I'm going to start off by saying I am extremely sorry this chapter took so long. The chapter and I have a deep rooted, mutual hatred of one another, but thankfully I managed a compromise with it to get this out. I had to rework it three times to get it somewhat where I wanted it, so I apologize for that.
But, thanks to everyone who has reviewed, favorited and alerted this story, I hope you all continue to enjoy it as much as you have seemed to already.
So without further ado, here is the remarkably late chapter.
As always, I own nothing.
Nobody was quite sure who was more surprised when three days later, Tony showed up at the breakfast table in swim shorts and a tank top, sunglasses sitting on top of his head.
"Today, my friends, is a beach day." he announced loudly, causing Thor to adopt an almost confused expression, while Natasha just raised an eyebrow.
"It's the middle of November, Stark." she pointed out dryly from where she sat on the far side of the table, mug of coffee in her hands.
"I have two responses to that." Tony said, turning to face her with a smug expression while the rest of the team just watched, waiting to hear what he was going to say. "One: It's also southern California, sweetheart, not New York. Two: I'm an eccentric billionaire. I do what I want."
"Well I can't see how we can argue with that logic." Bruce said, sarcasm gracing his voice that made Tony turn to face him next, looking mildly insulted.
"What, is it 'gang up on Tony' day and I just didn't get the memo?" he demanded, but Clint chuckled as he stood, setting his own coffee cup and plate down into the sink.
"I don't know about that, but I'm in for beach day." he said lightly, smirking as Tony gave a triumphant laugh.
"I've got Legolas' support. Steve, come on, you need a tan. It'll be fun." the billionaire continued, turning his almost pleading eyes to Steve, who just raised an eyebrow.
At the same time, Bruce was looking almost accusingly to Clint, who just tilted his head slightly to the side in confusion.
"What did I do?" he asked incredulously, and the doctor sighed before waving a finger at him.
"All you're going to do is tweak that shoulder while it's trying to heal." he warned and the archer gave a slight groan.
"Bruce, come on, it's not like I'm going out there for a work out. I'll be easy on it, but I don't know about you, but I don't want it getting stiff." Clint said before amusement flashed in his eyes and he continued slyly as he made for his room to change. "If you want to keep an eye on it, you'll just have to come with us."
"Well played." Tony said appreciatively, giving Clint an impressed blink. "We should conspire to get them to do stuff more often."
"We should." Clint threw his agreement over his shoulder, disappearing down the hall, but not before he heard Steve give an exasperated sigh, and Thor's loud voice speak up.
"Friends, I believe I will join you on your day of beach." the demi-god announced, and Tony's excited voice trailed off as Clint got further away.
Unsurprisingly, within the hour they'd all, including Pepper, made their way down the cliffs on the side of the mansion to the sandy beach below. Tony had managed to find a volleyball net that had been used during various parties before, and Thor carried it easily with them while the billionaire himself twirled the ball in his hands and talked excitedly to Clint, who was walking beside him with a raised eyebrow.
Bruce noticed that once they had actually gotten down to the beach that Tony had positioned himself on the far side of the sand, about as far from the water itself as he could without making it obvious that he was trying to avoid it. Even so, after the conversation they had had, he knew what had to be running through the billionaire's mind. Keeping his expression blank, Bruce moved to stand at Tony's side, watching with him as Pepper quickly and easily instructed Steve and Thor on how to get the net set up.
Tony's eyes flashed to him for a moment, and Bruce innocently met his gaze, smiling slightly when the billionaire rolled his eyes and muttered something unintelligibly under his breath even as his shoulders noticeably relaxed.
"Okay, so there's what? Seven of us?" Tony asked once the net had been set up, looking around the group with bright eyes. "How are we doing teams then?"
"How about three each and one referee?" Steve asked lightly, sharing a quick, pointed glance with Bruce before looking to Clint.
"I refuse." the archer said sharply in the next moment, having caught the exchange with narrowed eyes. "I want to play too."
"We'll switch out." Bruce offered, knowing how much Clint hated being told he couldn't do something. He'd learned quickly that it was best to offer a compromise. And even that wasn't guaranteed to work, but in this instance he saw the grudging acceptance in his eyes.
"I'll play first." Clint muttered as a sigh, catching the ball that Tony tossed him easily.
