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So The Story Goes

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Matt can say, without the slightest hesitation, that working for Tony Stark is...interesting. The guy can be an absolute tool, like, 89.56% of the time, but he's so fucking brilliant that it can cancel out his immense capacity for doucherocity, but only sometimes. Also, he's Iron Man, which is seventy levels of So Fucking Cool that even Warlock is impressed, and Warlock's mom, and Matt can tell you that it's super hard to impress Mrs. Kaludis.

And hey, working for Tony Stark is, pound-for-pound, so much better than being under lock-down in some Fibbie compound, kept away from anything with the slightest electrical pulse because everyone was like, whoooaaa kid's gonna try to melt the whole country again. Never mind he helped saved it; if it wasn't for McClane putting in a good old word, it could have been so much worse. Tony 'I-Actually-Don't-Need-A-Programmer' Stark waltzed into the compound one day, dressed like he was going to some casino in Morocco right at that moment. He looked at Matt from behind his shades, said, "Huh. I might as well," and pranced back out again, Matt in tow.

Seriously, Matt doesn't know either. He's vaguely aware that there'd been some exchange between the Feds and this other shady government agency Stark is involved with, and now he works with Stark Industries, kinda, except that he's based at Stark Tower instead of the main SI complex downtown, and his job is mostly to make sure that JARVIS doesn't turn evil or whatever, but JARVIS is much sharper than that (and he is one classy dude, anyway, Matt's not sure how someone like Stark managed to produce such a suavely polite AI). Matt's all about taking it easy and honestly, after that whole Fire Sale? Matt's taking it easy and taking it twice.

Stark trusts him with stuff, though. And Pepper Potts trusts him with Stark (even though he knew she did her own research on him and while she is normal in her own way, she is also kind of scary. In her own way.) Matt...appreciates all that, he does. He gets to look at weaponry designs that would make the Feds cream their collective pants, and he even gets a chance to test shit. At those times, Stark's continuous self-absorbed blather just fades away into the background, even as he feeds Matt glowing lines with careless flicks of his fingers and Matt pulls them in and turns them all around and tries to poke holes in the layers of security, fighting against JARVIS's beautiful, beautiful code--

("Fuck," Warlock had said when Matt had told him that he was working with Stark and yeah, that was about all he was allowed to say. "Fucking shit, I want to fuck Stark's AI so hard. With, like, my actual penis."

"I'll tell the AI that he has his very own fanclub," Matt had said and tried to edge away from Warlock's general area.)

--and there were a couple times that he punched right through, but Stark always says he wasn't ready because Stark is maybe four years old at heart.

Okay, so sometimes Matt worries a little when Stark goes off with the other Avengers to fight bad guys, because these baddies are not the kind that give up after you throw them down elevator shafts or shoot them through your own shoulder; but he's seen how Stark's eyes go hard and bright at the same time, as piercing as that thing in his chest, when his phone gives that special trill or JARVIS says, "Your presence is being requested elsewhere, sir." He'd seen that expression on McClane's face, too, and he knows that Stark will never back down, not ever. Stark is an asshole, McClane was an asshole, but they were assholes worth having around, and Matt just worries, okay? Okay. Stark is his boss, Matt means, and if he gets exploded on one of those ridiculous missions, Matt isn't sure that he'd be able to keep this awesome set of benefits. Living quarters in the lower levels of Stark Tower? Solid health plan? Come on.

(He still worries about McClane. He wonders where he might be; McClane called him once or twice in the five years since the Fire Sale and then it's been mostly silence. Lucy calls him more often and her reports are vague-ish: "Yeah, he's working...I think? With some security firm, I guess."

But he worries. One of Matt's foster moms always said he was a worrier. Trouble finds McClane with distressing regularity, as far as Matt's very limited but quite extensive experience indicates, and the man doesn't think much of fucking over his own body to get the job done.)

A cool-ish thing about working for Stark, though? Getting glimpses of the other Avengers when Stark calls him up to the pent...houses (yes, multiple, because that is how Stark rolls), yelling at him over the intercom to hurry your shit up, Farrell, you got some hacking to do and bring me the set of files on the armature I was designing the other day in the bottom labs. Jesus, yes, by files I mean that piece of napkin I was drawing on, why are you not here yet?

The first time Matt met the Black Widow, he said, "Hey Mrs. Widow. Mrs, since you're the Black Widow, you've been married a bunch of times before, right?" And he laughed, a high-pitched nervous sound, because she'd been sharpening about six hundred knives in front of the big television, looking at him with the same flat, unamused expression that cobras have. Right before they swallow mice whole.

