Warnings: colorful language, fluff.
My beta, irite, is amazing and fantastic and fabulous.
I do not own The Avengers.
Steve quickly explained what Fury wanted them to do with the hostage situation (namely bust in and rescue the hostages if their captors refused to release them within the allotted time parameters). Then he looked around the room, sizing them all up. "Okay, I want Tony, Natasha—"
Tony, regardless of the situation, couldn't pass up an opening like that. "Aw, Cap, I know you want me, but you don't have to be so forward—"
Natasha interjected, "Is this really the time, Stark? We need to plan—"
"I do not understand. What exactly is it that Director Fury wishes of us?" Thor inquired loudly to the room at large, having ignored Steve's explanation in favor of stuffing his face with pizza.
Steve patiently started to explain again, with frequent (and unhelpful) interruptions from Tony.
About halfway through (when it became clear Tony had no intention of ever letting Steve finish), Bruce raised his hand.
Natasha snorted—that was so much like him—and it caught Steve's attention. He glanced over at her, and she pointed towards Bruce. Steve swiveled his head around. "Bruce?"
"Sorry to interrupt," he apologized, even though Steve looked grateful for the break, "But I was thinking...maybe I should stay here?" He glanced over at Clint, who was sitting on the couch (Sulking, Natasha thought) with his arms crossed tightly across his chest. "I mean, I don't think I'd be much use in a hostage situation...might make things, um, awkward. You know. Smashing and all. Not very diplomatic."
Natasha admired his tact. Clint would rail against the idea of a babysitter—even if that's what she'd been doing for days, more or less—but the way Bruce volunteered to stick around with him was subtle (and self-deprecating) enough that he couldn't really argue without insulting Bruce. Of course, Clint knew what was up—Natasha could see it in the tension in his shoulders—but she knew he wasn't going to say anything. No, he'd just stew.
"I think we're past diplomacy at this point," Steve mused, "But you're right. I was thinking you could sit this one out. We're aiming for quick, in and out. Minimal damage to persons and property." He glanced at Clint. "Could really use—"
Natasha glared at him, cutting him off. She knew that Steve really wished Clint could come on this mission—minimizing damage was kind of his thing. At the same time, there was no point in stating the obvious—that he couldn't. And it wasn't like Clint wasn't already dwelling on how 'useless' he was at the moment. She wasn't going to help him out with it. She had a different plan.
Wisely, Steve took the hint and changed tactics. "So, the plane leaves in an hour. Everyone suit up and meet me in the garage."
Tony shot him an incredulous look. "Yeah, Cap, I don't suit up and then drive. Not the most comfortable, you know?"
Steve paused for a moment, and Natasha got the distinct impression that he was counting to ten in his head. When he spoke, he sounded nonetheless irritated. "Okay, suit up and meet us there, then, Tony, honestly, do you have to be so damn difficult?"
"But then I have to spend like, forever on a plane," Tony whined exaggeratedly. "Taiwan is on the whole other side of the planet!"
Clint huffed a small laugh, like he was trying hard not to, and Tony smirked. Clearly, he'd gotten the reaction he'd been looking for, both from Steve and Clint. He leaned over towards Clint and stage-whispered, "Gotta get my fun in somewhere, don't I? Cap's way too much fun to play with." Then, standing, and with a jaunty wave to Bruce and Clint, he said, "Catch you kids later," and sauntered out of the room.
Steve looked between Natasha, Thor, and Bruce with an expression of long suffering. Then he addressed Thor and Natasha, "Meet me downstairs in fifteen minutes?"
"Of course," Thor agreed amicably, abandoning his pizza. He bade the others farewell and followed after Tony. After Natasha's affirmative nod, Steve headed that way, too.
Natasha sauntered over to the couch where Clint was apparently enthralled in listening to the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Or he was just sulking and refusing to acknowledge her presence.
Either/or, really. But she thought she knew which one it was.
"Hey," she said, and Clint inclined his head towards her very slightly, crossing his arms more tightly over his chest. Okay, so he was definitely sulking. "I was thinking, I'll call you before we land to—"
"To what?" he cut her off. "Make sure I didn't walk into a wall while you were gone? Fall down an elevator shaft? Christ, Nat, I'll be fine!"