They'd separated into teams with only some argument, ending with a final division of Tony, Pepper and Steve against Natasha, Thor and Clint/Bruce.
At the moment, Bruce stood off to the side before signaling to Natasha to serve the ball.
It became quickly apparent as they played, that neither side was afraid of playing dirty to gain the upper hand. At one point, Thor spiked the ball so hard that it dug a trench two feet into the sand. Clint and Natasha worked just as seamlessly playing a game as they did doing anything else. Tony threw around insults, particularly to the pair of assassins that at one point had Steve blushing. The fact that the next time Clint leapt up to hit the ball it slammed straight into Tony's forehead surprised no one and had them laughing.
"Are there fouls for trying to give your opponent a concussion in volleyball?" Bruce asked mildly, even though he was sniggering as well.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Clint shrugged, grinning as he caught the ball that was violently thrown at him from Tony, who was rubbing his forehead with a scowl.
After the first game, Clint reluctantly traded spots with Bruce, even allowing the doctor to check his stitches before they started the next game.
The ache in his shoulder was expected, after all, seeing as it had only been four days since the injury. He wasn't worried about it, nor did it bother him. He was having more fun than he'd had in a while, and he wasn't about to let an injury get in the way of that.
They finished up two more games, each one becoming steadily more bizarre, before Tony stepped back with a sigh as his phone rang, holding it out in front of him and brushing the sand off his hands.
"Platypus! Hey, if you're not busy, you should head over here. We're having a beach day." the billionaire said brightly after answering the call.
'Tony, I am busy, and I'm going to have to ask you to cut beach day a little short.' the Colonel said, his voice strained, which instantly made them all stiffen, especially Tony who frowned. There was a muted yelling and screeching of metal in the background.
"What's the matter, Rhodey?" the billionaire asked quickly as everyone came forward to listen, crowding around the phone.
'Remember the Hammer drone incident?' Rhodes' voice questioned, his tone one of forced innocence that made Tony groan, Pepper gasp and Natasha mutter furiously under her breath in Russian. 'Well, uh, I was doing a walk through inspection of a somewhat similar fleet of robots today at a base, and well, there was a power surge and the computers went haywire and…' he trailed off, but Tony was quick to finish his sentence.
"And now they're trying to kill everyone." he deadpanned, looking around to the team, with a frown and narrowed eyes. "Why the hell didn't you tell me about this before Rhodey?"
'Because I didn't know before.' the other man said shortly. 'Look, we could use some help. There's a couple hundred of these things. They can't fly, but the weapons are fully operational.'
"Sounds like a fun time." Tony said quickly, looking to Steve who quickly spoke.
"Tony, you and Thor fly ahead. The rest of us will follow in a Quinjet. Bruce, while the rest of us get suited up, I want you on the phone with Fury." the Captain ordered quickly and they all started for the mansion again, Tony handing his phone off to Pepper.
"Pep, keep Rhodey on the line until I can connect him into the suit via JARVIS. I'll get a lock on his location and send it to the navigation system of the Quinjet when you get one." Tony told her calmly, watching as she gave a short, determined nod.
"You know, we should probably just ask for our own. All it does is use up more time when we have to wait for one to get here." Clint pointed out as they all more or less sprinted towards their destination.
"We'll talk to Fury about it later." Steve said, before Bruce spoke up, looking to Clint shrewdly.
"Where do you think you're going, exactly?" he demanded, and the archer quickly cast him a sharp look that clearly said not to argue.
"I'm going with the rest of you." he said firmly, his tone as sharp as his eyes. "I know my limits, Bruce, but that Quinjet sure as hell isn't leaving without me. We don't know how strong these drones are, and my explosive arrows will make it a hell of a lot easier to take them out. If nothing else, I can stay up top and call out what I see to the rest of you."
Bruce sighed, clearly wanting to continue, but he could see where Clint had a point. And, it helped that Natasha was giving him a minute shake of her head.
"If I have to put those stitches back in, it's going to cost you." he warned, slowing off from the rest of them as they entered the mansion and giving an exasperated shake of his head to the smirk that the archer tossed back to him.
