Author's Note – Nope, still not mine. However, I did have a beta for this chapter! Thanks to indynerdgirl! (Errors are mine.)
A Foundation is Rocked
Darcy watched Clint and Tasha edge past Pepper. They gave her identical questioning looks. She shook her head, eyes falling closed for a moment. Twins. She opened her eyes once more. "I need you two to stay calm, okay?"
They exchanged glances before Clint stepped up to her. "Baby," he said, taking her shoulders in his hands, "that's never a good sign."
"I know," she replied. She moved forward and rested her forehead on his chest, her hands moving to his waist. He wrapped his arms around her. She felt his hand brush down her hair and the rhythmic motion soothed her.
"Darcy?" Natasha's voice redirected her attention to the room.
Darcy sighed and pulled back. "Right." She gestured. "You better sit down." Clint started to protest, but she shook her head. "Please? I need to pace." The two agents exchanged glances once more before sitting down. She had to smile. 'Sitting' might be the wrong word. Tasha perched on a barstool, while Clint rested a hip on the arm of the couch. She shrugged. "Close enough."
"So, what's going on?" Clint asked as she began to walk in the small space between them.
"Before we left for New Mexico, Steve asked me to help him look into his friends from before," she started.
"Didn't Fury give him the files?" Tasha asked, a brow hitching up in question.
"Yeah," she nodded. "He said they felt…incomplete. He seemed to think something was missing." Again she watched them exchange looks. "Guys, freaky telepathy thing later, okay?" Clint gave a soft snort as Tasha smiled. Darcy huffed out a breath. "Anyway, while we were gone I had JARVIS look into it. I didn't realize I needed to set parameters at the time, so he went into default-mode."
"Stark's limits," Tasha noted. "Or lack thereof."
"Yep," Darcy nodded. "He went looking into SHIELD's files." She lifted her hands in a helpless gesture. "I'll know better next time."
"He found something, didn't he?" Clint asked, fixing her with a serious stare. He took her hand, pulling her to a stop. "You're worried. He found something he shouldn't have."
"Oh, he totally did," she answered, her hand tightening around his.
"Was he caught? Are you in trouble?" Tasha asked, glancing around as though expecting to see agents approaching. "Is that why you asked us to stay calm?"
Darcy shook her head. "SHIELD didn't notice his search." She bit her lip. "It's what he found that's the problem." She gestured to the screen as it flickered on. JARVIS opened directly to the camera on the patient's face. Clint froze. Tasha cursed. She started to back up, to let them have a moment, but Clint's hand tightened around hers.
He stood up, eyes never leaving the screen. "Phil."
She winced as his voice broke. It held pain, anger, betrayal, all wrapped up in desperation as if he was afraid to believe what he was seeing. She moved closer, trying to give him an anchor point, something to hold on to as he continued staring at the picture of Coulson in that hospital bed. He let go of her hand, only to wrap his arm around her waist and haul her up against his side. She put her arms around his neck, but looked around him to Tasha.
Anger, clear and bright, burned in Tasha's eyes. Her eyes flickered from the screen to Darcy before deliberately shifting to Clint and back. Darcy gave her a tiny nod. Oh, Tasha got it alright. No matter what else he had done, no matter why he had done it, Nick Fury had done the one thing neither of them would be able to forgive and forget. By keeping Coulson's condition secret, he deliberately let Clint continue to feel responsible for the death of his only real father figure.
"Where?" Clint bit out.
"SHIELD infirmary, level 5, room 525," JARVIS answered.
Clint nodded. He looked down at Darcy. "I have to go."
"We have to go," Tasha broke in harshly.
"I'm going too," Darcy said, letting go of Clint and turning towards the door.
He grabbed her. "Darcy-"
They stared at each other for a long moment. She watched his expression melt from stubborn to resigned as he surrendered the point. He kissed her forehead and turned her towards the door. Tasha stood there, waiting. She glared at both of them. "Shall we go now?"
They reached the door, but JARVIS stopped them. "Miss Lewis? Mr. Stark has requested that you meet the rest of the team on the south roof."
"The landing pad?" Darcy asked as the two agents changed direction midstride. Clint hauled her along.
"Yes, Miss Lewis."
"Okay, then," Darcy muttered, rushing her steps to keep up.
They exited the elevator at the roof to the sight of the rest of the team waiting for them. Steve and Thor shared the same hard expression of mixed anger and disapproval, while Jane's eyes glittered with wrath. Bruce matched Pepper's look of calm thinly veneered over rage. Darcy frowned in concern when she caught sight of Tony. His face bore the same arctic chill as Tasha.
