms to have the gauntlets applied.
A rustle of paper sounded from Coulson’s end. “Cary’s on assignment in Utah.”
Tony cursed. “There’s no A.I.M. base in Louisiana, is there.”
“Jarvis! You have that plane yet?”
“Records indicate Hawkeye and two agents who are not in my records boarded a quinjet that is currently flying over North Carolina.”
Tony fired up his thrusters, speeding out the auxiliary exit on the side of the building at full capacity.
Traveling at supersonic speeds, Tony caught up with the quinjet in about 40 minutes. Luckily it was flying low and not very fast. He banked around it, trying to get the front windows in sight.
“Sir, if the quinjet continues on its current course, it will crash into Appalachian Mountains in nine minutes.”
Normally, Tony would have commented on how countdowns weren’t helpful, but he was too concerned for his friend. He rolled around the side again. “Entry point,” he ordered the A.I.
The HUD zoomed in on one of the side access doors. “My scans indicate integrity of this door has been compromised.” Tony slowed down letting the plane fly in front of him for a few seconds, before he sped up and matched the speed, getting closer to the hull as he did so. The door had been opened at some point in flight, and was rattling minutely in the space where it wasn’t closed. Tony braced himself before wrenching his fingers in and then ripping the door right off its hinges. He put one foot inside the hull and pulled himself in, looking around the doomed vehicle.
He noticed immediately two parachutes were gone, but there were still some around. He then noticed his teammate’s prone form in the back against some safety netting and moved slowly over so as not to send the plane too far off its doomed trajectory. As he got closer, he noticed the entire right side of Clint’s face was covered in blood and a huge gash started at his temple and went all the way around to his ear. Yeah, that’d definitely account for the unconsciousness. “They’re definitely gonna have to shave your head for that, buddy.”
As gently as he could, Tony picked up his teammate and placed him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry while moving back towards the exit of the hull. Holding onto Clint with one arm, he looked back in the plane, seeing his bow there. Tony sighed, promising his teammate silently he’d make Fury pay for a new one since it was S.H.I.E.L.D’s fault he was in this mess in the first place.
Tony leapt from the plane and fell a few feet before activating his thrusters and the repulsor that wasn’t holding onto Clint. Luckily they weren’t too far from the ground. Tony slowed their descent before landing, then reached up and lowered Clint down onto his back. The archer moaned, but other than that didn’t move.
“Jarvis, open a S.H.I.E.L.D. frequency.” The HUD gave a small bleep to let him know it had been done. “This is Iron Man, I have Hawkeye. I need a pickup and a medical team.”
Tony was a little surprised and somewhat relieved, if he wanted to be honest with himself, to hear Coulson’s voice come over the comm. “Roger that, we can have someone to your location in 15 minutes. What’s Hawkeye’s condition?”
“Headwound, as far as I can tell. No sign of the guys that did it,” Tony grumbled. A bright light lit up on his HUD and moments later he heard the resulting explosion of the Quinjet. He gritted his teeth in frustration.“Coulson, whoever this was wanted to make it look like an accident. They left parachutes on board and other than the head wound, Hawkeye wasn’t restrained in any way.” Tony could hardly keep the anger and frustration out of his voice at being so easily duped.
“I understand. We’re already looking into it.”
“Look faster,” Tony said before cutting off the comm.
He sat down next to his teammate, taking off his helmet. He leaned forward to rip off the bottom part of one of Clint’s pant legs before folding it up and holding it over the gash in his head. The archer moaned again quietly, but other than that there was no sound other than the wind through the empty field they were in.
And in the pre-dawn hours, together they waited.
And Tony made a silent promise.
After the rogue quinjet incident (Clint downright refused to call it kidnapping), Tony had had to travel back to LA for two weeks. True to Tony’s predictions, they had shaved Clint’s head and then gave him 24 stitches. Luckily he hadn’t had much more than a minor concussion, but was still confined to a bed in the Avengers mansion for two days. Tony had sent him an Edible Arrangement every day he was in LA.
At first, Clint thought it was sort of funny, but then it got downright annoying. He had given one to every nurse, and all the other Avengers. Steve had seemed surprised that food in the shape of flowers was a thing, but Thor enjoyed it immensely. Bruce had given him a confused “Uh, thanks…” and Natasha had regarded hers with suspicion before declaring that Tony was fucking with him and he should just toss them all out. No one ever wanted Edible Arrangements.