Within half an hour, Bruce, Steve, Natasha and Clint had loaded onto a SHIELD Quinjet that had been sent directly from the agency's base in L.A. Fury had actually been surprised by Bruce's call, seeing as he had just gotten the information himself. Tony had sent the coordinates for the military base near the California/Arizona border to the jet, and the pilots were currently flying the jet at maximum speed to get them there quickly.
Thor and Tony had gone ahead, and they were waiting from word through the comms. that they had arrived.
Bruce was currently trying not to be too nervous. He wasn't comfortable at all letting the Other Guy loose on a military base, not sure how he would react, even with the threat of the drones and the team present. He voiced his concerns to Steve, who gave him a look of slight understanding before he responded.
"We might not even need the Hulk, Bruce. We'll just have to wait for Tony and Thor's report back." the super soldier told him and the doctor shifted uncomfortably before looking to where Clint was in the process of changing the arrow heads in his quiver to be all explosive, knowing that those were likely all he would need.
"Clint, do you have…?" Bruce trailed off quietly, watching as the archer's shoulders stiffened slightly before he cast a quick glance up to him.
"Yes, Bruce." he said tonelessly, though the nod he gave was less stiff, and more reassuring. He could see the worry that was dominating the doctor's expression, and if he could calm some of it, he would. He did have one of the tranquilizer arrow heads in his quiver, just like he'd promised.
'Iron Man reporting in to the rest of the class.' Steve, Clint and Natasha straightened slightly when Tony's obviously fake chipper tone came through the comms. and Bruce's eyes flashed slightly as he turned to them.
"What's it look like?" Steve questioned quickly, and Tony gave a slight snort.
'Oh, you know, mayhem, chaos, our usual gig.' he said lightly, the sound of Thor's battle cry in the background. 'We should be able to care of this, no problem though. Just got to keep the bastards from busting out and making a break for civilization. I don't think we're going to need to pull the green card, though, so pass the memo to Bruce.' Tony paused and there was the sound of repulsor fire, his tone having hardened when he spoke again. 'We managed to get most of the people out of the way, but there's a few casualties.'
"We'll be there as quickly as we can." Steve said shortly, looking to see Clint relaying the information to Bruce, who looked somewhat relieved.
'That'd be helpful.' Tony said, his tone light again. 'When you do get here, I think I've got something Bruce can do though.'
It was only ten minutes before the Quinjet was getting as close as it dared to the fighting and the four Avengers inside were jumping down into the fighting. Bruce felt the Other Guy rising up inside him, wanting at the metal drones that had turned their attentions to them and started attacking, but he pushed the feeling down with a long, calming breath, looking for Rhodey.
Tony said the Colonel would be waiting when they landed, to take him to the room that housed the computer systems that ran the drones. Tony thought that if he could get the systems back online, he could shut down the drones as opposed to decimating them. And while Bruce thought it was a good idea, he wasn't so sure that he'd be able to do it, not when the men and women that manned the program usually hadn't been able to.
Even so, he walked quickly but calmly to the door where he saw Rhodes, smiling slightly when he saw Steve and Natasha covering him as he went, Clint having already been whisked off to the roof of one of the hangars.
"You look rather calm for the situation." Rhodes shouted to him over the din if the fighting as he slipped inside, nodding to the other man quickly and following as he started down the hallway.
"I have to be." Bruce said simply with a slight shrug, eyes narrowing slightly when they turned into a room filled with computers, four other people waiting nervously inside. "I thought Tony said everyone had been moved to one of the buildings that wasn't in the heart of the danger zone?"
"We've been trying to get the systems back online to shut down the drones." one of the men said, stepping away from a computer station as Bruce and Rhodes approached.
"May I?" the doctor asked, gesturing to the station and pulling on his glasses once he got a hesitant nod in return.
Clint's jaw clenched almost painfully as he strung another arrow and loosed it into the middle of a throng of drones bearing down on Steve, Thor and Natasha.
It exploded moments later, taking out a good portion of the group, and damaging more.
He was only firing arrows when it was strictly necessary, his shoulder throbbing with an intensity he hadn't felt since the injury happened. He could feel that he hadn't reopened the wound; the pain simply coming from the torn muscle that was still trying to heal. That didn't stop him from firing his bow when needed to keep the robots from overwhelming his teammates.
Other than that, he kept his eyes moving, sweeping across expanse of what he could see from his vantage point, calling out strays to Tony, who was running the perimeter.
