"Love what you've done with the place," Tony says to Clint, after Jarvis has directed him to one of the vacant floors just below the penthouse. "Sort of an, I don't know, urban minimalist industrial look. Sure it'll be all the rage this season."
Clint gives him the look the joke deserves; the entire floor is bare to the concrete, all exposed pipes and support columns. He's seated on the floor with his back against one of the columns, far enough from the windows that Tony, standing near him, can't see the still-damaged street below without making an effort. Tony looks around, does a quick calculation of angles; from this position they have a clear view of anyone who enters the floor by the usual means, and, if he remembers the blueprints correctly, the unusual ones too.
Tony spots a bedroll and nudges it with his foot. "Didn't I offer you a room?"
Clint looks at it and deadpans, "You told me to make myself at home."
"Hawks and nests, what was I expecting," Tony says, shaking his head in mock resignation. Maybe not the most original joke in the world, but the amused smirk shows it's appreciated. "I did give you a working lab of your own with computers that put that tiny thing to shame," he says, nodding at Clint's laptop.
Clint turns back to it, serious now. Tony recognizes a popular suite of white-hat tools; he - or rather Jarvis - has used it on occasion. No point in pulling out the big guns when a pea-shooter will do. "I like it. It's familiar. I can tell what's original and what's…".
Tony's read Selvig's report and what little of his father's notes he could find, trying to understand what the Tesseract had done to them. It showed me the truth, Selvig had said, and maybe for him it really was that simple. Clint had come out of it with an unerring ability to spot weak points; Tony still doesn't know how he'd taken out the helicarrier's computers so quickly.
"Aftermarket add-ons?" he quips.
"Never quite the same as OEM parts." Clint grins, briefly, and Tony chalks up a point on his internal tally.
Jarvis cuts in from the laptop speakers. "If I may interrupt, sirs, Director Fury is in the lobby, requesting a meeting with both of you."
"Tell him -" Tony rapidly considers a long list of options, topped with take a wormhole jump to hell. But - requesting. That's new. "No, wait. Bring him here." It would serve him right to have to meet in a place where he couldn't cast his covetous eye - ha, never gets old - on any Stark tech.
Give Fury credit; when faced with two people who'd nearly been at ground zero for one of his weapons he doesn't even flinch. Clint gets a once-over and "Agent Barton. Good to see you back with us," which he accepts with a terse nod.
Tony leans back against a column, deceptively casual. It's the first time he's ever had Fury at a disadvantage; he's going to savor it. Seriously, is there any part of this that wouldn't have gone better if he'd been involved from the start? No.
Fury looks him straight in the eye. "I don't believe in interim reports. People with insufficient intel tend to make stupid-ass decisions. I don't need to tell you what that means for the people in the field."
Nuke. Portal. Right. It wasn't quite an apology; Tony is willing to bet Fury wouldn't do that unless he could take full responsibility, any more than Tony himself would. He tips his head to acknowledge it for what it is. Still, as an opening gambit it's somewhat…lacking. "You didn't come all the way here just to tell me that."
"No." There's an uncharacteristic pause. Tony sees Clint shift back slightly; so it isn't just him who thinks Fury's off his game. If alien gods and thermonuclear weapons don't faze him, what does? "I want you to understand that I didn't lie to you. I just didn't provide you with an interim report when the situation changed."
Clint frowns, obviously in the dark. Tony, however, gets it immediately. "Son of a bitch. Coulson."
Fury nods. "He's being treated under an assumed name," he says, anticipating one of Tony's questions. "Until half an hour ago the doctors weren't certain he'd make it. Right now we are the only three people in the world who know that Phillip Coulson did not die on the helicarrier."
Tony's fingers twitch towards the suit activators; Clint looks like he's only holding himself back with an effort. "One question - why?"
"The Council's been getting too many damn interim reports lately." Fury tips his head in Clint's direction. "One of them was about Barton, here. They don't think I trust him anymore, and they know I don't trust you."
