It took me a moment to realize what was so wrong with the scene. Then again, there weren't a lot of things right with it. There was a solid steel door in front of what I assumed was supposed to be Tony's room, Pepper was standing next to me with still red eyes and a very blank look across her face, and there was someone next to the door with a laptop in their hands.
I just stood there looking at the solid wall and trying to make sense of this. When nothing more seemed to be happening I started "Pepper, where-"
"Tony's behind there" she gestured to the barrier "and he won't let anyone in. I'm so stupid, I should have known better but, ugh the point is that we have to convince him to let us in. Steve he needs us, even if he won't admit it."
Even more perplexed by this, I cast my eyes again over the thick metal door and asked "So, what, you want me to break it open?"
"I doubt you could" Pepper said with a slight frown, as if wishing that I could anyways "that door was made to attempt to slow the Hulk. Who is still in Mongolia by the way, he's on his way back now, but we don't have that much time to sit around and wait, and that's not the point. You can talk to him using that" and she pointed at a small box just to the left of the door, which had a small button on it. "He can't answer though, so we just have to try and convince him to open the door. You and Clint have been with him this whole time Steve, maybe you can say something..." she trailed off with a wistful look back at the door, and I felt almost rude for witnessing it. Pepper was a strong and powerful woman, to see her so hurt like this pulled at a lot of things inside of me.
Still, only one part of that conversation really stuck out at me "What do you mean, he can't answer? Is his throat so badly messed up? That's going to get better though, right." After all, a silent Tony would probably be the end of the world.
"What, oh, no his lungs are healing alright. They cleaned them out, and while he will be short winded for quite some time, maybe an inhaler in extreme circumstances, that will get better." She fidgeted a bit at the end, and I knew this still wasn't the real reason for her discomfort.
That will? "Pepper, what is going on" I finally demanded, since there was something I wasn't being told. Natasha's oddly open demeanor, Pepper's almost weeping form, and why was Bruce being called back in such a hurry?
Pepper sucked in a deep lungful of air, and if I didn't have the hearing that I did, I would not have heard her whisper "They had to remove his leg Steve." She stopped suddenly, and then tears did leak out of her eyes. I just stood there, too stunned to react to the fact that she was openly crying now. "They, what?"
"The infection ate away at the muscle-" she continued in a much stronger voice now that she was stating some cold hard facts "they had to remove it from the knee down. Tony woke up, and when he found out he asked me to go pick up some stuff from the tower, said he was going to fix this. When I came back, he'd barricaded himself in there. I'm thinking he's connected to JARVIS, but he can't get out of bed to respond, and JARVIS won't talk to me so there's no real way of knowing." She finished, and turned pleading eyes to me. "Steve, he still needs medical attention, and he won't let anyone back in, you just have to convince him to let us in." She finally took in a shuddering breath and then the two of us just stood there, staring at each other. Panic began to build up in me as I fully realized what she was asking me to do.
She wanted me to get Tony to listen.
How on Earth was I supposed to do that? He wouldn't listen to Natasha's threatening, he'd hacked his way so that if that guy over there sat there for ten years he wouldn't begin to be able to break in, and Pepper hadn't even been able to pull it off. Tony loved Pepper more than anyone, and she knew him best. He'd laid down his life for her on countless occasions, and now he wouldn't open a damn door for her. What in God's name was I supposed to do?
I have no idea how long we stood there staring at each other, but it finally seemed to sink into her that her presence here wasn't helping. So she marched over to laptop guy, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear. They both got up and walked away without another word. Now without an audience, I finally turned to look back at the barricade.
With sudden determination I marched up to that stupid little button, mashed it down with only just under enough strength to not break it, opened my mouth, and froze. Words had never come to me as easily as the others, at least off the field of battle, maybe we were better off just letting Natasha threaten him until he gave in.
Finally, I just decided to start telling him something I might want to know in his place. "So uh, Clint's doing fine. I'm not a doctor or anything, but you know, he looked okay when I last saw him. Well, he was pale, but that's probably from the blood loss. He was breathing on his own though, so that's good. I don't even know how long ago he was shot, or how long I was passed out I guess, but I'm sure his color will come back."
