Chapter 1: The One Where Fury Tries to Blackmail John (and then has to apologise for it)
John likes to keep in touch with old army buddies. It’s always a bit awkward, because those who have done well have husbands or wives and kids and steady jobs, and they weren’t like him. Most of those who are like him are dead or living on the streets. He supposes that he’s lucky that he found Sherlock. Or Sherlock found him, whichever way you want to look at it. Although it’s difficult to convince himself of that when he wakes and walks past the empty bedroom and the sofa free of moping detective.
Philip Coulson was not exactly in the same sphere of contacts. Partly because he was clearly involved in some kind of undercover operation, but mostly because he was American, and the different country’s troops didn’t mingle much. Officially anyway.
John never knew what Coulson’s mission was, exactly, or why it involved the man tailing him everywhere, but what could have been a very irritating situation was made easy by the instant comradeship between the two of them. John was not only a doctor, but also a captain, and both titles brought a certain amount of awe and respect from his fellow men in arms. He’d been tailed before by various overeager young men, as a steadfast and dogmatic role model. Coulson had been different.
Besides the obvious differences - his country, his age, his proficiency - there was a more intangible reason why Coulson was the exception to the rule. The reasons why men fought for their country were wide and varied, and it rarely involved just fighting for their country. It was difficult to fight for a concept, full of people you hated as well as loved, politics you didn’t understand the depths of, and taxes that would, one day, drain you dry. But Coulson’s faith in America and the cause was unwavering. When most men said they’d lay down their lives, they meant for their families and their loved ones. When Coulson said it, he literally meant he’d die for his country.
John respected that. It was hard not to. It was also hard not to appreciate Coulson’s general level headedness. He had his moments of course. They all did. But he was one of the few soldiers John knew that, if he asked them to stick their fingers in a wound to hold the tissue in place, he could do so without barfing all over his shoes first.
They’d not exactly stayed in touch after John had been sent home, although they hadn’t maintained radio silence either. John’s blog had become pretty famous by the end of - well, Sherlock, and he had always been surprised but pleased to find a comment or a private message from one of the best soldiers he had ever led into battle.
So it came as a blow to hear that Coulson was one of the many hundreds who had died in the alien attack on Manhattan that had revealed the Avengers Initiative to the world. The Avengers. Honestly. This from the people who called themselves S.H.I.E.L.D. and faced opponents such as HYDRA. John almost felt embarrassed for them. The fact that the leader of the Avengers had turned out to be the original comic-legend Captain America just made the names even more ridiculous. (John said legend. He hadn’t heard of the guy until he’d met Coulson and the man had been horrified to learn of his ignorance. He’d since become very well informed of all of the Captain’s comic adventures.)
It was three weeks after learning of Sergeant Coulson’s death when he received a phone call from a Colonel Nick Fury.
“You’re being called in,” the man stated.
“With all due respect, sir,” John had bitten back. “I don’t answer to you. I was never under American command and I have received honourable discharge.”
“I could make it a dishonourable discharge,” the disembodied voice threatened. John turned to face where he knew one of Mycroft’s cameras was hidden and very purposefully rolled his eyes.
“No,” John argued, “I really don’t think you can. Now, how about I pass you over to my friend for a bit and, when you call back, you try asking nicely, hmm?”
The line cut out and John put the phone down, grinning a bit to himself. He probably looked a bit foolish, but it always had felt good to one-up the more heavy handed of their American allies. The man on the phone sounded very much like there were no threats he wouldn’t utter in order to get his way. John didn’t react very well to threats. Or blackmail. It was best to get that out there straight away, he supposed.
The phone rang again and John let it ring five times before picking it up.
“Understood, Dr Watson.”
“If this is a military-based request, I would ask that you refer to me as Captain, sir,” Again, John emphasised the title of respect in a way that let the man on the other end know that he did not respect him one iota.
“Captain,” Fury corrected himself. “Have you heard about S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers Initiative?”
“Do you mean in any other form than the disaster splashed across the headlines?” John asked.
“The publicity was hardly our fault that-”
“Excuse me,” John interrupted. “Do you have any idea how many potentially Earth-destroying alien invasions the British - let alone the Europeans - have quietly brushed under the carpet? And that’s without the use of the memory-altering device your foot soldiers flash left, right and centre. It is not difficult to keep things under wraps. Instead, you try and nuke a city. Good God man, and you call yourself a world power.”
“What about that incident with the spaceship and Big Ben?” Fury asked, clearly disgruntled.
“Widely accepted as an elaborate hoax. And those who are inclined to think otherwise, know to think otherwise. And the fact that you chose that incident, rather than, say, the one where the atmosphere was set fire to? Or when the entire planet was moved to the opposite end of the Universe and back? Really says something for our PR people. Maybe you should be talking to Mr Holmes again, rather than me?”
“That is not the issue at hand,” the man insisted, sounding more and more fed up. John bit back the urge to grin again, know it would show in his voice.
Instead, perfectly level, he replied, “No sir. So far as I can determine S.H.I.E.L.D. was supposed to be covert ops. No one outside of the agency should know about it without direct interaction. All I know about the Avengers is that they sound like they’d make an excellent sequel to the Captain America comic book saga.”
“Do you always show such little respect for authority?”
“No sir. Only when I’m blackmailed.”
“Justifiable, Captain. Apologies. You have been contacted in the understanding that you are the best available replacement for Agent Coulson.”
John considered for a long moment, keeping his breathing carefully measured. “Coulson’s not dead,” he remarked coolly, trying in vain to keep it from sounding like an accusation. He might not be able to read people like Sherlock had, but he damn well knew Military double-speak. “A man like you does not care how ‘available’ an asset is, unless they’re only temporary.”
“He’s not dead yet,” Fury corrected. “He’s currently in surgery and his chances of a full recovery are not high. There is, however, a chance.”
“If anyone can pull through, it’s Coulson,” John remarked, allowing a little humour colour his voice. “Damn, that’s good to hear.” It took him the meanest of moments to switch back to professional. “What was Coulson to the Avengers?”
“He was their handler,” Fury informed him coolly.
John waited a beat. “Let me get this straight. You had a single person as the link between you and six dysfunctional superheroes?”
“They’re not dysfunctional.”
“Believe me, sir, I’ve had enough therapy sessions to know dysfunctional when I see it.” He held his breath briefly to control the sigh that threatened. “What do you want from me?”
There was a pause over the line and, if Fury had been any other person, John would have assumed he was hesitating.
“Damage control,” was the dry response.
Chapter 2: The One Where Mycroft Does Not Approve (and Hawkeye reluctantly does)
Mycroft disapproved of John’s plan, although he suspected that this was because the politician just didn’t like him being outside his jurisdiction.
“You are not American,” Mycroft told him, a dangerous edge in his normally bland tone. “You should not have to answer to them. Are you sure there is nothing that Fury is holding over you? He is widely known as a notorious blackmailer who will stoop to any low to get what he wants.”
“Like telling all of the Avengers that Coulson’s dead so they act like a team?” John commented dryly, not watching the other man as he packed. “My browning?” he asked.
“They will give you a gun,” Mycroft replied.
“It won’t be my gun. How would you feel if someone took your umbrella away?” John threw back, glancing over his shoulder to watch Mycroft’s fingers spasm around the handle of said implement.
“Your gun doesn’t have a sabre hidden in it.”
John shook his head and threw the last of his jumpers into his bag and zipping it up. “I don’t owe America or Fury anything, but I do owe Coulson. We saved each others lives half a dozen times, now he needs me to hold his team together while he heals. Fury doesn’t hold anything over me, because the only person who does is dead.” Here, he shot a sharp look at Mycroft. He still blamed the politician for Sherlock’s death, and they both knew it.
“If you need help, you know I will do what I can,” Mycroft told him. John seemed to have taken over the role of ‘little brother who needs protecting’ in Mycroft’s eyes.
John shouldered his backpack, tightened the chest strap under his jumper one more notch - he’d lost weight since Sherlock had gone - and checked that his gun and both of his knives were in place.
“I really do think you should stay,” Mycroft tried one more time, to no avail.
“If you’re done trying to stop me, a lift to the airfield would be appreciated,” John told him dryly.
“You know as well as I that my powers of persuasion, whilst apparently ineffectual against your stubbornness, are never ending. However, it would be petty of me to deny you a lift to the airport,” he added the latter at John’s scowl.
“Because you would never want to be petty now, would you?” John replied with biting sarcasm. Mycroft hefted a sigh, but otherwise did not react.
It was harder than John expected to leave 221B behind, but he thought that was probably because there was so much of Sherlock still there. The detective’s half of the rent and bills had continued to be paid after his death, and John did not doubt that was Mycroft’s doing. Similarly, he did not doubt that when he returned from America - if he returned - the flat would be just as he was leaving it now, although perhaps a little dustier.
Still, leaving the flat and England was like saying a permanent goodbye to Sherlock. His flatmate and friend for only two years, and yet still the most important person in his life.
“I will keep minimal surveillance on you,” Mycroft said as they settled into the car. “I’m afraid America really is beyond even my powers.”
“As a whole,” John replied with a wry grin. “I’ve no doubt you have your tendrils. I’m sure if you wished you could quite easily take over the world.”
“You flatter me.”
John chuckled. “It wasn’t a compliment, Mycroft.”
The other man hummed in reply, not answering verbally, though the small smile on his face gave away his amusement.
“I will miss you,” Mycroft told John an hour or so later as the car drove across the tarmac to the private jet that was there to take John to his newest assignment. “I didn’t understand what Sherlock saw in you, to begin with, but you really are a rather remarkable man. It will be strange, not having you around.”
John didn’t respond. He was grateful for Mycroft’s interference sometimes, but mostly the constant reminder of the man he’d lost was too much, especially considering just how overbearing Mycroft could be. He was looking forward to not having to keep an eye on the CCTV cameras or his ears pricking up every time a public phone box rang.
Mycroft sighed again, but John just didn’t have the emotional capacity to feel anything more than vague annoyance towards him. “If you need anything, just call,” the politician said a little wearily, then stretched across the gap and opened the door.
“Thanks for the lift,” John thanked, then got out of the car and took his bag the driver had fetched from the boot. Looking at the aircraft that waited for him, the two official looking men in suits with guns strapped to their hips, John took pleasure in the possibilities it presented. He’d spent the last months in a frozen sort of uncertainty, drifting from home to work and back again. At least now he felt like he had some sort of direction, an objective of sorts.
The plane was larger than John had expected, considering that it was only him that they’d come to collect. But, then, ‘STARK’ was printed in bold lettering along one side, and considering that Iron Man was one of the Avengers, he supposed Fury had nicked Stark’s jet for the job. Why waste your own resources when you could waste someone else’s? It was irrational, perhaps, his immediate hatred of his new boss, but he couldn’t like anyone who told people someone they cared for was dead for the sake of getting a job done.
“You’re Captain Watson,” a voice cut into his thoughts, just as he settled down into one of the sofas.
“Yes,” John replied levelly, too used to Sherlock’s Baker Street Irregulars popping up all over the place to be startled.
The man he turned to face might have looked ordinary, were it not for the skin tight leather outfit he was wearing, and the bow and quiver that were strapped to his back. He was well muscled, but relatively slim and John recognised him instantly from the videos he’d seen of the alien invasion of Manhattan.
“And you’re Clint Barton,” he said.
“Yes,” Barton replied, in a way that vaguely mocked John. “You can’t replace Coulson,” he continued more seriously.
“I don’t want to replace him,” John reassured. He considered revealing the truth, but figured it was probably best left until he could tell the whole team. “I’m a temporary substitute.”
Barton snorted. “Hah! Temporary! I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Coulson’s dead. No way Fury’d bring in a temp.”
John hummed in mild amusement, biting his tongue so as not to give anything away. “And yet, here I am. A temp and an Englishman. Whatever shall you do?”
For a moment their was a flash of surprised respect in the other man’s eyes, before it was shrugged off. “Why did Fury call you?”
“Because I’m the one that trained Coulson,” John replied. It was stretching the truth a bit. He had not trained Coulson the correct way to handle a firearm, or been the one to put him through the rigorous training exercises all new soldiers went through. He was, however, the one who had trained Coulson not to blink at anything. He’d taught him how to be a good man, a kind man, and still be able to look someone in the eye and shoot them dead.
Barton clearly didn’t believe him. “You can’t be much older than Coulson. No way you trained him.”
“Coulson joined the army later in his life than I did. While I did not show him how to fire a gun, it is Fury’s belief that I was the one that turned a good soldier and agent into an extraordinary one.”
“Fury’s belief? Not yours?”
John shrugged. “He trailed me for seven months. I taught him everything I could. Whether that made him extraordinary or not, I don’t know.”
Barton eyed him suspiciously for a moment. “And his love of paperwork, was that your doing too?”
“Ah, no. That he’d cultivated long before he met me. Along side an unrelenting obsession for all things Captain America.”
The archer snorted and nodded his head. “You’ll do for now,” he allowed, before disappearing as rapidly as he’d arrived.
John watched the graceful, silent movements of the other man and made a mental note to request building specifications for wherever he ended up. He’d no doubt that he had one agent on his hands, at least, that liked dropping unexpectedly out of air ducts and could do so silently.
So. There was a bit of love for this fic. Y'know, just a couple of comments. A kudos or two. More in two days on one chapter than I've got on any of my other stories the entire time they've been posted. The usual. And I really, really appreciate it. Seriously, thank you sososo much for all the kudos and comments. It's a little terrifying, but heartwarming all the same.
Now, I have a very important question for people: Pepper/Tony is guaranteed. Would introducing Pepper/Steve/Tony be a bit too much? I honest to God cannot decide whether I want this threesome in this fic or not. Help?
Next chapter out on Thursday 2nd :)
Chapter 3: The One Where the Captains Meet (and the Avengers have nothing on Sherlock)
Given that Hawkeye had escorted John across the Atlantic - and he had no doubt that the archer had him under constant surveillance whether he could see the other man or not - John had expected to find only a car waiting for him. Maybe a driver too, at a push. Certainly not the one and only Captain America. Not that he was dressed or introduced himself as such, but John wasn’t an idiot, no matter what Sherlock had once said.
“ Captain Steve Rogers, sir,” the ridiculously handsome blond man said, snapping a salute before relaxing and grinning a bit.
“Captain John Watson,” John replied, returning the gesture, before offering his hand to shake. “I hear you worked with the late Peggy Carter during the second World War. She became something of a legend amongst the British forces.”
The remark caught Rogers off guard, as though he’d been expecting some kind of personal comment, but hadn’t expected that. “I - yes. She was amazing.” There was a slightly sad, dreamy look in the taller man’s eyes, before he returned to himself and blushed.
John nodded and moved on to other topics. He knew the sight of lost love well enough to leave well alone. “How are you adapting to the twenty-first century?” he asked as they slid into the car, Barton going to the driver’s side and pulling away from the jet.
“Well enough, I suppose. Could’ve lived without the alien attack, but it was better than sitting around uselessly, destroying gym equipment.”
“Wrapped in cotton wool, eh?” John asked. “My best friend died a couple of months back, since then everyone’s been treating me like I’ll burst into tears at any moment.”
Rogers snorted and nodded. “You know the first month I was awake they wouldn’t let me even leave the building at all, and had me on permanent suicide watch? I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without someone watching.”
John grimaced in sympathy. “Sherlock’s big brother put surveillance cameras in my flat.”
“Is he allowed to do that?”
“From what I understand, he’s sort of the British equivalent of Colonel Fury. Except smarter and with both eyes.”
For a brief moment, Rogers looked horrified, before the remark about Fury’s eye finally made him let out a bark of laughter. That seemed to be enough to get another measure of the tenseness in his shoulders to disappear, and he relaxed a bit more in his seat.
“Is he as manipulative?”
“Yes,” John replied promptly, expanding after a moment, “But when I say he’s smarter, I’m talking genius-level, can tell your life story from one glance, kind of smart. So half the time you don’t know he’s manipulating you until you’ve done whatever it is he wanted.”
“Still, it’s good that he’s looking out for you, rather than working against you,” Rogers offered.
John shrugged. “Depends on your definition of ‘good’. The first time I met him - when I met his brother - he kidnapped me. The second time, it was after I’d just shot a serial killer and he’d come to tell myself and Sherlock that he knew and wouldn’t hesitate to use the information to blackmail us.”
“Yeah, well,” was John’s only reply. He wanted to say that all that really didn’t compare to telling the Avengers that their handler and friend was dead when he wasn’t.
“So why’d you come to pick me up?” John asked after a beat of silence.
Rogers looked a bit awkward at the question, but John was coming to understand that a lot of things made Rogers look a bit awkward. “Well, uh, when I’m not saving the world, Fury doesn’t really let me out much. I only see the outside world on my morning run, and even then I have to have an agent follow me. So I take what opportunities I can to get out. S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ is kind of a miserable place, and all the technology on the helicarrier kind of scares me.”
“And me visiting was an opportunity?” John asked wryly.
“Hell yes!” the other man barked, blushing a bit at his own profanity. “I - uh - I mean, yes sir.”
John laughed. “John, please,” he said.
“Steve,” Rogers replied, the grin sneaking back onto his face. “They actually let me drive the car over, so today’s feeling sort of like Christmas for me. I mean, I know how to drive, but it took ages to actually convince Fury that I could. People seem to forget I’m from the forties, not the middle ages.”
“I’ll be sure to make more excuses for you to get out then,” John promised. “From what I’ve been able to gather from the reports I’ve been reading, Coulson’s job was hero-herder and Fury-wrangler. So Fury leaving you without a handler must have left all of you in a bit of a sticky situation.”
“Oh no,” Rogers hastened to correct. “He didn’t leave us without a handler. It’s just that none of us particularly liked Agent Hill in the first place. And, well, since she was assigned to us, we’ve all had our ‘code green’ moments.”
John chuckled at that. “I have to say, I’m finding the American penchant for the dramatic very amusing. ‘Code green’! You say it like it’s an issue.”
Rogers eyed him uncertainly. “It - it kind of is, sir. John. The Hulk’s nothing to laugh at.”
“No, there’s nothing funny about a man turning into a green giant,” John replied, unsurprised when the sarcasm passed Rogers by entirely and the man just frowned at him. So far as he could tell, the Hulk was actually pretty easy to cope with. Make it clear that you weren’t the threat, maybe offer him a cup of tea and something to smash, and everything would sort itself out. Of course, if he could talk Fury into maybe getting Dr Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Ross to come to Manhattan for a visit, that would probably help things.
“So what happened to Agent Hill?” John asked, deciding it was probably best to leave the Hulk issue alone for a later date.
“Um. Tony happened,” Steve said abashedly. From the front seat, Barton snorted. He’d clearly been listening closely to their entire conversation.
John’s eyebrows rose, but he forced himself not to react in any other manner. He’d only had the hours in the jet to look over the reports and character profiles of each of the Avengers which hadn’t been nearly long enough to properly come to terms with what his new job was. It had been more than enough time to realise just what Iron Man, Tony-fucking-Stark, being one of those Avengers might mean. John didn’t follow any of the gossip rags, but it was impossible not to notice the genius playboy billionaire philanthropist and his various escapades. Not to mention that on top of all that, he’d then been kidnapped and tortured and now had a machine permanently embedded above his heart to stop the shrapnel from killing him. And Fury had attempted to say that the Avengers weren’t dysfunctional.
“What did he do?” John asked Steve.
“It’s more a case of what didn’t he do,” Steve explained. “Tony’s - well, he’s very good at pushing people’s buttons. And he pushed all of Agent Hill’s until she pulled a gun on him and Fury was forced to remove her as our handler. He tried to get Agent Sitwell to look after us, for a while, but the guy was about wetting himself before the first day was even out.”
“Huh,” John said, acknowledging what Steve was saying but unwilling to actually reply. The Avengers had only been a group for a month and they’d apparently jelled into a close enough group that any new handler had to face a hazing ritual of sorts. That was actually good news. There had reportedly been a bit of trouble getting them all to work together to start off with, and if they were working together to scare off newcomers that proved they were actually becoming a team, and not just a bunch of individual superheroes.
“I hope you won’t get scared off too easily,” Rogers said with an easy grin, and John wondered whether the speech about how they’d treated Agents Hill and Sitwell was part of the hazing.
“The first day I met Sherlock Holmes, I was asked to examine the body of murder victim, chased a cab halfway across London on foot, was stalked by CCTV cameras, kidnapped and attempted to be bribed by the elder Holmes brother, watched my potential flat get turned upside down in a drugs bust, and ended up shooting dead a serial killer cabbie in order to save Sherlock’s life.” John paused, certain he was missing something. “Oh, and I learned he liked to keep eyeballs in the microwave and human appendages in the fridge!” he added brightly, to Steve’s growing disbelief and horror.
“He ended up being the best friend I have ever had, and the greatest man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Steve just gaped at him, but from the front seat Barton was laughing in what John hoped was approval and not because he thought John was joking.
“Sounds like you’ll fit right in, Doc,” Barton said, pleased, as Steve gathered his wits enough to nod in agreement and try to smile.
OK, so lovelovelove again to everyone who commented. Hugs all around (and have a ginger nut cookie, I made them earlier and they are heavenly)
Also, the answer to the threesome question I posed last time - the replies were really divided, there was a lot of love for all three character and various combinations of them so, for the sake of trying to keep everyone happy (and the fact that, when it comes down to it, the pairings don't really matter) there will be Tony/Pepper happy and in love, and Tony flirting outrageously with Cap. Now, whether he flirts because he's in love with Cap too, or whether it's just Tony being Tony, is up to you to decide.
Also, just FYI, there will be no Tasha/Clint (not my ship people, sorry!) and OF COURSE Bruce and Tony are going to be science bros.
Love to you all, next chapter Saturday 4th!
Chapter 4: The One in Which John Visits S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ (and it's just as miserable as Cap said it'd be)
Rogers had described the S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ as ‘kind of miserable’. John was inclined to agree with him. It took a little over twenty minutes to get from the airport to HQ, although it probably would have taken a lot longer if Barton had paid attention to any traffics laws ever. Still, twenty minutes was long enough for a quick chat with the two so-called ‘Superheroes’ and John felt that, even if the rest of the assignment went tits up, he’d made a good first impression with two people at least.
S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ looked like any other office building: big, grey and bland. The inside was no better, and it made John unconsciously square his shoulders, as though surviving just how boring the building was, was his first task. He knew he’d been complaining about the American’s… overzealousness, but he’d have thought since this was a spy headquarters they’d at least have a conspicuously inconspicuous man in a suit at the door.
Beside him, Rogers chuckled. “I warned you. They save all of the interesting things for the Helicarrier, making that too shiny, and this place too boring.”
“Do you live here?” John asked, appalled.
Rogers shrugged, sharing a glance with Barton, who returned the gesture. “Pretty much. Tony said something about us maybe all moving into the tower together, but I haven’t heard anything about that since the alien attack.”
“The Stark tower?”
“I think he’s taken to calling it the Avengers’ tower now,” Barton answered dryly.
“Of course he has,” John replied just as dryly, thinking of the massive pillar of glass and steel that had been at the centre of the alien invasion. The only footage he’d seen of it had been the shaky camera-phone footage from the battle, and the more professional pictures taken immediately afterwards. Even with the top floor looking wrecked, and some pretty impressive holes in it, it had certainly been memorable. It seemed strange to him that the Avengers weren’t all living there yet.
His train of thought was interrupted as the elevator pinged to announce its arrival, a very prim looking young woman standing there in wait.
“This way Captain Watson, if you please,” she said, holding the doors until John entered.
Rogers snapped to attention as the doors shut, saluting him again, and Barton wriggled his fingers in a mocking wave, saying, “Later, Doc!”
The young woman in the elevator with him stiffened further - a feat that John had assumed was impossible given how tensely she already held herself. She did not to turn to face him as she introduced herself.
“Agent Maria Hill. I hope you haven’t been too put off by Agent Barton and Captain America.”
“Not at all,” John reassured her, biting his tongue so as not to grin. “They were both quite accommodating.”
She huffed in disbelief, shaking her head as though to banish an invisible fly. “I should warn you that will not always be the case,” she said as they arrived at their floor and Hill showed him down a corridor and into a small meeting room.
John smiled at her, hoping it wasn’t as shark-like as it felt. “I look forward to it,” he said. Maybe they’d be enough of a challenge to actually distract him from the gaping hole in his chest that Sherlock’s death had ripped open.
Hill raised an eyebrow at him, but did not comment. Instead, she gestured to the sideboard. “Tea or coffee?” she offered.
John eyed the options grimly. There was a small jug of cream, a jar of honey and a couple of slices of lemon alongside a grey box that proclaimed itself to be hot water and several sachets of instant coffee. There were two types of tea bags in a small basket, and he didn’t recognise either of the names. He’d long since learnt to be wary of tea brands he didn’t recognise and shook his head.
“No, thank you, Agent Hill,” he declined, the skin around his eyes feeling tight. He didn’t consider himself picky, when it came to tea, but he didn’t trust anyone who offered cream instead of milk.
She gestured to John to take a seat, pouring herself a cup of instant coffee and wincing at the taste. John mentally patted himself on the back for avoiding that assault on his taste buds. Hill pulled a tablet from her bag, and slid it over to John so that it was in front of him. He’d been handed a similar one on his flight over, and it had contained all of the essential information he’d started to get himself acquainted with. John put that tablet on the table next to Hill’s.
“Oh, good, you have your information packet with you,” she remarked. “It’s the same as the one we gave to each of the Avengers when they first joined the Initiative, with some additions to make it up to date.”
John sighed internally. ‘Some additions’ translated to roughly 50 extra PDF files, all of them at least five pages long. He was getting the impression that Coulson’s love of paperwork had been more than satisfied at S.H.I.E.L.D.
“You may keep that tablet with you. This one, however, must remain in this building at all times - either under lock and key or safely stowed about your person.”
“And why the secrecy, may I ask?” John said, keeping his voice even.
Hill scowled, as though the answer was obvious and he was an idiot for asking. “It contains contingency plans for any individual or group of Avengers going rogue,” she explained slowly. “They can not know about it.”