Across the room, Bruce raised an eyebrow and looked, momentarily, like he'd rather be just about anywhere else. Natasha rolled her eyes, resisting the urge to slap Clint upside the head. This shit was getting old, as understandable as it was. Hell, getting out of the building to take care of some damn terrorists might be a nice break. Instead of giving voice to that thought, though, she ground out, "Sure you will. But that's not what I was going to say."
He turned his head to face her fully, but said nothing for a moment. Then he sighed, "I just keep fucking this up, don't I?"
Natasha was inclined somewhat to agree, but then she sighed too. "No. You don't." There was a lot she wanted to say—about how he was a part of a team, now, and even though he was determined to do everything alone, he didn't have to. Maybe even couldn't. But that undoubtedly fell under 'pep talk,' and she'd promised (threatened) that she'd do that later. In lieu of that, she offered, "I was going to say that I'd call you before we landed to see if you have anything you want to add to our plan."
This was, of course, part of her diabolical scheme to help Clint get his head of out of his ass.
Clint looked surprised, like he couldn't fathom why anyone would think he had anything to offer if he wasn't actively participating in the mission. Natasha rolled her eyes. It was time to smack that stupid idea down. "You've been to Taiwan before, you've worked ops like this before, you know what the team is capable of, and I'd like your input before we blast our way in and start taking people out right and left with lightning and repulsor beams."
Warily, Clint said, "Don't you think it'd be overstepping? I mean, it's not my mission—"
"You're part of the team. They're all your missions, dumbass. I'll call you." Natasha left him no room to argue. She figured she'd go over this idea with Steve during the plane ride, but she couldn't imagine him being opposed to it. Getting Clint's head of out his ass could be a group project, like so many of the things they did.
"Fine," Clint muttered, apparently unwilling to argue with the finality in her tone. "Yeah, sure. I'll be here." And then he smirked, clearly deflecting. "I mean it's not like me and Banner are going to go out on a hot date or something. Well...you never know."
And there was the Clint that Natasha knew and loved. Ignoring Bruce's blushing and sputtering, Natasha lightly punched Clint's shoulder and admonished him, "Be nice to him. He's a scientist, you know how awkward they are." Then, more seriously she added, "Shouldn't be gone more than two days, unless everything gets sent to hell."
"Yeah, well, you're bringing Stark into a hostage situation; I'd say that seems pretty damn likely."
Natasha had to concede the point. "I guess I'll just hope." She turned and looked at Bruce. "Don't let him razz you too much, doc. You can always threaten him with Harry Potter."
Bruce smiled. "Noted."
"Okay." Realizing she was stalling (and that it was cutting into her prep time) Natasha brusquely instructed the two men, "Play nice," before slipping from the room.
She hoped they would.
In her absence, Clint and Bruce sat in silence for about twenty seconds before Bruce offered, "Do you want more food? Thor only ate one of his pizzas, and it'd be a pity to let all this...bacon and...sausage and...meat to go to waste."
Well, that sounded like Clint's kind of pizza. Not that there were many types of pizza that weren't Clint's kind of pizza (although some of the stuff he'd had in France had been...questionable). So he answered, "Sure. If, uh, you don't mind."
A moment later, Bruce pressed a plate into his hand. "Brought you a Coke, too," he said, with a clunk that was probably him setting the can on the coffee table. "Need anything else?"
Having people wait on him hand and foot was, Clint thought, completely mortifying, but Bruce did it in such an unassuming way that he could almost forgo the humiliation of it.
"No, I'm good." Clint paused. It sounded like the TV channel was starting over with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. "Actually...if you could put it on any other channel, that'd be great."
This was, it turned out, not something you say to someone who finds things like nuclear physics to be immensely entertaining. Although, in deference to Clint, Bruce avoided the documentary that was his first choice and settled for the Science Channel. It was showing Firefly.
The pair continued on with the dinner that had been interrupted, Clint trying very hard not to resent being left behind (because what the fuck good would he have been anyway?) and trying to get used to the idea that this was very likely going to be his life for the next year.
It had been three days, and he missed missions already.
About five minutes into the meal, Clint felt his cat land on the couch next to him. He set his pizza down on the coffee table in front of him and reached a hand out to scratch the cat's ears. "Surprised you're still around," he muttered. "Figured I'd've given you PTSD or something from being stepped on so many times."