He stiffened readily when he heard the sound of the roof door slamming open behind him, spinning and rolling to the side just as bullets sprayed out towards where he had been stationed. A pair of drones moved out onto the rooftop, and Clint drew and fired two arrows before they could locate him again, using normal arrows because that's all he had time to grab. Even so, aimed directly at the very important looking cables in the neck, they got the job done, both collapsing instantly.
"The neck is a weak spot." he spat into the comm. to inform his teammates of his discovery and carefully moving back to his feet at the edge of the roof.
'Noted.' Steve grunted in response, a similar sound coming from Natasha. 'How are we looking?'
"Well, the mass you and Widow are dealing with is almost done, but Thor's having a party around the next building, and there's stragglers roaming around that Tony's taking care of." Clint informed him easily, gazing around in another scan of the area and letting out a long breath before firing an arrow down to take care of a few drones at Thor's back.
'Any action coming to you?' Steve questioned next, and Clint made a slight sound of disapproval, eyes narrowing as he watched the super soldier.
"I'm fine, Cap, pay attention to yourself."
Bruce was working furiously at the computer, well aware of Rhodes and the four others watching him.
"Do you still have Tony on the phone?" the doctor asked, turning to Rhodes sharply, the man giving a quick nod. "Tell him that this wasn't a system failure. It was a virus."
He saw Rhodes shocked expression, but didn't respond to it, trying to find where the virus had originated from.
"So you're saying someone did this? Purposefully?" the Colonel demanded, as the four techs whispered heatedly back and forth with one another.
"At this point I can't really tell." Bruce admitted, pausing and turning when he heard the sounds of metal on metal, small blasts coming much closer than they had been previously.
"Hell." Rhodes spat, pulling his pistol, but Bruce highly doubted that it would do much damage to one of the drones.
"Stay here, get down, and put your weapon away." Bruce all but ordered, standing and going to the door, sticking his head out quickly to see how many there were, pulling back in and firmly pushing down the Other Guy when he threatened to surge forward when bullets peppered the far end of the hallway, luckily missing his head. There were at least five of them. "Tell Tony what's going on, and tell him to have Clint get eyes on the building just in case."
He really didn't want to hurt Rhodey, or the others, but he didn't see any of the rest of the team getting to them quick enough.
"What are you going to do?" the Colonel asked, though by the tone of his voice, he already had a pretty good idea. Bruce tried not to be discouraged by the carefully masked fear and wariness in his voice.
The doctor tossed him an exasperated look before fully stepping out into the hallway and smoothly giving way to the Other Guy.
Rhodey watched with unmasked shock and a little fear as the green beast clenched his fists and roared an ear-shattering warning to the oncoming drones.
"Tony, did you hear that?" he pulled himself together quickly and spoke into his phone, that was on speaker in his hand.
'Sure did.' the billionaire's voice was remarkably unconcerned considering the situation.
"What do I do?" the Colonel hissed his question, watching with wide eyes as the Hulk slammed his fists into the attacking drones, completely ignoring the bullets that peppered his skin.
'What did he tell you to do?' Tony retorted easily, before he gave a grunt and there was a clang of metal from his end. 'Trust me, just this once Rhodey. It'll be fine. The Big Guy's got higher priorities, even if he seems to have a hatred of the military; which in his defense is completely justified.'
"Not helping, Tony." Rhodey muttered, though he expected his words were drowned out as the beast in the hallway gave an enraged roar as one of the remaining drones launched a missile at him that was strong enough to knock him back and out of Rhodes' range of vision.
The Colonel froze when the drone then took the opportunity as the missile exploded to turn into the room he and the four techs were currently in. He raised his pistol again and directed a few quick shots to the neck of the drone, giving a grim smirk when sparks flew from the areas he'd hit, only to frown when it became apparent that he hadn't struck any of the vital wires.
The drone lifted its own weapon to retaliate, but before it could, a massive green fist punched through the wall and wrapped around the drone, crushing it almost in two. A sort of smug, but still angry grunt followed as the Hulk released the still twitching and sparking drone, looking not at all affected by the missile he'd been hit with.
