It was JARVIS that alerted him. He followed the series of unlocked doors, of broken security measures and the occasional shard of broken glass. He never would have come this way on his own, never would have happened across the scene before him.
He rather figured that was the point.
He stood in the doorway that led to the roof, still in the shelter of the alcove that shaded him from the sun and protected him from the buffeting winds. This was not his landing pad, there were no intricate series of machines to remove or rebuild his armor. Instead, there was a flat expanse dotted with exhaust valves and machinery hubs that served as backups to the backups should any catastrophe hit the tower. The Chitauri invasion definitely counted as a catastrophe and those backups currently hummed with use as people tried to piece his tower back together again.
Those were not what caught his eye. They were boring and mundane and not at all anything to get his heart going, not like the figure perched on the short protective wall that led to a ninety plus story drop to the already shattered concrete below.
The sun was behind him and cast long shadows that foretold his approach long before his words of, "Whatcha doing?"
Barton in no way flinched, and his body remained steady when he shrugged in response. He wore the remnants of his armor from the day before, torn tactical pants and an undershirt stained with dust and sweat, the actual protective vest lost somewhere along the way. His signature quiver and arrows were gone as well, with no bow in sight.
Tony stood beside him for a moment, let him find his words because he sure as hell had no idea what to say. He was tempted to lean against the protective barrier, but really didn't need the reminder that he had been tossed from a similar height sans suit less than a day before.
"They're dead," Barton eventually said, the sound nearly lost by the wind.
"Yes, we killed the Chitauri," Tony confirmed. He wasn't dumb enough to think that's what the guy was talking about though. "Well, most of them. Some of them just upped and croaked when the portal closed. Their power source must have been on the other side and lost when..."
Lost when he blew it up with a nuclear bomb, the image burned into his memory like the burn of his lungs seeking that one last gasp of air that was never going to come as he drifted slowly away.
Barton shook his head. "Agents. So many of them killed. So many because..."
Tony held up a hand and knew the other man could see it in his peripheral vision, at the very least the sense of movement was enough to stop his pity train. "Yeah, no, don't go there? You don't want to get stuck in that particular cesspool of thought. It wasn't you. You didn't kill them."
"I remember the gun. I remember firing. I remember shooting the arrow that took out the engine in the helicarrier. That was all me," Barton corrected.
"I fixed that engine," Tony pointed out. "I can safely say no one died when that sucker went boom. One serviceman got knocked back, a couple had minor burns, but the safety protocols kicked in and no one was lost. Well, none of the good guys. Cap and I shot a lot of bad guys trying to use that as a way in."
Details, really. Some might be important. At least in his nightmares.
"Bad guys that I led straight in," Barton sighed. "Bad guys that shot good men that I had the privilege to work with. Tossed grenades at manned workstations. Damned near killed Commander Hill because I hadn't succeeded myself."
"Yeah, see, that's where you're selling yourself short," Tony cut him off. "You didn't kill Hill because she was better. You didn't kill her because you were better. Fury showed us the footage. You had the shots, a fuck ton of them, and you chose to disable versus kill. He was utterly and completely convinced you were fighting back against what was done to you. You might say Fury's wrong, but I don't have the balls to right now, not about this, not after seeing what he's capable of and not after seeing you in action hitting shot after goddamned shot."
"People were hurt because of me..."
"Yeah, they were, not going to lie about that," Tony shrugged. "But more people were saved. Far more lives would have been lost and you know it."
Barton swallowed heavily and Tony knew what he was going to say even before the word made it past his lips: "Coulson."
"Coulson died because Loki was an asshole. You were not in that room and played no roll in that. Hell, Thor was there, trapped behind glass, and couldn't do a damned thing. You think you could have stopped him? Or is this you still thinking you're responsible because, if memory serves, you were getting your ass handed to you by Natasha at the time and I highly doubt you were in two places at once."
"If you're so smart, how the hell am I supposed to get past this?" Barton baited. He still stared across the expanse of blue and white, probably seeing everything and nothing at once.
Tony mused on that for a second before he said, "No fucking idea, but I bet it doesn't involve climbing the highest building in the damn city, sulking about, and looking like you're about to flatten a couple of pedestrians."
Barton turned to him now, a humorless smirk on his lips. His eyes were bruised with lack of sleep, skin ashen even in the bright light of the sun. Now that he looked,Tony could see the myriad of bruises and cuts that littered his arms and neck, even the back of his hands. He clearly hadn't slept, and he was clearly far more injured than anyone had originally suspected.
"You suck at the whole comfort thing; you know that, right?" Barton accused.
Tony shook his head. "I don't do comfort. Never have and never would pretend to," he denied. "All those annoying feelings and mushiness. Just... no. I do drunk. Do it very well. One of the few things to survive in my condo is a massive bar. That and a phone to order takeout. You interested? I think a few more of you wannabes are lurking about the place right now, we can pretend we know how to team. Is that a verb? Team? Teaming? Whatever. Food? Drink? Maybe a shower or four?"
Barton spun around on his makeshift seat with something that resembled grace. The moment his booted feet hit the rooftop though, his true status was revealed as he listed heavily to the side just trying to stand. Watching him try to walk was just damned painful. "I can do food," he relented. "Got any Scotch in that giant bar of yours?"
Tony nodded, and resolutely didn't help him in any way. He just happened to walk behind him with arms outstretched to possibly catch him when he inevitably fell. "I think I can do Scotch. I think I can even do vodka for the redheaded menace watching us from the doorway that we're not supposed to see."
Barton snorted and even that sounded like it was dredged up from the bowels of hell. "If she didn't want you to know she was there, you wouldn't," he pointed out.
Tony decided that was fair enough. He also decided that, once certain agents were out of hearing range and safely ensconced in their assassin conversation of raised eyebrows and stoic glances, that he would order JARVIS to lock the roof down until further notice.
The day before counted as a bad day. The night before counted as a bad night. The weeks that followed would count as sucky painful times for them all before they figured out just what the hell they were doing. No need to tempt fate and make it worse in the interim.