From the armchair he'd settled into, Bruce snorted. "Sounds like it's been pretty rough for him."
"You have no idea," Clint confided. It was way easier to talk about how this was affecting the fucking cat than about how it was affecting him. "I don't know if he was underfoot this much before and I could just see him, or if he's recently got some sort of dumbass cat death wish, but he's just always right there."
Apparently sensing Clint was being disparaging, the cat abandoned him and vacated the couch. Clint assumed he was heading over to suck up to Bruce. After all, Bruce was terrible about spoiling the damn thing absolutely rotten, could not, apparently, say no to the small animal.
"He was probably underfoot before," Bruce said. "Probably, he's confused—he can't figure out what's wrong with you all of a sudden."
Clint had to laugh at that, because, well, wasn't that the question of the hour? "Yeah, him and me both."
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked, careful, neutral.
Clint got the impression that Bruce hadn't been aiming for this conversation, but now that he'd stumbled into it, he was going to go with it. Clint didn't know how he felt about that, but he was the one who'd broached the topic. He started, "It's just, um..." but then he trailed off. Was this really somewhere he wanted to go? But then he decided 'fuck it.' Bruce was, hands down, the easiest person in the Tower to talk to, something Clint had discovered the first night he'd had his cat, when he'd come home beaten to a pulp and Bruce had patched him up. The scientist was just so damn easygoing and non-judgmental that people just tended to spill their guts to him. Clint had noticed all of the others doing the same thing, so he knew it wasn't just him.
Anyway, even if he did sound like a fucking moron, Bruce would never say as much. And, fuck it, he'd probably have some kind of insight. Genius and all, had to be good for something. Well, something other than wrangling Tony Stark and building God-knows-what in his lab.
"I've been a giant asshole today," Clint admitted quietly, conspiratorially, like he was revealing something Bruce hadn't already noticed on his own.
But Bruce, like Clint had expected he would, took Clint's words in stride. "Oh, I wouldn't say that. I mean, it's gotta be hard—"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Clint interrupted. He tentatively reached for his Coke and, when he found it, took a sip. "Nat's about ready to kick my ass, and yeah, that's more or less normal, but she's usually not so, um, obvious about it. I'm driving her nuts, but I can't help it. I just..." he shrugged.
Bruce made a thoughtful noise. "I think..." He stopped, then tried again, "Natasha said that Fury wanted to offer you a reassignment until you're cleared for fieldwork again, right?"
Clint nodded, taking another small sip of Coke.
"Well, what did you think of that?"
That was easy. "It's a nice gesture, but..."
"But you don't think you can do anything else. Not really."
Surprised, Clint cocked his head to one side. "How did you—"
"It's not exactly a huge leap, is it? Three days ago, after you'd woken up, you told me that the only thing you could do was shoot. And now, everyone's telling you that's not true, but you don't agree. Why not?"
This, of course, was the hazard of talking to Bruce. Great listener, but too damn smart for his own good. Asked too many questions. Clint's first reaction was a flash of irritation, but that wasn't fair (and he was trying to be less of an asshole) so instead he said, "Um..."
Why don't you agree?
That was a very good question. The obvious answer was that he really couldn't do anything else, but if no one else seemed to think that was an issue—and not just anyone, but some of the smartest people he knew—then clearly it wasn't an issue. And beyond that obvious answer, he had nothing. So he admitted, "I don't know."
"I think you do," Bruce stated. "I said it three days ago, I'll say it now. You're more than a sniper." He paused, then added thoughtfully, "It's interesting, isn't it? Snipers act alone, for the most part. I mean, sure, you've got a handler, and you're usually part of a team, but when it comes down to it, you do your own thing. You take care of yourself." Clint got the feeling Bruce was staring straight at him when he finished, "And now you can't."
He was right. Of course he was fucking right. IQ that high, he was always right (decisions about messing with gamma radiation notwithstanding). But it went further back than that. Back to the circus. Back to being a pathetic little orphan, abandoned by his family, betrayed by his brother, left alone to fend for himself.
And, like Bruce had said, now he couldn't do that.
When Clint had needed to support himself, to save himself, he'd done the only thing he could. The only thing he knew how. And that was shooting.
For the first time in his life, he couldn't shoot. And somewhere in his brain, 'I can't shoot' was getting converted into 'I can't do anything.'
