"Sir," Jarvis says apologetically - Tony's been up all night getting the suit functional again; he'd never planned on losing the working model and the prototype on the same day, and while he's at it he's incorporating upgrades to improve the remote targeting response time because when he designed it to assemble itself around him he hadn't factored in gravitational acceleration - "some of the files recovered from the helicarrier are being accessed."
Not, Tony notes, being transmitted or copied; Jarvis is always precise. Odd. "Let me see," he says, swiping away the contents of one display to make room. Security cam footage, interesting. Tony hasn't had time even to filter it, with one notable exception. It doesn't take long to spot the pattern; someone's tracking the intruders. Who is obvious; how is a…very interesting question.
He makes a new file and pops it up on the mirrored display. Barton - you could've just asked.
He's about to go back to the suit when something catches his eye on the helicarrier bridge, about the time he was giving the engine a seriously hard restart. "Wait, Jarvis, back that one up. Do we have any other angles on the bridge? Cross-reference with the schematics - yeah, like that," and the security cam footage is mapped onto the wireframe. "And the carrier - thanks." Another wireframe appears above it, red flashes time-synced to the destruction below. More displays for the carrier's status info, another to pull in the suit's data once it gets past the spinny bits.
Tony pokes at the hologram, twisting it through time and space until he sees it. Explosion, pause, and screens go blank as another engine goes offline. Tony knows down to the minute how many hours it takes to hack the helicarrier, given that he'd done it. "This isn't Star Trek, computers do not shut down just because something goes boom. What am I missing?"
A small metal device lands with a thunk in the middle of the hologram. Barton drops beside it, more softly. The unflappable archer from yesterday looks, in Tony's expert opinion, like the survivor of a several-day binge. "There's another one like it in your server room," he says.
Tony gives him only a brief raised eyebrow before he picks the device up, turns it end over end. Dataports on one end, a connector he recognizes from Barton's arrows on the other. SHIELD design, which raises all sorts of questions, from how SHIELD got taken down by their own tech - he'll snark them any chance he gets, but they aren't that stupid - to what it's doing to his servers.
Jarvis doesn't wait to be asked. "I have analyzed the compromised server. The device is identifying itself as a touchscreen. The specifications are not included in any of the files to which we have access." Jarvis' slightly clipped tones reveal he isn't any happier about it than Tony is. No SHIELD device has any right to fool Stark tech.
Barton twists the hologram to reveal a section of the datacenter still covered in wireframe. Tony's willing to bet his server's access port is in a similar coverage shadow. A shadow is one thing, though - a hole is quite another.
Barton mutters something under his breath about a target that Tony can't quite catch. "Before…", he says, and stops. Tony's got elliptical befores of his own, so he just waits. "It's got a dozen configurations and infiltration software that would have them drooling at DEFCON. Couldn't begin to tell you how it worked, but I knew enough to use it." There's a brief flash of remembered pride. "You'd be surprised how many people lock down their servers and then put their desktop computers right up against a window." Tony considers the high-tech offices he's known and nods.
After is obvious. Script kiddie to hacker god - cool, Tony thinks for half a second, because it's possible Barton might actually be better than him, and then no, it's Flowers for Algernon levels of nightmare fuel - in one not so easy step. Yeah, file one this firmly in do not want. "Y'know, even after all this," he says, tapping the arc reactor, "the one thing that still scares the hell out of me is something fucking with my brain. Even as a kid. Because if I couldn't show up my dad's engineers, I was -" Tony cuts himself off. Rich kid's problems, he thinks, but Barton's got a bad-memory long distance stare of his own going on.
Barton says, obviously quoting, "'Nobody's going to pay good money to watch someone make shots that are almost perfect, kid'," and yeah. He gets it.
They share a look, then Tony grins, the 'I'm pretending to be too cool for this shit' one that drives Pepper mad. "Did we just have a moment? I think we did." Beat. "Let's never do that again."
Tony thinks for a moment it's a breakthrough. He's pulled up Barton's records, both the summary from Coulson's report on the Tesseract theft and the more complete files retrieved from the helicarrier. The last entry said captured, dangerous, do not engage but everything before that painted a picture of impressive competence mixed with a dangerous sense of humor. The competence Tony can vouch for, but he'd still like to meet the man who (allegedly) convinced an entire team of junior agents that Fury's eyepatch was hiding a high-tech sensor with capabilities that would make Mad-Eye Moody weep. Tony considers making one just to see Fury's reaction.
That Barton's now also one of the few hackers on the planet who could keep up with him is a bonus.
But first he's going to have to get Barton to at least take a break from obsessing over what he'd done - and Tony is fully aware of the irony - which is not happening any time soon, as Barton's already turned back to the damage reports. "It's not so much what I can still do as what else might be left behind," he says, more to the helicarrier than to Tony.