Fury had been livid that someone had infiltrated his organization this far, and several security background checkers had been fired as a result. Clint had gotten a memo himself that said something along the lines of don’t get in a quinjet by yourself with agents you don’t recognize. For future reference. At least Fury had probably felt bad enough not to come chew him out in person. But not bad enough to not take the funds for a new bow out of his paycheck.
A few days after the fact, Intel had pulled up some hacked files, resulting in the faulty reports that Clint got, along with a few other agents who had been in charge of readying the quinjet. But they were still tracing the leak, so for the time being, the Avengers were only taking orders from Fury, Hill, or Coulson.
Which was how Tony found himself acting as the “big gun” backup for Clint and Natasha in the middle of the night, on the banks of the Anacostia river in Southeast DC.
The two of them worked seamlessly together. He hadn’t felt like this much of a third wheel since those two blonde playboy bunnies had spent the weekend at his house in LA. The two agents hardly spoke as they worked, communicating only through a series of looks and very occasionally, hand gestures. They had politely “requested” to Tony before the mission began that he maintain radio silence while they went into the building and investigated. Tony had protested at first, and then Natasha pulled out her gun and shot the ground once in front of his feet. He had agreed to mute himself then.
So now, he was trying to make conversation with Jarvis as he waited outside while Clint and Natasha snuck around inside, looking for the people that had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. two weeks ago.
“Jarvis, I think I just saw a body float by. Is that normal? Why couldn’t we have been assigned uptown, around the nice national monuments and modern art?”
“I don’t think there is a secret base worth investigating on Constitution Avenue, Sir.”
“Smartass. I’d call the Hoover building a secret base.”
“The FBI might disagree with you, Sir.” Tony kicked some gravel with the tip of his boot.
“I don’t even see why they need me for this, anyway. I’m sure Coulson could have stood out here as guard for them.”
He already knew why he was here though. Natasha had specifically requested a “big gun”. They couldn’t trust Hulk to sit still, and Thor had about as much discipline as Tony had, but neither he, nor Captain America could read life-signs or detect proximity warnings, or any of the nifty stuff Tony had. Of course, he had been less than pleased when Natasha had stalked up to him in the hallways of the mansion and said “You’re coming with us. We need the computer.”
It had been 10 minutes now since Clint and Natasha had broken into the building. For all intents and purposes, it looked like a decrepit office building on the outside, but Tony’s sensors had confirmed what he figured Natasha already knew, in that there were multiple stories running underground, all humming with electricity.
Tony’s comm suddenly crackled to life, and Clint’s voice came over it. Tony would never admit he was glad to hear it after the silence and boredom. “We think we found some active servers,” he said quietly. “Natasha’s trying to extract the data. We should be out soon.”
“Roger that. You know, I’m bored out of my mind here. You wanna go get crab cakes or something after this?”
He wasn’t really expecting Clint to answer, but winced when Natasha’s voice hissed “Clear the channel!”
A few more minutes went by before Jarvis piped up again. “Sir, I am detecting an exponentially increasing level of heat from the basement floors of the complex.” The HUD beeped once, and the basement levels of the building were rendered in green, but turning red quickly.
“What floor are you guys on?”
“Why does it matter?” Clint hissed back.
“Because I think the building’s exploding.”
Clint and Natasha both cursed.
Tony watched the rendering on the HUD with growing concern. “Seriously, you guys need to move now. Right now! Or your asses are toast.”
Natasha’s voice came back, panting. “We’re moving, we’ll be out in a minute.”
Tony could feel the ground shaking underneath him now. “I don’t think you guys have a minute! Move it!”
Tony watched anxiously as the building began to rumble. He zoomed in on the lobby when he saw two dark forms booking it through. Natasha shot the glass doors twice, but the elevator and stair shafts were already glowing orange behind them.
“Shit!” Tony fired up his thrusters to get closer, but the building was already exploding. The force blasted him through the air about ten yards, and his HUD tracked both Clint and Natasha blown clear into the Anacostia River.
Tony fired up his thrusters, scanning the water’s surface as he did so. Natasha’s head popped up first, and upon seeing him, she held up her arm. He swooped down, grabbing her, and then flew her over to the bank. The back of her suit was torn, and Tony could already see angry red burns beginning to form on the back of her legs. “Find Barton,” she ordered.
Tony launched himself again. He didn’t have to go far as Clint came up, sputtering. Tony swooped down and grabbed him under the armpits before pulling him out of the water. Clint grunted in pain. “Sorry man,” Tony said, looking down and seeing the back of Clint’s uniform in shreds and more angry burns on his back and arms. Clint only continued to breathe through clenched teeth.