"Let's go," Steve ordered.
"What the hell happened to the Quinjet?" Clint asked as they walked up to the vehicle.
"It's the A-Jet," Tony told him, voice short and snippy.
Clint tossed a glare over his shoulder, "It's one of the Quinjets, Tony. Why'd you repaint it?"
"Because it's not just a Quinjet anymore, and I don't want us taking the wrong one," Tony responded, his face darkening slightly. "I made some…modifications."
"Such as?" Natasha demanded.
He shrugged. "SHIELD can't track it for one."
"Good," Steve said with finality. Everyone stared at him for a long moment. His strong face looked wrong set in such cold lines, but no one felt like arguing.
Darcy poked Clint in the shoulder. "What are you waiting for, Hotshot? Let's get going."
The A-Jet landed on the helicarrier, and they stalked off. Steve led the way, but Clint and Natasha kept pace one step behind on either side. Even Tony didn't argue with the arrangement. Despite being dressed in civilian clothes, Steve radiated the authority of Captain America, and the two agents had more reason than anybody to be upset. Darcy, Tony, and Pepper came behind them, while Thor, Jane, and Bruce brought up the rear.
Assistant Director Maria Hill stood in the control room as they entered. She lifted a brow in question. "Yes?"
"Director Fury, ma'am?" Steve asked.
Her usually stoic face drew downwards in a slight frown at his cold formality. "In his office." She inclined her head and led them to it.
Jane reached out as they reached the door and drew Hill back. "You better let them go first."
Fury rose, confusion all over his face, as they strode in. Steve stopped, opening his mouth as if to speak, but Darcy slid past him. Shock must have frozen everyone because nobody tried to stop her. She marched straight up to Fury. He turned his gaze down to meet hers.
She slapped him. Hard. Hard enough his head snapped to the side.
"You son of a bitch!" Darcy snarled. Every bit of anger and hurt, for herself, for Clint, for the others, came boiling up in her at that moment. "How could you?"
Fury's face clearly reflected his name as he turned back to her. He drew in a breath, obviously intending to blast her when Steve moved forward. He put his hands on her shoulders, holding her steady, as he glared at Fury over her head. "Shame on you, sir."
Anger and confusion warred in the man's gaze. "I don't even know what the hell you're talking about!"
Darcy could feel the tension in the room ratchet up another notch. She glanced to the side and could see Clint holding onto his temper with every inch of control he could gather. Natasha stood at his shoulder, ready to take action should it prove necessary, but the blank look on her face spoke volumes about her own sense of injustice.
"Oh?" Tony drawled out as he came around the agents, tablet at the ready. "It's a fascinating thing, really. See, Miss Stacked here was looking for some information to help fill in some blanks for Capsicle there." He casually tapped on the screen. "Then there was New Mexico, Jane, and Point Break to worry about, so she had JARVIS running the searches. Since I programmed him, he tends to use my usual methods of searching which are, as we all know, rather thorough, and he came across an interesting bit of information you had not seen fit to share with the class." He gave a deceptively nonchalant shrug. "We were all a bit surprised, startled..." He paused, pursed his lips, and then continued. "Dare I say it? Shocked." With that, he turned the tablet around to show the live security footage of Phil Coulson lying in hospital bed.
Fury's eye widened and then his face went carefully blank. "Agent Coulson-"
"Is apparently still in the realm of the living," Tony interrupted. He tilted his head, somehow combining a blasé amusement with a smoldering anger. "I'm pretty sure that contradicts your previous commentary, Director."
"There was a need-"
"To lie to us?" Pepper cut him off, her voice smooth and hard as any diamond. Its ire cut through Fury's voice easily. "To continue lying to us months after the fact?"
"Is imprisoned," Thor rumbled. "He has not been a threat to you for nearly a half-cycle of seasons. How do you justify your continued deception?"
"Understand?" Steve broke in. "No, I certainly don't. I dislike being manipulated, Director. I seriously dislike being bullied into something, for whatever the reason."
Fury closed his eye and took a deep breath. It was obvious he hated all of the interruptions. It was also obvious he knew he was outgunned. "I don't regret-"
"Oh, that was a bad choice of words," Clint came in softly. Darcy looked at him. His eyes held a burning intensity even as his face went blank. Natasha's face went more remote, now appearing to be nothing more than a mask.
