Assembled We Are Strong
AN: This is the final chapter in a story that ended up being much longer than it was originally intended to be, but there you go. I hope you've all enjoyed reading it. I have also written a very short, sort of epilogue to this. It could also be read as a standalone piece, so I've decided to post it separately.
This final chapter finds our intrepid heroes licking their wounds, watching movies and getting back to full health. Clint manages to get one final revelation out of Tony though.
Thank you to everyone who has favourited, followed and reviewed. You've been a fantastic audience to write for and it's been great reading everyone's reviews - it means a huge amount to me.
Tony reported in and described how the Hulk had dug up the final missile and Thor had blasted it with electricity until it had melted into a small pool of liquid metal. They'd stopped the threat. The three of them were on their way back, although Bruce hadn't stopped being the Hulk yet. Tony seemed to think that he was calming down pretty quickly, but they didn't really have a lot of experience to go on for how long it might take for the Hulk to transform back into Bruce.
Natasha checked on Halifax and found that as he'd said, he was bruised but nothing worse. Then she called in a second Quinjet to take them all back to the Tower, because nothing was going to fix the first one. Fury had already sent out a second one because he'd thought that they might need reinforcements, so it didn't take too long for it to arrive.
Clint was barely hanging in there by the time another Quinjet had landed. Natasha and Steve had removed the jet pack which was now just weighing him down. It looked like the weight of the three of them had basically burnt it out. They'd found a smooth rock for Clint to sit on so that he could get off his injured feet. He was in agony and seemed to be finding it hard to get enough air. He tried to hide it, but Natasha knew him too well.
"Agent Halifax, we're going to need the first aid kit," said Natasha, as she crouched in front of Clint. Halifax dashed back to his downed Quinjet to get the medical kit with a quick nod to the senior agent.
"Did you get hurt back there?" asked Clint.
Natasha rolled her eyes. "It's for you, moron." She was giving him an assessing look, sizing up his colour and pupil response, probably deciding how badly he was really hurt. He'd done it to her enough times.
"I'll be fine once we get back to the Tower and I can get some rest," said Clint.
"Yeah, you're not fooling anyone, birdbrain," said Tony, as he came in to land. His face plate flipped back. "Jarvis tells me your heart rate is up and your pulse is up, plus your blood oxygen is a bit low which means you're not breathing deeply enough because your chest hurts like hell."
"Sir, may I remind you that you sustained an injury to your right leg. My limited ability to diagnose the problem would indicate a broken ankle," said Jarvis. Unusually he was broadcasting on the Avengers frequency rather than just talking to Tony. "You are also in pain."
"Yeah, but the suit's keeping it splinted. It'll be fine until the Quinjet can get us back to the Tower's medical facilities, whereas Clint looks ready to pass out here and now."
"Gee, thanks Stark," replied Clint. "You're the one that gave me the jetpack."
"Yeah, I know. It was great wasn't it?"
"Totally," replied Clint, because it had been. Although it was somewhat restrictive to his ability to draw his bow.
"Take a seat, Tony," said Natasha. "I'll get to you and Steve once I've dealt with Clint."
Tony rolled his eyes and limped his way to the rock to take the space next to Clint with a sigh.
"It's just a cut," added Steve. He had dried blood in dribbles down his face, so although it may have just been a cut, it needed seeing to before he scared all the SHIELD agents that were coming to get them.
Halifax returned with the first aid kit, which, because this was SHIELD, was pretty thoroughly stocked with almost anything that might be needed to treat a field injury. Natasha fell upon it, she pulled out the emergency oxygen and the mask that went with it. She slipped it over Clint's head and got it in position over his nose and mouth. Clint was pretty sure that this was overkill.
"Natasha…" the complaint was muffled, and silenced by a look from the redhead.
"Okay, painkillers," said Natasha, rifling through the kit. She pulled out a sterile hypodermic and a bottle of something. "Oh."
"What?" asked Clint.
Natasha showed the label to Clint. He immediately shook his head. He lifted the mask so that he could make himself totally clear. "No way."
"It's all there is."
"What's the problem?" asked Steve.
"Clint doesn't react well to certain families of painkiller," said Natasha. "But that's all we've got, so…" She took the needle and stabbed it into the bottle, drawing up a dose.
"I'd rather be in pain," replied Clint, but he knew when he was fighting a losing battle. "I'm holding you responsible for whatever I do and say until this stuff wears off."
