Nobody Panic This Time
Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership to The Avengers or any of its source material.
Warnings: There's profanity all over the place, but nothing else.
Notes: Holy shit, look at me finishing a multi-chapter fic. BIG. DAY.
Anyway, this chapter is long(er), just as I promised. It also went to a really weird, melodramatic place for about five paragraphs near the middle. I'm sorry, I really didn't mean for that to happen! So, please enjoy the last chapter, and as always, screw medical accuracy. xD
Natasha's waiting in the hallway when Clint's finally cleared to leave. He'd argued with the nurse for fifteen minutes straight before she had thrown her hands in the air, stormed out, and come back with the discharge forms.
He has his marching orders – rest, drink a lot of fluids, no driving, operating heavy machinery, or crash-landing planes on the street, avoid as much stress as possible, continue taking his meds regularly and they'd adjust the dosage as needed, and, most importantly, he is not to be left by himself until the seizures stop for more than seventy-two hours. Never mind that Clint needs his alone time or he gets irritable and overwhelmed. And, as expected, he is off active duty pending "complete cessation of unusual neurological activity" or whatever Doctorese was on the papers. Grounded and babysat. He's going to go postal in two days, maximum.
He makes a point of not thinking about what Stark told him.
"We're going back to the Tower," Natasha says on the way out. "Fury wants us local until Thor takes Loki to Asgard, and Stark's offered to put us up. Should only be a few days at most."
Clint tries to picture them all living together and comes up with a lot of carnage. "I hope he has insurance."
"Have you heard the story about his homicidal cleaning robot?"
Outside, they climb into the car Stark's sent over. He seems to have a lot of those to spare, and apparently none of the chauffeurs care that driving in this part of Manhattan is like navigating a slalom course right now. Natasha reaches into the bag on the seat and hands Clint his sunglasses. God knows how she got them, and it's eight p.m. so they're not exactly necessary, but he slips them on anyway, liking the familiarity. He leans his head on her shoulder for the duration of the ride.
Just as Stark's gaudy overcompensation comes into view, Natasha takes a deep breath. "Clint…"
"Not now," he mumbles. He knows what she's going to say, and he can't deal with it yet. "Please."
Her hair brushes his face as she nods.
They leave the car behind and enter the Tower a minute later. Right next to a potted plant, Clint sees a familiar case, and he veers away from Natasha to grab it. Nobody else can really use his bow – it was built exactly for someone of his height and strength, and he's one of about three people who know precisely how much force is needed to unfold it – but he doesn't want it getting swept up by one of Stark's cleaning robots or whatever the hell else he might have in here. He follows Natasha halfway across the lobby and then promptly stops when he realizes she's leading him to an elevator. Clint doesn't do elevators. When he must ride one, he prefers to be on top, rather than inside, where he can't escape if it plummets.
(Seventy-four floors, and he'd only survived because he managed to open the service hatch on the roof and shimmy up the cables three seconds before the car crashed into the bottom of the shaft.)
She wraps a hand around his elbow and pulls him inside anyway. "You are not climbing up the outside of the building right now," she says firmly, pressing a button as the doors close. "Considering this is one of Stark's and his massive ego is not unearned, the chance of it malfunctioning is practically nonexistent. Right, JARVIS?"
"That is correct," a cool, accented voice says.
"Stark's computer system," Natasha explains when Clint raises his eyebrows.
Of course he'd want a computer that would talk back to him. He probably uses it to test out his pickup lines. Clint entertains himself for a minute by imagining that, which might be what Natasha intended because by the time the creeping anxiety of being trapped in an elevator returns, the doors are opening to a large room with a television and a few big, cushy couches and only two broken windows. "He said he'd meet us up here," Natasha says. Clint sets his bow's case down in front of a couch, then pretty much just crashes. Natasha covers him with a blanket and he's out.
When he wakes, what feels like just seconds later, his sunglasses are on the floor, so is the blanket, and his head is resting in Natasha's lap. She's leaning against the side of the couch, not asleep, and a moment later he realizes why.
