A/N Okay, we have reached the end. Thanks to all of you for reading and reviewing! Enjoy! :)

Chapter 12

"What happened?" Steve asked as Bruce walked into the room.

Steve, Natasha, Thor, and Phil were in Tony's room. It had been about an hour since Clint passed out. Hassan's body had been removed, the room had been cleaned up, and they were waiting for news on the archer's condition. During that time, Bruce had been with the doctors as they examined and treated Clint.

"He has swelling in his brain and he's unconscious," Bruce said.

"Why? I thought once he woke up he was supposed to be okay," Steve asked.

"For someone already recovering from a head injury it is very dangerous to receive another blow to the head and according to Tony, Clint's head was hit against the floor three times. That caused his brain to start swelling," Bruce explained.

"What about the blood?" Tony asked.

"It was from a minor cut on the back of his head. Scalp wounds bleed like crazy but are usually non life-threatening," Bruce assured.

"So, he's going to be okay. Right?" Phil asked.

"It's not that simple. Swelling of the brain is not something to be taken lightly. It is very serious," Bruce said. "The skull doesn't expand, so when the brain swells there is no room for it to go, so pressure is put on the brain and that can prevent the brain from getting enough oxygen, which can lead to coma, brain damage, and even death. Right now Clint's brain isn't swollen enough to need surgery, but if the swelling increases, the doctors may have to drill a hole in his skull to relieve the pressure."

At the horrified looks on his friends faces, Bruce was quick to distract them from the images he was sure were going though their minds.

"But we think the medication we have him on will be enough. He's already responding well to it."

"So when can we see him?" Natasha asked.

"They should be here in a few minutes," Bruce said.

"They are still going to keep him here?" Thor asked, expecting Clint to be in the room he was in the last time he was unconscious.

"Yes, he needs the extra supervision that the ICU provides. Now I want to prepare all of you for when he gets here. His breathing became irregular and insufficient, so he was put on a ventilator to help support him," Bruce said.

No sooner than Bruce finished talking, Clint was wheeled into the room and his bed was placed next to Tony's. The archer was a sight to behold. He was unconscious and on a ventilator, his head was bandaged, and in a word, he looked pitiful.

"Okay Bruce, bottom line, where do we stand?" Steve demanded.

"We wait and see. We monitor the swelling in Clint's brain and we wait for change whether good or bad. Tony is improving well and as long as he doesn't develop infection in his burns then he'll be fine with time. That's where we stand right now," Bruce stated.

Steve gave a short nod and he, Thor, Natasha, Bruce, Phil, and Tony settled in to wait. It wasn't long before fatigue got the best of Tony and he fell asleep again. A short while after Tony fell asleep, Fury appeared to check on both men and informed the rest of the team that SHIELD techs had discovered security footage that showed Hassan coming off of one of the quinjets that had been present when Tony and Clint were found.

Fury soon took his leave, leaving the others to fall into silence once again. It was supposed to be over when Tony and Clint were found. They had both regained consciousness and were on the mend. Everything was fine and then this happened and everything was turned upside down again. How much more were Tony and Clint expected to endure?

These thoughts and others swirled through the minds of the five people who sat vigil over their two injured friends. Friends who were an integral part of the unorthodox family know as the Avengers.

)()()(

Over the next couple hours, Clint steadily improved. Under the watchful eyes of Bruce, and Clint's doctor, the swelling in his brain receded and they were able to take him off the ventilator. But where Clint improved, Tony began to decline.

He began to have horrible nightmares. Who wouldn't? Tony had been rescued. He was on the helicarrier. He was healing. Then the safety of his hospital room is shattered when his torturer shows up and tries to kill him, nearly taking the life of a friend in the process. Who wouldn't start having nightmares?

Tony would fall asleep for about fifteen minutes before he would wake screaming. Then he would try to stay awake as long as he could, but with his injured body it was only about five or ten minutes before the fatigue became too much to fight and he fell asleep, only to wake up before getting anywhere near the amount of sleep his body needed. So his healing slowed to a crawl as the circles under his eyes grew darker, and yet Tony acted like nothing was wrong and refused to talk about it. Bruce even arranged for Tony to talk to Pepper on the phone as she flew to meet them in New York in the hopes that she could get him to open up, but there was no such luck.

Finally, Bruce could stand it no longer. He knew it was nearly impossible that Tony would accept his help and if he could figure out how to make a pig fly then Tony might open up and talk to him. Bruce was loathe to force Tony to sleep by sedating him but if it came to it Bruce would do what he had to. He wouldn't stand by and let one of his friends suffer. Bruce had one last approach he wanted to try but if it was going to work then he had to be firm, stubborn, and completely unyielding. Basically, he had to be Tony (or Clint who at times could be just as stubborn as the billionaire).