Natasha cleaned a spot on Clint's arm and stuck him with the needle before he could protest anymore.
"Oh this should be good," said Tony.
"That isn't helpful, Tony," said Steve.
"Damn right," replied Clint. He could already feel the light-headedness creeping across his brain. "I hate this stuff."
"Could have been worse, could have been the stuff that makes you sick," said Natasha.
"That is not making me feel any better," said Clint.
"I'll make sure we swap it out for something better next time we re-equip," said Halifax.
Clint's vision was blurring. "Awesome." He closed his eyes because the whole thing was too distracting, but at least his ribs and feet were aching less acutely.
Natasha swapped her attention over to Tony. "Well, I can't stick you with a needle while you're in your suit and your suit is splinting your ankle, so taking it off would probably be a bad move right now."
"It's modular," said Tony. "Jarvis, disengage the right arm, please."
Clint noticed how tired and stressed Tony sounded now. He wondered if that was how he'd sounded himself before the painkillers kicked in. He cracked an eyelid open to see if Tony looked as bad as he sounded. He was just in time to see the right arm of Tony's suit click gently and then open like a clam shell, exposing his bare arm beneath.
"Huh," said Clint. "Kind of like a shell. Or maybe a banana. Actually a banana peel action would have been much cooler." This was why he hated this stuff. The filter between his brain and his mouth just seemed to shut down.
"Sure, Clint, whatever you say," replied Tony, in one of the most condescending tones of voice that he'd ever heard. There was a small, sharp intake of breath as Natasha found a vein and injected the needle into Tony's arm with a little bit more force than was totally necessary.
"Leave him alone," she added, as if talking to misbehaving child. However, Clint knew that she was half teasing from the tone, otherwise Tony would have been in a lot more trouble.
"It's the drugs," said Clint. "I blame the really nice drugs." A warmth was spreading through him and he was beginning to zone out a bit. He moved down onto the ground, slowly and one leg at a time, so that he could rest his back against the rock.
"Cap, do you need anything for your shoulder?" asked Natasha.
"What happened to your shoulder?" asked Tony, before Steve could reply.
"I dislocated it, but Natasha popped it back in. Painkillers probably wouldn't work for me anyway," said Steve.
"Tasha's good at that," said Clint. "There was this one time in Beijing…" He couldn't actually remember what he'd been about to say. He was suddenly feeling like everything was very heavy and the world was just weighing him down with its mere existence. "I'm kind of tired."
"Steve, catch him before he falls over," said Natasha. He had no idea who she was talking about and was too tired to open his eyes and find out.
After that Clint didn't really remember much. There was definitely a moment where he was leaning against Steve and another moment when someone was picking him up so that he didn't have to put weight on his damaged feet. He remembered complaining about that, but otherwise, as far as he was concerned he returned to the Tower in a haze of rainbow tinted sparkles and fuzzy pastel light shows.
He came back to his senses in his own bed, in his own apartment and he felt safe. He ached, but it was a dull ache, masked by painkillers (not the kind that made him loopy, but something more subtle). The room was quiet and he was alone, although there was definitely someone else in the apartment. He could hear the coffee machine being pressed into service, and the light clink of a mug being set down on the marble worktop.
He wasn't sure if he wanted to move. He was pretty comfortable and, for once, the world didn't need saving. He wasn't used to this.
"Jarvis?" he asked, quietly. It was about then that a memory clicked back into place. Jarvis was Tony's AI. Somehow he'd forgotten that but his instincts had been to look to the ceiling if he wanted information, or a new film, or anything really.
"Yes, Agent Barton," said Jarvis.
"Who's in my apartment? Which one of them got guard dog duty?"
"Captain Rogers, although he did not refer to it as guard dog duty."
Clint couldn't help but sigh. It wasn't Steve, it was just that he was once again injured and being watched. He pushed himself gently up into a sitting position and tried not to think too hard about the fact that he was wearing pyjamas which he hadn't been wearing before. He noticed that his feet had been re-bandaged with fresh dressings, and it was only then that he remembered that walking still wasn't really an option.
"Jarvis, where's the wheelchair?"
"In your lounge," said Jarvis. "Shall I ask Captain Rogers to bring it through?"