John picked up the tablet and flicked it on, scrolling through the files he was presented with. Sure enough, each of the Avengers had their own folder, and every possible combination of them did too. Which led to an impressive sixty-two contingency plans, although they forgotten - “There’s no contingency plan for if they all ‘go rogue’,” he stated.
“Director Fury,” Hill replied sharply, “Is of the opinion that if they all go rogue the only hope we have is fervent praying.” It sounded as though it pained her to say it, although it was clearly a belief that she shared.
John turned the tablet off and placed it carefully on the desk, sliding it away from himself. “See, here’s the thing I don’t understand,” he told her. “You and Fury both seem to think that, if the Avengers get it in their heads that they don’t like S.H.I.E.L.D., you don’t stand a chance against them. And yet, you also seem to be trying very hard to get them to hate you.”
“If you are referring to the choice to misinform them about Coulson’s death, you must know that it occurred in the middle of a battle and that desperate times called for desperate measures.”
Yes, John thought, like bombing a city because the Avengers weren’t winning fast enough. “All sorts of manipulation takes place on battlefields to get men to do what they need to so that not everybody has to die. I don’t like it, but I understand it. What I can not understand is why, immediately following the battle, you did not then confess to your subterfuge.”
Hill looked outraged. “Fury knew that if he revealed his lies, the Avengers Initiative would only fall apart again,” she insisted.
Well no wonder the Avengers didn’t like her if she took Fury’s word as law. John pursed his lips and leant back on the uncomfortable chair. “Fury knew nothing of the sort, Agent Hill. A team forged in blood and battle is not one that is so easily torn apart. I have no way of knowing how these people would react to being told the truth, but I can tell you that not telling them is incredibly selfish of you.”
“I had my orders,” she barked. “And so do you,” she added.
John smiled benignly. “On the contrary, Agent Hill. The only direct order I’ve received is to serve as Coulson’s temporary replacement and to do my best at ‘damage control’.”
Hill glared at him for a long minute, and he watched her just as closely. She was hard and cold, made of sharp edges and careful control. He was softer, warmer, friendlier. But no less dangerous. Something shifted in her eyes and she stood up suddenly, nodding at him. “Very well,” she said, and it made John’s smile become just a little more genuine.
Because that ‘very well’ was more than just her acknowledging his distaste at Fury’s actions. That was her telling him that, if he thought it was the best course of action, he could tell them. There was an air of ‘be it upon your own head’ to the matter, but John brushed that aside easily enough. He was more pleased about the fact that it spoke a lot about Hill’s character. A consummate professional, and extraordinarily loyal, but also willing to bend the rules - just a little - to get a job done. John kind of liked that.
“We should go out for drinks sometime,” he said, standing as well and scooping up both tablets.
Hill turned on the spot and glared. “If that’s a joke-”
“No! No joke!” John reassured, raising both hands in the air, palms towards her in a sign of harmlessness. “I just figure you probably don’t get much of a chance to relax.”
She continued staring at him with narrowed eyes, before she inclined her head ever so slightly. “Friday, 2000 hours, the front lobby. Don’t be late,” she ordered, spinning back round again and stalking from the room. John grinned and followed her at a safe distance.
John! When did I decide you should ask Agent Hill out? That - that wasn't planned *headdesk*. But still something I can have fun with later...>:D
And no John/Hill is not going to be a pairing. I'm a John/Sherlock shipper all the way.
Many hugs and kisses to Cyberbutterfly for helping with my canon references. I only really know the movies, so I was making a lot of stuff up ^^
Next chapter up on Monday! (And it's the Black Widow one - probably my favourite so far ;) )
PS, I have no idea how Americans serve tea, but I have heard a lot of you say having it with cream, or lemon. So if I got it massively wrong, just ignore it. It's plot devise that comes into play later. :)
Chapter 5: The One Where John and Black Widow Fight (and John knows a ninja when he sees one)
After they left the first meeting room - where they had apparently only really stopped to grab coffees - Hill then led John to another, fancier meeting room. This one had a central table that was apparently supposed to project a Star Wars-esque hologram above the surface to get a better 3D plan of whatever they were interested in looking at. Thankfully, Hill only used it very briefly, because it made John feel cross-eyed.
She gave a brief but thorough description of his new job, and John couldn’t help but be unsurprised at Hill being unable to do it herself. No doubt she was a good soldier, maybe even a good commander, but she wasn’t exactly a people-person. And judging from the large array or personality types - and faults - to be found in just the six of them, it took more than barking a few orders to get them to fall in line.
It seemed that the handler for the Avengers had to a combination of superhero, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and group therapist. Or, at the very least, capable of keeping a cool head in the worst of situations, because apparently being in the middle of a world-threatening crisis was actually one of the few times when the Avengers were most likely to happily go about their business. As opposed to the rest of the time when they all seemed to be involved in a very serious, all consuming prank war.
Which John found quite amusing really. When it was a daily occurrence to find his flatmate shooting at the wall, running around Buckingham Palace naked, or covered in blood and wielding a harpoon, accidentally-on-purpose turning the microwave into a bomb and blowing up the kitchen sounded pretty par for the course. Especially since no one got hurt (apart from maybe Stark himself when his PA-cum-CEO-cum-girlfriend found out what he’d done to the place).
He decided that it was probably not a good idea to tell Hill that he found this funny. It probably rated somewhere around the ‘giggling at crime scenes’ morality meter in her eyes.
Once Hill was finally done with explaining what he was supposed to do, she led him down to the basement training areas where he was to meet another of the Avengers. John was going to meet the only female officially on the team, the infamous Black Widow.
Agent Hill didn’t even leave the elevator when they got to the right floor, just pointed him in the direction of the gym and headed back up. John rolled his shoulders and bit his cheek to keep from sighing. He was starting to get a feeling that working with S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be just as difficult as doing the job he’d been brought in to do, but for completely different reasons.
Naturally, when he got to the gym, there wasn’t a soul in sight. There was a sparring ring, some treadmills, weight benches, and what looked like a pile of broken punch bags. It was smaller than he’d expected, considering this was supposedly the headquarters for quite an affluent spy network, but the grim décor was pretty much what he’d been expecting at this point.
He stood in the door way for a moment, before moving into the room and dropping his bag. The two tablets rattled a bit in the outside pocket, making John wince and hope he wouldn’t have to pay to replace them if they got broken.
There was a shift in the air, that caused the hairs on the back of his neck to rise, and wasn’t it funny that there was a draft in the basement? John didn’t know much about Ms Romanova yet, but he knew enough to have labelled her ‘ninja’ in his mind. So he ducked and rolled, quickly unsheathing one of his knives just in time to avoid the kick she’d aimed at his head as she dropped from the ceiling.
“Nice,” she complimented, standing gracefully from the crouch she’d landed in.
John stood too, feeling a little like a lumbering fool next to her, and offered his right hand. “John Watson,” he said.
Romanova eyed his hand like it was a poisonous snake for a moment, before shaking it, grip tight enough that John heard one of his knuckles crack. He did not wince, and simply smiled blandly back at her.
“Agent Romanova,” she replied in a low purr. There was no trace of her Russian origins in her accent, and John was as impressed by that as he was by her ability to hang from a featureless ceiling. “But maybe you can call me Natasha?” she continued in the same, sensual tone.
John knew a trap when he saw one. Aside from the fact that she was called the Black Widow, he’d also read enough of her file to know she was in a long term, mostly secret relationship with some chap called Daredevil. Mostly secret, because apparently S.H.I.E.L.D. were falling over themselves trying to track down and apprehend Daredevil, and they kept spotting him fighting alongside - and making out with - their very own Agent Romanova. Which was something else that John found hilarious and didn’t know anyone to share the joke with.
All this did not stop the fact that John’s brain derailed for a second or two when faced with a truly gorgeous woman murmuring suggestively in his ear. Thankfully it was a short enough time that it could be written off as surprise.
“Knew a woman like you, once,” John said, standing at military rest and purposefully keeping his muscles loose and relaxed.
“Oh yes? What happened?”
John turned his head and met Romanova’s gaze straight on. “She fell in love with my best friend and he unlocked all of her secrets,” he told her with a bland smile. “I’m afraid that her heart got quite broken.” John was also about 80% sure that Sherlock had gone on to travel half way across the world to save her life. Although whether this was because he returned her love, considered her too worthy a friend/opponent to die, or just wanted her to owe him one hell of a favour John couldn’t say.
Romanova took a step back, to a more reasonable distance. “You’re not going to break my heart,” she stated.
John laughed. “You know, I don’t think I’ve broken anyone’s heart in my life?” he replied easily enough. John fell in and out of love as rapidly as the women he fell for did, which led to an almost embarrassingly long list of ex-girlfriends on whose Christmas card lists his name still resided. “And I’m really not all that good at unearthing people’s secrets,” he added as an after thought.
Romanova blinked at him and smiled the same bland smile that he’d worn moments before. “Oh, I doubt that,” she told him mysteriously. John couldn’t tell whether she meant the hearts of the secrets - or both, for that matter - and soon decided that he was probably best off just letting her think what she wanted. “Spar?” she asked, nodding towards to ring.
“You’ll have to give me a moment to change,” John replied, gesturing at his well worn jeans and woolly jumper.
“You should be able to fight in anything,” she scolded.
“I can,” John replied, with a bit of a frown. “I have. But I don’t know where I’ll be staying or when I might be able to have a shower or wash my clothes, so I’ll stick to sparring in my gym clothes, if you don’t mind.”
Romanova nodded her head in agreement, then sauntered in the direction of the ring and doing a series of stretches. John quickly pulled off his jumper, button down and jeans, and pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, both of which were thankfully pretty near the top of his bag. He rolled his injured shoulder carefully and decided that it should be alright. Over two years since he’d been shot in it, and the stiffness was almost entirely gone. His movement was still a little limited, but at this point it was unlikely that he’d ever regain full movement.
He did a few quick stretches, and John was pleased to note that, in spite of the few odd twinges his leg had given in the recent months, it wasn’t giving him any trouble at the moment. He hopped over the barrier of the sparring ring and bounced on his toes, testing the floor for the amount of give. He had taken Romanova’s lead and chosen to fight bare foot, which was not something he’d done since that one chase midwinter barefoot halfway down the length of Oxford Street. Trust Sherlock to spot a shoplifter whilst John was part way through buying a new pair of shoes (which he’d only had to buy because he and Sherlock had taken an impromptu swim in the Thames).
Romanova took her position opposite him, also bouncing on her feet. John thought it was probably more a mockery of him than anything else. They circled for a moment, exchanging a few quick, exploratory jabs, before she suddenly burst into motion, taking John’s feet out from under him whilst he blocked a thrust at his neck. He fell, but managed to get his shoulders and hands underneath him, and sprung back up, wasting no time to plant a fist in her stomach, and duck behind her.
The blow only winded her a little and did nothing to slow her down, so when John tried to twist her arm and trap her wrist against her back, she used the motion to spin round to face him, and jabbed a fist at his face. He ducked the first, but got hit on the chin by her other fist that had been expecting the movement. The sudden, flaring pain brought the world into sharper focus, and John revelled in the fight as it continued. It had been too long since his last fight, and much longer than that since he’d had such a brilliant opponent. As affective as biting and scratching and trying to stick fingers in eyes was, it was nice to fight in a way that actually seemed to have rules.
The fight lasted quite a long time, although that was perhaps only due to John’s distorted perception of it. His inner clock always went a bit wonky when there was a lot of adrenaline pumping through his veins. And it only came to an end when Romanova landed a slicing blow to the top of John’s bad shoulder and had proceeded to yank that arm up and around. As quickly as switching off a light bulb, John’s ‘bad’ leg gave out beneath him and he stumbled and fell.
Not expecting someone who had been such a strong opponent until this point to make such a mistake, Romanova also fell, although she still had a tight grip on his arm and was still pulling on it.
“Fuck!” John ground out. “I concede,” he added through gritted teeth.
Romanova instantly let go, although she seemed as confused as it was probably possible for her to look about why the fight had come to such an abrupt stop.
John struggled into a sitting position, and rubbed his leg with a wince. “I was discharged from the army,” he said, feeling as though he owed Romanova an explanation, “because I got shot in the shoulder and it limited my mobility enough that I became a liability. At almost exactly the same time the bullet went through my shoulder, another grazed my leg. The leg wound didn’t even need stitches, but my brain confused the pain. Consequently I developed a psychosomatic limp which is now almost entirely gone, and any time my shoulder more than aches a bit, my leg gives out.”
Romanova hovered by him for a bit, looking almost as though she might apologise. She didn’t, but she did offer him a hand up to standing as soon as his leg was mostly recovered, which was probably her equivalent of saying sorry.
“You fight well,” she allowed him.
“Not as well as you. I know you were holding back on me,” John replied.
She smiled, and it was all teeth. “I hold back on anyone that I don’t want to kill, so don’t take it personally.”
I have learnt SO MUCH about American tea in the last two days. As much as I appreciate everyone going to the effort of informing me (although I'm pretty sure I said not to worry about that) this chapter is offered in an attempt to get people to talk about other things (there will be plenty of chances to talk about tea again later on). So let's talk about how awesome Natasha is, shall we? And how are people liking my explanation for John's limp? I know they never say anything about it in the TV series, and I've no idea if something like that is medically possible, but hey! brains are tricky.
This is also probably the chapter I like the most so far, just so you know :)
Lots of love to everyone who commented, and thanks again to Cyberbutterfly and her canon tips.
Chapter 6: The One Where John Asks a Lot of Questions (and Happy stares at Black Widow's ass)
After his spar with Romanova, she led John back to the lobby and out the front doors to a sleek looking silver car, with a man John didn’t recognise leaning against the hood. The stranger was dressed in a suit, dark shades over his eyes, which he removed and slipped into his jacket pocket when he saw them emerge.
“Ms Rushman, pleasure to meet you again,” he said, offering his hand to Romanova. “Oh, it’s, uh, not Rushman, is it? That was just the name you used when you were pretending to be a lawyer for Stark Industries…” The man floundered a moment, clearly uncertain how he was supposed to react.
“Agent Romanova of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” she corrected him. “And this is Captain John Watson.”
John stepped forward and shook the man’s hand, that was still hovering uncertainly in the air between them. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“You too,” the man replied, looking happy to take John’s lead and shaking his hand a little too enthusiastically. “I’m Happy, Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s chauffeur and sometimes bodyguard. Ms Potts said I needed to be at this address to bring you over to Stark - uh, the Avengers Tower.”
“If I were you, Captain, I’d take the opportunity to settle in,” Romanova said, stressing her words strangely. “There is, naturally, a room set aside for your use here at headquarters, if you appreciate thin mattresses and shared bathrooms.”
John smiled thinly and nodded his thanks for the warning. “I hope to see you again soon, Agent.”
She returned his nod, then stalked back inside the building, not waiting for them to leave. When John turned to face Hogan, he wasn’t too surprised to notice the blank look on the other man’s face as his eyes followed Romanova’s rapidly disappearing form.
“She has a boyfriend,” John told him, amused.
Hogan snapped back to himself and shot John a slightly confused look.
“Agent Romanova,” John said. “She has a boyfriend.”
“Well, of course she does,” Hogan replied. He sounded lost somewhere between disappointment and denial, as though he barely recognised his own lust for her. “Pass me your bag, I’ll put it in the trunk.”
John passed the bag over, feeling awkward about getting someone else to handle his luggage. At least he didn’t have much of it. Then he slid into the car and did his best not to notice the TV screens in the backs of the driver and passenger seats, the mini bar on one side, and what looked like a thong squished between two of the seats. He was sure that he didn’t want to know.
“How long have you been working for Mr Stark?” John asked, once Hogan had got in and buckled up.
“Ten, nearly fifteen years now? Although, technically I think I work for Pepper - Ms Potts that is - now.”
“She’s his CEO and girlfriend?” John asked, a little sceptically. It wasn’t that he questioned the truth of what he was saying, he just found it strange that a man as rich and powerful as Mr Stark was would pass all that over for a pretty girl in a short skirt and tight blouse.
Hogan grinned, looking at him through the mirror. “Pepper was Stark Industries' CEO long before Tony ever officially gave her that title,” he said. “She’s been the only thing between him and complete ruin for almost a decade now.”
“What about Mr Stane?” John asked. He didn’t know much about the business world, but it had been a massive story a year or so ago, when the then-CEO had supposedly died in an aeroplane accident, just like the one Howard and Maria Stark had died in almost twenty years before. John had remembered thinking, at the time, that for a group of people who’s careers were founded in business and accountancy, they were an awfully superstitious lot.
Hogan grunted, “Obadiah never had any real control over Tony - could never stop him from his wilder exploits - and, just as a friendly warning, I wouldn’t mention his name anywhere near Tony, his tower, or Pepper.”
Well. Maybe there had been some truth in the crazy hypothesis people had spouted at the time. John hummed a tuneless agreement, staring out at the city flashing by. He wondered whether it was an American thing to not pay attention to traffic laws, or just the people he happened to have caught lifts off. Not that he could complain, both Barton and Hogan were excellent drivers, they just weren’t particularly conscientious ones. He’d paid cabbies in London who were much, much worse.
“So, how are you liking America?” Hogan asked.
“I don’t know,” John answered honestly. “I only got here a few hours ago, and I haven’t seen much apart from the inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ.”
“Is that - did I just pick you up from S.H.I.E.L.D.? Was that a spy headquarters? Oh my god. Should I know that? Does Pepper know that?” Hogan blurted.
John grinned. “Yes, yes, I don’t know and I don’t know,” he answered in order. “Although, I’m starting to have my doubts as to whether it’s actually their headquarters. I think it’s probably just the New York living and debriefing building for their Agents.”
“That’s where Cap’s staying?”
“‘Cap’ as in Captain America?” John asked, carrying on when he got a nod in return, “Yeah. He, Black Widow and Hawkeye all live there, so far as I know. I don’t know about Dr Banner or Thor.”
“Oh, Thor’s in New Mexico with his girlfriend at the moment,” Hogan seemed pleased to be able to share some information. “And Dr Banner is staying at Stark Tower, since he’s head of one of the biotech R&D departments now.”
As pleased as John felt, to hear that Dr Banner had managed to settle down somewhere not on the run from General Ross, he still didn’t understand why everyone was so spread out. What was the point of having an Avengers team, if you had to send messages not only half way across the city, but half way across the country too? Besides which, while a friendship could be born in battle, it could only flourish in the times between, when you learnt to know someone outside of who they were when fighting for their life.
“Why does Mr Stark call it the Avengers Tower?” John asked.
Hogan shrugged. “He and Pepper were fighting over whether it should be Stark tower, or Potts tower, what with it being mostly her idea, and after the battle they both decided that it should be the Avengers tower. They added a few extra floors, tidied up the roof a bit, got rid of the holes in the side from the battle, and then made room for each of the Avengers and then some to have an apartment space.”
“So why aren’t they all living there now?”
“Don’t know. Pepper has been talking to… Agent Hill? Is it? The lady who took over from Coulson. She told her what she and Tony were planning on doing, and let her know when the apartments were mostly ready to move into. Then Hill pulled a gun on Tony, and we ended up with some other suit who I think was around for a grand total of about two days, before he bailed. That was almost a week ago now, no idea what’s been happening about it since.”
“Was Agent Hill staying in the tower?”
Hogan shook his head. “Nope, she has her own place out in Brooklyn.”
John sighed and turned back to staring out the window. So the whole not-living-together thing was probably more a breakdown of communications rather than another manipulation on Fury’s part. That was good news, although having that weight off his back did remind John that he now had to not only sort out bringing everyone in, but he would also end up with the brunt of everyone’s bad reactions when they worked out what living together would really mean. John still remembered with distaste when he and four of his Uni mates had moved into a flat share together. It had taken them the entire first semester to realise that they actually did still like each other.
“Why all the questions, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Fury’s brought me in as the next attempt at a temporary Coulson substitute,” John explained. “And my first goal seems to be to actually make the Avengers a team again.”
Hogan let out a bark of laughter, and said, “Good luck with that.”
Which was not exactly encouraging.
This chapter is kind of a boring one. In my opinion. So... sorry, about that. On the plus side, the next chapter is Pepper's and the one after that is Tony's, so there should be some fun stuff ahead. I'm also trying to write this fic really quickly now because I have so many ideas and I need to get it out of my head and get back to my Big Bang fic. What that means for this fic is that hopefully I'll be able to give you a better estimate about how many chapters there'll be before long.
My love to everyone who's subscribed, bookmarked, rec'd, given kudos or commented. It means a lot <3
Chapter 7: The One With the Tablet of Prophesised Doom (and Pepper meets John)
By the time that John remembered he still had the tablet that absolutely-must-not-leave-the-building in his bag, Hogan was already pulling up outside the base of Stark tower. John considered this for the moment, and decided he could work with it. He’d need to return to the HQ some time soon, to sort out the living arrangements for the Avengers, and also to try and work out whatever else he could about what he was supposed to be doing. In spite of Hill’s briefing, most of what it had bubbled down to was ‘We call you when there’s an emergency - you call in the Avengers.’ Which, honestly? Not exactly what John would call helpful.
John was half hoping that the Tablet of Prophesised Doom (because what else could he call a device that detailed all the plans for if something went wrong?) could give him a better idea of what he was supposed to be doing when there wasn’t an emergency, but he wasn’t holding up much hope. Ah well, worst comes to worst he still had that date on Friday, where he might be able to wrangle a better answer out of Hill once she’d had a drink or two.
When John stepped out of the car, Happy was already waiting with his bag, and a slender, stunningly beautiful woman had stepped out of the building to greet him.
“Captain Watson, I presume,” the lady said, tucking a tablet under her arm and offering him her hand.
John shook it and offered her what he hoped was a winning smile. “Please, call me John.”
“John,” she corrected herself. “I’m Virginia Potts, but please call me Pepper. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise. To what do I owe the honour of the CEO herself welcoming me to the tower?”
Pepper smiled at him, but didn’t immediately answer. Instead, she greeted Happy like an old friend, thanked him for bringing their visitor and handed him what must have been his next assignment, as Happy hopped back into the car and drove off. “My apologies. I’m afraid we’re still in the midst of repairing the city, and to keep my schedule clear for this evening I’ve got everyone else working double time,” she said.
John shrugged and shouldered his bag, following her happily enough to the elevators. “You didn’t need to clear your evening on my account,” he insisted.
“On the contrary,” Pepper replied. “Your putting up with the Avengers long enough for Fury to find a permanent solution is one of my highest priorities at the moment. I seem to have become their handler by default, as though looking after Tony his company isn’t enough of a full time job as it is.”
Now that John had a chance to study her, and not just be taken in by how stunning she was, he did notice that she looked a bit tired. Her shoulders had drooped a little in the privacy of the elevator, and she kept shifting her weight subtly from one foot to the other, as though she’d spent far too long on her feet - which, in killer heels like that, was certainly something of an achievement.
“Which, coupled with the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t giving me answers to any of my questions makes the job ten times harder,” Pepper continued. “I haven’t even able to contact anyone other than Agent Hill in the last week, and Maria has hardly been forthcoming. She seems to be of the opinion that if I can bear to call Tony my boyfriend I have to take what comes with that without complaints. Now, Tony I can handle. I’ve been working for him, making sure he doesn’t kill himself for a decade now. It’s the rest of them that are getting out of hand!
“Not that they aren’t lovely people, Steve’s a complete sweetheart, and Bruce has been a wonderful help with reorganising the top floors of the Avengers tower, but it can all get a bit much sometimes, you know? Not helped by the fact that all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents seem to change phones every other day, which means that Natalie, or Natasha, whatever she’s going by now, who would be a fantastic help, is out of contact. It would all be so much easier if they all lived here, but I’ve no idea where all the paperwork for that disappeared to, and I really don’t have enough time to redo all of it. I just wish that-”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened to reveal the penthouse suite of the Avengers Tower, redecorated after the attack it had suffered a month prior. There were massive windows and fantastic views of the city everywhere, and the room they appeared in, which appeared to be a living area of sorts, was spacious and well designed.
“I am so sorry, John,” Pepper apologised. “I didn’t mean to prattle on like that, but I had barely got used to the workload of being CEO, let alone this superhero stuff on top of it.”
“Not at all. I can only imagine how difficult the last month has been for you.”
“Oh,” Pepper said, and smiled a little bemusedly. “Well, it’s not been too bad. Tony’s been… behaving himself, mostly. He - he almost died and-”
John cut her off with a warm smile and a one shouldered shrug. “It’s alright, Ms - Pepper. I can understand a little of what you’re going through. Not all of it, I grant you - probably not even close to half of it - but I do know a little. While S.H.I.E.L.D. has not exactly been helpful, I will do whatever I can to help.”
She watched him for a moment, blue eyes sharper now than they’d been moments before, and observing everything they could about him. After the moment passed, Pepper smiled a more genuine smile than he’d yet seen from her, that made her eyes crinkle at the corners and appeared to make her lose some of her fatigue. “Would you like something to drink?” she offered.
“I’m dying for a cup of tea, if you’ve got it one,” John replied, happily trotting after her as she led the way to the kitchen.
“Just put your bag down anywhere,” Pepper directed him, “I’ll show you down to your quarters after a bit of a chat, and you can unpack then.” She eyed his bag speculatively, and John didn’t have the guts to ask what it was she was thinking about his belongings.
It took a few minutes to organise a pot of English Breakfast tea for John, and a cafetiere of very fragrant smelling coffee for Pepper, but eventually they settled down on the enormous sofa together, and John pulled out the two tablets he’d been presented with and explained what each of them was, as well as how one of them wasn’t technically supposed to be there.
“Oh, you mean the Tablet of Last Hopes?” Pepper asked.
“I’ve started calling it the Tablet of Prophesised Doom, in my head, but yes, that’s the one,” John agreed, revelling in the shared moment of amusement.
“I shouldn’t worry too much about that. Tony’s already got copies of all the files, and I think everyone’s read most of them. Not that it would matter even if they hadn’t, those plans have more holes in them than the plot for that terrible Twilight book. I think they might have had a summer intern write them up. I hope they had a summer intern write them, because if they’re still employing whoever wrote them I might have to rewrite the contract Stark Industries have with S.H.I.E.L.D. and reduce their funding.”
