After Short Stuff, Tony and the robot-making gets a bit out of control.
Clint only knows this because he’s in charge of the upper floors of the mansion.
Natasha looks after the lower ones.
It’s a thing.
So yeah, he knows that it’s getting ridiculous because first, it’s Short Stuff invading the first floor like an adorable little Wall-E or something, and Tasha’s cooing over her whenever Steve isn’t (and yeah, what the hell, Clint knows sublimation and projection when he sees it, holy balls is Steve in trouble).
And that’s fine. Weird, but fine.
But then there are the rest of them.
How the hell does Stark build these things so fast? They’re not all the same, either—they’re all distinctly different, in fact.
And they skip Natasha’s floors, so he doesn’t have any warning.
The eaves of the west wing are dry this time of year, and afford a fantastic view of the rest of Fifth Avenue, and Clint is looking out there, customarily crouched, when—
Chitter, scuttle, and an inelegant bonk.
Clint peers over the edge of the eave, heart pounding, because shit doesn’t just sneak up on him, nothing sneaks up on him except Tasha, and she’s not a thing, she’s a terrifying spy assassin. So what…?
It blinks up at him. Or rather, its assemblage of small metal parts give off that impression.
It doesn’t have a face. Nope. Robots don’t have faces.
“The shit?” Clint says blankly.
It rights itself with a flaily gesture of several limbs. Limbs that are made mostly of what appear to be amalgams of brushes and wheels made out of…huh.
So that’s where those fancy silicon spatulas from the downstairs kitchen went.
They don’t make a sound, on the tiling or anything else.
“Oh, it is on.”
Two days later, and the robot wars are in full swing.
Clint is doing reconnaissance.
Pepper gives him some silly speech about how JARVIS somehow makes the robots safe, like that makes any sense at all.
“Just think,” she says, “If you befriend a few, maybe they’ll spare you when the revolution comes.”
Clint is decidedly not fooled. JARVIS is a pretty cool not-dude, but his creator is Tony Stark, and so the idea that he’s at all immune to the irrational craziness of mankind and all of the viciousness that goes with it is laughable at best.
So yeah, Clint is totally the John Connor of New York.
“Cry more, bitch!” Clint says, and readies his slingshot again.
There’s a sound off to his left, and he fires before even taking the time to look fully. There’s a fizzle and a slightly pathetic whir that clearly indicates victory for Clint.
He allows himself a fist-pump before launching himself back into the ceiling.
Except, as soon as he turns a corner beneath the attic, he finds himself face-to-face with Natasha.
“Gah,” he says, though very quietly, and mostly out of courtesy, because he’s not exactly surprised by finding her here, it’s just a little off-putting after usually finding more robots around instead.
“Tony’s going to kill you,” Natasha says.
“Maybe he should stop building so many death bots, then.”
“They’re not death bots. They clean.”
“They’re a menace. They’re sneaks.”
“We’re sneaks,” Natasha points out.
Clint narrows his eyes at her.
“So are the robots.” And before Clint can muster up a gleeful expression, she adds, “If you tell Tony I said that, I’ll eviscerate you. But seriously, who else is going to clean up after Thor and his trail of poptart remains, or you and your dust bunnies?”
“I do not leave dust bunnies—“
“You are covered in them,” Natasha cuts him off.
Clint looks down at himself.
“Point,” he concedes.
“They are cleaner bots, and you’re picking them off like it’s Istanbul all over again.”
“Istanbul was fun.”
“Beside the point.”
“Tasha…,” he whines.
She just levels a look at him. “I don’t know what your issue is,” she says, “But knock it off.”
She slides away into the dark. Clint calls, “I don’t have an issue! I am issue-less.”
He can’t tell whether he’s lying to himself or not.
The war continues until, as Natasha predicted, Tony catches him at it.
“What the actual fuck, Barton?” he exclaims, snatching one of the littlest ones out of the line of fire. “What are you, a goddamn robot terrorist? Is that what this is?”
“For the hoard!” Clint says, because he’s in the moment.