"I think I can make it to the bathroom," said Clint, although he suspected that he might be wrong about that. He gently put his feet down on the ground, already dreading the moment that he put weight on them. This time he didn't get the chance.
"I heard talking," said Steve, who had quietly appeared in the doorway of his bedroom.
Clint rubbed at his eyes. "How long have I been out?"
"About six hours," said Steve. "And before you even think about it, you're under strict orders not to walk on those feet. They need time to heal."
Clint glared at Steve. "It's only five steps to the bathroom."
Steve shook his head and sighed. "Come on, lean on me. We'll take it slowly."
Clint let Steve help him to his feet and pretended that he didn't notice that Steve sort of carried him to the bathroom. Then the super soldier left him to it, until Clint opened the door again, by which point Steve had brought the wheelchair through so that Clint was mobile again under his own steam.
"How are the others?" he asked, as he sat down, thankfully.
"Tony's got a broken ankle, but it's a clean break so he should be fine in a few weeks. He's already built a mechanical brace so that he can walk on it. It only took him a couple of hours to cannibalise one of his suits," said Steve, with a touch of exasperated admiration. "Everyone else was uninjured, although Bruce is still sleeping off his transformation, I think."
"Except you," pointed out Clint, looking at the cut with the butterfly stitches above Steve's eye. There were obvious bruises across his jaw and cheeks from where he'd fought with the Red Skull.
"Just a scratch. It'll all be healed in a couple of days. It's one of the benefits of my metabolism," said the soldier.
Clint wheeled himself through to his lounge and Steve followed him.
"We do need to have a talk, though," said Steve.
"About what?" asked Clint, turning to face Steve.
"You," said Steve.
Clint regarded the super soldier for a moment and sighed. "I'm off the team, aren't I? I'm not that surprised, I guess, with my PTSD and my memory acting up. And I can't do what the rest of you can. It's okay, I'll be packed up and gone by the end of the day."
Steve was shaking his head rapidly, almost as soon as Clint had started talking.
"Are you kidding me? You saved my life. And Natasha's. You freed us and Thor from the Red Skull and then rescued us from an escaped pod that was about to crash. You took down three missiles with a bow and arrow. Your place on the team has never been in question," said Steve. "I'm just concerned about how little value you seem to place on your own life. This is the second time that you've disobeyed orders that are there to keep you safe in order to pursue a lead."
"And save Washington DC, and my friends," said Clint. "I know that what I did wasn't smart, and I know that I'm going to pay for it in pain and physio sessions and lectures from you and Nat and Bruce, but I couldn't have let the Red Skull destroy Washington," said Clint.
"I know and I understand why you decided you had to be there, but sneaking out of the Tower to chase after Viper was just stupid. You don't need to do this stuff on your own, we're a team. That means we need you to talk to us and not sneak out of the Tower in the middle of the night," said Steve.
"I'm not used to people…" began Clint, but he really wasn't sure that he wanted to finish that sentence or exactly what he'd been going to say. People caring about me? People giving a damn about what happens to me? People wanting to try to be my friends? It sounded pathetic even to him.
He tried again. "I'm used to working alone."
He wheeled himself over to the wonderfully comfortable couch that Tony had installed and carefully transferred himself to it from the chair. He eased his legs up onto the couch and stretched them out. Steve, of course, followed and sat down at the other end of the couch.
"I know. We all are, but when I say to Tony that we need to talk about something, he doesn't immediately assume that I'm kicking him off the team," said Steve.
Clint gave a rather hollow laugh. "That's because Tony thinks that he is the team." Which Clint knew wasn't true, but he wasn't exactly in a good mood right now.
"Stark has an ego, I'll give you that, but he's the one that brought us all together here," replied Steve. "You don't think you deserve to be here. You still think that you have something to prove, don't you?"
Clint shrugged. "All I can do is shoot straight."
"From a jetpack, hovering in the air, with a metal monster bearing down on you and with your friends in trouble. You also have good enough eyes to see Natasha making a stupid jump, and the compassion to be there to stop her from falling. Then there's enduring considerable pain to save your team mates. I know how much broken ribs hurt and you must have been in agony every time you took a shot. So yeah, you can shoot straight, which is amazing enough and I have no idea how you do it, but that isn't all you can do."
"I guess when you put it like that, maybe it's a little more than shooting straight," said Clint. He'd actually never really thought about what he did in those terms.