"I mean," Matt had said and then fled because he kind of loved his life. Life is totally his favourite thing, he likes to keep it close.

"Yeaaaah," Stark said, laughing at him as he stumbled inside the top lab (not the top lab, not where all the suits are, but the outer one, at least). "Yeah, just. Don't talk to Nat. She'll probably tear your balls off you if you annoy her too much. Gimme that design, gimme, gimme."

"I--" Matt wheezed, and then leaned against the glass door. The Black Widow is beautiful, but Matt keeps his distance at all times. At least a twenty-foot clearance.

At. All. Times.

Dr. Banner is... Matt tries not to let the hearts in his eyes shine too much at Dr. Banner, because the man is so fucking brilliant that Matt could sit down and just listen to him ramble forever when he wanders into Stark's labs. Rambling from Dr. Banner is in no way comparable to the rambling experienced when in close proximity to Stark. First of all, Dr. Banner is not a jerk. Secondly, Dr. Banner at times requires a response from other people during conversations and, get this, actually pauses for it.

"Listen, Tony, shush, listen to me for a damned moment," he hears Dr. Banner lecturing Stark very gently one day, "qualitatively, we're not going into the comparison between Harry Potter and Twilight, right now. I need you to just focus on the aspect of profitability here, for just one moment. You of all people can do that."

Matt hardly speaks to Dr. Banner, because if it's one thing that Matt crushes on and gets all tongue-tied over, it's capable intelligence. Which was why, for quite some time after the Fire Sale, he was completely unable to look directly in McClane's face. Anyway, he rarely interacts with the others, either, because Captain America and Thor are big and beefy and Matt has never had luck with the jock types; also, Captain America's intense patriotism gives him hives. Hawkeye doesn't seem to walk on the ground like normal people, and Black Widow is eventually going to kill him using just her lashes so for Matt it's mostly just Stark and trying to break into his monstrously secure systems.

"Shit," he mutters in annoyance one day when JARVIS manages to withstand a DDOS attack about the size of a virtual monsoon. "I'm so glad Stark isn't some kind of super-villain."

"So am I, Matthew," JARVIS says, patient confidence all over, and Matt tries not to smile too hard.

##

He barges into the upstairs labs one day, needing to show Stark a tiny security glitch he located in a new comms system that Stark had been throwing around the week before, and then skids to a halt because, hey, most of the Avengers are in here, scattered around the room in various modes of bored repose while Stark is ripping the belly out of what seems to be some kind of mechanized trash-can. Dr. Banner peers over Stark's shoulder, pointing with what looks like The Doctor's sonic screwdriver, Matt totally would not be surprised if it actually is.

There are two guys in suits sitting in a shadowy corner, but Matt ignores them for a moment because this glitch is important (he likes to see how the annoyance just floods Stark's face), and he's seen suits up here before. Well, just one, actually, and that one just takes reports and/or gives them, and then spends an inordinate amount of time being snarky with Hawkeye.

"Stark," he says, trying to crowd up on the other side of the trash-can. Banner smiles at him, so warm and kind and Matt smiles back. "What's up, Dr. B. Stark, look. Look, look, look. I found this hole in your code, you're gonna shit bricks."

"There's no hole in my codes, babyface," Stark tells him, then purses his lips and actually turns his head to blow annoyed air at Dr. Banner. "Bruce, give the kid the scanner. You're hopeless, you're not holding it like I need it."

"That's what she said," Hawkeye drawls from where he's sitting with the suits. He wasn't sitting there six seconds ago, but Matt's already decided that Hawkeye deserves at least the same range of avoidance that Black Widow gets. Black Widow looks up from this board-game she's playing with Captain America, and drops a very dangerous wink. Matt swallows, hard.

"Haha, fuck your face, Clint," Stark says and huh, Clint is Hawkeye's first name, how perfectly nonthreatening for a guy that can shoot a bird off a wire from maybe twenty miles away. Matt takes the scanner-thingy from Dr. Banner, who still has that little half-smile in his face. "Talk to me."

Matt blinks for a moment, and he realises that Stark's grudging mutter is directed at him, and so he launches into a detailed explanation of the location and size of the glitch, tucked away in layers and layers of numbers. Stark nods, managing to look a little sour but a lot intense, as if he's rebuilding this robot trash-can and following Matt's jumbled phrasing at the same time. In the midst of his excited dissertation, Matt hears a rough laugh from where the suits are still seated. Rough yet kind of low, soft, and Matt knows that laugh pretty well.