Fury gave them a hard look, but he did not even get a chance to open his mouth before Bruce spoke up. "We'd like to see him now." Fury began to shake his head and a hint of green started to flicker in Bruce's eyes. "That wasn't a request."
A new voice entered the discussion. "Where is he being kept?" asked Maria Hill. They turned to find her staring grimly at her superior office.
"SHIELD infirmary, level 5, room 525," Natasha replied with an arctic chill coating her words. "Requiring level nine clearance for entrance."
Hill tilted her head. "I'll take you."
"Agent Hill-" Fury started, only to cut himself off as every Avenger shot him looks of barely restrained violence. He stood back and watched as his second-in-command led them away.
They entered the room, quietly, cautiously. Every pair of eyes focused on the unconscious inhabitant as though scared he would vanish should they so much as blink. Clint and Natasha moved to the foot of the bed, each laying a hand on his ankle. An unnatural silence filled the air. Darcy's eyes filled with tears. What do you say when faced with the reality of life when you thought it forever lost?
"Did you know?"
Clint's subdued question seemed to hang in the space between the team and Maria Hill. She turned a sharp gaze on him. "No."
He nodded and turned back to his mentor. Darcy slid up beside him, leaving space in case he needed it, but wanting to be close. He reached for her without looking and drew her to his side. She curled into him, resting her ear above his heart. She took comfort from the steady beat. Only a small part of her focused on the conversation going on behind them.
"We can arrange-" Hill started.
"We'll be moving him," Tony decreed quietly. "For all its advanced machinery, this place is a funeral home. This is not where he needs to be." There was a pause, and the near-silent tap of fingers on a touchscreen. "Pepper, arrange this."
Pepper hummed for a moment before speaking. "Yes, I can have this done within forty-eight hours."
"Give them a bonus if they can do it in twenty-four," Tony ordered. "I want him out of here ASAP."
"Somewhere with color at least," Steve commented, looking around. "I always hated these types of rooms."
"We'll have him in the Tower until he's well enough to be without round-the-clock watching," Tony replied. "After that he can come to the mansion."
"If he would like to," Pepper amended.
"Why wouldn't he like to?" Tony demanded. "We're all there."
Darcy bit back a laugh. She turned her eyes up to Clint, but he was still intensely focused on Coulson. She pressed closer. He shook himself minutely and looked down. She gave him a soft smile. "We're going to make this right."
"I know," he sighed. "It's just…" He trailed off.
She wound her arms around his waist and molded herself to him. He buried his face in her hair as his arms came around her shoulders. She could feel the small tremors racing through him, though she doubted anyone by Tasha would see them. Clint had told her about losing his parents, his brother, the mentors he thought he could trust. Coulson had been the one mentor, the one person who never gave up on him. He had been the one handler who treated him as a person, not an asset, not a weapon. Then he had been killed. It had taken out part of Clint's foundation. The gaping wound had just begun to heal. He had just begun to balance his life between Darcy and Tasha with help from the team.
Now here Coulson was, alive, if not well.
Clint's entire world rocked once more.
Neither of them noticed the silence until Steve cleared his throat. "Agent Hill?" He turned towards the woman. "At least two of us will be here at all times until we can arrange for Agent Coulson's move."
She scanned his face, seeing the stubborn set of his chin, and nodded. "I'll inform security." She turned to go, but stopped and looked back at Clint and Tasha. "Barton, Romanoff, I swear I had no idea."
Clint nodded at her and Tasha let her face relax slightly. "We understand."
Hill gave a quick nod and strode out of the room. The team gathered around the bed.
Clint gave a soft snort of amusement. "He'd have loved this."
"What?" Bruce said distractedly as he looked over Coulson's chart.
"Being surrounded by the team," Clint explained. "He worked so hard to get the Initiative pushed through."
Tasha nodded. "He wanted to be there when Steve was due to wake up." Her eyebrow twitched. "He would have been there, but a situation came up."
"You know," Tony remarked, leaning his hip on the edge of the bed, "I can't imagine any situation that would have kept him away."
"Blonsky," she answered. Bruce stiffened, eyes flying to meet hers. She shrugged. "The World Security Council wanted Blonsky for the Initiative. SHIELD disagreed."
"Yeah," Clint shook his head. "Nobody could figure out what the hell they were thinking. Who wanted to deal with that jackass?"
"Hulk was the preferred choice," Tasha noted.
Darcy hid a smile as Bruce's face screwed up in confusion. Even after all their efforts, Bruce still had trouble accepting his place among them. At least he no longer made noises about leaving. If only they could get him to accept that they actually liked him.
