John Reese was standing on the roof top of the Avengers Tower. Over the last few months it had become his favorite place in the building. A fact which had evidently been noticed by the owner as little by little, the barren space had become home to some chairs and a small table. The Tower had real terraces and balconies, but this was only a rooftop that gave access to technical machinery and chimneys. The fact that elements of comfort had appeared proved how much he was being taken care of… and watched.
By now, he could describe the view with his eyes closed and now since he could stand up again he could see much farther away. Here, in this place, he felt safe and at peace. Something he had rarely experienced in his life.
He was still using a crutch to assist with walking. He could do without it, but the doctors had repeatedly insisted that he needed to take it easy and give his body time to heal itself. John had found out, the hard way, that he should really listen to their advice. The last time he had "forgotten" his crutch, his back had painfully complained for having to compensate for his still weak leg. The doctors had promised it would get better in time.
Over the past few weeks, he had been thinking about leaving the Tower. He felt that he was way past overstaying. But life here, far from the real world, was comfortable. He knew the day he left that he wouldn't be coming back; that a new life would begin. Here, in the Tower, he felt that he was allowing himself some time off. Time he would never find again.
The door behind him opened and he turned around in surprise. The only person who came to meet him here was Matt, and he had already been there earlier. There was no reason for him to come back.
"So this is where you hide," Tony Stark said, casting a look about him.
John raised an eyebrow. Stark had never come up here. Now that he thought about it, he had never seen anyone up here, besides Matt. Much like the place belonged to him.
"Thank you for the furniture" John answered.
Tony dismissed the thanks with a wave of his hand "Jarvis told me that you came here quite often. It seemed natural to make the place more welcoming." He observed the rooftop with more attention. "You do know that we have a couple of dedicated balconies that are really nice?" He stared at the metal air-conditioning boxing and winced in disgust. "Although perhaps that's the reason you feel comfortable in this place."
He sat on one of the chairs and invited John to join him.
"Despite our best efforts, you've never felt at home here," Stark concluded.
"The suite I've been using since I left the medical wing is gorgeous. It would be rude and unthinking to complain. But I believe I have outstayed my welcome. I will of course see to it that all expenses are covered as soon as I have the means."
"And I will make sure to throw you off this very roof top if you ever mention any expenses again." Tony raised his hand to stop John's protest. "You were most welcome here. I'm pretty sure the medical staff was quite glad to have a "normal" patient for once. Superheroes can be tricky to treat" he added as if revealing a confidence.
"Thank you again for all your help, you and your team."
"It's part of our job. Saving the world, even if sometimes it's just one person at a time."
Stark settled more comfortably in the chair.
"So, how long has it been now? Ten months?" His eyes went over John's body. "When I saved you from the explosion, I never thought you would be in this shape someday. To tell you the truth, for a minute, I really thought the most decent thing to do would be to let you die in the rubble. You were a mess."
"Your medical team is incredible."
"Yes, it is. They have had to face really unusual situations. They are able to manage quite a few miracles."
"It's a good thing doctors are sworn to secrecy," John kidded.
"Funny that you would speak of secrecy, John…"
Stark left a few seconds of silence, giving John time to get ready for the rest of the conversation.
"As I said, it was a pleasure having you at the Tower."
"The pleasure was mine. Having the chance to meet the members of the Avengers has been quite an honor."
"Which brings me to the reason for my coming here to your terrace."
"This is not my terrace!"
"Have you ever seen anyone else up here?"
"Huh… as a matter of fact, no." But John had sincerely thought this was due to the less than welcoming environment, not because he had somehow claimed it as his own.
"And that is the question that has been bugging everyone here. The same question that I have been wondering about since I saw you being used as target practice on that building roof top. Who are you exactly John?"
John couldn't help an amused smile. He had been expecting the question from the very moment he had learnt who had saved him.
"Matt has been much less patient than you. It's been months since he grilled for an answer. Of course, we had known each over for about two years already…"
"Yeah, but Matt guesses things," Stark mumbled.
"He guesses?" John repeated.
"You know exactly what I mean. That guy is weird."
"Weird? Says the man with a machine in his heart," John pointed out.
"May I remind you that you have now enough metal in your body to get arrested every time you go through a security gate?"
John winced. He had seen the x-rays. Most were scary. And if some prosthesis had only been used temporarily, he still had enough nails and plates in his body to alert most metal detectors. Automatic weapons were not kind on the human body.
"In some ways, you kind of deserve a place of your own in this Tower, John."
John breathed out. He had no reason to hide his life from Stark. He owed him his life, and his past belonged to a dead man, twice dead… Maybe telling all of it to someone who wouldn't judge him would be liberating.
"I used to be a soldier, then a CIA agent…"
New York, a few days later
John pushed the door and stepped out onto the curb.