“Give me that!” It’s only the fact that Clint is distracted by a second robot that Tony manages to snatch the arrow he was nocking out of his hand, which is just adding insult to injury. “These aren’t just appliances, Barton! They have feelings. Darling, calm down, I’m not going to let the bad man get you.” He cradles the squealing hunk of metal against his chest like a very angular baby. He glares at Clint.
“Jesus, Stark, what are you talking about?” Clint says.
“They’re AIs, pinhead. They have the learning capacity of cats or dogs. And you’ve been stressing them the fuck out. And breaking them! What the hell is wrong you?”
Clint opens his mouth. And then shuts it. “Skynet?” he ventures.
Tony jabs a finger at him. “You’re an idiot. Don’t hurt my bots, or I’ll hurt you.”
“You could try.”
“I’d wear the suit.”
Clint winces. Usually, Tony threatens people with his genius. He means business when he mentions actual violence.
Before Clint gets a chance to do, uh, something, Tony’s gone, little robot clinging to his dingy undershirt.
“I want my arrow back!” he shouts belatedly, and receives no reply.
He supposes he kind of understands Tony’s point. If the mini-bots actually have feelings. Which Clint isn’t entirely convinced about.
Isn’t, that is, until he’s making breakfast a few days later, and when he steps out of the kitchen towards the breakfast table, a tiny assemblage of bolts and sheet metal makes a sound that can only be described as distressed, and books it out of the room.
Then it happens again in the rec room. And in the third floor hallway.
And Clint notices that his room is kind of…gross. Like no one’s been vacuuming there for weeks.
He considers the possibility that he has Screwed Up.
“I owe some non-human entities an apology, don’t I?” he says to no one.
“Indeed, Agent Barton,” JARVIS replies, sounding very judgemental indeed.
“Coulda said something,” Clint mutters.
“I made the reasonable assumption that you would not believe me, seeing as I am clearly as much a potential threat as any of those smaller charges, Agent Barton.”
Yeah. Clint is definitely fucked.
“I daresay, Agent Barton.”
He tracks down the first one, with the little silicone feet and wheels that were utterly silent on whatever surface they scuttled on. It’s wearing a little shield and new aluminium plating across its back, and damn if it doesn’t look a little more like a creature, rather than a hunk of thrown-together gears and pistons.
Clint swoops down from the ceiling and snatches it up off the coffee table, and holds it close as it shrieks alarm.
“No, hush, I’m not going to hurt you! I promise! For realsies this time, Christ, would you stop that—ow!” He winces. That’s going to leave a mark. “I just wanted to…to talk to you.”
The little robot makes a noise that Clint can only construe as sarcastic.
“Rude,” he says.
It squeaks in a way that clearly indicates that he is deserving of rudeness.
“Look,” he tries again, “I didn’t know you were thinking things, okay? I wouldn’t have gone after you guys if I knew it actually hurt.”
“Brrrrrr,” it says, inquisitive but also very dubious.
“Not good enough, huh?” Clint says. Unconsciously, he starts drawing little circles on the thing’s back. It vibrates slightly in reaction, and then goes still.
He sighs. Looks around to make sure that no one but maybe JARVIS can hear him. “You surprised me, all right?” he admits quietly. “You snuck up on me, bro. Do you know how many people can do that? Like, three, max. And those are all people who I trust not to kill me unless I definitely deserve it. So the fact that you, you little bucket of bolts—ow, okay okay, sorry—managed to do the near-impossible was…upsetting. Okay? That’s why I came after you and your friends. And I’m sorry. That was the wrong reaction to have. I promise not to do it anymore.”
He stops, and looked down at the robot. It’s holding itself still, processing god knows what.
Then it lifts one spindly silicone arm. And pokes Clint on the nose.
“Boop,” it says.
Clint stares. “Did you just…boop me?”
“Boop,” it repeats.
And Clint can’t help himself. “Aw,” he says, and then quickly has to check again that no one is around. “Does that mean we can be friends? And you’ll go and tell your buddies that I won’t come after them anymore? Because seriously, my room is a disaster right now.”
“Boop!” it chirps, and squirms in Clint’s arms, so he sets it down on the coffee table. It hoovers up some poptart crumbs, and then scuttles away.