"You're a valuable member of this team for reasons that have nothing to do with your ability to hit targets. You're also our friend," said Steve. "Next time you're contemplating going after a super-villain alone, let me know. I'll be happy to help you out, we all will. Obviously, I'd rather you waited until you're back to full health, but I know sometimes we don't get that luxury in our line of work."
Clint nodded, finally understanding what Steve was trying to say. Being a member of the Avengers meant never having to go it alone, it meant that you had backup if you needed it. He hung his head for just a second, realising what Steve had just said to him and finding it slightly overwhelming. He felt Steve put a warm hand on his shoulder and give it a careful squeeze. Clint needed the contact. It grounded him and made him feel real. Then the warmth of Steve's hand was gone and he was up and heading for the kitchen.
"Do you want something to eat or drink? Pepper made sure your kitchen was fully stocked, and I know you're not keen on letting people do stuff for you, but maybe this once I could make you a sandwich? Natasha said you might not feel up to food for a bit, but I can make you a cup of coffee or get you a glass of water?" Steve was talking a little too quickly. Clint guessed he didn't do the emotional, heart to heart stuff too often and was feeling a little out of his depth.
"Steve," said Clint, stopping him in mid-flow. "Thanks."
Steve stopped for a moment and gave Clint a small smile. "You're welcome."
Steve made him a sandwich, and although Clint would have preferred to do it himself, it didn't feel quite so impossible to let someone else do something for him. He nibbled at it, but Natasha had been right, he didn't feel much like eating. He probably wouldn't for a while. The painkillers that Nat had given him always left his stomach unsettled. Steve didn't seem to have any intention of going anywhere, and he settled down on the couch with Clint. Steve drank his coffee and they sat in companionable silence for a while.
"Agent Barton, Agent Romanoff is here," said Jarvis.
"Let her in, Jarvis," said Clint.
Natasha wandered into the room and smiled when she saw him. "Are you eating?" she asked, a little surprised.
"Trying to," said Clint, poking at the sandwich. "Not really getting very far. I'll be back to normal by tomorrow."
"And you're staying off your feet?"
Clint just indicated his position on the sofa.
"He's behaving, Natasha," said Steve. "He's resting and he used the wheelchair to get here."
"Good. Erica wants to do an assessment later," said Natasha.
"Something to look forwards to," said Clint, in a tone that made it clear that he wasn't at all looking forwards to it. "Nat, I'm fine and I really don't need to see Doctor Sondheim. I can remember stuff about Loki, Viper and the Red Skull without any pain."
"That's great, Clint, but you're still recovering from meningitis and PTSD," said Natasha.
"Steve made me a sandwich, and I sat here and let him," said Clint, which would have meant nothing to anyone unfamiliar with Clint's particular PTSD related issues. Natasha got the significance immediately.
"You did?" asked Natasha, as if she didn't really believe him. She looked at Steve.
"Yeah, I made it and he sat here," said Steve, now suddenly aware that something important had happened.
"Well done," said Nat, and came around the back of the couch so that she could give Clint a carefully calculated hug. It was gentle and didn't squeeze his ribs.
"Baby steps," said Clint. "I don't know, it's like because I can remember, I know how much I fought his control so giving up a little control of my own isn't so bad."
"It's all good, but you're still seeing Erica." Natasha headed for the kitchen to find her own coffee.
"Agent Barton, you have more visitors. Doctor Banner, Prince Thor and Mr Stark are asking for entry," said Jarvis.
Clint was somewhat surprised. "Yeah, let them in, Jarvis." He could hear Tony complaining as he came down the hall from the front door.
"Why am I suddenly so popular?" asked Clint.
"It might have something to do with the recently coming out of a coma thing," said Bruce. "Then the passing out from overdoing it whilst chasing a giant metal squid."
"And we have a tradition to uphold. Post-near-death-experience pizza," said Tony, leaning on a metal walking stick. He had some metalwork around the ankle that he'd broken. It seemed to include servos that whirred when he walked, very much like his armour. "I've ordered, it's on its way. I got everyone's usual. And obviously we have a few things to talk about."
"It was the stupid drugs that knocked me out, and if you're going to lecture me on going out to fight the Red Skull…" began Clint.
"Nope, I figure Steve already did that, and so did Bruce before we even left," said Tony.
"The battle was well fought," said Thor. "What else is there to discuss?"