John chuckled into his cup of tea, which coincidentally provided an excellent cover for his wince at the taste. Whatever that was, it certainly wasn’t the tea he’d been hoping for. He lowered it back to the tray and tried not to think of the little pot of teabags sitting on the side in 221B.
“I have to tell you, I’m astonished at the lack of communication between the Avengers individually and S.H.I.E.L.D.,” John told her. “When Fury first told me he wanted to be their handler, I was expecting to find a much smoother operation than I’ve found.”
Pepper sighed, and lowered her coffee back to the tray as well. “The problem is that the Avengers Initiative, whilst it is a project thought up and designed by S.H.I.E.L.D., it isn’t technically a S.H.I.E.L.D. operation. Bruce and Tony are civilians, Steve is military, but his contract technically ended some sixty-odd years ago, Clint and Natasha are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but both of them were trained by other organisations, and Thor isn’t even technically human. The Avengers Initiative was designed to be a separate entity that still answered to S.H.I.E.L.D., partly so that they could put together the team they did, but partly also so that if either of them were taken down by an enemy agent, the other would still exist and the country and the world would still have a line of defence.
“But all of this was relying on Fury being able to have one of his agents either on the team or working as their ground support. It was supposed to have been Phil - Agent Coulson, that is - with Agent Hill helping out or taking over where and when necessary.” There was something tight and indefinable in her voice as Pepper talked about Coulson, and John’s chest contracted painfully. It was obvious to him that Coulson had been more than just another handler to these people - he’d been a friend, too. He dearly wished he could tell Pepper then and there, but he knew that he had to tell the whole group at once, or he’d never get it done properly.
“That plan didn’t work out too well, did it?” John asked, as lightly as he could. “Like I said before, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I will do my best to pull this team back together and making life as easy as possible for you.”
Pepper smiled that genuine, eye-crinkling smile again, and John couldn’t help but return it. “Between the two of us, I’m sure we’ll be able to form a plan of attack,” she promised. All business, now, she picked up her tablet and her cup of coffee, and led him over a curved black desk. She tapped the surface, and the files for each of the Avengers flew up into the air around them, looking like something directly out of a sci-fi movie.
John had managed to scan through most of the files he’d been given at the beginning of his seven-hour flight, so he knew enough to recognise there was a lot more here than what he’d been given. When he pointed this out to Pepper she shot him another commiserating look.
“There’s what S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks you need to know, and then there’s what you actually need to know,” she explained.
With a sigh, John headed back over to the coffee table and his abandoned tea. Awful tasting or not, he was probably going to need the caffeine for this.
Three little things that you might be interested in:
1) One of the things Russians do to make nicknames is add 'asha' (fem) or 'isha' (masc) to people's names. My cousin married a lovely Russian lady by the name of Maria, but to all of her friends she was 'Masha' because it's a term of endearment. And since 'Natalie' is the American form of 'Natalia', this means that Black Widow's name can be 'Natalie', 'Natalia', and 'Natasha' all at the same time, because they're different ways of saying the same name.
2) I wrote almost 9k words of this fic yesterday, (5 chaps plus a bonus bit because I forgot to do a John-meets-JARVIS chapter) which means that I've finished chap14 and have at least another ten chapters on top of that still to write. I think there will be 24 chapters, but given that at the beginning of yesterday I thought there would be 22, this number is likely to change.
3) Tony's chapter is next. We like Tony. Because he's ridiculous and wonderful and I promised myself I wouldn't tell you anything about his chapter, so I'm just going to say it's up on Sunday. And Bruce's is after that and I love Bruce's chapter :D
Lot's of love again to all of my wonderful readers <3
Chapter 8: The One Where Tony Invades John's Bedroom (and then refuses to go away)
After spending that evening getting a much more personal explanation for each of the Avengers (which seemed like a long list of Things Not to Say or Do around each of them), John declined Pepper’s offer for dinner and was finally led to the rooms that were, for the time being, apparently his. He said ‘apparently’ because the entire thing was too unreal for him to fully process at the moment.
Pepper hadn’t just led him to a set of rooms. She’d led him to an entire floor. That was his, and only his, for the duration of his stay. All that opulence and space for one person was practically obscene, and had put John on edge from the moment he’d been left there. Not that he didn’t appreciate having somewhere to stay - he had no doubt that the quarters at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ were little more than barracks - but he really didn’t need the flat screen TV or the hot tub. The fully stocked kitchen came as a pleasant surprise however.
Either way, the oversized everything meant that, in spite of having been awake a good five hours longer than he normally would be (when not chasing Sherlock about the city, anyway) sleep was difficult to find, and harder to keep hold of.
Which was why, when at two o’clock an intruder crept into his rooms, John was on his feet, light switched on and gun to the forehead of the stranger before you could count to five.
“Who are you and what the hell are you doing here?” John barked gruffly.
“I should be asking you that question,” the stranger replied, looking not in the least bit afraid and sounding most put-out. “It’s my building! It has - or, well, had, I suppose - my name on it!”
“Stark?” John asked, squinting at the other man and trying to remember him from the pictures he’d seen when the man hadn’t been wearing his tin suit. “You do know your girlfriend’s room is two flights up from here, right?” He lowered the gun and clipped the safety back in place.
“Yes of course I know that!” the man said exasperatedly. He leaned forward and peered at John through narrowed eyes. “How are you awake? You’ve had maybe - hmm - four hours of sleep? And that’s after being awake maybe twenty hours? Plus a transatlantic flight, you should be dead to the world right now!” Stark finished his exclamation by rocking back on his heels and pointing a finger accusingly at John. “Why are you awake?” he demanded to know.
“Because their’s a mouthy billionaire in my bedroom?” John suggested, tucking the gun back into the bedside table drawer he’d yanked it from. It was far from the first time he’d been woken up in the middle of the night by a self-absorbed genius yammering on whilst he was trying to sleep, but it would have been nice to have actually been introduced to the guy before Stark started bursting into his bedroom unannounced.
“Yeah, no, see, you got it wrong again, it’s my bedroom. Technically. Part Pepper’s too actually, since the tower’s her baby. So, who are you, why are you here, was that a gun or are you just happy to see me? You know, the usual combination of questions on the awkward morning after. Well, the last one probably comes before the one night stand, but I’m sure I can squeeze it in.”
“We’re really doing introductions now?” John asked with raised eyebrows. “You couldn’t have said ‘hi’ when Pepper and I were working last night? Or waited until tomorrow?”
“It sort of is tomorrow,” Stark replied, with a nose twitch that was extraordinarily dismissive given how small a gesture it was. “And yes, now is good. Since you spent all last night hitting on my girlfriend, apparently, and are now sleeping in our bed.”
John wondered if the man was really as ridiculous and possessive as he sounded at that point in time, or if it was just the thirty-odd hours straight he’d purportedly just spent in his lab without sleeping. “It’s not your bed. Pepper gave me this floor.”
“Yeah, again, not going with that,” Stark argued back. “It’s still - well, was - my name on the side of the building, and it’s my money-”
“And her company?” John cut in with a smug little smile. “It now says ‘Avengers’ on the side, doesn’t it?”
“Well, technically only the ‘A’, but I’m working on that.”
“Well, technically, I’m sort of an Avenger now. So it’s my bed, my bedroom and would you please kindly buggar off so that I can get some sleep.”
Stark blinked at him for a moment, apparently stumped enough that the motor mouth of his had actually stalled for a second or two. “Oh hell no, now I have to get more details. You’re sort of an Avenger? When did that happen? Why was I not told? What’s your power? Because you’re clearly not a super spy or a genius.”
Perhaps the other man had made the last remark with the intent to hurt. If so, he was up to some pretty tough competition, given the number of times Sherlock had sincerely and cuttingly degraded John’s intelligence. He had to ask, though - “How do you know I’m not a genius?”
The billionaire waved his hand. “I haven’t heard of you,” he dismissed the question. “Which is what I was trying to say - who are you?”
“Do either of the names ‘Holmes’ or ‘Moriarty’ ring any bells?” John felt compelled to ask. When his answer came as a slightly blank look and another dismissive wave, John laughed before Stark could ask him who he was again. “You are incredibly full of yourself, did you know that Mr Stark?”
“Everyone knows that,” Stark replied, before opening his mouth probably to doggedly ask the same question yet again.
“The name’s Doctor John Watson, Mr Stark. Fury pulled me in as Coulson’s substitute since apparently none of his agents are up to the challenge.”
Stark went very, very still at the mention of Coulson’s name, and John cursed Fury silently. Just how much damage had he done to these people with his lies? There must be more to his reasoning of not telling them than what there originally appeared.
“Now, as you rightly guessed, I’ve had a very long day and very little sleep, so if you don’t mind I’d like to get some sleep.”
“Go ahead,” the man said, waving at the bed that John had sat back down on. “Don’t let me being here stop you.”
John blinked at Stark. Had he really just said that? “Really? You’re going to stand at the end of my bed and wait until I go to sleep?” John questioned.
“Um… yes?” Stark asked. “Possibly? It doesn’t sound very fun, but I think we might be reaching a stalemate here.”
“How is this a stalemate? What were you doing in here in the first place? Why can’t you leave and get whatever it is you came in here for tomorrow morning.”
“And again with the ‘morning’ remark. It’s AM, which makes it morning, which means you should probably stop telling me to get lost because of that.”
John stared blankly at the dark haired man who was grinning widely at the foot of his bed and rocking backwards and forwards on the balls of his feet. He reminded John strongly of a hyperactive five year old who was minutes away from passing out from the exhaustion. Mind you, what he’d been made to understand from Pepper’s stories suggested that the metaphor was one which fitted Tony Stark the majority of the time. Then he grasped again at the bedside drawer, this time pulling out his phone instead of his browning.
“Hello, yes Pepper? Terribly sorry to disturb you in the middle of the night… yes I’m fine thank you… uh, yes, actually. He’s here… in my bedroom… I have no idea, he won’t tell me… Thank you.” John switched the phone off and chucked it back in the drawer.
Stark was scowling furiously at him, when John happened to glance up again.
“Calling Pepper in - that was a low blow, Watson, a low blow. This war is far from over.” He pointed two fingers at himself, one for each eye, then swivelled the hand to point at John, repeating the action once more before he left the room, a clear sign for ‘I’m watching you.’
Which, frankly, John found hilarious. If he thought John calling down his girlfriend was a declaration of war, he had a funny idea about how this situation was going to work. Kicking the man from his bedroom had been a defence of the home front, so to speak. It was only if and when Stark upped the ante enough for John to strike back that he’d really have to worry (because between Sherlock as a flatmate and Harry as a sister - not to mention John’s stint at University and then the military - there was probably very little Stark could come up with that John couldn’t deal with).
John sighed and collapsed backward, grinning at the apology Pepper texted him and replying with a generic ‘not to worry’ one. This was going to be exhausting, he thought, but probably also fun.
Before you ask, yes. There is a reason Tony's invading John's bedroom, and it has nothing to do with watching him sleep. You won't find out what it is for a while though, because a whole load of other stuff happens first. Anyway, I know a lot of people were looking forward to the Tony chapter, so I hope it doesn't disappoint. He's actually really, really fun to write, I just don't know how good my attempt at writing him is to read.
Bruce's chapter is up next, and I think it's one of the better ones so far, so keep your eyes open for it on Tuesday.
Love to everyone who left kudos or a comment <3
Chapter 9: The One Where Breakfast is Disappointing (and Tony's a little tied up)
John woke up at 6am, New York City time, and felt like he over slept, in spite of the terrible nights sleep he had. Over sleeping came with the feeling of general grogginess and feeling vaguely unclean, in spite of a shower and a fresh change of clothes. John briefly checked his bedroom for anything that might be classified as a bug, but it didn’t appear as though Stark left anything behind during his weird visit during the night. After two years of a monthly ‘deep cleansing’ of 221B for Mycroft’s bugs (Sherlock’s words, not John’s. If it had been John’s version of ‘deep cleansing’ the flat would have come out of it a lot tidier than when they’d started, not messier) John considered himself an expert at being able to spot things that didn’t belong.
Satisfied that, if Stark had decided he was going to put cameras in John’s bedroom he’d done so in a way that was at least unobtrusive, John made his way to the stairwell and up the four flights to the penthouse. Pepper had explained the day before that the top two floors were mostly communal - TV, kitchen, bar, pool table etc on the top floor; gym, training rooms (including a shooting range, which John had mostly failed at hiding his excitement about) and even a swimming pool on the one below. Underneath that was Tony and Pepper’s suite of rooms, then Bruce’s, then John’s. Below his there were apparently another seven floors each devoted to one person, and then two more floors below that which were split into smaller suites.
It was insane of course. Totally and utterly insane. The rest of the building was devoted to the company, but a lot of what that entailed was R&D, which basically meant Tony’s labs and workshop. Pepper had explained that ‘R&D’, when it came to Tony (and Bruce, too, now that she mentioned it) was less ‘Research and Development’ and more ‘Ridiculousness and Destruction’. Generally of the exploding kind. Although she didn’t mind the destruction too much, because Bruce moderated it enough that neither of them got hurt, and Tony made it fun enough that Bruce didn’t Hulk out.
Which had made John realise that Banner? The genius who’d experimented on himself (or his father had experimented on - the folder wasn’t clear on this point) who occasionally turned into a huge green rage monster and spent the majority of his time blowing stuff up and getting poked at by Stark? Yeah, that guy was apparently the easiest to handle of the Avengers. When he was Banner and not the Hulk, that was.
Which then led to the conclusion that the term ’welcome to the madhouse’ might be something of an understatement, especially if Stark was going to make the 2am wakeup calls a normal thing.
John yawned, stretching and popping his back as he emerged into the communal kitchen, and hoped that the tea Pepper had served the day before had been one of several kinds available. He also hoped that there might be some normal bread around, since the only form of it he’d found in his own kitchen had been bagels. Which was all very well for an odd sandwich, once in a blue moon, but an ordinary loaf would be wonderful, please-and-thank-you.
A brief search of the kitchen revealed that there was a loaf of bread, but there wasn’t a tea leaf to be found. John stared glumly at all of the open cupboards and decided that - just this once - he’d have a coffee. He tried to convince himself that caffeine was caffeine, no matter the form it took, but that didn’t make him feel any better. His mood was not improved by the lack of any type of jam to be found anywhere. The closest he could find was a jar of strawberry jelly.
“Heathens,” John muttered to himself, disappointed in the lack of proof that any kind of real fruit had gone into the so-called jelly.
“Um,” someone interrupted his inner rant at American breakfast foods. “Hi?”
John turned more rapidly than he would’ve done in a more familiar place, and berated himself silently when he was met only by Dr Banner.
“Hello,” John greeted. “Dr John Watson. I’m - uh - the new S.H.I.E.L.D.-Avenger liaison.” He was absolutely not awake enough yet to deal with Banner’s potential reaction to being told that he was the newest Coulson replacement.
“Dr Bruce Banner,” Banner replied, stretching across the counter to offer his hand for John to shake. “But I’m guessing you already knew that?”
“Yeah,” John admitted, a little sheepishly, shaking his hand. “I got the S.H.I.E.L.D. info packet on each of you yesterday. Then Pepper gave me a run down of what I might actually need to know.”
“What were you muttering about when I came in?” Banner asked, inching around the counter as though he was expecting John to explode in his face when there wasn’t that barrier between them.
“Jam,” John replied easily enough, plonking the plate of toast and cup of coffee on the table and grabbing a seat. “Also, tea. There isn’t any jam, and I couldn’t find tea anywhere. Which is absurd because Pepper made me a cup of tea yesterday.”
Banner wrinkled his nose at that, obviously having had the misfortune to taste Pepper’s tea before too. Now that he seemed happy that John wasn’t about to demand he leave the kitchen, he settled into what was obviously a normal routine for him padding about the kitchen to make pancakes. “Pepper is fantastic at making coffee,” he told John, “and she has insane skills when it comes to making chai and hot chocolate. But when it comes to tea? Do not let her near you. Neither her nor Tony drink any sort of tea, other than the milky, spicy chai monstrosities, so the only tea bags they have are about five years old and have been surrounded by coffee beans the entire time.”
John winced. No wonder his tea the night before had tasted so strange. Tea and coffee did not exactly mix well.
“And, um, jam is jelly in the states. In case you didn’t know.”
This one, John could answer. “That,” he declared, pointing at the strawberry jelly. “Is not jam. Strawberry jam has bits of strawberry and the seeds in it.” He picked up the jar, holding it to the light and squinting through the concoction inside. “This is strawberry-flavoured goop.”
Banner glanced up from his frying pan, and upon seeing John’s contorted face to go along with the slightly crazed explanation he’d given, burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny,” John told him, as seriously as he could muster when fighting down his own laughter. “You should not get between a man and his breakfast foods.”
“I don’t think Tony of Pepper have a normal perception of what food is. They’re both workaholics who tend to live off coffee and take away,” Banner explained almost apologetically.
After that the pair of them settled into pretty easy, mundane conversation. Living with Stark had obviously done Banner some good. He looked a lot happier and more relaxed than he’d been in any of the shots John had seen of the other man, and he looked at home in the massive kitchen with it’s impressive view of New York spread out below them.
“Do you mind if I ask a personal question?” John asked, during a lull in conversation.
Immediately the other man tensed. Contrary to his body’s reaction, however, Banner replied, “Sure.”
“What happened to Miss Ross? I know she supported you last time you came to America, and I just thought she’d be here by now.”
It was clearly not the question Banner had been expecting, because the tension in his body drained away and the expression on his face became incredibly complex. “I sent Betty a letter, the day I moved into the tower with Tony and Pepper. I haven’t heard back from her yet.”
John frowned at this. It didn’t seem in character with what he knew of Elizabeth Ross, to not at least reply to the letter with an explanation of her feelings. It did seem perfectly in character for her father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross to monitor her mail and stop any letter from Banner getting through to her. John was going to have to look into that, sooner rather than later too, judging from the myriad of emotions on Banner’s face.
Luckily, he was saved from answering when Pepper walked into the kitchen.
“Good morning Bruce, John. How are you today? I hope Tony didn’t disrupt your sleep too much last night?” she directed the last question at John, and he waved it away.
“Nothing I can’t handle,” he assured her. “How’s Tony? He seemed pretty wired last night.”
“That’s what comes from spending two days solid working without going to sleep,” Banner added.
Pepper smiled at the pair of them. “I’m glad you’re getting on,” she said sincerely. “Tony’s… a little tied up at the moment, and I’m hoping he’ll get some more sleep in before lunch.” As they’d been talking she’d whipped up what John could only assume were two of the ‘milky, spicy chai monstrosities’ that Banner had mentioned earlier, and picked up the two mugs. “Happy will be at the front entrance to drive me to my office at 8am, if either of you want a lift anywhere feel free to come with us. Or there are a couple of cars in the garage that JARVIS can give you the keys to. Have a nice day gentlemen.” Then she left the kitchen as quickly and quietly as she arrived.
“When she says Stark’s ‘a little tied up’?” John questioned.
“Don’t ask,” Banner ordered. “Seriously. Don’t ask. Tony will happily fill you in on every tiny detail of his and Pepper’s sex life, complete with video footage because apparently JARVIS has CCTV running in their bedroom.”
“And Pepper doesn’t mind?” John couldn’t help but say.
Banner shrugged. “She’s dating Tony Stark. She knew him for a decade before they got together, and was probably once the person Tony gleefully told all of the details to. If she minded, she wouldn’t be with him.”
John inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“What’s this about Tony disrupting your sleep though?” Banner asked, already grinning in preparation for the story he must’ve been imagining.
John sighed and wished he had a cup of tea, before he launched into an explanation of the previous night.
Just so we're clear on this point: I am playing with American stereotypes here. Please don't send me a dozen messages about how you don't eat bagels for breakfast, and that jelly does have bits in it, or a dozen more about how you take your tea. I love hearing what you guys think about this story, but OMG you are all obsessed with tea!
Oh, and if anyone was thinking of watching the Daredevil movie after my mention of him a couple of chapters ago? Don't bother. The only good thing about it is Ben Affleck's ass in skin tight red leather. And I don't even like Affleck. Go watch Captain America again or something ;)
Next Chapter up on Thursday, and it's got a bonus bit because I almost forgot John-JARVIS intro. So it has that, and John talking to Fury face-to-face about Coulson.
Chapter 10: The One in Which JARVIS has a Sense of Humour (and we're reminded that Fury is only human)
Thankfully Banner explained to John that JARVIS was the AI that ran the tower, before John made a fool of himself by asking at reception. That forewarning didn’t make the whole talking-to-thin air thing any less bizarre. Nor did it make the disembodied voice any less startling.
“Um? JARVIS?” John had asked the living room once he’d returned to his suite of rooms after breakfast.
“Yes, Doctor Watson? Or would you prefer Captain Watson?” an English accented voice replied, although it wasn’t apparent where the voice came from.
“John’s fine, although if you’re programmed to speak with an honorific, I’d prefer ‘Doctor’,” John said. Banner had mentioned that JARVIS was the type of AI that the majority of computer programmers could only dream about making, but that hadn’t really helped John in understanding how human the AI was.
“I do not need to use the honorific, but I do prefer to unless insisted otherwise.”
Which, ok, that was weird. Did programmed AIs normally have preferences about what they call people? “Dr Watson then,” John told him. “What about you? Do I call you Mr Jarvis? Miss Jarvis?”
“Just JARVIS is fine, Doctor.” And John was absolutely positive that there was amusement in that voice. “What was it you wanted my help on?”
“Pepper mentioned that you’d be able to help me finding a set of car keys? She said something about helping myself to one of the cars in the garage.”
“Yes. Would you prefer the Mercedes or the Jaguar?”
John swallowed the sigh that threatened. “I don’t suppose there’s anything inconspicuous I could use?” he asked, thinking of Iron Man’s glitzy red and gold design, as well as Stark’s penchant for making headlines.
“No sir,” JARVIS replied, sounding amused again.
“Are they manual or automatics?”
“Manuals. Although there is an automatic Lamborghini if you-”
“Oh my God no,” John stopped him. “You have a terrible sense of humour.”
“On the contrary, Dr Watson, I do not have a sense of humour.”
John eyed the sofa knowingly, but did not actually call bullshit. There was no point getting into an argument with a building. “Just give me the keys to the Jaguar,” he said instead, and headed for the elevator.
“Certainly sir,” JARVIS replied, sounding smug now, as well as amused. “If you head down to the lobby a member of staff will have your car ready for you. It is my duty to inform you that all of Mr Stark’s vehicles have tracking devices installed in them, as well as GPS. Any attempt to steal the car will trigger an automatic alert to the police, and similarly any accident you have will alert an ambulance. The latter alert may be turned off at your discretion although I would not advise it.”
By this time, John was already in the elevator heading down, JARVIS’ voice having followed him. It was only when he was two floors away from the lobby that the thought struck him; “Did Stark program you with Paul Bettany’s voice?” he asked.
This question brought JARVIS to a halt that on a human would have been stuttering. “Yes?” the AI answered, sounding confused now.
John laughed, shook his head and chose to keep his comments to himself. There were various reasons why Stark might have chosen an English accent; he might’ve been basing the AI on some English person he’d actually known, he might have a flamboyant gay crush on Paul Bettany, or he might have been trying to impress someone (either romantically, or by the fact that he didn’t need the stereotypical English butler, because he’d programmed his own, thank-you-very-much). Whatever the reason, it was something to keep in mind for if - or when - Stark did decide to take his ‘war’ one step too far.
But John quickly forgot his musings when he got to the ground floor and was presented with the keys to a slick black car that purred in the way only really good cars do. John didn’t care much for cars. He had a license, of course, but he’d gone from home, to University, to the army, to London. So he hadn’t had much of a need to drive and the last car he had driven was a beat up old VW Golf, which really did not compare.
Needless to say, John took the long way back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ
One of the advantages of meeting Pepper and getting what John was fast starting to think of as the proper briefing, is that she seemed to know just about everything and was more than happy to share the majority of that information. She hadn’t been able to properly contact S.H.I.E.L.D. since Hill had quit as the Avengers’ handler, but she still knew a fair deal more about the organisation than someone who was not technically involved with it should do.
This came in handy when John pulled up to the front doors of the headquarters without any idea as to where he ought to park the car, or where he should head once he was inside the building. But Pepper had presented him with a micro SD card compatible with either of the tablets he’d been given, that contained her version of the ‘need-to-know’ files, including a map of HQ. It still took John longer than it probably ought to have done to find what he was looking for.
It hadn’t been until the previous night on the edge of sleep when he’d recalled the original conversation with Fury. The Director had said that Coulson wasn’t dead yet, that he has been in surgery. Which had made John wonder if, maybe, Fury had kept the news to himself for more reasons than just that Coulson wasn’t able to do so himself yet. It was a month after the attack on New York, after all, and that Coulson had still had surgeries he needed wasn’t exactly a good sign.
So John had decided that the first thing he was going to do was to track down exactly where Coulson was, and take a look at his condition personally. Regardless of whether Coulson was still on the brink of death or not, John was still going to tell the Avengers - they deserved to know - but how he told them would have to change depending on the likelihood of Coulson surviving his latest surgery.
There was nowhere marked on the map of the quarters that said that it was medical, exactly, but John was sure of two things: The first was that there was no way Coulson would have been taken to a public health care service when S.H.I.E.L.D. was more than adequately equipped itself. The second was that he’d worked in enough hospitals, surgeries and medical barracks to know what part of the building was most likely to be S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medical area, based on the layout of the rooms. John was also pretty certain that Fury wouldn’t have Coulson being treated on his helicarrier - flying and delicate operations did not a happy combination make.
Ridiculously extravagant car parked, and the keys tucked carefully into an inside pocket of his jacket, John headed to the elevator and up to what he hoped was the correct floor. The headquarters was busier than it had been the day before, maybe just because of where it was he was travelling to and from, and John couldn’t help but notice the skin tight blue uniform or run of the mill black suit and black tie that everyone wore. Given that he was wearing a black and white stripped jumper and a pair of tatty jeans, John was going to assume that they all knew who he was.