“Do you forgive me, JARVIS?” Clint asks the empty room.
“I suppose you can be placed on probation, Agent Barton. With time off for good behaviour.”
Clint grins. “Sweet.”
After that, things get a little better. Clint takes his target practice back to the range, and Tony eventually stops giving him the evil eye. Steve stops looking disappointed in him too, which is actually way more important. Clint never went after Short Stuff for a reason, but it seems that Steve’s liking for the robot army extended beyond her individual adorability.
Clint blames Tony, as he tends to for most things.
Eventually, his room gets cleaner. He enjoys the lack of dustbunnies, and when he catches one of the robots scuttling out his door, he stoops down to pat it lightly on its smooth, podlike shell.
It bumps into his shoe in response, and then speeds away.
There are three regulars, he finds, who mainly work on his wing of the house; first is, of course, the silicone-footed original which dusts the windowsills and tabletops while still genuinely looking to Clint like a random assemblage of spare parts that work only through some combination of good luck and sheer force of Stark will. Then there are two later-model pod-shaped machines that travel on wheels and mainly stick to hoovering the floors and scrubbing the tiled surfaces.
He finds, to his horror, that eventually he can even tell those two apart.
‘This’, as he has mentally labeled the first, tends to zigzag, its enthusiasm for messes unencumbered by dignity or grace, often bumping into things and looking affronted when it does. How a featureless pod manages to look affronted, Clint still doesn’t know, but he’s stopped questioning it by this point.
‘That’, by contrast, is This’s more graceful sister, traveling in circular sweeps and deftly dodging table legs and fallen objects. It makes exasperated chirping noises when it catches This falling off steps and getting stuck under the couch, and eventually gets into the habit of fetching Clint to come and retrieve its wayward sibling when the latter happens.
Clint tries not to find this endearing, and fails miserably.
The silicone-footed one is the only one Clint has to consciously name though, because in all honesty, it’s indescribable. This and That are a matched set; they look like punctuation marks come to life and it works that they answer to pronouns, but this random little scuttling thing is a whole other matter. It still sneaks up on Clint at the oddest times, climbing up the couch armrest to look over his shoulder when he’s reading, poking at his feet when he comes out of the shower, and Clint supposes that he really has managed to categorise these little mechanical house pets as non-threatening considering he hasn’t just destroyed the thing on instinct, better intentions be damned.
“You need a name,” he finally says to it one day, when he’s making eggs in his kitchenette, and the thing is polishing his silverware because apparently that is a thing that it can do.
It pauses in its work to regard him. “Boop?” it inquires.
“I’m not naming you Boop, that name is unbefitting of a superspy robot like yourself.”
It rocks back and forth in amusement on silent flexing limbs.
“It’s just, you’re difficult. You still look like a deranged crab creature to me, albeit in a slightly cute way.” It huffs, which again, why in god’s name did Tony see fit to make a robot capable of huffing? “You have no appropriate label. You’re a whatsit.”
He stops. It pauses.
“Whatsit?” he asks.
“Boop!” it agrees.
And that’s that.
This, That, and the Whatsit.
Clint feels like a character in a children’s book.
And never more so does he feel this way than when he comes home limping and cursing after saving the world (again) to find them all lined up in his living room, like anxious little teacup poodles.
He leans into the doorway to regard them, mostly because he’s not sure how much longer his legs can support his weight. “Hey guys. What’s happening?”
That revs her motor a little, and it sounds like admonishment.
“Part of the job, bro,” he says.
Whatsit scuttles forward, and pokes him in the foot. Clint tries not to wince. “Mmrr?” it asks.
He sighs, and scoops it up on to his shoulder, where it clings to his uniform like a limpet. “It’s all good, but I need a shower and a nap, pronto. And when I say nap, I probably mean sleep for, like, thirty hours or something. So, uh, guard the house, all right?”
This and That spin in place—their equivalent of a nod.
Clint waves at them in appreciation, and heads to his room.
Very much less than thirty hours later, however, he finds himself waking to the sounds of cursing, high-pitched robot squeals, and possibly small explosions.
He’s out of bed in less than a second.
“What the actual fuck, I made you, what’re you—FUCK!”