He walked into Clint's and Tony's room and went to Clint's bed first. He picked up Clint's chart and skimmed over it before going over to Tony. This way it looked like he was there to check on Clint and Tony was just something extra rather than his main focus. He wandered over and sat in the chair next to Tony's bed. Said billionaire was awake (no surprise there) and staring at the ceiling. He turned and looked at Bruce as the scientist sat down.

"How're you feeling?" Bruce asked.

"'M Fine," Tony replied and it was all Bruce could do to not roll his eyes.

Sure Tony was fine. That's why he had dark circles under his eyes and looked like the living dead. Obviously, Bruce didn't voice any of this.

"So, what's up?" Tony asked.

Bruce knew he had to play it cool or Tony would see right through him. Fortunately, he had thought this through already.

"I was just checking on Clint."

"How is Tweety?"

"He's doing a lot better. The swelling has almost completely gone down and his vitals are good. He should be waking up soon. Then we can know for sure if there was any damage to his brain," Bruce explained.

Tony nodded and they lapsed into silence as Tony tried to stay awake.

"Tony, we need to talk," Bruce said at last.

"I'm tired. Can we talk later?" Tony asked, fully expecting Bruce to leave him alone.

"No, Tony. We can't talk about it later. This has to stop," Bruce said.

"To what are you referring?" Tony asked smartly.

"You know very well what I'm talking about!" Bruce snapped. "You're hardly sleeping, when you do you have nightmares, and your recovery has stalled. You need to talk to someone. It doesn't have to be a shrink," Bruce said quickly as Tony sent him a look. "You can talk to me if you want, but you have to talk."

"Nothing to talk about," Tony mumbled, turning his gaze back to the ceiling.

"Bull!" Bruce said. "You and I both know that's crap!"

Bruce sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose when Tony remained silent and refused to even look at him.

"All right. I didn't want to have to do this but you've left me no choice. I'm going to have your doctor give you something to make you sleep."

"What! You can't do that!" Tony exploded, but rather than anger as his tone suggested, Bruce only saw fear in Tony's eyes.

"Tony, you need sleep," Bruce said gently. "You can't keep this up. Your body can't keep this up. Something's got to give and I don't want it to be your health. So either you talk this out or you get sedated," Bruce finished, his voice hardening again. When it came to his friends' health he didn't play the nice guy.

"I-" Tony cut off gritting his teeth and looking anywhere but at Bruce.

"Tony, I'm your friend. I'm not going to judge you or think badly of you for having nightmares after going through something traumatic. Please, don't shut me out," Bruce was aware he sounded like he was begging but, frankly, he was out of ideas.

"There are different ones," Tony said quietly, still unable to meet Bruce's eyes. "Sometimes I'm back there and I'm being tortured again. Sometimes I escape into the desert or even make it back to the helicarrier before he finds me again and takes me back and it all starts again. And then there are the ones when it's not me."

"What do you mean, 'not you'?" Bruce asked in a soft voice.

"It's Clint. He's the one being tortured and I can't stop it or we're here and we're safe and we're talking when he comes in with a knife and Clint tries to stop him. Sometimes it's like what happened and Clint get's the knife and kills him, but then he dies from his head wound. Other times he never gets a hold of the knife and Hassan bludgeons him to death. Either way, it always ends the same. With Clint dead and me unable to do anything to help."

Bruce sighed wearily. It was worse then he thought. "Tony, you know it wasn't your fault right? None of it was."

"I'm the one he wanted, Bruce. I'm the one who killed his brother. And I'm the one who ticked him off by escaping. Clint was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and yet he is laying there unconscious with a head injury and it's all because of me."

"No it's not," Bruce said, starting to get fed up with Tony's propensity for blaming himself for every bad thing that ever happens to anyone.

That was the one thing that drove him crazy about Tony, Clint, and, really, the entire team. They always wanted to blame themselves for things that were completely out of their control. But at the same time, Bruce supposed he was no different.

"You told me yourself that it was a trap," Bruce said. "Hassan planned it all out, and he knew you would have someone with you. That's the way we work and he knew that. He was always going to take one of us with you. It just happened to be Clint. And before you say it, no, there was no way you could have known or foreseen it being a trap. You may be a genius but you are not a mind reader and you cannot see the future. Now stop with the guilt trip over something you had no control over and share no blame for whatsoever. If you're going to have nightmares then have nightmares about what happened to you, not what didn't happen to Clint. Okay?" Bruce asked, staring at Tony until the billionaire finally met his eyes.