The idea that they didn’t know, and were so unobservant not to notice someone so clearly out of place was one that he didn’t want to entertain. What with S.H.I.E.L.D. being a spy network and everything.
Either way, he wasn’t stopped and his hunch paid off when he wandered into what was clearly a medical area. It was only once there that he was stopped.
“Sir, only medical personnel are allowed access to this area,” one of the men in white lab coats said.
John pulled out the ID badge Hill had given him the day before and didn’t look at the man, instead looking at the corridor behind him. “I served as an army medic in Afghanistan for eight years,” John told him. “What did you do?” Which wasn’t fair of him, he knew, especially since when it came to S.H.I.E.L.D. John probably didn’t count as medical personnel, but he didn’t have time for this. He had a number of objectives for the day that he wanted to see done.
“Fury warned us that you might be coming,” the man said, apparently not at all flustered by John’s rudeness. “He said you were pals with Coulson, that you’d probably want to know how he was.”
John finally turned his attention to the man who was talking at him and tried not to scowl. “Well?” he asked. “What are you waiting for? Where is Coulson, and how’s he doing?”
With that prompting, the man started leading him down the corridor nattering almost excitedly about Coulson’s recovery. Apparently the blow that Coulson had received should have been a fatal one, but he’d had the dubious good luck of not only being hit by a magical spear, but it had also happened on the helicarrier where they’d been playing around with some new techniques that weren’t really supposed to be used for human testing yet, but had been his only chance of survival.
What had followed was a month of going in and out of surgery, Coulson hovering somewhere between simply being unconscious, in a coma, or dead the entire time. He had died, in medical terms, four times in the last month, not including the initial ‘death’ at the hands of Loki. He’d been revived each time pretty quickly, but he had yet to wake up since the initial incident, so there was no way of knowing how much damage his brain might have sustained from the periods without oxygen.
The thought that Coulson’s brain might have been crippled by the incident had John clenching his hands convulsively, to keep the tremor from manifesting. Coulson had been a good fighter - a fantastic one, even - and he’d been a very good shot. But the things that had made Coulson an exceptional soldier was not only how he fought, it was when he chose to. He had already been good at keeping a cool head, but with John’s help Coulson’s ability to calmly assess a situation to do exactly what he needed to see a positive outcome had been astounding. By the end of their stint working together they had become equals in skill, though John still technically outranked him.
Fine motor controls, the ability to chose the right words, those were the first things a person was most likely to lose; two of the things Coulson treasured most highly. If he was unlucky he might not even be able to distinguish his dreams from reality anymore - if he woke up. But John was panicking needlessly. There was hope yet that Coulson would eventually recover to the point where he had nothing but a scar in memory of his time at Loki’s hands.
The man led John to an observation room, looking into a small, white room with a single bed in it. Coulson looked about as pale as the walls, his breathing a loud hiss of the assisting equipment and his heartbeat the piercing beeping of the electrocardiogram.
“He came out of his last operation strongly,” the stranger said. “There’s nothing more we can do for him now, except hope and pray that he wakes up. It should take him a day or two to run through the drugs in his system. After that, he’ll wake up when his body lets him.”
“He’s a fighter,” John said, thinking of the number of scratches and bumps he’d patched up for the other man.
The man nodded his agreement silently and left the room silently. John stood staring at Coulson for long minutes, made vulnerable by this poignant reminder of how very fragile humans could be. In his mind he saw another man in Coulson’s place - a man who’d never made it to the hospital with thick dark curly hair rather than light straight hair. John would not let himself cry for Sherlock, not again, but his chest hitched painfully and his short nails dug impossibly deep into his palms.
“Do you see why I didn’t tell them?” a voice interrupted John’s thoughts. He didn’t have to turn around to know that it was Director Fury who’d entered the room.
“They deserve to know,” John said.
Fury came up to stand beside him, hands clasped behind his back, both of them staring into the other room and their comatose friend rather than looking at each other. “I told them he was dead, and they mourned for him and moved on. Should I have told them he was alive just so that they could watch him fight for it every day for God knows how long?”
“Have they moved on?” John asked. “Have any of them? Barton and Romanova worked with him for several years on dangerous missions. They must have been friends, yet they talk about him coldly as though he was nothing more than a guy they saw at work occasionally. And Stark looked like I’d punched him in the balls when I just mentioned Coulson’s name. That doesn’t sound to me like any of them have moved on.”
“It was Coulson’s idea for me to use him to spur them into acting together,” Fury said. “Maybe I didn’t make the right call, but I’d prefer for the Avengers to hate me and be glad Coulson’s alive than hate me and watch him die again.”
John shook his head. “And what about the third option? What about the one where you told them the truth as soon as the battle was done, and they could be there to help with Coulson’s recovery? It’s not just hearsay that coma victims sometimes hear the voices of those around them, that the voices of the ones they love are sometimes what pull them through.”
“And you think Coulson loved the Avengers?”
“He died for them didn’t he?” John said. Then after a beat of silence - “And they certainly love him.”
Fury released a deep breath that John hadn’t been aware the other man had been holding in. “You’re going to tell them,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” John agreed. “I’m going to move them all into Stark’s ridiculous tower, and I’m going to tell them that Coulson is alive. Then I’m going to bring them in here and they’re going to make a lot of fuss and be very irritating, and you’re going to let them because they might just kill you when they find out.”
“And what if Coulson doesn’t wake up?”
John finally turned to look at the man beside him, and part of him recognised that Coulson had been more than just another agent, to Fury. He’d been a friend, too. And having John take this decision off his hands was something that he was actually welcoming, that not telling the Avengers hadn’t really been a decision, it had been him putting off deciding what to tell them. Fury was hard and manipulative and could probably bribe someone to hand over their first born to him, but he was still human.
John turned back to look through the glass and smiled grimly. “He will,” he said. “He’ll wake.”
Bonus bit at the beginning, which doesn't quite fit, because it was added in after, when I realised that I forgot to introduce John to JARVIS. And yes, yes I did fangirl a little bit over Paul Bettany. The man is awesome. And if you haven't seen it, you need to go and watch A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger in it. Paul Bettany's Chaucer and it's hilarious :D
I've been told by a couple of people that, while they read stories on AO3, they don't have accounts here, only on ff.net, so here's a link to this story on my fanfic account.
Next chapter's a more lighthearted one to make up for the mostly-seriousness of this. John meets up with Cap again, and Hawk's torturing new recruits. Up on Saturday!
(PS Good luck to all the A Level students who're getting your results today, and congrats to my baby bro for getting the grades he needs for the course and uni he wants <3 )
Chapter 11: The One Where People Finally Start Moving into the Avengers Tower (and Cap finds the future disappointing)
It took John most of the rest of that morning wandering around HQ to track down where Barton, Romanova and Rogers were, spread out and bored as they were.
Rogers was in the same tiny gym that John had met and sparred with Romanova, and provided the reasoning behind the broken punching bags that John had seen last time, when he sent another one half flying, half collapsing to the floor. John had walked in mere moments before and was taking the time to watch the other man’s training style, in a hope that it might help him later if he ever did lead this man into battle. It was always good to know your own men’s strength and weaknesses. Apparently the super soldier serum hadn’t been an exaggeration.
“I’m sure Stark could design some more resilient training equipment for you,” John said by way of greeting once Rogers had picked up the punching bag and thrown it over to join the pile of already broken ones.
“Captain Watson,” Rogers greeted, saluting much more casually than he had the day before.
John nodded his acceptance of the exchange and nodded at the pile of bags. “Pretty impressive display.”
“It’s the serum,” Rogers replied, picking up one of the new punching bags and hanging it up. “I was a puny little thing before hand.”
John waved that away in dismissal. “I was a puny little thing,” he said. “The right training can make any man more than he thought he’d be as a kid.”
Rogers half laughed, checking the wrappings on his fists, before starting up his barrage once more. “I grew over a foot during the experiment,” he ground out between punches.
John settled himself onto one of the weight benches to watch. “That is a bit unusual, I grant you,” he said with a teasing grin. “You were shorter than me.”
The fact that John had been calling his puniness pre-serum unusual, rather than the serum itself, startled Rogers enough that he stopped punching and started laughing instead. “I’ve only known you a day, talked to you for maybe half an hour, yet you’ve already surprised me more than most people around here.”
“I was under the impression that almost everything about the future would be a bit weird.”
“People are people, no matter what century you’re living in,” Rogers remarked. “And the future is kind of disappointing. I was promised flying cars.”
This time it was John’s turn to laugh, feeling absurdly pleased that Rogers was adapting more to this century than anyone would have had him believe. S.H.I.E.L.D. was obviously walking on eggshells around Rogers still, and Pepper hadn’t seen enough of Rogers to know anything more than to be able to call him a sweetheart. Which wasn’t really pertinent information.
“Again, I’m sure Stark could help you out with that. He’s an irritating little git, but I can’t deny he’s a genius.”
Rogers shook his head and returned to his exercise. “Tony doesn’t like me much,” he muttered. “Besides, I’m stuck here whilst he’s off travelling the world.”
John ignored the first part of Rogers’ comment, because he was almost certain that Stark did like the super soldier, and instead addressed the latter, which tied in nicely as to why he was here. “Actually, you’re not stuck here.”
Rogers stopped training again, swinging around to face him and scowling. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve just come out of a meeting with Fury -” which wasn’t technically an outright lie “- and he’s allowing me to move each of the Avengers in to your tower.”
“Into Stark Tower?” Rogers repeated, looking a little dazed.
“Umhmm,” John agreed, biting his lip to keep from laughing again. “Although it is officially Avengers Tower now. It’s still owned by Stark Industries, but as the Avengers is a group that is a benefactor of both Stark Industries and S.H.I.E.L.D., once the Avengers become properly established as a separate entity to both corporations, Pepper said that the building would probably end up officially being owned by the Avengers’ name.”
“Officially?” Rogers asked doubtfully.
John shrugged. “I don’t understand all of the legal jargon that Pepper told me last night, but from what I understand it will become the Avengers Tower, and will be powered and run by Stark Industries as part of their contract with you.”
“We don’t - have a contract with them… do we?”
“No idea,” John answered cheerfully. “The point is that you can move out of this miserable dump and into rooms that you can redecorate to your heart’s content. The gym over there is a lot better too,” he added the last comment with a scathing glance at the gym they were currently in. “Interested?”
Rogers stood frozen for a long moment, as though he couldn’t believe it, before he nodded once, firmly. “When?”
John stood up with a pleased smile. “As soon as you’re packed. I need to find Agents Barton and Romanova first, too. I suggest we meet in the lobby at midday with your luggage.” With that, he left Rogers standing where he was, still gaping a little bit, and went in search of the others. There was no way of knowing where either of them were, or whether they were even still in the building, and without any way to contact them John thought his best option was probably to work from bottom up.
He found Barton in the shooting range, scaring the life out of a cluster of very green looking agents. One of them was pinned to the wall by an array of arrows that hadn’t so much as scratched his skin, but had him very firmly trapped in place. Which was impressive considering he was one of the many wandering around in the skin tight blue suits.
“Barton!” John barked as he entered, and tried not to start laughing when Barton ‘accidentally’ let loose the arrow he’d been aiming, and sending it widely above the heads of the quivering agents. John had no doubt that it would take a lot more than someone barging into a room yelling his name to get the infamous Hawkeye to misfire his weapon, but it was a very effective way of scaring the new recruits even more.
“Doc,” Barton greeted with a crazy grin. “Just in time! I was training some of the newbies.”
John eyed the ‘newbies’ for a moment, not a single one of them holding a bow and arrow, or a gun. There wasn’t even a peashooter between the lot of them. “Yes,” John replied dryly. “I’m sure you were.” Moving to the guy who was stuck to the wall, he carefully plucked each of the arrows from their places, and signalled that he and the rest of the recruits leave. “I’m hardly a newbie,” John told Barton as the last of them scurried out.
“Oh yeah? Is that a challenge?” Barton asked, moving a hand to the quiver that was strapped to his back.
John watched him with amusement. “I’m afraid a bow and arrow are a little out of my skill set, but I am a pretty good shot with a hand gun or a rifle. I’d love to compare our abilities sometime. For now, however, I suggest you pack your things and get ready to go.”
“Go? Go where? I haven’t heard anything about a mission,” Barton asked, immediately switching to business now that his playtime was apparently over.
“No mission,” John reassured. “Not as such. But the Avengers Tower is now mostly repaired, and is ready for everyone to move in. I figured you’d probably prefer the suite of rooms Stark has provided for you there, rather than whatever S.H.I.E.L.D. has to offer.”
Barton grinned widely, and looked about three seconds away from whooping, but he just grabbed his arrows that John offered back, and raced out of the range to apparently gather his things together. John watched him go with a rueful shake of the head. Watching the Avengers really was going to be looking after a bunch of overgrown kids, wasn’t it?
He allowed himself only a moment’s introspection, before heading off once again, this time in search of Romanova.
John never did track Romanova down, but she was waiting in the lobby at midday, just like Rogers and Barton.
Cap beating up punching bags, Clint terrifying new recruits and Tasha being exactly where she needs to be exactly when she needs to be. All par for the course, really. Next chapter up on Monday!
Chapter 12: The One Where John Starts Working Out How to get Thor to Move in (and Hawkeye likes to pretend he really is a bird)
Once John had transported Barton, Romanova and Rogers back to the Avengers Tower, the next step in his plan of action was working out how to contact Thor, and get him to move in too. Or at the very least to visit for long enough for John to tell all of them at once that Coulson was alive.
There wasn’t a lot of information to be found on Thor, and Pepper hadn’t actually met him so John couldn’t add her insights into the mix. Everything that people were able to tell him about Thor seemed to come straight out of a Norse Mythology book which wasn’t helpful. He was Odin and Frigga’s son, Loki was his adopted brother, he was the God of lightning, and the Vikings worshipped him and his race as Gods even though, so far as any of the modern day scientists could tell, they were actually closer to super-powered long-lived aliens. With the ability to cross time, space and dimensions.
John could feel the headache brewing before he’d even really started trying to get to the bottom of what would get Thor to visit. For some reason the file that mentioned Thor’s first visit to Earth (this century, anyway) was buried.
“Barton!” John yelled, as soon as he discovered the archer’s name was on the list of participating agents for that op.
Barton jumped in through the open window, swinging inwards from God knew where and landing perfectly balanced on the precarious position of the back of an arm chair. There wasn’t even a hint of a balcony out of that window, but John had suspected there was more to the ‘Hawkeye’ codename than just good eye sight from the first read through of the man’s files. Barton had a penchant for throwing himself off very tall buildings.
“You make me want to click my heels together and salute you,” Barton grumbled. “No one makes me feel like that. I don’t like it.”
John ignored him. “Tell me about Thor,” he said instead. It was more an order than a question, but that didn’t stop Barton from taking his time answering.
“Why do you want to know about Thor?”
John huffed and switched off the tablet he’d been reading and wished it was a paper file instead so that he could throw it at the coffee table without worrying he might have to pay for a replacement. He placed it carefully next to yet another disappointing cup of tea. “Because Thor is supposedly one of the Avengers, and I’m supposedly your handler?” he suggested.
“You want him to live here?” Barton asked with a raised eyebrow. “You’re not worried about the damage he might do, considering how unaware he is of his own strength and ‘midgardian’ customs?”
John just stared blankly back at Barton hoping that he didn’t literally have to remind the archer of the other people he was living with. “You live underneath a man who turns into an ‘enormous green rage monster’, and above the labs and workshops where the same man and an insane billionaire regularly concoct things that explode, and you’re worried about what a demigod might do to the building?” John asked incredulously.
“You live underneath the Hulk. I live underneath Steve, who’s under you. I have two floors of protection above me,” Barton argued, a little sulkily.
John continued staring at him blankly for a moment or two, hoping that Barton was correctly reading just how unimpressed he was by that argument. “What can you tell me about Thor?” he tried again.
“Not much more than what’s in the files,” Barton admitted. “He was brought up knowing full well what being the son of Odin All-Father meant, so he has one hell of a superiority complex, but the couple of days he spent as a ‘mere human’ helped with that. He genuinely loves Loki, sees him as a brother in spite of the adopted-let’s-kill-the-world thing. He speaks like something out of a fairy tale, loves talking about his love of his ‘Lady Jane’ and, for some reason, pop tarts. I think he was spotted at a ‘Save the Whales’ rally a couple of weeks ago, too, so I’m thinking his ‘Lady Jane’ has probably helped him with some of his issues and given him some brand shiny new ones.”
John frowned curiously. “And his Lady Jane is Dr Jane Foster, one of the scientists who first discovered him when he fell to Earth last year, and the girlfriend he’s currently visiting?”
“Yeah. She’s an astrophysicist who’s studying the Einstein-Rosen Bridge theories,” Barton paused and grinned wolfishly. “She ran Thor over with her van. Twice.”
“Of course she did,” John remarked. How could he expect anything less? Mind you, the original file did cover Thor’s initial medical report when Dr Foster, Dr Selvig and Ms Lewis had found him wandering in the desert and taken him to hospital. Not only had Thor been hit by a van, he’d also been tasered, a fact that Ms Lewis had seemed quite proud of. “How much does Thor like Dr Foster?”
Barton shrugged. “He was proclaiming his love for her pretty vocally when we all finally got off shift after the Chitauri were taken down.”
“So if Dr Foster was given a reason to move to New York, Thor would probably come with her?”
“Probably. But Lady Jane isn’t going anywhere without Darcy. Apparently having your lives threatened, and your research and iPod stolen instils a deep, unbounded friendship in females. They’re also pretty good pals with Dr Selvig who I think is still at HQ?” Barton considered for a moment, then added, “You’re really serious about getting all of us to live together?”
John eyed the other man seriously for a long moment before saying, “I think the Avengers Initiative was a good idea. And I’m not just saying that because it was Coulson’s idea, and he’s my friend. The Earth has always had various eclectic warriors defending it from alien attack, but actually putting together a team dedicated to it is never a bad idea. America has been undefended from attack for far too long. So I’m going to do my utmost to see that it works.”
“What do you mean ‘America’? We’re defending the world, too, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” John grinned. “But you didn’t really think that S.H.I.E.L.D. was the only organisation in the world defending it, surely? Did you think that the entire Universe takes a look at all the possible cities across the world and always goes for New York? You’ve got your bad guys, everyone else has theirs. With a bit of luck and a lot of interagency politics, it all works out.” John’s grin grew wider at the bafflement on Barton’s face. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some phone calls to make. And if you insist on throwing yourself off the roof, do try not to kill yourself, won’t you?”
Then, with the same mocking wave that Barton had given before - the wriggle of a few fingers and a cheeky wink - John sidled out of the common area and back down to his own suite of rooms, taking a moment to lean against the wall and giggle gleefully. Oh the look on Barton’s face!
“Hey, JARVIS, I don’t suppose you’ve got video footage of that, have you?”
“Indeed I do, sir,” the disembodied voice replied. Which was just as unnerving as it had been earlier during their first conversation.
“Email me a copy, won’t you? And send one to Romanova too, I’m sure she’d appreciate it.”
“Certainly, sir. Would you like me to provide you with Dr Foster’s contact details?”
“Thanks, JARVIS. Could you find Dr Selvig’s too? I was hoping to discuss with him the possibility of finding a research placement to tempt Dr Foster to this side of the continent.”
“You might want to consider talking to Mr Stark first, too,” JARVIS suggested. “He is aware of Thor’s relationship to Dr Foster and has included space for her in the labs.”
John thought for a moment about what he’d read about the device that had contained the tesseract, that had stabilised it so that the portal could remain open during the battle for New York. Then he considered what he knew of Stark, and the claim about the device’s destruction, although S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn’t actually seen proof of that. “Stark still has the device the tesseract powered, doesn’t he?” John asked, already knowing the answer.
“I am officially supposed to tell any interested parties that such a device, if it ever indeed existed, has since been destroyed,” JARVIS hesitated a moment. “But, yes. Sir still has the device.”
“Excellent. Thanks for your help, JARVIS,” John thanked, hopping down the last few steps and making his way to the study that was included in his suite. Sure enough, the contact details for both Drs Foster and Selvig were open in windows on the (thankfully normal) computer screen, as well a video clip of Barton’s ‘we are not alone’ face. John told himself that using a still of that expression as his desktop was childish, and set about working on bringing in Dr Foster.
A quick perusal of Dr Selvig’s file revealed that, while Loki had only had full control over him for the same time period as Agent Barton, the seeds of his magic had been present in the poor scientist’s mind for some time before that. Although it had meant that he had enough of an awareness of himself to build a failsafe into the device, it also meant he’d spent the last month in some pretty heavy therapy sessions.
John sat back and bit the inside of his cheek, considering. In Selvig’s position, would he prefer to forget that time entirely, or want to study the tesseract device in a hope to make amends for whatever wrongs he’d unwittingly committed? The answer was easy enough to reach, although it did force him to the realisation that one more phone call on top of that, was necessary.
It was with great reluctance that John flicked through his contacts and dialled Tony Stark’s number.
I don't have much to say about this one. Next chapter up on Wednesday. :) Love to all my readers xx
Chapter 13: The One With all the Phone Calls (and John keeps getting interrupted)
After a very long, awkward conversation with Stark that basically boiled down to two things (yes, Stark had the tesseract device, and yes, John could invite Dr Foster and Thor over to stay) John finally managed to get rid of the man. Stark had apparently done a bit of research since his invasion of John’s bedroom, and had not hesitated to ask as many intrusive questions about Sherlock Holmes as he possibly could, whilst also insulting John’s intelligence too. Thankfully Dr Banner had managed to pry the phone away from Stark, apologise and hang up.
John had put his phone on his desk very carefully and scowled at it for a long minute, breathing his way through the frustration that Stark’s questions had provoked. Then, once he felt a little more in control again, he picked up the phone and dialled Dr Selvig’s number.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“Hello Dr Selvig. My name is John Watson, and I wanted to offer you the opportunity of working on the tesseract device.”
“That device was destroyed.”
“Was it Mr Stark who told you that?” John asked flippantly, before reigning himself in. It was not this man’s fault how irritating Stark could be. Compared to some of Sherlock’s bored days, Stark’s outburst had been nothing, so it was strange he was reacting so much. “The device has not been destroyed. The tesseract is back in Asgard, but the device it powered is being studied as we speak in the hope that it might provide some answers to the many questions we have. I was wondering if you were interested in being part of that research team.”
“Do you think that’s wise?” Selvig asked. “It was my presence on the original team that led to Loki’s invasion and countless lost lives.”
“Whether it had been you or someone else, I do not doubt that Loki would have found a way to get to the tesseract. Because it was you we were able to close the portal. Personally I think we were very lucky that you were on the original team.”
“Personally? You don’t speak for all of S.H.I.E.L.D. then?”
“I am an… outside operative, you might say. Director Fury called me in to serve as liaison between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the group known as the Avengers. Since the device is currently in the hands of the Avengers, I can not speak for S.H.I.E.L.D.. I do know that Mr Stark and Dr Banner are both interested in hearing your theories, if you wish to study the device further?”
“What makes you think I don’t want to leave all of this behind me? Move on to another project?”
“You certainly can if you wish, I’m just making you aware that this is an option, should you wish to take it.”
There was a long, considering pause over the phone that Selvig put an end to by saying, “You should be speaking to Dr Foster.”
“I had planned to phone her as soon as I was off the phone to you and offer her the opportunity as well. Thor is currently staying with her and Ms Lewis in New Mexico, and I’m hoping that they will all agree to travel to New York.”
There was another moment of silent, this time much shorter than the first. “When do I start?” Selvig finally said.
John smiled in triumph. “Give me your address and I will send a driver to your location as soon is one is available. Do you intend to stay in your current lodgings, or do you wish to move into the Avengers Tower?”
“That was an option?” Selvig blurted, before hastening to add that he would move in to the tower if it was an option. Poor guy was probably at one of the accommodations provided by S.H.I.E.L.D..
Once Selvig’s travel arrangements had been made and John had asked JARVIS to send a message to Hogan to pick up the scientist when he next had an hour or two spare, John went to the next name on his list; Dr Foster.
“Yello! Speak now or forever hold your peace!” a voice told him cheerfully.
“Ms Lewis?” John guessed, entirely unsurprised. “I’m the S.H.I.E.L.D.-Avengers liaison and -”
“Whoa!” She interrupted. “Hold up. Do you mean the Avengers as in the guys in the glitzy cat suits, doing somersaults and beating alien butt last month?”
“Yes?” John replied uncertainly. He’d never heard the battle of New York described quite like that before.
“THOR!” the voice on the other end yelled, causing John to wince and dangle the phone away from his ear. “IT’S FOR YOU!” Then, obviously waiting for Thor to come to the phone, Darcy started talking at a normal sound level, very quickly, and causing John to miss half of it. “- Captain America? And can you get me the number of the guy with gorgeous arms? Not that they don’t all have gorgeous arms, but I’m talking about the archer here, because for being only human he was seriously badass out there - oh, here you go Thor.” John wondered if Darcy ever stopped for breath.
“Hello?” a voice asked, very deep, and loud in a way that had nothing to do with shouting. “Forgive me, I do not understand these boxes of communication.” There was an exasperated mutter in the background, which was presumably Darcy despairing of the lack of modern day knowledge in the resident alien.
John grinned. “You’re doing fine. My name is Dr John Watson, I’m currently working as the liaison between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. -”
“Is the world at risk? I must ready my armour-”
“No, no! Not at all,” John cut in, wondering what it was with all of these interruptions. “The world’s doing pretty well at the moment, actually. I was hoping to invite yourself, Ms Lewis and Dr Foster to New York. The Avengers Tower has been finished and is ready for you to move in, and Mr Stark has a job offer for Dr Foster.”
“This is fair news indeed! I have been promising to introduce her and Miss Darcy to my new shield brothers! Allow me to summon my Lady Jane!”
“Certainly,” John agreed, although he didn’t think Thor heard him. It was harder to doubt that the man he’d just spoken to was the Lightning God when he talked in such archaic terms, although it was kind of sweet that he still referred to Dr Foster as ‘my Lady Jane’.
“Hello?” yet another curious voice asked, this one softer spoken than any of the others John had spoken to today.