He flew back over to where he had dropped Natasha, whose face was now tightened into lines of pain. He gently lowered Clint next to her. “You get anything?” he asked her. This whole thing was really starting to piss him off.
She nodded, then pulled a six inch hard drive out of one of the cargo pockets in her shredded pants. It was sopping wet. Tony regarded it thoughtfully. “Well, that’s better than nothing. Jarvis, open a S.H.I.E.L.D. frequency please.”
Clint groaned from underneath him. “I am having the worst fucking week.”
“Agreed. This is Iron Man. Requesting immediate medical assistance for Hawkeye and Black Widow. Oh, and tell Fury we have a present for him. He’s going to need a towel and some disinfectant though.”
A voice gave a light chuckle over the comm. “Roger that, Iron Man. Help is on the way.”
Only later did Tony find out that the explosion Clint and Natasha had accidentally triggered ricocheted in the building Thor and Steve had been checking out in Chicago. However, unlike the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Thor and Steve had still been trying to figure out how to get into the building when it exploded. So ironically, two of the team members that probably could handle being in explosion hadn’t even come close.
Tony had hitched a ride with Clint and Natasha back to New York where the helicarrier was based. When Clint wasn’t moaning in pain, he was complaining he was going to get syphilis from being in the Anacostia so long. Luckily, he and Natasha had suffered mostly first degree burns over larger areas of their person with only a few smaller second degree burns. For the most part, they’d be up in a few days, but they were going to be very uncomfortable. Natasha couldn’t really sit down without pain, and Clint had to lie on his stomach or sit on stools.
The following afternoon, Tony found himself seated around the briefing table in the helicarrier along with Bruce, Steve, Thor, Fury, Coulson, and a number of intelligence agents. He sipped his latte and didn’t look at the paperwork one of the interns was handing out.
“Unfortunately, Black Widow and Hawkeye will be out of commission for a few days,” Fury started. “But thanks to them and Mr. Stark,” Tony dipped his head and raised his drink in a mock salute, “we’ve recovered and decoded who’s been behind the infiltrations. Hopefully if we need work done like this again in the near future, Thor and Captain America will be better apt to handle it.” There were small chuckles around the table and Steve turned a little pink. Tony grinned at him before turning his head back to face the screen that had been set up behind Fury.
“The Ten Rings.”
It was like someone had suddenly flipped a switch in Tony’s head. Unbidden, memories of a half-conscious surgery invaded his brain, his own screams echoing in his ears. Waking up attached to a rusty car battery that was the only thing keeping him alive. Watching his only friend for three months die in front of him. The paralyzing fear that he would never escape, or die as soon as he did. The knowledge that someone he thought of as a father had put him through all that. The sensory images became overwhelming, and his breathing hitched slightly.
Someone was speaking to him.
Alarmed, he snapped his head up. Everyone at the table was staring at him. With pity.
He felt sick.
“Mr. Stark,” Fury said more softly than normal.
“It’s fine,” he lied, interrupting whatever degrading thing Fury had been about to say. “You were saying?” he cleared his throat and pretended to study the screen.
Tony was pretty out of it after that. Steve kept shooting him sidelong looks. He pretended not to notice. He only caught snippets of things. Absorbing Man and Bullseye had been hired as a distraction so agents could infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. and hack the system without anyone noticing. They discovered the Ten Rings may have been using a company based in Indianapolis as a front. But they were unsure of what.
Tony held onto that. The rest was useless.
When the meeting was over, he got up quickly and moved down the corridors towards the sick bay.
“Tony! Hey wait!” Tony fought the urge to roll his eyes as he turned around to face Steve, plastering a fake smile on his face.
“I can’t go jet skiing with you later. I’m busy.”
Steve ignored him. “Are you…okay?” he asked tentatively. Of course Captain Caring would be on it. Tony gave him a fake puzzled look.
“Why wouldn’t I be? Oh, cause of the jet skiing? Yeah, I was looking forward to it too. But you know, the Hudson’s dirty as shit, so we’re probably better off.”
“Tony…” Steve pleaded quietly. Tony knew everyone in that room had read information about his own personal experience with the terrorist organization.
“Look, it’s fine. I’m fine. What happened with the Ten Rings, that was in the past. I’m here now. Actually, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten to meet you fine fellows and be forced to share my house with the Hulk.” Tony gave him a light cuff on the shoulder before turning around and resuming his walk to sick bay.