"The fact that Director Fury can't ever find out that Clint was there," said Natasha.
"And then there's the small matter of the mole in SHIELD. I've told Nicky twice that he's got a problem and he hasn't done anything about it," said Tony.
"If he hasn't done anything, then it's because he's got a plan," said Clint. "Or he knows who it is and he's using them, because it's kind of obvious who it is."
"It is?" asked Steve. "But you and Natasha went through all the suspects and came up with nothing. I helped."
Natasha got it, he could see from her expression that she'd just mentally kicked herself.
"That's because it's not a person," said Natasha, exchanging a knowing look with Clint for a second. "Of course. I should have seen it before."
"It's not SHIELD that has the mole," said Clint. "It's Stark Industries."
"What?" said Tony. "If I had a mole in my organisation then I'd know about it. My designs would be leaking onto the open market and I've got ways to stop that from happening. Hell, I've got ways to pick up leaks before they even get that far."
"None of that stuff would work because they're not interested in your company secrets. They're only interested in your communications with SHIELD. So you called in the plane to come and pick us up, and you dropped SHIELD the details of your sonar system. Every time you called in a Quinjet, Hydra knew about it and the best part of it is that you were the one that let them in. Isn't that right, Jarvis?"
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Agent Barton," said Jarvis.
"You went looking for the money and you brought back a Trojan Horse," said Clint.
"That is not possible," said Tony. "I have too many safeguards and security programs running. And exactly when did you figure this out anyway?"
"About when I woke up after you fixed my brain and I could start to think clearly. I didn't remember that Jarvis was an AI, I was thinking of him like a person and then it struck me that he hadn't been on any of the lists we looked through. No one thought to look into Jarvis."
"Because he's a computer program," said Tony. "And I just told you, my security is the best in the business. Jarvis, run diagnostics. Is Clint right?"
Tony had already taken out his phone and tapping on it furiously.
"If I have been compromised then I am the last person who would know," replied Jarvis.
"I'm in your code now Jarvis, damn it, this shouldn't be possible," said Tony. "Clint's right. There are subroutines in here that I didn't write, that Jarvis didn't write from his learning algorithms, and they're all geared to listen in to the coms traffic. They've been there ever since I set the Follow the Money program running back in New Mexico. Damn it. This is all my fault."
"You could not have known that our enemy would choose to spy on us this way," said Thor.
"And you were careful," said Bruce.
"Of course, but they piggybacked on Jarvis's own routines that were sending him information from the program," said Tony. "I was an idiot."
"You'll be more careful next time," said Steve.
"But you don't understand, this really, really shouldn't have been possible," said Tony.
"Any system can be hacked with the right lever," pointed out Natasha.
"Not this one," said Tony, he began an awkward turn to leave Clint's apartment. "I need to purge this now and make sure that there's nothing else hiding in dark corners of Jarvis's memory banks. Sorry, but it looks like you'll have to have post-near-death-experience-pizza without me."
"You should probably discuss that with Director Fury first," said Natasha. "I'll set up an in-person meeting on the helicarrier for tomorrow. If he's using it, he won't be happy if you get rid of it."
Tony deflated slightly. "Great, I'm stuck with Hydra in my system until he decides that it isn't any more use, aren't I?"
"Probably," said Clint.
"Guess I might as well eat pizza then," said Tony, limping to one of Clint's armchairs. He unceremoniously collapsed into it. "Although maybe I should offer not to delete it in exchange for Fury turning a blind eye to Clint's involvement in taking down the Red Skull."
"That might work," said Natasha. "Fury likes Clint anyway. He'd never have allowed us to get away with Washington otherwise."
"Fury does not like me," said Clint. "He just happens to need me at the moment."
"Did we not defeat this Hydra when we killed the Red Skull?" asked Thor.
"Hydra – it has many heads," said Bruce. "I doubt they're gone for good, but it's probably going to be a while before they try anything else."
"I think we should watch a film," said Steve. "And have some time off."
"Really? Captain America is suggesting we take time off?" asked Tony, looking somewhat incredulous.
"Six hours ago we were chasing a mechanical squid. Right now there's nothing for us to do, the world doesn't need saving right this second, so we should take the time to recover and get our strength back. We all need it," said Steve.
"I am in agreement," said Thor. "Let us commence the feasting!"