“Dr Foster? My name is Dr John Watson and -”
“You’re calling about the Avengers, yes, Darcy told me.” And again John was interrupted. He wondered if the three of them spent their time talking over each other, not listening to a word any one else was saying.
“And S.H.I.E.L.D.,” John added.
“I don’t like S.H.I.E.L.D. much,” Dr Foster told him pleasantly.
“That’s alright, I don’t particularly either,” he reassured her. “My job description at the moment is a little fluid, but I’m hoping that I can offer you a job, and by default Ms Lewis as well.”
“Go on,” she invited him.
“It’s my understanding that your theories in connection to the Einstein-Rosen Bridge have been elemental in our perception of the universe, but you’ve hit something of a dead end since the bifrost was broken and the tesseract returned to Asgard.”
“Yes,” Dr Foster prompted, obviously starting to get impatient and not wanting to be reminded of her current shortcomings.
“What would you say, if I could offer you no holds barred access to the device Loki built that was powered by Stark’s arc reactor and the tesseract to open the portal the Chitauri came through?”
There was a blink of silence, before, “What’s the catch?”
John grinned; he’d caught her. “Well, you’d have to move into the newly refurbished Avengers Tower in New York City along with your boyfriend, and lab assistant. And you would get to work with Dr Selvig again, who I believe you’re familiar with.”
“No, seriously, what’s the catch?”
“Well, the Avengers Tower is currently very full of Avengers,” John said apologetically. “And they’re all a bit dysfunctional. And very irritating. But I think they’ve all already decided to like you, since you’re Thor’s ‘Lady Jane’.”
“I… I’ll book the tickets,” Dr Foster told him in a slightly quivering voice.
“Don’t worry about that,” John reassured her. “I’m almost certain that Stark would agree to send one of his jets out to fetch you. How quickly can you be packed?”
Do you know what this means? This means that, next chapter, John finally tells everyone Coulson lives. Which will be up on Friday my dears :D Love to all my reviewers and kudos-givers <3
Chapter 14: The One Where John Reveals the Truth (and there might be a throwing knife at one point)
John had planned to make at least one more significant phone call that day, but between another bartering session with Stark, Bruce playing uncomfortable umpire again, and organising the arrival of all four of their new housemates, it was well past any decent time to make a phone call before John had the next opportunity. He gave it up as a lost cause for that day, and made a quick midnight dash to the corner shop in the hope that when he woke he might at least be able to have a decent breakfast.
Whilst he did manage to get his hands on a jar of raspberry jam that looked like it might be reasonable, and the shop offered quite an array of interesting looking teas, there wasn’t a single reasonable looking breakfast tea among them. John really didn’t consider himself picky when it came to tea, but he would kill for a cup of P.G. Tips right now. Giving it up as a lost cause, he grabbed a box of loose leaf green tea and hoped that might at least be a better option than all the coffee he was drinking.
When he finally got to see his bed again, John collapsed face down on his bed and hoped against hope that Stark wouldn’t wake him at two in the morning again.
John woke up at 6am again, although he felt much more like he’d slept normally than he had the night before. He was absolutely certain, however, that someone had been in his room while he was sleeping. There was nothing obvious to give it away - nothing had been added or taken away - but there was just a sense that someone else had been there. Since no harm had apparently been done, and it obviously hadn’t been Stark, since John had remained asleep, he put it out of mind. Whatever it was would surely work its way out of the woodwork in its own time, if it was important.
He headed up to the communal kitchen, jam jar and tea bags clutched in one hand whilst he battled his phone with the other.
“Should you be awake yet?” Banner greeted him, already perched on a counter stool and sipping his own cup of tea. “Weren’t you up well into the night trying to make sure everyone was happily settled in?”
“Yes, which would have gone much smoother if Thor and Dr Foster had just said they were sleeping together, rather than trying to pretend they wanted separate rooms.”
“So why are you awake?”
John dumped his haul on the counter, popped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, and flicked the kettle on. “I have to make sure I catch everyone before they head off to their ends of the city for the day,” he explained, waving his phone vaguely.
“And again; why?” Banner persisted.
“Because I have a very important announcement to make, that I need to tell everyone at the same time as soon as I can. And - how do I have Fury’s number? I’m pretty certain I didn’t yesterday.” John shrugged off his own question, and added Fury to the list of contacts he was about to text.
“Since you’re here, I’m going to tell you that you need to be in the top floor dining room-cum-meeting room at 8am today.”
“If I asked ‘why?’ again, would you actually give me any details?”
“No,” John told him with a rueful smile. “Sorry, Bruce, but it is very important that I tell this to everyone at once. It’s - well, given the impact this news is likely to have on all of you, I’d like to tell everyone at once, to try and minimise the damage. Or at least attempt to control it.”
“Well, now I’m intrigued,” Banner confessed. “8am you say?”
Just as he finished speaking, John sent the group message and Banner’s phone pinged.
“8am,” John agreed with a grin, then attacked his breakfast.
Of course, sending a mysterious message at six in the morning to a group of individuals as curious and stubborn as he had, the meeting actually took place an hour earlier than originally planned because they’d already all convened by then and were hassling John for answers.
As well as the six core Avengers - Stark, Banner, Barton, Romanova, Rogers and Thor - Pepper, Dr Foster, Darcy, Dr Selvig and Hogan were also there. The only person John had sent the message to who wasn’t there, was Fury and that was probably a good thing.
“Alright, sit down and shut up!” John barked to the group at large, hiding the pleased smile that threatened when they all listened and did as he said, even Stark. Of course, as soon as the billionaire had realised he’d done what he was told, he opened his mouth to talk again, but Pepper managed to hush him before he spoke up. John nodded gratefully at her.
“As I’m sure most of you are aware, Fury invited me here in order to be Coulson’s temporary substitute.”
This remark alone sent a series of hushed whispers shooting across the room, and John got a front row view of all of the painful emotions that flashed across each face present. Even those who didn’t know Coulson particularly well reacted badly to his name being mentioned. Those who knew him well - Barton, Romanova and Pepper in particular - all went very still.
“With a bit of luck, I will only be a temporary substitute, and not for the reasons that the majority of you are jumping to.” John took a deep breath, taking his time to meet each person’s gaze eye-to-eye. Then, very calmly, he told them, “Coulson isn’t dead.”
Chaos broke out. There was yelling, shouting, a lot of angry stomping and several chairs fell over backwards. There might have been a throwing knife at one point. But John just sat down on the chair at the head of the table to wait it out. He’d made JARVIS promise to keep the door locked until his say so, and he hoped that Stark wouldn’t just use an override and leave anyway.
Finally the noise started to decrease, and people started to return to their seats. It was at this point that Romanova pulled a gun out and pointed it straight at John. “Explain,” she demanded.
John leant forwards and placed his elbows on the table, staring pointedly at her gun for a long moment with his chin resting on his clasped hands. When she tucked the gun away again he started talking.
“Coulson was stabbed through the chest with a magical spear,” he started bluntly. The statement made several people blanch, and another few pale, but he refused to sugar-coat the truth for them. Not now. “There was some kind of property in the spear that meant that his body has been healing itself faster than expected, but when Fury reached Coulson he was still on the brink of death. For a few moments, technically Coulson was dead. He his heart stopped beating and he was no longer breathing. But the medics got there fast enough to resuscitate him.”
“Fury said they called it,” Stark said, “He never said what, exactly, they called.”
John nodded. “Coulson gave Fury permission to manipulate the truth in order to save the Earth. Fury probably took it too far with the bloody card trick he pulled, but his actions during battle can be excused.”
Stark opened his mouth again to protest, but both Romanova and Rogers shook their heads in an indication to be quiet. “It was a battle,” Rogers said softly. “He was our commander. He told us what he thought he had to to get the job done.”
John inclined his head.
“Why didn’t he tell us afterwards?” Romanova asked, her voice dangerously low.
“Coulson has been in and out of surgery for the past month. He only had his last operation two days ago, and the doctors still don’t know when - or even if - he’ll wake up. During the battle, Fury was Coulson’s boss and your commanding officer. After the battle he was Phil’s friend, who didn’t know what to tell any of you to explain.”
“That doesn’t excuse him choosing not to tell us the truth,” Stark insisted, and it was Pepper who shushed him this time.
John shook his head. “Fury didn’t really choose to continue the lie. Rather, he hadn’t yet made a decision about whether to tell you the truth or not.”
“Stop making excuses for him!” Stark yelled, jumping from his chair with enough force that it skidded out behind him and crashed against the wall. Pepper stood up as well, and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her forehead against the base of his neck and obviously emotionally grounding him, if the way he grasped at her hands was any indication.
“Peace, friend Tony,” Thor murmured, as quietly as a man with as huge a voice as him could. “The Son of Coul yet lives. We should rejoice in that, and plan our revenge on the man of Fury later.”
John stood up again and, using the projectors that were apparently in all of the windows of Stark Tower, not just the ones you’d expect, he pulled up the schematic for S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, highlighting the room where Coulson was being looked after. As they all started filing out of the room he did throw in a request for them not to cause Fury too much trouble. He didn’t think they paid much attention, however, and his request was half hearted at best.
“Oh, and Mr Stark? Pepper? There is something that I wish to talk to you about as a matter of priority, as soon as you have the time to spare?” John asked as they left.
Pepper glanced between John and where Stark hadn’t stopped and was still walking away with the others. She quickly reeled off the address of a café adding, “Meet us there at one for lunch. Tony won’t like it, but it’s the best I can do.”
John thanked her, and let her leave with the rest of the Avengers on their way to check up on Coulson.
Have you guys seen the Avengers movie gag reel yet? If not, go! Go now and find it on youtube! ("Dudes! You're on your own!")
Next chapter is the lunch date John just set up with Pepper and Tony, and should be out Sunday.
Chapter 15: The One Where John has a Lunch Date with Pepper and Tony (and Darcy gets hold of everyone's phone numbers)
John wasn’t the only one who stayed in the tower. All of the core Avengers had disappeared to see Coulson, as well as Pepper and Dr Selvig, but Darcy and Dr Foster both stayed. Both of them were looking a bit frazzled and tired, but whether that was thanks to the news of Coulson’s surviving or the fact that they’d moved house the day before, John couldn’t tell.
Dr Foster was pale and obviously a bit distracted, so John had wasted no time supplying her with Pepper’s five star coffee and showing her down to the lab where the device was being stored. Then he’d returned up to the communal kitchen to see if there was anything he could do to help Darcy, only to find her cooking. She was elbows deep in a dough of some kind, and kneading it furiously.
“Are you alright, Ms Lewis?” John asked.
“No, seriously, call me Darcy,” she insisted. “And, um, I don’t know?”
John opened the egg carton and cracked two into a measuring bowl, helping himself to the flour that Darcy had got out, and starting to make a batch of cupcakes. He didn’t bake very often, because it always reminded him somewhat painfully of his mother and totally failing to teach Harry, but he knew the advantages of talking to someone whilst keeping his mind busy in a thoughtless way.
“I don’t really know this Coulson guy. I mean, he stole my iPod and a fuck ton of Jane’s research then had the nerve to call himself one of the good guys, but I never really knew him, you know.”
John nodded to show he was listening, glancing to his side where Darcy was pummelling the dough.
“And then suddenly Thor’s back, and he’s saved the world and we find out that Coulson was the one who made sure the Avengers even existed as a group so the Earth could be saved, but it didn’t matter anymore because he was dead. And I have no idea what to do with that.”
“Barton - the archer with the nice arms,” John added the latter at her look of confusion, “Barton was in New Mexico too. I don’t think you ever met him or saw him, but he’s a sniper by trade so the idea is you don’t see him.”
“What’s your point?” Darcy asked, having run out of whatever minimal amount of patience she did have.
“When Thor ran into the middle of the camp and went for his hammer, Barton was watching the whole thing above, ready to shoot to stop Thor from endangering any of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s men. All he needed was a word,” John looked directly at Darcy and willed her to understand what it was he was saying. “Coulson’s word. But Coulson didn’t give that order. He waited to see what would happen, because that’s what Coulson does. He analyses a situation for every possible outcome and he makes it go so that everything ends well with the smallest amount of life lost.
“Coulson held a God’s life in his hands, and he let him live,” John continued. “That’s what he means to the Avengers.” Because each and every one of the Avengers had a turbulent past and God knew how many personal issues that were born from that. It was Coulson who’d brought that ridiculous group of people together, and given them a chance to be more, as a team, than any of them could hope to be individually.
Darcy nodded, although whether she really understood the message John was trying to get across or not, he didn’t know. Either way they spent the rest of the morning making a ridiculous number of cakes, cookies, bread rolls and pies.
John had got a text message from Fury shortly after the news had broken, complaining that he’d thought he had another hour at least before the Avengers stormed HQ, but John ignored that with all the alacrity of anyone dishing out well deserved passive aggressive revenge. Darcy had appreciated the message when he‘d shown her, and had also stolen each of the Avengers’ numbers off John’s phone and spent the hour waiting for her dough to rise texting all of them any number of ridiculous things (there had been something about an attractiveness rating that John was sure he didn’t want to know about). Otherwise, their morning was pretty calm.
At twelve thirty, without much of an idea as to how long it would take to get to the café he was meeting Pepper and Stark at, John headed out of the building and in what he hoped was the right direction. He was normally quite good at knowing where he was going, but New York was very different from London and the busy streets that just weren’t home were strange to walk down. Luck was on his side, however, and he arrived at the right café just a few minutes late.
Stark was the first to see him, and gave him a cocky grin and a jaunty wave. “Doc English!” he greeted.
John raised his eyebrows and nodded in greeting at Stark, before kissing Pepper on the cheek and smiling warmly at her.
“Oi! Hands off my girl,” Stark barked, scowling.
Pepper waved both of them away, and indicated the spare seat for John to take. “Hush, Tony. John’s just being a gentleman.”
“Bloody English bastards,” Stark muttered under his breath, looking pouty. He broke into a grin a moment later however, apparently in too good a mood to stay upset. “Got to hand it to you, Doc, knowing Agent’s alive is one hell of a welcoming present, I might let you stick around a while.”
John couldn’t help but smile back. Stark might be very irritating, but his good humour was infectious. And John was rather pleased that Coulson was alive too. “I’m sticking around until Coulson’s fit for work again,” John told him. “Unless any unforeseen disaster stops me.”
“John,” Pepper butted in gently. “You said there was something urgent you wanted to talk to us about?”
John grimaced, and nodded. “Yes. You’re both friends with Bruce, right?”
“He’s my science bro,” Stark said, nodding seriously.
“Well, I was wondering what you know about Elizabeth Ross.”
Stark’s gaze sharpened, and John could suddenly see the genius at work behind the face. With Sherlock the genius had been sharp and hard and in your face, something that you simply could not forget about. Stark was different, he’d built himself a wall of smirks and witty comebacks to hide his true intelligence behind. John couldn’t blame him, he knew how most people reacted to Sherlock, but it had made it difficult to accept that Stark was blindingly brilliant as the consulting detective had been.
“Dr Elizabeth Ross, daughter and only child of General Thaddeus Ross - who is the king of persistent idiots, by the way - Bruce’s…” he trailed off, shot a sideways glance at Pepper, smiled softly at her and added, quieter; “Bruce’s Pepper.”
And there was another revelation. Since meeting Pepper John had understood entirely why any man might fall in love with her and put her in charge of anything she wanted, even if it looked like he was giving up a company for the sake of a lay to the rest of the world. But what he’d known about Stark had been limited, had only been what the official reports had said and what small insights he’d gleaned from Pepper’s briefing. He knew Pepper loved him, but it wasn’t until then that he could see it and understand it.
It was almost tangible, the way they felt about each other. An easy, wordless thing that was a constant presence. They knew each other too well to doubt, had learnt to love as friends before they’d become lovers and somehow that had made them a perfect fit for one another. John tried not to be insanely jealous of that, and tuned back into Stark’s continuing description.
“Love of his life, wife of his dreams etcetera, etcetera. Also, the Hulk likes her too, which is always good when you’ve basically got two guys kicking back in the same body. Apparently she looks more like a supermodel than a biologist, but I’ve only seen grainy photos of her and Bruce’s description to go on, so that opinion might be a teeny bit biased. You know, what with the way Bruce practically idolises her. She’s written some stunning papers on the subject of-”
“Stark,” John interrupted. “More interested in the personal side than the science side, as thrilling as her career might be.”
“Oh, well, then, that’s pretty much all I know. Bruce said something about her pawning her mother’s necklace to help save him, so I’m pretty certain she loves him as much as he loves her, but he sent her a letter when he first moved in and hasn’t heard back from her so I don’t know for sure.”
“And her father?”
“Asshole,” Stark replied immediately. “Like, if there was a planet made entirely of assholes and they spent all of the time trying to out-asshole each other, General Ross would still be the king of assholery.”
John stared blankly at Stark for a moment, and wondered whether the ridiculous descriptions of things was an American thing, or just a personality trait that Stark and Darcy just happened to both have. “What are the chances of General Ross intercepting his daughter’s mail and stopping her from getting Bruce’s letter?”
The only thing that stopped Stark from jumping from his chair and storming out straight away was Pepper’s hand on his forearm. “Son of a-” he muttered angrily.
Well, that was one way to answer that question. John grinned a slow, dangerous grin and felt a great deal of satisfaction to see it returned on Stark’s face. “What do you say you and I pay this General Ross a visit? Maybe kidnap his daughter?”
Pepper sighed and shook her head. “You really shouldn’t encourage his madcap schemes,” she scolded John. “But I think, this time, I might be inclined to agree with both of you.”
“It’s my job to keep the Avengers happy, ma’am,” John replied. “Dr Ross seems a pretty key part of Bruce’s happiness.”
Stark snorted and rolled his eyes. As the three of them stood to leave, he dropped an arm over both Pepper and John’s shoulders. “I think you and I are going to get along fabulously,” he told John, before adding seriously, “As soon as you stop hitting on my girlfriend.”
John and Tony are joining forces and are going off an adventure. And the next chapter gave me an excellent excuse to watch the Baskervilles episode again. :D Up on Tuesday!
Chapter 16: The One Where Tony and John Join Forces (and General Ross turns purple)
Stark and John had decided without asking that telling Banner was not a good idea. Not until they’d spoken to Dr Ross and knew that she was coming back to New York with them. John hadn’t been sure that their intervention would have been happily accepted, but Stark had insisted that he wasn’t so emotionally stunted as to put Banner in a situation where he’d be totally uncomfortable.
“I mean, Bruce will be uncomfortable, but then he’s always uncomfortable. He lives in a self made hole of uncomfortableness because he can’t forgive himself for fucking up the containment area of his experiments badly enough that poof! A Hulk exists, which is frankly ridiculous because it’s not Bruce’s fault. The only reason he’s not dead is because his dad was a twisted fuck who decided experimenting on himself then having a kid was a good idea.”
John would love to know what the true story behind the Hulk’s existence was, but he was also pretty certain that if he wanted to know he should be asking Banner, not Stark. The files he’d read had said that Banner had been trying to perfect the super soldier serum, and they’d assumed that he’d started experimenting on himself and something had gone awry, but what John had seen of the lab notes didn’t seem to support that. Banner and Dr Ross had still been working on exposing frogs to gamma radiation, and John didn’t see Banner as the type of person who’d jump immediately to human testing.
Still, Banner had probably been a completely different person then, before the Hulk had existed and his life had spiralled out of control in a way he couldn’t do anything about. And it didn’t really matter now anyway. The Hulk existed, and he and Banner were part of the Avengers Initiative. And if it took Betty Ross to make them happy, then John was more than willing to track down Dr Ross and offer her the opportunity to join them all in the Avengers Tower.
“So how are we going to do this?” Stark asked once they were in his private jet and had taken off.
“First stop: General Ross. We’ll see if he has been intercepting Dr Ross’ mail, and pick up anything that he has that he shouldn’t because it belongs to her.”
“Then we dash in like knights in shining armour and carry the fair maiden to safety?” Stark suggested.
John smirked. “You can keep your armour, tin man, I’ll stick with my civvies.”
“Iron Man,” Stark corrected. “Iron. Not tin. I’m not some rusty, heartless old character from a children’s book.”
“I know. I’ve seen the plaque that Pepper made for you.”
Stark pointed a finger at him, scowling in a way that didn’t seem at all sincere. “Hey! I’ll have you know an arc reactor is way cooler than having a ticking clock in my chest.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” John replied with an easy smile.
Stark opened his mouth, but shut it again with a snap. “This isn’t fair. I can’t even give you all the dirty details of Pep’s and my sex life that make Bruce blush like a virgin, because you’ll go all British-stiff-upper-lip on me and not be at all phased and then probably jerk off to it later.”
Which wasn’t entirely true, John had never been entirely comfortable about hearing other people talk about their own sex lives, but he wasn’t about to correct Stark. Instead he just blinked innocently at him and asked, “Bruce mentioned you had videos?”
“Damn you,” Stark replied, without feeling. “I will find your weak spot.”
John smiled, welcomed the challenge and felt somewhat glad that their conversation rapidly moved beyond that.
They’d both been certain that it wouldn’t be difficult to find General Ross, but they hadn’t quite expected him to be waiting for them as they exited the jet when they landed.
“I thought I’d seen the last of you after that bar incident,” Ross barked at Stark as they reached the tarmac.
“Miss me?” Stark asked with a tight grin, before telling John in a stage whisper, “Me and Ross don’t get on. Think of divorced parents with one kid called ‘Hulk’ and that kid likes me better.”
“Banner is a national security threat and should be locked up or put down like the animal he is,” Ross growled. He was clearly a man who was used to being listened to, his orders fulfilled without question.
John stepped forward and gave the man his best unassuming smile. “Actually, General, we’re not here today about the Hulk. We’re here to investigate allegations laid down that you have been invading Dr Elizabeth Ross’ privacy and denying her constitutional rights by intercepting and disallowing certain parts of her personal correspondence.”
“Who are you?” Ross snapped. “And what the hell has my daughter been telling you?”
John tilted his head and waited a beat longer than he needed to before answering. He was a doctor and a soldier, and he knew damn well how to make someone uncomfortable. So he continued to smile blandly and let his tone of voice gain a lilt that was just this side of being patronising. “I’m Captain John Watson of the British Royal Army, currently working in logistics on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers Initiative, and Stark Industries. I am unable to reveal my client’s name to you for the sake of protecting their identity, but I can assure you that it was not your daughter who made these claims. If you would be so kind as to hand over the mail you have intercepted now this need not go any further. However, I must warn you that if necessary I will not hesitate to use any means necessary to get the information I’m looking for and do not care if your career suffers as a consequence.”
“You’re only a Captain. What makes you think that you have any power over me?” Ross demanded to know, his face starting to turn an alarming purple colour.
John let the smile fall from his face. “Because I know several men far more powerful than yourself who owe me favours,” he explained calmly. It was a bit of an exaggeration, of course. There were several powerful men who owed John favours, although whether they could be counted as ‘far more powerful’ was debatable. Well, Mycroft was, but the others weren’t necessarily.
Stark stepped up beside John and slapped a hand on his shoulder grinning a terrifying, hard edged grin at General Ross. “I wouldn’t insult Doc, here,” he suggested in a way that might have been amiable if it weren’t so angry. “He and Bruce are friends of mine, and I don’t like it when people insult my friends. I especially don’t like it when they refer to Bruce or the Other Guy as animals. Without them there’s a very high chance the Chitauri invasion would have succeeded. You’d probably be dead and I most definitely would be. So how about you run a long and get those letters of Betty’s that you’ve kept from her, and Doc and I won’t decide that flattening your base is a good idea, hmm?”
Ross stood staring at them for a long minute, his entire body vibrating with barely suppressed fury, before he turned sharply on his heel and marching back towards the cluster of buildings.
“So, Doc,” Stark said, slapping John’s shoulder again and either not seeing his wince or choosing to ignore it. “When did you learn to bullshit like that?”
“Preschool,” John snarked, shrugging off the hand. He could put up with Stark putting arms around his neck or whatever when they needed to put on a front of solidarity, but he would not put up with the abuse of his bad shoulder when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. “What are the chances of the General not getting Dr Ross’ mail, and instead phoning someone to come out here to kick our arses?”
“‘Arses’,” Stark muttered gleefully to himself. “Sounds so much dirtier than ‘asses’.”
John shot him an unimpressed look, which had absolutely no effect.
Stark’s face twitched in that dismissive way he had and said, “Minimal. I don’t actively design new weapons for the military, but I have lots of pretty toys that I can still bribe them with. Plus, you know, I’m Iron Man. No one kicks my ‘arse’.”
“Pepper does. On a daily basis,” John reminded him.
A wicked grin flashed across Stark’s face, and he opened his mouth to tell what was no doubt a very graphic sexual anecdote before he realised that John was baiting him. “Damn. You,” he repeated his earlier words. John wasn’t sure why Stark had decided it was impossible to share all the dirty details with him, but he was not above using that to antagonise Stark.
“You really think that he’ll bring the letters?” John prompted, more seriously.
“General Ross is in a bit of sticky situation at the moment, since he’s spent the last decade telling anyone who’ll listen that the Hulk is a threat to national security and needs to be killed and/or cut up and experimented on. And then, of course, the Hulk is elemental in saving New York City and quite probably the world from destruction. Without any of the brainwashing or anything that Ross said was necessary.”
“I don’t like General Ross,” John said tightly. “In fact, I think I’m pretty inclined to hate him.”
Stark snorted. “No one likes General Ross,” he reassured John. “It’s a personality trait. Can we go back to the part where you are an excellent bullshitter? Because that really intrigues me. Is it a British thing? Is it a military thing - oh please tell me the Star-Spangled Man can tell lies so superbly, I promise to be at least 5% more patriotic!”
John rolled his eyes and tried not to grin.
So, the ass/arse thing came from a conversation with my brother and my dad (surprise, surprise!) when we were talking about British/American pronounciations. We all decided (as Brits) that 'arse' sounded way better than 'ass' as an insult, but if you were calling someone a badass, you have to say 'ass'. Because, in the words of my dad: "Bad arse sounds like buttock cancer."