I stopped suddenly there, feeling rather lame for rambling on the same topic for too long, so I pressed on to the next thing that came to mind, "Pepper's worried about you. Never seen that woman cry, and frankly it's weird. I can understand you kicking the rest of us out, well um, no I can't, but since it's you I guess I can. You know most people don't refuse medical help, but I guess that's just another of your one of a kind features."
Glancing at the door, I was half hoping it would magically have opened with that pitiful speech, and was unsurprised when it remained as solid as ever. Okay, so giving him information he probably already knew hadn't helped, maybe I should distract him. That usually got some good results. Tony was most likely working on some project or another in there, because that's what he did. When he was upset about something, he worked it off in his mind.
"So, I don't actually know what you're working on in there, but um, you're probably updating your suite or something, but it'd be kinda useful if you'd let the doctors back in so that you can get in it again, don't you think? I mean, the press is going to start wondering where Iron Man is, and while we will hold them off as long as we can, we all know you're the media go to guy. The teams going to be just as off balance as you are for a while until we can get this sorted out. Then again, Hawkeye's probably going to be out of commission for a little while to, so we're going to be two team member's short-"
The door suddenly slid open, and I stood there in shock for a moment, afraid to move forward since it might snap shut with me under it. Then Tony spoke up from the bed "You mean that?"
I didn't know which part he was talking about, and it didn't matter, because I hadn't lied once this whole time. My eyes flew to his, and I couldn't stop my mouth from opening in shock. He looked a real mess, they had cleaned his superficial cuts, and the bruises were yellowing out, but the real travesty was the stump of his old leg, propped on pillows, bandaged in thick whites but still clearly ending far too short. On display for anyone to see.
"Tony, you-" I started lamely, and was actually thankful when he cut me off "Did you mean that, about me still being part of the team?"
He still hadn't met my eyes, which were still hovering on the ceiling. His hands were continuing to move restlessly about him, like he wasn't sure of what to do with himself. This was starting to make me more anxious than his silence, since I'd never seen a Stark so awkward. Then his question caught up with me.
"Of course I meant that" I yelped, quickly lunging into the room and at his side before that door slammed back down "how could you think otherwise?"
His eyes flickered to his half appendage before quickly darting back to the ceiling. I glanced around wearily, spotted an uncomfortable looking chair, and sank down into it wearily. I wasn't physically exhausted, but the full impact of the situation hadn't really hit me until this moment. I'd come off scotch free, Clint might have a pretty little scar to show for it later but I was positive there wouldn't be any lasting damage, but Tony...
Heaving a deep sigh, I finally floundered for the words that should have started this conversation "Look Tony, I've seen injuries like yours before. Veterans do not come out of war unscathed, but they do bounce back from it. The strong ones do, and Tony you are strong." I glanced up and was pleased to see that his eyes were now fixated on me, taking in my every word now. So I quickly pressed on in a stronger voice "Hey, if it wasn't for you, we might never have gotten out of that Hell hole. What exactly did you hook yourself up to that led SHIELD right to your location?"
That competent and self-satisfied smirk finally made a reappearance as he stated proudly "Created a beacon for the Iron Man suite that any moron could home in on if they knew what they were looking for. I was hoping SHIELD would get to us faster than whoever was following us, and didn't count on Barton splitting out."
I couldn't help but wince at that, and decided I would avoid telling Clint that as long as possible. I knew he was probably still going to have a guilt trip even after he woke up. Deciding to quickly change topics, I pressed on with the next thing that came to mind "So what were you working on that was so important only JARVIS gets to see?"
What little animation had come back to his face immediately died with those words, and his face turned back to the ceiling, while his hands began there fidgeting once again. I sighed and glanced up as well, hoping some answers to this problem were etched into the smooth tiles above. We stayed silent for so long, that I thought he was done talking to me, but I was afraid to leave. He would probably just shut us all right out again, so I had to think of something. When he finally did speak up, he brought up the last subject I expected. "You know I expected this to happen back at the river. That's why I decided to tear apart the suit, I accepted that I was no longer going to be of any use to the team, but I was going to get you guys out of there first."
He paused to take in a rattling breath, and though it wasn't as heavy as I remembered them being, it was clear his lungs were still bothering him greatly. Still he pressed on before I could "So when I woke up in here and realized just how horribly right I was, I just didn't want this at all. I got everyone out and was determined to lock myself in here until the rest of my leg grew back or..." he trailed off unsteadily, and I made a face at what that or was. Very glad he didn't finish.