“Tony…don’t do anything stupid.”
Tony ignored him.
Upon entering sick bay, he saw both Clint and Natasha lying on their stomachs in scrubs. He could see the white of bandages peeking out from under Natasha’s pants and under Clint’s shirt. Natasha looked at him once before looking back down at some classified documents she was reading.
“Well hello to you too,” he said bitterly.
Clint raised his eyebrow, eyeing the Starbucks cup in Tony’s hand. “I hope that’s for me.”
“Now why would it…Clint, I don’t think you’re allowed to have coffee since you’re sick,” Tony scolded. Then he shook the cup. “Besides, it’s empty.” He placed it on the bedside table deliberately facing the logo towards Clint.
“How was the meeting?” Natasha asked nonchalantly. He gave her a glare. She probably knew exactly how it was. He didn’t doubt the materials she was reading right now were the same classified ones that had been handed out by Fury’s intern.
He shrugged. “Same as ever. At least it wasn’t Coulson speaking. I’d need three lattes to get me through that.” Clint snorted.
“It probably would have been better than in here,” Clint said sourly. Tony looked around.
“They don’t even have a DVD player for you guys? How unseemly! I’ll take care of it right away.” Clint tried to pull away when Tony gave his cheek an annoying pat. “What about you, Agent Romanov, keeping busy?” He smiled at her as she glared at him before looking back at her paper work. “Thought soooo,” he drawled.
If Clint knew about the Ten Rings thing, Tony was relieved he didn’t bring it up. He would find a way to deliver those Edible Arrangements to the helicarrier. It would probably have to involve a crazy bike messenger with security clearance flying a helicopter-
He was interrupted from his musings when the entire ship rocked to its starboard side. The few nurses nearby screamed, and Clint shouted “Fuck!” while Natasha shouted what he was sure was the Russian equivalent. Klaxons sounded as pipes overhead began splitting, smoke shooting out from a few. Natasha was already leaping off her bed and Tony grabbed Clint pulling him off of his before pulling them both under it. Clint cried out in pain at the mistreatment before he bit it off with a curse as a huge piece of air duct fell where Clint had been lying a moment before.
It was all over in seconds. Clint was hissing and wincing as Tony looked to Natasha who looked back at him with genuine alarm in her eyes. “You okay?” he asked her seriously. She nodded. As they all climbed from under the beds, there was a clicking noise on the PA system and the klaxons stopped. Nick Fury’s livid voice came over it then.
“I WANT THOSE ASSHOLES FOUND, NOW! THAT’S AN ORDER!” More clicking, and nothing else was said.
Tony stood up before offering a hand to Clint and pulling him up as well.
“Well, I guess more people are getting fired today.” He smiled pleasantly.
It didn’t take Tony long to figure out the company that was a front for The Ten Rings.
After the attack on the helicarrier, Nick Fury hadn’t let anyone leave until they had determined no one aboard was at fault. The charges had probably been set a day in advance, but a few had failed to be completely effective. The ship had detected the explosions of the first few, and then had effectively sucked all the oxygen out of the areas the charges had been placed in, resulting in much smaller reactions and thus, damage. It seemed that the terrorist organization hadn’t figured out how to get to any other parts of the ship undetected, or it could have been far worse.
The goal, it seemed, had been to wipe out Nick Fury and the Avengers in one, unsuspecting go. But they hadn’t been too great at that.
Tony had hacked into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s information systems, to access the information he knew Nick Fury was trying to hide from him. A few minutes after he had downloaded the specific information he wanted on to his own server, he had received a “cease and desist” call from agent Coulson.
“Mr. Stark, if you continue going through our files, we will be forced to treat you as a cyber terrorist.”
Tony had snorted. “Good to know you actually can detect when someone is hacking your system, Coulson, but what are you going to do to prevent an actual cyber terrorist from looking at your stuff? Call them up and politely ask them to stop?”
“We’re giving you the professional courtesy of not being impaled by a missile right now.”
“Yeah, a missile that I built. Blow it out your ass, Coulson.” He hung up.
He wasn’t really in the mood.
He also noticed Steve had been finding a minutia of excuses to stop by and “check” on him. Steve was going to the store, did he want anything. Steve and Bruce were going to watch a movie, did he want to come upstairs. Steve and Clint were going to try and cook chow mein, was he hungry. Clint had passed out after challenging Thor to a drinking contest, did he want to come draw on his face.