"Well, don't you two look cozy." Stark strolls in like he owns the place (which, technically, he does), a tumbler of something undoubtedly alcoholic in hand. His gaze rests on Clint for a little too long.
"Hngmf," Clint says.
"Don't fall back asleep yet, Robin Hood, we're watching a movie. Attendance and awareness are mandatory."
Clint tells him to go fuck himself, but it comes out in Swahili. His brain is still a little scrambled from the seizures. Stark smirks, though, so either he knows the language or just guessed the intent. Natasha looks from Clint to Stark, then prods Clint's arm until he lets her get up. "In that case, I'll be right back," she calls over her shoulder, leaving the room in spite of Clint's telepathic pleas for her not to abandon him to his fate. Everything about Stark's body language screams I want to talk but because I only speak Nerd and am insensitive it's going to be uncomfortable and may end in violence.
Then they're alone. The tension rockets. Clint occupies himself with inspecting the bruise that the IV needle left on the back of his hand. Stark paces a bit, fools around with a tiny device he brought with him, mutters some technobabble under his breath, and finally starts saying something understandable, but Clint cuts him off. "Did I do it?"
"No," Tony says without waiting for Clint to specify further. "It was Loki. I saw the security footage."
Clint nods. "Thanks," he mumbles into the cushion.
It's really all that needs to be said.
Honestly, he doesn't miss Coulson. Saying he misses him just isn't enough. It's more like Coulson is missing from Clint, because Coulson, same as Natasha, is a vital part of himself that he simply cannot function without. They're his bones, his blood. Coulson was the first person in over a decade to give a damn about the mouthy little pain in the ass sharpshooter who'd been unceremoniously dropped into his lap because nobody else wanted him. Imagining going out into the field and turning on his comm for orders and hearing any voice but Coulson's is impossible.
Clint's eyes sting. He thinks of the Empty Quarter, twenty-five kilometers out from base, grit in his mouth and droplets of water splashing onto his sunburnt face. Keep your eyes open, Agent, stay with me. He'd whinged that he could walk when they put him in the helicopter on a stretcher. Coulson had told him to shut up. Clint kept up a steady stream of complaints anyway just to piss him off, but as soon as he felt that wave of nausea again (the only warning he ever got), he'd reached out and Coulson had caught his fingers and restarted his spiel of reassurances.
An awful, strangled sound rips its way out of his throat, and he realizes with no small degree of shame that he's curled up on Stark's couch and almost fucking crying. Crying is not something Clint Barton does. Ever. Even when he loses one of the only two people in the world that he loves. Especially not in front of others. Stark is staring at him with an expression of pure horror, which is actually kind of really funny, but he forces himself to stop feeling and box up everything again and put it away until he can handle so much emotion. It's harder than it usually is. He's struggling to compose himself before Natasha gets back when Stark does something wholly unprecedented – he picks up the blanket, throws it over Clint somewhat haphazardly, and puts his hand on Clint's shoulder and squeezes.
What the fuck, Clint thinks, and then what the fuck again because it sounds about right. He still doesn't reject the extremely awkward attempt at comfort.
He doesn't know Stark. The man's on newspapers and magazines the world over and everyone's heard his name and they fought off an alien army together, but Clint doesn't know him. Coulson does. Did. Coulson always spoke of him with a sort of fond exasperation. He'd told Clint once that Tony Stark would do his absolute best to make sure everyone thought the absolute worst of him.
Clint kind of likes the guy despite himself.
"This never happened," Stark (maybe he's Tony, now) says.
The moment ends when Natasha returns, Thor in tow. Tony hastily lets go of Clint's shoulder and steps away. As soon as Thor spots Tony, he waves Mjölnir and rumbles, "Man of Iron! There is an intruder in your home. He refuses to reveal himself to me."
Natasha rolls her eyes. "I found him in the hallway attempting to challenge JARVIS to armed combat."
"What – no, look, big guy, you can't battle JARVIS. He's not an intruder, he's a computer. He doesn't have a physical presence for you to fight. Could you stop swinging that thing around before you take out a wall?"