So they did as Steve suggested and watched a film, one which had a lot of archery in it to keep Clint happy and so that he could complain about the actor's technique. Pizza arrived about fifteen minutes into it and there was a pause while it was arranged on the table and slices were grabbed. Tony and Clint were told to stay where they were while the others fetched them pizza and drinks. No one was drinking anything alcoholic because Bruce had already pointed out that it would react badly with the painkillers that Clint and Tony were taking. Both had offered to stay dry while the others had wine but no one seemed to want to.
There was another pause when Erica Sondheim arrived at Clint's door to give him a quick check-up post neural regeneration. Everyone apart from Bruce cleared out to the kitchen to give them some privacy, make more coffee and clear up the pizza debris. Superheroes could get through a lot of pizza. Erica did all the tests that she needed to and they went through what Clint remembered and what he didn't.
It actually wasn't nearly as bad as Clint had feared. He still had no idea of how to find his way around the Tower, but some of the things that he couldn't remember when he first woke up seemed to have come back. Maybe that would too. He remembered who everyone was and he remembered a lot of his time with Loki and, most importantly, there was no pain when he did. Erica declared him cured and she fully expected that he'd get the other memories back over the next few days.
She left them to their film, although made Clint promise to come and see her again in a month, just to be on the safe side. He grudgingly agreed.
The others came back and resettled in their positions on the sofas and they restarted the film. A second film followed and most of the team didn't leave until midnight had come and gone. Natasha didn't leave at all. She stretched out on Clint's couch, after making sure that he was going to bed and staying off his feet. He didn't think that she was going to sleep, knew that she wasn't in fact. He knew when he was being guarded and he knew that sometimes Natasha just needed to make sure that he was safe. It worked both ways, and he'd found himself doing the same with her. He could expect her to do this for a couple more nights before she decided that he was well enough to protect himself.
Clint slept soundly, knowing that he was safe. His enemy was defeated and his partner was protecting him.
Clint got pretty good at pushing himself around the Tower in his chair, but he was very glad that he wouldn't be doing this for much longer. He was relearning his way around as he went but he'd fairly quickly found the labs again. All he'd had to do was follow Tony. His PTSD was still causing him a few issues with nightmares and weird sleeping patterns, but things were slowly improving. He hadn't had a flashback for a few days now and he was really hoping that signalled that he was on the mend.
This particular morning he wheeled himself into Tony's lab and found the inventor asleep on the bed that he'd installed for Clint. The archer hadn't needed it last night, but it was still one of his designated safe places to sleep. Tony was sleeping restlessly and clearly in the grips of a bad dream. Without really thinking about it, Clint wheeled over and put a hand on Tony's shoulder to wake him. Clint had told people a dozen times never to do this to him, because there was always the possibility that he might hurt someone whilst he was in a disorientated state, but he'd sort of not regarded Tony as a threat.
He got something of a shock when Tony jerked himself awake and pushed out at Clint, who toppled backwards, having not thought to apply the brakes on his chair. Tony looked around himself, clearly a little disorientated. Clint knew the post-nightmare look from experience.
"Tony, it's okay, you're in your lab," said Clint.
Tony rubbed a hand over his face and then looked a little horrified to find Clint on the ground. "Oh shit. Sorry."
"I should have been more careful. I know better than to wake someone from a bad dream," said Clint.
He tried to get himself back into a sitting position, but his broken ribs, now sore from the fall, were making it tricky.
Tony sighed, pushed himself up off the bed and limped over to help.
"Yeah, I'm still sorry."
"Thanks," said Clint, when he was upright and in his chair again. "So why are you sleeping in your lab?"
"Well, the main reason is that Peppa's away so I can sleep down here if I want to, but some jerk overloaded my jetpack and that needs to be fixed, plus the medical division want to start putting my new brain scanner into production, so I needed to do some more work on the prototype. Remove some of the more fun settings that I included for you," said Tony. He limped to his workbench where the schematics were laid out, and sat on one of the high, padded stools.
"Like being able to view my memories," said Clint, he wheeled himself over to a pile of boxes that were bulging with old paper files. It caught Clint's attention because it was weird to see any paper in Tony's lab.
"Yeah, I think that the world might not be ready for that one yet," said Tony. "I turned down our mutual one-eyed friend as well."
"Probably a good thing."
"Huh, I didn't think you'd agree," said Tony.