Tony did say yes to the last one.
Thor had been laughing loudly as Tony drew a mock-up of the Iron Man helmet on the unconscious marksman’s face. Slightly self-incriminating, but Clint was going to guess it had been him anyway.
Tony had a few drinks with Thor and Steve then, letting himself forget for the time being why he had been working so hard.
When he returned to his lab, Jarvis informed him that the CEO of the company Tony suspected, one Zhang Tong, would be in Indianapolis next week.
When Zhang Tong arrived in Indianapolis on Monday, Tony took Pepper out to dinner in LA. Tuesday, Nick Fury himself showed up in Tony’s lab back in New York, with questions for him about the security database’s firewalls. Wednesday, they did actually have to deal with some guy in New York that could form tornadoes with his mind. That had sort of been an issue.
Thursday, Zhang Tong seemed to be on everyone’s backburner.
At 2 AM, he suited up.
He was flying over western New York when a blip on his HUD informed him there was a Quinjet following him. He opened a frequency.
“Hello there. I sure hope you’re flying to Buffalo, although I hear it’s awfully cold there this time of year.”
“Can it, Tony, I know what you’re up to.”
“Barton?” Tony laughed mirthlessly. “Running an errand for Fury at 2 AM? I sure hope he’s paying you overtime.”
“He didn’t send me. I’m coming with you, so you don’t do something stupid.”
“What if I don’t want you to?” Tony snapped back, the humor in his voice gone.
“Too late. Tony, you don’t know anything about this guy. You could be walking into a trap.”
“I know enough, Clint, and I can protect myself. May I add I’ve been the one saving your ass for the past month?”
“I’m still coming. Short of blasting me out of the sky, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Clint waited for a retort, but none was forthcoming. He took the silence as an acceptance.
The office building belonging to the company was set a little ways from the main parts of the city, so Clint had a place to land. Tony waited as he got out.
“You don’t think…he’ll be at his hotel or something? You know, sleeping?” Clint asked hesitantly.
Iron Man’s armored visage seemed to glare at Clint from over his shoulder. “He’ll be here.” It was easy to forget how intimidating that mask could be, especially when Tony was in a serious mood. Clint nodded and unshouldered his bow, following him inside.
The front door was unlocked and Clint felt very uneasy about this whole situation as the cameras in the main lobby tracked them, but no alarm was forthcoming. They rode the elevators to one of the executive floors. “You’re not in an email correspondence with this guy, are you?” Clint joked in a whisper. Tony remained silent.
As they stepped off the elevator, half the lights flickered on revealing a board room that took up most of the floor. A huge mahogany desk and chairs had been pushed to wall to one side.
“Welp, looks like no one’s here,” Clint started before he felt three jabbing pains in his neck and spine and collapsed to the floor in a boneless heap, unable to move.
Tony heard a grunt from next to him and whipped around just in time to see Barton collapse and his bow clatter to the ground next to him.
Zhang Tong was standing calmly where the archer had been just a moment before. “Hello, Mr. Stark,” he mused.
“What did you do to him?” Tony looked at Clint whose eyes were moving in a panic. He could see his jaw working, but no sound came out.
“Have you heard of chi, Mr. Stark? I simply redirected his.” Tony kept his repulsors aimed at him, but made no move as he walked around Clint’s fallen form towards the abandoned furniture, hands folded behind his back,
“That’s a load of horseshit.”
“Is it? You are on a team with a man who can change into the strongest form in the world due to radiation, a man with enhanced strength and super-human powers, and a god.” He shrugged, turning to face Tony again. “But if you prefer it in simpler terms, I have enabled a temporary paralysis in him by pushing pressure points in his spinal cord rendering him unable to move or speak for a short period of time.”
He looked down at Clint, smiling. Tony almost physically stepped back from the pure hatred and a little bit of shame radiating in the archer’s eyes.
“As for you,” Tong looked back at Tony.
“Look, can we skip with the villain monologueing bit? I’ve had enough of that to last me a lifetime.”
“Very well.” The arrogant smile was gone now. “But there was something you wanted to ask me,” he said.
“Why me?” even with the built in mic in his helmet, his voice sounded quiet.
“Well, Mr. Stark, for every reason your captors initially told you. However, it would seem you were only beginning. I’m proud to say we made you into something far better, far stronger, than any amount of weapons you made in the past could have afforded us. But now, it seems you’ve served your purpose. You and your little club,” the last word was said with a sneer as he looked towards Clint.