"Oh, leave him alone," Clint interrupts, yawning. Thor looks a bit lost. Clearly nobody else is going to stick up for him, and since they had a connection or something back there in the shawarma restaurant, the duty falls to Clint. Besides, it's not really Thor's fault anyway. He doubts they have talking computers on Asgard. "So what if he knocks down a couple of walls? It'd probably go with the décor – are you going for 'destructive chic' in here or what?"
"Big help there, Barton. Where are the other two? I said ten o'clock sharp."
"It's nine-thirty," Natasha points out.
"My tower, my time zone." Tony downs whatever's in his glass in one gulp. "I'm going to find the Captain and Bruce, and when I come back, there had better be the same number of walls as when I left."
He exits. Natasha's lips twitch. She nudges Clint's side, and he obligingly lifts his head so she can retake her seat and he can have his pillow back. "Come on, Pikachu," he says, pulling his knees up so there's a cushion free for Thor. He notices that Thor's not wearing his cape anymore, thinks it's probably being washed, and sort of wants to apologize but wants everyone to just forget about that little incident even more.
"What is this 'Pikachu'?" Thor asks, cramming himself into the space left on the couch. There's two more free but screw that, if Tony ever decides to team up with the big green guy and the super soldier, Clint wants Thor on his side.
"A mystical yellow being that commands lightning," Clint tells him.
Thor mulls this over, then opens his mouth, but Clint's spared actually having to explain by Tony coming back with the others – and three boxes of pizza, which he drops on the coffee table. "Where did you get those?" Natasha says.
"There was a place way out in Brooklyn when Cap was a kid that he went to a lot… turns out they're still around. I talked them into delivering," Tony says, and by 'talked' he clearly means 'paid them two-thirds of Fury's annual income', but nobody calls him on it. Rogers looks deliriously happy. Clint hears wedding bells. "Now everyone get comfortable. Asgardians, World War II soldiers, traveling doctors, and people who have been living under a rock –" He levels a glare at Clint and Natasha like they've personally offended him, "– welcome to Modern Culture 101. Take notes, there'll be a quiz. JARVIS?" The lights obediently turn off, the television turns on, and Tony plops onto one of the empty couches. Banner tentatively sits next to him. Rogers ends up on the end, conveniently right in front of the pizzas.
And that's how they all end up in Stark Tower that night after saving the world, watching Mean Girls and eating pizza. Thor's hopelessly enamored with this new cuisine and there's a few moments of tension when it looks like he and Rogers are about to get into a real knock-down-drag-out fight over the last pie. Clint has zero appetite but steals the pepperoni off Natasha's slices when she's distracted. The movie itself is actually pretty amusing – Thor and Rogers appear to be enjoying themselves despite the many pop culture references, and Tony has the entire script memorized.
Right after Regina gets hit by a bus, Clint's stomach roils forebodingly. "Hey, uh." He lifts a hand to get everyone's attention so they don't have a repeat of the shawarma incident. "Don't freak out, but you might want to pause the movie."
"Are you doing the Emily Rose thing again?" Tony asks. Clint can't answer, which is really an answer in and of itself. "Shit. All right, nobody panic this time, we've got this."
"Second verse, same as the first," Banner offers dryly.
"I think this is more like the fifth," Tony says, and Clint really wants to laugh at that for some reason, but the room goes ass-over-teacups and he slips away.
Obviously they've worked out what should and shouldn't be done when this sort of thing happens, because when Clint lethargically comes to on the floor, the only person he sees hovering over him is Natasha. There are no other voices but hers as she quietly brings him up to speed. You had a seizure. You've had a couple of them today. We're in the Tower with Stark, Dr. Banner, Thor, and Captain Rogers. You're all right. Thank you for not throwing up on me again. Then, when he feels a little less woozy, she slips her arms under his shoulders – whether to help him to his feet or just sit him up, he doesn't know, because Thor takes that as his cue to lift Clint back onto the couch with one hand.
"Are you well, Agent Barton?" he says.
Clint yawns and lets Natasha tuck the blanket around him again. "I'll survive," he mumbles thickly.