Tony's brow furrowed. "So that's what it was." He shrugged when they looked at him. "Coulson's shadow asked me to go be 'consultant' and convince Ross not to loan Blonsky to SHIELD."
Bruce huffed. "Ross would have hated you on sight."
"Oh," Tony grinned smugly. "He certainly did."
Pepper shook her head. "How do we want to divide the watches?"
"Darcy, Tash, and I will take the first one," Clint spoke up first.
Steve nodded. "Agreed." He glanced around the room and at the clock before casting a glance at Tony. "Twenty-four hours?" Tony nodded, so he continued. "That means we'll need four watches, six hours each. Everybody okay with that?" When everyone agreed, his eyes narrowed. "Pepper and Tony can get everything organized-"
"Pepper can organize the transfer and the doctors and all," Tony broke in. "I need to rearrange some things at the Tower so it'll be ready."
"How long?" Steve asked.
"Twelve hours or so."
Steve nodded. "Then Thor and Jane will take the second watch. Bruce and I will take the third, and that will have you and Pepper here for the final watch so you can directly oversee his leaving." He rubbed his chin with one hand. "Clint and Natasha can come back as escorts," he mused. "Thor, would you fly escort?"
"It would be an honor to do so, my friend," Thor agreed.
"Thanks," Steve replied. "Bruce, Darcy, Jane, and I will wait at the Tower."
Bruce held up a copy of Coulson's chart. "Pepper, you better take this so the doctors will have some idea of what they're dealing with. Loki's staff nicked both his heart and a lung."
Clint twitched, and Darcy tightened her arms once more even as Tasha put her hand on his shoulder. Steve caught it. He moved closer to the trio. Clint raised his head to meet Steve's eyes.
"It wasn't your fault." Steve's steady, commanding presence carried into his voice, and Darcy felt something in Clint relax, soften, as though he had needed to hear just those words as he stood over Coulson's bedside.
"My brother…" Thor's voice trailed off and everyone had to glance away from the open wound in his eyes. He cleared his throat. "Loki was always the most capable of us at the subtle forms of…" He glanced down at Jane. "Powers of the mind?"
"Psychic abilities?" she suggested.
He nodded. "It conveys the idea well enough." He looked back to Clint. "There should be no shame in not being ready for such a battle. Loki is far older than you, and has been trained since birth in such powers. That you held him off at all is a magnificent thing."
"I didn't-" Clint started.
"You did," Tasha broke in resolutely. "I have watched the tapes." All eyes turned towards her as she moved around to stand face-to-face with her partner. "You don't miss."
"What?" he asked, bewildered.
"You don't miss," she repeated. "Ever. And yet, from the time Loki took you until I knocked you out, you had four separate shots at Hill, Fury, and me." She tilted her head. "You missed all four." His eyes flickered before they locked gazes in a private conversation.
Darcy turned to look at the rest of the room. "Again with the freaky telepathy thing," she observed, rolling her eyes.
Jane and Pepper bit back laughter while the tension in the rest of the room lightened. Steve gave her an approving look before glancing at the two agents. "Will you three be okay for now?"
Natasha gave him a slight nod. "We'll be fine."
"Right then," Tony straightened and gave Darcy a direct look as he put his tablet down by the bedside. "If we're going to be getting 'Agent' out of here in twenty-four, we need to get started." He began steering Pepper towards the door, but stopped to look over his shoulder. "Miss Stacked?"
"Yeah?" Darcy peered at him curiously.
"Your fellow jazz buff is available if you need something," he responded, giving her a wink before he disappeared.
The others left with quiet words until only Steve remained. He took one last look at Coulson before turning to them. "Contact us immediately if you need anything." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Or if Director Fury tries anything." He waited for their agreement before leaving.
Clint looked down at Darcy. "Fellow jazz buff?"
"J's wired in," she responded, a mischievous grin spreading over her face.
Clint and Natasha shared a long look before turning back to her. Tasha's lips twitched as she held back a smile. "As a SHIELD agent, I simply want to confirm that you did just inform us Stark's AI is wired into the tablet he left behind, correct?"
"Absolutely," Darcy agreed with a winsome little smile.
"Good," Clint approved. "That's what we thought, but we needed to be sure."
Silence fell over the room. Darcy looked around, once more noting the bare walls, the empty window, and the machines. She rolled her eyes. "This sure as hell won't work." She hauled a chair to Coulson's bedside and grabbed the tablet Tony left behind. Scrolling through the menu, she found one of her favorite books.