Clint knew Tony was seething with rage at Tong’s words, however much of a twisted view point they offered. The last words though, made Tony chuckle. “You guys have been doing a pretty shit job with it. That last attack didn’t even knock us out of the sky.”
“It would seem S.H.I.E.L.D. has been more resourceful than we anticipated.”
“I designed that helicarrier. Maybe my purpose isn’t over,” Tony mocked.
Tong moved, holding his hands in front of him with his index and middle fingers extended. Tony let out a disbelieving “Are you-” but Tong was striking his armor in the joints where the arms met his torso, and Tony could feel it. He hopped backwards out of reach while Tong stood straight and smiled.
“Still don’t believe in the power of chi, Mr. Stark? I have studied martial arts my entire life. I have learned how to hone my energies in ways where my body will do more damage than is humanly possible.” He narrowed his eyes. “Even to you.”
Tong resumed his attack, striking quick and hard in the places he had been hitting. Every time Tony moved to take a swing or fire a repulsor, Tong was gone. He was behind him, striking his knees. He was in front of him, striking his armpits. Tony couldn’t follow him, and Tong knew it. Tony’s HUD was flashing with a schematic of the suit and red circles highlighting the places where the suit was being compromised. “Shit, I know!” Tony yelled, as Tong’s next hit pushed him backwards and a sharp CRACK rang through the air.
Tony stared disbelievingly as his left pauldron armor split and then…simply fell away, leaving his upper arm exposed as well as the wire skeleton frame his armor had previously been attached to.
Clint, still lying helpless on the floor couldn’t fight the feeling of dread washing over him. Despite the Iron Man armor’s intimidating looks, the Avengers knew Tony’s strength wasn’t really his close combat skills. Every time Tony tried to back away, Tong wouldn’t let him and was right back in his face, hitting and jabbing. Clint renewed his struggles to try and move, to help. A feeling of hope surged within him as he felt a few of the fingertips move on his right hand.
“Jarvis! Electroshield!” Bolts of electricity began flowing over his chest piece and Tony could only stare dumbfounded as Tong reached up, seemingly oblivious to the shockwaves as he absorbed them through his fingers. Before Tony could comprehend what he was doing, Tony moved his other hand so that it was positioned over Tony’s arc reactor, completing an electric current that blasted Tony fifteen feet through the air to land on the conference table, snapping it in half.
Tony lay dazed for a moment as his HUD fired off all kinds of warnings. “Sir, power levels are done 60%, the outer shell of the chest piece has been compromised, the outer shell of the right gauntlet has been compromised, the outer shell of both upper leg-”
“Jarvis,” Tony interrupted, but he didn’t finish because Tong was on him again. Tony grunted as Tong pried open the chest piece with a fury he had been containing until that moment, followed by pulling off his helmet. Tony tried to hold up an arm to stop him but Tong grabbed his wrist and bent backwards. Since the upper arm plating had already been ripped away, nothing was there to stop Tony’s arm from bending backwards at the elbow and snapping.
Tony’s pained cry made Clint double his efforts. He could now move the wrist of his right hand slightly and the fingers on his left. He began inching his hand towards his bow.
Tony tried to scoot backwards away from Tong’s assault, but Clint watched in horror as Tong then savagely punched Tony six times in his exposed abdomen. Tony looked confused for a moment, before his eyes widened and he made a disgusting hurk! noise. Tony curled forward, eyes jammed shut in pain as blood started flowing out of his mouth and down his chin.
Tong stood back and watched with a sick pleasure as the man began choking up blood, struggling for breath with wet gasps. Clint was sickened. The man had won a long time ago, and was now just playing with Tony like a cat with a mouse. Clint’s fingers closed around his bow.
“You made a mistake coming here, Stark.” Tong said quietly. Clint could barely hear him over Tony’s pained moans and struggles to breath. “The Ten Rings are just beginning. With you and your friends gone, there will be no one to stop us.” Tony tried to smile at him through bloody teeth. It was a gruesome sight.
“Hydra might…disag…” Tony didn’t finish his sentence as more blood dribbled from his mouth.
Christ Tony, don’t talk… Clint thought desperately. He moved his arm slowly behind his back.
Tong ignored Tony, who had closed his eyes again in pain and fallen forward, sputtering and shaking.
“Like I said. A mistake.”