Rhodey shook his head slightly, admittedly impressed. Those thoughts were gone, however, when the giant, green rage monster looked in on them, teeth bared in a sort of snarl. He heard on of the techs crouched behind him breathe a curse, but he personally remained completely still, staring after the Hulk in amazement as he turned away with a snort and crashed his way out of the building.
'Rhodey, how're you doing?' Tony's voice came from over the phone in his hand, drawing him out of his shocked silence and casuing him to look down.
"Fine. I think he's going to you guys." he responded, forcing a level tone into his voice despite his disbelief.
'Oh good. This should be taken care of pretty quickly.' the billionaire's tone held a slight edge of 'I-told-you-so', but Rhodes couldn't find it in himself to mind.
Clint gave a slight smirk as he walked out of the hanger he'd formerly been perched on the roof of, just as the Hulk smashed the final two drones into their own little crater. He moved to stand with Tony and Natasha as Steve spoke, requesting that Thor and the Big Guy start piling up the scattered pieces of the drones so the resulting cleanup would be a little easier.
The Captain himself then moved to let the base's personnel know that the fight was over while Tony called in the SHIELD response team that was waiting a mile or two out.
That left the two assassins standing together near the center of the base, looking each other over critically.
"Your shoulder?" Natasha asked briskly as Clint collapsed his bow and slid it into the slot on the side of his quiver, using his left arm for the action as opposed to his right as he usually would.
"Throbbing like hell, but I'm fine." he told her dismissively, rolling his eyes as her unconvinced expression. "Tasha, I only did what I absolutely needed to."
"We could have managed without you once." she retorted making his eyes darken, which in turn made her drop the subject, turning away with an annoyed huff as SHIELD vehicles pulled smoothly into the center of the base.
Barely ten minutes later, Clint called out to the Hulk at Steve's suggestion, seeing as both SHIELD and military personnel were getting edgy with the Big Guy's presence.
"Cupid." the big, green rage monster looked vaguely pleased to see him, lumbering over and crouching down to be more on the archer's level, not that it made much difference. Even so, the sight was comical, and Clint grinned in response.
"Hey Big Guy, how's it going?" he asked and the Hulk snorted dispassionately. "Still no small talk today, huh?"
Especially since their interaction during the fiasco with Ross, Clint had pretty much taken over dealing with the Hulk, which had very nearly made Tony jealous. The archer still occasionally teased him about it, seeing as the fact remained that he was the one that found it easiest to engage the Big Guy in actual conversation, not that it ever lasted very long.
"Cupid hurt?" Hulk asked instead, tilting his head slightly in what had become his customary after-battle question. Clint didn't know why he felt the need to ask if he was hurt every time, but it certainly didn't bother him.
"Nah, Big Guy I'm fine. I've got to say though, you aren't going to fit on the Quinjet. How 'bout we get Bruce back?" the archer asked, completely aware of two SHIELD agents watching his interaction with the Hulk but ignoring them.
Hulk grumbled slightly but stood, moving to step behind one of the buildings to change back to Bruce. As he walked away, Clint turned slightly to pull the rolled up pair of cargo pants and t-shirt Bruce had asked him to hold from where they had been secured to the bottom of his quiver, ears perking slightly when he heard the two younger agents sniggering at him.
"Hey Cupid!" one of them called as a condescending laugh, and Clint felt his eyes narrow and he slowly looked around to face them, eyes flashing dangerously, but his expression otherwise blank.
The amusement died almost instantly from the young man's face at that expression, and on top of that, the Hulk gave a snarl and cleared the space between him and the two agents in moments, looming over them threateningly.
"Hey, Big Guy, take it easy." Clint said quickly, his annoyance forgotten in worry, stepping quickly forward, hand moving back to grasp the arrow connected to the tranquilizer. The last thing he wanted to do was use it and give Bruce any more fuel for his constant worry, but letting the Hulk smash two newbie agents wouldn't be acceptable either.
"Only Hulk call Cupid. Not little man." the big, green rage monster snarled down at them, who were now almost crying out of terror.
Had the situation been a little less serious, Clint would have died laughing. And if this ended well, as he expected it to, he would later. He saw Tony hovering a few feet away, mask raised and expression torn, but the archer just gave him a short shake of his head before speaking up the Hulk.
"Alright, I think they get it, buddy." he said reassuringly, patting him lightly on the arm. "The little man won't call me Cupid anymore. Will you?" he tossed the question out to the agents, who both quickly and wordlessly shook their heads.