"What are you doing?" Tasha asked.
Darcy looked back and up at her. "I'm not going to just stare at him for six hours. It's too quiet in here anyway." She tapped the book open. "I figured I read him a book."
Tasha perched on the edge of the bed as Clint pulled Darcy up from the chair.
"Hey!" she protested, but he only guided her around to the other side of the bed and sat her down there. He went back to her original spot. She stared at him for a long moment.
Tasha cleared her throat. Darcy looked at her. Tasha's eyes moved from Darcy to Clint to the door and back to Darcy. She followed the same path before understanding struck. Clint had moved her into the most protected part of the room. She sighed and cast a look of amused exasperation at him before turning back to her tablet. The others made themselves comfortable.
Darcy began to read. "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
Tony and Pepper managed better than expected. They moved Coulson within twenty hours. Fury did try to protest, but between Hill's refusal to back him, Steve's look of supreme disappointment, and the twin expressions of ferocity on Clint and Tasha, he withdrew. Although the tower had its own medical department, which Darcy thought was more a precaution against brilliant but insane scientists than anything else, Coulson's room was located much closer to the labs and the Avengers' private floors. Apparently Tony wanted to keep a close eye on Coulson's recovery, even if he protested the entire idea.
"Don't be ridiculous!" Tony exclaimed. "I did it for Red and Featherhead." He shrugged. "I would have put him on one of the private floors, but I don't want random people having access."
Darcy rolled her eyes, but didn't argue. Tony hated it when people pointed out his softer side. Pepper hated it as well since it tended to jump start his prankster side. JARVIS was still rooting out the "Stark-glitch". Personally Darcy thought it had been hysterical, but she didn't have to deal with the people complaining when their computers started blaring AC/DC and hamsters danced across their monitors.
Coulson's room showed both Tony and Pepper's personal touch. Darcy could see Pepper's hand in the soothing earth tones of the walls and bedding, while the bright posters and knick-knacks were all Tony. A large poster of the Avengers hung on the wall across from the bed so it would be the first thing he saw whenever he finally woke up. Above his bed, Tony installed an autographed photomontage of Captain America with pictures from both eras. Steve had flushed, embarrassed, but he signed it. Two cushy chairs, a couch, and a table complete with computer rounded out the furnishings.
Tasha planted herself in a chair next to the bed as soon as the move was finalized. Clint stood on the other side. Despite the long day, despite their need for sleep, it was obvious they were not moving for a while. Darcy darted upstairs to her rooms to grab a few necessities and came back down. She set up her pillow and blankets on the couch.
Clint looked over at her. "You don't have to stay, Darce."
"Tasha gets four hours," Darcy said as she finished setting up. She turned to face them, planting her hands on her hips. "You, hotshot, are going to come and take a nap."
"I'm not-" he started.
"Don't care," she broke in. "If nothing else, you need to lie down and relax." He just looked at her. "Come on," she coaxed. "I'll lay down with you, and we can just rest for a little while, okay? It's been a long damn day. In four hours, you can sit with him and Tasha can rest."
Tasha gave her a look. "And are you planning on being my teddy bear as well?"
"If that's what it takes," Darcy replied steadily, her eyes never leaving Tasha's. "If you have a different choice, let me know, and I'll have them here."
Tasha blinked at her, bewilderment flickering across her face, but she stayed silent. Darcy gave her a nod before arching an eyebrow in Clint's direction. "Well, hotshot?"
"Four hours," he repeated.
"That's it," she agreed. "You relax for four hours, and you're free to stand vigil again."
"Okay," he assented, rubbing his faces with his hands. "I'll try." She gestured towards the couch, and he gave her a quick grin. "You first."
She lifted her hands in surrender and kicked off her shoes. She wriggled back into the corner of the couch, and he slid in next to her. He shifted her a bit so he could wrap his arms around her while still staying between her and the rest of the room.
Her lips curved in a tender smile as she nestled into his shoulder. "Overprotective instincts in overdrive?"
"I just…" He trailed off for a moment. "I just need to know you're safe right now."
"Yeah," she murmured. "I get it." She rubbed a hand over his chest. "Try and rest for right now. Tasha's got the watch."
He buried his nose in her hair and kissed the top of her head. "I'll try."
The last thing Darcy heard before she dropped off in a doze was Tasha's voice. "JARVIS, lower the lights."