"Tony-" I tried again, but he pressed on, seeming determined to get this all out of him, "Then JARVIS spoke up. Yeah, my AI actually got me to see since, there's a first, and he pointed out that my arc reactor, while Pepper put the new one in herself, should be checked to make sure it was still functioning normally, it hit me! Hello, I made a machine to run my heart, the most intricate part of my body, half a leg should be easy after that."
His eyes finally met mine then, and I saw a combination of things there. Excitement being the dominant one, but also a little bit of something else that took me a moment longer than it should have to pick up on, fear. I wasn't sure what the fear was for, maybe he thought it wasn't going to work, though I sincerely doubted that. Maybe he was afraid of the long months it would take to complete this, and how his life was going to go in that meantime. We could all help him cope with that. Perhaps he still doubted his place on this team, which was preposterous. So I said the one thing I knew could erase all of those fears in one.
"The Avenger's stand as one, and we will all help to make sure that's exactly what happens."
It seemed to work, as the old Stark finally came back to life, and he pulled up what I took to be his new leg, though to me it was a 3D image of a bunch of wiring hovering over his bed. He began blabbering away, and though I took in about two percent of it, I still smiled at seeing my friend back once again. At one point Pepper came back around the corner, and the brightest smile I'd ever seen crossed her face as she took in the sight before her.
She came back a few minutes later with some snacks, and a bottle of pills. Stark was so into his project that he paid no mind to what entered his mouth, so this time it was easy enough to get those down. Clint woke up soon after, and he and Natasha soon made their entrance as well. Natasha and Pepper got into a deep conversation with each other while keeping one eye on Tony, making sure he didn't pull something stupid while he thought we were distracted, and talking about physical therapy, I think. They mentioned doctors and appointments a lot.
So I leaned over to Clint, and first asked how he was feeling. Said he was sore, which roughly translated to just been through hell and back, but he was still up and about so that said something. Then I gave him my stern, no nonsense face and finally demanded the one thing that was still bothering me since I'd woken up "Why did you come to rescue me when Tony needed the medical attention?"
He turned startled gray eyes to me so fast that I noticed a minute discomfort on his face, but it quickly passed as he answered "Thought Pepper or Tasha would have told you, we got Tony out of there first. I was climbing out of some stupid tree, dragging Stark along, and heading for the safe house when SHIELD, caught up with us. They got Tony to medical and Natasha and I started to try and figure out where you could have been taken. It was only when we looked at a map did I notice something odd about the safe house I was leading us towards, it was a fake. The map that I had seen and the one Natasha had didn't have the safe house in the same location, so that's when I knew that the same guys who blew up our truck probably somehow got that faulty info into our system as well. Pretty sure someone's already dead for it, though thankfully it's not us."
I nodded my consent, okay that made some sort of sense, but "Why me? Why were they so after me?" After all, they'd had the chance to grab Hawkeye, the world's best marksman, or Tony Stark, the genius mechanic. What did I have that they wanted so badly? Or worse, what did they take from me?
Clint's face clouded over with such a dark look, that I felt a shiver go up my own spine. His eyes flickered to Tony's almost missing appendage, then to the scar's that probably still littered my face, and finally flickered down to his own side. "That, my good Captain, is a mission for another time, when our team is whole again."
I so greatly apologize for the long long wait on the final chapter, I got hooked on a new game, plus I had to rewrite some stuff when I injured Clint, which sadly condensed the last two chapters, into this last chapter. Still, hoping you sincerely enjoyed.
Just the epilogue left, maybe. Not sure if I'm even going to post the Epilogue or save it for the first chapter of this sequel. Either way, that's this story done. I sincerely thank each and every reviewer, favoriter, and subscribers of all kind, you are what helped make this fic complete. Hope you enjoyed this, and the more to come.
P.S. Some of you might be mad at me for doing that to Tony's leg, but it won't make a great deal of difference I feel, as he's made his own suite of armor! A prosthetic leg should be child's play to him after that. It just bugs me when I see things similar to this, where they walk around with broken whatever's for days on end, and end up with no permanent damage. Steve's super healing would have prevented that from happening to him, Clint got his treated fast enough, but Tony did spend several days, in hell, with an infection. Just saying, people in real life would not have gotten away with that scotch free, and I do try and make these as realistic as possible.