An arrow shaft suddenly appeared from in between the back of Tong’s shoulder blades, making him look up in surprise. His eyes met Clint’s.
“Your mistake,” he whispered.
The arrow exploded.
Tony weakly covered his head as Tong was propelled screaming through the air over him, and out the window behind him.
Clint crawled over to Tony, who was still shuddering and moaning in pain. Clint himself couldn’t quite stand yet, but he was beginning to feel all his extremities again. He propped himself up on his elbows, his brown furrowing with worry at seeing the other man up close. The blood running down his mouth stood in blatant contrast against his pale features. “C…Clint,” he whispered.
“I’ll get you out of here, just hang on, okay? It’s gonna be okay.” Clint resumed trying to stand up but before he could, Tony reached over with his good hand, gripping Clint’s forearm tightly.
Clint had finally gotten to his own feet with difficulty, before helping the shuddering Tony up. He ignored the small wisps of pain as Tony’s arm brushed his still healing back. Together they stumbled back into the elevator. Every few minutes, Clint would feel the warm spray of Tony’s blood against the side of his head as Tony gagged and convulsed.
“C’mon Tony, you’re gonna make it, hang in there,” he chanted over and over. Tony gave no reaction. They stumbled outside, Clint stumbling once on unsteady legs. Tony fell to the ground with him and was eerily still.
“Tony, oh god, I’m sorry,” Clint said getting back to his feet and taking Tony’s arm and rolling him over.
“God…”Tony gritted out before he spasmed again, coughing up more blood. “…damn it, Clint…” he whispered.
Clint bit out a bitter laugh. “Let’s go, you can yell at me later,” Clint said, unable to keep the fear for his teammate out of his voice. He hauled Tony to his feet as the other man let out a moan, and together they stumbled to the quinjet.
Once inside, Clint set Tony down on a bench in the back, turning his head as the other choked on more blood. His eyes were closed again.
“Tony? Tony! Stay with me, Tony. We’ll get you to the hospital soon, but you gotta hang in there and stay awake, ok? Tony?”
Tony shuddered once, but didn’t open his eyes. “you…bein so…nice….’s weird…” he whispered.
Clint squeezed his good hand. “Yeah, I know. Stay awake.”
He ran back over to the conn, turning on the communications systems as he fired up the engines.
“Hawkeye to anyone,” he called desperately.
“Where the HELL have you been?” Fury’s voice. He had probably been looking for them. Hawkeye regretted turning off the quinjet’s tracking system now.
“Sir, Stark’s in need of emergency medical assistance.”
“Bring him here. And you guys are in a shitload of trouble.”
Clint fought to keep the frustration and terror out of his voice as Tony gave another particularly violent cough from the back, and Clint could hear the sound of liquid hitting the floor.
“Sir, he…he won’t make it that far. I gotta take him somewhere here, in Indy…”
“Is his arc reactor compromised?” The quinjet was lifting into the air.
“No Sir, it’s…it’s his internal organs. They were all hit, and I think they’re failing him. He’s been coughing up blood for ten minutes, Sir.” Clint’s voice hitched at the end of his explanation.
“…shit. Alright. We’ll meet you out there.”
Clint landed the quinjet on the roof of the hospital. There were already nurses there waiting with a gurney, so Fury must have called ahead.
Tony had lost consciousness by that point, and Clint tried to go with him to the OR. He was deftly pulled aside by one of the orderlies, and without thinking, Clint broke his wrist. It took five more orderlies to restrain them (one suffered a broken knee cap and another a bloody nose) before he felt a prick in his neck and he was floating into oblivion.
When he woke up, he was on a gurney in the helicarrier, Coulson sitting calmly next to him.
“I’m obliged to inform you, you are no longer allowed anywhere near the St. Vincent’s Health facility, by request of hospital staff,” he said quietly.
“Tony, is he…”
Coulson sighed. “He’s still in critical condition. Whatever you were up against ruptured a lot of his internal organs. He’s undergone major surgery. But we need to debrief you.”
Clint shut his eyes in frustration. “Damn it, Phil, he going to be okay or not?”
Coulson hesitated. “It’s…still very early to tell, but the doctors are…hopeful.”
A weight lifted off of Clint’s shoulders, and he sank back down on the gurney. He noticed then that someone had taken the liberty of removing his uniform and placing him in scrubs. “I’m not sick,” he said to Coulson.
“You were covered in blood when we got there.”
“It was…Tony’s…” he mumbled, covering his eyes with his forearm trying to block out the visions of the night before.