"Still the same Hackboy," one of the suits says, and Matt drops the scanner, only half-hearing Stark's cursing as he turns around and sees McClane sitting there and watching him with an amused expression.

##

Everything slows down. At least in Matt's head. He notices that McClane isn't exactly in a suit like the other man beside him; trousers, yeah, a nice jacket, yeah, and a blue shirt, check, but no tie. He has a badge pinned over the pocket of his jacket.

"Fucking shit," Stark says from where he's trying to squirm past loops of wiring to retrieve the scanner. "You're an idiot, Matt."

"McClane," Matt says, ignoring Stark. His voice sounds a little uneven to his own ears, trembling up at the end of the name as if he hadn't called it in a long time. Hawkeye glances at McClane without moving his head and then looks at Matt.

"You two know each other?" he asks, and Matt nods, hardly able to breathe.

"Fire Sale incident some years ago." The other guy in the suit has a level tone, really mild and calm. He looks like he is pretty awesome at organizing files. "Agent McClane and Matthew Farrell helped avert it. I'm sure I've mentioned this in a recent debriefing when introducing McClane as a senior handler, Barton."

"I'm sure I didn't listen, Coulson," Hawkeye says, and yawns a little. "No wonder it's always Agent McClane this, and Agent McClane that. He's your type of guy."

"I have no type," this dude Coulson says, and McClane rolls his eyes a little.

"Always the fucking flirting between these two," McClane says, and give Matt an actual smile. "Anyway. Long time no see, kid."

"Yeah. It's...yeah, it's nice to see you too, McClane." Matt licks his lips and then, right, perfect, he feels his cheeks get warm again.

"Oh-ho." Hawkeye has a glint in his eye, and an unholy grin on his face. Matt wants to punch him, except for the fact that Hawkeye would probably fill his face with arrows before he finished raising his arm.

"I read about that," Captain America says from where he's frowning at the board and Black Widow is smirking in triumph. "That was good work."

Apart from that whole staggering compliment that has Matt rocking back on his heels a little, Captain America sounds...different from what Matt expects. He sounds ordinary, some guy on the street. For that matter, McClane looks different too: that hunted expression on his face is gone, and he looks kind of relaxed.

Matt wants to talk to him, alone, just... hear his low voice and listen to the cadence of his speech and maybe stare at those big dangerous hands a little, but there are Avengers lazing about and if it's one thing Matt has learned from his short time working with Stark, is that Avengers are nosy shits that like to stick their nosy noses in other people's business, and keep invading the private labs and messing with Bruce's experiments and all the awesome new weaponry, what in the fucking fuck, who touched this (according to Stark. Who happens to be an Avenger). He wonders if he can maybe sidle over and give McClane his new number, when lights bloom red against the walls and JARVIS's smooth voice says, "Incoming emergency message from SHIELD."

Everyone in the room apart from Matt changes. It isn't anything overt, not like, haha, a big green monster (not that...that's actually not funny and he's really not a monster but still); but everyone kind of transforms from this group of people sitting around in a room to more. Captain America stands up in his goofy plaid shirt and khaki chinos and says in a resolute tone: "Avengers, assemble," and that should have been super-corny except it that it isn't.

McClane and that Coulson guy get up too, and they're striding towards the door while Stark is doing that show-off thing and suiting up pretty rapidly using the suitcase unit. It's the first time that Matt's seen it done this close and shit, that thing is cool.

Dr. Banner catches his eye and say, "See you later, Matt," because hey, it's guaranteed that they'll all always come back. That they'll be okay together, as a unit.

As a kid that bounced from house to house, Matt can say that this is not a valid guarantee.

"Kid," McClane says, and he's standing right in front of Matt, really close. He's holding out his phone, a recent Stark model and that kind of blows Matt's mind. This was the guy who had been allergic to anything more advanced than a pager. Matt pulls his own phone out of his pocket, and taps the two devices together so their information is exchanged.

"Nice." McClane tucks his phone back into his pocket and inclines his head. "Duty calls. I got to help herd these assholes and wrangle a bunch of junior agents."

"Hey. I heard that," Iron Man says from the doorway.

"And yet you can't hear when we're calling you for dinner," Hawkeye says, twirling his bow in one hand and catching a knife and then a gun with the other, both thrown by Black Widow. "So weird."

"You can't not help save the world, right?" Matt asks, and he's feeling light and heavy at the same time. "Hey, do me a favour and don't die. I just found you again," and wow, that was a bit too heavy, right?

McClane doesn't seem to think so, because his face goes all soft. "Hey," he says, even as superheroes walk past them, suited up and ready to go. "I won't."

fin