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and in the darkness bind them

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Given how many people lived and visited the top floors of Stark Tower, the place was never really dark. Never pitch black dark, even with the windows darkened to keep out the New York skyline. It was darker, certainly but sharing living space with superheroes with a variety of problems meant that late nights and insomnia was the norm. Someone was always up. It was never dark.

So when Pepper stepped off the elevator and into a complete darkness, it was more than a little disconcerting. None of the consoles were lit up, Jarvis wouldn't respond to her commands and she suddenly forgot her own command code in the panic. Even the lights of the elevator had been blacked out.

There was nothing.

A void.

She panicked a little, and went to step backwards towards the elevator when a streak of purple light whizzed though the air ahead of her. It settled on the wall to her left, long and luminous in the dark. She wondered if she should go towards it – it was light after all – but knew the tables and benches were in the way and she wasn't that desperate. She'd probably just hurt herself and be stuck on the floor in the pitch black and alone.

She backed up, and bumped into something at waist hight, and not the elevator doors like she had expected. Her heart started to beat a little harder and she took deep breaths to try an combat the rising panic.

Another purple light flew across the room, making her jump and knock something over, the crash and light scattering sound of broken crockery making her assume it was a mug. Hopefully.

“Hello?”

Pepper turned to looked around the corner to her right, moving forward ever so slightly. There was nothing to see at first, and no more sound, until she saw a purple light again, moving towards her, her eyes finally making out the shape of a man weaving around the equipment towards her.

“Miss Potts?”

She recognised the voice and smiled, feeling a little better already.

“Agent Barton, sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you.”

“Jarvis, lights, 50%, Authorisation Barton Alpha Nine Zero Eight,” he called out.

The large lab was immediately illuminated in soft lighting and Pepper blinked a couple of times to get used to it. Clint Barton was looking at her curiously, dressed in shorts and a thick vest, holding his bow in one hand, a purple arrow in the other. Still a little frazzled and confused, she looked across from him to see a wall of foam and two arrows next to each other in the bullseye of a scruffy target drawn with marker. She smiled then, feeling better again.

“Not a problem Miss Potts,” he said, “I didn't mean to scare you.” He added, noting the hard breathing she was still trying to control.

“Just a bit of a shock.” She moved towards him, careful around the various benches and broken bits of a plate. Closer, the definition of his muscles were clearer, and she tried not to let her eyes wander too much. “What are those?” she asked, indicating the arrow.

“Glow in the dark arrows,” he said, handing it to her to inspect. “Something Bruce and I have been working on.”

“What for?”

“Various things, lighting up a situation, tagging enemies in the dark....”

“Did you consider putting powered lights in arrows?” She asked, “perhaps using the miniaturised reactor technology,” she said, turning it over in her hands, “Tony's been working on powering his watch with one.”

Clint chuckled.

“We tried something like that. It was too heavy,” he explained. “Threw my accuracy off. I could compensate a bit, but then when I switched back the other arrows were too light.”

“Makes sense.”

“Tony's working on it. It's on his list anyway.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Are you looking for Tony?” Clint asked.

“No, he's gone out,” she said, with a sigh, “I came looking for a file I gave Bruce to read actually.”

“Oh,” he looked her over carefully, then nodded to a work bench. “The only Stark Industries file I've seen down here is on the third bench along there.”

She took a look and grabbed the file there, smiling at him.

“Thank you Agent Barton.”

“Clint,” he said, “call me Clint.”

She smiled and nodded, handing him back the arrow, eyes drifting over his arms again.

“Good night, Clint,” she said, walking back towards the elevator. “I wouldn't put Jarvis on complete lock down next time you're practising in here – might not be safe.”

He grinned at her and nodded.

“No worries Miss Potts.”

“Pepper,” she told him, getting on the elevator.

x

It was a large undertaking but it was actually easy to do. It just needed organising and if there was one thing Pepper could do, it was organise the hell out of a project. She just needed Tony's permission and a couple of weeks to make the changes.

Oh and for Natasha and the others to keep Clint busy while she set her surprise up.