Tony gave a slight imperceptible nod.

"Good. Now go to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up," Bruce commanded in the same no nonsense tone that left Tony no room for comment.

Tony found it strange to hear his calm, passive friend sound so authoritative. This had never really happened before so he wasn't quite sure how to respond to that and to be honest, he was too tired to figure it out. He thought maybe his brain was finally straying into insanity due to lack of sleep. After all, Bruce never gave orders or got so in-your-face. Tony decided that maybe things would make more sense after he got some sleep and his brain was actually functioning again. So he did as Bruce said, or rather ordered, and laid back, closed his eyes, and was asleep in seconds.

Bruce breathed a sigh of relief as the heart monitor indicated that Tony was asleep. Once Tony was asleep, Bruce got up and retrieved a book he had laid on a nearby table. He return to his seat beside Tony, open his book, and settled in to wait. Now that the biggest challenge was out of the way, he just needed to make sure Tony stayed asleep. So for the next hour, he watched closely for signs of Tony having a nightmare. He actually made it a little over an hour before his face scrunched up and he started to mumble incoherently. Bruce reached over and gently laid a hand on Tony's arm and spoke softly to the sleeping man. Bruce focused more on his tone than what he said so what came out of his mouth was mostly nonsensical gibberish but his tone and touch seemed to do the trick and Tony relaxed once more.

Bruce kept a close eye on Tony over the next several hours. He only had two other nightmares both of which Bruce was able to quell like the first. In that time, the rest of the team came and gave Bruce company and brought him food. Pepper arrived back in New York and joined the group, but Bruce made sure no one woke Tony since the billionaire was finally getting more than a few minutes sleep.

Tony ended up sleeping a full eight hours and awoke to the sight of Pepper, Bruce, Steve, Natasha, and Thor, sitting in various positions in their chairs, surrounding his bed, and all completely dead to the world. Phil was also there but the SHIELD agent was awake and looking at him. As he looked at the five sleeping figures, an idea struck him and he just couldn't resist. He looked at Phil with a gleam in his eye and the SHIELD agent knew exactly what the billionaire was thinking. Phil reached over and grabbed Tony's cellphone off the bedside table and handed it to the man. Tony nodded his appreciation before turning the phone toward the sleeping people and snapping a couple pictures of the group. He grinned widely as Bruce stirred and opened his eyes. Bruce took one look at Tony's 'cat that ate the canary' grin and the phone in his hand and groaned, which caused the rest of the team to stir.

They woke up, saw Tony and the camera, and groaned themselves. If it was possible, Tony's grin grew wider and he started laughing. The sound of Tony's laughter caused Pepper to wake up.

"Tony!" she cried and threw her arms around him.

"Hey, Pepper," Tony said, hugging her back and giving her a kiss, before she returned to her seat beside his bed, holding tightly to his hand. "Since you're here I assume you made it back to New York. How long was I out?"

"Eight hours," Bruce replied.

"Have you been here the whole time?" Tony asked.

Bruce just shrugged, and even though Tony didn't say anything, Bruce could see the gratitude in the billionaire's eyes and his lips turned up in a small smile.

"So, any news on Tail Feather?" Tony asked.

"I heard that," a sluggish voice groaned from a few feet away.

"Clint!" seven voices chorused in unison as well as Tony's call of "Feathers!"

"No need to shout, 'm right here," Clint mumbled, his eyes still closed.

Everyone except Tony, who was still in bed, jumped up and ran over to Clint's bedside.

"Clint?" Natasha called.

"'M awake."

"Yeah, you really look like it," Tony said.

"Shut up, Tony," Clint mumbled back.

"Open your eyes and make me," Tony shot back.

Clint opened his eyes just enough to glare at the irritating billionaire.

"Much better," Tony said, to which Clint stuck his tongue out in response.

"At least we know there's no brain damage," Tony said. "Well, at least no more than usual."

"Clint how do you feel?" Bruce asked, cutting off the argument before it could start.

"Like I'm ready to kill someone," Clint replied.

"Anyone in particular?" Natasha asked.

"The guy with the jackhammer."

"What guy with a jackhammer?" Steve asked.

"The one in my head," Clint replied.

"I do not under-"

"I'll explain it to you later," Bruce interrupted, patting Thor on the shoulder.