Just thought I'd share that :D Next chapter up on Thursday, and it features Betty! Love to all my commenters and kudos-givers <3
Chapter 17: The One With Sexy Scientific Competence (and the fairy tale metaphor really ought to be left alone already)
General Ross took a ridiculously long time fetching the mail that he hadn’t let through to his daughter, and John suspected that has more to do with his reluctance to hand it over than how long it took for the man to actually get it. He found that he didn’t mind too much, because when Stark wasn’t bugging you persistently whilst you’re trying to do something else, conversation with him was actually rather nice. Although ‘nice’ was far too bland a word to describe anything that was Tony Stark.
What started as Stark repeatedly expressing admiration for John’s ‘epic bullshitting skills’ led to John telling Stark about the time he and Sherlock had snuck into the Baskerville military base, which had led to Stark telling John about various escapades of his and Rhodey’s. By the time Ross returned the pair of them were sniggering like a pair of naughty school boys, which didn’t do much to endear them to the General. Which was perfectly fine by John, and apparently Stark too.
John didn’t give the General a chance to second guess himself, however, and snatched the small pile of letters from the older man’s hands and flashing a brief, stiff smile.
“You know, Ross,” Stark said in a conversational way, eyeing up the letters they’d been handed. “I know you love your daughter and all, but you’re a terrible father. You should let her live her own life.”
“I will never let my daughter near that monster,” Ross spat. “And I will continue interfering as much as I have to to make sure she stays away from him and safe.”
Stark shrugged. “And you wonder why she doesn’t call anymore,” he threw in as a parting shot, before strolling back into the jet.
John waited a moment, studying Ross, who simply glared back at him. “I’d like to offer my advice,” John said apologetically, “but if you haven’t got the hint by now, it’s probably too late.” Then he, too, turned away and walked back on board the jet.
“Off to save the damsel in distress?” Stark asked once they settled back into the jet.
“Certainly, Tin Man,” John agreed, and set the letters down.
It took them most of the short flight to realise that every single one of the letters had been opened, and that all of them were from Bruce. John didn’t know what he expected of Ross by then, but he was suddenly very glad that he made the decision to invite Dr Ross to join the Avengers in their tower. That opinion was only further confirmed when John finally met the woman in question.
She was in the Culver University biology labs, perched on a stool and hunched over a microscope. She glanced quickly between computer screens and the microscope, one hand adjusting the viewer and scrolling through the data array, the other jotting down notes at lightning-fast speed.
Stark, naturally, wolf-whistled. “There is something very sexy about scientific competence,” he remarked, shit-eating grin at the ready, before John shoved him out of the way and introduced himself first to the startled Dr Ross.
“Hello, my name is Doctor John Watson, I’m working as liaison for S.H.I.E.L.D. and the group known as the Avengers, and-”
“I’m sorry,” she cut across him. Which, to her benefit, had been the politest way someone had interrupted him so far. “Was that Tony Stark? And did you say ‘Avengers’? Because if you’re here on behalf of my father, I’m going to tell you what I’ve told him: I love Bruce. Nothing you say or do is going to stop that. And I’m going to wait right here, continuing to love him, regardless of how stupid or foolish anyone thinks I’m being.”
“I am Iron Man!” Stark burst in, from where John’s shove had sent him sprawling to the floor outside the lab. “Also, um, ow? How are you so strong? No one who wears jumpers that their grandma knitted should be capable of pushing over anything heavier than a vase.”
“Ignore him,” John suggested.
“Ignore him,” Stark insisted. “I don’t know why he’s being all boring old fart now, you should have seen him earlier when he faced down your old man and told him where to stick it!”
“I said no such thing,” John attempted to butt in, but Stark was apparently on a roll and just kept on talking.
“We’re acting as a glorified delivery service today, not on behalf of General Thunder-dolt, but for your beloved jolly green giant. Who, by the way, has one of the sexiest brains I have ever met. Seriously, he connects dots that should be obscene if they were caught in the same room together, but when he draws the line it turns out fucking beautiful, not to mention he knows how to make the prettiest explosions. But he said something about letters, and a necklace, and not hearing from you so my British buddy over here thought ‘hey, who do we know who’s assholeish enough to stop his daughter from getting mail’ and, well, one thing led to another and ta da! Here we are, your very own knights in Iron armour and a woollen jumper, come to rescue you from the evil dragon-father and take you to your prince bashful, who’s hiding in his lab and moping because he thinks maybe you don’t like him anymore.”
“You,” John said into the startled silence that followed Stark’s proclamation, “really need to leave the fairy tale metaphors alone. Not least because you made Bruce sound like one of the dwarves, rather than the hero of the piece.”
“Well of course he isn’t the hero of the piece, I’m the hero of the piece. I’m always the-”
“Shut up,” Dr Ross snapped. “Both of you shut up.” She took off the reading glasses that had been teetering on the edge of her nose and gripped the counter behind her tightly enough that her knuckles went white. She took a few deep breaths before she seemed able to trust herself to speak. “Bruce is ok?”
“Yes,” John answered quickly, derailing any exhaustive babble that Stark might be able to come up with.
“General Ross, he’s been intercepting my mail?” she asked, wincing as she said it and clearly not really wanting to know what the answer was.
Silently, John pulled out the handful of letters from his jacket pocket and passed them to her. She took them in shaking hands, sliding each letter out of the envelopes, eyes scanning them quickly and a surprised sob escaping her before she could keep it in. And of course, as soon as the floodgates were opened there was no stopping them. John rushed forward to steady her as she slid to the floor, clutching the letters to her chest and crying loudly.
Stark hovered over them, clearly uncomfortable with weeping female and, for the first time since John had met him, clearly clueless about what he ought to do. John chose to ignore him, instead concentrating on Dr Ross. He shrugged off his jacket, and wrapped an arm around her shaking shoulders, murmuring meaningless platitudes into her ear until she regained some control.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised into her hands.
“Hey, no apologies,” John insisted. “No one expects to be told such astounding news in the middle of an average Thursday afternoon.”
She gave a little huff that was almost a laugh, and John considered it a win. “What happens now?” she asked.
“Glorified delivery service,” Stark announced cheerfully.
John shook his head in exasperation, giving Dr Ross’ shoulders another squeeze before letting his arm drop, pulling himself to his feet and then offering a hand to help her up too. “What he means is, ‘would you like to move into the Avengers Tower with us?’”
Dr Ross startled again, clearly not expecting it to be that easy.
“Bruce is living there at the moment,” John explained. “All of the Avengers are, including various others.”
“You have a couple of options,” Stark interrupted, obviously still feeling a bit protective of his tower, and a bit fed up that it was John who was doing all the inviting of people to move in. “You can stay here and carry on with your life as is. You can come with us, rent a flat in NYC and visit a lot. You can move into your own floor in the Avengers Tower, or you can move into Bruce’s floor and have lots of very noisy, fun sex and not have to worry about how loud you’re being, because I provide excellent soundproofing.” He paused for a moment, considered, then added; “Or you can up and leave, and go and live as a hobo on the streets of Paris. That’s always an option.”
“Stark is always this ridiculous,” John informed her solemnly. “But Bruce also seems strangely fond of him. I think it’s the bonding over exploding things, although Hulk saving Iron Man’s life might have something to do with it too.”
John caught Stark’s eye, and by wordless agreement they decided that now was the time to shut up and let Dr Ross make a decision.
“I -” she started, then shook herself. “This is insane,” she whispered with closed eyes, probably more to herself than to them. Then she opened her eyes again, gazed sincerely back at them and said, “I need to pack. And you need to tell me about Bruce’s lab.”
As if there was ever doubt in anyone's mind that Betty would agree to move in with Bruce. :)
Now for the bad news: I'm going to be without internet access from this afternoon to mid/late Monday. Which means a hitch in my otherwise seamless a-new-chapter-every-other-day plan. So the next chapter won't be up until either Monday or Tuesday, depending on how this weekend pans out. Sorry for the delay guys, but there's honestly nothing I can do about it.
Thanks for all the lovely comments, and love to all of my readers!
Chapter 18: The One Where Bruce and Betty are Reunited (and the Avengers say 'thanks')
It took Dr Ross a surprisingly short amount of time to pack. When they got to her apartment, that was only a couple of blocks from campus, there was already a bag ready-packed by her door. John had a nasty suspicion that Dr Ross had been planning on going on the run with Banner again. He didn’t have anything against her doing anything to be with him, it was just that it was that it was her father who had pushed her to such desperation.
“You need more stuff than this,” Stark had informed Dr Ross when all she’d done was grab the bag and look at them expectantly. “You are moving to New York to live with the man of your dreams. You need more than a couple of changes of clothes and a toothbrush. I mean, I know Bruce said he only packed a tooth brush, but his bag did contain a bit more than that, and he’d been living in Calcutta, for crying out loud! The man had an excuse. You don’t. So get more things. Bring your bookshelf. Hell, bring your bed. Stark Tower is fully stocked with beds, but you’re sleeping with the Hulk, so bring an extra one just in case!”
“She’s not bringing a bed,” John cut in. “Does someone need time out? Because I will go and make you wait in the car,” he threatened.
“Hey! I’m not a little kid you can boss around,” Stark protested, although his running commentary on Dr Ross, her apartment, and her things did become a little less crazed.
Either way, it only took Dr Ross a further thirty minutes to throw a load more of her things haphazardly into a bag, and dump a pile of medical texts in Stark’s arms, and a small sack of trinkets and memory sticks in John’s. Then she was shouldering both of her bags and racing out of the building, encouraging both of them to hurry up.
John and Stark shared a look and a grin, and John shrugged. “Don’t argue with a woman on her way to meet up with her long lost love,” he said. “After you,” he added, holding the door open for Stark and the books piled in his arms high enough that he had to peer around them rather than over them.
It took them an hour in the jet, and a further thirty minutes on top of that to get from the airport to Stark Tower. This was more than enough time for Dr Ross to work her way into a state of near-panic, for Stark to get more and more hyper due, apparently, to being close to someone on the brink of panic, and for John to phone Pepper and let her know that they’d been successful.
“Would you like me to inform Bruce?” she asked him.
“Probably best not to. As soon as he knows, I imagine everyone will know, and it’s probably best if we keep Betty’s arrival under wraps.”
There was a hesitation on the other end, and John knew what it meant before Pepper started talking. “That might not be possible,” she confessed. “Ms Lewis has been texting all of the Avengers, and so far as I know, they’ve all been informed of Tony’s ‘gallant rescue’, with the exception of Bruce. I think they’re forming an intervention.”
“Of course they are,” John said, biting back the heavy sigh that threatened. “Thank you for your assistance.”
“My pleasure, John. Happy will be waiting for you at the airport.”
By the time they arrived at the Avengers’ Tower, Dr Ross looked as though she was on the brink of tears, and all of the Avengers had convened in the shared lounge on the top floor. John had received three texts in the last four minutes requesting that they get there as soon as possible, because Dr Banner had started/did suspect something, and a fourth text that consisted of a confused mixture of letters and numbers from Banner’s number.
“They’re waiting for us on the top floor,” was what John substituted the messages for when Stark asked.
Dr Ross, if possible, paled further. She shifted nervously in place once they’d entered the elevator, and patted her hair a couple of times, peering at her reflection in the metal panelling.
John reached for her wrist, pulling her arm down to her side, and told her reassuringly, “You look fine.”
“Jesus, Doc, is no woman safe from you?” Stark blurted. “First Pepper, then I’m sure I saw you hit on Dr Foster at least once, now Betty too?”
“I’m not hitting on anyone,” John denied with an exasperated shake of his head. “I’m being polite. It’s not my fault if you can’t tell the difference between the two.” It was only once he’d said that, that he considered he had actually asked Agent Hill out, but Stark didn’t need to know that. In fact, it would be bloody brilliant if he never found out.
It was then that the elevator pinged excitedly, and the doors opened to reveal Thor, Rogers, Barton, and Darcy staring at the space expectantly, Banner glaring furiously at everyone else, and Romanova watching the display over the top of a book from her position curled up in an arm chair.
“I won’t stay here any longer, listening to your ridiculous excuses! I don’t need Tony watching over me in the lab and if you don’t let me return right now, I swear to God I will let the Other Guy out and you can be the ones explaining the property damage to Pepper and Tony!” Banner was saying, in a very hard, no nonsense way.
“Bruce,” Dr Ross said, moving towards him as though he would disappear any moment, and looking totally unaware that she’d said anything.
Banner froze, and turned slowly on the spot. “Betty?” he choked out.
Both of them stared at each other, totally lost for words and apparently incapable of moving. Time seemed to stand still for a moment, before next thing anyone knew they were wrapped tightly in one another’s arms without any idea of ever letting go.
Darcy and Barton wolf-whistled, and Thor cheered loudly enough to cause anyone not currently reuniting with a long lost love to clap their hands over their ears.
“Truly, you are a man of the highest integrity,” Thor informed John with a slap to the back which would have sent him flying if John hadn’t seen it coming and braced himself. “What you lack in stature, you make up for in the deeds you perform, and the good cheer you bring others.”
“I’m not that short,” John grumbled uncomfortably.
“You are, though,” Barton argued cheerfully, standing next to him and craning his neck to emphasise the few inches difference. “Seriously, Doc,” he added much more quietly, so only John could hear. “You’ve no idea how much knowing Coulson’s alive means to me. Thank you.”
John tilted his head to eye Barton curiously. “You deserved to know,” he said, meaning all of the Avengers.
Barton grinned and shrugged. “Thanks,” he said again, loudly enough that it was heard by more than just them this time.
Rogers came up next, and shook John’s hand. “Thank you for all you’ve done for us,” he said with almost painful sincerity. “You’ve brought us together, told us of Coulson’s survival, and you’ve given some of us even more than that,” he said, with a significant glance in Drs Banner and Ross’ direction.
“They’re all things that should have already happened,” John replied, feeling awkward. “I only did what anyone would do.”
Rogers shook his head, as though he didn’t believe that, but didn’t argue any further.
When Banner and Ross parted enough that they could easily walk to the couch (although they refused to let go of one another’s hands, apparently too scared if they lost physical contact the other might disappear) pizzas were ordered, drinks were fetched for everyone, and Dr Foster and Selvig were summoned up from their labs to join the others in the very first Avengers movie night. Other than the odd argument about what they should watch and what type of popcorn was better, the night went off without a hitch, Pepper joining them and curling up in Stark’s lap when she escaped from her work.
There were a number of furious whispers throughout the evening, discussing very detailed plans of revenge on Fury. As the Avengers-S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison, John did his best to pretend not to hear any of what was said. Fury and the other Agents who’d known about Coulson deserved whatever the Avengers threw at them in his personal opinion.
Once the films had finished, the majority of the debris had been cleared away and each of the Avengers had headed off to his of her floor, John’s journey down the stairs to his own floor was interrupted by Romanova once again dropping from the ceiling. She did not attack him this time, however. Instead she took both of his hands in hers and kissed him on the cheek. She didn’t say anything, just dropped his hands and disappeared back the way she’d came.
John took that to mean ‘Thank you’ in Russian super-spy speak.
Thanks for bearing with me on this one, and sorry again for the wait! With a bit of luck the next chapter will be out Thursday, but I'm mid-way through a last-minute-writing-panic-attack because the Marvel Bang first draft is due Friday, so no promises.
Hope you enjoyed it, and thank you to all of the lovely, lovely comments I've been recieving <3
Chapter 19: The One Where Thor and Hawkeye Build a Pyramid (and there is a LOT of paperwork)
When John headed down to breakfast the following morning, he was pleased to see that Bruce was nowhere in sight. He was less pleased to see a far too chirpy Darcy sat at the counter with a massive pile of paperwork in front of her.
“Morning!” she greeted cheerfully, pushing her glasses back up her nose with the back of her wrist while she tried not to drip coffee all over the magazine she was reading, and apparently rage war against (or maybe on?) her iPod all at the same time.
“Good morning,” John replied as sagely as he could, absolutely certain that Darcy was on some kind of sugar-slash-caffeine high and might go feral at any moment. “Sleep well?”
“Like a log,” she said expressively, waving the hand with the iPod, then cursing at something it displayed on the screen.
John decided that he didn’t want to know, ignoring her in favour of his jam and a pot of tea. As he rooted around for the box of green tea he’d purchased a couple of days ago he was shocked and very pleased to find a box of his favoured English Breakfast tea.
“JARVIS?” John asked.
“Yes, Doctor Watson?” the computerised voice answered, startling Darcy a little and making her coffee lose the battle against gravity and the theatrical waves of her hand.
“Could you thank whoever purchased these for me please?” John said, indicating the tea and letting out a long sigh as he breathed in the steam from the pot as he popped two of the tea bags in.
“You are quite welcome, Doctor,” JARVIS replied, in a tone that could absolutely be described as smug, in spite of any protests made to the opposite.
“Aw!” Darcy squealed. “How adorable! JARVIS, my man, you totally have favourites.”
“On the contrary, Miss Lewis. It is my prerogative to see all of Mr Starks’ visitors are well seen to, and Dr Watson has made it no secret that he has been missing his regular cups of tea. It didn’t take long to work out which was his favoured brand and to place an order for it.”
“Well thank you very much,” John interrupted before Darcy could continue her argument.
Settling down, Darcy kept shooting knowing glances at John that oscillated between being irritated and amused. John went back to ignoring her, and took his time reading the newspaper and drinking his tea. Good god, three days without the stuff and he’d been going half insane. How he’d managed to keep up with the Avengers during those days he didn’t know. Frowning to himself, John realised he hadn’t really been keeping up with them. He’d moved them all in, of course, and he knew when they’d all been yesterday morning, and yesterday evening, but other than that - he didn’t have a clue what they did during the day.
“So,” Darcy said, interrupting his thought process.
“Yes?” John asked cautiously, wondering if this was when the caffeinated monster he was sure was lurking in her somewhere raised its ugly head.
“Hill gave me the low down on all Avenger-related paperwork yesterday and you, good doctor, are way behind on your homework.”
“Excuse me?” John spluttered.
Darcy waved an imperious hand at the pile of documents teetering dangerously next to her. “Homework,” she repeated. “Or, you know, paperwork. Whatever. There’re, like, a dozen ‘moving house’ forms that need to be done in triplicate for everyone Tony’s adopted in the last two days, plus you need to fill in a form for all the stuff that’s been broken, and don’t even get me started on the amount of stuff you have to fill in for the café incident-”
“What café incident?” John barked, a little more meanly than he’d intended. “And why on Earth does S.H.I.E.L.D. need forms for the Avengers moving house? And what’s been broken?”
“Dude,” Darcy told him blandly, peering over her glasses and looking incredibly unimpressed for a girl barely out of college who’d just referred to him as ‘dude’. “You need to get your shit together. While you were off playing hero with Iron Man, Thor and Natasha decided to spar in the living room, Clint threw a ton of darts at a window and made it smash in a star shape, and Selvig got smashed and threw up on the device-thingy. Also, you totally need to give that thing a new name ‘The Device’ is pretty dramatic, but it’s not all that specific.”
John gaped at Darcy briefly, before pinching the bridge of his nose and controlling his breathing carefully. Once he was sure he was in control, he reached out and slowly poured himself a cup of tea. “Of course they did,” he said with his best bland smile, and took a little joy in the way Darcy faltered.
“Um,” she hesitated for a moment before continuing, “I don’t know why S.H.I.E.L.D. needs forms for everything, but, uh, the café incident was Steve going out to grab his own lunch and being recognised. There was a minor twitter explosion.”
John’s smile became a measure more forced. “Miss Lewis, if you’d be so kind as to accompany me to my office, I believe you’re right. We do have a lot of homework to catch up on.”
By lunchtime, between the two of them, they had the majority of the paperwork outlined, if not yet filled out. Darcy, as it turned out, was a God-send when it came to tackling the bureaucratic bullshit and without her John had no doubt he’d have been fighting down the majority of the pile for the next week or so. As it was, however, they’d got a sufficient amount done that they both felt justified in taking a leisurely lunch in the shared kitchen.
Barton and Thor were already there when they arrived, building a precarious pyramid of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They’d also, John noted, finished his jam. Why, he could not fathom, but he was suspecting that there were going to be a lot of things the Avengers did that he wouldn’t understand.
“Look!” Barton exclaimed when he saw them. “It’s hollow! We made a hollow pyramid! Of sandwiches!”
“Why?” Darcy asked, looking intrigued.
“It is a symbol of our devotion to the sandwich Gods!” Thor boomed cheerfully.
Barton shrugged and snickered. Darcy scowled at him. “What sandwich Gods, Clint?” she asked him, putting her hands on her hips.
“The peanut butter and jelly gods!” he laughed, balancing the last piece on top of their pyramid and crowing in delight at their finished masterpiece.
“Is this not the correct way to show our appreciation of sandwiches? I do like them very much,” Thor asked, looking confused and a little upset.
John snorted and shook his head. “You show your appreciation however you like, Thor. So long as you don’t break anything,” he added quickly. “This is how I’m going to show my appreciation.” Then John’s hand shot out, faster than Barton could stop, and yanked one of the middle sandwiches out, causing the structure to fall in upon itself and become a messy pile of bread, jelly, and peanut butter.
“Aw, man, that was so uncalled for!” Barton complained, looking genuinely disappointed at the destruction of the sandwich pyramid.
“I just filled out ten forms trying to explain why and how you blew up a window yesterday. Don’t tell me what is and isn’t called for,” John warned, mostly in good humour. He’d never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before and, while it was quite strange, it was also quite tasty, and there were plenty of them available. He couldn’t complain too much with lots of pre-made sandwiches and a pot of his favourite tea.
Barton scowled at John for a long moment, before he eventually raised his hand in a finger gun that was pointed at John’s head. “You, me, shooting range,” he ordered.
John snorted again. “Say please,” he suggested.
“Nope,” Barton replied with a rebellious grin.
“Then, ‘nope’. I still have another twelve forms to fill out to explain why Thor and Natasha were wrestling in the living room.”
Barton continued to look rebellious for a moment longer and, when he didn’t seem at all inclined to actually say ‘please’, John purposefully turned away from him to ask Thor about his home in Asgard.
Three hours later, and too many more forms filled out for John to care to count, Barton did actually say ‘please’, and he took a welcome break to the shooting range. John didn’t come anywhere close to Barton’s skill level, of course, but considering the bets laid against him, and the number of them he won, he counted the afternoon a win.
I have no idea where the sandwich pyramid thing came from. That happened entirely on its own without any permission from my brain. Just your average day in the Avengers Tower. Next chapter should be up Saturday, love to all my readers! <3
Chapter 20: The One Where Coulson Wakes Up (and John has to cancel his date)
John should have known, really, that if he tried to organise anything – especially a date – he would have some other, urgent matter that desperately needed his input and prevented him from going. Which was why his date with Agent Hill never happened.
The day had gone relatively well. There had been a new stack of forms to fill in, a meeting with a far too chirpy lady from PR who had squealed excitedly with Darcy for some time, and yet another twitter explosion when Barton had taken a swan dive off the top of the tour and broken the windows of a neighbouring building with a grappling hook that stopped him about three inches from the ground. John had considered getting irritated by all of it, but came to the conclusion that if he did he would rapidly lose any ability he did have to deal with the Avengers.
He’d made himself another cup of tea and phoned Lestrade. The DI hadn’t been best impressed at being woken up at an ungodly hour in the morning, but he had been pleased to hear from John, and his bad mood had rapidly evaporated when John related the events of the last week.
“You do have a knack for putting up with weirdos,” Lestrade had admitted before they hung up and John had been forced to face the grappling hook situation.
At six thirty John headed back to his floor for a shower, a shave, and a change of clothes before his date with Agent Hill. At six forty-seven he discovered the reason why Stark had been in his room that first night, and why it had seemed as though someone had been there the following night, although they’d not woken him up or apparently disturbed anything.
“Mr Stark,” John said in a pseudo-calm voice, having made his way to Stark’s lab and doing his best to reign in his anger.
“Doc English! How can I help you?” Stark replied cheerfully, flipping the visor of his safety gear up and turning off and putting down the blow torch.
John smiled tersely. “You can explain to me how, in the most state of the art building in the state, and quite probably the world, someone managed to sneak into my rooms and steal my underwear.”
Stark’s eyebrows shot up and his face did a strange twitchy thing that was quite obviously him controlling the impulse to laugh. Somehow he managed to keep a mostly straight face, which did nothing to calm John’s temper. “I’m sure I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” Stark denied in a faux-innocent voice.
“Oh?” John asked, his own eyebrows raised now, “Well then you won’t mind if I inform Fury of the massive lapse of your security system?”
“Seriously? You’re going to tell Fury that someone stole your knickers?”
“I’m going to tell Fury that due to faults in your security an unauthorised individual invaded my allocated quarters and stole items that are vital to my day-to-day functioning,” John shot back, keeping as much inflection as possible out of his voice.
Stark coughed, his face twitching weirdly again.
“Yes, Mr Stark?”
“Nothing!” he replied immediately, then snorted, and continued, “But I’ve gotta say, it’s not exactly ‘vital to your day-to-day living’ if you’ve lasted five days without clean undies.”
John rolled his eyes and turned his back on Stark and his lab to head – slowly – back to his floor. It was no business of Stark’s that John preferred not to wear underwear, when possible. He was just hoping that he hadn’t given enough away that the nosy genius could work out that John had a date that night. It would only be a matter of time, of course, John was under no illusion that a secret could be kept in the Avengers Tower for any length of time, but he would like to keep it secret for as long as possible.
As he suspected, by the time he returned to his room his underwear was back in its drawer, and the rooms showed no other signs of being infiltrated.
Another five minutes later and he was dressed and ready to leave on his date. John popped down to visit Darcy briefly to check that she’d keep an eye on things and phone him if anything disastrous happened, then headed down to the garage to borrow one of Stark’s ridiculous cars to drive over to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. He hadn’t even made it out onto the public roads before his phone rang, caller ID indicating that it was Fury phoning him.
“Yes?” John greeted, a little more tersely than he would have liked.
Fury did not beat about the bush, saying bluntly; “Coulson’s woken up.” And then waiting calmly when John swore, swerved, and swore again as he narrowly avoided a lamp post.