This was the first time he left the Tower since the "incident". "The day I found myself on a roof top in order to save the world from an evil Artificial Intelligence, had to face a death squadron and a long reach missile after having lied to my best friend to save his life" was a longer explanation. "Incident" summed it up nicely and was easier to use. And Matt had laughed out loud congratulating him for his talent for shortcuts the first time John had used the word.
The noise assaulted him and he couldn't help a step back, almost tempted for a moment to rush back inside, into the comfortable silence of the building. He had never turned his back on a challenge, he wasn't about to back down because of some noisy horns. But if intellectually he had made his decision, his body hadn't answered as fast and his heart was drumming.
A hand caught his elbow and directed him down onto the street. After his initial surprise, he let himself be guided toward the small secluded park next door. By the time they made it to the gates, he was back to his senses and he took the lead toward a bench.
"The blind man leading the seeing one; I guess we must have caused some double takes," John commented a smile in his voice.
"Are you feeling better? Your pulse was crazy; I thought you were going to have a heart attack when you stepped out," Matt explained, his head slightly bowed, clearly still listening to things only he could hear.
"So who is spying on who now?" John asked.
Matt raised his hands. "Guilty as charged."
"You'll have to explain this one though. I know about your special gift, but how you knew when I was going to come outside is beyond me."
Matt laughed. "I may have used your talents this time."
"Shot a couple of knees to obtain information?"
Matt winced and John bit back a smile.
"I've made friends at the Tower. Your agenda is not really top secret."
"Agenda? I haven't had much of an agenda for months."
"You mean when you're not undergoing some physical therapy or any related torture?"
Then of course… John did spend most of his days in therapy. He had actually planned his walk outside after his last session.
"Yesterday you told me you would be going outside today." Matt folded his stick. "How does it feel to be free?"
"I was free to go out anytime," John reminded him.
"Just not ready; I know. Weird, isn't it?"
John hadn't really been afraid of going out, but after the explosion his whole life had blown to pieces - literally. This wasn't the first time he was "dead". The previous time, taking care of Jessica's murderer had taken precedence over everything. Once his mission had been accomplished, his life hadn't had any meaning anymore. He had almost put an end to it.
This time, behind the protective walls of the Tower, and having promised Stark that he would not kill himself (even though that hadn't been in his mind at the time), the situation had been different. He was safe. His only objective was to get his health back; he had no decisions to make. He wasn't a prisoner, but he had somehow behaved much the same. Leaving all the decisions to his "guardians". As he had said once, some of his best vacations had been in prison.
Going out meant taking control of his life back, with the obligations it would entail: facing society again, finding an apartment, getting a job… although as regards jobs, he knew he had a position waiting for him when he felt ready.
He looked around him. He still couldn't believe the noise level. It had never bothered him in the past, but the months spent indoors, in relative silence, had made him forget about New York's incessant traffic. He watched Matt, wondering about his hyper sensitive hearing. No wonder Matt enjoyed the rooftop terrace so much.
"I'm pretty sure Stark wouldn't mind if you keep using his building rooftop," he commented.
"Sorry?" Matt asked dumbfounded. "What are you talking about?"
"I was thinking about the noise. How much it must bother you. I never realized how stressful it must be for you."
"I'm used to it," Matt answered with a shrug.
"When I see how my body reacted after only a few months… Thank you."
"You're welcome. I thought you were going to turn around without giving yourself a second chance."
"Almost did, I'll admit." John breathed in deeply. "It would have been a pity. It's about time I start to live again."
"So you've made your decision? You're going back to work for…" Matt bent closer and lowered his voice, "the Machine?"
"I'll need to get myself a place to live too. I doubt my flat is still available…"
"Not necessarily. You're dead. No direct heirs. The city cannot get hold of your goods that quickly. Your apartment is most probably still empty… apart from the dust." Matt straightened up. "Let me check that out for you."
"Not bad having an attorney for a friend," John whispered.
"I cannot do anything about your job though."
"That's the easy part." John turned his head toward a camera facing the bench. "I'm ready," he stated watching the lens.
"Who are you talking to?"
"There's a camera just in front of us."
"You think She's watching you?"
"She sees everything Matt. It will only be seconds before She spots me among the millions of images she gathers."
And as if to confirm his statement, his phone buzzed.
"What does She say?" Matt asked not bothering to hide his curiosity, and totally at ease with the Machine's existence.
After the first initial shock when John had revealed "his secret", Matt had just accepted it as part of John's life. In order to ensure the citizens' safety, some means justified the end. He had even integrated the female denomination of the Machine.
John opened the message. An address and some access codes.
"Where to go…"
"Congratulations are in order then."
"Landing a job?" Matt answered with a smile.
"Who knows, we might even get to work together some day."
"I'm always willing to help the innocents John, you know that."
End part 1 - tbc