"It's good to see you both awake," Fury said in that neutral voice of his as he walked into the room.

Tony glared at the director and Clint squinted stonily, neither man replying.

"Doctor, how are they doing?" Fury asked, turning his attention to Bruce.

"Tony's doing all right. Clint just now woke up but he's coherent so that's good," Bruce stated simply.

"Good," Fury replied.

If Tony didn't know better, he would have sworn the director actually looked a little uncomfortable. Must have been the pain medication messing with his head.

"I have some things to take care of, I just wanted to come by and see how the two of you were coming along. Agent Coulson, keep me updated," Fury ordered.

"Yes, sir," Phil replied as Fury turned to leave the room.

"Hey, Fury," Tony called suddenly, causing the director to stop and turn back around, "The next time you get a mission to Afghanistan, don't tell me about it unless you want to lose you're other eye," Tony said without an ounce of humor.

It was a testament to how responsible for the situation Fury must have felt when, instead of snapping some sort of reply or threat at Tony, he simply gave a sharp nod before leaving the room.

)()()(

Clint was kept for another two weeks, which, according to his doctors, was being appropriately cautious after a serious head injury, but according to Clint was overkill.

Needless to say, by the time he was released, the archer was practically climbing the walls and the doctors were more than happy to turn him loose. He still came back everyday to visit Tony, though, who didn't get off quite so lucky.

The nightmares slacked off and disappeared altogether but due to his burns, the doctors pumped him full of antibiotics to stave off infection and kept him for another two weeks after Clint was released. If the archer had been climbing the walls, Tony was about ready to tear them down just to escape.

The only thing that kept him sane was the fact that Pepper and each of his teammates would visit him at different times throughout the day and distract him or in some cases, forcibly keep him from escaping. That, and the fact that his feet were still burned badly enough to make walking pretty much impossible, thus making escaping possible only if he managed to get a hold of a wheelchair and make a roll for it, were the only things keeping him in that room.

Finally, though, the doctors deemed him well enough to finish recuperating at home, much to his delight, and the team's sense of impending doom. For the next two weeks, Tony became the Avenger's headache, having them wait on him hand and foot and milking it for all he was worth. Now don't misunderstand, the team cared about Tony. He was their friend and a member of their little makeshift family, but even the closest family member can drive someone to want to strangle them.

Fortunately, Tony was just at that threshold when he was allowed to start walking again and thus became a whole lot less insufferable.

Steadily, Tony and Clint recovered until they were back to one-hundred percent again. A few weeks later, Tony was on board the helicarrier so the doctors could check him over one last time and declare him fit for Avenger duties. He had just finished up his appointment and was walking down the hall when he saw Clint coming toward him. One look at the archer and Tony knew something was wrong. Clint was visibly seething over something.

"Hey, what's rubbed you the wrong way?" Tony asked, his face showing some concern.

"Fury!" Clint spat.

Tony would be lying through his teeth if he said he was surprised. "What'd Old Man River do now?"

"He had the nerve to ask me to go on a mission near Kandahar!" Clint replied.

"What'd you say?" Tony asked.

"I didn't say anything. I just decked him," Clint stated matter-of-fact.

The look on Tony's face could only be described as gleeful but his tone remained nonchalant when he spoke.

"Good, saved me the trouble. You think you'll be punished?"

"I better not. He had it coming and he knows it. Besides, what can he do?"

"He could fire you."

"Eh, it's only my part-time job anyway," Clint said with a shrug.

"What's your full time job?" Tony asked.

"Keeping you out of trouble."

"Hate to break it to you Robin Hawk, but you kind of suck at it."

"I know," Clint admitted. "But I do a lot better than most people."

"True," Tony agreed. "Well, if he does punish you, this time, I'll keep you company through whatever you have to do," Tony promised.

Clint looked at him in surprise a moment. "Thanks, Tony."

"Hey, what are friends for? And besides, I'll have no choice but to keep you company, because if Fury does punish you, then I'm going to have Jarvis photoshop a picture of him and make it look like he's wearing a tutu. Then I'm going to hack into SHIELD and program the computers to show that picture on every single screen on the ship while the speakers play Swan Lake. Then I'm gonna deck him too."

"You know, I wouldn't mind seeing that, whether he punishes me or not," Clint said with a chuckle.

An evil grin spread across Tony's face, which was quickly mirrored by Clint. Then the two of them took off up the hall, Tony's phone already in hand as Clint threw out ideas to make their revenge that much sweeter.

END

A/N Leave me one last review and let me know what you think! :)