“I suppose the Avengers might be interested in hearing the news,” Fury remarked. “I’ll leave who you tell and when up to your discretion.”
Feeling rather as though someone had tugged the carpet from under his feet, John phoned first Hill, to call off the date, then Romanova.
“Yes?” the Black Widow answered without preamble.
“Is Barton with you?”
“I’ll put you on speaker,” she replied, which John supposed was a ‘yes’.
“Coulson has woken up. Meet me at the front entrance of the tower ASAP.”
There was muffled cursing and a thump in the background, before Romanova acknowledged what John had said. Within minutes John had driven around to the front entrance, and she, Barton and Pepper were already waiting for him.
“Miss Potts,” John greeted as the three of them slid in.
“Phil and I are good friends, so Natasha told me. I hope you don’t mind me coming along.”
“Not at all. I only told Agents Romanova and Barton because I knew they had been working with him the longest. I thought you might like some time alone with him before the rest of the Avengers butted in.”
“It’s appreciated,” Romanova told him quietly, and Barton nodded tensely.
The archer seemed on edge, his entire body screaming with tension. John couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps he and Coulson were closer than John had originally assumed. There was a difference between how one felt about a handler and how one felt about a genuine friend. And although Barton was not the kind of person John would imagine Coulson getting on very well with... well, his best friend had been Sherlock Holmes, so who was he to judge?
When the four of them arrived at HQ they all went straight to where Coulson was being taken care of. The man was obviously drifting in and out of consciousness without any clear idea when he was awake and when he was dreaming, but the medical staff had deemed it safe to remove the ventilator and already there was a little more colour to his skin.
In spite of clearly being on the ‘good painkillers’ Coulson managed to recognise all of them, and with Miss Potts at one side, and two super assassins on the other, John felt safe to leave him and phone the rest of the Avengers and enlighten them as to the latest developments.
Hey, look! An update!
Many many many apologies for taking so long to do so, and thanks to everyone who's left a supportive message. Basically, shit happened. And now I'm back. And so's Coulson (wahey!). The last few chapters will be up ASAP. I promise, even if this one wasn't worth the wait, the next few will be :D Love to you all xxx
PS Yes, I ship Clint/Coulson. No, I will not make it any more obvious than it is in this chapter. Probably.
PPS John totally goes commando. Just sayin'.
Chapter 21: The One Where the Rest of the Avengers Find Out (and Thor has magic apple juice)
Both Rodgers and Dr Banner had resolved not to visit Coulson that first evening. There were enough people hovering around his bedside, they argued, and they hardly knew the man. They’d just be getting in the way. In the end, that decision was the thing that stopped Stark from suiting up immediately and flying over as fast as physically possible. It took him a good fifteen minutes to cajole the pair of them into a car, which Stark had then insisted on driving to HQ himself, convinced that they’d turn straight around if he wasn’t there to personally escort them.
The whole drama seemed a little excessive to John, especially since Coulson had slipped back into unconsciousness and seemed unlikely to wake up again that evening, but if it meant that Tony wouldn’t appear at the poor man’s bedside in full regalia, he wasn’t about to complain. He just felt a little sorry for Thor, who had apparently spent those fifteen minutes waiting patiently in the car for someone with a driving licence to take him to Coulson’s side.
When Stark, Dr Banner, Thor and Rodgers had arrived, there wasn’t exactly anything for them to do. Stark had complained for a long time, and loudly, that the whole thing had been a hoax and John was just doing it to ‘fuck with our heads!’ until Miss Potts given him one of those glares that, while they didn’t shut the billionaire up completely, did manage to reduce his shrieking to an embittered mumbling in one corner.
Rodgers managed to stand at the end of Coulson’s bed for half an hour looking both humble and awkward before remembering the cards he’d signed and leaving them on Coulson’s bedside table for him. He’d then gone back to his previous stance, looking a little less awkward and about ten times as humble.
Dr Banner had retreated to a corner with Coulson’s chart and had ummed and ahhed over his read outs for a while, scowling at the last page, before replacing the chart and turning the machines monitoring Coulson, staring at them intensely as though looking for some impossible answer that they couldn’t possibly give.
Thor had simply entered, announced his pleasure at Coulson’s apparent recovery, and then happily entered into conversation with Barton about deserts. John was beginning to wonder about Thor and Barton’s bonding over various foodstuffs, and whether it was something he should worry about.
About an hour after they arrived, Coulson woken again. He’d fixated briefly on the fact that Captain America was in his room and apparently cared about his welfare, and that could only mean he was either dead or having hallucinations, noticed Stark was also present, and considered the possibility it might actually just be a drug addled nightmare, before realising that Romanova, Barton, Miss Potts, and John were all still there.
“Oh,” Coulson said, looking the most vulnerable he’d ever been (whilst conscious) from the moment he’d outgrown nappies. “Is this my life now?” he’d asked no one in particular.
“’Fraid so, sir,” Barton had replied gleefully. “You can’t bring together a bunch of misfit freaks, call them superheroes, then go and die on them without some sort of consequences.”
“You signed my cards,” Coulson told his bedside table with a warm, slightly delirious smile. “That’s nice.” Then he’d fallen back to sleep again.
“I like drugged up Agent,” Stark announced to the room. “Drugged up Agent is fun.”
Banner and Romanova had both scowled disapprovingly at Stark, but judging from the soft look Miss Potts sent his way, Stark’s comment came from the emotionally constipated part of his personality that was incapable of processing feelings and loss in a normal way. The group had decided at that point that there was little else that could that they could do, and returning to their own beds was the next logical step. Barton and Romanova both stayed, which didn’t surprise John, although he did tell both of them that they had to sleep at some point. He was almost certain they wouldn’t listen, but he told them anyway. With a bit of luck they might take shifts.
It took John less than 24 hours to become suspicious about the timing of Coulson’s recovery. Not that he wasn’t grateful – of course he was – but considering just a month before it had become generally accepted that aliens and magic were real it seemed too convenient a coincidence that Coulson began to make significant steps towards getting better within days of the Avengers of being informed of his continued existence.
Now, since Stark was a technological genius but medically inept, Barton and Romanova were skilful at killing people rather than stopping them from dying, and if Rogers had been trained in medicine it would have been in the forties (and he hadn’t, anyway), that left Dr Banner and Thor. John had every faith in Dr Banner, but the man had also spent the last year or so treating the penniless and starving in Calcutta, so unless he’d found a witch doctor who actually could work magic, John was putting his money on Thor being the culprit.
Luckily, as large and fearsome as Thor could be, he was not exactly known for his secret keeping abilities and was, as Darcy put it; “essentially a dog. He’ll scare the shit out of the postman, but give him a treat and call him a good boy and he’ll do pretty much anything for you.” As such, it took very little persuading for Thor to admit to slipping Coulson a little something extra with his S.H.I.E.L.D.-prescribed medicine.
“There is an apple tree, from whence each of the gods does eat. And this grants us long, prosperous lives,” Thor explained a little bashfully. “When I told my mother of seeing a warrior, much beloved of my newfound shield brothers, being killed before my eyes I begged that I be better equipped if another such situation should arise. She made a potion for me, that only a drop upon the lip could save the life of any mortal man. Your healers said that son of Coul might yet survive, but I felt I must do what I could not before. Did I do wrong?”
“No, Thor. I think you might well have saved Coulson from spending the rest of his life in a coma,” John admitted frankly. “I know the doctors were hopeful but, well, his heart had stopped several times. The chances weren’t good.”
Thor came across as juvenile a lot of the time, and it was easy to forget that he was thousands of years old. But just then, his eyes contained the sorrow of centuries passed, of friends lost and destruction beyond the scope of a single human lifetime. “Then I am glad that one life might have been saved,” he told John.
John reached across to him and squeezed his shoulder. “Your victory in the battle of New York saved more than just one life,” he reminded him.
Thor stared at him a moment longer, before shaking off his sorrow like taking of a coat, his beaming smile back in place. “The son of Coul is recovering, then?”
“It’ll take a while before he’s back on his feet and he’ll never be quite good as new, but he’s definitely on the mend.”
In fact, Coulson was recovering in leaps and bounds. The doctors had worried at first that there might have been some permanent brain damage when he’d been incapable of completing a coherent sentence, but it soon became clear that inability was likely due to the amount of painkillers Coulson was on, and the fact that he had literally only just woken up. To begin with he was only capable of staying awake for a few minutes at a time, but he was gradually staying awake for a longer and longer periods of time.
The majority of Coulson’s physical injuries had had time to heal. Only the wound from Loki’s spear was still healing, and even that was doing better than any of the doctor’s expectations. Coulson would still be facing months of physical therapy in order to regain muscle mass after being incapacitated for a month, but John had no doubt that the man would rise to the challenge. If there was a single person on the planet who could walk away from being stabbed in the heart, it was always going to be Phil Coulson.
I'm not all that familiar with Norse mythology, but I remember something about apples. Ah well, even if I remembered wrong, it doesn't matter. If I say Thor has magic healing apples, he has magic healing apples :D much love xx
Chapter 22: The One in Which Tony Tries to do a Good Thing (and it goes very badly wrong)
Warning: mentions of suicidal thoughts.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next week passed in relative peace. There were a few rough patches whilst everyone got used to living in the same building as everyone else, but since everyone had their own floor nothing too dramatic happened. The biggest drama of the week occurred when Darcy was finally allowed to go and see Coulson.
She hadn’t known the Agent all that well – in fact, she’d only met him briefly in New Mexico – but she’d been begging to go from the moment Coulson had woken up. Somewhat wary as to why she’d want to see him, John had been reluctant to allow her, so when Darcy was finally allowed to go and see him, she kicked up as much fuss as she possibly could.
She’d made three half dozen cupcakes decorated with a variety of messages from ‘Get well soon’, to ‘Give me my fucking iPod back’, to ‘I’m so badass not even being stabbed in the heart by a magical spear can kill me’ (although the last one did take two cakes sort of mashed together). Medical had tried to convince her that cupcakes weren’t appropriate sustenance for supposedly dead patients, but as John was rapidly learning, Darcy on a roll was not something to be dissuaded.
Darcy and her cupcakes had arrived, unaffected, and she’d proceeded to rant to a still partly delirious Coulson about paperwork, John’s inability to complete it in a timely fashion, Barton’s arms, Rodgers’ arse, and the complete violation of human rights that was the stealing of an iPod. Coulson had agreed vaguely to most of what she said, although had somehow managed to keep his wits about him enough not to agree to giving her her iPod back, a fact Darcy complained bitterly about when she’d returned to the Avengers Tower.
Pottering around the communal kitchen the following Saturday with a new pot of jam (that Barton had promised not to use in another sandwich pyramid) and a cup of tea from the box of tea bags that had gone – miraculously – untouched by any of the Avengers and their ridiculous schemes, John would say the week had gone well. With the further help from Thor’s magic apple juice Coulson was rapidly recovering and aside from the odd food fight or acrobatic escapade nothing had particularly gone wrong with the Avengers. It was too good to last, really.
Stark entered the kitchen with the air of a man who was used to being satisfied with himself, but had just done something for someone else and now felt as though he deserved to be called altruistic rather than selfish.
“Doc English, my fine woolen friend,” Stark greeted with a smile that said he thought he’d just done something rather clever. “You’ve given us back our friend in our time of need, so I thought that I would give you back your friend in your time of need.”
“Coulson is my friend,” John reminded. “And I’m not in a time of need.”
But he cut himself off before he could say anything more when, calm as you like, Sherlock bloody Holmes strolled casually through the kitchen door. He didn’t say anything, but he smirked in the same way he always did when he was working out your entire life story from just a glance and he knew, enigma that he was, that you couldn’t even hope to do the same.
John launched himself across the room towards Sherlock, not knowing whether he was going to punch the ridiculous man, or hug him. Distantly he noticed the stool he’d been sitting on falling over, but it didn’t matter. None of it mattered because Sherlock was here.
Except he wasn’t, not really.
John crashed straight through Sherlock, ploughed head first into the wall behind him before falling to the floor, not able to comprehend what had happened. Somewhere above and behind him Stark was cackling gleefully, but it took long, shell shocked moments for John to realise that Sherlock - Sherlock - was still dead. Stark had pulled the prank to crown all pranks and had made a hologram or something of Sherlock.
Then he’d pranced through the front door, as though he’d made the greatest discovery on Earth and, God help him, John had believed him. He’d believed, for those few precious seconds before he’d hurtled straight through the image of Sherlock, that his best friend was alive. John leaned his head heavily against the wall, both legs underneath him and he knew that if he tried to stand up now his bad leg wouldn’t be able to hold half of his weight.
Stark’s laughter died, cutting off almost as abruptly as it started. The hologram of Sherlock flickered and disappeared.
“Doc?” he asked, taking a half step towards John.
“Don’t,” John hissed, pretending that his voice didn’t crack. “Don’t even think about fucking touching me right now, you utter bastard.”
He was still near the kitchen, so there was a counter nearby, and he was still leaning against a wall and somehow, impossibly, John pulled himself to standing. There wasn’t any feeling in his toes and he noticed dully that his entire leg was throbbing with pain. He pulled himself along so he had a proper grip on the counter and turned very slowly to face Stark. Banner and Romanova are still sat at the island, neither of them saying a word as they watched the scene play out.
“I don’t - I don’t understand,” Stark said, and he looked horribly confused. He wasn’t a bad man, John knew. A little emotionally stunted, but certainly not as callous as this prank would suggest. If John was in any state of mind to consider anyone else’s emotions, he’d be confused too. As it was, he was just very, very hurt.
“Imagine Pepper phones you,” he hissed. “And imagine, you turn the corner of a street and you see her standing on the top of a building. And she tells you that she’s going to jump, that she has to jump, and all you can think about is trying to get to her, trying to stop her but it doesn’t matter because you’re on the ground, and she’s way up on the roof. She tells you that she’s doing it for you.
“Now imagine she begs you not to take your eyes off her. She makes you promise, and then she jumps and she falls and you want to look away because you don’t want to see her hit the ground, but you have to watch every last second because she made you promise to watch. You run to where she falls and you check for her heart beat, and you check for breathing and there are people all around you, and medical personnel and they’re asking you to back away and you only wish you could think straight and wake up from whatever this nightmare is, but it doesn’t matter because Pepper is fucking dead and you saw her die.”
Stark was incredibly pale, and Banner had stood up at some point but Romanova’s hand on his wrist had pinned him in place. But John couldn’t stop talking and talking because fuck Stark made him think Sherlock was alive and John had to make him understand what he was feeling.
“Then imagine that you bury her. You go to her funeral, and you go to a counsellor, and you talk to her brother. You’ll never be able to move on because she was the fucking love of your life and she’s never coming back, but you come to terms with that. You learn to live without her in your life anymore. And then you get a phone call. An old army buddy needs your help and you’re offered a chance; a new job, a new country, a new start, maybe. So you take the offer and you start over, you start carving a new place for yourself in the world and it’s crazy but you’re busy and you think maybe, eventually, you’ll feel like normal again, even if you’ll never feel whole.
“You make some new friends. They’re nothing like the old ones, but that’s ok because different is good and it doesn’t remind you every waking moment of what you’re missing anymore. Then one of those people you’ve met decides he’s going to pull a prank because it’s a laugh and it’ll be funny and for one split second you think, you believe that Pepper is alive. You see her and all you can think about is touching her because she’s there, in front of you, and you fall in love all over again.
“But you can’t touch her because she isn’t real and it’s all just a massive fucking joke.” John’s cheeks were wet and his eyes were sore but he didn’t know why. All he could see was Stark’s face that had paled to the point that it seemed almost translucent. The only thing that was keeping John from sinking to the floor again was his white knuckled grip on the counter.
Suddenly the shoulder strap under his jumper weighed too much and all John could feel was the press of his Browning against his ribcage, the erratic thrum of his heartbeat pounding against the leather strap and the metal of the gun and he had to get it off now before –
The Browning went skittering across the counter, bouncing off the glasses and mugs and sending a plate crashing to the floor. Its movement was only halted when Romanova stopped it with the flat of her palm, fingers curling around it and pointing it in a direction that wouldn’t hurt anyone if it misfired.
“John?” she asked delicately.
“You’re-” John cut himself off before he lost his voice completely, swallowed, and tried again. “You’re going to need to keep hold of that for me for a while,” he told her.
He didn’t say that if he had the gun in his hands he might put it to his forehead and pull the trigger. He didn’t need to. John didn’t want to die, not really, but there was too much going on in his head and he knew it was only a matter of time before all the activity dies and he was left with that brief moment in time when he fell through Sherlock, and Stark is laughing and John’s heart breaks again. The silence of his own head was always worse than the tumult of emotions that came before.
John also didn’t have to say that he needed to leave the room, but that he couldn’t move on his own. His cane was still propped up against the hat stand in the hallway of 221B, gathering dust, but his leg wasn’t working so he was left clutching the counter and praying that they’d all just leave already so he could crawl to his quarters in peace.
But they were all geniuses, the Avengers. And even though Stark was still frozen still and far too pale, Banner was there as well. No one said a word when he stepped forward to support half of John’s weight while he struggled to move his bum leg. Christ, he couldn’t even move it. But it wasn’t far to the elevator, and it was not far from the elevator to John’s bedroom. Banner was the epitome of practicality and silent support and he got John to privacy as quickly as could, and left him to his thoughts just as rapidly.
“Could you make sure no one - no one…” John choked again, and wished that he wasn’t this pathetic.
Banner didn’t say anything but there were layers of emotion in his eyes that said he understood. He nodded, turned sharply, and left.
And I know it doesn't seem like it, but Tony really was trying to do a good thing. I'll explain it more soon. Much love xx
PS In case it isn't totally clear, Tony Stark made a hologram of Sherlock. And John confessed his undying love. The DRAMA.
Chapter 23: The One Where Darcy Acts as Much Needed Emotional Support (and Hulk and Betty snuggle)
For all that John felt as though someone had reached into his ribcage and pulled out his still beating heart, he couldn’t spend more than a day in bed. He had mourned for Sherlock, he had his turn at spending a week locked away from human contact, he had dutifully gone to his therapist for the better part of the year. None of it had made any difference. Spending another day moping about would do no one any good.
At midday on Sunday, John hauled himself out of bed, had a shower and found a fresh change of clothes and headed to his kitchen for some lunch, and to try and figure out what he could use as a cane until he ordered a new one or had Mycroft send him his old one. To his surprise, he found Darcy in his kitchen, thumbing through a pile of reports and sipping a cup of coffee. The oven was on, and he could see another loaf nearly finished baking through the glass front.
“So, Tony’s an asshole,” Darcy said casually as she noticed his appearance. “But to people he likes, he tends to only be an asshole accidentally.”
“Does Mr Stark like me?” John asked dryly, leaning heavily against the doorway and eyeing the gap between it and the table.
Darcy stood up, dropped the files on the table and then picked up something that had been leaning against the other side of the table, and throwing it across to John. He caught it deftly with his left hand - the one that wasn’t keeping him upright against the wall, and stared at the cane in astonishment.
“Why in the blazes did you buy a cane for me? I could have done that,” he asked her.
“I didn’t buy it. Tony was feeling guilty, and Clint knows a bloke.”
John shook his head in astonishment, testing the cane carefully, before using it to hobble over to the table. He never had liked having a cane, but it certainly beat having to use the closest wall to get around. “I don’t think I want to know what you mean by that,” he told her.
“The handle is retractable,” Darcy explained. “Clint said you were partial to guns, and that you were a pretty decent shot - which, by the way, is like anyone else saying you’re fucking amazing - and he’s still got some contacts in the circus crowd, including some dude whose job it is, apparently, to hide weapons in walking sticks and umbrellas. Also, shoes, but I didn’t want to think too much about that, Pepper’s killer heels are enough for me, without the phrasing being literal.”
Settling down in his seat opposite her, John put the cane on the table in front of him to inspect it. It was a nice looking piece, unlike his old one, and although it looked like wood, it felt like something stronger than that and he had no doubt, even without a gun in the handle it would make a pretty decent weapon. Spotting the catch in the handle, John slid the gun out of the cane. It wasn’t anything like his Browning, with a smoother, more rounded handle, and a circular barrel that slotted smoothly into the body of the cane.
“Anyway,” Darcy continued, “Clint called this guy in, sent him to the labs with Tony, and between the two of them they had that baby sorted for you before eleven. The cane is carbon fibre reinforced polymer, but Tony made it look pretty for you. He also made it hollow so you can keep spare rounds in there, or pretend to use it a telescope or something, I don’t know. Clint also told me to tell you that the range is open for you to practice with it whenever you want, which I thought was very cocky of him since the range is not technically his.”
“Did he give you any useful information about what type of rounds the gun takes?” John asked.
Darcy leant under the table to rummage around in her bag, and emerged with two cartridges each with 50 9mm bullets. “Same as your Browning,” she said, something that John didn’t actually need to be told. “But Tony gave you these as well,” she added, sliding them across the table.
John took a deep breath and considered everything for a moment. He was still angry at Stark. He didn’t know what the man was thinking, but to see his dead best friend like that… God, once he’d got over the shock he’d been furious. The problem was that as much as it had left him feeling hollowed out and more than a little emotionally screwed up, John knew that Stark hadn’t meant it as a hurtful thing. In whatever emotional stunted way it might have been, he didn’t doubt Stark had been trying to do a good thing for John. There had been an element of humour, yes, but his reaction to John’s panic attack hadn’t been faked. He hadn’t been trying to hurt him.
Even with a rather spectacular new cane, it was too soon to thank him though. So, instead, John asked about the folders.
“It’s all back logs. I thought you were bad at filling out paperwork, but at least you rose to the occasion when you knew it existed. Before you arrived, though… well, the handlers were having a hard enough time tracking down the Avengers to work out what they were doing, let alone trying to fill in reports about it. But don’t worry about that,” Darcy explained. She didn’t ask, but John could hear the ‘are you alright?’ hanging in the air as plainly as if she had.
“Did anything happen yesterday?” he asked, ignoring the unspoken question.
“Nope, they were all on their best behaviour. Everyone heard about what happened with you pretty sharpish, and everyone agreed to make your life easier for you. I don’t know how long it’ll last, since Clint’s already practically vibrating from the need to blow something up or shoot something, but he and Natasha are still spending most of their time in medical with Coulson. There was a slight incident with the Hulk, but no one apart from Betty knew about it until the green guy had turned back, so we’re all pretending it didn’t happen.”
“Are Drs Banner and Ross alright?”
Darcy snorted in amusement and shook her head. “They’re fine,” she reassured him. “Bruce just got a bit annoyed with the whole hologramic-dead-best-friend-slash-love-of-your-life thing, and the fact that Tony might have scared off the one person other than Coulson who’s actually capable of dealing with the Avengers. So he went back to his floor, not realising Betty was still there, and Hulked out. Luckily, Hulk’s a massive fan of Betty, and Betty hasn’t been afraid of Hulk since she first worked out he’s basically a bigger, greener, angrier version of Bruce. I’ll send you the footage. After Betty convinces the Hulk that wrecking the living room won’t change anything they sit on the sofa and snuggle for about an hour before Bruce comes back. It’s adorable.”
As happy as John was for Dr Banner and Dr Ross – “He’s not the love of my life.”
Darcy shot him the same look that every acquaintance of John and Sherlock’s always shot when he said that. “You said that he was your Pepper. You also said a whole load of stuff about love and getting your heart broken. Do not try and bullshit me.”
John sighed and momentarily hid his face in one hand before looking up at her again. “I’m not saying I didn’t love him. He just. He can’t be the love of my life. I’m 38, I knew him for less than a year, and I spent the entire time denying I felt anything other than friendship for him. Now he’s dead. He can’t be the love of my life.”
“I’m sorry,” Darcy said, leaning across and patting his hand comfortingly.
John nodded glumly, and the pair of them sat in silence for a minute or so, each lost in their own thoughts.
“Enough of that,” John said eventually, shaking off the melancholy and smiling somewhat unconvincingly. “If we’re mostly free of paperwork today, I should probably head in to HQ with the completed reports, and see if there are any actual missions the Avengers might be needed for, rather than just sitting around all day annoying everyone.”
“Ok,” Darcy agreed. “Want me to come with?”
John shook his head. “That’s alright. I’m capable of fighting my own battles.”
Darcy didn’t look convinced, but she agreed anyway. “Just, can you be back here by three? Tony has something he wants to share with you. As a ‘sorry I’m such a dickhead’ present.”
“Stark? Sharing?” John asked dubiously. “Besides, I thought the cane was the apology.”
“Please,” Darcy said, ignoring the first part of John’s question. “The cane is just a practicality. Can’t have you unable to walk around. Just make sure you’re back by three and meet everyone in the common room, ok?”
Feeling vaguely suspicious of the request, John agreed. He had a quick lunch with Darcy from the bread that she’d baked, and rejoiced in the fact that someone had brought his box of teabags down from the communal kitchen, before he grabbed all the completed reports from the last few days and headed out. The problem with dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D. was that, as an outside operative, he didn’t have any idea about the inner workings of the organisation.
Coulson, John felt sure, more than likely had channels of communication in all departments and, being as organised and efficient as he was, would be able to spot a mission best suited to one or more of the Avengers a mile off. But John’s only communication with S.H.I.E.L.D. was through Director Fury, Agent Hill, and the Avengers themselves. The latter of which themselves knew very little of what was going on, and the former two were frustratingly closed mouthed about everything. It was hardly surprising the Avengers had been such an irritant before John showed up, with the impressive lack of communication.
He was in for a long couple of hours trying to get someone to say something about anything, but he’d see what he could do. At least he had a mysterious meeting at 3pm to simultaneously look forward to and dread.
Hmm, I wonder what Tony's going to share with John? ;) Since there wasn't any Sherlock this chapter (and I really had intended for him to be back by now - whoops!) I will update really soon. Either later today, or tomorrow. Love to you all!
Chapter 24: The One Where Everyone Refuses to Say Anything (and Coulson's mostly lucid again)
The visit to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ was about as miserable as John thought it would be. On top of the fact that no one would tell him anything (Fury was off at some undisclosed location and Hill was still angry about the date that hadn’t happened) because of the return of John’s limp he couldn’t even drive himself there and back again.