“What happened?” Coulson pressed.
“Tong…he could…do this thing with hands…he basically stripped Stark of all his armor and started destroying his insides by punching him,” Clint said.
“Where were you?” Coulson asked.
“He hit me first…in my spine. It paralyzed me. But I’m fine, it was temporary,” he added quickly as he saw Coulson write down “MRI” on the pad of paper he was holding.
“What did he want with you?”
Clint shrugged. “To kill us, I guess. Standard stuff. Look, can I see Tony now?”
“One more question, and then you can go to the observation room. What happened to Tong?”
Clint hesitated, a little confused by the question. “I blew him up and he fell out a window…didn’t you guys find that?”
“Not a body, no.”
Clint’s stomach lurched, before Coulson added, “If he does show up again, we’ll know how to handle him. The boss is a little angry you two went off on your own with no intel.”
“A little?” Clint said sarcastically.
Clint sighed, standing up. “Well, thanks for coming down without him to see me,” Clint said, clapping him on the shoulder.
“It was an order. Fury said he wouldn’t be able to stand the sight of either one of you.”
“Fair enough,” Clint grumbled before moving towards the door.
As he walked into the observation, he wasn’t surprised to see Steve there. Thankfully though, Steve didn’t chew him out. That special privilege would probably go to Fury. On the other side of the glass, Tony was hooked up to numerous machines and tubes, his lower half covered by sheets and bandages. From what they could see of his stomach, it was black, red and pink.
But through it all, his arc reactor continued to burn brightly.
“He’ll make it,” Steve assured him.
“I know. I gotta kick his ass later for dragging me to Indianapolis at 2 AM anyways. Vegas would have been better. Hell, Cleveland would have been better.”
Steve crossed his arms over his chest and gave a sidelong look at Clint. “I know Tony can be a bit…trigger happy, but don’t follow him by yourself again without telling me first, okay?”
Clint grumbled out an affirmative response, and Steve turned to walk out. “Oh, and for what it’s worth,” he paused in the doorway. “I’m glad you were there.”
Clint could only stare at Tony’s pale and too still form, hoping he hadn’t been too late.
Tony was vaguely aware that he was on a rocking surface. But at least it was soft. He wasn’t really sure how he got here. But he felt pretty good, he supposed. He was enjoying his blissful ignorance when suddenly he found himself tipping sideways and metal bars in his stomach. A burst of pain made him open his eyes hissing.
He was somewhat surprised to find he was tipping sideways. In the bed.
On the helicarrier.
“Mr Stark!” a nurse shouted frantically, noticing his level of consciousness and hurrying over, trying not to fall. “How are you feeling?” She gripped the sides of his bed.
Somewhere an explosion rocked the ship. “Been better,” he choked out.
“I’m sorry sir,” the nurse said frantically. “There’s…a fight…”
“No shit,” Tony whispered rolling back onto his back. The nurse stumbled over to the wall where she activated the comm system.
“Agent Hill,” she breathed. “Can you please tell Thor to draw fire away from the ship? Mr. Stark’s awake.”
Tony was surprised and a little flattered that a few other voices that weren’t Maria Hill’s replied with an enthusiastic “He’s awake?!”
“Yes, but not for long if you don’t keep…whatever his name is away from the ship!” the nurse screamed, flustered. There were a few muttered apologies over the comm, and the ship resumed a more normal flight path. Tony fell back asleep after that.
He found out later that he had been out for a week, and as soon as he was mobile again, S.H.I.E.L.D had collected all the pieces of his armor for him to repair.
Clint had “made” him his own version of an Edible Arrangement, which was a pineapple that had an orange on a skewer sticking out of it. The archer had feigned shock when Tony tossed it into the trash in front of him. “Well, if you’re not gonna even try. Please, I’m sick, sick man. I need my…” Tony trailed off thoughtfully.
“Potassium?” Clint supplied dryly.
“Suuuuure,” Tony drawled.
“Get some rest, Tony.” Clint got up to leave.
“Hey, wait.” Clint turned back around.
“Thanks again, just. You know.” He scratched his head and raised one eyebrow. “I’m just used to…relying on myself. So it was nice to…have backup. And I owe you my life for it,” he said quickly.
Clint shrugged. “I’d say you’d do the same for me, but you already did. Four times this month.”
“Five. If you count me and Jarvis hiding you from Coulson.”
“True. I still owe him a Japanese sex robot.”
“Yes, you do.”