Pepper wasn't sure why she was doing it, it was just an idea she had, to do something nice for the man. She didn't know him all that well, of all the newcomers, she hadn't spent much time with him. He had his own apartment, his own building, he wasn't around as much as some of the others, even when he was in New York. Perhaps this was something that would help get to know him, she felt it important to know the Avengers, to get along with them. Regardless of the current state of her relationship with Tony, she liked being in the tower and most of her business was there when she was in the city. And Stark Industries was getting more and more involved with some of the equipment Shield needed over the time. The Avengers weren't going away.

He was always polite and while not overly chatty, he was definitely clever and funny. Ever since she'd caught him shooting arrows in the dark, he had been around a little more, hanging around with Natasha and Steve, just drinking coffee or heading to the gym. He called her Pepper, held the door for her, smiled whenever he saw her. He made her smile too. She wasn't sure what it was but she enjoyed his company, as brief as those moments were.

“Where are we going?” Clint asked, following Pepper out of the lounge and into the elevator. Natasha had just grinned at him and waved him off.

“I'm not telling you,” Pepper said with a grin of her own. “It's a surprise.”

“I got that.”

She pressed the button in the elevator and leant back on the wall as the doors closed. He frowned at her, a little confused but she mused he must trust her enough to go along with whatever she had planned. He was a good looking man, even in jeans and a t-shirt and she blushed a little when he caught her staring at him.

They weren't going down far, and the elevator stopped smoothly and the doors opened out onto a floor that had been mostly unused rooms but now opened out into a small purple and while hallway.

“Where are we?”

You'll see,” she said, smiling.

She led him to a set of double doors, punching in a code and pushing the doors open, stepping aside to let him walk in first. He hesitated, but she continued to smile and wait until he walked into the large room and gasped.

“You built me an archery range?” he asked, spinning around on the balls of his feet.

Pepper followed him in, and walked into the middle of the large open plan room, stopping behind a thick purple line on the oak panelled floor.

“I know it's not as big as an outdoor range,” she said, feeling the blush on her cheeks again, “but it's safe, and there's enough room to test any arrows you and the science twins come up with.”

“This is....”

He didn't know what to say, and Pepper didn't either, so she started to tell him about the range.

“It's got a few cool features, the doors obviously are using the same security protocols as the rest of the labs, and if you're in the middle of testing or practise, no one can come in unless you stop and let them come in. And then, if anyone steps over this purple line here, then an alarm sounds and...”

“Why did you do this?” Clint asked, standing close to her suddenly, but looking at the large equipment space that was behind them.

“Because I thought you would like it,” she said.

The answer stopped him short again, and she looked away from the intense look on his face.

“I mean, and you need it, of course, you can't test new arrows in the labs, it's not safe, nor a good control environment.”

“Thank you Pepper,” he said, “this is amazing.”

“You're welcome Clint,” she turned towards the doors again, “I've set the security up so that you have control over it, and Jarvis is ready to make any modifications you want to the range.”

“Is there anything behind that wall?” he asked, looking down at the end target of the range.

“Nothing, just New York, and I had the wall thickened in case.”

“Good idea.”

He walked around the edges of the range, checking the measurements, up to the targets set up at the other end. It was a perfect testing ground, Pepper knew that, but whether it was any good for him, she wasn't sure. Bruce had told her it was good but...

“Any way to simulate weather conditions?” he asked, “I assume I can turn all the lights out?”

“Yes, but as for weather I'm sure Bruce can help you come up with something? I wasn't sure exactly what else you would need beyond the basics. Sorry.”

“No, Pepper, it's perfect,” he said, smiling at her, walking back down towards her quickly.

“Good,” she said, “what else do you need to know? Oh there's a bathroom and a changing room down the hall, and a couple of empty rooms in case you need them for anyth-” Her sentence was cut short when Clint stopped her from leaving the range, pulling her back towards him gently.

Facing him, he kissed her on the cheek, surprising her.

“Oh.”

“Thank you,” he said, in half a whisper.

“You – erm – are -” she stuttered, taking a deep breath, “again, you're welcome. I hope you - I hope it's useful.”

With that, she left him to inspect the range further, feeling a little warm.

x

“I just can't figure out why she did it.”

Clint fired another arrow at the target, hitting the bullseye dead on and grabbing another, looking over his shoulder at Natasha as she and Bruce watched the trajectory pop up on the screen.

“And again,” Bruce said.

They were setting up a sensor net over the entire range, so they could measure every movement of Clint's arrows as he shot them. He fired another, hitting the target again and turned to look at them.