Added to the fact that, right now, he needed other people in a way that he hadn't in decades, well, was it really any wonder that he was a little fucked in the head?
It made sense, in a 'what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-me' kind of way. It made total, perfect sense.
Clint could feel that his mouth was hanging open, so he reached for his pizza to give himself something to do while he processed the colossal revelation that had just smacked him in the face. He picked up the slice he'd set on the table in front of him and raised it to take a bite.
Bruce stopped him, though, with, "I, um, wouldn't do that."
The pizza still in the air, Clint asked, "Why not?"
"Oh. It's just...your cat's been licking that pretty much since you set it down."
Only slightly revolted (because, honestly, as a pet owner Clint was getting used to this sort of thing), he set the pizza back down and reached for the other slice on the plate. "Is this one safe?" He wondered why Bruce hadn't deemed it necessary to stop the fucking cat from defiling his pizza, but then remembered that Bruce tended to be easily and completely manipulated by the cat's charms.
"I think so..." Bruce answered, hesitant, "But do you really want to risk it?"
Clint shrugged and took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. Then, for good measure (because all of the fucking talking he'd been doing lately had been interfering with his eating), he snarfed the rest of the piece. After he swallowed, he said, "You're right."
"I am?" Bruce sounded surprised, and quickly amended, "I mean, yeah. Of course I am. Wait. Right about what, exactly?"
"This whole thing," Clint waved his arm vaguely, "Is completely new to me, and I have no fucking idea what I'm doing. But it feels like I'm doing it wrong. I've only ever made a living by shooting shit, and I don't know how to depend on other people. And now I've lost one and had to learn the other, and it feels like my whole life is over."
It was way more than he'd intended to say, and completely lacking in anything irreverent or snarky. It left him feeling awkward, so he deflected, "'Course it's not, though. Fury assures me I'm next in line for director of SHIELD. Apparently they hire on a can't-fucking-see basis. Which actually explains a lot."
Bruce chuckled. "Hey, you know, whatever works." Then, more seriously, he said, "And you know, we're not such a bad bunch of people. I mean, we're all pretty screwed up, and some of us aren't strictly human, but you can depend on us. We've all, um, 'got your back.'"
Clint had to laugh at how awkward Bruce sounded trying to give The Pep Talk. "Got it, doc. Now spare me the rest of it. I can't take three of these chats in a day, I really can't." Suddenly, he yawned. "And apparently I can't take being awake for more than an hour or two at a time, either."
"That's understandable," Bruce said. "Head trauma and all. It's what, a sixteen hour flight where they're going, yeah?"
Clint did the math. "Yeah, sounds about right. Well, you can probably shave a couple of hours off, those SHIELD planes can move."
"Okay, so fourteen hours. Get some sleep. Hell, get a lot of sleep."
Instead of pointing out that it was only 9:00, and that he'd recently had a nap that spanned several hours, Clint just nodded. He didn't want to overdo it, didn't want to risk his recovery. And sleep sounded fantastic after the tumultuous day he'd been having.
"All right, let's go, then." Clint stood, and Bruce steadied him with a hand under his elbow. They headed back towards the elevator.
"What about the pizza?" Clint asked, when they were waiting for the elevator to get to their floor.
"Huh? Oh, I'll clean it up in a bit. I'm kind of hoping to get your cat to lick Tony's leftovers in the interim. He played a prank on me the other day—itching powder, of all things, that's not even creative—and, uh, cat saliva seems like an adequate response."
Clint hadn't stopped chuckling by the time Bruce deposited him outside his apartment door.
When he woke up the next morning, he felt...better.
His head hurt less, for one, and that was a nice change. For three days, he'd woken up absolutely desperate for his pain meds. Today, he just wanted them a lot. Definitely an improvement.
But, more importantly, apparently his conversation with Bruce the previous night had sunken in overnight, and the crushing dread and anxiety he'd been dealing with since he'd woken up and realized he couldn't see was just...gone. Well, maybe not gone, but definitely diminished. He actually felt...capable.
That was fantastic on its own. But there was one more thing that made the morning all the more bright and cheerful.
Clint could see.
Okay, maybe not a lot. Really, not a whole lot more than he'd been able to see before. Now, instead of black and grey shadows, he was seeing slightly less black and grey shadows. There were discernible shapes in the darkness. It wasn't much, but it was definitely better.