The Big Guy snorted and took a small step back and Clint let his hand fall from the arrow and he gave a smirk.
"Go on now. The Quinjet isn't getting any bigger." the archer urged, his smirk widening when the Hulk gave his own vicious smirk and continued behind the building again. Once he was out of earshot, Clint turned to the two openly terrified agents and smoothed his expression into the same dangerous one he'd given them a few moments before. "You call me Hawkeye, chuckleheads. Any variations from that, and you'll be seeing me during your next sparring evaluations."
"Y-yes, sir." one of them stammered before they both scampered off, towards another grouping of older agents, some of which Clint recognized, who were also quick to let them know how utterly stupid their comment had been.
Clint turned to Tony as the billionaire approached him from the side, eyes now bright with barely contained laughter.
"Tell me that you got the on some video feed." he said, grinning widely when Tony's eyes too brightened with mirth.
"Of course I did. I'm thinking of throwing that in with movie night later." he said as if it was obvious, but before Clint could respond, Bruce's head stuck out from around the corner.
"Sorry, Bruce." the archer said quickly, moving closer and tossing the doctor the roll of clothes, which the older man reached out to catch gratefully.
Within a minute or two, he joined them, looking weary and exhausted though that was typical for him after a change.
"Nothing bad happened did it?" Bruce asked almost warily, looking around the base carefully.
"Nah. Everything was as kosher as a fleet of killer drones going ape-shit on a military base could be." Tony said flippantly, and Bruce gave him a muted glare, but said nothing else.
It wasn't long before they were joined by Natasha, Steve and Thor, the Captain speaking as he walked up.
"Are we ready to get out of here? SHIELD and the military are taking things from here." Steve informed, looking around at them all critically and giving a slight nod to himself after confirming that no one was hurt.
"I second the motion." Tony said quickly, starting for the open Quinjet that was waiting on the outskirts of the base, only to pause when Rhodey walked up. "Hey, Rhodey, you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine Tony. We've just got one hell of an investigation to start up." the Colonel said, before sweeping his eyes across the group and settling them onto Bruce. He then took a small step forward and offered his hand to the doctor. "Thank you, Dr. Banner. And I hope you'll forgive me for my attitude."
Bruce gave a blink of surprise, staring at the offered hand for a moment before he shook it hesitantly and gave a small smile.
"It's alright." he assured easily. "You're welcome."
Rhodes nodded quickly, looking to Tony again as the billionaire spoke.
"Listen, once your involvement in this fiasco is over, feel free to come by for a drink. Or five. I think we could all use it." Tony said matter of factly and Rhodey snorted, clapping him on the shoulder as he turned to walk away.
"I'll see what I can do."
Once they got back to the mansion, Pepper rushed up to them and immediately wrapped her arms around Tony, surveying him quickly.
"Thank God you're alright." she murmured, and he just gave her a bright grin, kissing her forehead lightly.
"I'm fine, Pep. We all are." he assured her, and at that moment Bruce took Clint by his good shoulder and steered him to the table, the archer not resisting even if he did give a slightly exasperated sigh.
"I didn't rip it open Bruce. The muscles are aching, but that's it." he told the doctor easily, allowing him to pull the tank top that he'd worn under his suit to the side to get access to the injury, seeing as he'd taken the vest off on the flight back to the mansion.
The doctor gave a quiet snort as he gently felt around the area for any heat or swelling, frowning when he saw the archer stiffen with the touch.
"Ice it and rest it." he more or less ordered with a sigh, giving a slight shake of his head. "And while you're at it, stop being so stubborn."
"Sorry doc, no can do on that one." Clint smirked, moving to set the things he was carrying down on the table so he could grab one of the ice packs from the freezer.
"Pity." Bruce said lightly, before turning toward the hallway that led to their rooms. "I'm taking a nap. Don't bother waking me up unless something explodes, spontaneously combusts or otherwise endangers the health of pretty much everyone but me. I'd like to be awake when those things cause me to turn into a giant, green rage monster."
"Bruce, has anyone ever told you that you become wonderfully amusing when tired?" Tony asked curiously, throwing his arm around the doctor's shoulders as they both walked down the hall.