"I trust Nick Fury, but I don't trust the World Security Council. You needed to find out what I knew, but I also know that you only looked at what was relevant to finding the Red Skull and Hydra. I'm not sure I'd trust others to do the same," said Clint. "And I prefer to keep my thoughts private." He picked up one of the files from the top of the box and began thumbing through it. It made interesting reading.
"Yeah, I feel the same way," said Tony. He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again. Clint gave him a moment and eventually he worked up to whatever it was he needed to say. "Look, we did see some things in your head that you probably didn't want us to see. We were just looking for anything that could tell us what Hydra's plan was and Loki was all caught up in that. We know you fought the control that he had over you hard, and we know that you tried to kill yourself."
Clint felt something icy grip at his heart for a moment, and it made him pause in his reading, but then it was gone. This was Tony, someone who had become a close friend over the last few months and he wasn't going to hold it against him. Clint found he didn't mind nearly as much as he thought he should have, things had definitely changed. "I wish you hadn't seen it, but you know why I tried."
"Yeah, and I understand. I think I might have tried to as well, but I'm still glad you failed," said Tony.
"Me too. Who else knows?" Tony would never have been able to keep this to himself.
"Only Natasha and Bruce."
Clint could live with Nat and Bruce knowing, he said nothing but gave Tony a nod to let him know that he was okay with his decision.
"I made sure that SHIELD only got the relevant bits when we sent them the file, but I thought you might want someone to talk to. And honestly, I'm not really a good person to talk to," Tony shrugged.
"I don't know, you're not doing too badly now," said Clint. He held up the file that he was reading. "These are your father's files that related to the scanner, aren't they?"
"Yes, I needed them to help with the development work, but they're about to go back into storage. I've got everything that I need from them," said Tony. "They're really not that interesting."
Clint sat back in his wheelchair. "The schedule at the front says that this isn't the first time that you've taken them out of storage. The file talks about brainwave recordings and there are a whole load of really good plots for science fiction stories mixed into the margin notes. I'll go out on a limb and guess that's your father's handwriting."
"Yeah, it is. I had no idea that you found the field of medical scanners so fascinating," said Tony. "Normally you're more interested in the stuff that goes boom."
"I get interested when it's stuff that directly involves my brain," said Clint. "The thing about you, Tony, is that you don't see science fiction as fiction. To you it's just the latest inspiration for whatever your next project's going to be."
Tony frowned. "Get to the point, Clint. I think I know where this is going."
"So, Jarvis. He's actually Jarvis, isn't he? I mean you took the original Jarvis' brain scan and used it to create your AI, didn't you?" Clint looked directly at Tony as he spoke.
Tony just froze for a moment. Then he looked up at the ceiling. "Do you want to chip in here, J? I mean this is you that we're talking about."
"My understanding was that we wouldn't talk about this with others present," said Jarvis.
"I think Clint's figured out enough that there isn't much point in that now," said Tony.
"Then I am happy to confirm that my program includes the brainwave patterns of Edwin Jarvis, butler to Howard and Maria Stark, sometime guardian of a young Tony Stark," said Jarvis. "The real Jarvis died many years ago."
"I was sixteen," said Tony. "Too young to really think through the consequences of my actions, and I was grieving for my friend. I can't say that I really regret it, but maybe I'd have thought more about what I was doing if I'd been older. It took me a long time to build Jarvis, it was years of work and he's learnt a lot since I turned him on. Edwin Jarvis's brainwaves are in there, but that isn't all he is. It's more like they're the seed from which this Jarvis sprang."
"Which is why you were so sure that he couldn't be compromised, because like a real person, he has loyalties and his loyalties are to you," said Clint.
"Yes, but I was being naïve. Jarvis knows his own code, but even he can miss something if it's made to look like a part of him. Whoever hacked the Hydra code together was pretty clever," said Tony.
"Your father tested part of his prototype scanner on the original Jarvis, and that's why he had the recording of his brainwaves?" asked Clint, still flipping through the file.
"Yeah, I always felt sorry for Jarvis. If my father needed another body to test stuff on, it was usually Jarvis who got pulled into it," said Tony. "Not that he ever asked him to do anything dangerous, although some of it was probably a bit uncomfortable."
"Does he remember being alive?" asked Clint, beginning to work through the implications of his discovery. He glanced up at the ceiling.