Happy had driven him there without much fuss, but had had to return to the tower immediately. He was Stark’s private chauffeur and bodyguard, after all, and there was no telling when Stark might be in need of his services. Which meant that John had been left limping about HQ with no one saying very much of anything to him and no determined way of getting back.
Luckily, John’s last stop was to pop in on Coulson to see how he was doing, and both Agents Barton and Romanova were there. Coulson was sat upright, his complexion a much healthier shade, and the heavily-drugged glaze in his eyes was now mostly gone thanks to the massively reduced medication he was now receiving.
“Watson,” Coulson greeted, as cheerful as he could in the carefully refined way of his.
“Coulson,” John replied, grinning freely. “Good to see you mostly upright again.”
“Good to be mostly upright again,” Coulson replied. “I don’t suppose you’ve brought something for me to do?”
“No work,” Barton interrupted before anything more could be said. “You were stabbed. You died. Quit being a hero for once and relax.”
Coulson glared dully at the man. “Not doing anything is driving me loopier than all those drugs.”
John chuckled. “No work, but I did bring a couple of books.” He drew out two paperback novels that he’d picked out earlier in the week, knowing that this time would come, when Coulson was still too ill to do any real work, but well enough that he needed something to occupy his mind. If Coulson had been anyone else, John might’ve used one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. issued tablets and downloaded a couple of ebooks, but that would mean giving Coulson internet access, and that would lead to him trying to do work.
Coulson, reading the motives behind actual books rather than ebooks, huffed a sigh, but offered no other complaint.
“You can drag these two away, while you’re here,” he added. “Won’t give me a moment’s peace.”
“I’ll do my best, but you know their stubbornness better than me,” John agreed willingly enough.
Romanova stood gracefully, uncurling herself from the chair as though she hadn’t likely been sat there for a number of hours. She tilted her head in question, pulling John’s gun from her purse and tilting it questioningly towards him.
John took the proffered weapon. “Thank you,” he murmured sincerely.
“We’ve all had our moments,” Romanova replied quietly, sharing a glance with Barton, Coulson, and John in turn. There was a long moment of heavy silence before Barton jumped up from his chair too.
“Best be off back to the tower if we want to get you there by three,” Barton told John cheerfully. “I’ll be back before long, sir,” he added to Coulson with a wink.
“Please, feel free to stay away as long as you like,” Coulson grumbled in reply, although there was a warmth of affection in his eyes. “Take care of Captain Watson,” he continued.
John glanced between Barton and Coulson to try and take in the silent conversation they were having and realised with a jolt that whatever it was Stark had planned, not only was Barton in on it – which could be safely assumed since Darcy knew – but Coulson obviously knew as well. And the fact that his last instruction was to take care of John... well, that did not bode well for whatever the surprise was. Although, since Coulson hadn’t issued any obvious warning, John tried to see the positive side of things. He was, at least, unlikely to be physically damaged.
The three of them – Barton, Romanova and John – drove back to the Avenger’s Tower in near suffocating silence. Romanova was driving, which John judged to be a good thing since Barton was positively vibrating with nervous energy. It seemed that Romanova cared as little for traffic laws as the rest of the Avengers did, which got them back to the tower in record time.
They had another 10 minutes before Stark’s surprise, and John allowed Barton to detour him to his floor with no complaint.
“Has Stark got everyone in on it?” John asked as he dropped the latest stack of S.H.I.E.L.D. paperwork on his kitchen table. He really ought to use the study that was provided, but there was something to be said for the proximity of the kitchen table to the kettle and fresh teabags.
“In on what?” Barton said, looking and sounding far too innocent to be anything other than guilty.
“Whatever his big surprise is,” John clarified, deciding he had plenty of time to at least make a cup of tea, if not drink it. “And don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. This whole cloak and dagger malarkey is not exactly subtle.”
Barton pondered this for a moment before answering. “This is Stark we’re talking about. It’s a wonder he’s managed to keep it a secret from you, let alone anyone else.”
John shook his head in fond despair. “Well at least if Pepper knows and it’s still going ahead there’s some chance that the whole debacle won’t result in bodily harm.”
“That depends entirely on you,” Barton replied somewhat bafflingly.
Once the ten minutes were up John drained the last of his tea, and followed Barton’s directions to wait for a minute following his departure before following him. John rolled his eyes at the elaborate scheme, but supposed it would give Stark enough time to add any finishing touches to the surprise before John appeared.
The one minute seemed to drag on for longer than the ten minutes preceding it had, and they had hardly sped past. Finally, the elevator arrived with a polite ding, it’s doors opening almost silently, and shutting behind John just as quietly.
“JARVIS,” John told the air.
“Yes, Dr Watson?” the AI replied.
“I apologise in advance for anything that I might do to your creator.”
“Mr Stark has informed me that, should you feel the urge to punch him, it is entirely deserved. Although I feel obliged to warn you that, should you indeed attack Sir and not show any inclination to stop, I will be forced to take preventative measures.”
John laughed ruefully. “Not to worry, JARVIS. One good swing at him is all I’ll probably need.”
“Yes, Doctor,” JARVIS agreed. AI or not, John got the distinct impression that the agreement was not merely accepting John’s word and was, in fact, acknowledgement that sometimes Stark needed a smack.
The doors to the elevator opened to the common area, and John was unsurprised to see all of the Avengers and their significant others waiting for him. It was Stark who stepped forward to greet him.
“First, Doc English, I’ve got to say that what I did was a dick move. I had no idea... I should have, I know, but I just assumed – anyway, I just want to let you know I didn’t mean to hurt you. And I hope you like the cane.” He didn’t actually say ‘sorry’ but that was the closest he was ever going to get, John knew.
“I hate canes,” John replied bluntly, not giving an inch. He wasn’t about to forgive Stark just like that, honest mistake or not.
Stark looked about as sheepish as a billionaire genius could be supposed to do before continuing. “It took a while to get sorted out. So, sorry for the delay. But I thought you deserved this.”
John was about to ask what, precisely, he deserved, when a voice interrupted him from behind.
“John,” the unknown speaker said.
But by God if John didn’t have that voice ringing about his head at any quiet moment. As if he hadn’t hoped, from the bottom of his heart, to hear that voice again.
“Mr Stark. I swear to God –” John warned, cutting himself off when he felt the words catch in his throat.
“It’s not hologram or a fake,” Stark said quietly, though he had gone a little pale. Behind him, everyone else watched silently, eager faces ready to support John at the least sign that he needed it.
“John,” that wonderfully familiar voice said again. “John, I’m real.”
Still with his back to the speaker John took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He held it for a moment before letting it loose in a low whoosh. Then he turned slowly to face a dead man.
The fucker didn’t even look worse for wear.
Sherlock had died his hair a pale brown, and was wearing a hoody and jeans that seemed to dwarf his skinny frame. His eyes were the same piercing blue that they’d always been, and they gathered every detail they could about John greedily. Unlike John, who had lost weight over the interim months, Sherlock appeared to have actually put it on, and he looked like he was doing much better than he normally would be, let alone how he should be after supposedly being dead for several months.
John took a step forwards, reaching out a hand to cup one of those ridiculous cheekbones of Sherlock’s. He needed to touch the taller man to prove to himself that he was real, that he was solid. He paused a long moment, just touching and staring, before he drew his hand back again.
Then he punched the irritating buggar square in the jaw.
Aaand, Sherlock's back. I hope the reunion lived up to your exacting standards. I know there are a fair few post-Reichenbach reunion fics out there, so I hope this isn't too much of a cliche. And if it is... well, my reunion has Tony Stark in it so there :p
Much love! xx
Chapter 25: The One Where Everything gets Explained (and neither Tony nor Sherlock actually say 'sorry')
John didn’t like to cause a scene. He was much happier letting someone else take the limelight, steering them away from bad decisions if he was able, and cleaning up the mess left behind if he was not. It was because of this that, after sending Sherlock sprawling across the floor, John stepped over him and – as calmly as he possibly could, given the circumstances – walked back to the elevator and rode it straight back down to his floor without another word to anyone.
Once the doors had shut behind him, John once again made a beeline for his bedroom door, shutting and locking it behind him. He asked JARVIS with only a slight tremor in his voice to keep the others away and allow him some privacy. It was only then, after ensuring that his solitude was unlikely to be intruded on, that John gave in to the urge to weep.
His grief was something that he had bourn for some months now, however, and it had run its course. What came after was worse. The sheer anger at the deception, of not being included in whatever scheme Sherlock had cooked up, of believing his best friend dead for the better part of a year. John almost wished that Sherlock was in the room so that he could punch him again and again and again until some small piece of John’s emotional hurt might be imprinted on Sherlock’s skin.
Under the tidal wave of fury, however, was a sense of betrayal, a self doubt. Had Sherlock not trusted John enough with his secret? Had he thought, perhaps, that John might post about it on his blog, tell the world, give the game away?
That ruddy game. Just the thought of it – of the megalomaniacal courting ritual between two genius men with no apparent regard for life – it set John’s stomach churning and his teeth on edge. How easily Moriarty had conducted the entirety of Sherlock’s attention, had given the man just what he wanted with the criminal investigation of his life. John had chased after as well as he could, had gone sniffing about like the good dog he was around the things that Sherlock pointed out. But what use had John ever truly been to Sherlock? A hanger on, an unwanted burden, always jumping to the wrong conclusions, only there to stroke his ego.
John choked and tilted his head back in attempt to make the tears roll back into his eyes. He knew all that wasn’t true. He knew that, in his own way, Sherlock gained as much from their friendship as John did. But John’s effect was quieter, soothing, an anchor or a rock in comparison to the blinding light of Sherlock’s contribution to the world. And, when put into comparison by an outside source, they didn’t compare at all really. John’s problem was that, towards the end, with Moriarty at his height, John had become an outsider. Or at least, that’s what it felt like.
It took some time for him to regain control of himself, and it was only with the reassurance that Sherlock was not waiting for him outside his door, that John dared to brave the rest of the world again. He really ought to have checked that Stark wasn’t out there either.
“Doc English,” Stark said, in imitation of his usual brazen way, though a layer of uncertainty hid behind his words.
“What do you want Stark?” John grumbled, pushing past him to the kitchen. If he was going to have this conversation he needed a cup of tea or, preferably, a bottle of whisky and an oversized glass.
“To explain,” Stark told him sincerely, following him to the kitchen and hopping up onto one of the counters to peer at John.
“Go on then,” John said, reminding himself that it was, actually, Stark’s kitchen, and he didn’t have the right to feel annoyed by the man sitting on his – until then – clean work surfaces.
Stark grunted, one hand coming up and tapping his arc reactor, before starting in a rapid stream of words. “When you first came to work with us I did a background check on you, read your military background, your education, your work, read your blog. Your Sherlock person intrigued me so I started doing background checks on him too – there was a fuck tonne of firewalls, but nothing I can’t crack – and found a load of files more recent than the date you mentioned for his death, so I read into the whole scandal, how you uncovered the truth, proved he was innocent, looked over all the footage from his suicide, and it didn’t take me long to realise that Sherlock was still alive, running around the world hunting down the rest of Moriarty’s little crime syndicate.
“I swear to God, I thought you knew. From the phonecall, and the way you acted following his death I figured you’d hatched the plan between you, and you were pissed off because you couldn’t plausibly die as well to go with him. And I thought, what with you bringing us Agent back, it would be nice for you to have a holographic version of your friend. I didn’t program it to talk or anything, just pull a few trademark expressions, maybe roll his eyes. Like having a 3D photo. I thought it’d be something nice for you before Sherlock came back.”
John stared at Stark in amazement. Thought he knew? Good lord, were they all like this? Always jumping to the wrong conclusions about what they thought other people knew, then not caring about the consequences when they assumed incorrectly?
To be fair to Stark, if John had been aware that Sherlock was still alive, the presentation of a ‘3D photo’ would have been appreciated. He would have probably reacted the same way, jumping up to hug the ridiculous man before falling through the image of light. And, John conceded, it would have been funny. If he had known.
“When you told me you didn’t know Sherlock was alive,” Stark continued uninterrupted, “I knew I had to do something. I mean, I’ve been known to do lots of hurtful things to people who care about me, but I’ve never pretended to kill myself in front of anyone. It was pretty easy to work out where Sherlock had been, and where he was likely to make his next move, from the files I’d found, and from there it was just a case of cornering him and telling him your health was in danger if he did not return.”
John had no doubt that when Stark said ‘pretty easy’ what he actually meant was ‘ridiculously difficult’. But he was also certain that Mycroft was aware that Sherlock was alive, and very probably responsible for the fact that Sherlock looked so well. Mycroft had told John he’d keep an eye on him and, after learning how the hologram had affected John, had probably left just the right number of bread crumbs to lead Stark straight to Sherlock.
“Bastards the lot of them,” John muttered to himself.
Stark grinned winningly at the comment.
“Get lost,” John added, when the billionaire looked as though he was just going to sit there and stare at him for the foreseeable future.
“Want me to send Sherlock down?” Stark asked, jumping off the surface and would have toppled John’s tea if he didn’t have such quick reactions.
John tilted his head, pretending to consider it. Of course he wanted to see Sherlock again. He was just buying himself a few more seconds before that happened. Eventually, when Stark seemed to be losing patience, John nodded, and turned his attention back to his cup of tea, stirring it disconsolately. He didn’t look up as Stark left, and he definitely didn’t look up when the elevator announced its arrival again, and a tall figure stalked over to him and sat down on a stool opposite.
“Are you going to punch me again?” Sherlock asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet,” John replied honestly, finally drawing his gaze away from his mug to blink balefully at the other man. There was a long pause during which neither of them said anything, and Sherlock made two abortive movements with his hands. This, more than anything, reminded John that Sherlock did care for him. Either Sherlock chose to do something or he did not. He didn’t start and then not finish it.
“You’re looking very well for being dead,” John finally broke the silence.
“Mycroft kept using you as emotional blackmail,” Sherlock said, as though it were nothing, before shaking his head as though to shake away a fly and added quietly, “I didn’t know I could be emotionally blackmailed until then.”
John huffed something that would have been laughter had he not still been feeling so betrayed.
“There were three snipers,” Sherlock told him, when it seemed as though the silence might stretch out between them again. “One for Lestrade, one for Mrs Hudson, and one for you. If I hadn’t jumped off the hospital, the only three people I care about at all would be dead right now.”
John returned to staring at his tea. The news that Sherlock had been blackmailed into jumping did not surprise him. That Moriarty had chosen to aim for Mrs Hudson and Lestrade as well... John couldn’t imagine how Sherlock must have felt.
“Two of the snipers are dead now. The other was Moriarty’s second in command, and it won’t take me long.”
“Sherlock,” John interrupted before he could get any further. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why couldn’t I have come with you? You know – you must know – that I was more than willing to leave everything behind.”
Sherlock reached across the counter and covered one of John’s hands with his own. John glanced up to meet his eyes. “I know. I never meant to be away for so long. I needed... I needed you to be innocent of all the things I was accused of. I needed to know that you were safe and alive.”
“You selfish bastard!” John croaked, fighting the urge to cry again. “What about me? I saw you die. I buried you. And you didn’t tell me you were alive because you thought I was safe?”
Sherlock flinched, but kept his hand curled around John’s.
“How long?” John asked. “How long would you have been willing to betray me like this if Stark hadn’t tracked you down?”
At the word ‘betray’ Sherlock let go of John’s hand, his shoulders hunching and curling in on himself. “I would have stayed away until each and every one of Moriarty’s employees was dead.”
John tilted his head back and glared at the light fixture for a long moment, before he stood up, emptied the rest of his mug into the sink and left it on the side to wash up later. Then he moved around the counter, tapping his cane louder than was strictly necessary, and came to a halt right in front of Sherlock.
“John?” Sherlock asked, sounding confused and uncertain.
“Well get down here, you great idiot,” John ordered, opening his arms wide and grunting when Sherlock fell off his stool and into him, wrapping long arms tightly around John’s shoulders and burying his face in his neck as though he never wanted to let go ever again.
So Stark isn't actually a dick, he's just a genius who forgets people aren't always as smart as him, and Sherlock and John actually talked! Although, no kissing happened. Why is this? I wanted kissing in this chapter. Possibly also love declarations. But apparently there's only so much emotion I can deal with before part of my brain goes "Clint hasn't done a stupid stunt in ages".
What this all bubbles down to is that although we only have one chapter remaining, I'm probably going to tag an epilogue on this thing as well. We'll see. Much love!
Chapter 26: The One Where Coulson's Mostly Recovered (and Sherlock and John go home)
The coffee shop was one of those places that tried so hard to be quirky and off-the-wall, that it ended up being as mainstream as all the other quirky, off-the-wall cafes in New York City. On the plus side, the coffee was excellent and only over-priced, not stupidly over-priced. Plus, the owners had managed to find chairs that somehow found a balance between hard-and-uncomfortable and swallows-you-when-you-sit-down, which meant that when they settled into their seats, Coulson’s face went a slightly healthier shade of grey.
John didn’t ask whether Coulson was sure he was alright to leave the medical facility. They both knew that he was not, and they both knew that it didn’t make a spot of difference when Coulson had made his mind up. Besides, if he put himself in any real danger, the cafe wasn’t too far for HQ.
“You know,” John said, sipping his coffee and gazing fondly at his friend through the thin veil of steam, “I might start to get used to all this resurrection bollocks if this keeps up.”
“Two people you thought dead actually alive? I’m not sure that counts as proof of resurrection,” Coulson replied dryly.
“Three,” John corrected. “Sherlock let slip Ms Adler was still alive. God knows how he managed to fool even Mycroft into thinking she was dead, but that’s Sherlock for you.”
Coulson raised an eyebrow. “‘Let slip’?” he quoted back.
“Dr Banner made a point of asking about my gun and my mental health while Sherlock was pretending not to be there. I used the opportunity to remind him that I value honesty. Sherlock felt guilty enough to reveal a couple of secrets before he realised he was being manipulated.”
“He didn’t mind?”
John chuckled. “I think he’s to relieved that I’ve forgiven him to get too mad. Besides, Sherlock’s a genius when it comes to unearthing secrets. When it comes to keeping them, he’s about as good as the rest of us. He told me three of the locations he hides his cigarettes, all of which I knew, the reason why I got food poisoning that one time – which I could have lived without knowing – and that Ms Adler was alive.”
“You’re being very understanding about the whole thing.”
“Am I?” John asked with a sigh, setting his mug down. “I don’t – can’t, really – understand it. I understand why he thinks what he did was necessary, and that’s about as close as I’m going to get. I’ve decided not to analyse it, and keep things as simple as I can.”
“I’m not sure I’ve forgiven Nick yet,” Coulson mused.
When Coulson had believed he was dying, he’d given Fury permission to use that information to bond the Avengers. He had not expected to live. He certainly had not expected for Fury to keep his continued survival from the Avengers long after the battle for New York was over. Although Fury had explained as best he could, and he and Coulson were friends before they were employer and employee, his manipulation was something that even Coulson was struggling to process.
“The advantage is, after four threats to his manhood if he broke my heart and Sherlock finally working out that I’m in love with him, I now get fantastic sex on a regular basis,” John replied, ignoring the way his heart did something stupid in his chest as he said those words. “Fury’s only your friend. If he tried to give you a blowjob to say sorry, you’d probably knock him out and take him to medical, demanding to know who that really was and what was wrong with him.”
Coulson huffed and rolled his eyes. “Only four?”
“Oh he got threats from all of the Avengers – I was quite touched – but it took him four to work out why everyone kept threatening to relieve him of his balls.”
Coulson chuckled into his coffee. “I thought he was a genius?”
“And emotionally inept,” John added cheerfully.
“You don’t seem to mind.”
John gave him a long look. “He wouldn’t be Sherlock if he wasn’t exactly as he is.”
Coulson nodded, looking thoughtful.
“What about you? I heard talk about a cellist?” John asked.
Coulson didn’t say anything, although the ends of his lips curled up in a tiny, self indulgent smile.
“Oh?” John prodded, curiousity getting the better of them. “Does he or she know you’re alive?”
Again, he didn’t reply verbally, but the smile grew a little, and he tilted his head in acknowledgement.
“Well I’m happy for you, even if you aren’t going to tell me anything,” John said.
“Not everyone feels the need to share the details of their love life, three-continents-Watson,” Coulson remarked.
John laughed and shook his head. “God, how does that name keep following me? It’s not as if I ever ran around telling everyone about it.”
“No, but you fall in and out of love like it’s going out of fashion, and you got that look in your eye, every time you did. Besides, it’s fun to watch other people’s faces when they work out that unassuming Dr Watson’s a lady’s man.”
“Sherlock’s man, now,” John said, knowing that he was wearing exactly the look that Coulson had commented on. “What about you, Agent Coulson? I bet you’ve seen your share of continental morning afters.”
Coulson chuckled again, shaking his head. “I’m afraid my love life’s been rather... well, not ‘dull’. But definitely steady.”
“Fine, you keep your secrets,” John replied, pretending to be upset, but looking far too happy to pull it off. “It’s been nice catching up, even if you won’t tell me any of the juicy gossip.”
“I’m sorry it had to be under these circumstances.”
“Don’t be,” John corrected him. “As soon as I talked to Fury that first time, I knew you weren’t dead. If I hadn’t been called in, the Avengers would probably still think you’re dead, I’d still think Sherlock was dead, and Thor wouldn’t have known to give you any of his magical cure-all. Besides, it’s been sort of fun getting to know your wacky colleagues.”
Coulson smiled at him sincerely. “You’re lucky you haven’t faced a world-threatening crisis, you wouldn’t thank me then.”
“I don’t know, it might stop the team’s bored hysterics,” John said teasingly. “Barton, in particular, is impossible when he’s got nothing to do.”
“You just say that because you don’t know what Natasha’s getting up to.”
“Romanova spends most of her free time fighting crime with the vigilante Daredevil. Which means that it’s out of my jurisdiction,” John informed him.
Coulson groaned. “You mean that I have a massive pile of rogue Avenger paperwork piling up on my desk?”
“You say that like you don’t love paperwork.”
It was strange, John considered as he continued chatting amiably with Coulson. He’d only been in America for a few short weeks, and Coulson had been conscious for less than half of that time, but he was going to miss this. Now that Coulson was up and about – his recovery period massively reduced thanks to Thor’s intervention – there wasn’t much need for John to stay around. It was unlikely that Coulson would ever get back to his previous physical abilities, and he still faced a couple of months regular physiotherapy, but he was already back to light desk duty.
Which meant that John, and by extension, Sherlock, would be heading home before long. John was looking forward to the cold and the damp of London, of familiar winding streets and crowds of people. He wanted to have tea with Mrs Hudson, and to go to the pub with Lestrade. And, more than anything, he was looking forward to watching Mycroft and Sherlock snipe at each other in that irritating, amusing way that led to both of the Holmes brothers being in a strop.
But he would miss the people here. They were all brash and obnoxious and caring, in their own, peculiar ways. In spite of the collection of stupid names and even more stupid looking costumes, John hoped that everything worked out alright for them. He knew that between saving the world and trying to remember to save themselves it probably wouldn’t, but he hoped. He also hoped that they gave Captain America a costume that looked a little less like a target, but that was even more of a futile hope than the first.
It would be good to get home. John couldn’t even imagine the looks on people’s faces when they learnt Sherlock was alive. Between John, Mycroft, and Sherlock’s adoring public, Sherlock’s name had been cleared several months ago, so that was no longer a concern. Lestrade had not only managed to keep his job, but also finally earned the pay raise he’d been angling for for years, as well as express permission to use any civilian help he deemed necessary, so Sherlock could even return to his consultancy work.
The only real concern was the remaining sniper – John’s sniper. Sherlock had been narrowing down the options, but it had been slow, dangerous work, and as soon as Stark had made contact the lead had been lost. John wasn’t too worried about it. Professional snipers, he knew, were mostly in it for the money, and the chances of Moriarty still being able to pay the unknown sniper almost a year after his death were slim. Not impossible, but slim. So the chances of the sniper still being interested in John were also slim.
Sherlock wasn’t so certain, naturally, but he had balanced the options and decided that returning home with John, returning to the work that he lived for, was worth whatever small risk remained. John liked to think that that the added bonus of sex had played some part in that decision, but had decided it was probably best not to ask.
And so, with only a few loose ends left, Sherlock and John said goodbye to the Avengers and their associates, and went home. There had been a few tears at their farewell – mostly from Thor – but, as Darcy reminded everyone, the internet made it a small world these days. John promised that he’d start the blog up again once he and Sherlock got back to work, much to the confusion of those who didn’t know what a ‘blog’ was.
When they finally made it back to 221B, after some unnecessarily long explanations and hugs all around, Mycroft was waiting for them.
“I told you that you shouldn’t have gone,” he said, although it wasn’t entirely apparent to which of them he was speaking.
Sherlock, as was his nature, immediately took offence. “Oh yes, and you always know what’s best –”
John huffed his amusement, hanging his coat up on the rack and turning the kettle on before leaning against the doorframe to watch the show.
So... I'm shit at ending things. I apologise for a rubbish last chapter. There's, like, no point to this whatsoever. My bad. Can we pretend that this chapter never happened and Sherlock and John just went home cos Coulson's better, and everyone gets hot sex?
Also, I'm deliberately vague on the Coulson's cellist front, because in my head, Clint is Coulson's cellist, and him 'moving to Portland' was when Loki mind-zapped him. But I didn't want to make any overt Clint/Coulson-ness happen. So yeah.
I would like to send massive, massive thank yous to everyone who has commented, kudos'd or followed this story, it means so much to me. I apologise for not replying to everyone's comments after the first few chapters. I promise, I read each and every one of them.
I now have a fanfic tumblr HERE where I'm going to start posting all my fanfic updates, if you're interested. Feel free to send me a prompt, or a request for an rp or whatever :) <3
With all the love possible,
PS There is a tiny, remote possibility that there might, at some point, be a sequel to this. Maybe. Quite possibly depending on what happens in Iron Man 3, Cap America 2, Thor 2, Avengers 2, and Sherlock S3. Also possibly depending on whether I have any luck writing that original fic that I've started.
PPS You are all fantastic. :3