"I've heard bitingly and morbidly sarcastic." Bruce corrected tonelessly, which just caused the billionaire beside him to laugh.
Steve followed, slowly shaking his head and casting an amused glance to Thor who was walking beside him. Natasha stepped up to Clint, murmuring quietly that she'd take a shower and be back out to sit with him in a few minutes.
Clint couldn't help a slight grin as he watched them all go, before turning toward the kitchen, only to see Pepper offering him an ice pack already wrapped in a dish towel with a knowing grin.
"Thanks." the archer nodded to her gratefully, sliding down into a chair and holding the ice pack to his shoulder with a quiet, relieved sigh.
"You know, I wouldn't have minded company." Pepper told him matter of factly, looking him over with an expression that was both concerned and kind. Clint just gave a slight smile that in hindsight looked more like a grimace.
"I'm fine. Besides, I couldn't let them go out and have all the fun." he responded lightly, and she gave a slightly exasperated sigh, but nodded acceptance.
"Alright. Let me know if you need anything, I'm doing some work in the living room." she told him before walking away.
Clint turned to the table and closed his eyes to sit in silence for a few minutes, letting the cold from the ice pack soothe his aching shoulder. Only a few minutes later, he opened his eyes again as he heard who could only be Thor approaching behind him, the demi-god's footsteps loud and obvious.
"How do you fare, Friend Hawk?" the blonde Asgardian asked lightly as he took a seat on the archer's right, his armor now replaced with his customary 'Midgardian' clothes: jeans and a t-shirt.
"'M fine, Thor, thanks." Clint said briskly, giving his head a quick shake to clear it, meeting Thor's almost amused gaze.
"The trust and bond between you and Lady Natasha is clearly one born of fire." the demi-god changed the subject seemingly randomly, and Clint looked at him quizzically, waiting for him to continue. "The strongest of bonds, especially between warriors. And yet, even to her you under exaggerate your injuries. Why is that?" his expression was tinged with concern now and Clint felt himself stiffen, suddenly finding the tabletop very interesting.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." he said lightly, though he mentally cursed himself. Thor was a born warrior from a warrior-race that had probably seen centuries of battle. He could probably read a battle injury better than any medic or doctor alive.
"You believe we will think you weak? Suddenly unable to perform your duty permanently due to one short absence because of injury?" the Asgardian questioned, ignoring his words and leaning forward slightly. "Human you may be, but I do not believe 'weak' is a word that anyone would use to describe you."
Clint didn't verbally respond for a few moments, suddenly wondering why people had the assumption that Thor was all brawn and no brain. It was certainly far from the truth, which he was currently exhibiting very well.
"I can handle it." he said eventually, looking up to meet the demi-god's gaze. "Why should I bother everyone else with my problems?"
"It is not a bother to any of us to see to the well-being of a teammate." Thor pointed out wisely. "You have nothing to prove to us, Hawk, and you should not feel inclined to act as though there was."
"Feeling philosophical today, are we?" Clint questioned with a raised eyebrow after another short stretch of silence, causing Thor to smile.
"Maybe a little, my friend. I have noticed you behavior in the past and saw fit to bring it up now, between the two of us. An injury is the mark of a warrior, no less." the demi-god said firmly, and Clint snorted.
"And how often do you come out of a fight with more than a few bruises?" the archer asked rhetorically, and Thor smiled again, this time with a chuckle.
"I will admit, not often here on Midgard. When I was younger; more reckless, on Asgard, my trips to the healing room were often. To be able to fight through one's own pain is an ability even many warriors lack. I am proud to fight beside you."
"Thank you Thor." Clint said with a slight nod, feeling more than a little humbled.
"No thanks are needed when the truth is spoken." the demi-god said, before he brightened slightly and tilted his head to the side in curiosity. "I have shared many tales of my past battles, but I wonder if you would be willing to share some of your own with me."
Clint gave a slight shrug with his left shoulder and a nod, eyes brightening slightly as he tried to decide what to tell him.
He'd gotten half-way through a description of one of his tougher missions in Cairo when Natasha joined them, moving a chair to sit behind the archer's injured shoulder replacing his hand on the ice pack with her own so he could rest his arm.
And there we have it. Hope it lives up to all of your expectations. I will try my hardest not to make you guys have to wait so long between chapters next time.