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A Heart so True

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Tony is eight blocks away, putting repulsor blasts into the faces of Loki’s doppelgangers, when he hears a softly uttered “Uh oh” over the communicators. His senses immediately go on high alert, because hearing that during an Avengers battle is never a good thing. He destroys the last doppelganger (for the moment, because Loki can generate two dozen of the things without blinking an eye) and swings around, scanning the area to see who’s in trouble.

He locates Steve and Barnes at a glance, both of them pummeling doppelgangers. Natasha, Sam, Thor, and Vision aren’t in sight. A quick check reveals that Thor is nearly on the other end of the city, chasing the real Loki. Vision is with him, officially to help but most likely watching their bickering spat in bemusement. Hulk is somewhere in between, probably smashing doppelgangers with glee, and Natasha and Sam are somewhere around him.

No one is close enough to catch Clint.

His blood turns to ice in his veins as the helmet easily zeroes in on Clint’s location: perched precariously on top of an imploding building, ten stories high and with no arrows in his quiver. In the span of time it takes for Clint to straighten up and dash to the edge of the rooftop, Tony’s already got the thrusters on full power and is flying back towards Clint as fast as he can. But he knows, in his heart, that he won’t make it.

“Clint!” Steve bellows, somewhere below him, obviously having come to the same conclusion. There’s terror in Steve’s voice and Tony strains to go just a little faster, arms outstretched as though that could make up the distance. Loki’s done this on purpose, separating them, because everyone knows Clint jumps off buildings and Tony or Thor or Sam or Vision or Wanda is always there to slow his fall –

Clint jumps, and for one agonizing second his body is beautifully framed against the setting sun and he looks like a work of art that could adorn the empty spot behind the couch in the living room. That image will be burned into Tony’s brain forever. Then gravity sets in and Clint starts to fall, plummeting towards the ground as the roof caves in where he was standing and Tony is still five blocks away.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so much considering he’s a SHIELD agent and an ex-circus freak, Clint isn’t screaming. He falls in grim silence, hands flailing as he tries to grab something, anything, stop himself, but the building is still collapsing in on itself and there’s nothing sturdy enough to support him. Below him, Tony catches a glimpse of blue and grey and knows that Steve and Barnes are sprinting towards the place where Clint will hit.

And then – miraculously – a shrill, high-pitched sound splits the air and Clint’s fall stops for a split second. His body jerks from the sudden halt and Tony feels more than hears the sound of Clint’s collarbone breaking under the stress. Clint sags, relief and pain painted across his face, as Golbat frantically beats his wings to slow their momentum. His claws dig into the back of Clint’s uniform.

Braviary caws loudly and then swoops up to join Golbat, claws gripping the shoulders of Clint’s uniform and probably pinching delicate flesh at the same time. Ninjask is quieter, soaring up behind and gripping Clint’s back alongside Golbat. Their help is enough to drastically diminish Clint’s speed. By the time Tony, Steve and Barnes make it to the scene, the pokémon are lightly setting Clint down on the ground. His legs give underneath him and Clint sits down hard, face white, as he stares up at the pokémon.

“Clint, oh my god, are you okay?” Steve says frantically, rushing over to him. The top of Clint’s uniform is shredded and blood is seeping out around the fabric. Steve prods at the bloody area and Clint flinches.

“Ow, hey, something’s broken. Watch it,” Clint says, but there’s no ire in his voice.

“You’re lucky that it’s just one thing broken,” Barnes says, folding his arms. He’s pale too, sweat beading up under the edge of his hair and trailing down his face. Ninjask buzzes around him and Barnes turns to acknowledge him, letting Ninjask alight on his shoulder.

“You’re damn lucky Tony created our pokémon,” Steve adds. “Fuck, Clint. You would’ve been a pancake!”

“That’s exactly why the three Avengers who have a habit of throwing themselves off of or out of things without a parachute got pokémon that can fly,” Tony says distantly. His heart is still pounding with adrenaline and he feels shaky with the knowledge that something he developed on a whim actually ended up saving Clint’s life. In the back of his head he had acknowledged the possibility of this moment while working on the specs, but he never actually thought it would happen.

“I had no choice,” Clint says. He tears his eyes away from Braviary and Golbat and looks at the building he was standing on. It’s a crumbled heap of concrete and dust now. SHIELD agents are swarming over it, probably searching for survivors. Tony hopes to hell that it was evacuated beforehand.

Steve follows his gaze and his jaw tightens. “Come on. You’ve got to get to medical.” He bends down and carefully picks Clint up, ignoring Clint’s protests, and starts walking towards the nearest SHIELD van. A SHIELD EMT is already jogging towards them. Golbat and Braviary swoop after them.

“It’ll never not be weird to see that punk telling someone else they need medical attention,” Barnes says.

Tony cracks a smile in spite of himself. “Never thought Steve could be that much of a mother hen?”

“Oh no, I knew he could. Just ironic considering the kinda response I used to get when I told him the same thing.” Barnes sighs and runs his hand through his hair, loosening the bun. The metal gleams in the sunlight, looking sleek and far more sophisticated than the stupid Hydra arm Tony removed two weeks ago.

This is the first battle Barnes has fought with the new arm, and Tony can’t resist asking. “How is it working for you? The arm, I mean. Any problems?”