It was certainly more than pessimistic, all-I-can-do-is-shoot Clint had ever expected.
I might actually get better. I might actually see again.
And so, feeling much, much more cheerful than he had in days, Clint asked, "JARVIS, what time is it?"
"It is 10:04 AM, sir."
Sleeping for thirteen hours had probably helped his mood, too.
With a groan, Clint rolled out of bed. He carefully made his way over to his dresser, where he knew his pain meds were. He stared as hard as he could and, yup, he could barely make out the edges of the bottle. Grinning, he picked it up, shook out two pills, popped them in his mouth, and chased them down with the bottled water he kept next to them.
That done, he made his way to the bathroom.
Getting ready for the day was a lot easier than it had been the previous couple of days, but it still took forty-five minutes before he was presentable (at least, he assumed he was—still couldn't make out enough detail to tell). He was just putting his shoes on (with ample help from his cat, batting at the ends of the dangling laces) when his cell phone started ringing.
Remembering that Nat had said she was going to call, Clint felt his way over to where his phone was plugged in. He disconnected the charger and answered it, "Hello?"
Natasha sounded very far away (which, of course, she was) when she answered, "Hey, dumbass, how's it going?"
Only she could greet him with 'hey dumbass' and sound affectionate.
"Good," he answered. Then, buoyantly, "I think my vision's coming back!"
"That's good," Natasha said, sounding tired. "I've been listening to Tony complain for fourteen hours about how uncomfortable traveling in his damn suit is," in the background, Clint could hear Tony saying something snarky, but he couldn't make it out, "and that got old about thirteen and a half hours ago. I'm kind of hoping he gets separated from the rest of us during the mission and we can leave him in Taiwan."
This time, Clint could make out Tony's indignant, "Hey!"
"Anyway," she went on, talking over whatever snotty tirade Tony was spouting off, "We're about twenty minutes out, and I wanted to go over our plan. Mind if I put you on speaker?"
"Is, uh, everyone else okay with that?" He hadn't really planned on addressing everyone. Especially since he knew this was Natasha's contrived way to make him feel like he was a part of the team regardless of whether he could shoot shit or not. It was completely ridiculous. At the same time, though, he had done a lot of stuff like this before, and because he tended to look at things differently than Natasha or any of the others ('I see better from a distance,' he said, and it was true) he knew he might actually catch something someone had missed.
Breezily, Natasha answered, "Yeah, why wouldn't they be? Look, we want this to go as fast as possible, with as few fuck ups as possible, so just listen to the damn plan."
And again, she was hitting him with the inarguable finality. So he agreed, "Fine." It wasn't like there was anything that could go horrifically wrong with this...probably why Natasha was doing it. Risk-free positive reinforcement.
She was devious.
Natasha put him on speakerphone, and Steve quickly went over his plan, clarifying points whenever Clint asked. When he was done, Clint mused over what he'd said for a moment, then he began, "Well, first of all, you want to keep Tony away from..."
For another ten minutes, they tweaked the plan. Even Tony behaved, apparently thrilled with the idea of getting this over with as fast as possible.
"Okay," Natasha said, off speakerphone, when they'd hammered everything out, "Thanks. We're going to start descending soon. I'll let you know when we're coming home."
Clint nodded, then remembering that she couldn't see him, answered, "Sounds good. I'll be here."
"Dating Banner, I know." It sounded like Natasha was smiling. "Later, Barton."
She ended the call, interrupting the chorus of exclamations in the background that had greeted her remark.
Bemused, and feeling pretty pleased about how Natasha's contrived plan had worked out (even if he knew she was manipulating the shit out of him) Clint stood in the middle of his bedroom for a minute, before sitting back down on his bed to finish tying his shoes. That accomplished, he asked JARVIS, "Is Bruce around this morning?" He wanted to report the vision changes.
"Dr. Banner is in his laboratory," JARVIS answered. "Shall I send him to your location?"
Momentarily, Clint considered trying to find Bruce himself, but decided pretty quickly that could end badly. Sightlessness and science was not a good combination. He answered, "Yeah, please. No hurry, though."
'No hurry' or not, Bruce was knocking on Clint's door five minutes later. Clint let him in, greeting him with, "Hey. Everyone might think we're dating; thought I'd let you know."