Tony shook his head. "He has some of the other Jarvis' memories but it's not a complete download of his personality, it's just a snapshot of the day that Dad did the experiment. It was enough for me to use, but he's never been Edwin Jarvis. I look at it more like a tribute to him, although occasionally I get a shock when he uses a particular turn of phrase that Edwin would have used."
"It's his voice though," said Clint.
"Synthesised from enough recordings that we had lying around that I could put together a good facsimile," said Tony. He paused, looking just a little awkward as he asked his next question. "Clint, now that you know, what are you going to do?"
Clint shrugged. "Nothing. Like you said, he's not Edwin Jarvis and never really was. All you did was take a recording and add it to your program. I guess I understand now why Jarvis doesn't always do what you want him to do and why he argues with you sometimes. I couldn't understand why you'd program a system that would do that, but it makes a lot more sense when you bring a real person into the equation."
"I always have Sir's best interests foremost in my mind," said Jarvis.
"To be honest, it was more Jarvis who raised me than my parents. He was the one that cleaned the cuts on my knees when I fell over, made my dinner and collected me from school. I loved that guy." Tony cleared his throat and blinked a little more heavily than was needed. "So, you're not going to tell anyone?"
Clint shook his head. "Nothing to tell, but you might want to get these files shipped back to storage before anyone else can poke about in them too much. If Bruce gets a good look at them then he'll probably put it together too. He'd probably take the same attitude that I'm taking, but I don't want to risk it. Plus I really don't think we should be spreading about information on how Jarvis ticks. He's practically an Avenger, the way that he takes care of us and helped out with getting Betty Ross here."
Tony nodded in agreement. "Jarvis keeps on surprising me."
Tony's meeting with Nick Fury went surprisingly well. Nicky agreed that no one would mention that Clint disobeyed orders and Tony would leave the Hydra spy program running a little longer. If it started to compromise any really important data then he had permission to remove it. Everyone was happy.
Bruce came to see Tony a couple of days later and told him that he was going away for a few weeks with Betty. They weren't exactly back together but they weren't really apart anymore. The two of them were going to work something out, although they weren't sure what. Tony hadn't ever seen Bruce quite so happy and he was glad for his friend, although a bit disappointed that he'd be without his partner in crime while he was away.
Tony's broken ankle healed slowly, as did Clint's ribs and feet, and Natasha's arm. Steve healed ridiculously quickly because of his super soldier metabolism and Tony had never wished quite so hard that he was Captain America since his childhood, this time for entirely different reasons though. The casts came off eventually though and once they did, sparring routines got back to normal. Clint could be found shooting at targets on the range most days, getting his strength back to normal after an enforced period of no archery due to his broken ribs needing to heal.
Natasha, Thor, Steve and Clint all engaged in hand to hand training in the gym and Tony joined them if he had time, although they always went easy on him and he knew it. Tony was fit though and could at least make a good showing when he was concentrating.
They had a small party when Clint was declared fit for duty. His PTSD had been improving gradually as he reconciled his memories and excised his demons. He was eating properly again, occasionally letting other people do things for him and generally he just seemed happier. He slept better, and more in his own bed, although he and Tony still pulled late night sessions in the lab, with he and Clint playing with new arrows and weapons for the Iron Man suit. Clint wasn't totally fine, and maybe he never would be, but he was good enough.
Unfortunately Clint being declared fit for duty also meant that he was away more, and so were Natasha and Steve as new missions came up. Thor was called back to Asgard to deal with some new threat and Tony realised that he'd been neglecting Stark Industries. The Tower was feeling empty, and even though Tony knew it was only temporary and they'd all be back there together again, it wasn't like it had been a few weeks before.
Tony made plans to head back to Malibu for a few weeks. It would be nice to spend Christmas there with Peppa, and he really needed the down time. Tony had suits to build and he'd put a lot of energy into hiding the latest bout of PTSD that he was experiencing. Some time in Malibu would do him good and he could try out some new suit designs that he'd been working on.
He'd done what he set out to do and he was actually pretty proud of his own work. He'd fixed the Avengers and he was pretty certain that everyone was in a better place than they had been before they moved into the Tower. Now he just had to fix himself.
This story finishes with the intention of leading into Iron Man 3. I don't think I'm finished in this fandom, but I'm currently writing an original novel so it may be a while before I return to it.