Tony cocks his head. A problem. Right, he can deal with those. It's his problem too, or could've been - he'd been expecting a lot more monologuing and a lot less attempted mind fuckery, and he's not convinced that it was just the fact that Loki's staff hit the arc reactor casing that stopped him; there was enough bare skin available for a second try.
"Even if we had baselines on you I don't know what we'd be measuring, but if you want to test yourself, which obviously you do because you're here and the only other place that might be a challenge would get entirely the wrong idea…and how did you break free in the first place?"
"Natasha applied cognitive recalibration," Barton says, and at Tony's look clarifies with, "she hit me in the head."
"And that worked?" Not for the first time, Tony wonders just what Loki thought he was doing. Tony could come up with better world domination plans in his sleep.
Barton isn't listening. He's been adding more readouts to the helicarrier display, which is only slightly surprising - Tony's never bought into the idea that power user and intuitive UI were mutually exclusive concepts. Nor is the content; he understands the impulse to track all the damage you've done.
Or maybe not, because right now Barton is watching himself hand Loki his spear.
"Hey," Tony says, and right on cue the recording snow crashes. Barton spins on him, and Tony's suddenly reminded that this is the same person who made impossible shots without even looking, and even pre-enhancement could probably improvise a lethal weapon out of a paperclip. He raises his hands placatingly. "It ends there. No, really, Loki's sufficiently advanced tech took out all the surveillance. First thing I looked at."
"So that is where…"
Barton gives one unreadable look at the empty display, then sits down heavily. "The Tesseract never let me sleep," he says, in a detached tone that makes it all the more unsettling. "Now I can't. I remember all of it–" He looks up bleakly. "Be glad you don't use biometric security," and Tony knows he doesn't mean the most recent break-in and also knows he really doesn't want to know more.
"I could program one of the 'bots to do cognitive resets as needed," Tony says, because poking rage monsters is what he does and a little rage here couldn't hurt - and when did he become camp counselor, anyway? He makes a note to point it out to Fury. Not a team player, ha. "Look, the whole 'captured by people who want to misuse your skill sets' thing? Been there." Tony realizes he's tapping the arc reactor and stills with an effort.
"You resisted," Bartons snaps back, but then he slumps back, closes his eyes with a wince and mutters something that sounds like "wasn't trained for it." Tony flashes back to a particulary drunken night with Rhodey shortly after Afghanistan. We're trained for this, you weren't. Tony'd wondered even then how much that would help; if you failed anyway, wouldn't it feel even worse?
"So did you," Tony counters. "You aren't the only one who can work angles; those shots were for maximum chaos, not maximum damage. Tell me you couldn't have taken out three engines as easily as one, or crashed the systems beyond recovery."
Barton starts to protest then stops, cocks his head thoughtfully, takes on a look that Tony recognizes from any number of intense hacking sessions. He thinks for a few moments then shakes himself. "That doesn't make up for the rest of it," he says, and rushes on as if he expects Tony to contradict him - ok, having everyone know your redemption arc does make the sympathy talk difficult - "Not saying I was an angel before but what I did was my choice." His voice nearly breaks at the end but the look he gives Tony threatens dire consequences if he takes any notice.
Just like that, all the pieces snap into place. Barton's heard all the sympathetic noises before - who hasn't? - and it's the last thing he wants because literally nobody on the planet has any clue what he went through. What he does want…
"I'm not going to try to one-up your dead," Tony says sharply. "None of that 'know how you feel' bullshit. You don't care about what happened to me, and if I were you I wouldn't either. But if you want someone who can design a cage even you couldn't hack your way out of - " Barton relaxes almost imperceptably. Bingo. "Between me and Banner, if there's a way to detect Tesseract influence we'll find it. You can stay here. We'll even hide you from SHIELD, if that's what you want."
"You don't have to," Barton says, an obvious token protest. Tony's not sure if it's the idea of a refuge or cage that's more appealing - some combination of both, probably.
Tony shrugs, dismissing it. "Plenty of room, and it would save you the trouble of sneaking in again. How did you do that, anyway?"
Barton looks smug. "It's not so much you have holes in your system as holes in your walls."
Which could only be exploited by someone with his original skill set. Tony should have known; he'd handled the patch job himself. He draws a tally mark in midair. "Point. Right, you stay here, we'll protect you from yourself, you can even use my systems to hack SHIELD. I'm sure you still have questions they can answer, because I do. If they detect it I'll let them think it's me, I'll even let Fury gloat." He mock-glares and points a finger at Barton. "Which means, of course, that you can't let them catch you."
"I don't know," Barton says, an amused gleam in his eye. "Almost worth it, just to see the look on his face." Tony answers with a grin of his own, only partly at the prospect of pulling SHIELD's pigtails. He knows the difference between a patch job and an actual fix, but he counts this as a win.
Besides, between Banner and Barton the number of people he likes and who can keep up with him in any area at all has just gone up by an unprecedented amount (and Tony includes pranking Fury and SHIELD in that list, even if it turns out this isn't a permanent upgrade); who'd have thought this team thing could actually be interesting?