The only thing he ever wants to do after a seizure is sleep. He prefers small, high places where there's a wall at his back and he can see everything without being seen; however, anywhere will do when he's so tired he can barely hold his eyes open. There's a vent in the ceiling and he momentarily entertains the thought of climbing up. Then he remembers the murderous cleaning robot (which may or may not be an urban legend, since there were apparently no surviving witnesses, but rumor has it that it's still loose in the Tower) and changes his mind. He'll stick with the couch, even if it means sleeping in front of other people.
Once he can keep his eyes focused, he notices Banner watching him and offers a shrug. He's all right, really. Banner nods. Tony is also watching him, but he doesn't look quite so doctorly about it, and then he opens his big mouth. "Well, at least this time you didn't –"
"I will garrote you with my bow if you finish that sentence, Stark."
Tony tilts his head to the side like a curious bird. "Can you really do that?"
"Yes," Clint confirms, at the same time Natasha says, "I've seen him do it."
"Okay, I'll shut up then," Tony says, which is pretty funny because he seems incapable of shutting up – and, of course, a minute later he's off again. "You know, that was much better. Great teamwork. Maybe we're not hopeless after all." He sits back on the couch and props his feet up on the coffee table. "I told you all that the dress rehearsal would come in handy."
"Dress rehearsal?" Natasha deadpans.
"He made us practice," Rogers explains, looking a bit embarrassed. "I… was the victim. A lot."
Clint snorts. "How'd you get stuck doing that?"
Thor, of all people, is the one to provide an explanation. "The Man of Iron performed an ancient Midgardian ritual of selection. He and Bruce Banner did this –" He touches his finger against the tip of his nose and holds it there. "– and suggested I do the same, which I did. As Captain Rogers did not, he was chosen."
"That's not really an ancient –" Natasha starts, but she's interrupted when Clint, who is exhausted and aching and emotionally wrung out, finds all of this absolutely hilarious and just bursts out laughing. He thinks he might be a little hysterical. Still, some pretty nice mental images there.
He decides, at this very moment, that he's finding a way to keep the biggest pack of freaks this side of Earth in his life somehow.
"It's not an 'ancient Midgardian ritual of selection'," Natasha continues over Clint's laughter. "It's something children do. Stark's just screwing with you."
"Hey, it's better than what he suggested!" Tony replies, inclining his head towards Thor. "His Asgardian 'ritual of selection' involves chopping off body parts."
"Only if you lose," Thor says.
Clint scrubs his face with his hands, pulling himself back under control. Yeah, there had definitely been a bit of hysteria there, but it felt good nevertheless. "I'm actually sorry I missed all that."
"I've got it on video," Tony says. "Especially Cap's fabulous performance." He looks unmoved by Rogers's unmanly squeak. "And speaking of videos, can we continue?"
With that, the movie starts again, and they keep watching like nothing ever happened. No more fanfare, no more fuss. Natasha's gone back to stroking his hair. Tony and Rogers are fixated on the screen. Thor's hand is resting on Clint's calf, which is a little weird, but okay, it's been that sort of day. Banner's almost smiling for real instead of doing that shy, cautious lip curl he seems to usually display. And Clint himself is… all right, considering the circumstances. He's lost so damn much today, but with everything he's gained, he thinks he probably broke even.
"Go to sleep, Clint," Natasha says softly. Her fingertips glide behind his ear slowly, soothingly. "I'll watch your back."
"You always do," he mumbles.
"Awwww," Tony coos.
Clint flips him off and pulls the blanket up to his nose. "Hey, Thor," he says. "How many of your Asgardian choosing games involve bloodshed?"
"Most of them."
He doesn't know if Thor's serious or if he's trying for a joke, but it doesn't really matter. "Mind teaching me a few?" He shoots Tony a tired smirk, then closes his eyes. "Let's see how lucky Stark really is."
"Listen to your girlfriend and go to sleep, Merida," Tony says, almost affectionately. The volume of the television dips considerably. "We're trying to watch a movie."
Abrupt ending ahoy!
For anyone who got this far, thank you so much for reading, and I would very much appreciate it if you left a review! :D