“Evr’thing all right here?” Clint says, stumbling into the room. Then he stops, blinks a bit, and stares.
Tony is stuck in the corner of the living room, This and That ramming themselves into his feet with angry beeping noises, and Whatsit?
Whatsit is clinging to his head like the fucking face-hugger in Alien. It turns to him and makes an expectant noise.
“Make them stop, Barton!” Tony whines from beneath Whatsit’s clinging silicon limbs.
It takes a long, long time for Clint to stop laughing.
After that, Clint re-categorises them yet again. God help him, but Tony Stark’s little robot buddies count as allies.
They’re as good as, really—they defend him, they help him with stuff when he can’t handle it all himself, they let him talk their non-existent ears off when he needs a sounding board. And if all he needs is some target practice…well, they won’t let him near them, but they’ll herd him off to the shooting range, and that’s about as much as can be expected of human friends, let alone inhuman ones.
Whatsit starts hanging out on his shoulder.
It’s a thing.
The next time Natasha steals his breakfast cereal, she finds piles of dirt deposited on her bathroom floor. “I’m beginning to regret giving you advice,” she says when she sees him.
“Don’t eat my cereal, woman!”
“I do what I want!” she retorts, and takes a swipe at the back of his head. Before she makes contact, however, she hisses and recoils.
“Brrr!” Whatsit says from Clint’s shoulder, followed by some very angry beeping and flailing. In one of its articulated limbs is clutched a cannibalised prong from a Widow’s Bite, which crackles in its tiny fist.
“What the actual fuck, Barton?” Natasha growls.
Clint looks back at her smugly. “What was it you said before? That the robots are ‘awesome’? You really shouldn’t leave your broken equipment around, by the way, Whatsit likes to go scavenging.”
Whatsit makes a smug noise.
Tony pokes his head out from the kitchen. “Tasha said what?” he asks gleefully.
“I’m going to destroy you,” Natasha says, glaring at Clint. Then she pokes a finger at Whatsit. “And you? Watch it.”
She saunters out.
Clint fist-bumps Whatsit. “I’m so proud of you, bro. But you’re in real trouble now.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry,” Tony says breezily. He seems to have gotten over his run-in with Clint’s robo-buddies—but then again, Clint figures he’s probably used to his creations getting minds of their own by now. “I bet I could rig up some sweet accessories for your friend there.”
“Hear that?” Clint says, and Whatsit beeps. “Your daddy’s gonna pimp your ride.”
“Uh, not if you’re gonna call it that, because that is creepy as hell.” Tony sets down his coffee in the kitchen, and waves for Clint to follow him as he heads towards the elevator. “Come on, Barton, let’s see what we can get your friend kitted out with before Natasha has him for breakfast. Oh, hey, Pepper.”
“Good morning, Mr. Stark,” Pepper says, with a smile. She’s dressed impeccably as usual, but there’s a slight glow about her that makes Clint wonder briefly whether Coulson’s finally manned up and asked her out. She turns and raises an eyebrow at Whatsit. “Good morning, Agent Barton. I see you’ve made a friend.”
“Um,” Clint manages.
“No fears of Skynet anymore?” Pepper prods, looking altogether too amused.
“They’ve been allayed. For now.” Whatsit pokes him in the cheek. “Ow! Okay, yeah, fine, we’re all good now.”
“Now the fun can begin,” Tony says, grinning.
Pepper sighs. “Try not to break anything, Tony.”
Tony and Clint look at each other. “Of course not,” they say in unison.
Pepper rolls her eyes. “Sign these,” she demands, thrusting a stack of papers at Tony, who takes them with a grumble. “You’re expected at the office at three. Don’t be late.”
“Okay, okay.” They get into the elevator, and ride down in silence for a short while.
Then Clint says, “So I’m thinking stealth tech. Not just for Whatsit, but for This and That, too.”
Tony throws him a grin. “It’s like you read my mind.”
Maybe Natasha was right. Clint’s robot is a sneak. But he’s a sneak, too.
Clint looks at Whatsit again and smiles.
“You and me,” he says to it, “We are going to have so much fun.”