Stepping into Clint's apartment, Bruce replied mildly, "Ah. Is that all, or...?"
"Huh? Oh, no. I think my vision's getting better."
That, of course, inspired Bruce to drag Clint down to his lab for a battery of vision tests, at the conclusion of which Bruce declared, "You're right. There's definite improvement in your tracking. Peripheral vision's still pretty, uh..."
"Fucked up," Clint supplied.
"Yeah, that," Bruce conceded, "But from what I read, that's probably going to take the longest to return."
"Still can't say," Bruce answered. "It's a really individual process, depends on the extent of the injury and so on. But from what I'm seeing here, I'd say a couple of weeks."
And Clint's morning was going so well, things were looking so much better, that hearing that didn't even faze him. "Sounds good."
Natasha called around 2:30 to tell him that they were heading home. "Plan went off without a hitch. And you were right about Tony's positioning. You're a lifesaver. Although I'm going to be regretting saying that if he doesn't shut his damn mouth on the way back."
It was good to hear.
Later that evening, Clint got a phone call from Fury.
It was, more or less, a jubilant 'I told you so' type of phone call. Fury had heard about how Natasha had roped him into the mission planning process, and wanted to point out (although in Clint's opinion, it was really more like...gloating) that he'd been right about Clint's ability to contribute to the team in ways other than 'killing shit.'
"I mean," Fury said, "You've been doing it for months, whether you were aware of it or not. Romanoff just took advantage of the situation at hand to pull your head out of your ass. Knew there was a reason I liked her."
Clint sighed. "Yes, sir. I get it. I'm not completely useless—"
Fury interrupted, "Damn right. Wouldn't have stuck you with that group of weirdos if they just needed a sniper, Barton. I've got snipers. But them? Those freaks needed something else."
"Sir, I'm one of 'those freaks,'" Clint pointed out diplomatically.
"Yeah, I know." Clint got the impression that Fury was smirking. "Got word from Banner today that your vision's coming back. Says you could be back to normal in a month or so."
"Something like that," Clint agreed easily.
"But you're still out of the field for the next six months, at least."
"I know that, sir." The reminder didn't rankle. Amazing what a little perspective could do.
If Fury noticed his newfound equanimity, he knew better than to comment on it. "Okay. Well, the team's en route. Should be back tomorrow morning. In the meantime, think more about what we talked about. Six months is a long time to be off duty, full year's worse. I'm not gonna let you waste away 'til medical clears you for fieldwork."
"Good." Fury ended the call.
Clint made his way to his couch and stretched out along its length, kicking his shoes off into the middle of the floor and propping his feet up.
It was going to be quite a while before he was cleared for any kind of work. But between his chat with Banner, and Natasha's mission to get his head out of his ass, well, things definitely looked different than they had even a day ago. Now that he knew why he was reacting like he was, he knew he could stop. Because he knew he could trust the rest of the team. His friends. Needing people wasn't the end of the damn world, and they'd been proving for months that they were, like Bruce said, dependable. They were all screwed up, weirdos, even, but they were his friends.
And even though, for the moment, Clint couldn't fill one niche on the team, he'd damn well find another one. Nat had made it pretty damn clear that she was going to force him to see things her way—see all the different things he could do—and he was already coming around. When she got back from her mission (and had gotten some sleep—he didn't want to talk to her 'til she had—talk about a bad idea), he knew they were going to hash this stuff out together. Probably, the others were going to get pulled into it, too,
Which was fine.
As he started to doze off (he wondered if there was ever going to come a day where he didn't sleep through 3/4 of it), Clint felt his cat jump onto his chest. He opened his eyes and could, just barely, make out the outline of the animal perched on top of him. He ran one hand down the cat's back from ears to tail. Mumbling, he mused, "You know, Cat, sometimes you think you've got all this shit in your life figured out, right, and then you're just wrong. Kinda sucks to admit it, but you are. And sometimes it takes something literally blowing up in your face to get it."
The cat just purred contentedly—he, like all felines, was certainly never wrong about anything.
Thanks for reading!
Writing this much fluff and optimism was taxing, and I'm pretty glad it's over.
Reviews are always appreciated. And by 'appreciated,' I mean lovingly and endlessly cherished.