Barnes seems surprised by the question. “No, none. It’s working the very best. I can’t believe how responsive it is.” He flexes the fingers of the metal arm. “It’s like having my own arm back, except I can punch a hell of a lot harder with this one.”

“Good. If you have any issues, let me know.”

“I will,” Barnes says. “Thanks.”

Tony nods, uncertain of how to answer, and ends up activating the thrusters, relieved that he can escape what’s swiftly turned into an awkward conversation. He leaves Barnes there and heads back in the direction he came from, knowing that he’ll find his own pokémon waiting for him. And sure enough, Plusle and Minun are chattering angrily at the last doppelganger of Loki. As Tony lands, a huge ball of electricity decimates the doppelganger where it stands. Tony smiles.

“Good job, guys,” he says.

“Mi! Min! Un!” Minun says, leaping up onto Tony’s shoulder. Plusle is quick to follow, equally vocal, the two of them filling Tony’s ears with their tale as he takes off again. He can’t understand what they’re saying, but he can parse enough of the meaning to know that they’ve fought a good fight.

Not that he expects anything less. By now, he knows that leaving Plusle and Minun behind to fight is a stupid idea. They’ll only escape the tower and follow him anyway. It’s happened twice now, and it’s just embarrassing to have them come out of nowhere. The rest of the pokémon seem to feel the same way. And thank god for that – Tony would be looking at planning a funeral right now otherwise.

He flies back to the tower and alights on the landing strip. Plusle and Minun jump down as the ‘bots come to life, dismantling the armor around him. Tony won’t have too much work to do on it this time, and he feels comfortable enough to leave it until later. He walks inside and, instead of heading straight down to the workshop like he usually does, pours himself a drink.

Plusle nuzzles his leg for a moment before leaping up on top of the table. She curls up in a patch of sunlight and shuts her eyes and, for all intents and purposes, goes to sleep. Minun opts to stretch out on the couch, also in the sun. In reality, they’re recharging their batteries. They’re always pretty depleted after a battle. Tony can ‘plug’ them in to recharge them faster, but they’ve made it clear they prefer the slower method and really, what does it matter?

“Thanks for the help,” Tony says softly, and Plusle chirps at him in response. He smiles, tosses back his drink and goes to shower.

It turns out that Clint has a broken collarbone and a dislocated shoulder, as well as an impressive array of bruises. Phil brings him home later that night. Clint gets mobbed by Lila and Cooper before he gets two steps in the door, both of them terrified after having watched the news: it turns out that Clint’s jump and subsequent rescue was caught on film. The shaky cell phone footage has been replayed dozens of times by now.

Laura only approaches after the children have been calmed, Nate in her arms and tears in her eyes. Clint looks at her and pulls her in for a hug with his good arm. Phil wraps his arms around the both of them, and Lila and Cooper snuggle in. It’s a heart-warming family moment that Tony looks away from, feeling like he’s spying on something that’s not meant for his eyes.

They’ve ordered in food since no one feels like cooking after the tension of the battle. Tony snags a wonton – for once, he doesn’t have to fight Pietro for them, since Pietro and Wanda are on a trip – and bites into it, surveying the team. Most of the pokémon are ‘sleeping’, and most of the humans are busy eating. Bruce in particular has already inhaled the contents of five take-out boxes and is eyeing his sixth.

The couch sinks beside him as Steve sits down with a loaded plate. Steve looks at him and says, “You did good, Tony.”

Tony blinks. “What? When? I didn’t do anything special.” He casts his mind back over the battle, but the only thing that stands out is his spectacular failure at getting to Clint.

“You created the pokémon. Golbat, Ninjask and Braviary saved Clint’s life. He would be dead without you. I know you mentioned it as a possibility when we were in your lab, but…” Steve shakes his head, popping some orange chicken into his mouth. He chews and swallows, then adds quietly, “I didn’t really think it would happen.”

“Oh,” Tony says. “That.”

“Yeah, that,” Steve says, smiling. “I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t thank you enough for the pokémon. None of us can.”

“You don’t have to,” Tony mumbles, embarrassed. He’s never been good at accepting gratitude or praise. It’s not what he’s used to. The team’s attitude towards him has changed a lot over the past two weeks, and he’s not really sure how to handle it.

“I don’t have to, but I want to. I also want to finally buy you lunch.”

The memory of Steve’s invitation makes Tony choke a little. It didn’t happen, so he figured Steve changed his mind. “You… you still want to have lunch?”

Steve frowns. “Of course I do. I asked you out on a date and I’m gonna make it happen. It’s a little late because we got busy, but – you still want to go on a date with me, right?”

“Yes?” Tony says uncertainly. It’s been so long since anyone asked him out. Usually it’s the other way around, with people flaunting and flirting until Tony asks them out, and then they act like they’re doing him a big favor by spending time with him. It’s the kind of attitude that gets old fast, so he stopped asking.

“That doesn’t sound very certain, but I’ll take it.” Steve smiles again, blue eyes warm. “How about Thursday? My treat.”

Tony doesn’t even check his schedule. Whatever conflicts there may be, he’ll cancel them. He nods, feeling like a dozen Butterfree have taken up residence in his stomach. “Sure. Thursday sounds great.”