"Because the guy who flew a nuke through a portal is obviously less trustworthy than the guy who fired it in the first place," Tony fires back reflexively, but without any heat behind it; he's starting to see where this is going.
"There wasn't just one," Fury growls, with a glare directed off in the distance that stifles any remaining idea Tony had of making a smart remark; he doesn't need Clint's warning glance to know that. "Nothing to say they were the only ones, either. Loki's given me an opportunity to put my best people where they're not expected. I intend to take advantage of it."
He turns to Clint. "As of now the Avengers Initiative has been suspended. Your official status is liaison to Stark."
Tony's well aware of his reputation inside SHIELD; if the Council are idiots - which they are - they'll think Clint's on Fury's shit list. Any other time Tony would've made a joke about Coulson's taser, because hey, now he can, but the look on Clint's face is still too raw.
Clint considers this for a moment. "Always did see better at a distance," he says, and then flinches; at what, Tony can't guess, but what looks like sympathy briefly crosses Fury's face. Huh. The director's human after all.
None of it shows in his voice. "Agent Barton, after everything that has happened recently there is only one thing I'm absolutely certain of, and that's if you'd meant to kill me you would have. At that distance there was no reason for you not to take the head shot."
Head shot? Tony's focus snaps to Clint; up to then he'd thought Fury was talking about the helicarrier bridge. More data points can only help with his analysis; he wonders if there's any footage.
"He-" Clint shudders. "He was in my head. Whatever he wanted, I did. Willingly. I still don't remember how I managed to resist him and I wouldn't want to bet anyone's life that I could do it again."
Fury gives him a long look. "I had you declared a prisoner of war, not an enemy combatant," he says, "because I took a risk based on what I saw when Loki turned you. It paid off. The Council may not believe it - hell, parts of SHIELD probably don't believe it, and I sincerely regret that I have to let them continue in that belief. But if I didn't think you could handle it I wouldn't ask."
"Sir," Clint says, shaking his head. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, but–"
Fury cuts him off. "But nothing. You know what we're up against. I need that, not people who panic because their tiny world just got a little bit bigger. SHIELD is…" he grimaces, "compromised. I need the Avengers Initiative even if I have to go behind everyone's back to get it, and I need you on it. And if it turns out Loki isn't completely out of your head, I'd rather you were with people who'd see that as a problem instead of an opportunity." Fury and Tony share a look. Yeah, total agreement there.
Clint looks, if not reassured, at least less tense than he's been for as long as Tony has known him. Only a week, but still. For his sake Tony lets him appreciate their moment of team bonding before unleashing the snark. "So, what, we're doing 'the Secretary will disavow any knowledge' here? Getting us to clean house for you?" Fury's resigned look is all the answer he needs. Not that he isn't willing to go along with it; he can still see the portal irising shut beneath him whenever he closes his eyes.
Doesn't mean he's going to let Fury off easy. "You going to explain yourself to Captain America, or is that another of the dirty jobs you're foisting off on me?" He doesn't know what, if any, relationship Banner had had with Coulson before, but he'll make sure to get Fight Club Boy completely zenned out first. But - "I'm not telling Natasha."
"Agent Romanoff is next on my list," Fury says dryly. "She'll be investigating the leaks within SHIELD, because the Council is expecting that and I hate to disappoint them."
"They'll be expecting me to dig into why I was doing a reverse Doctor Strangelove too," Tony points out.
Fury dips his head, acknowledging the point. Yeah, that's probably included in his plan; multiple obvious attacks to cover the real one, and if they work, bonus. Corporate espionage and the real thing aren't all that different, it seems. Tony'd be the last to say either of them were more deadly.
"As for Captain Rogers -" Fury raises a sardonic eyebrow. "Neither of you are under my command. I can't give you orders and have any expectation they'll be followed - as has been pointed out to me repeatedly."
He tosses a flash drive in Clint's direction without looking; Clint catches it neatly. "Everything you need is on there. Coulson's cover ID is a SI employee who was injured in the attack on the tower. You've got resources I don't want to know about; use them to keep him safe."