“A woman does something nice for you can you can't figure out why?” Bruce said, cocking an eyebrow and looking at Natasha.

“He really can't.”

“What?” Clint said. “I mean look at this place, the measurements are perfect, there's at least 16 feet between all the lines, a huge overshoot area, safety zones on each side. She had the walls thickened.”

“We know Clint,” Natasha said. “We helped.”

“Why?”

“Because we're your friends,” Bruce said.

“I don't know Pepper that well though. And people don't just do nice things for people they hardly know.”

“Not the people in our world,” Natasha said, “ but Pepper, Pepper is normal. Pepper is nice.”

“That's certainly true.” Bruce said. “Another please.”

Clint picked up another arrow and shot it quickly at the target, before turning back around to them.

“So she did this because she's nice.”

“And she has a thing for you.”

“What?”

“He didn't know?” Bruce said looking at Natasha.

“He's an idiot.”

“He's right here.” Clint said. “Pepper has a thing for me? What about Tony?”

“They split up.”

“They split up? When?”

“Couple of months ago,” Bruce said, “Pepper couldn't cope with the whole superhero death wish on top of Tony's usual jerk-ass personality.”

“What makes me any different?”

“You're a nice jerk,” Natasha said, with a smile.

“Thanks.”

“You should ask her out,” Bruce said. “To say thank you.”

“Maybe.”

“You should just kiss her and go down on her. Now that's a thank you.”

Bruce blushed and Clint rolled his eyes, making Natasha laugh.

“You are a jerk,” he said.

“Yeah, but Pepper doesn't have a thing for me,” she said.

He considered that for a moment, listening to Bruce working on the sensor net, Natasha throwing things into it to amuse herself and annoy the scientist. He really did like Pepper, the woman was smart and stunning and incredibly sweet. Of course he assumed people could just be nice, just not to him. Which was ridiculous, he supposed, perhaps he was tired but he was seriously considering asking Pepper out. Or kissing her. Or both.

x

Pepper was in her office in the lower half of the tower when Clint went looking for her. She was dressed in a business suit, a perfect grey colour with a lilac blouse underneath and a brilliant smile on her face. Clint felt a little scruffy in black jeans and a t-shirt, but he was clean and she was still looking him over. He wasn't sure how he'd missed her doing that before.

“Clint, come in,” she said, voice cheerful and face bright. “How are you?”

“Good thanks,” he said. “Am I disturbing you?” he asked, looking over the large scattering of paperwork on her desk.

“You're a welcome distraction,” she said. “Is there something I can do for you?”

He smiled at that but was suddenly unsure at how to proceed, thinking back to Natasha's less than helpful advice the day before, the idea appealing and arousing but not necessarily the best thing to do.

“I want to thank you,” he said, “for the range.”

“It's okay?” she asked.

“It's perfect,” he told her, “Bruce and I set up a sensor net yesterday.”

“Oh wonderful,” she said, standing up.

“And I want to thank you, perhaps dinner?”

“Oh.”

That noise again, the little note of surprise that went straight to his heart, and he smiled again walking around her desk to her, and offering her his hand. She took it and he urged her to her feet.

“Have dinner with me?” he asked.

“I-I would love to.”

“Great, I'll pick you up at seven.”

Pepper nodded, and then, kissed him on the lips. He was shocked at first then kissed her back, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close to him. This was definitely what he should've done and was still working through his surprise when he felt Pepper's small hands winding into his short blonde hair. He stroked his own hands down to her waist and deepened the kiss making her moan, letting him stroke his tongue into her mouth, tasting her and making her feel a little warm against him.

“Clint,” she murmured against his lips, breathing hard. “I have to-”

“Lock the door?” he asked.

She chuckled and pushed him back a little.

“No, I have to work.”

“Then, I'll pick you up at seven.”

“Sounds good,” he kissed her again, and she put her hands on his shoulders, but pushing and pulling. He smiled and moved away from her. From temptation.

“One more thing, before I go,” he said.

“Sure.”

“Why purple?”

“Bruce said you had a thing for purple.”

Clint laughed, kissing her on the cheek before walking away.

“I spoke to Natasha too,” she said, before he left. “I expect to be thanked fully,”

“Of course.”